Night-time Nature

Photo by Joe Hu on Unsplash

Today we walked through fields and farms, over stiles and across bridges. We met cows and horses and rested in the shade of a beautiful church. The sun lingered on our skin, an occasional cool breeze brought welcome relief

But now, at home, a full tummy and freshly bathed skin. I think back to those fields, those stiles, those twisting winding paths…

I imagine them in the dark. The branches that fluttered in the breeze now looming, dark against the sky. Like magnificent giants, reaching down to scoop up anyone that dares to tred amongst the crunch of the fallen leaves…

My mind drifts back further, to snow covered mountains and the night we made our way back in the dark. How the white was still so dark against the blackness of the night. I see the mountains standing tall, stoic, unconquerable beasts that tower above, watchful and unmoving for centuries upon end…

And the sea… oh, how I long to hear the crashing of the waves. Invisible as we sit on clifftops high above with nothing but crisp air and stars to fill our world. The salty tang at the back of my throat, the cool sea breeze that will find its way into my lungs, will weave its way into my hair and linger on my skin. The light of a ship or the constant, unwavering blink of a lighthouse off in the distance…

And back to our more local paths, the ones that we explored today, I envisage tiny flecks of eyes… mice, rabbits, perhaps a badger or the ever cautious stare of a fox. How the night time air is always that much quieter, how it holds everything so still…

Walking during the day is beautiful. But I’m always left wondering whether night-time is the most magical of all.


Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

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The Safety Trap

Image by: Max Nguyen on Unsplash

TW: Disordered eating, body image

I have read a lot of other people’s blog posts today, I have scrolled through Twitter, I have done some other work… and, I have procrastinated.

I have procrastinated because I know I have been putting this blog post off for a long, long time. But I know it is forming a sort of ‘block’ within my mind and therefore within my writing. It’s a subject that has been a bit of an issue for me as long as I can remember, but one that I have never fully grasped – I still don’t know if I am any closer to grasping it now, but I will try and explain it as best I can.

I do feel that with the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week being ‘Body Image’, it is a good time to broach the subject; I also had a chat with my therapist yesterday about how I could be suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD. So… the timing certainly feels right to broach this subject.

And the subject is…. *drumroll* Smallness.

More specifically, smallness and safety.

Growing up, I was a skinny kid. I don’t think I ever reached much above 7 stone until my mid to late teens. Think gangly legs and arms, long dark hair, big eyes, freckles. I never even really thought that much about my body – it was just there. Even throughout secondary school, throughout all of the bullying, my body didn’t really come into it. I never felt super confident, but I just didn’t give it that much thought. My weight increased slightly when I left school, but when I met my (now) husband, aged 19, he would later go on to comment that he sometimes thought he would break me I was so slim.

Fast forward a couple of years, I had moved down to Somerset. I was still slim, but I had this little belly… I used to do ab crunches, sit ups, things like that to try and get rid of it. I wasn’t large by any means, but I knew it was there. I worked full time in a care home though – my job was active, my mealtimes a little out of kilter with the ‘norm’. I could skip meals and be so busy that I wouldn’t even notice…

And then I went onto the pill injection, Depo Provera, injected into my bottom every three months.

And wow, my body changed. I wasn’t eating any more than normal, or being less active than normal but my hormones were all over the place and the weight crept on. With the weight, came the boobs. I went from being a 34C to a 36DD – the difference in my appearance was startling.

And I hated the boobs.

I would complain to my husband that they were too big, that I just wanted to make them smaller. I came off of the pill after a couple of years (I was also sliding into depression – but at the time, I just thought my hormones were out of whack) and although some of the weight came off, the boobs stayed. I would (much to my husband’s eye-rolls) wear minimiser bras, looser tops, clothes that were cut in such a way that my boobs weren’t really apparent…

And then, over the next few years, the depression crept in.

When it was finally diagnosed, I hadn’t been eating properly for months. My anxiety stole my appetite and my adrenaline was constantly working – so whatever I did manage to eat just got burnt up pretty quickly.  I wasn’t intentionally not eating, but even now if I am super stressed, I just cannot stomach food.

My weight plummeted, not to drastic levels, but within six months I probably lost a couple of stone. I dropped 3 dress sizes, I look back at pictures of that time now and I am all big eyes and tiny frame.

The boobs and the tummy though, they are still there.

My boobs never went. When I went and had my wedding dress fitted in 2017, I had been working out pretty consistently for over a year – the woman in the shop commented that I had an enviable figure, petite but with great boobs. I look back on some of our wedding pictures and I think my boobs look grotesque, I have picked some of those pictures apart so much that looking back through my wedding pictures is no longer an enjoyable experience for me. I have three or four that I am comfortable with, that’s it.

The majority of bras that I wear are ones designed to minimise, but I have no idea if or even really how they work. I wear a lot of scarves; I just hate any attention being drawn to that general area. Even typing this now though, I feel wrong somehow. I am a woman, I should relish my curves, I should be thankful that nature (and synthetic hormones) gave me boobs that some women dream about and pay thousands upon thousands on surgery to obtain. The thought that gets me the most though… is the guilt. I have healthy breasts, what on earth do I have to complain about?

It’s not just those though…

It’s my stomach, my nose, my hips and my teeth. It’s that my forehead is too big, my hair (dependent on length) is too long or too short, it’s too dark, or not dark enough. My eyes have too many wrinkles around them, I’m too tall (I’m 5’5”)…. There is not one single thing that I can look at and go, yeah, I really like that feature.

For years I thought I was being vain, I told myself off, told myself to stop being so ridiculous. But then my jeans would feel a little tighter, someone would take a picture from an unflattering angle, or a small comment would be made and my entire world would feel like it was crashing down around me. I knew, I know, that our bodies are just our shells – what we look like in the grand scheme of things really does not matter and we all are our own worst critics. But over the years I tried everything to make myself smaller; from exercising for hours on end every day, to diet and protein shakes, to various pills, teas and herbal remedies that promised to shift the pounds. I have beaten myself up for second portions and tried to bargain with myself that I will exercise it off in the morning. I have cried over my body and felt such disgust and shame that I wish I could just slice parts of it off. I have developed a phobia regarding eating in front of people I don’t know and I have got to the point where I cannot bear even the noise of my husband (or anyone) eating anything, not just the ‘crunch’ noise, but all of it.

I love food, but it has become such a source of anxiety for me that it terrifies me.

And I know that the anxiety comes from one simple fact – food will make me bigger if I don’t keep a tight control over it, and the last thing I want to be is that most feared of all things… big.

My logical brain knows that there is nothing at all wrong with being big, and I think that this is where my confusion over the whole subject comes from. I will talk about body positivity and how amazing the human body is until I’m blue in the face, I know how we need to fuel our bodies, I have studied nutrition, I find other women’s bodies beautiful – but I cannot apply any of that back to myself.

But I don’t think that this is a weight thing, or an image thing.

I think it’s a small thing.

A friend said to me yesterday, after therapy ‘ I wonder if you still have that image in your mind of you as a 14 year old girl’ and my response was ‘No, but I want the figure of that 14 year old girl’

I don’t want the boobs and the hips and the squishy bits – because people notice them. Men, notice them. I work on a reception desk and there are men that come in and I watch their eyes drop from my face to my chest as they talk to me. I have had men flirt with me because of (I’m pretty certain) my figure. All of this *motions wildly around my body* makes me noticeable. Even walking across town to my therapist’s office, I walk along some pretty busy roads and I hate it, it’s that feeling of being exposed and people in traffic jams or passenger in cars and lorries looking at me, judging me…

And I know, my logical brain once again knows, that they aren’t. I don’t sit as a passenger in a car and gawp at whoever I see walking down the road and even if I did notice them, I’m not going to judge them harshly in any way.

But my logical brain gets shouted down by all of the other voices so often that it’s shrunk.

Just like I want to do, all. the. time.

Last week I managed to fit two puzzle pieces together, after a long, long time of feeling confusion and guilt over all of this. I have always been noticed in a critical way; growing up we lived in a church building in a rough area of town – we were different and therefore we were noticed. If we went into our garden, kids would shout over the fences, when were back inside bricks would come through the windows and I would lie awake at night worrying that the next thing that came through the window or the letterbox would be on fire. Also, everyone at school knew where I lived so once again, I was noticed, and bullied.

It became much, much safer to hide.

So being small = being safe.

And my mind has run with that, it has embedded that into its very nature. I don’t want to be big size wise, I also don’t want to be loud, or too confident or have too much to say – because those things do not keep me small and therefore do not keep me safe. If I have talked passionately about something, if I have talked in front of more than a handful of people, if I have done something great and been celebrated for it – I am not safe because I have become bigger. I have taken up space, both literally and metaphorically and then the doubts not so much as creep in, but burst in. The negative self-talk gets louder, I replay conversations in my mind and of course I instinctively know what that person really meant when they said such and such, and that little sigh obviously indicated that they were bored and I talked too much about myself or I didn’t give the right response… and its horrible. Its really, really horrible…

Starting this blog for me was huge, because this is my voice. These are my thoughts, I am putting myself out there and when you put yourself out there… you get noticed. This goes against everything that I have concluded in my addled brain as being ‘safe’. It’s like I have this really strong desire for safety and hiding away – but I also have this exhibitionist streak running through me that almost wants to be noticed!  I don’t understand it, and I cannot pretend that I do – but there is a part of me that takes being noticed and almost likes it, twists it into something good. I hate that men sometimes flirt, but at least they have noticed me. I post a writing on my blog and feel really positive about it, or an IGTV video of a Facebook or Twitter status… but as soon as it’s out there I instantly want to delete it because people are noticing it, but I have chosen to put it out there in the first place.

I am constantly in turmoil with all of this…

It runs through my mind, it hides in the dark recesses; it toys with my emotions and my relationships. I put myself in situations where other people can make decisions for me because there are times when I don’t trust myself to make them myself – this can be as big as deciding when to start a family, or as small as what to choose for dinner. I let myself sometimes be unheard because I feel that what I had to say wasn’t all that important anyway. I finally, let go of a toxic friendship at the start of this year, but even that was one built upon dominance and gas lighting. However, the real battleground, is my body.

Because I do not have the figure I want. I am not as small petite as I would like (and let’s be honest, if I was 34 with a 14 year olds body then things would not be right, at all) I know that I am not big but the image I have of myself is so vastly different to the image I see of myself in photographs that I literally cannot bear it. My husband took a photograph of me the other day – we were out for a walk in the woods and as soon as I saw it, the panic set in – and it was panic. It wasn’t a ‘oh, I’ve perhaps put a couple of lb’s on’ it was a ‘I have to be smaller than this, I look like a whale, I feel  grotesque and like I have lost control and I need to be smaller now, right now, not after a couple of weeks or months watching of what I eat and exercising  regularly – but right. now.’

A few moments later, I took a selfie and I looked at my face and it looked so slim I saw a glimpse of that very poorly woman from 9 years ago looking back out at me. I do not know which picture to believe, but I am convinced that it is the first one. I have no idea what my body looks like – there are times when I obsessively try and find out a celebrities size and measurements so that I can ‘compare’. I don’t trust what I see in the mirror anymore, or when someone tells me I look nice, or what a photograph depicts. None of it feels either real, or true…

The woodland photograph incident was two days ago. I’m still feeling like that now – yesterday was an awful mental health day and today I have had to put my brave pants on and get myself to work, but those voices are still there. My body is aching because I worked out this morning when I was already exhausted, I have eaten because I know I need to, nuts and a cuppa soup and herbal tea. It’s not enough and I have a headache but I’m worrying about what we have planned for supper regardless…

I cannot carry on like this. But I don’t know how to change the way that my mind has developed in order to keep me safe. I cannot look at that picture from Tuesday and see someone who is kind, empathic, creative and worthy of love and affection. I look at that picture and I just feel panic, because that is not the image I have of me, in my mind.

And that doesn’t feel safe.

But then… not a lot does.

Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

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Guest Post – Too Intense

Today’s guest post is brought to us by the beautiful April from Tales Of Night Creatures – a wonderful blog of ‘Short stories, poetry, fiction and thinkpieces for the witching hour’. You will see from the first paragraph down below how talented she is and I am truly honoured to have her contribute to my series of ‘Too…’ posts ❤

Image credit: Joshua Newton @ Unsplash

Too… Intense

Having or showing strong feelings or opinions.”

I often feel, while I’m here trying to be authentic and open and compassionate, focusing on my vision and making things better… that people find it too much, too intense. That I’m too much myself, and that’s a bad thing.

Being too intense means it’s wrong to care about things a lot, to be conscientious or want to make things better, to do a job thoroughly and well.

To have feelings about things and want to express them properly. Or to have passions and interests and pursuits that aren’t mainstream, or which focus on issues or big picture stuff, or that mean you talk about true things and it’s not socially acceptable.

To have strong feelings and to express them can be too intense. As a writer, this ability is somewhat necessary. To translate the emotional inner life into language which can express and resonate with another human being, in a performative act of empathic connection- this is powerful on the page.

In real life, people don’t like it very much.

Feeling strongly about something can be empowering. It incites action, momentum, change. I trust the intensity of my instincts and feelings to give me important information about people and situations. I trust the authenticity of my passions to enable me to act accordingly with my values and to sometimes act on behalf of others, who otherwise may not have a voice or advocate.

However, this doesn’t always translate well. A milder response may be amusement at my animated reaction, or befuddlement. Sometimes people can glaze over and look bored or change the subject. And occasionally it can be met with derision or hostility. This is hard if it comes from those whose opinion we value.

It leads to feeling ashamed, of being too much or too intense. It was stupid to care, and it was stupid to talk about it. My self-talk becomes critical and harsh, my mood plummets and I become very upset. This upset, of course, is deemed disproportionate and too intense for the cause.

Being labelled “too intense” is shameful, because it means you have been labelled as unacceptable, you have overstepped your prescribed boundaries of status. As sensitive types, we self-regulate and monitor and keep ourselves in check, dreading this censure. To be too intense is to possess too much feeling in a world priding itself on its logic, control and detachment from nature. It is excessive, coded feminine or weak, not always valued.

When you act from a place of authenticity, sensitivity and passion, you tend to think and feel very much about what you’re doing and saying, and whether this is in alignment with your truth. You question everything, because you notice and feel everything, and you want to make things better, because things being the way they are is not acceptable if that means others are disadvantaged or in pain. Somehow, maintaining a façade, or petty matters of convention, don’t seem to matter as much.

And because you very much want to make things better, or to make others feel better, you propel yourself forward into situations and conversations where you’re pushing the boundaries of what others want to think and feel about.

This isn’t about pushing or enforcing a dogma onto other people, or being controlling; it’s about maybe being really enthusiastic about the environment so that you instigate recycling initiatives at your workplace, litter pick on the way home and gently but consistently talk to others about ways to cut down on plastic waste.

Or feeling so strongly about trans and non-binary rights that you firmly but politely challenge hateful speech and jokey transphobia socially, share petitions and go to march at Pride with a transgender youth group.

It’s about feeling so acutely that something needs to be done to help others or to make things better, you can’t help acting. Even if the cost is misunderstanding or being judged.

Being too intense can be synonymous with being too sensitive. Taking things deeply to heart, considering the weight and import of conversations and interactions, or communicating honestly about those feelings and thoughts can be too much for a fair number of people.

I would like to challenge them by asking why.

With current mental health statistics demonstrating that many of us are negotiating dark and painful territory, often in isolation, talking about our true feelings can be a release.

In relationships, communicating honestly and openly can alleviate many issues. And, from experience, it can save time right from the beginning to be bravely honest and expressive about what you want and need in romantic relationships. This doesn’t necessarily mean a declaration of love, but in terms of values and behaviour and boundaries you have or desire or will accept. And being true to who you are and what matters to you will attract like minded kindred spirits, and repel those who wouldn’t fit well anyway.

Having intense feelings and empathy for others fuels us to acts of compassion and kindness. The art we create is rooted in this capacity to feel as others do, the caring professions we work in are motivated by the desire to alleviate pain and ease discomfort, the social causes and charities we support soar when we act from a place of love and respect for others.

 Our ethics and values which respect the lives and well-being and wholeness of other beings arise from both our emotional empathy and our earnest belief in those feelings as possessing worth and substance.

Maybe, for some, I will always be too intense. Or too serious, or sensitive. That’s okay, because to reclaim these as positive characteristics is to repurpose their place in making our world and our lives a better place.

Check out Aprils other writings here: Tales of Night Creatures
And you can also follow her on Instagram and see some of here beautiful artwork here: Aprilydaze

So Unsexy

Image credit: Eric Nopanen @ Unsplash

Alanis Morisette – So Unsexy

I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful

Way back near the start of this round of therapy, we talked a little about self-esteem. He asked me what I liked about my body and my appearance and I puffed my cheeks out and thought, and thought… and, thought…

“Ok, what don’t you like?”

“Well, I don’t like my teeth, they aren’t straight. My nose is too big, as are my boobs, I really hate having boobs, and I know some women would kill for boobs, but I really wish they were smaller. My hair is either too bushy or too flat and I can never get it that shade of red that I would love to have it, I don’t really like my hips, I always feel too tall, I wish I was shorter…”

I paused…

“I suppose my eyes are ok? But my vision isn’t great…so I would change them for eyes that could, y’know, see. But then I like wearing glasses because they kind of hide my face a little, so I don’t really mind that…”

“You wish you were shorter?”

I nodded.

“You aren’t…tall. You’re what, 5’6?”

“5’5” I corrected him, that inch is very important – this comment was one we would return to over the following few weeks.

So unloved for someone so fine

I am fortunate in the people I have around me, I am well aware of that. I know that I am loved – on my good days; I can feel it, like static electricity almost. My husband loves me, as do my family and also my friends. I am told often, reminded daily.

On good days, this goes in.

On my bad days, depression wins. On my bad days, I am a nuisance, I am too… depressing! Too much. I’m too boring, I talk about myself more than I should, I’m terrible company, I’m too tired… I couldn’t possibly reach out because it would burden someone else with this heavy, leaden pain that I am feeling – and all of those people that love me, well, I love them back. I could not possibly inflict them with this, I could not bear for them to have to shoulder even one ounce of the pain that is so prevalent on those days. So I don’t text when I should, I don’t pick up the phone and very rarely do I try and fathom how all of these jumbled thoughts can make their way out of my mouth in coherent sentences.

It doesn’t mean I am unloved. It means depression tells me, hisses at me, whispers at me that the love that is there is too fragile to bear the weight of my burden, to bear the weight of its influence.

On my good days I know its lying. On my bad days, it wins.

I can feel so boring for someone so interesting

Tell me about your dreams… about your fears and your darkness. Tell me about what you hope to achieve and what keeps you awake at 2am. Tell me stories of your childhood, indulge me with tales of the things that make your heart beat faster and your spirit soar, for I will listen attentively, I will treat your words as precious gifts because for me that is what they are.

But ask me to reciprocate… am I worthy of that? To take up your time with ramblings about my views and hopes, fears and dreams. Won’t you get bored? Won’t you wish you had never asked? Will I see your eyes glaze over, or get the sense that you are simply waiting for your turn to speak?

Maybe, maybe not, but it’s safer to not find out. Isn’t it?

So ignorant for someone of sound mind

I didn’t get great grades. Bullying and my subsequent mental health issues meant that I only took two GCSE’s and I didn’t do brilliantly at those. I went back to uni four years ago, but my degree is unfinished…

I know, that it isn’t for lack of intelligence.

I know, that I can think logically and practically and I have read enough books and educational texts to know that there is no malfunctioning part of my brain that doesn’t process information. I know that I can participate in stimulating conversations and debates and if I am passionate about something then I can talk for hours, and argue my point very well…

But, again, that doubt.

Tiredness and fibro fog both make concentration hard at times. I can read an article and know that I haven’t absorbed a word; I can read the same paragraph two, three times and then have to read it out loud so that the words can filter into my brain. Sometimes, I simply can’t read – it’s too much, too stimulating. I forget things now more regularly than I once did; it is both frustrating and terrifying in equal measure how my brain will blur out words, conversations and pieces of information.

Last week, I was holding a stick and I wanted to tell my husband that it would make a good catapult. The word would not come, I could see it, I stood in our kitchen and (much to my husband’s entertainment) acted out in great detail how you use a catapult. I came up with the word I thought was the right one – yahtzee. (I mean, yahtzee?! What the actual…?) But no ‘catapult’, was gone. And yes – we all forget words, if this was a one off then I’d laugh it off, but it isn’t.

And that makes me doubt myself and how my mind is able to store and process information. It makes me Google things, simple things, just to double check. It makes me ask for confirmations of things via email so that I don’t forget and it makes me imagine that my brain is made of cotton wool and my thoughts and opinions must somehow be skewed by memory and therefore irrelevant or wrong.

Oh these little rejections how they disappear quickly

The moment I decide not to abandon me

I have to stick with it all. Stick with reminding myself that beauty is not all about how we look and that I am loved, that I am not boring and that I am intelligent – even if not conventionally so. I need to be there for myself, show up for myself each day and give myself those pep talks as freely as I give them to others. The strength that I need now can only come from within, and I cannot abandon that, or myself, anymore.

Thank you for reading 🙂 If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

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Caterpillar


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sometimes I feel like I want to fold in on myself

Curl myself up in a cocoon and store myself away for use on brighter days

Its not a horribly morose feeling, there is no emotion to it – good or bad –  it’s just a feeling of not wanting to exist, in this form, on this day

It’s not suicidal, it’s not wanting to die or for this life to end in its entirety – for tomorrow, I know I will want to be alive

It’s just for today

A wish to be quiet and small and not have any influence on anything

To not speak, to not spend money, to not think or eat

Just to fold myself away

And unfurl on a brighter day

Recognition

Image credit:Kawin Harasai @ Unsplash

This morning on social media, I saw a post by a woman who achieved something wonderful yesterday; she ate lunch.

She didn’t feel that it was something wonderful, or that she achieved because, well, every one eats lunch, right? So why should we celebrate this as an accomplishment?

Around the same time I was also having a chat with a friend who suffers from fibromyalgia. He was asking me how I managed the transition between work and home, how I knew what I needed when and also, how I coped? He told me of a time when he worked and the exhaustion would be so great that he would fall asleep as soon as he got in through the door and wake up in the morning in the same clothes, even with his shoes still on, and having to do it all again…

It brought me to mind of a period of time last year when I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I was depressed, quite severely so, but I didn’t think that was the sole cause of just how exhausted I was. However, I did that thing we all do, I compared myself to others and ultimately ended up feeling worse. How could I warrant being this tired? My friend worked and studied, and had 2 children and she wasn’t this tired!

My husband worked 6 days a week and I only worked 5, how selfish of me to be too tired in the evenings or weekends to not be able to do anything fun.

My parents, both past retirement age had days fuller than mine and still had energy to spare!

You can see how these thoughts spiralled…

I now know that yes, I was severely depressed. I also had undiagnosed fibromyalgia and I was taking an anti-depressant that was a) no longer working and b) a sedative, it was no wonder I was so exhausted all of the time!

We do this though, we all do. We minimise our own feelings by comparing them to others and we don’t just do it with exhaustion, we do it with pain and we do it with experiences of trauma – on the flip side of that, we do it with how much we manage to achieve during the day and we do it with what we achieve throughout recovery.

I understood how the woman on twitter felt this morning, because I have had those exact same thoughts. I have felt embarrassment and even shame when I have been congratulated for walking my dog, or for enduring a whole day at work. How ridiculous that I should be congratulated for doing something that millions of people – including those supporting me – do every day! And so I didn’t hear it; I didn’t hear how proud they were of me or how this was another step forward in my recovery, because I was too busy beating myself up for it.

I know now, that I should have felt proud of myself for achieving those things. Yes, my husband may not think twice about getting our dogs lead on and marching him around our local playing field every evening – but I did, I still do. I had a period of about eleven months where I couldn’t leave my house alone because my anxiety was so bad. All sorts of scenarios would play out in my head, and that was just me, alone. Add a dog into the mix and those scenarios doubled!

It’s not easy to change the way we talk to ourselves, I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, but I think I am beginning to learn just how important that inner voice is. Last week in therapy we discussed how my inner voice is very critical and also how it has almost replaced the voice of those girls that bullied me all those years ago. I wouldn’t dream of ever talking to anyone the way that I talk to myself.

But I think I do need to hear when others talk to me kindly and to learn from them that I am a woman worthy of praise. When my parents, or my husband or my friends say they are proud of me, they aren’t lying; they aren’t saying it just for something to say. These are people who I know, and trust and choose to surround myself with – I seek their counsel and value their opinions on everything else, so why would that suddenly change when it comes to their opinions regarding me?

I also know, all too well how I relate to others. If someone who struggles with anxiety tells me that they have managed to achieve a task that was difficult because of their struggles then I am proud of them – that could be from walking their dog to talking in front of thousands of people, if you have anxiety there could be very little between the two in terms of terror. I don’t roll my eyes and go ‘well, duh, 9 million* other people also walked their dog today’ because, y’know, that would be kinda ridiculous and also it would be ignoring the fact that we are all different and we all face our own struggles every, single day.

That person that talks confidently in front of thousands of people, they may have a deep rooted and overwhelming fear of gaining weight. It may be an achievement for them to sit down and eat a meal without feeling panic or terror.

That really bubbly person in your friendship group, they may absolutely hate being alone. They may achieve something just be spending some time with their own thoughts.

That polite receptionist, she may be battling depression and fibromyalgia and it could be the hardest thing in her world to work for nine hours straight *ahem*

There are literally billions of examples. On my good days I know I should be proud of myself because I am working, because I am in a good routine and I managed to eat/socialise/ sleep well etc – and it is the little things amongst that that I have had difficulties with in the past. Those little things, when I achieve them should be celebrated and acknowledged, because they are the things that keep life ticking over. The getting up, taking care of myself, taking responsibility, setting boundaries, doing the therapy, saying when something is wrong, addressing my emotions as they come up and learning how to manage them – these are all important things that are part of my recovery and if anybody else was doing them then I would be there in the side-lines cheering them on all the way.

But I need to learn how to do that on the bad days as well as the good. I need to find out how to silence that little inner voice that hisses ‘So what, you got out of bed when you were feeling crap? Let’s look at the list of things you didn’t do!” – Because that voice isn’t helpful, and it is also how no-one else thinks of me.

I am definitely still a work in progress, but I think the more I encourage  and praise others for their achievements and stop looking at them as ‘big or small’, the more that little inner voice will get the message that actually, on some days, having a shower is tantamount to climbing a mountain.

And that is ok.

{* I fact checked this}

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Online

Photo by NeONBRAND @ Unspalsh

This is a very hard subject for me to broach. Its hard for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is because I am going through one of those phases where every thought I have seems contradictory. This is anxiety, I know it is, its my brain not trusting what it tells itself.

Its also hard because I don’t want to offend or say something ‘wrong’. I know that online you are likely to offend someone just by saying hello, but this is a sensitive subject to some, and I feel I should point out from the very start that this is my opinion, based upon my experience. It will not be the same for everyone…

I am someone who spends a fair amount of time online. I always have been, from using dial-up in my brothers’ bedroom to using the internet for work and my own passions (this blog). It was only natural then that when I was first unwell with my mental health and at home a lot of the time, I sought comfort online. I very quickly found a forum for people with mental health issues and on that forum I made friends – some of which I still have nearly a decade later.

The me that sought comfort then feels like a different person to the one writing this, now. I am still me of course – I am still brunette, quiet, sensitive. I am sat in almost the same place, I still have a dog (albeit a different one) nearby. But in many ways, I am not the same person; I have changed, I have had to. I have had to educate myself about my own mental and physical illnesses, I have grown mentally, spiritually and also physically. I have learnt things about myself through therapy, through pain and through heartbreak. I have experienced amazing joy and happiness, but I have also reached points so low that I have questioned whether I would ever surface from the pit of my despair. I have found incredible, amazing friendships and I have lost people who I thought would be in my life forever.

And you will have done similar, I am sure.

Because we are all constantly growing, learning and evolving – even if at times it doesn’t feel like it.

When I was a member of this forum, I like to think I helped people. I am still in touch with someone now who has thanked me very recently for the help I offered – and I was helped too, by others. People who reached out when I was frightened and lonely and daunted by things happening to and around me. For nearly 11 months, back in 2010, I struggled to leave my house – I had agoraphobia, I couldn’t even walk my dog, let alone go to work, so this community formed a little extended safety net of people. My boyfriend (now husband) was amazing, but he didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what was happening, my parents were the same (and also ninety miles away). These people though, they got it, they understood, and that was great and what I needed – I needed to feel understood, less alone and less freaked out. They were, quite literally, a lifeline.

I have found little mental health ‘communities’ in other places online throughout the years. I have spoken to people dealing with their own mental health issues and I have marvelled at how people experiencing anguish so great will help others without a moment’s hesitation. I have had wonderful, expansive conversations that have helped my own recovery and growth and I have watched as friends have recognised issues, sought help, and bloomed. I have talked friends through relapses and confided in them about my own in moments of darkness and struggle. I have felt fortunate to have all of this help, experience and solidarity at my fingertips or at the push of a button and I have felt my heart swell as I watch the bravery of others as they tell their stories, and help, one voice at a time to break down the stigma and confusion surrounding mental health.

But I have also seen the flip side.

Because there will always be one; I have formed a codependent relationship with a man who’s struggles with his own mental health threatened to destroy my own self-worth. I have lost friends because we have been at different stages of recovery, I have cried and grieved over people that I will never have the chance to meet. I have seen how predators can wheedle their way in, gain trust, lie and leave people (including myself) in ruins.  I have seen whole communities turn against one person for having an opinion or saying something out of turn and I have not been in a place strong enough to make a stand for either side. I have watched the steady decline of friends who I have had to accept that I cannot help in any way other than being there, listening and offering brief words of comfort or support. I have found myself being triggered and have had to work out the underlying reasons why and work very hard to heal myself – that one, is still a work in progress.

I have had to also learn the difference between online, and real life – but also, how closely the two are linked.

Yesterday, I had a pretty bad day. It was a bad day for a number of reasons – I was in a lot of physical pain and as a knock-on effect, my depression was simmering and bubbling away. My anxiety was through the roof- as it has been for nearly two weeks now and I was, exhausted. I slept a lot, but in moments of wakefulness I scrolled through Twitter. This… didn’t help.

What happened yesterday on Twitter isn’t the issue here, I think anyone who knows anything about mental health can agree that asking someone about their self-harm scars, is wrong. But what impacted me, more than that – as a survivor of self-harm and as someone who still struggles with that and has scars – was the reaction and subsequent fall out.

There are two terms that are banded around Twitter a lot; ‘Mental Health Community’ and ‘Mental Health Advocate’. Now, I am not saying that either are bad – to be able to access support and companionship online regarding illnesses that are, by their very nature isolating, is wonderful. But it is wonderful only when it works well, when difficult subjects are handled sensitively and when those involved appreciate that every-one is fighting their own battles.

I will not be putting the words ‘Mental Health Advocate’ into my Twitter bio at any point, not because I have anything against advocating for better understanding around all mental health disorders but because I feel I am wholly unqualified to make such a claim about myself. According to a post I saw yesterday, a ‘Mental Health Advocate’ must have an understanding of all mental health conditions – and I am sorry, but I don’t. I rarely understand my own, never mind someone else’s and it would be wrong of me to profess that I do.

Mental illness is not like diabetes, its not like a broken leg. We know about diabetes – we know what causes it, we know the symptoms and we know how to treat it. I know there are complications and its not always as straightforward as that, but it is a case of cause and effect. Same with a broken bone. Mental illness is different, it is vast, it is – even by medical professionals – at times misunderstood and misdiagnosed. I have depression and anxiety but my symptoms can vary massively to someone else that has depression and anxiety. I have an unhealthy relationship with food – but I am neither anorexic nor bulimic, even though I have exhibited symptoms of both. I am a survivor of trauma, and I only found that out about myself within the last six months. I exhibit signs of other mental health disorders, but I have not been diagnosed as having them. I also have a physical illness that has, possibly, been brought on, in part, by stress and trauma.

And that is me, just one person. I struggle to understand my own behaviours and reactions to things – that is why I go to therapy, that is why I spend a lot of time working on myself and trying to recognise what is me and what is my illness.

I can empathise with other survivors of trauma, with people who also struggle with food. I can go to group therapy alongside people who have also fallen under the same diagnosis, but I can still exhibit wildly different symptoms from them. I can listen and understand and learn, I can help to validate someone’s feelings and offer them comfort – but I am not a medical professional and I am not immune to being hurt or affected by someone elses actions. I can understand that mental illness – whatever the ‘label’ can make any of us act in a way that is out of character or in a way which we later come to regret, because I have been there and done those things myself.

But putting that title upon yourself – ‘advocate’ – is pressure. I have seen posts by people asking others what they believe a good advocate is, what they need to do in order to earn that title, and honestly, I would tell them not to worry about earning it in the first place. If you are here, if you are fighting mental illness and still waking up each day, if you are sharing your stories and helping others with their recovery – and even if you are not, even if you are just working on yourself and growing and learning each day, then you don’t need an additional title to validate your worth.

It is not up to me to tell others how to behave online and it is not up to me to say what is right and what is wrong, but yesterday was incredibly eye-opening. I have unfollowed a lot of accounts and I do not believe that anyone had any malicious intent, but for me, dealing with my own mental health, seeing the posts and the comments that were being posted by ‘advocates’ made me really question the value of that self-imposed title. I have no doubt that there are wonderful people who advocate every day on Twitter, or any other social media platform – with or without that title. But, I would always exercise caution, and advise that others do the same, because online isn’t the same as real life, but the fall-out from it all can be life-alteringly real.

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