Today I saw a picture posted by a guy I used to work with. It was a picture of a motorway bridge and a laminated note next to it saying:
Suicide doesn’t take the pain away. It just passes it to someone else.
🙄 < my own eye roll was much larger than this.
I don’t know the origin of that photo, perhaps it was written by someone who was grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. I also know the guy that re-posted it, and I’m sure he did it with good intentions. However, it’s a message which isn’t filled with compassion and support.
It’s a message loaded with guilt.
It says ‘I know you want to die, but if you do you’ll make someone else sad, so just keep going. Keep going with your pain, with your depression, with your memories and flashbacks of trauma. Keep living even though your own mind scares you and you don’t feel safe in your own body. Keep going even though you don’t know how you are going to feed yourself and your family. Keep going in your grief. Keep going with the pain that you feel cloaks every waking moment of your day, with the ruminating thoughts that don’t stop, with your diagnosis that you can’t get any tangible help for. Keep going with your guilt, and here is a little more to load on top of that. Keep suffering, but don’t make anyone else sad, ok?‘
Suicide isn’t a conscious choice. Suicide is an option that feels like the only remaining option when the pain of living becomes greater than the pain of dying.
People who contemplate suicide already feel like a burden. They know that people will be upset but their unwell mind will convince them that the sadness other people feel will be temporary and lesser than the upset, frustration and disappointment that they will endure should they continue to live their lives.
There is absolutely zero compassion within those words. There is no hope that in the future things might get better, there is no clue as to where to look for resources that might help. There is no inkling of the fact that if you are contemplating suicide you are very, very far from being alone.
There is just guilt. So, much, guilt.
People who feel like ending their lives and their suffering don’t need to be told things like this. They need to be reminded that the good days will one day come again. That there are people out there who will listen, and that the words that come out of their mouths don’t even have to make any sense. They need to be held – physically and emotionally. They need support, they need friends to sit with them in the silence when their mind is anything but. They need hand holds in the dark when it’s 4am and the tears won’t stop coming. They need governments that recognise how huge the scale of mental ill-health actually is and who are willing to put funding into supporting those who need it. They need financial support and they need appropriate treatment for their unique condition. They need to be reminded that none of this is their fault.
They need compassion, and understanding and for people to listen and begin to recognise just how complex and traumatic even the very thought of suicide is.
She had been able to see it on the horizon now for a while, rising out of the darkness like an ancient monolithic structure. At first it had seemed so far away, too far to imagine ever reaching. Back then it was tiny, and if she didn’t keep her eyes focused upon it, she would lose sight of it. Kind of like pointing out a bird against the backdrop of clouds or an insect going about its business on a hot summer’s day in front of a wall of ivy.
She knew it was important and she knew that she mustn’t lose sight of it for, somehow, it would become her destination. There were deep gorges in the landscape between them though, areas where she could see the dark clouds looming and hills that from this distance looked insurmountable. She wasn’t equipped for this, her small body wasn’t strong enough, her hair would occasionally whip itself across her face, causing her pale skin to sting and the rocks felt rough beneath her feet.
But still, she pushed forwards.
There were other people on the path. People she knew, and people she didn’t. Some of them looked stronger than she did, more confident. They looked like they had made this journey before and were coming back for another stab at it. She wondered why they would… but she soon remembered that it was never a choice.
The days soon turned into weeks, which turned into months and years. She kept on walking, but she became so tired at times that she had to stop for fear of breaking down completely. In those moments she sat on the ground and took deep breaths, her eyes upturned to the sky, for if she focused on her destination too long she would lose sight of it. At times it felt like a mirage, forever shimmering and out of reach. Did any of these other people ever reach it? There were times that she questioned whether it had even existed at all.
At some points, she felt a hand slip into her own as she traversed the more difficult boulders and lakes. Sometimes the hand was big and smooth and when she closed her eyes she could see him sitting opposite her in a small, too-warm, room. He asked her questions, difficult ones that had no real answer and would cause the tears to burn behind her eyes and fall heavy into the lakes that were of her own making. On other days, the hand was as familiar as her own, warm and aged from a lifetime of work and love, she looked up and saw the kind eyes of her mother as she planted the seeds that would blossom into the flowers which she longed to see on the other side. On some days the hand was understanding and calming, the one that she held in the quietest moments where the memories jumbled and the tears could no longer fall. In the solitary moments of moving ever forward the hand still held her firm, reassuring her that it would never leave her side, even if the road was longer than they both ever imagined and on other days, the hand was small, and unsure. It gripped her tightly out of fear, and she didn’t want to look down at the child holding it because she knew that her own image would cause her to stay where she stood, paralysed in the thoughts that had brought her to this desolate place.
There were days that the sun would creep out from behind the clouds, where birds would sing in the early morning silence and the lakes would run clear and crisp. She would drink from them then, filling herself with the hope and energy that she needed in order to forge forwards. Sometimes these seasons lasted for mere hours, and sometimes they lasted for weeks on end. She looked forward to these times for it was during the sunlight and birdsong that she was able to move quickly. However the clouds moved quicker still and sometimes the storm was upon her before she could even smell its arrival in the air.
She kept walking, through the storms when the wind bit her cheeks and the rain mixed with her tears. At times she felt that the sky was crying with her and there were days when it couldn’t stop.
But she was drawing ever closer to her destination…
She could see now that it was a door, standing solitary and alone. It seemed so out of place perched upon that mountain top, but she never questioned it. She assumed that others on the path had their own door for she had never seen anyone open the one on her horizon.
There were days where her feet lost their grip upon the slippery rocks and she felt that she would tumble to the ground and have to begin again. She concentrated on the ledges that she passed and reminded herself of words that she had once heard about landing on one of them and resting. She would never have to begin completely again, not now, not after all the trails the path had given her. Her small hands gripped onto whatever they could find and the muscles in her shoulders burnt as she heaved herself upwards and onwards.
When she got to the mountain top she felt something that she had not expected. She felt grief. She turned around and looked at the landscape behind her. The hills that had felt like mountains, the deep lakes that glistened in the late afternoon sun and the forests that had felt so dark and imposing as she had walked through them, haunted by voices of the past. Looking at it all from up here as the wind blew her hair from her face she wondered how it had all felt so desolate, for it was beautiful and she knew that it had been of her own creation. She took a few moments to drink in the sight before her before turning back to the door that had been her destination all along.
The birds sang their now familiar song, and the wind whistled above the landscape that she had come to know as home. She couldn’t explain it but the hands that hand held her own were now bodies around her, holding her firm and not allowing her to run back to the familiarity of what once was. She took a deep breath and reached out her hand to the doorknob…
She didn’t know where she was going now, but she knew she could face whatever it would bring.
Merriam Webster defines it as ‘the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally’ and It makes it sound so… benign. Like the choice is so easy, that it doesn’t come from a place of torment, pain and questioning.
Suicide is the only option left when every other conceivable idea becomes unbearable. Break that down – every. other. option.
Every single one, anything you can think of to make your life better, every realistic choice or possible decision, even if it seems far fetched. Talking to those you love and who love you, leaving your job, going into hermit mode for a while, selling your house and moving to the other side of the world, volunteering to help those in need, cutting off all of your hair, spending all of your savings on something ridiculous… I mean, if you are thinking of ending everything, these decisions don’t seem so extreme anymore.
But none of them will work. And you know why? Because they are all so overwhelming, they are all too much. Too much to think about, never mind do. Not that it would make a difference anyway – not when your depression doesn’t live in your workplace, or your home, or your hair.
Suicide comes when all other options have been exhausted or seem too overwhelming. It comes when the pain has become too heavy that you cannot carry it any longer. When you are locking yourself away in the bathroom and sobbing your heart out because you have done e v e r y t h i n g ‘right’; you’ve sought the help, taken the pills, gone to the therapy and it is still there. It comes when the pain of living seems worse than the pain of dying.
It isn’t a selfish act, it isn’t ‘attention seeking’, it isn’t something that is done to spite others. It’s not cowardice, it is not shameful to think about, it is not terrifying to talk about.
It is a symptom. A horrible, final symptom of a horrible, debilitating illness.
When suicide hits the headlines, we all talk about it. We all talk about the person, we all say what an awful shame and an awful shock it is. And it is a shock, it is always a shock. It’s a shock because we never think that they would do it – they who ‘didn’t seem depressed’, had spouse/children/a family/money/fame/a nice house/a good job/a bright future… but depression doesn’t live in your nice house. It lives within you, it’s in your mind, in your bones, it pumps its way around your body. It becomes all-consuming, deafening, insurmountable. It becomes something you feel that you need to escape from – but how do you escape from something that lives within you?
This writing is deliberately bleak, deliberately questioning – because that is what it feels like. I could tell you that there is help out there, that someone is always listening, that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I could urge you to talk to someone, to seek help and remind you that the good days will come again but you have to be here in order to see them. I could tell you that suicide isn’t, ever, the answer. And all of that would be true.
But that isn’t what it feels like.
There have been points where I have been suicidal, where I have just wanted to escape and switch the thoughts off. I have memories of things that I cannot bear to think about anymore, but that never stop replaying in my mind. I have felt hopeless, unbearably sad, a failure, weak, a letdown. I’ve convinced myself that once they get over their sadness people would be better off without me. But there are always two thoughts that stop me –
Who would find me? My husband, my best friend… I couldn’t leave them with that. With the moments and hours and days after. They would move on eventually, I know that. But I couldn’t bear the thought of them questioning themselves and blaming themselves.
Those moments between cause and effect. When its too late to take it back, when the result is inevitable but the thoughts still come.
I cling onto those reasons, literally for dear life at times.
And I know, things get better. It may be little glimmers of light that dance through leaves on a summer afternoon. It might be my husband’s laugh or my baby nephew’s grip around my finger. Its a hug from my best friend, or the smell of my mum’s kitchen. Hope comes in the wind that makes my hair dance upon the mountain top, or the icy cold water that licks at my feet on the shoreline.
If I was dead, these things would be gone.
And forever is a long time.
So, please do talk. Please do reach out. It’s not easy – my god, I know it’s not easy. No-one expects it to make sense, because these things simply don’t. Stop trying to circle the square and cope with this on your own, please. Find meaning in the small things, find reasons not to in the harsh reality of what would really happen.
Last year, on World Mental Health Day, I was in the process of coming off of an anti-depressant that I had been on for eight years. I remember I woke up and scrolled through Facebook – the significance of the day dawning on me. The insightful and hopeful posts about talking, and sharing, and not giving in lighting up my screen. But I wasn’t a part of that, I didn’t have any hope or insight.
I posted something, a small paragraph about kindness and how
it important it is – especially when it comes to giving it to ourselves and
then I probably went back to sleep, or went and led in a hot bath, or cried… I
don’t really remember.
This morning… I realised it was World Mental Health Day, again, as I was scrolling through Twitter in bed this morning. A lot has happened in the last year; I have had a course of Cognitive Analytical Therapy, I went back onto the medication I was trying to come off of, I’ve been able to put a name and a reason to some of my pain. I’ve stood up for myself, I quit a job that was making me miserable, I gained a new baby nephew, I lost my wonderful Great Aunt – and, I started this blog.
As a mental health blogger, there should be something insightful
coming from my pages today, right? Yeah… probably. I thought about it all
morning, I thought about it when I was exercising, when I was hanging the washing
on the line. I thought about it whilst scrolling through Twitter and whilst in
the shower. Nothing came to me, nothing but pressure.
But maybe that was because there are no beautiful and insightful
words that will help when you are in the midst’s of depression, or feeling the
effects of long-lasting and complex trauma. Maybe it’s because – like I found
last year – if you are in that place, you can read them, but you can’t feel
When you are in that place, hope doesn’t apply because
depression will snuff out any glimmer of hope before it can really shine. That’s
what depression does. You begin to feel disconnected from it all, like you
are not worthy of these words or this kindness, because that’s what
depression does. You feel that you cannot go to any of those people who
assure you that their door is open or they are willing to listen because you’d
feel like a burden, or too sad, or guilty, or shameful… because that’s what
Depression is ugly, and dark. Its corrosive, sticky and toxic.
Its complex, its deep rooted, it latches onto other mental and physical
illnesses and makes them 10x worse, and 100x harder to fight. But it is also
familiar. It lives within us and so it is at times scarily, and comfortingly
familiar. Its twisted, its conniving… its not something we can sit here and
write pretty words and breezy platitudes about. It’s a killer.
It can kill anyone, it’s not fussy. On the lunchtime news
today I watched Lorraine Denman, the mother of the Team GB snowboarder Ellie
Soutter talk about her daughters suicide last year. Ellie was 18, she was beautiful,
talented, had a loving family and an amazingly bright future ahead of her – she
showed no signs of being depressed, she was out with friends the night before….
Depression doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care about
hope, it doesn’t care about wealth, beauty, love or gender. It will latch on to
anything remotely positive and twist it, swamp it with its darkness and its
ugliness. It will take your words away, it will convince you that you are too
much, too sad, too boring, too unworthy to get help or speak to those you love –
and that love you – about what you are feeling. It will jumble your thoughts so
that even if you could speak, you wouldn’t know how to make any of it make
sense. It will make you so tired of fighting, so tired of having it within you
that you will do anything to stop it.
But it doesn’t need to make sense. If you are able to talk
to someone, it doesn’t need to come out in any order, it doesn’t have to come
out well-described, or calmly, or like beautiful prose. It just needs to
One thing that is important to remember, which I struggle to
remember, is that when you do confide in someone – be it a friend, family member,
spouse, boss, doctor… anyone – they are not in the same emotional space as you.
They are not feeling what you are feeling. They may have their own mental
health issues – but, if you are anything like me, it is always easier to hold
someone else’s pain than it is your own. I have depression (amongst other
things) but I would never want any of my friends to feel that they could not
come to me, because I would much rather sit with them in their pain, than sit next
to their hospital bed or their coffin.
So… this World Mental Health Day, lets still all vow to be there for each other, but lets also vow to stop treating Depression, PTSD, BPD, Anxiety, Addiction,Eating Disorders and the rest with platitudes. People don’t just suffer on one day, or one week, of the year. They aren’t just suffering when you see them ‘looking sad’, or when they are crying. People can be in emotional pain, even when they are smiling, even when they are holding down a job, or socialising, or recovering. They can still be suicidal when they are tipped to be an Olympic athlete with a bright future and the whole world ahead of them.
I lay on the edge of the bed, my right arm lazily grazing
the carpet. Slowly I closed one eye and my view changed, I could no longer see
the ruffled-up duvet in front of my face. I opened it again and everything came
back into view. I closed the other, with slightly more effort, and watched as
the view shifted a little, just like an old slide projector.
It crossed my mind, briefly, that this is how the world works.
Things shift and blur into reality and what we think we see. That without moving,
even just barely breathing… our minds can alter our reality. My mind was tired and
my body felt heavy. The amount of thoughts inside my cranium were literally
weighing me down. If the mind is like the one-eyed trick, then surely, we can
In that instant I berated myself for thinking of it in such
But I do this, simplify the complex. Yesterday I was so sad, unbearably sad at some points and I didn’t know why. My own voice in my own head was pointing out all the things that I should be grateful for without acknowledging the very fact that depression doesn’t need a reason. That’s a fact, that’s not a thought. My mind was ignoring the rational and instead choosing the option that made me feel guilt and shame which of course, made me feel worse. But then I guess that’s the poorly part, the defunct and damaged cells, the sticky black tar.
The friend that chirpily tells you that are so lucky, as she twists the knife in your back.
I haven’t been writing because I haven’t known how to put my feelings into words since therapy ended a little over a month ago. I haven’t wanted to write dismal posts about how I’m feeling, and yet I haven’t had the drive to read scientifically backed information about the things that your mind does when you are processing trauma in order to wrap it up in a neat little bow. I’ve seen things that I’ve thought would make great inspiration for poems, I’ve thought of whole, wonderfully, crafted paragraphs of prose whilst I’ve been starting into space – but when it comes to writing it down, the words haven’t flowed.
I need to write; writing for me is like a sifting my
thoughts through thin white mesh – it sorts the jumbled from the rational and
helps me to think clearly. Getting words out on to paper enables me to breathe
again without the metaphorical hitch in the back of my throat – I can’t scream
and rage, I struggle to cry since starting back on medication – how else can I
get these feelings out?
I am angry… I am angry that I don’t have a job whilst the person that forced me out still collects his paycheck at the end of the month. I am angry at the state of politics in this country, that the medication that will keep my dog healthy will mean that we will have to be frugal with our money for as long as he lives. I am angry when I watch people I love being taken advantage of, I’m angry at people who claim to be Christians on Twitter post utter nonsense that not only attacks those that already live in the margins, but continues to shatter the concept of real Christianity, for myself and for anyone that reads their hate filled diatribe.
But I cannot get it out. I cannot express it without feeling
shame, or without experiencing guilt.
I am sad that my words are once again failing me, that I can’t
settle to read a book or that it takes me hours to write what would have taken
me moments, because the words I need feel like they are caught up in the tar
and I cannot pick them out without becoming exhausted.
I am frustrated that the first, honest, writing from me in
weeks is one that is about how my depression is feeling right now, and not how
it has felt in the past.
But maybe that’s what’s needed. An acknowledgement of how I
truly feel, no pretty neat bows, no fancy words or scientific facts. Just
someone admitting that right now, its all a bit hard and that sometimes we all
feel a little lost.
Today, I need to be kind to myself. I’ll do some yoga, I’ll
take a walk. I may even do some baking this afternoon. The rain is falling
steadily outside, and it feels more autumnal than august should. My dog, with
his medication working and fur coming back is snoring softly next to me, my
husband will be home this evening and the first thing he will do is hold me. I
have a roof over my head and food in the cupboards – and I am thankful, so
thankful – but that doesn’t mean that my feelings and my depression aren’t valid.
That doesn’t mean that I can berate myself for how I feel because it doesn’t
fit into the cookie-cutter mould of what I should be feeling in order to
make others more comfortable.
And maybe the words will come, maybe the tar will snake back
and the heaviness will lift and what will be left will be gleaming pathways
with freshly uncovered words for me to play with, but its ok if that doesn’t
happen today, or tomorrow, or even this week.
What matters is my breath, in this moment. It’s the things
that make my days brighter – my dog, my husband, my friends and my family. It
will be hearing the rain patter on my hood or umbrella when I venture out later,
and how the flour and butter feel between my fingers as I gently rub them together
to make something delicious. It’s the gentle reminders that I will give to myself
that this passes, it always passes and the sun will come out again. That
every time it happens I come out more battle worn, but always stronger… and
that that strength on some days will help others get through days, just like
Am I tying it up in a neat little bow?
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When I was just a little tot, my family moved into a church
building. It wasn’t a typical church – no steeple, or anything like that. It
was in fact the old offices of the local electricity board and it looked like a
building that wouldn’t seem out of place in soviet Russia.
It was the late eighties – the rooms were big, the floors
covered in carpet tiles. Large, corporate, geometric patterns were on the
wallpaper and red handrails adorned the main central staircase. Our flat was at
the far end of the building, upstairs. I must have been the only child at
school that at times wished for a smaller bedroom. But it was our home and my
parents made it feel just like that.
Throughout infant and junior school, I don’t recall an awful
lot of bullying. I was quiet, but I wasn’t all that different to the other
kids. I had a close friend who I had gone to playgroup with and we remained
friends throughout those years. I remember not being overly confident when it
came to school plays and wanting to be at home rather than at school – but I
think that is just the mark of the sensitive, introverted child that I was.
When I moved to senior school though, something shifted. The
school was much closer to our home in the church and it wasn’t a nice area. The
church itself was well-placed, my parents helped so many people in the local
community with food banks, Christmas dinners and just having a ‘safe’ place to
go to, at any time. The church building also housed a toddler group, playgroup
and café. Local groups met there for woodwork, music, keep fit… it was the
community hub that the community needed.
Suddenly though, to my new peers, I was different. Not only
was I quiet and sensitive, I also lived in a church and this made me stand out.
My friend from junior school moved up to senior school with me, and I though
all would be well – we’d stick together, wouldn’t we?
We stayed within the same friendship group, but it wasn’t a
healthy one. There was a definite shift in dynamics once we had paired up with
two other girls and within a short space of time this caused a definite split
between the four of us. It has only been in the last six months in therapy that
I have been able to look at this group of the four of us – which did merge into
six – objectively. Now I can see the split, 3 girls who had the power and 3
I don’t know how it happened, not really. There weren’t vast
differences between us in the areas that you would think would cause such a
drastic change, but once it had happened it was very hard to get back on an
even keel. I tried making other friends, but I was quiet and shy and over time
my self-esteem took a hefty whack. Who would want to be friends with me?
Besides, the moods of these three girls (one in particular) would change from
day to day. On Monday I may be left out of everything, called a witch in front
of the rest of the class whilst the teacher was out of the room, forced to hand
over parts of my lunch, or be told that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough or
clever enough to be part of the group… but then, on Tuesday they could be the
best friends that one could wish for.
In adulthood, this is seen as coercive and controlling
behaviour, it is recognised very clearly as abuse.
In childhood, its playground banter.
For 5 years, I had this. Day in, day out. It carried on even
when our family moved from the church and into a normal house. I didn’t know if
I was going into school to see my friends or my tormentors. I got even quieter,
I literally and metaphorically, shrunk. I told my parents, after much deliberation
and the main bully was brought in from PE to sit in the deputy heads office and
apologise… she told me, my parents and the school staff that it was only a
joke, that none of it was serious and she couldn’t understand why I was hurt by
it. Nothing was done and afterwards she quietly ramped it all up; she was the
victim now, someone had told tales on her and I was the tormentor.
I stopped eating normal sized meals for a girl my age and
size, how could I eat when my stomach was in knots? I didn’t want to do
anything on the weekends or with my family because I knew that if I thought
about it whilst at school it would make me want to cry. I was terrified of not only going to school
but also going out in my local area, I started to have panic attacks and my
chest hurt constantly from the anxiety. I was admitted to hospital for tests to
find out what was wrong with me – it was deemed by the school and by doctors
that I had the problem. I saw a child psychologist who would sit and
talk to my parents afterwards whilst I tried to read a book in the waiting
room. But what could I tell them? I had seen and experienced what happened when
she was pulled up on her behaviour and I couldn’t go through that, not again…
Why am I telling you this? Its not for pity, hundreds of
thousands of children get bullied at school every year and although specific in
its details, my experience is not vastly different from any other. I’m telling
you this because I am now 34, I still have blackouts in my memory of school –
whole years that I cannot piece together. Since leaving school, I have suffered
with anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, nightmares and body dysmorphic disorder
which has in turn led to bouts of bulimia and anorexia. I have had various
therapies, I have engaged in promiscuous behaviour in order to validate my
self-worth, I have found it hard to trust people and I have abandonment issues.
I also have Fibromyalgia – which, the causes of which are generally pretty much
unknown, but it is thought that the symptoms occur when we have spent vast
amounts of time in a ‘fight or flight’ situation.
The effects of bullying do not stop once a child
leaves school. The effects of sustained bullying can impact whole lives. I do
not have a career because of my mental health, and I do not have children either,
even though I have dreamed of being a mother for as long as I can remember.
It is only this year – 20 years after I went through these experiences
that I recognised, through therapy, that what I had endured constituted trauma.
I did not feel safe for years. I wanted to hide and make myself invisible
in order the stop the attacks for years. I did not know what to expect
every single day for years. I hid my pain from my parents because I
couldn’t see the answers or the point in telling them the details for years.
I wanted to do anything to make it
stop, including making myself disappear for years.
And then, once I was out of there and away from them, I
tried to forget it and move on with my life like any normal person would, for
But it doesn’t work like that. Things have to be dealt with,
we cannot just put a lid on it all and expect it to go away. I had been led to believe
that my thoughts, feelings and emotions weren’t valid. The norm, for me, was
not telling anyone when I was experiencing mental anguish and so therefore when
I did get upset, or angry, or depressed, I automatically did not tell anyone
and I deemed that normal. I lost my voice and my expression – the only
way I had of expressing myself was through writing, and even then I didn’t –
and still don’t – want to upset anyone that read it.
I had learnt that if I made myself small, I was ‘safe’. This
was founded on nothing, but the wish to disappear but it is still something I aspire
to now. It has led to dangerous relationships and damaging friendships with
people within the BDSM community where ‘little’ is very often seen as something
to aspire to, but not something that will always keep you safe. It has affected
my body image, and made me lose even more of my voice and the confidence to
I’ll say it again: The effects of bullying do not stop
when a child leaves school.
The voice of the main bully has been replaced with my own;
there will be days when the not good enough, pretty enough or clever enough mantra
will repeat in my head, in my own voice and I can find all the evidence needed
to back those claims up. It becomes very hard to argue against yourself when
you have a lifetime of negative associations tied into those claims.
We would be naïve here if we thought that bullying was
contained to classrooms and playing fields. It doesn’t just happen to children.
It happens to adults too, in workplaces and friendship groups. By colleagues,
managers, family members and so-called friends. I have recently left a role
where my new manager was a textbook bully – and gaslighter at that. On Friday night,
I consoled my colleague who has also just resigned from his management and over
the weekend I have felt lost, unheard, sad, angry (I think), unmotivated and
very, very low – but I could not put my finger on why.
It was only last night whilst washing up that it came to me –
this man, this manager had triggered emotions within me that were felt 20 years
ago. Over the last few weeks I have been in fight mode – I quit, I filled out
my exit interview form (myself, he didn’t even want my voice to be heard on
that), I spoke to friends about it, I felt relieved when my unemployment commenced
because I wasn’t in that situation anymore and for a couple of weeks I saw
friends, did yoga, made jam, applied for jobs…. all fine and dandy. Until, until
I heard about a conversation on Friday where he invalidated my colleague and in
invalidating my colleague, he also invalidated the effects of the bullying that
led me to quit my job.
He had done exactly what my school bully had done in the
deputy heads office all those years ago.
One more time, for those that haven’t quite understood: The
effects of bullying do not stop when a child leaves school.
There is a light though, a chink of positivity within all of this – I know how important compassion, inclusivity and validation are. I will never, ever, knowingly exclude someone. I believe firmly in equality and acceptance I will strive to treat everyone the same – regardless of background, gender, wealth, disability or appearance. We all have unique gifts to offer, whether we are quiet or loud or somewhere in between, our voices matter – each and every one of them. I am trying, really trying, with the help of wonderful friends, my husband and my family to realise that I can include myself in that, but at times it is hard. Unpicking decades of ingrained beliefs doesn’t come easy…
If you suspect your child is being bullied, or is the bully then Bulling UK have some wonderful resources that may help.
If you are being bullied, then Relate has some great advice on their website and also offer a confidential chat service.
If you are living with the effects of trauma and its really hard today, then some grounding techniques may help or even some yoga designed with trauma in mind. I did this routine earlier today and it centred around breathing exercises and feeling safe within your body. I can highly recommend it – also, the dog is super cute! 🐶
You told me that when I fell off the rails I would do it quietly and without fuss.
Slipping, hardly noticeable.
I knew what you were saying was right, I saw the worry behind your eyes at the realisation it had already begun. But I smiled, I told you not to be silly.
I feel it now. Your words ring true in my ears as I drink the wine that numbs the feelings, as I crave the words that give me the punishment. It’s all inside of me; my small body and fragile mind keep it contained in a safe and hardly manageable existence…
But I still see the way you look at me, the gaze that lingers too long and the arms that hold so tightly. You know it’s happening and you can’t stop it because I tell you I am fine.
I have been a bit quiet and neglectful of both this blog and
my social media presence of late. I have had ideas about what to write and I’m
sure that those posts will make an appearance over the next few weeks, but this
one is perhaps like a bit of a stopgap.
I have been quiet because I haven’t been very well. My
depression and anxiety has been sneaking back in over the last couple of months
– at first I thought it was a blip, but it lasted, and was getting worse…
Last year I decided to come off of my medication – with the
help of my doctor. It was so that I could go onto a new medication that would
treat both my depression and my fibromyalgia. Anyway, once I was off of the old
one, I wanted to know what I was like without it – I had been taking this stuff
for 8 years. For months, I was fine – all throughout winter, this was a
success!! There were still hard days, but the nights were long, the mornings
dark and here I was being able to cope, to work, to socialise, to combat my
depressive thoughts with healthy behaviours…
Until I wasn’t any more.
It started off with a constant sense of being overwhelmed.
Now, I don’t have children, I don’t have anyone depending on me apart from my
dog (and my husband when he’s hungry), I work 23 hours a week, I have two days
off a week completely to myself. I have a therapist to talk to, I have
wonderful friends, a fantastic and very lovely husband… but everything, even
the smallest of things, was beginning to feel like it was too much.
I think something that people who haven’t suffered with
mental ill health struggle to realise, is that when the small things are hard –
the sleeping, the eating, the getting up and showered and dressed – everything
outside of that, seems insurmountable. These are things that other people take
for granted – going to work, going into town on your own for an appointment,
driving, getting public transport, planning things, deciding on things. And
then, then something happens out of the blue, something past the everyday
struggles, something past the tasks we have to do that feel insurmountable and
leave us exhausted, these are things on their own level – a family member gets
sick, your pet gets ill, work messes up your wages – and sometimes, all of
these three examples happen within the same week.
I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. All I wanted to do
was sleep. My concentration was fading fast – I couldn’t even find relaxation
in curling up with a book, I hated the thought that my depression was back and
so, still, I tried to push onwards. In therapy we were talking about bullying
and trauma, I was having intrusive thoughts, unwanted memories, feelings once
again of not being good enough, not clever enough, thin enough, smart enough,
adventurous enough, pretty enough, tough enough. I felt that I was letting everyone
down; my guilt was increasing by the day. I’d go to bed at night and think of
friends I had lost over the years, things I had said in arguments, and mistakes
I had made – which were long forgiven, by everyone but me. Holding conversations
was hard – trying to hear and focus over the voices in my head all talking over
each other and so I became quieter.
And the tears… I was crying at anything, if someone asked
me how I was, tears. If there was an advert with a doe-eyed animal on, tears.
If my brother sent me a picture of my beautiful baby nephew, tears. If I just
so much as thought of someone, in a
situation where they were being taken advantage of, or deceived -this is a very
strange kind of intrusive thought I have which proves quite hard to explain,
but yes, tears nonetheless. My mother’s voice on the phone, tears. The smell of
my dogs fur, tears. My beautiful friend April doing a tarot card reading for
me, after two cards, tears…
And when I cry, my words dry up. So I couldn’t tell anyone
any of the thoughts that were jumbled and overwhelming. They all felt
ridiculous to me anyway -my depression was hissing at me to not be such a baby,
to think of others that have it worse and realise how lucky I was.
I am meaner and harsher to myself than I would ever, ever be
to anyone else.
But it was all too much, all of it. I have self-harmed
before, over a long period of time, but I was even past the point of that.
Suicidal thoughts were becoming more and more frequent – there was a massive,
overriding part of me that knew this could get better and that knew I couldn’t
do that to my husband, or my friends, or my parents and family. But the
thoughts were still there, the need to just stop everything and drift away, was
still there. I felt that eventually, they would be better off without me, but
then I would remember small things – my husband’s laugh, or how he sings along
to whatever music is playing when he’s doing the dishwasher. I would think of
my friends – brave, inspiring and something I never thought I’d be lucky enough
to have. I’d think of visiting my parents and my Dad giving me some whisky as
we settle down to watch some TV, or my mum waking me up with a coffee in the
morning. My nephew, how proud I was of my brother and his wife. How the wind
feels on autumnal days, when that first bite of winters chill is in the air. I
thought of the sunrises and sunsets I’ve seen, I’d remember how everything is
cyclical, that pain and grief comes but it also goes and that’s when joy and
gratitude come to take its place. These thoughts would keep me going until I
slept, or until my husband came home from work. Just a few more thoughts, just
wait it out a bit longer…
But it wasn’t sustainable; I was scared of my own mind and
my own thoughts. This blip wasn’t going anywhere so I decided to go back to my
doctor and immediately he put me back onto the anti-depressants that I had
worked so hard to get off of 8 months previously, I was gutted.
There is no shame in taking medication and I know that if it
was anyone else, I would comfort them with the things we hear all the time
about taking medication for mental health issues; I’d tell them it was ok, that
sometimes we just need that helping hand and that depression is a chemical
imbalance and the medication helps to get things back on track, but I’m not so
great at turning that kindness inwards. Eleven days later and I know that it
was the right decision, aside from the initial side effects, my general mood
has improved – the depression is still there,
it just feels very numbed down. I am aware that I haven’t cried in eleven days,
which having cried so much beforehand is a very strange sensation. I’ve been
close, but it’s like the tears are just out of reach right now, even if at
times they would be a relief.
So, why am I telling you all of this?
It’s not for sympathy – I know some really lovely people
read my posts and I am very grateful for words of comfort ❤ However, it is
more for awareness. For the people who don’t
know what depression feels like; for employers, parents, friends, spouses,
siblings, work colleagues…
When someone has depression it can be very hard to know what they are going through because it can be very hard for them to try and explain it. For example, the word ‘suicide’ makes people panic, but just because we have those thoughts, doesn’t mean we have any plans or even a real desire to carry it out. However, the thoughts and idealisation are a symptom of being depressed and they can be unwanted and distressing. People with depression can very often feel overwhelmed by the smallest of things and they may suffer with disassociation – which, I’m sure is the minds way of trying to protect itself, but again it can be very unnerving and distressing.
I know that when I’m depressed, I’m very quiet – but this
does not mean my mind is. My thoughts are going too fast, getting too jumbled,
being too loud, contradicting themselves. With all of that going on inside my
head it becomes very hard to determine what
one thing is wrong – what do I tell
you, when even to me it makes no sense? When I have the logical answer but the
illogical thoughts are so loud that they drown it out?
Seeking help – even when we know it’s the right thing, can
be incredibly hard for a number of reasons. It can be hard on the very basic
level of getting a doctor’s appointment, but it can also be hard because we
know that once we are in the consulting room, we need to talk and that can
sometimes be a challenge in itself. We have to face up to what is happening,
and this may mean going onto medication or taking time off of work which may
impact on finances and career aspirations. Guilt is also a massive factor when
it comes to depression; I have always pushed on because I don’t want to let anyone down, whilst neglecting my needs in the
process. If you are an employer and a member of staff has called in sick with
depression – please, acknowledge that this was probably incredibly hard for
them to do.
There is a lot we don’t say, a lot you don’t see because we
feel that keeping it hidden will save others the discomfort – but depression
isn’t just a case of feeling sad. It
is a whole myriad of emotions, of symptoms and of discomfort. Its complex, and
its different for everyone – we rarely understand it ourselves and yet people
so often want answers from us.
But this is also how depression works – it isolates us, it
whispers in our ear that no-one really cares, that others have it worse, that
if we tell people the truth we will push them away. Depression lies – but it’s
So, if you know someone who is depressed, in the words of Stephen Fry – ‘please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through.’ – Because we don’t want you to fix us, scold us, push us or protect us from ourselves, we just want you to be there, and accept us.
Because knowing that you are there, without judgement, is perhaps the most helpful thing of all.
Zero Suicide Alliance – A free online course which takes all of about 20 minutes which offers some useful knowledge that will help if you think someone is suicidal or if someone confides in you that they are having suicidal thoughts.
Mind & Blurt – Two really great mental health charities offering great advice and support – for those suffering from depression and also for those who help support us ❤
Thank you for reading
If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me
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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
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
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.
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