Together


Photo by Maarten Verstraete on Unsplash

I told him that I was frightened of my own mind
again

And he wrapped me up
took me out

And he held my hand whilst we counted the stars
together

And the universe, and he
calmed me

Again
together

The Perils of Writing What You Know (& The Perks)

bp

This already feels like a bit of a weird post, so bear with…

I have been blogging now for just over a month but I have been writing for years, I’m 34 and I think I wrote my first (questionable) piece of fiction before I entered my teens. I have always enjoyed writing, putting words down onto paper; creating new worlds and characters to inhabit them. Even when I am not writing, I am imagining; whether through the words of someone else, or just by myself. Reading and writing has always brought me great comfort, even in my darkest moments.

A few years ago, I joined a site where I could be completely anonymous. The nature of the site wasn’t based upon writing, but I posted my words there nonetheless and people liked them! This was the first real validation I had received outside of close family and friends. I wrote fiction and I also wrote about my own mental health – and I received comments and loves and private messages thanking me for being brave (when I felt anything but). People commented on how I had helped them, or how I inspired them. I received support on my bad days and on my good, I was able to encourage and support others. There was a nice little community feeling and for a while it was fantastic. The Blurt Foundation posted a series of Instagram ‘prompts’ – initially for pictures to be posted on the platform, but I shared the list on this site and people joined in with their writings, sharing stories of their own struggles with mental health with complete openness and honesty whilst supporting those that had also decided to join in. New friendships were formed, it was a really positive experience and it got people talking about mental health which is so very important.

However, for reasons unrelated to writing, my relationship with the site was never a completely comfortable one. On one hand, the anonymity allowed me to be completely open, but in being completely open you can become quite fragile. There were times, when being on the site consumed most of my time, there were relationships formed there that weren’t entirely healthy and there were times when for my own mental health I needed to step away. This was a pattern I got into throughout the years, but last year I stepped away and I never went back.

Around the same time, I also had a really difficult discussion with a family member regarding the therapy I was due to start in the winter – something that I had written got brought up in this conversation and I had the overwhelming sense that they believed that writing about my experiences and then sharing it was wrong. For months after that, I didn’t write – I couldn’t write.

I had not only lost my place to share it and feel connected with people, but I had also lost my confidence. I joined Fiverr briefly and wrote short stories for people, but there was no real pleasure in it, I wasn’t writing anything that felt true to me. It felt empty and hollow and when I got commission emails through I felt deflated, where once, I would have felt excited.

I did start the therapy though. On my second session I took my therapist a folder full of things I had written over the previous ten years – not all of it, but a carefully curated selection. I think anyone that has been to see various doctors and therapists can understand the frustration of going through the same (sometimes very difficult) stories. In my third session he told me how impressed he had been with some of my writing, he also asked me who I was writing to? I didn’t have an answer for that.

The sessions continued over the course of the next few weeks and in one of them I told him that I hadn’t written anything for months. He took this in (as therapists do) and then about twenty minutes later he asked me what my dream was, what my ideal life looked like.

“Well, I wouldn’t have to go to work…” The words escaped my lips before I had even really thought about them. Work is a weird thing for me; it is a challenge every single day. Not because of the work, but because of the toll it takes on my mental health. It is a catch 22 – I have written about it briefly here – but I know that ultimately work is healthy.

“If you were a writer, you wouldn’t have to do the job you do”

I laughed at the prospect, a writer! I hadn’t written anything of note in the last four months. “I’m not a writer…” I said quietly. “Writers write.”

You write! I was blown away by some of the things you wrote, there is real talent there…”

“Was.” I corrected him. “There was. I don’t know what to write any more.”

“Then write anything. It doesn’t have to be mind blowing, it doesn’t have to be heartfelt, it doesn’t even have to be shared. It can just be words, on a page.”

I went away and mulled this over for a few days, Friends gave me encouraging advice but still, blank screens and crisp white pages gave me the shudders. I had heard of a journaling challenge created by Michelle Chalfant who I had been following on social media after discovering ‘The Adult Chair’. It was a month’s worth of prompts designed to get you thinking about your emotions, your triggers and your reactions. I had downloaded them and looked at them briefly – but the first one, was simply ‘You’. That was pretty daunting…

I considered setting up a completely anonymous WordPress blog if I was going to do this journaling challenge. I didn’t really know anything about WordPress but I figured it couldn’t be that hard; it also gave me a good excuse to procrastinate, I was absorbed in fonts and colours and themes… writing? Ha!

But one day, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. So I started on the first prompt… and after that first initial paragraph, it flowed. It flowed with honesty, it flowed with heartbreak and beauty and all of those things that makes writing so satisfying. But it was honest; very, very honest. I couldn’t put it online, not where people would actually read it.

(I have covered some of those very honest subjects since, but all in one go, it was a little overwhelming.)

I also realised very quickly that I didn’t want it to be ‘a secret’. So, I went through some older writings and posted them on my blog. I made an Instagram page, I made a Twitter account. I linked my Instagram to Facebook and invited friends who I knew would get it.

I had a blog…

Shit, I had a blog. I would have to write stuff! On one hand, this was super exciting, I finally had a place to share my words again and the people that had read what I had posted so far were very encouraging. My friend had also decided around the same time to set hers up too, and another friend that had not long finished uni was making noises that he wanted more of a presence online to promote the nutrition work he was now qualified in; we went and had breakfast and joked that we were becoming ‘influencers’ as we snapped pictures of our breakfasts and talked filters and hashtags, before deciding that we wanted to create a post together about the links between mental health and nutrition. This all felt really good, really positive. I had written some new stuff, I was really enjoying the process of writing and sharing it again.

I think the act of sharing it, for me, is very important. I don’t fully know why, but it feels like it gives the writing a sense of purpose – and especially with it being largely about mental health, that purpose is all about demystifying a topic that is not talked about enough. To have a mental health condition, any mental health condition, can be terrifyingly isolating. Over the last few weeks, I have begun to realise that the answer to my therapist’s question, was me. I was writing it to me, but not the me now; the teenage me who faced bullies every day and didn’t know how to fight back, the me who felt I had let everyone down by not being ‘strong enough’ or that ‘being too sensitive’ was a huge character flaw. I was writing for the younger me, the child me, the teenage me and I was also writing for the adult me who ten years ago forced herself into work every day whilst surviving on nothing but coffee, extra strong mints and insomnia.  I was writing for the girl who was so terrified to put food in her mouth that impassable, yet invisible, lumps formed within her throat. I was writing to a woman who always felt cold, always felt scared, and always felt overwhelmed. I was writing to the person who didn’t know how to get all of these words out, to the person who had all the words but they formed an incomprehensible, jumbled mess within her mind. I was writing to the girl that just needed comfort and that needed to feel less alone – because I knew that even though it felt so incredibly lonely, there were thousands upon thousands of people who felt the way I did.

I read some of my older posts with a view to sharing them, and I wept. There was so much pain, and also so many times where it sounded like I had it all figured out – without having the foresight to know that another blip, another illness, a difficult workplace or new anxiety was around the corner. I read some words and felt embarrassment and I read others and felt awe that even in the midst of a deep, dark depression, I had written something that had encapsulated it all so precisely. I thought of sharing some on my blog and I thought of who would read it… the words were too honest.

My mood was slipping, there were days when it all felt too much; too overwhelming…

I didn’t know why, do we ever know why with depression? It could have been a number of ‘logical’ things; I am still, seven months later, adjusting to life without medication and trying to treat mental illness and fibromyalgia holistically (I do not have anything against conventional medication and I will be writing about this in due course), I have been more sociable lately and that, whilst lovely, always makes me very tired which makes me more prone to low mood. I am still in therapy, which can be very difficult at times. My dog is sick with an ongoing and seemingly undiagnosable illness… things mount up, but of course it really could just be that I was going through a blip and it would pass.

Or, it could be that suddenly I was being open about my mental health again, and honest – not only with my words, but also with my feelings. I wasn’t just bumbling through, carrying on regardless, I was thinking about them because I was writing about them. I also was beginning to follow other mental health bloggers on Twitter and Instagram, and whilst those communities are wonderful and supportive, it is all there.

It is, like many things that surround mental health, very contradictory. We need to talk about it, we need to get our voices and our stories and our support for each other out there – we need to be able to say when we are struggling and we encourage others to do the same, but in doing that it can all feel very… overwhelming. It can feel overwhelming for those of us that share because suddenly all of these thoughts that don’t feel like our own at times, but that definitely come from us are out there and it’s not just strangers on the internet that read it – it’s our friends, our parents and sometimes even our employers. I have spent my entire life feeling like I am too… sensitive/open/honest/experimental/generous/open minded/empathic and like I should always reel my behaviour in – and therefore sharing how I feel can at times be very, very difficult; as soon as it’s out there, I want to snatch it back in. I am an introvert by nature and pretty quiet and softly spoken; I am not one to get up on my soapbox or get in to big debates – but I do believe that conversations about mental health are so very important and as someone who has been there, done that, got the t-shirt and who keeps taking it back for an exchange, I need that to all be for something! If that ‘something’ is helping just one person, then I have done what I set out to do.

So… being a mental health blogger with a mental health condition (or three), is hard. It’s hard because amongst all of it you are on your own journey and you have your own demons to slay. It’s hard because you know only too well the pain that others are going through and sometimes, that pain can trigger your own. It’s hard because it means being open about an illness that feeds off of isolation and it’s hard because that openness isn’t limited towards strangers.

But it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because it starts conversations and helps people to feel less alone and less scared. It’s worth it because it can help me to believe that all of this pain was for something, and it’s worth it because it means I get to write about something that I feel passionate about once again. I have learnt a lot in a month; I have learnt that in general, my confidence soars when I am doing something I love. That not only do I write passionately about mental health, I can also talk passionately about it to people, in person. I have learnt that in sharing my stories it encourages people to share their own and to have difficult conversations with loved ones… but, I have also learnt that there is a flip side. The flip side happens when I spend too much time on social media, or too much time analysing what I have written. It happens when I follow people back without really looking at their profile and then wake up to a highly triggering picture, it happens when I forget to take care of myself amongst it all.

Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others

I have learnt that there are days when I am going to have to remember that one.


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 Frequency of Sadness

na

Yesterday, my therapist asked me to describe to him what my depression felt like.

I write, and I write a lot. I love language, I love words, I love reading and I love coming up with analogies and how to describe things in a way that help other people understand the (sometimes) incomprehensible. Last week I wrote about how I imagine my depression acting like a thick, gloopy tar within my mind and I received a number of lovely comments and messages saying how relatable that feeling and description was.

But he didn’t want to know the fancy analogies and the almost cartoon like way that I see my nemesis. He wanted to know what it did to me, where it put me emotionally, what happened to my behaviour whilst I was in that place… and I sat across from him, as the early spring sunlight poured in to the room that has become so familiar over the last eleven weeks, and I didn’t know what to say.

“You look sad…” His voice was compassionate, his eyes kind, I was in a safe space where I could blurt out anything and be heard, but the words weren’t there. It was like they had got caught in that thick sticky tar somewhere between my mind and my mouth.

And I was sad, overwhelmingly sad.

I felt in the moment that if I spoke, the words wouldn’t get past the lump in my throat. Even now, writing this, I have that same feeling of a block.

Over the next twenty minutes or so, we came up with four words that I felt summed up that feeling…

  • Isolating
  • Lonely
  • Small
  • Lost

I felt, even as I was saying them, like I was somehow wrong

“But it’s ridiculous!” I protested (against myself) “I can’t be lonely, I have a wonderful husband; I have great friends, a big family who all love me.”

“Yes, but it’s not about them. This is bigger than that…”

And it is. Depression is huge – it swamps even gigantic things in its enormity; it swamps anything good, anything positive. No wonder I feel small in the face of it and lost in the vastness of it.

We spoke more about what I do when I feel like that, how I try and avoid it and manage it but how it is always there. I was reminded yesterday of two beautiful songs – one slightly older by A Camp, and one I have only recently discovered in the last few weeks by Phoebe Bridgers:

Angel of sadness

Leave me alone

Save me some hours

To try on my own

When the music is over

The silence is on

You know I will be yours alone

So pick me up

And carry me home

A Camp – Angel of Sadness

In this song, Nina sums up what living with depression is like in the long term. It’s there, it’s always there and it becomes so familiar that there is even a certain safety in it at times. I know that on days where I feel good, where I feel happy and confident I tend to get to a point where it begins to feel almost too much, like all this happiness is making me giddy and I’ve become too loud, too talkative, too excited about something. When the quietness comes, the friends go home or the busyness stops; Depression reels me back in, strokes my hair and lulls me back into that false security.

Jesus Christ I’m so blue all the time

And that’s just how I feel

I always have

And I always will

Phoebe Bridgers – Funeral

Acceptance, it’s sad and it’s… huh, depressing. But it’s kind of like – yep, I’m sad, all of the time. I could win a million bucks on Saturday’s lotto and that would take so much pressure off, I could look into the eyes of my baby nephew (who is frickin adorable by the way) and see hope and possibilities and feel overwhelming love. I can slip my hand into that of my husbands or laugh and confide with my friends and feel so grateful that these amazing people are in my life and that I feel so connected to them, I can stand on a mountaintop and feel the wind in my hair and feel grateful to be alive… but the sadness doesn’t go away.  Some days it’s little and some days it’s overwhelming – but it’s like that low frequency hum some people hear in the silence of night time: my depression just controls the volume dial.

When I started sharing my writing on this blog, I did it with the aim of reaching people who felt alone and isolated in their struggles. I know that feeling well and it’s horrible. However, there are times when I doubt how effective this tactic is – depression, in its very essence, is isolating. We all know that metaphor of standing in a crowded room and feeling so alone, that is what depression does.

But if you are reading this and you do feel like that, or if you are reading this and all you can feel is emptiness and apathy. Or, if rage or hurt or injustice is swelling up inside you and you don’t know why or how to release it. If waking up is painful and the silence at night is deafening. If it’s easier to numb it all out with things that hurt, but on a lesser scale. If you want to just say sorry, to everyone you have ever loved but you don’t even know why or what for, if the words won’t come, or the tears won’t come or the sunlight doesn’t seem to reach you right now – please know, that one day it will. It may reach you like dappled light on a summers afternoon or like in a cool forest where it filters down through the branches of old and wise trees, it may only touch you momentarily to start with, but it will come.

And with that sunlight comes resilience to the sadness.

Because I can’t promise you that the sadness will ever fully go away, even though I wish I could. But I can promise you that depression won’t always win – and that is what we all have to hold on to.

All of us, because there are many.

And even if it feels like it at times, we are definitely not alone ❤  

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