The Journey

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.

Written for the May Writing Challenge

Week 1, day 1: Door

The Impact of Bullying

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?

No…

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 that didn’t.

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.

Image credit: The Mighty

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 decades.

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 express it.

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! 🐶

Original image credit: Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

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Too… Quiet


Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Do you know the one thing that quiet people love to hear? ‘Gosh, you’re quiet, aren’t you?’

 *Raises eyebrow*

 No, ok I’m joking, of course we don’t.  

I have been ‘the quiet girl’ my entire life. I will chat away with my husband, or my friends, or my family… but any more than three people at once, my words become fewer and the spaces between them wider. I’m the quiet one in the friendship groups, the one that waits until everyone else has finished talking before piping up. I blush if too many people’s eyes are upon me when I’m talking, I sometimes feel like I talk too much and like I want to catch the words as they spill forth out of my mouth and cram them back in to a place of silence and safety.

 It’s not that I’m quiet all of the time, but I find other people much more interesting than myself. I would much rather listen than talk – because when you listen, you learn. You learn all sorts, you learn not only from what people say, but you learn by observing; you learn by the little mannerisms they have just before they talk, by the way their voice rises around certain people as if to elevate their importance. You learn what they are passionate about as you watch their eyes smile and twinkle and you learn when they are masking the truth as they tell you they are fine, but their eyes give them away. You learn by observing who else they talk to, by how they treat others and by what stories you hear a million times, and why. You can learn a lot by being quiet and by letting other people talk.

 It sounds like I’m trying to catch people out – I’m not! My observing of people comes from a place of seeking understanding and acceptance of the fact that we are all different and we all have our strengths, we all have our anxieties and we all have our own battles that we face, every day.

 When I was younger, I longed to be louder. I longed to be someone who could spark up a conversation with anyone, who could lead conversations and who could be interesting all of the time. I made up conversations in my head to have with people the next time I saw them, I rehearsed them and in my bedroom, I was confident and brave… in reality not so much. I watched the confident girls, I watched the adults – I saw how they interacted with each other and how easily it all seemed to flow. One day, one day I would find that confidence from somewhere and I would be just like that…

 Somewhere along the line though, I realised that people who were loud, were not necessarily confident, and to quote Joel Barrish ‘constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating’. Don’t get me wrong, I still admire people who carry conversations and who are the life and soul of any room they walk into – but I’m learning that it is ok to not be that person, and sometimes even the people who we think are ‘that person’, aren’t.

 I think I also realise how much power words have. As someone who was bullied verbally for most of my secondary school years, I learnt of the damage they can cause and has someone who writes I can also appreciate the beauty of them. Words to me aren’t just things to carelessly throw around whilst hoping for the best; they are tools, they are weapons and they are magic. I choose my words carefully and I think about them often – sometimes before I have a conversation (I haven’t neglected that trait) and sometimes after when I replay the conversation within my mind.

Yesterday, in therapy, we were talking about how as a quiet person I can sometimes feel like I talk too much. Its part of this whole negative thought cycle I need to try and break because it is something I do very often. Yesterday I gave my therapist an example, something that only happened a few days ago; my mother and step-father in law were over for dinner, we all get on well, we were all talking. My step father in law and I got into a conversation about my blog, about mental health, about his work and how he deals with people on a day-to-day basis who have mental health issues, sometimes very severely.  When I talk about mental health, I can become quite passionate (I know, you are shocked, right?) and it was really lovely to have this conversation with someone after a few days of really doubting myself…

However, as soon as they went home, the negative self- talk started. I had talked too much, I had said too much, I had become too big, too confident and what must he think of me? Had I sounded self-absorbed? Is this whole writing thing self-absorbed? Had I neglected my husband, or my mother in law by talking about myself? What if they had wanted to talk about something and I had steamrollered all over it with my bloody voice?! Oh god, my voice – who likes the sound of their own voice, right? Especially if its talking about something really boring, or something that I’ve got completely wrong… I should probably just go and find a hole to burrow into and not come out for a few days, right?

“That’s really horrible…”

My therapist looked at me after I had spurted all of these thoughts out… I think instead of burrowing into a hole I had said ‘get back into my box’, but, semantics…

He asked me if my very lovely, very encouraging, very gentle step father in law had showed any signs of being bored by the conversation; if he had yawned, if he had sighed, if he had tried to change topic, if he had not replied to me, if he had got up and left the room…? No, he had done none of those things. He asked me who had told me that I talk to much… well, no-one, I’m a quiet person, I don’t talk much so that has never been an issue. He asked me what is wrong with being passionate about something and having a conversation – a two-sided, adult conversation – about it? Nothing…

I need to change these thoughts. I need to stop with the self-doubt, with the negative voice that constantly natters away within my own mind. I encourage others to talk, to explore their passions, to get the words out and I assure them I will always, always listen – because I will, I am pretty good at that bit. But I need to listen to that advice myself, and I need to start believing in it too.

He said to me very gently before our session ended yesterday…

“Don’t try and shrink yourself anymore Naomi…”

But that is smallness, and safety, and hiding away…

…and that is one for another day.


Click here to check out my previous post in this series: Too… Sensitive

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Codependent

Image credit: Dominik Vanyi @ Unsplash

Codependency was a word that I never fully grasped; it was something I never fully understood and something that – even now – I struggle to spell!

And yet, I was it, I was it to the letter. If anyone wanted an example of what a co-dependant person looked like, they could just bring me forward, with my phone firmly planted within my hand and my attention off elsewhere, and show me off as a good and fine specimen of someone who has fallen into that trap…

I hadn’t become this way intentionally of course, I hadn’t even become this way consciously, but I had become it all the same. It had happened over years, namely with one person, but there are little glimpses and tell-tale signs with others too. However, with this one person it was powerful, it was overwhelming and it was becoming very, very damaging.

This was a person who I had never met and who I had no real intention of meeting. He was a man who I had met online years ago, our conversations had started out regarding a shared interest in mental health and we had formed a friendship of sorts. Sometimes it is easier to talk about the hard stuff with someone if you don’t have to look them in the eye… and so, we gradually opened up to each other. He told me things that he had (allegedly) not told anyone else and I listened and advised the best that I could. When I suffered dips in my mental health, I turned not only to my husband and closest friends, but also to him. He always replied, always acknowledged my feelings… and then always reciprocated with his own.  

This isn’t a writing about how a friendship turned sour though, far from it. We don’t talk now, after a very difficult conversation we decided to have some time apart and whilst I admire him in many ways and still sometimes feel like I have lost a huge pillar of strength within my life, I also know that he has to address his own problems before we could ever hope to build a healthy relationship.

I also know that I need to address mine.

Because co-dependency doesn’t just spring up from nowhere. I became co-dependent because I had a need for something, something that was lacking and something that even now I struggle to identify. My over whelming desire within this friendship, was to fix; I wanted to make everything better, I could see the damage that was being done by my friends behaviours, but I could also see the things that would help him and I could see such potential – if only he would listen!

But he was listening, wasn’t he? We would have these long conversations; we would talk our way round the same situations day, after day, after day. He would ask me ‘What do I do?’ and I would reply with logic and compassion. I harnessed everything that I had learnt in therapy, everything that I had read about mental health and addiction. I would read articles online to try and improve my knowledge of the specific things he was struggling with. I would talk to my best friend – a qualified mental health nurse – and relay information, I would find song lyrics that resonated with his struggles and send him the music so he didn’t feel so alone. I would speak to him first thing in the morning and last thing at night, I would engage in behaviour that was damaging to my own mental health, in order to prevent him from either a) getting what he needed in that moment from someone who was potentially dangerous for his mental health or b) hurting someone else. But this was friendship, right? This was helping him, surely?

No, and no.

I remember very clearly the moment that it all clicked. It was on a day off, so I had been at home by myself all day and, yes, talking to him via text for a good part of it. I was feeling pretty tired – this was at the end of last year, so very much still combating my own medication withdrawal and Fibromyalgia symptoms. I ran a bath, loaded up Insight Timer and I saw a talk on the homepage by Michelle Chalfant about codependency…

I led in the bath and listened to her describe the behaviour I had been exhibiting, for years. Not just ‘oh, that kind of applies’ but every, single, item on that list I could identify and relate back to something I had done. I realised that I was not ok, if he was not ok – and he, was never ok.

It was like my empathy with this man had gone into overdrive, I wanted so desperately to make everything better for him that I had completely neglected myself in the process. He hadn’t specifically asked me to, he hadn’t directly put this stipulation on our friendship that I must behave in this way or he would leave – but I kind of felt that way all the same. I am learning the reasons now why I did that, I am working through my own feelings and my own motives for that behaviour – but it’s not easy.

We carried on talking for a while after that, but something had shifted. Truthfully, I was scared, I was scared to let him go because if I didn’t have him to ‘help’, then what would my purpose be? I was also very scared that actually, he wouldn’t care. That he would just say ‘ok then’ and go and I would end up with the weight of rejection upon my shoulders. I was also scared that all of this, all of these conversations, all of this kindness, this empathy, this care that I had willingly and freely given over months and years would be for nothing.

I was scared that it made me selfish.

Co-dependency is complex. My motives for my behaviour came from a number of different places – from the need to be heard, to my need for validation and also my natural desire to help and to empathise. The times that he would say ‘yes, this makes sense’ were the glimmers of light and the behaviour he continued to exhibit that went against that very same piece of advice, extinguished those sparks. But he would learn from that for next time, right? So I kept on, persevered and tried to be a good friend. In the end it just exacerbated those ingrained feelings and beliefs of being unheard, but to me, that was familiar and so it was ‘safe’. It was known behaviour so it was comforting even though it stung like ripping off a sticking plaster each and every time. I found that I couldn’t trust him, and yet I confided in him still. I found that I got angry with him, but it felt more like being angry at a child. I found that I was sinking into his problems whilst my own screamed at me from the surface…

Letting him go would also mean I didn’t have a distraction from my own problems anymore.

Eventually, it was my decision to end contact with him. It wasn’t pre-meditated, it wasn’t a thought out ‘I am going to have this conversation and it will be resolved by X, Y and Z’. It was a row – it was an insensitive comment made by him about my husband on a day when I was feeling depressed and in pain and having to brave it out at work. It was the argument that ensued and this voice that bubbled up inside me and screamed ‘this is not ok!’.  I had been ignoring this voice, my own voice that said repeatedly, for months, ‘I am done…’ but I should have listened to her; my inner child may be small and gentle but I was doing her no favours by not hearing her – eventually she screamed, a scream of pain, a scream of frustration and a scream so powerful that my decision was made in that instant. I was done.

Afterwards, it felt worse than any romantic break up that I had ever endured. I spoke to friends about it; I spoke to my husband and my therapist about it. I meditated on it, I questioned what I had done, and I checked his social media profiles to see if he was ok… but I didn’t go back.

One thing I noticed in those first couple of weeks was how much time I had! I wasn’t tied to my phone anymore. I also noticed that my confidence improved – I wasn’t hiding behind someone else’s problems. Yeah, sure, this meant all of my problems came to the surface but I could own them now. I tried to turn some of that care and affection back onto myself – and some days I manage it, some days I don’t, but at least I am trying. It’s something that will take months, if not years because it isn’t straightforward and this type of behaviour has roots that are buried deep.

I still miss him. I still wonder how he is, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am learning the importance of boundaries and the importance of true friendship. I am learning to listen to the voice of my inner child because she knew what was up before I had even registered it. I am learning to forgive – both him and myself and I am learning that we cannot, ever fix someone else.

We can love them, we can support them, we can validate their feelings and we can send them all the articles and song lyrics in the world.

But we cannot fix them, for that is a path they must walk alone.

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.


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The Anger Vortex

adrien-converse-505736-unsplash

I have a lot of thoughts buzzing around my head today after yesterdays therapy session and subsequent conversations with friends.

The therapy session was a really hard one – we talked a lot about anger, and my reactions to experiencing and observing it. It’s an emotion I struggle with, especially towards certain people and when I do feel anger it doesn’t really go anywhere, I kind of numb it down or find myself excusing other people’s behaviour. It’s something that I really need to try and work hard on because those feelings must go somewhere, and my therapist even suggested that it could result in feelings of depression and anxiety, so, yay! I bought myself a copy of Bessel van der Kolk’s ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ on my way home, so hopefully this will help me to see what happens to those emotions and encourage me to express myself more freely.

We also spoke about my issues surrounding smallness and safety – this is one for a much bigger writing and one that I don’t feel emotionally ready to broach just yet. But it was a very difficult conversation because it’s again something that there is no real, clear cut, answer to. These are behaviours and ways of thinking that have been ingrained over the last 34 years, they are impossible to resolve within 16 hours of therapy. They run deeper; I just need to arm myself with the tools within these sessions to be brave enough to face them head on…

There was also talk of the bullying I experienced at school – this is where things become really difficult for me because I don’t remember a lot of it, I remember certain incidents, certain insults, certain days, but I don’t remember anything tangible. My mind has done that thing of blacking out a lot of things in order to protect itself but my body, my reactions, my deeply ingrained thought processes – remember. I remember feeling scared for years on end, of feeling small and worthless and like every day was a struggle. I remember feelings of humiliation, of ‘not being good enough’, of wanting to hide and to shut everything off. I remember very vividly the first time I thought killing myself was the only way out, I was 14.

A month into my therapy sessions with my current therapist, we touched briefly on this period of my life and very gently he told me that what I experienced day, after day, after day was traumatic, he had brought the word ‘trauma’ into the room and no-one; no therapist, no doctor, no teacher and no parent had ever used that word before. But it was like suddenly, he opened up this door… I have written sentences before like ‘I was bullied, but most kids are bullied at some point’, that dismisses pain, and I was doing that to myself – repeatedly. I was bullied, yeah, big deal, shrug it off. But no, that type of dismissal needs to end in order to allow recovery to begin. What my therapist did by bringing that word into our sessions was to validate my pain, to put a reason behind why I struggle with the things I do – trauma is massive, and the impact it has on a person’s life is immeasurable.

As my session was wrapping up yesterday, he asked me for the name of the worst of the bullies, and then he asked me “Are you angry at her?”

And I replied honestly, “No.”

Because I’m not, I explained that as an adult I can understand that when children bully other children it is because they need to feel superior – and this can come from a place of deep inferiority and pain.

He smiled. “But you weren’t an adult when she bullied you; you were a child, experiencing your own pain…”

And I realised he was right, even in my worst moments of pain – in child and adulthood, I have never had the desire to make someone else feel bad. In fact, I swing rather too far the other way if anything. But still, the anger isn’t there, not really, it’s more sadness for the things she took from me – the confidence, the carefree childhood, the good grades that I still have to make explanations and allowances for in every job application I make. I suppose the one thing that does cause me the most distress is knowing she is a mother now. Not because of the person she is – I’m sure she’s a completely different person as an adult. But because that feels like the cruellest theft of all; if I didn’t have to deal with all of this trauma, if I hadn’t been fighting depression and anxiety since I left school, if I didn’t need medication to get me through the day for years on end then maybe I would be a mother now too.

Maybe.

But then maybe I wouldn’t be me, as I am now. Maybe if I hadn’t wanted to leave my home town and those memories so badly, I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have met my closest friends or been a version of a mother to our rag-tag collection of adopted dogs. Maybe I wouldn’t have developed the compassion I have; maybe I wouldn’t have found comfort in writing or found a sanctuary in nature, maybe I would be a completely different person.

Two days ago I replied to a girl on Twitter, someone I don’t know. She had posted that she was in her mid-twenties and she felt like depression had stolen her life. She wasn’t married, she had no kids, she was just trying to survive – and I told her that honestly, it doesn’t matter. Those things will come, and when they do she will have a much better understanding of herself and that will serve her and her future family well in the long run. I meant it; I meant every word because that is what I tell myself.

But yesterday… before therapy, I was angry. Not at a person, but at depression itself. At what it takes from us, at how it affects things you wouldn’t even consider. I was frustrated at my part-time hours, my low income and my levels of exhaustion. I was angry at myself because I was feeling agitated by the sound of my husband eating his lunch, I was annoyed that on my day off I had to spend four and a half hours of that getting the bus and going to therapy – a) because my anxiety prevents me from even driving and b) because as much as I like my therapist I would rather spend my days off doing something else – but mostly, I was so pissed off that the people this illness affects are some of the kindest, gentlest, most creative, sensitive and wonderful people I have ever met. Suddenly, all of it seemed so very, very unfair.

But that anger didn’t go anywhere.

So, things are linked, behaviours are repeated and ingrained, feelings feed off of each other and thoughts are constantly expanding and becoming deeper.  When I got home last night I was tearful, and exhausted, but I think I was also one step further on in my recovery. I am learning all the time, I feel like I am picking up chapters of a book but sometimes they are out of sequence and make no sense, but one day they just might – and one day, the comfort that I offered to that girl on Twitter will ring true for me too. Until then I suppose it is a matter of keeping on with the reading, the talking and learning how to be kind to myself, which is sometimes the hardest thing of all to do.

Until next time my loves Xx

Image credit: Adrien Converse on Unsplash

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Turn Around

Image by Yogendra Singh @ Pexels

You tried to outrun it, didn’t you?

You tried to speed ever onwards, not looking back. Through relationships, and jobs and sweet amber liquid that tasted like how you imagine silence might sound.

The bridges that you built in haste with shaking, trembling hands stood firm, they didn’t crumble, they didn’t fall. They held your heavy, fast footsteps as you cleared each one.

It was working.

It was messy and it was band aids and it was hard. But it was working, wasn’t it?

Until it wasn’t.

Until it gained speed behind you. Did it pick up it’s pace, or did you slacken yours?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter, it was going to catch up with you eventually.

Because you can’t outrun fear my love. You can’t outrun that little knot of fear and loneliness and emptiness that a small child once grasped with both hands and couldn’t let go of.

You need to take a deep breath, turn around and take it from him now. It’s heavy, so be careful.

Be brave.

And then you can walk the rest of the way, with a small hand in yours and the loneliness, at least, will subside.

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High Functioning


Photo by Carlos Ruiz Huaman on Unsplash

I’ll be honest from the outset here, this writing at the moment doesn’t have a neat little tied up ending, I don’t have the answer to the questions I am going to pose.

Still with me? Good! Because I don’t think I am alone in having these experiences or thoughts…

I was first diagnosed with depression and generalised anxiety disorder back in 2010, but things had been a little rocky on and off for years before that. However, a diagnosis can help with certain things. It can help with getting proper, professional help like medications and talking therapies. It can help when it comes to issues around work, and it can help when you finally feel brave enough to admit that something is wrong, to have that support and to know that there is an actual medical reason behind all of these feelings.

For the first year after my diagnosis, I crumbled, big time. It was like I had been holding all of these ribbons attached to helium balloons, but they were getting too much, too many. Once I admitted there was a problem, I let them all go. There was relief, but then panic, and then the frantic and desperate struggle to get back what I thought I had lost.

I am lucky in that I have a wonderful husband and supportive friends and family, because for just under a year I couldn’t work. I could barely leave my house alone because my anxiety had got so bad – so, I applied for benefits. I live in the UK and our benefits system here is at best, negligent and at worst, dangerous. As someone who was struggling with basic day-to-day functioning and feeling suicidal about 75% of the time, dealing with the Department of Work and Pensions was a real battle. It was confusing, it was demoralising and it was overwhelming. When I finally had a workplace assessment (because the opinion of your qualified GP in this instance isn’t enough) I was told that because I could walk unaided, because I wore clean clothes and because I kept eye contact throughout my assessment, I was fit for work.

Now – this is nine years ago. I would like to think that the system has got better at recognising how debilitating mental illnesses can be, however, from what I have heard and read, I don’t think a huge amount has changed.

Anyway, my parents and my husband on my behalf, appealed the decision. I was in the appeal room for 10 minutes before one of the panel looked at me and then back at the paper in front of him in disbelief. He looked at my mum and told her to take me home and take good care of me, the decision of the original assessment was overruled, there was no way I could work.

This decision bought me time to heal, which I was very grateful for. To be exact, it bought me a year. I was told that the particular benefit I was claiming (Employment and Support Allowance) was only eligible for twelve months, after that I would have to find work or be put on to a different benefit where they would ‘encourage’ me to find work. But at that moment I didn’t care, that particular nightmare was over, I could go back to just fighting with my mind for a while at least.

So… we fast forward nine years. Before that year on ESA was up, I was working permitted hours in a care home doing night shifts. After that, once the time benefit of the allowance had expired, I was a waitress, then I worked in retail, then reception roles… I had to. It was all part time, but if I didn’t work, we couldn’t afford to eat, it was that simple.

Over the course of these past nine years, I have had blips. I have had quite serious blips and there have been times when my mental and physical health have taken a real nosedive. I have had moments where all the worst feelings of anxiety have come back and hit me like a freight train, I have had times when I have been suicidal, I have had times at work where I haven’t been able to stop crying because the depression has been too much. I have got home from work and cried so much that I had to be sedated with one of the Tamazepam I keep stashed away in case of an emergency because I felt so overwhelmed. I have hidden self-harm scars underneath uniforms and pretty dresses.  I have gone to work in the morning after sleepless nights, I have been exhausted, I have been medicated and unmedicated, I have gone through medication withdrawal – timing the ‘worst’ week to co-incide with annual leave so that I could just ‘keep going’.

And I have worn a mask.

I have smiled whilst my heart has been shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. I have made small talk whilst the voices in my head hiss at me that I’m worthless and boring and ridiculous, and I have told hundreds of people that ‘I’m fine’ when I have been anything but.

And I know that others do the same, every single day.

We do it for many reasons. I can’t speak for others, but I know that for me I couldn’t go through the whole benefits system again; when I need that help, when I am struggling and finding work and routine difficult, that is the time when it all feels too much. I also know that work helps in the long term – routine is very, very important. Seeing people is important, having conversations and laughing with work colleagues and going on nights out is important, as is earning money and having some sort of independence. This is all part of living and if I tell myself that I cannot do something because of my illness, then it gains more power and it has already taken enough from me.

What all of this has done though, has made me what is referred to as a ‘high functioning depressive’. To meet me, you wouldn’t know I suffer so much with my mental health. I have had conversations with people who look at me in disbelief when I bring up the D word.

One, quite telling, marker that has become apparent recently is a form I have to fill in every week. I am currently going through a 16-week course of Cognitive Analytical Therapy and every week before I leave, my therapist gives me a form to fill out on the day of my next appointment. Its very short, 9 questions to be completed by ticking a box. You can find various versions of them online by searching ‘PHQ-9’ in Google. I tend to score roughly between 18 – 24, depending on how my week has been. The highest score, the score that tells your healthcare practitioner how severe your depression is, is 27.

But I am, to all intents and purposes, well. I work, I socialise, I laugh with my friends and family, I read, I have started a new venture recently (this blog). But I am, most weeks, scoring as ‘severely depressed’.

And I am. I know it in quiet moments, I know it during those first few moments of waking up and the final few moments before going to sleep. I know it when I am exhausted from spending time with the people I love and I know it when the sound of my husband’s breathing or chewing makes me want to scream. I know because of the invasive thoughts that I have, I know because of the little voice in my head that nags, I know because I ruminate too much and I take pleasure in too little. I know, because I don’t get excited about things.

But you wouldn’t know, because I know how to hide it.

And I don’t think I am alone in this. We all have things that we become very good at hiding – ‘high functioning’ doesn’t just prefix depression – it prefixes anxiety, alcoholism, autism and even sociopathy. It can be dangerous though, it can be exhausting, and it can be very isolating. I am – as I have said before, very lucky. My closest friends know, my husband and my family know and I have wonderful support, but even with support, depression is prone to make you feel isolated.

It does work both ways though – it’s kind of like a vicious cycle with perks. If I wasn’t so adept at wearing this mask then I wouldn’t be able to work, I wouldn’t have routine which does improve my mental health in the long run. We sometimes need to force ourselves into action in order to generate action – call it bloody mindedness, but on days where I can appreciate the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair, I know I am fighting this beast for a reason.

My PHQ-9 score will fluctuate. At the moment I am scoring high, but we are emerging from winter and it is a time of change and growth, which can be tiring and overwhelming. At some periods I settle around a 14-16 and in really good times I may even dip down to a 12! But right now, I am and have been for a good while, high functioning.

And so, to the ending, the dreaded inconclusive bit. There is something I want to make very clear at this point; this isn’t a call to arms to keep going, to ignore the pain you feel and plough on regardless. Please, don’t ever do that. Depression is serious, it’s not something that can be ignored. If you are feeling depressed, then I urge you to seek help. I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t acknowledged what was happening. I have been on medication, I have been to therapy and I have confided in friends and family. My employers know about my mental health and I do know, on really bad days, what to do in order to keep myself safe – and sometimes, when the blip stretches on, when my mood is increasingly becoming lower then it is time to pause. Its not shameful to have depression, or anxiety. It doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t mean you have failed.

In the UK, these helplines may be useful:

Samaritans: 116 123 (24 Hours)

Rethink: 0300 5000 927 (Mon to Fri, 9.30am to 4pm)

Men’s Health Forum: www.menshealthforum.org.uk

Until next time my loves, stay safe x

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