Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 Review / New Year (woo!)

On January 1st 2014 I decided I needed to remember the good things.

The thing about a mental illness is that you tend to fixate on a negative. Or lots of negatives.

So the new year brought with it a chance for me to -

  1. try to focus on the good things
  2. find the positives
  3. use a spare diary I got for Christmas
  4. make a New Years Resolution I might actually stick to for once

And so, the Book of Gratitude was born. The aim? That every single day of 2014, no matter how shit my day was and no matter how low my mood, I should try to find something to be thankful for.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Happy Christmas

This is quite simply a little Happy Christmas post. It's probably my favourite time of the year, and while I was not feeling festive at the beginning of December, I am delighted to be home for Christmas now for a number of reasons.

1) Presents (I'm not going to lie, I am as excited about getting Christmas presents as a 6 year old who asked Santa for one of those Frozen dolls. But I also love giving presents. And I like to think I give some pretty amazing presents!)

2) Family (Getting to spend time with my Grandmother who I don't get to see often is especially exciting)

3) Time off from work (I'm taking half of my work holidays just so I can spend a fantastic 2 weeks at home)

4) My little kitten Blue (After a frantic week of searching, little 2 month old Blue was discovered by my sister while she was babysitting for a neighbour. Blue is now our own little Christmas Miracle)

5) Christmas TV (I am really looking forward to watching Love Actually, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the Doctor Who Christmas Special)

6) Friends (There are so many people that I haven't caught up with in a long time. Christmas will be my time to do that!)

Christmas has always been kind to my mental health, it's the period directly after that can cause me a lot of difficulties. Whether it's returning back to Dublin, the loneliness post-festive season, or the sharp contrast between 'woo, joyful Christmassy feelings' and normality, I've experienced it a few times now.

But I shouldn't fret about post-Christmas when I'm still in the middle of the celebrations. And besides....

There are lots of little things to look forward to about Christmas, even if is just sipping a cup of tea in front of the fire, catching up with a friend you haven't seen in a while, or the look of joy on your sister's face when she opens your Christmas present (I hope!) 

So from me, to you, Happy Christmas. I hope it's a good one.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The World Isn't Divided into Good and Bad

I had the best weekend. Everyone I have seen so far this week has heard about it.
The most beautiful bundle of joy in the form of a 2 month old kitten named Blue came into my life and sat on my knee and it was perfect. Blue is the most adorable kitten I have ever seen. And as someone who grew up with kittens, that's saying a lot.

Getting Blue came on the back of the death of Puddy; a kitten we've had since March. Puddy came to us starving and sick and hurt. And we nursed her back to as much health as we could over the 7 odd months we had her. But in the past month her health deteriorated again. And when she could no longer groom herself she had to be put down. I was frankly rather miserable when I heard the news. But I now understand that it was for the best.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Reflecting on ASIST

Reflecting back on my weekend training.

Two weeks ago I completed ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). Over the two-day course in what the trainers call 'suicide first-aid', participants take part in discussions, watch videos and role plays. The idea is to train 20 odd individuals in how to prevent someone who is suicidal from taking their own life.

I've wanted to do ASIST training for two years now. It's been on my to-do list ever since I did safeTALK training back in 2012, but I was never able to find a date that suited me. More recently, completing ASIST made it to my '23 things I want to try before I'm 23' list. Not only did I want to complete it, but I felt I needed to. 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Happy December

I love December. People just seem to come together at this time of year, and maybe it's the presents talking, but I really like it. How can you not like Christmas? I mean, apart from the commercialization of a religious holiday, it's got lights and sweets, family and friends, countless servings of Christmas dinner, and a man that enters your house to leave you exactly what you wanted during the night. December is a pretty good month.

However, so far my December hasn't gotten off to the greatest and most festive of starts.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

27th November

I was in UCD last weekend. It was first proper time I'd been back in two months. Even counting every summer over the past 4 years it's the longest I've been away from UCD. 
I am such a nerd...

And while I should be reflecting on why I was on campus (ASIST - Suicide Prevention Training) and I will make a mental note to do so later on, right now I want to look at the complete difference in your social life not being in University makes.

As socially isolating as I found University at times, not being in college can also be isolating. This is my first year since I was 3 years old NOT in education. This is the first year I don't get at least 2 weeks off for Christmas Holidays. This is post-academia and it's really kinda scary.

What a change entering the 'real world' is, as I like to call it.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Winter is Coming...

We don't get as much snow in Ireland as I'd like us to. But none the less I am aware that it is hat-and-gloves cold now, often frosty, and Christmas is everywhere.

So Winter is finally here (yay!) but with the seasonal change can also come mood changes. (Seasonal affective disorder)
Put it down to lack of sunlight, a part of evolution (like animals hibernating), or related to hormones, but it is an actual condition triggered by changes to the season, be that summer or winter. Noticed you get down every year in the cold weather? You're fatigued? Over-eating? These can all be symptoms.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Radar - Suicide Prevention?

You've probably read about it already - The Samaritans, a great mental health charity who offer a 24 hour helpline, have launched a suicide prevention app called Radar.
You can use Radar to monitor the people you follow on Twitter to identify whether or not they might be suicidal. It scans through their tweets and flags any that use key words which suggest they might be feeling that way - e.g. 'hate myself', 'help me', 'depressed'.

In theory, the idea is that you receive an email when someone you follow tweets any of the 'key words' and you are then encouraged to follow up with it, either by Direct Message or offline.

In reality, this app presents a lot of problems and borders on actually being dangerous.

Monday, 3 November 2014

13 Reasons Why - Jay Asher

Over the summer I read this book by Jay Asher. It's called 13 Reasons Why and was recommended online as a good book to read if you enjoyed The Fault In Our Stars.

13 Reasons Why runs with the tagline,
'There are 13 reasons why your friend died. You are one of them.'

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Autumnal Feelings

I love autumn. I love the colours. I love the falling leaves and the chill in the air. I love how images of nature (especially foxes and owls) are suddenly everywhere. I love that it's almost Winter.
(Plus it helps that all the good TV shows are starting up again after the summer break!)

So I have found myself in Autumn and appreciative of what the season brings.

So here are some of my favourite Autumn things:

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The importance of CONTACT

Busy, Busy, Busy

My life can be pretty hectic sometimes. Rushing from my part-time job, to my Internship, and then back to my part-time job - at times the only people I were seeing on a daily basis were staff and my housemates (also technically, staff), and maybe a bus driver here and there. I developed a pattern - wake, breakfast, bus to work, work, bus from work, dinner, make lunch, check emails, bed. With as many episodes of TV shows I can throw in-between.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Difficulty with Talking about Mental Health

It’s been tough starting to blog. My first blog post was easy. I just sat in front of my laptop and typed it up and hit ‘publish’ immediately. I never thought about the consequences; I didn’t think there would be any consequences.

‘Social Media and Your Mental Health’ is a topic not often visited in this sector. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogging) has been recognised as a powerful tool in letting people connect, share content, and promote a message for a while now. But we don’t stop to consider the impact, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, that this can have on your mental health.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

How to be there for a friend...

It's World Suicide Prevention Day. To mark it, I am writing about how we can all take little, individual steps to truly prevent suicide.

One of the hardest things we go through in life is having to witness a friend experiencing a crisis. Whether it be the break-up of a long-term relationship, the death of a close relative, or struggling with mental illness, it can be a real test of friendship to be supportive in these situations. It's not always easy to offer help, and it's not always easy to know what the right thing to do is.

So here are my tips on how to be there for a friend who is going through a crisis:

Friday, 5 September 2014

And I'll Be Curled On The Floor Hiding Out From It All

Oh and I'm feeling 
Directionless yes 
But that's to be expected 
And I know that best 
And in creeps the morning 
And another day's lost  
... ... ... ... ... ... 
And I'll be curled on the floor
Hiding out from it all 
Tegan & Sara, 'Soil, Soil' 

You all know the stereotype. The depressed person who hides under their duvet cover and won't get out of bed. Why is it that they can't leave the house and face the world like everyone else does?

Well here's my response.

I'm going to talk through with you why many people who live with depression often further isolate themselves and withdraw using examples from my past and present experiences.

Why I Hide Away During My Worst Days...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

'Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.'

My little sister has just started reading the Harry Potter books. She's ten years old, and having sat through the rest of the family watching the movies she's ready to embark on the journey right on her own.

About two years ago I gifted her my copy of The Philosophers Stone for Christmas. Her, however, being the the smart little terror that she is, knew it was second-hand and wasn't all that impressed with my present.
Fair enough.

My little sis
It's taken all of that time for her to finally accept that gift and start reading it.
Now, she's on Book 4; The Goblet of Fire. And as I tell her quite often; her journey is really only beginning. Because from here on out the books take a darker route along with their additional 300 pages.

The best thing about my little sister reading Harry Potter though?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Things I have learned from my mental illness:

What my mental illness has taught me:

-          What my passion is
§  My experiences with mental health lead me to start campaigning around mental health issues, and in turn lead to advocacy work. I became more confident, I was brought out of my shell. It’s what I love doing, and where I found happiness. And I never would have discovered it if I hadn’t had my own personal experiences with mental illness.

-          Who my friends are
§  Yes, there were people who thought I was ‘attention-seeking’ with my mental illness. There were people who stopped talking to me. People who stopped trying to make an effort with me on my worse days. I can forgive them that.
§  But then there are the people who accepted me unconditionally. There are the people who stuck with me through the highs and the lows. There are the people who I could be myself around.
§  And I made new and like-minded friends. Friends that I work with on mental health awareness campaigns. People who I never would have known if I hadn’t gone through what I did.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

August Book Read

How is it the end of August? How has my summer ended already? *insert sad face emoticon here*

Well regardless of how much faster time passes with the older you get, the end of the month spells my monthly Book Review.

The Popular Novel:

The Fault In Our Stars, John Green

You know the plot. Either you've read it already, seen the film, or at least been subject to the hype that surrounds both. Even my mother said 'I saw an ad for that' when I described the book for her.

Basic Plot: Teenage girl (Hazel) has cancer. Teenage girl meets teenage boy (Augustus) in recovery from cancer. They fall in love. But they're kids with cancer, it was never going to end 'Happily Ever After'.

I knew all of this. I didn't start reading the book blindly, in fact I knew exactly how it ended thanks to a spoiler from my loving younger sister. It also wasn't the first John Green novel I read, so I knew to expect his emotional telling of teenage love.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

My Top 5 Helpful Websites

Today I wanted to share with you some of my favourite mental health related websites.

While these websites aren’t only to do with mental health, or even marketed around mental health, I have found them to be inspiring, encouraging and helpful over the past few years.

Here Is Today

Sometimes you just need to put things into context. There are times when I've had a problem, a small problem, but it becomes all consuming; it's all I think about, I obsess over it. When I notice I'm doing this I like to visit Here Is Today and remind myself that 'the little things', the things we often worry most about are insignificant in the wider context of things. Give it a go, it's pretty awesome.

Do Nothing For 2 Minutes

Do Nothing For 2 Minutes reminds us to be mindful. No matter what type of day you've had, no matter how busy you are, we need to remember to take time out every now and again. This site gives you a 2 minute countdown for you to 'Just relax and listen to the waves'. And if you risk breaking those two minutes and move your mouse, the countdown starts from the beginning again.

The Thoughts Room

The Thoughts Room is one of a number of projects by The Quiet Place. The site allows users to visit a room and share their thoughts, their worries and watch them disappear. It's all about getting rid of anonymous thoughts. The music is sweet and calming too (it's called One Day In August). It really is as beautiful as it sounds.

The Dawn Room

Another site from The Quiet Place Project. The Dawn Room offers hope. Yes, it's okay to feel sad, but this site reminds users that sometimes we are too harsh on ourselves. What would you say to a friend who was feeling down? Why can't we say those same things to ourselves?
All of the positive messages have been submitted by other people who have visited the site when feeling down, which gives the page a real sense of community. bedtime calculator

This website does exactly what it says in the url. I have to have 8 hours sleep every night or I just can't function. BUT there is a glitch in the matrix; sleep cycles. 
Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle leaves you feeling tired and groggy, but waking up in between cycles lets you wake up feeling refreshed and alert. takes into account what time you have to wake up at in the morning, how long it takes the average person to fall asleep, and sleep cycles when calculating what time you should be falling asleep at. AND having used it (which I understand is not an actual scientific experiment) I've found it works. 

I hope you've found this post useful and do visit the sites, or even just bookmark them. You never know when you or a friend will need a pick-me-up.

Mobile Gaming Apps

Are we all addicted to online gaming?

I’ve been rather unlucky with my apps in the past couple of weeks.

Having played The Simpsons: Tapped Out somewhat religiously since September 2013, I was quite the fan of the game. But back in July the app deleted all of my progress and informed me I must start again, from the very beginning. If you don’t/haven’t played it you should know this; it is a highly addictive game where players are asked to rebuild Springfield after Homer causes a nuclear disaster (not a totally unrealistic plot). Regular updates kept the game fresh and exciting. And I played pretty much daily. Alas, since July my account no longer works.
It’s a common enough error in the app (it’s since happened to my sister and a host of others I've found online) but for all the time I spent on it over a 10 month period it is pretty infuriating.

The Kim Kardashian Hollywood Game has to be the biggest gaming app of the summer. Released in early July, the app allows users to become Hollywood A-listers, date other celebs, make nightclub appearances and participate in other banal celebrity activities. Even people who aren't Kardashian fans have found themselves downloading the app. Being out of work and pretty much bed bound with shingles in July, what I needed to pass the two weeks was a time consuming app that involved very little thinking.
The different paths your ‘career’ could go down depending on your in-game choices really appealed to me. Completing tasks was the first thing I did in the morning, and the last thing before I fell asleep for a full two weeks. It was gloriously addictive – exactly what the doctor ordered. 

That is, until the July 24th update took up the last ounce of space on my phone. In fact, I could no longer play the game as there wasn’t enough memory left to save my progress. (My most-hated aspect of the app was that you didn’t sign up for it or start an account; meaning that if you lost the app on your device, you could never return to your game) I tried deleting other apps to make room but to no avail. In the end I made the (somewhat) difficult decision to delete the Kim game, and all of my progress in the process. Except, that didn’t quite work either. Neither my phone, nor Google Play would let me. At the point I have tried to delete the app 7 times, but the icon is still there. So I thought ‘hey, maybe I’ll try to play it again then’. But of course I can’t do that either as the game ‘no longer exists’. Great.  So long Kim Kardashian Hollywood.

And now I can only reflect on all of the time I’ve wasted on both of these Apps (not to mention the others I tried in the past year too – Candy Crush, Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff etc.). Considering I played them both almost daily for as long as I had them I can only estimate that it was A LOT of hours. But what was the point? I have absolutely nothing to show for it.

Sure, I was an A-lister for a week (with a key to my boyfriend’s apartment might I add), but surely I could have (and should have?) spent my time doing something more productive.

So why do we give up so much of my time to mindless online games?

I no longer have any gaming apps on my android. It is my new mission not to get zapped into fake lives, or addictive measures to pass the time. And I think this is not only good for me in a ‘more time’ way, but also for my mental health. It has always been important for me to feel like I’ve achieved something with my spare time, and online gaming obviously wasn't helping that.

So, here it goes. To a life away from gaming apps. Or just to tweeting more...

Monday, 11 August 2014

Mod Podge Crafting - Here it Goes!

This is the first in a series of Mod Podge crafts I’m going to present on my blog.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Mod Podge is a crafters essential. Basically, it’s an American dream come true; a decoupage glue that dries clear and is the perfect companion to many a craft.
I got my Modge Podge – Glossy Finish, for €6.95 in Arts and Hobby.

This was my first time using Mod Podge, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Looking at crafts on Pinterest cannot prepare you for how strong Mod Podge is (everything sticks instantly), or how much fun it is! Within a week I was addicted – I keep looking for anything lying around the house that I can apply it to!

So for my first decoupage trick I decided to do an upcycle.

For weeks now I have been urging my mum to get new coasters for the house (you know, to stop our cups staining the coffee table).  Eventually she did, so instead of throwing the old ones out, I decided to claim some of them for myself but give them a makeover.

I’ve had these old pictures sitting around in my room since I worked at a History Conference back at the beginning of June. They are so pretty, and have just been waiting for a useful craft to bring them to life.
My Post-Cut Pictures

So I have 4 Historical (I am former History student afterall) pictures to transform into Coasters:
- Ancient Portrait of Eoin O’Neill
- Depiction of Cathleen Ni Houlihan
- Two Old Maps of Dublin City

First up, I cleaned the coasters and took off any peeling plastic coating.

To get my pictures into shape I placed the photo over the coaster, and then turned it upside down so I could cut around the coaster using my craft knife.

For the thin layers of paper – My Old Maps and the Portrait of Cathleen Ni Houlihan – I picked up a little tip from Pinterest. I put some Mod Podge on the back of these pictures to prevent any bubbles forming when I stuck them to the coasters. Leaving this to dry, it strengthens the paper for future gluing!  

Once they were dried I applied a layer of Mod Podge to the coasters and placed the pictures on top. Lining them perfectly with the edge of the coasters was difficult. I did the Eoin O’Neill picture first, not realising how quickly the picture would get stuck to the Mod Podge, so unfortunately it’s not perfectly in place. There are gaps on the left hand side where I missed lining that edge, but I learned my lesson for the next three!

With the pictures in place, I applied three layers of Mod Podge over the top, allowing each coat to dry in between. This protects the pictures (future coasters), and gives them a wonderful gloss!

And Voila!

I have never been so proud of a craft before. I picked such wonderfully vivid pictures, that they look incredible now that they’re finished. They look so good that I’m not sure I will actually use them as coasters...

I literally want to Mod Podge everything in my life now!

So if you have any Mod Podge suggestions please send them my way. And if you do try it yourself, I’d love to know!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Music is what feelings sound like...

Source: Pinterest
'Music is what Feelings sound like'.
I read that online the other day, and I thought it was beautiful.
We’ve all been there; had songs that we can relate to more than we can relate to half of the people we meet. A song that describes perfectly how you’ve been feeling even though you couldn’t describe it yourself.

Music brings people together. People who have never met. People who will never meet. But they both relate to that one line in that one song by that one band. And it unites them in a powerful way.

Well, back to me.

I have always loved music. Well, kinda. I had my ‘rocker’ phase as did many a teen during secondary school. Today, I listen to a bit of everything. Tegan and Sara, Arctic Monkeys, Emeli Sandé, Joy Division and Paramore are a few of my favourites.

But my all time favourite band are The Gaslight Anthem. They’re still not widely known among the general population (despite the fact that they sell out so quickly every time they come here)! But I discovered them while watching the BBC’s coverage of Glastonbury Festival in 2009 where they were joined on stage by Bruce Springsteen (Yes- They are that cool!) The next week they were on BBC Live Lounge covering 'I Do Not Hook Up' by Kelly Clarkson, and I had found my sound. Literally anything Brian Fallon touches is gold for me, and I also listen to his other bands; The Horrible Crowes, Molly and the Zombies etc. Their new album Get Hurt is out on August 12th, and I am very, very excited.

But then there are those lyrics that in one particular moment in time just get you through.
You might have listened to the song a gazillion times before, but at that instant you hear a line that you never noticed before, or a lyric that suddenly makes sense to you now.

This blog post is about those.

I can relate.

'I can’t explain how I feel, but I can find a song that can' – I couldn’t find a quote about how it feels to relate to a song, but funnily enough I could find a song.

Pull it out, turn it up, what's your favorite song?
That's mine, I've been crying to it since I was young
I know there's someone out there feeling just how I feel
I know they're waiting up, I know they're waiting to heal
            The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten

For this post I'm only going to look at a couple of different lyrics. These are the songs that helped me through some tough times, or some low points, or just the songs that made me feel normal.

The Gaslight Anthem

They obviously feature heavily in the list of songs that have moved me. But I’m just going to pick a couple of lines that really got to me when I was at my lowest, gave me hope, and helped me through some tough times.

I always kinda sorta wished I was someone else.
High Lonesome

I been down, I been out,
Had my head and my heart kicked around.
She Loves You

Well Things Got Bad & Things Got Worse
Half like a Blessing, Half like a curse
These Blessings so hard to see sometimes
Got a little clearer ‘bout dusk last night.
Ain’t nobody got a blessing like mine.
Red At Night

With Red at Night I started to see my depression in conflicting ways - it could have positives and negatives; ‘Half like a blessing, half like a curse’.

And in my heart I’m the weary kind
I’m much too tired to cry
Though it’s sad enough for tears
It’s been try fail try for years
And when the next year comes along
I don’t know if I’ll be home
I don’t know if I’ll survive.

Drive is my one of my favourite songs. When these lines come on I always get chills because for a long time, this was me.

Last June I saw The Gaslight Anthem in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, and it was the best gig I have ever been at and one of the best nights I’ve ever had in general. It was also a huge step for me, as it was the first event I think I’ve attended by myself. It was an incredible experience with such a chilled out feel to the whole gig.
The Gaslight Anthem, Olympia Theatre

Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara are another one of those bands that just GET me. Their songs take up the majority of my 25 Most Played tracks on iTunes, and I’ve been basing a lot of my past Blog Post titles on their song lyrics. One song that really sticks out for me though is ‘My Number’, and in particular this line:

It’s a silly time to learn to swim
When you start to drown.
It's a silly time to learn to swim 
On the way down.
My Number

Source: Pinterest

Charlie Simpson’s “Parachutes”

I don't need a parachute
You don't need to ask if I'm okay
I can look after myself
We've been walking for hours now
My feet are starting to itch
Blisters crack all over my skin
And my shoes don't even fit.

I'm so sorry for the pain,
sorry for the aches,
sorry for the moods I'm swinging.
But I don't need your hand,
I don't need your heart,
I don't need a parachute.

I have tried to carry you
As far as I could go but I'm not strong
Enough to do this on my own
I pack my bags and leave this town
Cause I'm not welcome back here any more
Upon these shores.

I'm so sorry for the greed,
sorry for the hate,
sorry for the mess I left you
But I don't want it back
I don't need it back
I don't need a parachute.

I replayed this song in Summer 2011 at least one hundred times. It’s still on my Most Played Songs list on iTunes. This is the song that described my Depression to me. I was so sick of everyone treating me differently because of my mental illness. I was so sick of being a burden on other people. I hated myself and this song go it.
Source: Pinterest

That October Charlie Simpson just so happened to be playing in UCD’s Student Bar (back when we had an amazing student bar where gigs were possible). And I will forever be thankful for the wonderful girl who came with me to see him, despite her not having an interest in his music!
Charlie Simpson, UCD Student Bar

Over to you.
I know I’m not alone in having songs help me through the tough times. I want to know what song, even if it’s not the lyrics but the upbeat tune that makes a difference or you!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Things I've Said Sorry For This Week

Inspired by this article on Buzzfeed '31 Things I've Apologized For' I realized that I ALWAYS apologise for the little things. Women apparently apologise more than men (who'd have guessed?), but more than that it's a 'subtle, self-defeating habit' to quote the author.

So following suit, I kept a record of all the times I've said sorry (when it wasn't my fault) over the past week:

  1. When a person walked into me
  2. When I walked past a person and made no contact with them
  3. Getting stuck in a dress and hanger in a shop
  4. To a sales assistant when I asked to pay by card instead of cash
  5. To my dog
  6. To my cat
  7. For feeling sick
  8. For BEING sick
  9. For laughing out loud in the cinema
  10. For not checking SnapChat in almost two weeks
  11. When I threw my pyjamas in for washing in for washing so I could wear my pretty new ones
  12. For reading my library books too quickly
  13. For not wearing a bra
I apologize too much. I really, really do. I don't mind that I apologise to my pets when I have to kick them out of the house, they have feelings too. But did the sales assistant REALLY care that I was using card instead of cash? Do I HAVE to apologise to my family just because I read a little bit too quickly compared to their standards?
The answer is NO. I don't have to, but I've just always been the person who will say sorry for walking into a table because it was a little bit embarrassing. I'm more saying sorry to myself in that situation than to the table (sorry table!). 

What I have learned from this exercise though is that saying 'sorry' could really be replaced by other phrases like, 'I'm afraid I'm feeling a bit sick' or 'I hope you didn't mind that I laughed out loud during the movie'. I overuse the word 'sorry'. Sorry about that. 

July Book Read

Here’s what I was reading in July.

Being out sick for two weeks of the month gave me loads of extra time to read, so here’s a sample of what I’ve been digesting.

 The ‘New’ Novel
JK Rowling ‘Casual Vacancy’
I finally got around to reading JK Rowling’s first novel since the Harry Potter series at the beginning of this month. I was a massive Harry Potter nerd as I grew up (I still am), so I was worried that Rowling would try too hard with this book to break away from Harry Potter. And in a way, I guess she did. The book is distinctly ADULT. Sex, Drugs, and bad language aren’t typically related to Rowling, but they work. I was captivated by the small English village life that was so thrilling in ITV’s Broadchurch last year. Overall, Casual Vacancy is a pleasant surprise, and Rowling’s post-Potter writing provides a real insight into the class divisions we still face in society today.

The Classic
Virginia Woolfe ‘To The Lighthouse’
Woolfe’s classic tale based on her own childhood holiday has been on my ‘must-read’ list for a while now, but when better to finally get around to reading it then when I was embarking on my own family holiday? To The Lighthouse is actually a very sweet story of family, relationships, and dreams. I loved her narrative style, allowing readers inside the characters minds, but my favourite section was Part II as she described the passage of time. I found it haunting and mesmerising. And it is obvious why Woolfe is one of the most renowned writers of the past century.  

The History Book
Martin Meredith ‘The State of Africa’
I’ve been reading more history books since I completed my History degree than I did while doing it (Which doesn’t seem quite right...) African history, for whatever reason, isn’t something you’re taught in school, but the book provides a basic grounding on the most recent African history since Independence. It’s the background to the stories that we’ve seen on the news for years; Civil Wars, Genocide, the Aids Epidemic. It’s a massive book, but every nation has its story to tell and this book tells it well.

The Guilty Pleasure
Ross O’Carroll-Kelly
I’ve read three Ross O’Carroll-Kelly books this month, in fact I read the three of them in under a week...   I have a real weakness for the South Dublin chronicles. Having lived in South Dublin for the past four years the reality and accuracy of Paul Howard’s portrayal of Ross’ life makes the fiction all the more enjoyable. I’ve met and know too many people that fit the D4 stereotype. The Miseducation Years, This Champagne Mojito is the Last Thing I Own, and The Oh My God Delusion chart the peak and crash of the Celtic Tiger in Ireland, and to be honest, Ross O’Carroll-Kelly will definitely be making my August Book Read list too...  

Any book suggestions for me? Just let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @ZoeAlicia101

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Exercise and your Mental Health

Two years ago I got somewhat addicted to exercising. I worked out multiple times a day to a set routine and pushed myself continually to exceed my goals. I even bought an exercise mat as an incentive for me to keep it up when I got back to college.

My ambition was short lived when I had my tonsils out. I spent one week recovering, followed by another week in hospital for a post-tonsillectomy bleed, and then ANOTHER week spent recovering from that.

It was difficult to get back into exercising after that. Having been unable to exercise for over 3 weeks, I lacked motivation and energy to And I have never really gotten back to that level of fitness.

Exercise became a form of therapy for me. I pushed myself day after day because it made me feel better in a lot of different ways...
  • I felt better about myself as a whole

§  As my fitness improved my body began to tone and strengthen. I was happy with the way I looked, and this in turned boosted my confidence and self-esteem. In turn, self-esteem leads to happiness and increased productivity. It's win-win.
  •          Distraction

§  Exercise was a distraction from everything else going on in my life. For 30mins at a time I didn't have to think about anything apart from my workout. All my negative thinking, anxiety about the future, regrets about the past were all put on hold, and I loved it. 
  •     Independent

§  What I love about exercising is that it’s something I can do by myself. It involves no interaction with other people (which is perfect so you can get as sweaty as you want, or put in as little effort as you want depending on your mood). 
  •          Pain

§  Part of me enjoyed the pain of exercise; pushing the limits of both my mind and my body.
  •          Relaxing

§  This one sounds a bit odd, I know. But afterwards I would sleep better, feel less stressed and generally more relaxed. It's a great after effect of exercise.
  •          Achievement

§  With every extra minute I could exercise, with every little improvement of my body, I was proud of myself. Exercise can come with a real sense of achievement.

Now, as with the years in between, I have always found something that stands in my way – college assignments, exams, work, tiredness. I let the excuses become reasons not to spend even a few minutes exercising.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to. It’s an ongoing battle, but I’m hoping that a little motivation will help me get back to exercising at least a couple of times a week.

I have a new target of running a 5k come November (or at least putting in a good jogging effort)! It's a small goal that should spur me on to get back into regular exercising.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Mason Jar Gift

I love presents. Not receiving them though; I get awkward. Please don't ask me to open them in front of you.

I love giving presents. I love putting in the thought, time and effort of personalised gifts.

So for Amy's 21st birthday I was in my element.

I'd seen the Mason Jar gift on the internet over a year ago, but I hadn't attempted it before. Basically, it's putting your gift into a Mason Jar, using it as a hamper.

I got all of my materials together:
  • Purple Mason Jar from TK Maxx - €3.99 (Purple is Amy's favourite colour!!)
  • Penguin Purse from Tiger
  • Lancome Touch of Pink Cremes
  • Ghost Tissues from Tiger
  • o2 Think Big wrist band - 'Just Keep Swimming'
  • Smiley badge
  • Mustache Tissue Paper
  • Green Ribbon for the outside of the jar
  • And a Happy Birthday mini banner on card

I actually had a few more bits and pieces that I wanted to put in, but I underestimated the size of the Mason Jar! They're actually pretty tiny, and it is difficult to fit that much into them. So I scraped the other cremes and body lotions I had planned, and started putting the hamper together. 

Amy and I have always had a thing for mustaches; she bought me the cutest mustache travel mug last year! So I loved the mustache tissue paper that I used to line the Mason Jar. However, it was a little guilty for taking up a lot of the space in there! The tissue paper needed to be trimmed around the top of the jar.
Once I had the tissue paper in, I started to pack in the real parts of the present - the penguin purse, the cremes etc.

To top it off I tied a green ribbon around the outside of the jar and added in my Happy Birthday banner. The jar was overflowing, it has to be said. Ideally, the lid would have closed to make the jar easier to transport. But instead I had to carefully surround it with bubble wrap and hand carry it down to Wexford.

In future, I am definitely going to go for a bigger mason jar. Because the beauty of this gift is that there are all sorts of everything in it, you need a big enough jar but put all-sorts in!
But, Amy was thrilled with it. And that's good enough for me.

Amy and I at her 21st

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Now I'm All Messed Up

Recovery is all about the little things.

Over the years I have had to find little ways of coping with my Depression; my mood swings, my anxiety, my stress.

I’ve already written about the relief I’ve found from crafting, scrapbooking and being creative. When I was in secondary school I wrote little poems and verses. Now, I blog.   

But there are also a lot of other little things I have found helpful for me throughout the years.

Self-help books

I never thought I would try self-help books. In my head I thought they were cheesy and ‘hippy’. But I happened to be in the Dublin Airport Easons a couple of years ago and I saw a book on the week’s Best-sellers list that I knew I had to have.

A few weeks later I finally bought Tony Bates’ ‘Coming Through Depression’. Very simply, the book helped me to better understand my mental illness. I never fully embraced the chapters on mindfulness and I glossed over the little tasks that the book set for readers. Nonetheless, I found comfort in how a book by a leading psychiatrist could so perfectly describe how I had been feeling.

Shoot The Damn Dog’ by Sally Brampton is a memoir of living with Depression by a British journalist. It’s not a self-help book, but I decided to add it into this section as it’s the only memoir like this I have read. The book is heartbreakingly honest, and often when reading it I found myself in tears over how relatable every emotion, every anxiety she felt was. Again, it was comforting to realise that I was not alone; that other people had felt the way I was feeling, and if they could get better, so too could I.

This year I bought ‘The Feeling Good Handbook’ by Dr. David Burns. It’s a massive, massive book (and having read Ulysses in under a week I don’t use the word ‘massive’ lightly).  Dr. Burns uses CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) Techniques, which I had briefly tried before and found particularly helpful. The book also includes exercises and techniques to help you deal with distorted thinking etc. The book encourages you to track your mood and helps you to identify triggers. I had never fully welcomed a book like this before. For once, I did the exercises, but more than that I started applying them.  I began to recognise the different types of distortive thoughts I was having and challenging them; such as discounting the positive and only focusing on the negative things that were said to me.

I mentioned the book was massive right? It’s pretty much a text book. Months later and I’m still not even half-way through it. Partly this is because I’ve abandoned it while I put into practice what I’ve already learned from it. When I’m ready to move on and learn more, I’ll get back into the book. 

Book of Gratitude

I always end up getting more than one Diary around Christmas time. Whether it be as presents, or I find the perfect one and buy it myself, there is always an abundance of them in my house. This year I had my own academic diary, but I also received a 2014 diary as a present. So on New Year’s Day I decided to use one of them as a little Book of Gratitude.

I am always upset to look back at how ungrateful I can be when I’m down. Being depressed can make you self-obsessed in some ways; you look only at the NEGATIVES, YOUR failures, the world is out to get YOU...

So since January 1st I have taken time out every day to write down one thing that I’m thankful for. There have been a couple of bad days where I couldn’t think of anything to write, or a few times where I just completely forgot  – and they’ve been left blank. But every other day I have found something, no matter how big or small, to be grateful for. For example, last week while I was sick I was grateful for the hour long nap I got on the couch.

Finding one positive among a world of negative thoughts can be difficult, and there are times when I couldn’t. But this book is powerful. I read back through it and smile at the little things that bring me joy.  And I am really excited to be able to look back at it all at the end of the year.

These are but a sample of what works for me when I’m down. In future blog posts I’ll be elaborating on some more of them such as:


An important part of recovery is to find what works for you. I’m a bit messed up, but there are a lot of little things I can do to find relief. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What do you do with the left over you?

I thought I should do a blog post about how I told people about my Depression following my diagnosis. It’s a very, very difficult thing for anyone to share their diagnosis whether it be a mental health difficulty or for anything else. And I know that it’s something a lot of people struggle with. I know I did. It might seem like it's 'easy' for me. For someone who now openly shares their mental health experiences, it is odd to look back at the time when I tried to hide it from friends and family. While I can now talk about my mental health with confidence, not so long ago I found it difficult to even put words to it.
Hopefully by sharing with you my experiences with the people I told, and how I told them it can help anyone who is not sure about letting friends and family know.

As I discussed in an earlier blog post, a diagnosis makes your illness more ‘real’. It puts a name on how you have been feeling; you finally have a word that you can share.

Before my diagnosis I tried telling people how I had been feeling. When I initially knew that something was wrong with me (although not quite sure WHAT that was) I told a close friend who, unfortunately, immediately dismissed how I had been feeling. I had used the word ‘bipolar’ to try and make sense of my highs and lows; and they, perhaps knowing something that I didn’t, told me that I definitely wasn’t bipolar.

Others told me that everyone goes through down spells (which is true), but that it was nothing to take seriously (not so much true). My suicidal ideation they said could easily be dismissed as I was ‘too smart’ for that.

The diagnosis put my own mind at ease. But it was also a proper medical term, an illness. And that was something my family needed to know about.

That evening I told my mum that I had been to a doctor. I told her I hadn’t been feeling well lately, and the doctor sent me to a counselor straight away. They’d gotten me an appointment with a psychiatrist too, but they were sure I had Depression. The thing is, and I’m not proud of this, but I was in Dublin at the time and telling my mum was difficult. I didn’t want to ring her, so instead I text her the news. I text my mum that I had Depression, and then I went to bed and slept for what felt like the first time in weeks.

I hate that I broke the news to my family that way, I do. But it was easier for me. It was easier than a conversation over the phone whereby I would end up crying and barely get the words out. And it was easier than waiting 5 days until I was home to do it face-to-face. Instead I was cold and I was distant. It was undoubtedly hard on my mother however, and I do regret that. I nominated my mum to tell the rest of my family. And that also saved me considerable tears and pain.

In the first few months I couldn’t get the words ‘Depressed’ out without tears. It was hard for me to come to terms with what was wrong with me; even harder for me to tell others.

I was asked questions. ‘What exactly is Depression?’ ‘What does it mean?’ 'Are you on tablets?' 'Is this the same thing as people in mental homes have?'
Some people accepted it; full of a concern that has never since subsided. Some people forgot about it. In a way, I guess I am grateful. Other people I never heard from again. That is something that becomes easier over time.

There was one person that it was hardest for me to tell; my best friend Rachel. While my family had to love me unconditionally, and I was sure that they did, Rachel had a choice. She had been my best friend for years. We shared the same interests, especially music. We told each other pretty much everything to do with our families, our crushes, our lives. But I feared what telling her about my Depression would mean. I was sure I had been a bad friend. I was also sure that Rachel, being Rachel, would worry about me now, and I hated being the person that other people felt responsible for. Deep down, I also feared Rachel's rejection. Telling anyone that I had Depression over the years came with the fear that I would be rejected. I rejected myself when I didn't care for, or look after myself during my Depression. So it was natural for me to presume everyone else would reject me too.
And so I cared most about her reaction. It took me two, three months to finally sit Rachel down and explain to her what I’d been going through.

And Rachel could not have been more accepting. She told me about people she knew that had Depression. She told me she understood what I was going through. She made me feel silly for not telling her beforehand, and I did; I felt stupid for not trusting in her. My behaviour and personality change over the past months now made sense to her. But more importantly, she made me feel normal. Rachel never treated me differently over my mental health. To her, I was still the same person. Instead, she was there for me. She shared in my highs and my lows; in my journey and my recovery.

Me and my Rachel 

Today, I am used to telling people about my mental health. All of my close friends know. I have brought it up in speeches and talks. I have told students who came to me for advice and help. I have mentioned it in job interviews; two successful ones may I add. The UCD Talks video. My blog.

Most people in my life now know, yet I tend not to announce it unless it’s relevant. Through the video and my blog, people I don’t know, I haven’t met, people I haven’t seen in years know about my journey. And that’s a strange feeling. But it’s a powerful one. And it’s something I’m getting used to.