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. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

I was walking with the ghost

I was walking with the ghost

I won't mistake you for problems with me  
                        I won't let my moods ruin this you'll see
I won't take everything good and move it away
I won't be left dancing alone to songs from the past
                       Tegan & Sara, ‘I Won’t Be Left’
‘I’m not well.’

That’s how I describe it; the sudden low I am feeling, the lack of motivation, wanting to be alone, cutting off all contact with the outside world. This includes slacking in my work – my real-life grown up responsibilities.
I’m suffering from a lack of motivation. It’s been a week, maybe two. I’ve kind of lost track of time...

I don’t want to go out in public. That runs the risk of seeing people I know and having to make pointless small talk.  And the inevitable lying. 'I'm okay.' 'I'm fine.' 'Thing's are good'. Making excuses to end the conversation quickly. The phrase ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ is finally relevant somewhere.

I am basically hiding from the world. I’ve stopped checking my emails and Facebook for days. Leaving texts un-replied to for as long I can before I start to feel like a bad person. I know that this isolation is not healthy, but I force it on myself anyway.

I’ve been focused on the past. Running over things that I’ve done wrong in my head; mistakes that I made even years previously. I’ve been dreaming about them. 

Did I ever tell you about the time when I was about 5 on a trip to Bundoran? The funfair was there but my parents told me and my sister that we were only allowed to go on one ride before we went home. She picked the bumper cars, she always did. But I wanted a go on the Ghost Train. I was younger, so I got my own way. We both had to go on the Ghost Train. But it was rubbish. It was really short. My sister wasn't happy. It wasn’t even a little bit scary. I made a bad decision; I picked the wrong ride. I cried I felt so guilty about it. It’s been bothering me ever since.

‘I’m not well.’

It’s a familiar place. I’ve been here before.

And then I start to feel guilty. I know that I can’t just disappear; not like I used to. Hiding from the world doesn’t work that way. I have responsibilities now. People are relying on me. But the feeling of guilt doesn’t snap sense into me. It doesn’t make things better, only worse.

I realize it has been a week since I checked my emails. And a week is too long. I start to feel that I can’t just go online and check them now; convinced that no one wants a reply that is a week late. There is no point going into my emails now I conclude. It’s too late.

It’s a vicious cycle.

But I know I’ll get through it. I have before. It’s just another low. I just have to ride it out.

Monday, 7 July 2014

A little inspiration gets me through where I've been

Today I wanted to share my volunteer work with See Change with you. It’s all about the ripple effect; starting the conversation about mental health here on my blog can lead to another conversation about mental health, and another... It’s a ripple effect that can touch entire communities.

See Change is Ireland’s national programme working to change minds about mental health in Ireland. They work in partnership with over 50 organisations to create a community driven social movement to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health problems.

See Change campaign through the 1 in 4 statistic;
The statistic is that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes:
1 in 4 . . . That’s enough people to fill Croke Park 14 times over.
1 in 4 . . . That’s six times the population of all our Universities and ITs combined.

They work to increase and promote mental health awareness through campaigns such as #makearipple and the Green Ribbon project.

In March 2013 I attended a training day with See Change to become a national volunteer.  

 ‘Every person has the power to help stop the stigma of mental health problems.’

Some of my fellow RippleMakers
The simple half-day briefing gave me the confidence and motivation to be a change in my community.
The Green Ribbon project was brought to Ireland by See Change in May 2013. The idea was simple; make the month of May a national month of mental health awareness. Just as the Pink Ribbon has become synonymous with Breast Cancer Awareness in October, the Green Ribbon could represent mental health. Wearing a ribbon would become a sign that you supported the cause, not through monetary donations, but through awareness and starting a conversation about mental health.

The Green Ribbon launch was the first See Change project I became involved with. Throughout May 2013 I handed out ribbons at Conferences, my University, in Hueston Station, and to my friends and family. I spent the month interacting with strangers, spreading the message and sharing the cause.

See Change paved the way for me to not only raise mental health awareness in outreach events, but to add my voice to the cause. In March of this year I was asked to become an Ambassador for the programme.  I was invited to begin using my experiences with mental health to help others. The speaking opportunities that now presented themselves allowed me to begin to share my story. In May I was in the Sunday Independent speaking about my experiences with Depression.
Ending Stigma one blog post at a time

Me. In a national paper. I could never have dreamed I would be brave enough, yet alone given the opportunity. But that’s the beauty of the See Change belief. That everyone’s mental health story is important and powerful. I will forever be grateful for what See Change have given me. I probably would never have started this blog if it wasn’t for the new importance they helped me give to my mental health story.
But it’s also an example of the importance of volunteering – giving your time can open up so many new opportunities.

It’s the ripple effect.

I went from volunteer,  to youth panel member, to ambassador, to blogger.  Each time talking about mental health; taking a stand against stigma.

ALL the Green Ribbons