Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My Christmas survival tips for good mental health

Today I’m writing about Christmas and how the festive season affects my mental health.

As much as I love Christmas, I also struggle with the holidays. A couple of years ago I had a breakdown at Christmas (read all about that here), and every year as it approaches again I get nervous about what might happen if it doesn't live up to expectations. Because let's face it, we all have high expectations for Christmas. It's idealised and built up in our head (and the media) as a magical, fun-filled, fantastic occasion. Sadly, it isn't always that way. And it knocks me sideways when it fails to be perfect.

I’m susceptible to bad mental health during Christmas. The period combines a number of my triggers (lack of alone time, lack of stimulation, pressure to be happy, extreme stress, family arguments) in close proximity and, like it has previously, it can result in the return of feelings of extreme darkness.
On top of this, I have been miserable lately. Nothing has excited me in the run up to Christmas in the way it usually would. I usually love finding the perfect gift for someone, making a handmade gift, the start of party season.
But not this year. Everything feels stressful and overwhelming. I need to manage it, I need to find a way to get through the season and, if possible, enjoy it.

I want to share with you what I’ll be doing over the festive period to help my own mental health and try to prevent a breakdown. Here are my Christmas survival tips:
“It's hard to be sad when you're being useful.” ― Noah Hawley, Before the Fall
  • Making Christmas cards - in the lead up to Christmas I'll be making Christmas cards. Keeping busy always helps me keep me mind clear and calm. I have something else to concentrate on, something to keep my mind busy. 
  • Colouring Books - Likewise, I swear by colouring books. When we're sitting around the telly as a family, I also love to have my colouring book out to work away on. There is just something so satisfying about finishing a pretty page! Plus, it keeps me busy and acts as a distraction from any wandering thoughts I would usually have if I didn't have some colouring to hand!
  • Reading - I also escape from the world through books. So far this year I had devoured over 60 books. And I mean devoured. It's an addiction, but at least it's a healthy one! I have stocked up on books to take home and see me through the Christmas holidays. Nothing is more relaxing for me than curling up by the fire with a good book and my favourite dog by my side. 
  • Journaling - Another creative break to seek solace in is journaling. Honestly, anything to keep busy and keep my mind from wandering! I've bought a new blank notebook and am in the process of decorating and filling it out for the year ahead. This project should keep me busy throughout my week off work. 
  • Talking to loved ones - Okay, so I know I'm not very good at this one and will find it tough to keep, but that's why it's on the list. I want to make more of an effort to actually appreciate the best thing about Christmas - and that's being with the people I love. And shouldn't I also talk to these people about how I'm feeling, my moods and my mental health? One half of me knows that they will give me the love and support I need to get through tough days, the other half of me says I shouldn't burden or bother them. I want to try and listen more to the first half.
  • Getting out of the house - Cabin fever is a thing, and because I often find socialising difficult, it can really set in around Christmas time. I know that people love to get together at this time of the year and often share these nights out and dinners on social media. And usually that's when my guilt sets in for missing out and being socially anxious. So why not get out of the house? Even if it's just talking my dogs (and cat) for walks, or meeting up for coffee with a friend, I will be making memories, doing things, and have my own get togethers to cherish. I've already arranged to see some friends over the break as well as extended family, and that gives me something to look forward to and cherish.  
  • Exercise - With all the big dinners and endless supplies of chocolates and other goodies, I always end up feeling crap about my appearance, and particularly my weight at Christmas. I know that people go on, and on, and on about the benefits of exercise on your mental health, but quite frankly it's not for me. I'm a duvet day every day kind of girl. But I also know deep down that I have to do a little bit of a workout to prevent my mind from thinking I'm a lazy slob. (Seriously, I did like 20 squats last night before bed and it's convinced my brain that I'm doing great on the exercise front.) Taking the dogs out for a walk is going to be my motivation for getting in at least a little exercise over the holidays. 
  • Netflix downloads - And for the times when I want some alone time to shut out the world? Well Netflix's download function is my new best friend. There are so many shows and films you can download and watch back later, even when you don't have Internet. I'm hoping to catch up on the new Star Trek series as well as The Crown over Christmas. 
Having a plan in place eases some of my worries about Christmas. I'm hoping that planning in advance, being prepared, and having productive things to do will prevent me from feeling like I'm spiraling into doom and despair.

It's not a guaranteed success.

But little steps are better than taking no action when it comes to mental health.

Help Info:
For those of you who are struggling this Christmas, there is help out there. Visit my help and support section for details of how you can contact them.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

I'm only surviving

I feel broken.

Last week I realised I was in pain; that I'd been in pain for a while now. I hadn't noticed this pain, it has been hidden, kept under wraps, out of sight. But I took a day off work. And without having a structure to my day, without a reason to get up in the morning, I felt that pain come to the forefront in full force. I was hit by the weight of it and it crushed me. I couldn't move, I couldn't do anything but lie in bed and cry.

Every day for the past six weeks I have woken up sad. There's no other way to describe it but than an overwhelming sense of sadness. I feel it in every part of my body - from my mind to by bones. My entire physical body feels this sadness and carries it within.

While I don't want to, I get up when my alarm goes off.  I don't want to go outside today. I don't want to leave my bed. But I do. I keep getting up.
At some point over the past six years of this battle, suicide stopped being an option. Self harm stopped being an option.
Now I survive. I keep going.
I just try to get from one end of the day to the next.

I follow my routine. Get up. Shower. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Go to work. Go home. Eat dinner. Go to bed. All with a fake smile plastered on my face.
I keep going, but only out of a sense of obligation. I have no other choice but to keep going. But I don't live. I don't experience. I don't enjoy, or savour, or any other possible positive feeling. I just do.
My senses are muted. I'm on auto pilot.
I'm not in my body, I'm watching from the outside. I'm surviving and doing without really seeing or feeling.

My auto pilot setting doesn't allow me to care about anything other than getting from my bed, back to my bed.

I feel incomplete. I know I'm not living. That I'm barely getting by.
I'm tired and quick to anger.
I'm not me. Or if I am, I don't like the person I am.

I don't want to think about the sadness, or the pain, or why I feel this way. I don't want to stop to reflect, I can't think of anything worse. So I just keep going, because I feel like I have to keep going. I feel out of options.
There is nothing in my life I should feel this miserable about. I've a good job, a home, family. I feel guilty for having all this, and yet still in pain.

I just want it be next month or next year or next time I don't wake up like this.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

When being a mental health activist gets hard

The first year after my diagnosis with depression was hard. I had expected a quick-fix, but it was six months and five different drugs later and I still didn’t want to live. I struggled to get by day-to-day. I continued to withdraw and lost friends. I acted out self-destructively. I felt lost, and what I needed was to find a purpose for my depression.

I found meaning in mental health campaigns and activism. I got involved in local college groups that promoted the message “Talking is a sign of strength.” It was an easy thing to throw my weight behind – talking had literally saved my life. And I never wanted anyone to feel as alone and without help as I had.

We ran awareness campaigns of the supports available to students, hosted talks on eating disorders and CBT and tried to reach those who needed help. We held regular tea and coffee mornings to promote talking. And people would talk. I’d be taken aside to chat to someone vulnerable. To tell them that it’s okay not to feel okay, but sometimes we need help. They’d tell me about their battles, their hardships, their attempts.

And I was ever so grateful, don’t get me wrong. How much I would have loved to have someone listen to me and chat to me about my illness after my diagnosis. I had needed like-minded people with their experiences of mental illness to talk to. And that’s what I’d found through activism.
 But I went home feeling these people’s pain. Often their stories were triggering to me. It brought me back to exactly how I’d felt and how I'd hurt. And when we lost a life, I took that personally. “If only my activism had reached them”, I’d think. “If I’d done more, could I have saved them?”

My activism found a national stage through the Green Ribbon campaign. I was interviewed in national newspapers and on TV. People I didn’t know, people I used to know reached out to me to say they could relate. They’d been through something similar. They had lost a friend to a similar battle.

But then the questions started:
What medication are you on? What brand works for you?
When are you going to stop taking medication? Aren’t you worried you’ll get addicted?
But how serious actually was your depression?
Don't you think you should go back to counselling? 
When I left university and entered the workplace, I lost contact with like-minded people. I have always been the youngest person on my team in any place I’ve worked over the past three years. I quickly became aware of how much stigma still exists. I didn’t know how to react to office lunchtime conversations, or even if I should react?
 “There’s definitely something mentally wrong with him.” 
"Terrorists are all mentally ill. There's no other excuse." 
"I always thought depression wasn't real; it's just something in your head."
If I speak up I’ll probably get upset. How will people treat me if I do admit that I have depression?

I started my blog. I started sharing more indepth the daily struggles of depression and anxiety. I joined mental health chats on Twitter and met more like-minded activists through the Internet. But when life got in the way and I started to miss those chats, when I couldn't keep up or commit my time, I lost a lot of support.

You start to become the 'mental health' person in your social groups. Someone uses the word 'mental' or 'depressing' in a conversation and all eyes turn to you to see how you're going to react.

I remember when my boyfriend and I first started dating. We had mutual friends in common and I was fearful that someone may have already told him about my mental illness before I was ready to myself (they did). I was scared he’d find my blog; an open chronicle of seven years of mental illness. I had made myself open and vulnerable by being so public.

It came up on our second date. He told me a friend had already mentioned the blog to him. I looked down at the table and tugged at my sleeves as I explained my mental illness to him. I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. But thanks to my activism, I was forced to.

You make yourself vulnerable when you speak up about your mental health. Some days you get support and feel empowered.

Other times it feels like you’re constantly being attacked. Sometimes even media articles feel like a personal attack. They tell you not to take it personally, but it is personal. After years of relentlessly defending yourself, your own choices, your approach to activism and raising awareness, heck of even defending the fact that mental illness exists, you get exhausted. And I am tired. I am not always strong enough to be 'active'. Some days I have to put my own mental health first.
Some days are turning into most days.

Just like how I had hoped for a quick fix to my own mental illness, I thought there might be a quick fix to the stigma. I thought my activism would change things. But after fighting for so long, most of the time it feels like I haven't changed a thing.

As hard as it gets, as tired as it gets, you try to keep going. You don't want to give up, because there's a fight still ongoing. But boy is it draining. And one day there will a come a day when my own mental health will have to come first.

Until next time,

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you things which might make you happy

I was feeling pretty sad yesterday so I spent €90 on clothes and to be honest, it did help my mood a bit.
See, I was feeling frumpy and full of self-loathing and body hate. I’ve been struggling to come to terms with how easy it is for me to put on weight lately. Yesterday that resulted in spending money on clothes online to make myself feel better.
Capitalism rocks.

And you know what? It worked.

My ‘go to’ when I'm sad is to spend money on THINGS. I don't want experiences; experiences usually involve socialising and when I’m sad that’s the last thing I want to do (yes, I know it’s often the best thing for you but shush.) Instead, I want something to hold in my hand. Heck, if it’s delayed for a few days awaiting delivery I’ll take it. That’s me gaining a few more days where I know something good is going to happen.
It’s best if I can buy these things in person because the instant gratification is sweet. I pay for it, it becomes mine, I feel happy.

Usually, it's a toy like a Pop Funko to add to my collection. Or a book, because God knows you can never have too many books. Or maybe some clothes so I feel better about myself and can at least dress like someone who has confidence.

Last year I had a strong and steady addiction to subscription boxes. It didn't matter what was in the box - make-up courtesy or Glossybox, books from Owlcrate or Fairyloot, nerdy collectibles from Loot Crate - I'd buy myself one as a treat after a tough month. Because I deserved it. But boy are they expensive.

While buying things isn't always sure sign my mood will improve, I swear it does help.

If all else fails, I look up free printables on Pinterest and print THINGS. Paper things are also good things. They make me smile. I add them to my wall and can get enjoyment from them for months.

Also good is when my boyfriend buys me things. He knows this and he uses it well. Like when he collects me from work he always has chocolate in his pocket to make me smile. THIS SHIT WORKS. I forget about my complaints, about why work sucked and why I’m feeling down for a moment and it feels good. Or if I’m down for longer period of time he’ll take me to a bookstore and let me pick out a book.

PS, I swear I’m not trying to use this depression thing to my advantage. I am ACTUALLY down. And yes, I know this is how toddler tantrums work.
But I also know that we are going to be so broke in a few years’ time if this keeps up.
I suppose I’ve been lucky lately that my depression hasn’t persisted. I’ll get one, two, maybe three down days in a row and usually it passes. I become hyper, happy Zoe again. A free printable suffices on these occasions.

Sometimes it persists a bit longer. I have ‘bad’ weeks. These weeks feel like I’m teetering on the brink. One more thing and I fear I’ll be sent over the edge and into a breakdown. Like my past experiences of mental illness and severe depression are hanging over me.

I take any relief I can get. Anything to veer me away for the edge. I spend money so that I can feel good for at least a moment.

And therein lies the problem. Because while it feels good in the moment, it doesn't last and after a while I'm sad and dejected again, with the addition of also feeling crap for having spent money on something I don't technically need.

There are better, more healthy ways to help manage my sadness, I know this. But knowing something isn't right doesn't mean I can stop doing it. I'd rather do something immediate to help improve my mood. And when you have a mental illness, you crave an immediate fix.

I know money can't buy you happiness. But it does buy me things which make me happy, at least for a little while.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Mental illness is not a scapegoat for murder

Yesterday's headlines were written to cause fear.
  • Trump publicly blames mental illness for mass shootings.
  • 'This is a mental health problem': Trump on the Texas shooting
  • Trump’s right, this is a mental health issue
  • Pat Robertson Blames Texas Shooting on Antidepressants

As if it wasn't enough to be petrified of immigrants and Muslims when people of colour commit mass murder, we are also reminded that mental illness is also a cause for fear. 

What we've learned from US shootings and attacks over the past few years is that the colour of the attacker's skin is important in deciding the causative factor and motivation. As soon as perpetrator of the Texas church shooting was named, mental illness was identified as the sole cause and reason for the mass shooting.
“I think that mental health is your problem here. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, but this isn’t a gun situation.” - Donald Trump
The man has a history of domestic abuse, but as of yet there's been no proven history of mental health problems.

But once again, mental illness has been used as a scapegoat for murder. White men are not responsible for their crimes, an illness they may or not even have is. And as such, they cannot be held responsible for their actions in the same way people of colour are.

1 in 4 of us are currently experiencing a mental illness. 4 in 4 of us have mental health.
Are we all to be feared? Might we all be potential murderers? I am mentally ill, is my illness to blame for everything I do?

Studies have proven that people with mental health illnesses are no more likely to be violent than the general population. We are far more likely to harm ourselves than others.
People in every country have mental health problems, but yet no other country experiences mass shootings to the extent that America does.

Trump and his supporters are demonizing those suffering with mental health problems. We have becomes just another vulnerable group for them to attack and fear.

Trump's comments yesterday prove we are nowhere close to ending the stigma around mental illness. We have a long, long way to go.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Book review: The Flawed Ones

The Flawed Ones - A Story of Mental Illness, Addiction and Love by Jay Chirino

Jay Chirino has experienced depression and anxiety since childhood. His mental illness lead to self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. All of this is openly and honestly admitted in the opening lines of the introduction to his new book The Flawed Ones. The introduction is strong, and relays Chirino's struggles, his motivation behind the book, and the admission that he is still on meds for his mental health. (Thank God someone is admitting it!)
"...a few months back, someone asked me what I wanted most when I was going through my depression, and after thinking about it for a while, I figured it out. What I am trying to accomplish with this story is to help you see that you are not alone."
However, the book isn't a memoir. Instead it draws on Chirino's real life experiences with mental illness, addiction and the psych ward, blending fiction with his lived reality.

Following admission for a 72-hour psychiatric hold, Jay experiences life on the psych ward and the many characters that call it home.

The book deals with not only the expected themes of mental illness, stigma, and addiction, but also with religion, perception, love and failures of the healthcare system.

Its strongest points are when Jay is in conversation with his psychiatrist. He relates what it's like being in a depressive episode, telling the story of his mental illness and where it came from. Clearly, these are pieces that come from Jay's real experience, rather than a semi-fictional account. This is not a memoir, but I often wished it was. Chirino's real-life story is the most intriguing part of the book. There's an honesty to the words in these parts that is lacking elsewhere; even if his memories to his psychiatrist are full of more flowery embellishments than most people would ever share verbally.

The blend of fiction and reality wasn't always seamless. Characters were overly described, rather than revealed. The constant commenting on women's appearance comes across as seedy rather than what-I-hope-was-the-intended subtle. But its strengths lie in the honesty of mental illness and addiction and the hope of recovery.

The book is due to be published on 1 November 2017.

Find out more:


*Disclaimer* This book was given to me in return for a review, however the review is entirely my own opinion. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

What’s left to say?

I’ve beaten my mental illness to death. Or at least, I’ve beaten talking about my mental illness to death.

Today is World Mental Health Day, and I’ve found myself with nothing left to say.

I have depression and anxiety. I've had them ever since I can remember, but was formally diagnosed six years ago. Ever since, I've tried to use my diagnoses for good through campaigning, blogging, and raising awareness and money.

But how many times can I repeat my mental health story? How many times must I say that it’s okay to not be okay? That it does get better? That recovery isn’t always possible? That medication doesn’t have to be bad?

I’ve been saying it offline and online for the past six years and it feels like it’s all been for nothing, because what’s changed?

I’m frustrated at the lack of progress in mental illness in this country.

Services are badly under-funded and under-staffed. People on waiting lists can’t wait any longer.
I still hide my mental illness in work.
Celebrities are still mocked for their breakdowns.
TV continues to perpetuate the stigma around mental illness with unfair and untrue representation.
Halloween events still run ‘insane asylums’.
We justify acts of terror on mental illness.

It feels like we take a step forward only to take another one back.
So what’s left for me, or anyone, to say?

I know that there’s no immediate fix to the stigma, the lack of resources and support, or to my own mental health battles. But keeping up this fight is exhausting. I want the battle to be over. I want to be able to tell people when I'm having a bad day without fearing they'll think less of me or treat me differently. I want to be able to socialise and have conversations without having to discourage someone from describing their mood as ‘depressing’ or having to explain why a mental illness doesn't make someone 'dangerous' after every mass murder.

I want there to be nothing left to say when it comes to mental health because we all accept, acknowledge and support it.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

What’s wrong with depending on medication for your mental health?

Have you ever told someone with cancer to stop taking painkillers for their pain?

Or told those who inject themselves with insulin daily for their diabetes to stop? To question what they are putting in their body? To not to become dependent on the drugs?

One of the biggest stigmas that still exists in the context of mental illness is medication. As a society, we’re starting to accept mental health issues more and more. We know the '1 in 4' stats. We know it’s common. We know that young men are at risk of suicide.
We’re okay with people admitting they had a down day, they have depression, anxiety, OCD. We weren't always okay with it, but we're getting there. In fact, we think ‘fair play to you’ for coming forward and speaking publicly about their mental health.

But we’re only okay with it if their mental illness is not being treated with medication. Not being currently treated that is. If you used to be on meds but now you’re off, ‘fair play to you’.
But currently taking meds? Society hasn’t come to terms with this yet.

Non-pharmaceutical treatments are favoured. People want to talk about how exercise saved their lives. How they found recovery through meditation. It’s all about lifestyle changes.
If you just change the way you start your day, you’ll defeat anxiety! 
Exercises releases ‘feel-good’ endorphins, just like meds, but it’s better for you! 
You need to change your diet to improve your mental health.
There is merit in these points. Everyone should exercise, eat well and practice good, healthly mental health techniques regardless of having a mental illness. It’s how we build resilience and help fend off ever developing mental illness in the first place.

But when you have a mental health problem, it’s not that easy.

When I wrote about what it was like to forgot to take your meds after being on them for six years, it started a discussion. I was told 'Don't get dependent'. As if depending on medication that works for you, that helps you is a bad thing.

This wasn't new to me, I'd heard it before. In fact I've been hearing it my whole life, since long before I was diagnosed with a mental illness. I heard it when my doctor insisted I stop taking them so that I didn't get addicted. I heard it in interviews with people in recovery; in editorials and opinions pieces about the danger of pharmaceuticals for mental health. I heard it in comments from friends; 'Are you still on medication?' 'When do you think you'll stop taking it?'

And when I reply 'Yes, I'm still on medication. I don't know if I'll ever stop taking it because it works for me.'

I get asked, 'Oh really? What type of medication are you on?' Or they offer their advice. 'My friend had depression, and she found exercise helped.' 'But have you tried mindfulness?'

In what other health setting do we think it appropriate to grill people on their treatment choice? Or to ask specific questions on what brand of drugs they've bought? Do we question cancer patients on whether they're choosing a holistic cure for their tumour or a scientific one?

I proudly defend my use of medication as a treatment because I didn't have a choice.
I had no motivation to exercise, I had no appetite to eat at all, yet alone healthily, and I didn't know how to recognise, never mind change, negative thought patterns. I needed something that would allow me to live again. I needed something that would keep me alive.

I’d rather be medicated for the rest of my life, dependent on pharmaceuticals to function, than to not be here. And that’s the risk I'd have to take if I ever stopped taking them.

And I am sick of people judging me, looking down on me from their high homeopathic horse.

I get that medication for mental illness differs to medication for physical illness in many ways.
The side-effects differ per person. You can’t look at someone and see how severe their illness is. There’s no physical wound to measure and treat. It’s inside. It’s in your head. There is no consensus on how to treat something you can't see.

The same drugs that worked on one person may not work on another. It could take years of different combinations to find a treatment that works. Some people may never find a combination of pharmaceuticals that work.

But why should we discourage medication when it does work?

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Last week I forgot to take my medication and this is what it felt like

Last Sunday I was staying over at my boyfriend’s house. It’s a regular enough occurrence, regular enough that I instinctively pack my bag without much thought before I go. Except on Sunday my instincts let me down. Coming off a 20-hour shift, I forgot to add my anti-depressants to my bag.

I knew the outcome wouldn’t be good. But I put on a brave face and said “I’ll be fine” every time my boyfriend asked. I went to sleep around 10:30pm, well aware that the next day wasn’t going to be pleasant.

My alarm went off at 7am, and I could barely open my eyes. Four snooze buttons and 20 minutes later, I knew I HAD to get up or I’d be late for work. But when I tried to get up, when I tried to tell myself I had to go and shower, I didn’t want to.

I’m not talking about the ‘I don’t want to get up this morning’ feeling that me and everyone else has every morning as we struggle with our wake-up call. This was a total shutdown of my systems. My legs didn’t want to stretch out of bed and stand up, my eyes didn’t want to open, my body didn’t want to stand under a shower and get wet, my head did not want me to get up.

I had no motivation to move.

I slowly got my bearings. I didn't have a choice. Like following instructions from a manual, I went step by step, following the same routine I do every day.

Get up.



But when I came back to the room after my shower, I just sat on the bed in my towel. 3 minutes passed. I knew I better start moving. 7 minutes passed, and I had one item of clothing on.  I can’t tell you what I was thinking of in that time. I couldn’t have told you just 2 minutes afterwards. But I sat there, spaced out for 10 minutes until I finally started to move. Moving was much opposed by my whole body. It required significant effort.


Make up.


Almost ready to leave, I turned to my boyfriend and said “I don’t feel right today.”

It’s difficult to explain what not feeling ‘right’ means. But I knew this feeling, I was familiar with it. It put me right back into the shoes I wore seven years ago. I didn’t feel like me.

The world looked different when I left the house that morning. Not metaphorically different, literally. It was like I couldn’t see clearly. It was hazy, blurry. My sight wasn't focused.

I had an overarching, ingrained feeling that something bad was going to happen. A feeling of impending doom. I was anxious and scared.

And my head. Oh good God, my head. I could feel the pressure pushing between my brain and my skull. Or was it the noise? At some point the pressure turned into noise. I couldn’t think clearly.

The rest of my day continued in the same vein. I watched the clock move ever so slowly to 5pm, just waiting til I could go home, take my tablets and get into bed.

Missing my medication shook me for the whole week. I found myself chasing that sleep I missed every night afterwards. It's been even harder to shake the anxiety and the not feeling like me.

Something similar happened on my family holiday back in July. Rather than packing my two types of medication, I brought only the one kind (and double of it). The whole week I took twice my usual dose of this medication, completely missing the other medication. I didn't even realise what I'd done until the day I arrived back home.
I hadn't been able to explain my low moods, mood swings and general feeling of unease all holiday until then - it finally all made sense.

Despite what these two recent occasions might suggest, I don't make a habit of forgetting to take my medication. It's usually very rare - missing one type of medication on two nights out of 365 say. But it has huge effects. It shows me how much I need my meds to sleep, concentrate and just function in my everyday life.

On these rare occasions, I'm only a mere shadow of myself. Without my medication, I'm not me.

Monday, 25 September 2017

I accidentally went to a weight class and now I lift weights. And other stories from my summer.

My summer mental health journey

It's been a weird few months, but it's been a few months I haven't managed to capture on the blog. Whether because my priorities shifted or my writing motivated faltered, I just haven't been sharing my mental health journey over the past four months. And I want to share it, because it's been a transformative summer and I'm so proud.

So to sum it all up, here's what I did this summer:

Did weights for the first time and now I'm addicted
I bit the bullet and bought membership to my local gym over the summer - the fear of wearing a bikini on my holidays spurred me on to finally commit to regular exercise. I started attending one of the free classes in the gym. It was called the 'Burn and tone' class. There was no description other than the name, so I presumed this would be some sort of Zumba-esque cardio + squats. Nope. I turn up and everyone is bringing weight, kettlebells and steps over to their floor space. Trying to act normal, I just copied everyone else.

And so began my first experience with weights. While I felt physically sick and struggled to walk home at the end of the class, I didn't give up. I started attending the gym just to do weights by myself.

I'd love to tell you that I lost weight and my body confidence improved. It didn't quite happen like that. My weight has stayed pretty much the same (muscle weighs more than fat, so there's solace in that). But I did start to feel better about myself. I love the sense of strength and control I had while leg pressing 120kg. I felt strong and capable and empowered.

I learned that weights are not just for male bodybuilders (even though they are intimidating when you're in the gym). And weights also work wonders for your mental health. I'm okay with my body, there's work to do, but I'm proud of my progress so far.

Due to a move I had to give up my gym membership and find a new one, so I haven't been weightlifting in almost a month now. But I've no intention of stopping, just pausing until I find somewhere else to work my muscles!

Tried to eat healthy
Attending the gym has also been accompanied by trying to eat healthy. I must admit though, I am a firm believer in not dieting and never restricting yourself to treats. But at least my main meals are pretty healthy, right?
I've been eating a lot of salads as well as cooking new meals like turkey rashers, courgette pasta, and an egg fried stir fry. I felt like Nigella Lawson, but in her early days where she was still prone to a mini disaster or two, and without the finger-licking baking.

However, my eating habits are starting to fall out of sync again (I'm blaming my break from the gym for this). While I still eat well for lunch and dinner, I keep going for 10pm toast or cereal or chocolate. It's like I know I've done well during the rest of day, so I'm allowed to keep snacking come bedtime.

Promised to delete my blog 34 times
I've been writing on this blog for over four years now, and for the past four months, I couldn't decide what was the best thing to do for my mental health. Should I give up? I'd have more free time, and less stress about numbers and views. Should I give it my all again? Fully commit and post every few days? Or should I carry on halfheartedly?

I'll be honest with you all, writing about your own mental health publicly is hard. I've deleted my blog's Facebook page for this very reason. And my motivation for writing has been waning. There are so many mental health bloggers out there now, and they're so much better than me. They write well, write often, and know how to promote their blogs and build a huge following. That last bit is the part I struggle with the most. Engagement.

Since I stopped blogging often and promoting as much on social media, my engagement has fallen a huge amount. Less and less people are visiting my site, sharing my posts and giving me their feedback.
All summer I criticised myself for failing. Why wasn't I writing like everyone else? Why wasn't I joining Twitter chats or talking about my meds online?  Working two jobs, I don't have time to take beautiful staged photos accompanying every post. Schedules and planners just sound like pressure to me.

It's been an internal struggle for some time now, but I've finally accepted that I'm different. I'm never going to be doing brand collaborations or winning awards for my writing. But I need this space for myself. For my own mental health. For my good and bad days. I've finally renewed my blog domain to keep it going for at least another year.

I went on holidays and the world didn't collapse
I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. There's not a day goes by where I don't feel a bigger responsibility than I can handle. Whether it's in work, at home, with my friends or family, I just feel responsible for everything that goes wrong. I always feel like my whole world would collapse if I ever took a break.

However, I did go on holiday for 10 whole days, the longest holiday I've ever had. My boyfriend and I went to Lisbon, leaving my two jobs and responsibilities behind.

Yes, there were many times throughout the break where I felt extremely guilty for being away. I felt horrible for leaving my work colleagues behind with my shifts and my tasks to cover. I struggled with the ball of guilt in the bottom of my stomach.

But I've also never enjoyed a break more. I needed that respite from responsibility. I came back chilled and relaxed and with my work/life balance in perspective (I'd very much been getting this balance wrong). My world didn't collapse without me. I came back and everything was how it should be. I'm allowed to take a holiday, who knew?

Until next time,

Monday, 11 September 2017

Why are we still okay with ‘haunted’ asylums at Halloween?

It’s that time of the year again. I love autumn leaves, autumn colours, pumpkin spice lattes. I love Halloween. What I don’t love, is the constant use of Halloween to reaffirm the stigma around mental illness.

I’ve written about it before. But at this time every year, another event, another TV show, another movie, uses former lunatic asylums and mentally ill patients as a trope.

The Nightmare Realm, who run ‘haunted house’-type experiences in Ireland, are adding some new elements to their popular scarefest this year in Dublin. One such addition is a haunted asylum. 

It’s all a bit of fun. I’m overreacting right? I mean, there are scary doctors involved with inhumane treatments, not just scary patients!

The problem is that there still remains a stigma around mental health. People with mental illness are still seen as and treated as second class citizens. Mental illness changes how our friends, family, and workplace see us. We lose friends, we lose our jobs, we lose custody of our children.
Many people struggling with their mental health are still to afraid to seek help. They hide it because they don't want to lose any of these things. They don't to be seen as weak, helpless, pathetic. They don't want to be seen as scary, dangerous or unstable. But the asylum continues to reaffirm the image that we're dangerous, threatening and savage.

Despite modern psychiatry having moved away from not only the word 'asylum', but the very idea of confining people with a mental illness, horror loves to reuse and rehash it for cheap thrills.

It's a widely popular theme and it's directed into our homes on an almost weekly basis. From Supernatural to American Horror Story - it's all over TV. The local ‘asylum’ is commonly used in Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf to add an element horror. Even Modern Family have gone there, receiving backlash for their homemade asylum episode, full of insensitive jokes about mental health:
“Sexy people go crazy too. Read a People magazine.”
“She spent six months in a cuckoo farm in Nevada… She gets mad when I say that. It was in Utah.”
As a teenager, lacking any sort of mental health education in school, I thought asylums still existed. I thought that sad, mad and bad people were all locked up. I was scared of those people. They weren't like 'us'. When I started to struggle with my own mental health, I worried that I too would be locked up if I told anyone. I didn't want to end up in an asylum.

Don’t get me wrong. Asylums were horrific, horrible and terrifying places. Patients were not treated with dignity, in fact many were not ‘treated’ at all. Bedlam or Bethlem Royal Hospital, the most infamous such institution, is best known for how it publicly displayed the interned ‘lunatics’. Like animals at a zoo, people would visit and walk by the cages either pointing and laughing, or jumping in fright at what they saw.

But haven’t we moved past that? Haven’t we all accepted how wrong and immoral it was for mentally unwell people to be publicly displayed for entertainment and horror? So why do we keep returning to asylums at Halloween?

The Nightmare Realm, like many other similar events around not only the country, but the world, would like to reaffirm that stigma. They want to show you how the patients ‘live’. And considering some of the images they use in their promotion, I can guarantee you it’s not going to be an accurate, fair depiction.
Source: The Nightmare Realm
The straitjacket is a nice touch.

Is it too much to ask for a Halloween where people with a mental illness are treated as PEOPLE, not jokes?

We are already stigmatised on a daily basis. People are scared of us. Your straitjackets, gurneys and shackles reaffirm people's incorrect beliefs of us. Your inhumane treatment tells people that we are less than human. That we are so less than human we can be experimented on, laughed at, poked and prodded for your own pleasure.

Running an asylum for Halloween is not and should never be acceptable. It perpetuates the stigma around mental health. Asylums scare people into not seeking help, because no one wants to end up like that. It creates an us vs them. And like anyone else, even I want to be on the 'us' side.

I am not less than human. I deserve better than to be represented by the image of a straitjacket in an asylum.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Five things I do every day for my mental health

There are many things that those of us living with a mental illness have to do just to get through the day. Some days are harder than others, some weeks don't even have ONE good day. But through it all there are five things that I do every single day to help manage, protect and promote the best possible mental health.

Here are the five things I do every day for my mental health.

1) Get up early
I love mornings. I get up in plenty of time before work to allow me to shower, do my hair and make-up and generally get ready without feeling rushed and stressed. I make the time to have a sitdown breakfast, catch up on any messages I received over night, and look over my planner journal before I have to head off and face the day!

2) Make a to-do list
I usually make this list the night before, but having my to-do list to hand keeps me right. I need a routine. I need to write down tasks and goals so that I actually do them. I need the sense of accomplishment you get from ticking off an item on your to-do list. I need to feel like I’m not back on my worst days where I'm unable to function, and I have nothing to show for staying in bed. So, every day I write down dates and tasks and anything that comes to mind, then combine them in my journal in the evening. Before I leave the house in the morning I always take a look at my tasks for the day and leave with a focus in mind. Here's to productivity!

3) Eat well
I'm not good at sticking to this, and I don't stick to it religiously but I do try to make a conscious effort to eat more healthy than I used to. I keep my bottle of water refilled in work, I always have berries and yoghurt in the fridge, and just love the evenings where I can prepare a nice salad or make a some healthy eggs. Don't get me wrong, I love to snack on cereal and some chocolate at night, but I rest assured that at least my lunch is healthy and that makes me feel better about life.

4) Take my meds
I need to take medication to manage my mental illness. This one time I stopped and my entire world collapsed and I thought I was going to die. So now I take them every single evening, around 9:30pm, before I go to bed. Within an hour and a half (at the very longest!) I am sound asleep. I'm okay with the fact that I've been on medication for five years, and they're a very important part of my daily self care.

5) Go to bed early
One thing I've learned over the years of battling my depression and anxiety is how much I need my rest. Not only does my medication make me tired, but after a long day of acting like a mentally-stable and fully-functioning human being, I need SLEEP! Trust me, pretending you're okay is mentally draining and exhausting, and my 9:30pm I'm in bed watching a TV show and colouring in to recover from the daily stress. This means 1) I'm asleep by around 11pm every night, and 2) I wake up at 6:45am with eight hours of sleep and feeling refreshed, and ready to face another day.

It's not always easy living with a mental illness. What do you have to do daily to stay sane?

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I’m not happy with my body

I'm getting very personal today. It's something I've been struggling with for a while now, but have been too self-conscious and embarrassed to share. But it's about time I was brave and admitted I'm struggling and I'm not okay. Trigger warning: weight issues.

I wanted to let you know that I'm struggling with my body; my new healthy body. 

I don’t like the way I look.

When I’m out, in particular out in a dress, I feel self-conscious. And without meaning to, I compare my body size and shape with everyone else’s.

I wish I was thinner.

For the past year I’ve been struggling with my body confidence. It comes and goes. Some days I’m happy with how I look, how my curves fit into my clothes, the slight definition of muscle starting to form.

Other days I’m not. I hate how my tummy hangs out over my jeans, how my love handles are prominent under a tight t-shirt, how thick my thighs are. I feel fat and frumpy and big.
The word big sticks out in my mind.

I was out at the weekend in a pretty dress, bare legs and heels. And midday way through the night I realised I looked so much bigger than the other girls here. My legs looked so much bigger than my friends in photos. I couldn't stand how big I looked. And with that my night was ruined. I cried and called it a night.

But yet big feels unreasonable.

The average dress size in the UK is supposedly a size 16. I’m a size 10 and yet I still feel ‘too big’. My mind likes to defy reason, logic and argument.

When I was diagnosed with depression, I was 18 years old and I weighed 7.5 stone, which is 47kg. I was severely underweight. At first, the doctors thought I had an eating disorder, rather than just a lack of appetite because of my depression.

I was encouraged to eat and get to a ‘healthy’ 60kg. One of the side effects of the medication I was put on is weight gain. My mirtazapine stimulated my appetite. And over the years I started to put on and retain weight for the first time in my life.

Now I'm 25, and I've surpassed my 60kg prescribed goal.

And I've had comments about my weight gain for over a year.
'Zoe's put on a good bit of weight, hasn't she?'
'You are a little bit fat though, aren't you?' 
'You've a lot of meat on your bones.'
'A healthy 60kg' repeats in my head.

Too big. Too big. Too big.

I'm sick of feeling dissociated with my body. I'm sick of feeling like I don't belong in my own body. I'm sick of feeling awkward, ugly, BIG. And right now it's so hard to convince myself I'm healthy; that my body is worth cherishing - every roll, scar and stretch mark of it.

I wanted to let you know that I'm struggling with my body; my new healthy body. I don't know how to overcome it yet, but I'm trying. And I promise I'll keep trying.

Until next time,

Monday, 14 August 2017

All the good things this week

I have had a jam-packed, fun-filled week!

Keeping active is such a huge part of keeping me mental illness in check. I need a plan, structured activities, and many, many to-do lists to manage my mental health.

And this week was especially busy, but also mentally rewarding. I love how much I got ticked off the bucket list as my Summer in Ireland comes to an end.
Unfortunately, keeping busy often comes with a cost. And it's often difficult for me to achieve my much-needed sense of achievement and self-fulfillment without breaking the bank. This week offered a mix of free, cheap and also costly activities that may give you ideas for looking after your mental health.

1) Monday: Going to the zoo
Even though I was more than happy to pay my way in, we managed to get into Dublin Zoo for free (saving €20 each!). Sadly, a lot of life is all about who you know, and we were lucky enough to know someone who offered to get us in for free. I love Dublin Zoo and the efforts they take to invest in bigger and better enclosures for their animals, so it was fabulous to finally see the new Orangutan enclosure for the first time. (*hint* the climb on ropes above you!) This visit also offered my first chance to see the Zoorassic exhibition featuring the second largest complete T-rex skeleton ever found. I've told you how much I love dinosaurs, right? It was the most wonderful Bank Holiday Monday!

2) Tuesday: Tea and catch-ups
On Tuesday I went over to my friend's house where we drank many cups of tea, had a good catch-up, ate berries, watched some Supernatural, and updated our to-do list for the rest of the year! A nice twist on having a night in.

3) Wednesday: Abbey Theatre - Jimmy's Hall
I LOVE the theatre, and I really love the Abbey. Maybe it's the history of the place, but I just find it magical to attend. The boyfriend was very excited about seeing Jimmy's Hall, a new stage adaptation of the critically acclaimed Ken Loach film. Cheapest tickets are from about €15 and it was a fabulous way to mark the midweek.

4) Thursday: Exercise and journaling
After a very busy few days, I needed a night in! I got all the good endorphins from a quick work out, made my favourite scrambled eggs with turkey rashers, and then spent the evening organising my journal! My journal is my planner, diary, habit tracker, and goal recorder all in one. I would be lost without it!

5) Friday: Homemade enchiladas
Does anything taste better than a homemade meal? My boyfriend and I had so much fun preparing, cooking and then (the best part) eating our enchiladas and our own Guac. It was the perfect lazy Friday night in.

6) Saturday: Newmarket Sqaure
Saturday morning called for a bit of exploring around Dublin 8. We headed to Green Door Market and the Dublin Food Co-op for locally sourced and produced foods and crafts. I tried an onion bhaji for the first time, and I got the nicest coffee I have ever tasted from The Thursday Cafe.

7) Saturday night: Partying like it's 1920
Our group bought our tickets for this back in May, and then spent the whole Summer not only looking forward to it, but shopping for it! I love The Great Gatsby, but also just the whole fashion, style and auro of Prohibition-era America. We got glam and headed to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham (my first visit!) where there was prohibition punch, burlesque performances, Charleston dancing, croquet and live bands late into the night.

Until next time,

Friday, 11 August 2017

Struggling but surviving

Mental health is a weird topic in the media. It hits the headlines when important people realise that services are underfunded and under-resourced. The mental health of celebrities is examined when they die by or threaten suicide. People's stories are told when they show signs of cures or recovery.

But what about the rest of us?

What about those of us who still struggle with mental illness? Those of us who are struggling but surviving?

It's hard to find an accurate depiction of what it's like to live with a mental illness in mainstream media. These are rare, but a notable example is Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers recurring features on Newstalk. But other than this, I don't know of any other.

Instead, the media cares about sensational headlines and details. They call murderers and terrorists mentally ill. They run documentaries about the dangers of anti-depressants. They make light of celebrity breakdowns for webpage hits. They love stats on suicide attempts, self-harm, the number of people waiting for an appointment, people contacting helplines.
If you read a newspaper, you'd presume that anyone with mental illness is 'off the rails'. They're a danger to themselves and others. They're all either in therapy and or on meds. 
You'd think it's okay to call people with mental health problems a 'nutjob', 'bonkers', 'psycho' and an endless list of other insults. 

Where's the day-to-day reality of mental illness? The accurate portrayal of more 'complex' illnesses like schizophrenia or anorexia?

Where's the personal struggles of not being able to afford to pay for private counselling?

Where's the people who pop out on their lunch break to see their psychiatrist?

Where's the fact that not everyone recovers, but also not everyone who doesn't recover spends their life on a psych ward?

Where's the evidence that tabloids, and people in general, are actually learning from the occasional personal stories they do share and putting that learning into practice?

The lack of realistic coverage in the media fuels the stigma around mental illness.

I want to hear about those who are living with mental illness. How are they surviving?

Perhaps this is why so many people struggling with their mental health have turned to blogging about it. There is an incredible amount of mental health bloggers out there. I've lost track! There are too many for me to even follow them all! It's a movement, it's moving, and it's brave. We want there to be an accurate depiction, a real voice out there. So many of us are dare to bare all online.

I'm angry at the media for what they continue to do to people like Sinead O'Connor. She should not be ridiculed. I'm angry that they don't care, on our worst days when care is what we need most.

I'm struggling but surviving. And when there's no fair representation in the media, it often feels like I'm doing it alone.

Until next time,

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

I can’t take criticism

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who can take criticism in their stride. You know the type, it seems to roll right off of them. They can take it on board, move on and get over it.

I am not one of those people. Critiques, comments and criticisms can play on my mind for not only days or weeks, but sometimes months after.

One personal failing of mine has haunted me for about 20 years. Me and my sister were at a fun fair, but our parents would only allow us to go on one ride. My sister wanted the bumper cars, but I wanted the ghost train. As the youngest sibling, my choice won out. But alas, the ghost train was the LEAST scary horror show ever put on and we ended the ride very disappointed. I’m guessing my sister voiced her dissatisfaction with my choice. Or maybe I just blamed myself. Either way, I’ve been replaying this incident for the past two decades as proof that I make bad choices every time I’m faced with a decision.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m sensitive. And your critical opinion plays on my own insecurities.
Spotted a typo in my blog post and pointed it out publicly? That’s a paddlin.

Asked me to repeat myself for a third time? That’s a paddlin.

It’s like I have to think of myself as perfect. And if you point out anything less than perfect, it’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.

I write by profession. Having a typo called out feels like a real personal failure. The fear hits me. Is my whole job jeopardized because I make typographical errors? What if I'm fired? If I'm not good at this, then  (because not perfect = total failure to me.)

As a kid (and still sometimes now as an adult-in-denial) I would get my r's and w's mixed up. I can specifically remember doing spellings in like my third year of primary school and two of the words to learn for that week were Jar and Jaw. And I could not say them for the life of me.

Anytime someone asks me to repeat myself, I get flashbacks of my angry school teacher asking me to repeat Jaw again and again. (I still can't say it today, and refer to it as 'the chin area').

I guess it's just a part of my sensitive personality. Yano? The reason I cry at films, TV shows, books, personal stories etc. The reason I was probably predisposed to depression to begin with. The way I feel about things.

I'm not over my past. I'm not over my insecurities. And I'm still wrapped up in feeling like a failure and being self-conscious.

But I do want to work on it. I want to not presume everything you say to me is actually an insult. I want to believe that when you point out an error, a mistake, or some make-up I forgot to blend in it's not a commentary on how I'm failing in my every day life. But it's not that simple.

I'm trying to remind myself that no one's perfect. That perfect is a myth. That I've been buying into this myth my whole life. That skinny celebs are also not perfect, because being skinny isn't all that great.
And I'm trying to learn to handle criticism more constructively. Like, I will carefully check I have blended my make-up correctly in better lighting.
And just to take criticism. Take it and not over think or over analyse it. Just take it and carry on with my life without having it weigh me down.

(Seriously, throw your criticism at me – I want to learn to take it.)

Until next time,

Thursday, 3 August 2017

I’m over ‘get over it’

There are many terms that reinforce the stigma around mental health. And I’m sick of them. Every time you use an out-dated, offensive and utterly unhelpful remark it tells me that my mental illness isn't legitimate. 

Here are some of the worst offenders that I'm totally over.

Get over it.
If only it were that simple to abandon all worries, fears and insecurities... 

Look on the bright side.
Oh thanks hun, I’ll be sure to keep my anxiety-ridden negativity to myself in future.

It’ll get better.
Now that YOU say it, I suddenly believe it! Yes, it will get better, but when? How much longer do I have to feel like this? When will the pain finally end?

It’s so depressing.
No hun, depression isn’t an adjective. It’s an illness. And what you’re feeling right now, what you think is comparable to my illness, is not depression. Also said as "Everyone gets depressed/depression at some point."

“It’s all in your head.”
I know it’s in my head, which is why its so all-consuming and I can’t escape it.

“Maybe you should go back to therapy if it's that bad.”
Do you think it's that easy to walk into an appointment? Ever hear of waiting lists? Understaffing? Lack of resources? In an ideal world we'd all be in therapy, not just those of us who are struggling. 

“You’re getting worked up over nothing.”
This. Does. Not. Feel. Like. Nothing.

You should try meditation.
I've tried most things to help with mental health at this stage, including meditation. It doesn't work for me but sure, keep making helpful suggestions. Also filed under "You should try exercise/God/journaling and other countless tips."

“You shouldn't take medication for your depression.
Seriously? What makes you think that you have a right to tell me how to manage my mental illness? Why are you trying to shame me for managing my mental illness?

“But you don't have that anymore, do you?”
Is there a time limit on mental illness I didn't know about? Am I meant to be recovered by now? Am I less of a person if I do still have it? Why do I now suddenly feel like a failure?

What unhelpful and insensitive phrases are you over when it comes to mental health? Have you got any to add to my list?

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Recovery Letters

Last year I was privileged to be asked to contribute to The Recovery Letters book. The Recovery Letters started as an online website - with a series of letters written by people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently affected by or experiencing a mental health condition.

Now a book edited by James Withey, the letters can be bought, cherished and read wherever you are.

Addressed to 'Dear You', the letters provide hope and support as a testament that recovery is possible.

'This book will save lives, which can't be said of many. Writing or reading a letter strikes at the sense of isolation which is at the root of despair. Read this book, buy it for others, it's rare and powerful medication.' - Gwyneth Lewis, author of Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book about Depression

Writing my letter, I struggled with the notion of recovery. I've never defined myself as having 'recovered' from depression. It's something I've always struggled with, and written about these struggles on this blog. But writing my letter helped me find peace with the notion of 'recovery'.  I realised that I wasn't the person I used to be. I wasn't lost, alone or hopeless. I have made progress. I was in recovery. And here I was, sharing my story for others so that they too know there is hope.
My recovery letter

You can buy the book online here.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Calling suicide cowardly is missing the point

*Trigger Warning: Suicide*

I get how suicide can be perceived as cowardly and selfish from the outside, or if you’re affected by the death of someone you know by suicide. But I’ve had suicidal thoughts inside my own head. And my mental illness rationalised them, and made them feel like the least selfish and bravest thing I could do.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that the lead singer of an obscure nu-metal band died by suicide last week. Chester Bennington, who has always been public about his battles with trauma from his past and drug addiction, took his own life.

It’s a hard one for me to process. In the same way Chester had turned to writing and music to deal with his trauma, I had turned to Linkin Park when I was 13. I took comfort from the voice of someone who had felt like I was feeling. Chester screamed so that I wouldn’t have to.

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about a comment from another musician. A guy named Brian Welch from an equally famous band called Korn.
Brian wrote a Facebook post where he said Chester was sending the wrong message to his fans.
I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sympathetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!!
I get that Brian was grieving; having a tough time processing and clearly thinking about those most affected who would be left behind. One of the first stages of grief is anger.

I’m sure people have criticised Brian and written eloquently about while what he said may be his honest take at a time of mourning and loss, it is not acceptable.

But I’ve found myself consumed by his words lately, and I needed to express my frustration at this misunderstanding of suicide. Not every depression or mental illness manifests into suicidal ideation, so maybe Brian just couldn’t place himself in Chester’s shoes.

I wasn’t so lucky. From the age of 14 I fantasised about dying. Usually at the hand of an accident, rarely by my own hand, but I wanted to die. I had barely lived in the world and yet I wanted out. I didn’t like what I had seen, or how it had made me feel. At 14 I wanted to die for me. So yes, perhaps this wish was selfish. But it never felt cowardly. I thought of it as brave to choose death.

By 18 my thoughts of death turned to suicidal ideation. I was scoring high for severe depression on every depressive scale out there, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Mental illness blocks your peripheral vision. It filters how you see the world, those around you and yourself. It feeds you a version of reality. A tunnel vision perception of who you are.

My version of reality was that I was a burden. I was a waste of space. Useless. Unloved. Unlikeable. A failure. It warped everything I knew about myself, everything I could see. It told me that death would fix everything. My death.

Sure, it would be hard for my family if I died. But I rationalised my decision. Or should I say, my mental illness rationalised my decision? Honestly, wasn’t now the best time? My sister was at an age where she might not remember me. If I waited any longer and she grew older, it would affect her worse than if I did it now.

You see, I know that suicide doesn’t feel selfish. Sometimes it feels like the most selfless thing you could do. That by no longer ‘being’ you wouldn’t be a burden anymore. The pain would end, not just for you, but for everyone around you too.

Like Brian, I’m angry at Chester’s suicide. I’m angry that he couldn’t get the help to convince him his mind was lying to him. I’m angry that he wasn’t convinced life was worth living, even when it’s hard.

Calling suicide cowardly is missing the point. Mental illness can twist and distort. It can rationalise that which can never be rationalised; the loss of a human life.

It’s a truly horrific battle to be in with your own mind. It’s hard to convince yourself that your mind is lying.

But believe me, it lies. Suicide can feel like the answer, but it never is.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Everyone hates me.

I’m crying. I’m crying really hard and really loud because I think everyone hates me.

In fact, I know they must hate me. My family, my housemates, my work colleagues. Everyone.
And why do they hate me? Because there’s something wrong with. I’m wrong. I don’t fit in. I don’t have many friends because people don’t like me. I’m too argumentative, too passionate about my world views. And when I show that side, people want to leave. When I’m not arguing, I’m too quiet. I’m shy and reserved. People don’t like that. I force awkward silences on them. I don’t have anything to say so I keep my mouth shut. I don’t like sharing.

Want to know how my holiday was?

‘Good. Fine. Only a few showers. Mostly dry. Went swimming’.
You’re not getting anything else out of me.

That’s not normal. I’m not normal. What’s wrong with me?

On Saturday night I sat up for hours crying. A never-ending stream of thoughts filled my head. Examples of social rejection, fights with siblings, throwaway comments made years ago all came back to me as evidence that I am hated. After everything I've done, I hate to be. I jumped from conclusion to conclusion. I was trapped. I couldn’t get out of my mind, I couldn’t make it stop. Everything that I was ever self-conscious of, any past event that ever could make me feel self-conscious flooded my brain.

But then it occurred to me.

Hurt yourself to make the thoughts stop. You know it works. You’ve done it before.

Pathetic, I thought. Seriously mental illness? You think you can trick me that easily? I am not going to do that.

I cried until I was numb. I cried until half of me felt already dead, and the other half wanted to die.

"You're getting yourself worked up over nothing".
 But it doesn't feel like nothing. It feels real.

I don’t know what Saturday night was. A breakdown? An episode of depression? A relapse?

All I know is that it will take a while to shake off and fully get over. I still feel emotionally and physically drained. I still feel like a lesser, emptier me. And I still feel like people don’t like me. However, I’m being more realistic about it. Everyone doesn’t hate me, because not everyone in the world has met me. But, everyone may possible hate me if they ever do meet me. I’m challenging these destructive thoughts one step at a time. 

I still feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. I still feel too preoccupied with the stream of negative thoughts only I can hear to really pay heed to anything going on around me. 
I stepped out in front of a car this morning. Not intentionally. I was just so withdrawn and so consumed by my mind that I didn't think to look. I was lucky I didn't get hurt. 

This was the worst low I can remember in the past two years. But it differs from how I used to feel in a time before medication and support. It differs because despite what my mind told me, I didn't want to die. I didn't want to hurt myself to make the feelings stop. Hell, it was hard ignoring those thoughts, convincing myself not to act on them. But I did it. 

Despite Saturday night, I'm still winning the battle against my mental illness. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

Is talking about mental health really ending the stigma?

We've been talking about mental health for years now.

It's in the media every day. Another personal story, another awareness campaign. It rarely ceases.
It's mainstream now. We’re all familiar with the term.
So what if many people still think it synonymous with mental illness? At least they know about mental health.

It's a cause that has ambassadors.

A-listers are revealing their eating disorders, medication, anxiety and depression in ever increasing numbers.
Amanda Seyfried. Katy Perry. Prince Harry.
They bring a sense of glamour to the usual discussions of mental health.

Even in Ireland it’s been on everyone’s tongues for the past number of years.
We have male sports stars and musicians speaking out specifically to encourage men to get talking about their mental health.
Conor Cusack. Philly McMahon. Bressie.

I've been blogging about mental health for just over three years. And I’ve lost count of the number of Irish mental health bloggers out there.

But is it enough? What has all this talk about mental health got us?
News reports continue to show that we aren't lowering suicide rates. People continue to feel alone, to not ask for help, to self-harm, to die by suicide.

People may be talking about mental health, but that doesn’t mean they care enough to provide it with adequate funding. Mental health services are under resourced. There are not enough of them, not enough staff, and certainly not enough beds. Waiting lists are growing because, while we are encouraging people to seek help for their mental health, we’re not ensuring that ‘the help’ is available to listen.

recent headlines

So are our conversations ending stigma? Are we saying the right things?
When a white man commits an act of terror, we’re told it’s motivated by mental health.  

When Ant McPartlin, one half of the UK’s most famous and award winning TV presenting duo, entered rehab for ‘depression and substance abuse’ he’s told to go get ‘real problems’. 

Britney Spears infamous breakdown in 2007 is still used a slur today. ‘I haven’t shaved my head yet’, said Katy Perry earlier this year. Because she may be mad, but at least she’s not that mad. 

Sinead O’Connor. Amanda Bynes. Kanye West. Their mental health battles are not taken seriously by the media because they don’t fit with our image of a celeb. They should be happy, rich and have it all. 

Sympathy isn’t our first response when we see mental illness. We question motives. Wonder if it’s attention seeking. Tell them their problems aren’t real issues like a physical illness is. There’s no arguing with the severity of a physical illness that you can see after all. 

Shops continue to use mental illness as a joke to sell products. From slogans on Urban Outfitters t-shirts to straitjacket Halloween costumes in Tesco, it takes public outrage rather than common sense to pull these products from stores.

Have we succeeded in anything? 

Sure, I feel less alone seeing mental health in the media and social media. I think, “Great! Now people will understand that it’s real, I didn’t choose this.” 

But that’s not always the reality. I still hear comments reinforcing stigma, mainly regurgitating what the media spews out. I overhear lunchtime conversations saying 'people with mental illness are dangerous' and 'I wanted to hang myself'

If I ask myself that same question as a service user? Well, I still feel alone. I still don’t have access to the care that I need. I still don’t have professional support. If I have a relapse in the morning and find myself in a major depressive episode, I wouldn't know where to turn for help, or even if I ever would get help.

I also ask myself this question as another service user. Perhaps one with schizophrenia. Because unlike me with my diagnoses of anxiety and depression, people with schizophrenia don't see their mental illness openly addressed in the media. While there is greater understanding now of what depression actually is, the same level of coverage isn't given to other mental health problems. There is still a major misunderstanding that schizophrenia involves multiple personalities. The media aren't so quick to clear up these misunderstandings. 

So then, what next for mental health?

Sometimes it's hard not to feel like you're speaking into a vacuum. Especially when the media still play on stigma when it comes to celebrities and crime. Especially when politicians have yet to answer our cries for help.

But that should never mean we stop trying. Conversations around mental health have changed substantially in the past 10 years alone. Who's to say we won't break down more stigma in the next 10 months, yet alone years?
So never stop.
Even when you look around and see how far we have yet to go. Let that be your strength to carry on the war.