When Christmas is less full of cheer

I love Christmas, and I love to love Christmas. I love the fact that the entire month of December means Christmas. I love that every house has fairy lights up, and that makes everywhere look more welcoming and homely. I love that the dark is less dark, that we let a little bit of light in at one of the darkest times of the year. I love that it becomes okay to stay in with blankets and watch telly. I love that the TV is 90% reruns of everything that is good in the world.

I also hate the Christmas period. I hate it because it makes my brain phase out a lot, it feels unreal, and it makes me feel like I have to pretend to be happy all of the time.

Having a mental illness can make you feel like an actor. I act most of the time to make everyone else comfortable. I pretend to be excited at the things I know I’m supposed to – I pretend that I can’t wait to go on holiday or that I’m looking forward to going out for dinner. I pretend that I’m okay, I pretend that I’m not drowning inside with the emotions that have all crashed down at once. I pretend that I feel and I pretend that I’m not feeling as much as I am. Having to act at Christmas, when everything is heightened is a really difficult and trying thing to. It’s tiring. It is tiring to have to hold your facade up to the world for a longer period then usual, to people you don’t normally see, in situations you don’t normally have to deal with. It can make Christmas difficult.

Christmas can be difficult when it reminds you of what you’ve lost. The people who can’t be there, the people who for reasons best known to themselves aren’t there through choice. It reminds you of who you used to be, the ways you used to act, the things you used to do that don’t happen. It’s a time of remembering and that can be painful, whether through loss of a person you love or the loss of part of yourself. And that’s okay.

It’s okay that Christmas is difficult, and I am with you every second of this difficult period, and even on Christmas Day when things can be the worst. Do what you can to make it okay, take your time if you need it, have the space to breathe. It will all be okay. You will be okay.

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Nothing is R E A L

I haven’t written in a while, for several reasons, mainly because A) I was writing about other stuff and my brain has a habit of getting obsessed with things and running with them and B) because nothing felt real enough to form sentences about. The whole ‘not real’ thing is something which I carry around with me and have done for a long time now. There’s no clear cut day when I remember waking up and feeling that the world had changed but I can’t remember the last time I woke up and felt that the world was real. So a while. It has a name if what I have described to you sounds crazy (and yes, it really is a lot of the time) – I deal with depersonalisation and derealisation. For me, they both interact and have their tentacles wound around each other so tightly a lot of the time I can’t distinguish which one is worse then the other, and I think that’s true for a lot of people who live with this too. There’s a lot of us out there – around 1.3 million people in the UK, or 2% of the population – about the same percentage of people who have green eyes (so also me).

Depersonalisation/derealisation is a way for your brain to protect itself. I’ve heard it described as a sort of parachute for your brain – it gets itself into a situation where it is panicking, and it is dangerous for it, and it responds by just checking out and removing itself from the situation. Which is great protection because it means that you don’t have to deal with whatever situation you are in, whether that be a car crash or in the stressful situation that you can’t get out of (that might have been happening for a long time). Whatever the actual cause is, DP/DR means that your brain checks out for a bit, and leaves you feeling numb, emotionless, spaced out, or like a robot.

For me, the strength of how spaced out or unreal I’m feeling varies from day to day. Today I woke up and everything felt unreal, as if it was a story I was telling myself in my head, but I could also appreciate that everyone around me bought into the real-ness of it and it felt somewhat believable. A bit. Yesterday it felt like a buzzing in the front of my head just behind my eyes, that everything was a bit too bright and a bit too real, like it was trying too hard to be real that it inadvertently revealed itself. But other days I wake up and I feel like I’m able to peer between the atoms of the world and pull the fabric of space out a little, to peer behind the lines and see what’s actually out there. And then there are the days when I’m a crumbling shell of panic because i’m-not-real-and-you’re-not-real-and-nothing-is-real-and-why-are-we-here-and-if-they-find-out-i-know-it’ll-end-what-happens-if-that-happens and it’s terrifying. That’s the derealisation – the sense that you are disconnected from the world around you. However, depersonalisation is the sense that you are disconnected from self. So, I can look in the mirror and recognise that the face that reflects back is the one that was given to me, but it doesn’t look quite right, the eyes are off, and the shape of the face feels wrong. I can look at my hands and my breath catches because they’re not my hands, the fingers are too long/short/pudgy/skinny, that mole that I used to have has disappeared, and that’s the depersonalisation talking. It can get really bad and it becomes a sense that my thoughts are living in someone else’s head because nothing about the body I’m in feels like mine, that I am some sort of walking machine that thinks. It’s weird, I know.

Admitting that the world isn’t feeling real (or isn’t real because you know, it’s not really) is really difficult, especially when you don’t know how other people are going to react. Mostly, I would bring it up as a joke, throw it in at the end of a sentence filled with sadness and emptiness, a kind of twisted punchline – ‘so yes, i’m going to fail my degree, and my coursework is piling up and everyone hates me, but it’s okay because none of this is real anyway‘. When you throw it in uncaringly, whilst panicking internally, people tend to laugh it off, as if it was just a way for the hurt in the sentence to be ameliorated somehow. Which is what you wanted. Because what happens if you admit to what you’re feeling and they think you’re mad, right?

I think because of that uncertainty as to how people are going to react, coupled with the DP/DR itself, it’s not something that is talked about often, or at all particularly. Fundamentally, it’s difficult to talk about something that you *know* is true because you feel it, so why talk about the world not being real when it isn’t real anyway? Even doctors have trouble recognising DP/DR when patients bring it up, and often skim over it to topics that they feel more comfortable dealing with.

Recently, luckily, people are talking about it. There are articles written about how it feels to like with depersonalisation or derealisation, there are YouTube videos talking about DP/DR and treatments and things that work for them. And no, it’s not an easy fix, and it’s not as acknowledged as other mental health conditions like OCD or bipolar, but with people talking and sharing it becomes less of an unknown.

I’m not going to offer any real tips or things that could help because I spend my days treading water in the universe of unreality hoping that the days when I’m sinking through the panic become less frequent. Part of me kind of appreciates it in a way. I have a brain that checks out, and then gives me the space to imagine terrible and beautiful things. I live in my head more then I live in the world because I know what happens in my head isn’t real, but could be just as real as what is happening in the world.

If anyone wants to watch a brief video (it’s 10:35 minutes long) if nothing I’ve written makes sense to you please please go check out Dodie’s video with Kati Morton – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6iVspBWzZU the descriptions of feelings, and explanations are really really informative and some of the stuff really hits the nail on the head.

 

What I Learnt In September

This is almost as late as it could possibly be but September was pretty darn busy for me and I finally have the time to really sit and go through the stuff that happened this September.

  1. You cannot do something that is wrong for you
    • Deciding to change degrees and suspend studies for a year has to have been simultaneously one of the hardest and easiest decisions I have ever made. It was easy because I knew it was wrong but hard because I felt like a disappointment (and that’s a story for a different post)
    • But I learnt that it is okay to put yourself and your needs first. There is nothing to be gained from enduring something that is not right for you, and that makes you hate your life.
  2. Mental illness is like a whack-a-mole
    • It can feel as if you have everything under control and then suddenly the floor is pulled from under your feet and everything is upside down again. When that happens it is so hard to find solid ground again.
    • Things sort themselves out in the end, and going to the doctors and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of.
  3. Jealousy is a natural part of the human existence
    • I learnt that people are so ashamed of feeling jealous of other people. And I understand why, but I don’t understand why we need to attach shame to this feeling that is so natural.
    • It’s okay to be jealous of people. What’s not okay is to act differently, or negatively towards other people because of your own feelings.
  4. Joy can always be found
    • I am trying to be so much more present in my life and to find the joy in what I do. Because you can find it in so many things that are simple and ordinary.
    • One of my runs was the best run in such a long time purely because I found so much joy in what I was doing. I was grateful that I was able to be outside, and in the cold and feeling everything. I was grateful for my legs that were able to carry me four miles up and down muddy hills and I was grateful that I was able to feel these things.

September was a combination of stress, tears, and a major change in what I thought my life was going to be like. The ship was tilting in the seas, and yes, it did almost run aground but we have it upright and whilst everything isn’t plain sailing October has already been a month of learning.

World Mental Health Day 2017

10th October 2017 is World Mental Health Day. I started writing this article about 3 hours ago, and it turned into a rant about how awareness isn’t solving the mental ill-health of the population and we need to change the way we treat mental health, stop under funding it and actually give people the help they need and deserve. But just writing about how angry I am about the way mental health provisioning has been chronically underfunded and is insufficient for people’s needs isn’t going to help anyone so I deleted all the anger (apart from that bit there) and wrote about the things that help me with my mental health in the hope that they might help someone else.

 

1. Talk it out 

Mental health and mental wellbeing is something that is almost constantly on my mind considering I have dealt with my own mental ill-health for the past several years. I have very very recently become much more comfortable with talking about my mental health and where I’m at and where I am struggling and what I feel. I have always appreciated the importance of talking to people, sharing your concerns and just getting it off your chest but I have finally really valued and found importance and help in the simple act of just telling someone “I’m struggling with my anxiety today” or “I’m feeling really down today”. Talking has saved me so many times and I am infinitely grateful for the people who take the time to listen to me when I’m struggling, they have helped me more then they know.

Awareness of mental health and the importance of mental wellbeing has skyrocketed with recent campaigns by Time to Change, the Heads Together campaign and their presence at the London Marathon 2017, and the fact that barely a day goes by that mental health is mentioned in the news in some way or another. And this helps. As much as it might feel like it doesn’t, the fact that we are all more able to talk to each other about how we’re feeling and our mental wellbeing helps us all. Being able to just share how you’re feeling helps so so much and it is really underappreciated sometimes as to how helpful it really can be.

 

2. Exercise

I dread to think about the person I would be and where I would be if I didn’t run. Running is the time I get to be quiet, and alone, and to sort out all my thoughts to try and make some sense of them however tangled they might be. Then when you add the sense of achievement and the endorphins you get after you exercise, you realise how much exercise really can positively change your mood. There are days when I wake up and it’s difficult to breathe because everything feels so close and heavy and it’s like I’m wading through deep water up to my chest and I can’t get out. And then I pull on my trainers and go outside. Whether I run or whether I walk to the end of my road and sit on a bench for half an hour it helps. Being outside and moving your body helps. Being inside at the gym, and moving your body helps. Do something. It gives you a moment to step away from your thoughts and to focus on something else and gives you something to be proud of afterwards.

 

3. Go Outside

This is kind of related to the last point but if I’m having a really hard time going outside whether it is for 5 minutes or an hour really can give me a little bit of a boost. Feeling the air on your face, hearing your feet hit the ground, crunch some leaves, squelch in some mud can make the world of a difference. I think it’s a sense of realisation that there is more then what lives in your head. Being outside reduces stress, helps us to relax, improves cognition, including memory and attention span, and reduces symptoms of depression. Even if you can’t get out for long, if you’re having a bad time try and spend sometime outdoors, it is likely to lift your mood and make things feel a little more manageable.

 

4. Write it down 

I have kept a journal for a long long time, since I was about 11 or 12 maybe? So I have become used to turning to writing out my thoughts when something goes well, or when something goes badly, or when I just want to express how I feel and work it all out. But honestly, just getting out what you feel, even if you don’t know why or how to change it really helps. This might help if you’re not comfortable with talking to other people about your mental health or how you’re feeling, because this is for you, it’s to try to untangle those thoughts that just seem to curl and twist around themselves in your head. Try it, honestly, it does work.

 

5. Set Goals

These don’t have to be big goals. Set achievable goals. Try setting goals for today and tomorrow if things seem insurmountable. Some days that might be getting out of bed and remembering to clean your teeth. It might be going to all of your lectures at uni, or spending an hour at the new society meeting that you’re feeling too anxious to go to. It might be going for a walk or a run and being outside. Don’t make a list 50 points long and overwhelm yourself, make it realistic and achievable and break it all down. Finishing those goals, and getting to tick them off the list means that the day wasn’t a failure. Something was achieved and sometimes that’s all you need to make the day better.

 

6. Accept that there are things that you might not be able to do

Now this one does suck a little bit. But if you’re struggling with your mental health there will be things that you can’t do, or if you try it will be detrimental to you. And that’s more than okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not doing something. There is nothing wrong with putting yourself and your health before social engagements or extra responsibilities at work or extra responsibilities at school. Health comes first.

 

7. Wear something that makes you feel good 

Yes this means wearing your pyjamas if being comfortable is what you need. And yes this means putting on your sharpest outfit if you have to leave the house. Put on whatever armour you need. If that is a suit and tie do it, if it’s your comfiest tracksuit bottoms and well-washed t-shirt do it. Just being in what you’re okay in just makes everything else a little bit easier.

 

8. Listen to music

This, almost above anything is potentially the one thing that I jump to when I am not doing okay. Music helps me to feel something, especially when I am not feeling anything at all. Music can also help interrupt the constant stream of negative words running through your head. Make a playlist of all the songs that get you fighting, the ones that make you want to pull on a pair of boots and a leather jacket. Make a playlist of all the songs that make you cry, the quiet ones and the sad ones. Listen to them when you need to. If that’s playing in the car on the way to school or work to give yourself the courage to know that you can do it. Or whether that’s playing them late at night when your thoughts are too loud and you can’t sleep. Whatever helps you do it. Music is one things that really can help.

 

9. Ask for help

I know the other points on this list have been things you can do but if things aren’t changing and your mental ill-health is affecting your relationships, work or school then you might benefit from seeing your doctor and asking for some help. There is no shame in asking for help and there are multiple avenues that you can explore with the doctor, whether that is medication or talking therapies or online therapy. It is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. It might take several tries before something works and that’s okay. You always deserve to get the help you need.

 

10. Add it to your bank of bad days

This is something I have unashamedly stolen from ‘Reasons to Stay Alive‘ by Matt Haig which is a great book that everyone should read, go read it. Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Bank of Bad Days‘ –

“Bad days come in degrees. They are not equally bad. And the really bad ones, though horrible to live through, are useful for later. You store them up. A bank of bad days… … So if you are having another bad day you can say, Well this feels bad, but there have been worse.”

This has helped me immeasurably and it’s something that my best friend says to me each time I cry-text her when I’m having a bad day. Each day you get through you have survived and you learned something. Every bad day teaches you how to get through the next one. There’s the day you had a panic attack after seeing one of your now favourite films at the cinema. There’s the day that you went into college and came home after one lesson. There’s the day you couldn’t bear to leave your room and the day you wanted it all to end and the day you sat and cried. Each and every one of the bad days teaches you that you can do this. 

I hope that anyone who has had the endurance to read all the way to the end has found something here that helps. Having a mental illness, or mental ill-health is and has never been anything to be ashamed of, no matter what anyone, including yourself, might say. I believe in you. You got this.

 

What I Learnt in August

August definitely just came and went and I can’t quite believe that it’s September, the schools are back in and Halloween is basically just around the corner.

  1. Not running anything further than 3 miles for 2 weeks doesn’t mean you lose the ability to run for longer distances. Don’t panic April. All will be well.
  2. Despite the fact that I am still afraid of being stung by a jellyfish I can go in the sea when I can actually see jellyfish and not die. Plus jellyfish are pretty cool and if I had to have a career involving the environment I would quite like to be a jellyfish expert.
  3. Sweet potato and chickpeas do not belong in a pasty.
  4. The Titanic was the first ship in distress to use SOS (they also used CQD which was the more common distress signal at the time). Also, CQD does not mean ‘Come. Quickly: Distress’ or anything similar, it is thought to mean, ‘All stations: distress’. P.S. everyone who I know personally has been told this fact (and the next one soz).
  5. People have been getting tattoos for a very long time (in England definitely since the 1900s) and people have been hating on people getting tattoos for almost as long. Tattoos aren’t a new thing, and people hating on them isn’t a new thing. You do you.
  6. Being friends with people is difficult because sometimes you don’t quite know where you stand. Is it okay if you like them more then they like you? When you’re 5 years old you can straight up ask, “Can I be your (best)friend?” and that’s okay but it doesn’t really work past the age of 7. How do you work out how much your friend actually likes you, like, are they just irritated at the multiple snapchats they periodically get from me? Are they just pretending to be interested in my life? Who knows the answers to friendship past the age of 12?
  7. Being a tourist in your local area is the best thing and everyone should try it once every so often.

Travel Anxiety

I feel like travelling is an ‘in thing’ right now. If you haven’t done it, then someone else you know will have done, and most likely will have posted numerous photos on social media about it. I think it’s incredible that we are able to travel hundreds of miles away in machines that we have made and get to experience new cultures and see sights that generations ago, no one in the family or town would have ever imagined seeing.

However, it does also make me feel incredibly incredibly jealous, and that’s because I have travel anxiety, or at least get so nervous and anxious around travelling and the thought of being somewhere new that I just can’t do it.

There are caveats – I am more than willing to go somewhere with people that I trust (aka my family), I am more comfortable visiting places that are closer to home (aka the UK) and I am more comfortable if I have planned the trip to an inch of its life. I mean, I still get incredibly anxious about going on holiday in the UK with people that I am less comfortable with (aka my friends soz guys) and on going abroad with my family.

I think a lot of what happens in my head is that I don’t like not being in control of things and I don’t like the unknown. I hate the unknown, hence why I’m not a fan of the dark and I’m not a fan of starting new things because I don’t know what will happen or how to be in control. But yeah, being anywhere new or just merely not being in my normal routine gets me all angsty and uncomfortable. And I get to the point where I just won’t do something because of how it makes me feel.

I hate this. There are so many places that I want to do, and that I want to be able to do but right now I just can’t. I want to go to Japan, and NYC, and to Rome and Florence and Venice. I want to go to Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye and London. I find it incredibly difficult to give excuses as to why I haven’t gone to the places that I keep saying I want to go to – the old ‘I’m a student and don’t have much money’ doesn’t really work after using a few dozen times. And just saying that ‘booking this trip is going to make me feel so uncomfortable I’m going to cry multiple times a day even before we go’ isn’t really a good enough excuse (or at least it seems it).

So I kinda just wanted to put it out there that not everyone can travel, and (also) not everyone wants to and not everyone wants to go to the typical student travelling places. It’s all okay, no matter what. However, if you get really bad anxiety over a trip, whether that’s the unknown of the new environment, the method of transport, the lack of control over the new environment and routine, it might be worth your while talking about it. I mean, I can’t really say for sure but I’m hoping that if I come to terms with it all a little bit then I might get more okay with doing new things.

 

 

Why I’m not watching To The Bone

As a result of who I follow on Twitter, my feed has been flooded with comments, reviews and criticisms about To The Bone, from people who have and who haven’t watched it. I’m writing this as an explanation of why I won’t be watching it, and hopefully, make anyone else who is feeling guilty about not watching feel better.

For anyone who doesn’t know, To The Bone is a new Netflix film that was released on Friday 14th July. It is about a 20 year old women who has anorexia and enters an inpatient residential program. Without going and googling the rest of the storyline this is as much as I know for sure. I have read enough articles about this film to have a brief idea, but I’m not sure on the specifics.

I’m not going to be watching To The Bone for a number of reasons. Primarily, I don’t particularly want to watch something that is going to make me doubt my recovery. I don’t need to prod and poke at this thing that feels very fragile and is very new. Honestly, I just don’t want to do something that is going to make me worse about myself. I mean, I’m being responsible and doing some good old self care over here. And I want to make it clear that if watching anything is going to make you feel terrible about yourself, and damage your mental health in any way whatsoever, please don’t watch the thing and definitely don’t feel guilty for putting your mental health first.

I am tired of eating disorders being portrayed in the media as some facet and representation of anorexia. Most people who have an eating disorder don’t have anorexia (or even bulimia). Most people struggle with a combination of behaviours and thoughts and most are diagnosed with OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) which replaced EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), which people might be more familiar with. And a lot of people who have had anorexia or bulimia may transition into another type of eating disorder which in itself can be extremely distressing and disconcerting.

I think the reason most representations of eating disorders are of anorexia, or at least involve an underweight white teenage girl is that we seem to be obsessed with being thin. We are constantly striving for an appearance that is skinny and often, unrealistic and unhealthy. I see this in the children who are wearing activity trackers like Fitbits. These 8, 10, 12 year olds are wearing this watch that is constantly monitoring their steps, and giving them a best estimate of how much energy they have used that day. I just think that is the saddest thing. To be told by merely being given one of these, that your activity level and energy used is imperative, and by extension, that how much you weigh is one of the most important things about you. Also side note – anecdotally, it does seem that most of the kids I see wearing these trackers are girls, just saying, reinforcing unhealthy and plain ridiculous ideas about appearance and weight for girls.

I appreciate that people, many people, have this experience of an eating disorder. Hell, I did. I know the appeal and the feeling and experiences of starving yourself to death. And I understand why people are insistent on showing this to other people. Little by little, they make it a problem that people understand and so, reducing stigma (hopefully). What strikes me so often is that these accounts often give the impression that finding help is straightforward and easy. It really really isn’t. If you live in the UK, you will know how underfunded the NHS is. Unfortunately that also impacts mental health provisioning. For too many people, they are turned away from secondary care due to not fitting into a stringent criteria that only those who have physically deteriorated the most will fit into (for Adult Mental Health, CAMHS is a different story). This basically excludes hundreds and hundreds of people from treatment that they desperately need. So many people will fall between the cracks and be denied help unless they meet these strict criteria. Which inevitably leads to people deteriorating because they have been effectively told they are not unwell enough to deserve help. Which is stupid, dangerous and so frustrating. No matter what, if you are struggling with your eating and your thoughts around your eating, weight, appearance or self worth you are always worthy of help.

I just feel like maybe there needs to be a little bit of representation of the other manifestations of an eating disorder, and how life with an eating disorder is. Why don’t people who aren’t white shown with an eating disorder? Where are the men and boys who have an eating disorder? What about the older people? The people who binge and purge, the people who just binge or the people who over exercise compulsively? Just showing restrictive eating disorders in the media just perpetuates this myth that most people have anorexia, and the others aren’t as serious or as prevalent. It’s ridiculous and damaging. Maybe if people saw these other eating disorders represented in films and books they might understand that not everyone suffers in the same way. It might also lead some people to understand that their behaviours can be dangerous and life threatening. Because all eating disorders are, no matter how prettily they are packaged up. They are all life threatening through both damage to the body and risk of suicide.

I haven’t watched To The Bone, so I don’t know how accurate its portrayal of anorexia really is. From what I’ve heard there are both good parts and bad parts but overall it demonstrates how damaging an eating disorder can be to both the sufferer and their family. I just know that I’m not going to watch it, and no one should feel that they should have to, no matter what.