Breaking The Blogging Silence

It’s been a little silent on here. In fact, it’s been a whole 83 days since I last posted anything, which is probably the longest I’ve gone since Mum died.

I thought I was trundling along fairly well with grief (and life). I figured that maybe after two years, I might be beginning to move on.

In many ways I have. In many ways the ache is duller. The daily thoughts aren’t always daily. The paralysing grief attacks are fewer and further between. I’m not sure I’ve actually dealt with anything, though. I don’t think I’ve worked through anything. I’ve tried whacking grief on the head with a metaphorical mallet every time it pops up like some strange internal whack-a-mole. I’ve tried distracting from it. Sometimes I even let myself feel it a little, and cry a little, or get angry for a few moments. Occasionally I’ve tried to write about it or paint it.

But have I actually dealt with any of the thoughts, feelings, anger, guilt, resentment, life changes or anything? Nope, not really.

Turns out you can have the house, the job(s) and the car. You can paint make-up and a smile on your face each morning. You can pick up all of these pieces of a flat-pack life, and build them into a magnificent den around yourself, with a big sign on that says ‘I AM ABSOLUTELY FINE AND NAILING LIFE NOTHING TO SEE HERE’. But if you’re not okay, you’ll still sit in the den shaking and crying half of the time, and eventually bits of the den will begin to fall away and expose you for the struggling, human, person that you are.

In my case, the big thing to fall first, was my health. It started slipping and I kept trying to patch it up, but the more it slipped, the more tired I became, and the further it fell, until the big ‘health’ bit of my den came dramatically crashing to the floor in a fairly epic fashion; and on the floor it has remained. Once that went, a few other bits started to go, and here I am, four months later.

One thing that my health dragged down with it was the little self-confidence I had. I can’t even look after myself, so what good am I likely to be at anything else? I doubt every conversation I have. I doubt every decision I make. I doubt everything I do. I walk around with my head down (if I can’t see them, they can’t se me… right?). This has massively impacted my perceived ability to blog.

I have had a whole range of ideas for blog posts I could write, but I quickly dismiss them because with so many voices out there shouting into the internet, who’s going to care about what I have to say? I’m not sure I have anything of value to add to the all-too-cluttered internet-land. (I’m not sure anyone will be particularly interested in this slightly-vague update, either, but I thought that if I broke the blogging silence it might help me to start writing again). Add that to the pitiful excuse of a short-term memory, and total lack of concentration span that come with being rather less well than I should be, and we have one neglected blog.

Looking forward… I think I need to start writing again. I think I need to admit that this whole grief-thing might not be quite over yet, and that writing could help. I want to sort my blog out. I don’t just want to write about grief. I want to write about life and all that entails; art, home, adulting (or trying to), all the messy ups and downs of life, not just the crap bits. I really don’t like my middle name and never have, so I’m not quite sure why I called it that in the first place and I think it needs to change (though I’m not sure what I’m going to change it too, yet). I also want to make it easier to share some of my art. Again, I’m not sure how to do this yet, but I’m sure I can work it out. It’s all going to take time, but there’s no rush. Offline, I’m trying. I’m doing my best to keep myself alive, even if it doesn’t look like it at times.

So, that’s where it’s all at. That’s an incredibly vague explanation for the silence, and an even more vague idea for the future. Thank you to whoever has got to the end of this.

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Grief, Two Years On

I can’t quite believe it’s been two years since Mum died. In some ways, her death feels like it happened yesterday. In many ways, it feels as though it happened a lifetime ago.

Is it getting easier? Maybe.

I’ve always believed that you don’t get over grief, you get along with it. You rub along with it as best you can. Two years on and I still hold this belief. I’m not over grief, I haven’t come through it, but I’m learning to live life alongside it.

I no longer burst into tears when I see a Mum-aged person chomping on a cheese straw. Or when I see a cancer-ridden-body making their way around the supermarket. The grief attacks are becoming further apart. There aren’t as many times that I pick up my phone to text or call Mum, before remembering I can’t.

But that doesn’t mean it’s gone away.

I still cried when I found out that Dad had donated one of her favourite Christmas cookbooks to a charity shop (thankfully I have a wonderful auntie who replaced it within a week – queue more tears!). I still sobbed when I had some significant health challenges recently and wanted nothing more than a Mum hug. I still struggled when faced with a stranger receiving a cancer diagnosis right in front of me.

Mum hasn’t disappeared from my life. She has become part of it.

She’s part of the Christmas cake I baked a few weeks ago. She’s part of the bread I’ve made the last few weeks. She’s part of the birthday food package delivered to my brother. I see her in the crunchy leaves – remembering walks we had and the time we played football one October half term. I hear her steady advice in my ear when I’m faced with horrible life challenges. I feel how proud she is, through the pride I feel for my brothers and all they are achieving.

She’s everywhere.

Life changed when Mum was diagnosed. In some ways, the five years since her original diagnosis have been the worst five years of my life. However, they’ve also been the best five years. I’ve become closer with my brothers. My life has been propelled in a completely different direction – but despite the agonising decisions at times, I firmly believe that it was the right thing. I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve inherited many Mum figures. My outlook on life has changed. I have fallen back in love with art. I’ve been through tears, sobs, sleepless nights, medications, therapy, major health challenges, jobs, houses, flatmates, long phone calls, dog walks, driving tests, exams, panic attacks, laughter… the list goes on.

I’ve learned what’s important. I’ve learned how much I love my family, but that they’re not always right. I’ve learned that family aren’t necessarily those you’re related to. I’ve learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined – however much I don’t believe it at times. I’ve learned that crying is okay. I’ve learned that people can be amazing. I’ve learned that some people are not amazing, and you have to let them go. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let people in. I’ve learned that every emotion is okay, you just have to learn how to manage them. I’ve learned that you have to do a job that makes you happy, even if it doesn’t pay as well as other jobs, or doesn’t live up to other’s expectations. And that’s only the start.

I don’t have anything profound to write to mark these two years. I can’t tell that grieving ever goes away. You probably don’t want to hear yet another ‘it gets better’ platitude, but I can tell you that it becomes cope-able-with. I can tell you that however you feel is absolutely okay. I can tell you that your grief is your own, to cope with as best you know how. As my Mum always said: be kind to yourself

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Two Years. Sleep well, Mum. ❤

 

A Huge Thank You

Yesterday was Mum’s birthday.

A year ago, we started fundraising for Martin House Children’s Hospice in Mum’s memory, as she used to work there.

I am delighted to say that a year on we have absolutely smashed the target (it doesn’t all show on Just Giving as some donations went straight to the hospice). The money was originally going on lighting, but due to planning changes we have had a bit of a change of plan. It’s now going towards a music, art, and animation suite which is so perfect.

Mum brought joy to many people’s lives and hopefully this room will bring joy to the lives of many young people on their families. Mum was also a saxophone (foghorn) player and loved music. We would often dance around the kitchen to various CDs and blast them out in the car whilst we sang along.

We want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has helped us to reach this target – and there have been a lot of you! It was a fun thing to do, and a lovely way to remember Mum, and now she can live on through this room and all that it will provide.

I Shouldn’t Be Surprised By Lack Of Stigma

This weekend, I went for an eye test at a well-known supermarket. It’s something I’ve been avoiding for months. Partly due to cost, partly due to my struggle to do anything self-care related.

Anyway, this particular supermarket do eye tests for free, so I figured there was nothing to lose, so I finally booked an appointment and got myself down there.

As part of the eye test, they ask you what medications you’re on. This question comes up occasionally… at the dentist, when applying for a driving licence, when visiting a walk-in GP or seeing a new health worker. Whenever the question comes up, it feels like time stops for ten seconds. I can practically hear my heart beating in my ears. I debate whether or not I should disclose the whole list of medications that I’m on.

Being 23 and on a list of medications is hard. When that list contains mental health medications, it can feel really hard.

I worry about people judging me or treating me differently. I worry about how they look at me – sometimes with curiosity, sometimes like I am an alien, sometimes with those overly sympathetic ‘oh poor you’ eyes. I don’t quite know which look of these is worse. I don’t particularly enjoy any of them.

Anyway, during the eye test, he asked me what medications I was on. To begin with I was very vague. I always start with the medications I think they won’t have heard of, just to test the waters. So I did that, which resulted in the question ‘what’s that for?’. At that point, I realised I was going to have to go all-in, so I brought the list up on my phone (I can never remember them all), and gave him the full list of all my medications.

The optician was absolutely fantastic. He was kind. He didn’t treat me any differently at all. He even disclosed a little about his own mental health experiences. He took my medication history into consideration and really listened to me.

I left the appointment and began to think about it. I was just so surprised by his reaction – or rather lack of reaction. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s incredibly rare to meet anyone with no stigma, even in health settings (especially in health settings).

Then I began to think about it more, and actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I shouldn’t expect stigma. I shouldn’t have to worry about listing my medications. Whoever is talking to me, is speaking to exactly the same person both before and after they know that I need a bit of help in order to function.

Mental health medications are there to give a helping hand to those of us whose brains aren’t quite working as they should. I take asthma medications to help my lungs, I take mental health medications to help my brain. It’s no different.

When we have a mental illness, life is hard enough. We already spend our life doing our best to do normal human things, whilst battling a brain determined to kill us. We really don’t need additional problems on top of that. We really don’t need people to treat us differently. To speak to us like we’re stupid. To decide that we’re not worth their time. To look at us like we have three heads.

Occasionally, we might need certain allowances from people – but we will normally tell you if that’s the case! Until that point, just interact with us in the way that you would interact with anyone else.

We shouldn’t be surprised by lack of stigma, it should be normal.

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You Are Succeeding By Surviving

It’s that time of year again where people happily share their incredible uni results, graduation photos are imminent, GCSE and A-Level results are just around the corner, everyone seems to be passing their driving tests, getting new jobs, getting promotions, getting engaged, moving house, and digging wells in African villages, all at the same time.

For some of us, none of these things are true.

Some of us are trying our best to stay alive, and that’s pretty much all we can manage. Many of us have dropped out of university degrees (if we ever got there in the first places). Lots of us have had to put our GCSEs or A-Levels on hold (or if we do manage to sit them, we don’t achieve anything close to our potential). Some of us are unable to drive until our medication settles and/or our health improves. Lots of us aren’t able to hold down a job, or if we can, we’re on reduced hours. If we do have a job, it might be miles away from our dream job – we’re just not well enough to even apply for those kinds of jobs. Many of us struggle to maintain friendships, never mind even attempting a relationship. A lot of us are still living with our parents or other family members, because we need them to help care for us. Many of us can’t travel further than the end of our garden without a panic attack, if we can move ourselves at all.

Being in our late teens/early twenties, we’re expected to be carefree. We often don’t have responsibilities for anyone other than ourselves. We’re expected to spend time having fun, going out, working out who we are and what we enjoy, and generally making the most of life.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes we don’t have that luxury, because we’re simply not well enough. Life can play a cruel hand at times.

It doesn’t mean that we’re not achieving and succeeding, though. Our success might just look a little different to others.

Sometimes success is taking PRN, even if you feel like we are ‘giving in’ by doing so. Sometimes it’s getting to bed by 10pm each night, even if it makes us feel like a granny. Sometimes success is learning how to say ‘no’ to things that hurt us. Sometimes success is forcing down 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, however loud our heads scream. Sometimes success is getting our notifications down to zero. Sometimes, success is taking our meds as prescribed. Sometimes success is dragging ourselves down to the GP even if we feel we don’t deserve it, or we’re wasting their time. Sometimes success is making it into town alone. Sometimes success is letting our family members and carers help us. Sometimes success is navigating the benefits system. Sometimes success is just showing up – whether it be to school, to work, to a class, or somewhere else. Sometimes, success is allowing ourselves to do the things that we enjoy.

Sometimes success is simply doing what’s best for us. It’s taking care of ourselves. It’s continuing to stay alive, whatever is thrown our way.

To all of you who are feeling pretty rubbish at the moment because everyone seems to be succeeding and progressing, and you feel like a sad, stuck, blob… I want to remind you how wonderful you are. Continuing to wake up every day despite all the setbacks you encounter is so brave. It’s so admirable. It’s so incredibly strong. You are succeeding by waking up every day, by showing up, by never ever giving up. You are awesome.

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To Those Of You Who’ve Lost All Hope

Sometimes, life does everything within its power to tear us down. It throws everything it’s got at us. It can be exhausting and can leave us lying there on the floor, with all of the energy drained from our bodies.

Everything becomes black – although black doesn’t seem dark enough, or all-encompassing enough to describe the thick fog that smothers everything and makes it so hard to breathe.

Moving becomes hard. Moving hurts, it really hurts. It’s exhausting and it hurts. Reaching to take a sip of a cup of tea can feel as energy-consuming as going on a 10-mile run. So we don’t.

We can’t face going to bed, because going to bed means waking up, and waking up means doing another day. We can’t see any light. We can’t see any future. We have no hope.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that ‘it gets better’, because it’s probably the last thing you want to hear. It can feel really frustrating when people keep saying that it gets better, because when things are that dark, we can’t see it, and we can’t believe it. It can almost feel like everyone’s just saying it so that they don’t have to talk to us about how crap things are any more. Sometimes we just want to shout ‘when?!’. ‘When is it going to get better? Because it’s been really rubbish for a really long time and I’m tired and I don’t have the strength to fight this anymore’.

When we can no longer carry some hope, we have to let others carry it for us for a little while.

We have to let others carry it for us, until a time when we can pick it back up again.

This can come in the form of colleagues telling us they’re looking forward to us returning to work. It could be a boss reminding us that we have skills and talents. A GP saying ‘see you next week’ or a health care assistant telling us about their weekend. It can be a friend hugging us while we cry and cry, or another friend who spends their Friday evening helping us to write a list of ‘30 reasons to stay alive until Saturday’. It can be a family member inviting us over in a few days time. It can be literally anyone at all who refuses to believe that we might not be able to recover from this.

We need these people to keep believing in us. We need these people who can see us having a future. We need these people who refuse to let us die.

Eventually, in time, we will find glimmers of hope again. We will find cracks of light. We will begin find things to believe in, and our little pile of good things will grow. We might find them in the most unexpected of places – a podcast that speaks to us, the ability to read a page of text, or the joy of being able to taste a cup of tea again. It might take weeks, it might take months, it might even take years, but it will happen.

Until it does happen, until we can carry our own hope again, we have to let others carry it for us.

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Surviving or Thriving? What Helps Me Thrive

The theme of this year’s mental health awareness week, ‘Surviving or Thriving’, has been going round my head ever since I first heard about it a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve been sat here trying to decide on what to write. Do I write a post explaining how hard it can be to survive, at times, let alone thrive?  Do I write about how cuts to mental health services have reached the point where many I know are struggling for the support they need to survive – with thriving being a distant memory and a seemingly impossible dream? Do I talk about the stigma and shame associated with decisions I’ve made, and things I have to do, to give myself a chance at survival in the hope that one day I might thrive?

I’ve decided against writing about any of those things. Some, I’m not really ready to write about. Others I feel too angry about at the moment to be able to form a coherent sentence. Apart from that, I don’t want this to turn into a ‘woe is me’ scenario.

I thought what I’d do this week, is share some of the things that help me thrive, in the hope that it might help others, too. Some of these things are still very new to me, and the things that help me thrive are forever evolving and changing. I’m also not necessarily thriving at the moment – I’m getting there, I’m trying my best, but it is going to take time. I am determined to get there, though. I’m sick of just surviving, it’s gone on long enough, it’s time I begin to focus on thriving.

 

A Safe Space

I have to have a safe space. For me, that’s my bedroom. I pop on my colour-changing lamp, have low-level music, multiple blankets, and a chance to breathe. It’s a place I can retreat to when the world feels too much, or when I need to cry. It’s a place where my true introvert/hermit self can be released and my brain can stop buzzing so much.

An Amazing GP Surgery

My GP surgery are brilliant. The staff are lovely and go out of their way to help me time after time.

The healthcare assistants are all lovely and make going for appointments feel less like a chore and more like catching up with a friendly person (with the slightly awkward addition of being stabbed with a needle/having sticky pads stuck on you). All of the GPs I’ve seen there have been patient, have given me time, and have made me feel safe and looked after. The GP I see most often knows me as well as anyone, and genuinely cares. She never rushes me, she communicates with me on my level, she listens, and she helps. I trust her implicitly.

Even the chemist (who aren’t associated with the GP, but I’ll pop them in here anyway) are so helpful and lovely. I walk in and they know me, they are kind, they are helpful, they are on top of all my prescriptions and they don’t make me feel like the inconvenience I often think I am.

Appreciating the Little Things

When you’ve had depression for a long time, you lose out on so much of the world. 18362722_1219058218206845_661799652_oEmerging out of it is almost like emerging from a cave where you’ve been sat in the dark eating cold porridge for a number of months. You begin to notice little things that you haven’t seen before, things taste different, too. I try and hold onto the little things – my friend’s cat splatting itself on my lap, bubbles, the taste of Fanta zero fruit twist, etc., and try to use those things to carry me through the less good days/weeks.

Art Journaling

My art journal is one of my favourite things at the moment. It started so small and prescriptive and it’s grown and evolved with me. I now do it daily – sometimes it’s quotes, sometimes it’s feelings, it usually involves paint.

Through doing it, I feel like a communication door has been opened to me. I’ve realised that I haven’t been communicating all that well with my GP (and services more generally) – not because I have18379209_1219056971540303_1448141536_on’t tried or haven’t wanted to, I just haven’t been able to. Some days, now, I sit down in front of a blank page with no clue what to paint or draw and it just sort of happens.

I still don’t feel like I’m communicating fully, I still feel very stuck at times and get very frustrated that I don’t have the words or the ability to express myself (just last week I sat in front of my GP and cried because it can be so lonely and frustrating when you feel locked off from the rest of the world), but it is helping. I take my journal to my GP each week now and we go through it. It’s becoming a really useful communication tool as well as helping me to express myself (and improving my artyfarty skills!).

Back To Basics

Some things I really struggle with when very low/anxious/buzzy, are the very basic ‘looking after yourself’ tasks. The teeth cleaning, hair washing, clothes-putting-on type of tasks. But in order to be the best person I can be, I need to get these basics straightened out a little. When everything feels up in the air and impossible to cope with, I try to wind it back and focus on the basic little tasks, then build up from there.

Being Inspired By People

There are certain people who really inspire me. Some are people I work with in both jobs (both colleagues and students), others are those around me who face battles every day that people know nothing about, and continue to smile and be kind despite it all. There are one or two people in the media who also give me hope. I think it’s really important to have these amazing people to look up to, and to be inspired by. They give me hope. They give me a reason to believe that I might be able to have a future.

Friends, family, and other amazing people

I’m lucky to have people around me who listen to me, craft with me, sit with me, drink 18362525_1219058251540175_808148908_otea with me, hug me, build me up and basically allow me to keep going. They allow me to cry, to laugh, to dream, to create and to believe. They prompt glimmers of ‘okay’, glimmers of ‘maybe I can have a future’ and glimmers of hope. They come in many forms of human and are all amazing; I don’t know where I’d be without them.

Medication

I am on a lot of medication for various things – much more than I’d like to be. However, without it, at the moment, I can’t function. It’s not an easy thing to accept, but it’s something I’ve had to accept because without it, I am an uncommunicative shell of a person who struggles to walk/talk/sleep/move/be. It’s not the best – it puts certain limits on my life and sometimes I want to throw it across the room, but in order to be the person I’m trying to be, at least for the time being, I have to take my meds. It’s non-negotiable.

Nature

I’ve always loved nature for walks, bike rides and photos. I’ve never been a gardening lover, mainly because I’m useless at it! Lately, I’ve done a bit of gardening and really enjoyed feeling the mud, making friends with worms, and connecting back in with the world around me. I’ve felt very claustrophobic lately because for a few reasons, I’m unable to walk much or cycle or run, but I’ve been working out other ways to get my nature fix. Even things like pootling down to the local garden centre and watching the fish have really helped. I think nature can show us the beauty that the world has to offer, and put our problems in perspective a little bit.

Setting Boundaries

This is not something I’m good at, but it’s something I’m working on. I’ve always gone out 18378736_1219058221540178_1775681610_oof my way to do things for others, which is fine, until it reaches the point where it’s at the detriment to my own wellbeing.

Setting boundaries, for me, involves things like not replying to emails/social media the minute they arrive (whatever time of day that might be!), but turning my phone on silent, having a break from it, and setting time aside to replying to things instead. It’s things like saying no to meeting up with someone/someone coming over, if actually I’m really tired and need an early night, or have jobs to do, or need some peopleless time.

It’s really hard (and can often make me feel like crap in the short term), but I think it’s a really important thing to do and hopefully will begin to get a little easier as time goes ok.

Sleep Routine

I’ve said it before, but sleep routine, and sleep hygiene are so important. Our bodies get confused if we start going to bed at 9pm one night and 1am the next. They also get confused if we wake up at a vastly different time each day. Having similar sleep/wake times every day (including the weekends!) helps our bodies to know what’s going on and allows us to sleep better.

Taking Time Out

Never has taking time out felt more relevant than recently. I keep getting very ‘peopled out’, to the point where the noise of my breathing can make me cry because it hurts so much. In a world that expects immediate replies and a permanent connection to the internet, taking time out is so important. I turn my phone on silent, switch off, and just have time to wind-down and re-group. It’s something absolutely necessary to enable to be my best self at work, and in other areas of my life.

Trying To Work Out What *I* Want

I have spent so much of my life trying to be the person I thought everyone wanted me to be. I’ve chosen the subjects I’ve studied based on that, I’ve applied for jobs and 18362714_1219058268206840_1456699480_ovolunteering based on that, I’ve based clothing choices, music choices, hair choices… pretty much everything, based on that. And it’s not made me happy, in fact it’s made me pretty miserable.

Lately, I’ve been slowly coming to the realisation that I can’t live that way anymore. It’s killing me. So, I have to start working out what *I* want, and following that as best I can. It’s not easy ay all, and it has and will upset people, but it’s essential I try to keep at it, or I’m never going to be happy.

I’m lucky to have some wonderful people around me who are helping me work out who I am and what I want (I might write a bit more about this at a later date), and it’s going to be a slow process, but I will get there. I have to.

Work

I am in an incredibly lucky position to have two jobs which I love.

One is with the NHS, connecting people who’ve experienced mental illness to educational opportunities anywhere in York. We’re linked with Converge, who provide creative courses for people who’ve experienced mental illness. It’s an incredible job, my colleagues such a lovely bunch of people, and I’m constantly inspired by the people we work with. It’s such a forward-facing job, and we’re just constantly building each other up, which is a welcome relief from a world which seems to delight in tearing people down. I also get to use paint as part of my job sometimes – and you can never go wrong when covered in paint.

My other job is working for Blurt writing their blogs. Again, my colleagues are so lovely and kind. I learn new things about depression with every blog I write, and I’m beginning to enjoy the process of learning and discovering new things again – something I haven’t felt since my teens when the education system squished that curiosity and joy out of me in the name of achieving good grades.

 

So there’s a very disorganised bundle of things which help me thrive. Who help me to become the best person I can be. I’d love to hear the things which help others thrive – I feel like through sharing these things, we can give each other ideas of things to try and help each other to keep on thriving, rather than just surviving.