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.

Grief Is Not A Mental Illness

At the moment, thanks to the work of Heads Together, there are a lot of people talking about both mental illness and grief.

It’s great – it’s so important to talk about these things. Both can come with a huge amount of stigma, and by talking about it we can help to reduce that stigma, and to remind people that it’s okay not to be okay.

However, one thing that I’m seeing time and time again, is people writing about mental illness and grief as if they are the same thing. I’m not entirely sure why this is – I think it might be because the royals unveiled their mental health campaign whilst also talking about their Mum’s death, and the counselling they had for their grief.

I don’t know the ins and out of the royal’s mental health, and I don’t know whether they have had a diagnosed mental illness, but, what I do know is that grief and mental illness are not the same thing.

Grief is something that will happen to nearly everyone at some point in their lives. It can bring a range of emotions that you’ve never felt pre-grief. It can be distressing, it can cause upset, tearfulness and low mood… but it’s normal to feel that way. It’s normal to miss someone who was a big part of your life. It’s normal to cry. To an extent, it’s normal for it to affect your eating and sleeping habits, at least for a little while.

It can reach the point where you feel you need counselling to give you the space you need to talk about it, and to help you learn how to deal with the emotions it brings up, and that is absolutely okay, but even at that point, it’s not necessarily a mental illness.

Grief could trigger mental ill-health. It can contribute to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, especially if you’re already predisposed to them, but it is not, in itself, a mental illness.

Mental illness affects one in four of the population at some point in their life. Mental illness is when the feelings and emotions that we have go out of the spectrum of ‘normal’. If we have a diagnosed mental illness and then go through grief, it could exacerbate the pre-existing illness, but the grief itself isn’t an illness.

It is important to talk about mental health and mental illness and to encourage people to seek help when and if they need it. However, it’s also important to understand that it’s okay to feel. Feeling sad or upset in response to difficult life events – included, but not limited to grief – is absolutely normal.

It’s important to be open with each other when we are struggling, and to reach out for help. It’s important not to squish it down, ignore it, and pretend it’s not happening, because it’s likely to just blow up at some point. It’s important to go to your GP if we feel as though you’re struggling with mental illness. But it’s also important to remember that feeling is normal, feeling is okay. It’s normal to feel sad, upset or low at times, especially if someone close to use has died.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/grief-mental-health_b_16345246.html

Reacquainting Myself With Life

It’s no secret that I’ve recently been through a pretty horrible depression relapse. In all honesty, I can’t remember a lot of it. Apart from a few hours, I have a memory blank of a couple of months. I’ve been talking about it with my flatmate recently, reflecting on the past few months, and things really weren’t great. At the worst of it, I was struggling to talk, or move. My body just shut down.

I’ve been working hard, with the help of some wonderful people, and some new medication, to pull myself out of it.

Over the past few weeks (or maybe months, my concept of time is still a little squiffy) I’ve been very slowly participating in life again. It started very small – a trip down the stairs in the block of flats I live in, a visit to the GP, meeting up with a friend for an hour, but it’s grown, slowly, and I’m beginning to be able to do more things.

This week I went back to work. I haven’t been able to go to work since the end of November. I’m going back very slowly, with a huge amount of help and support from my job and colleagues, and started on just a couple of hours a week. It’s so lovely to be back – it’s great to be back in a routine. It’s amazing to feel useful and productive again. It’s wonderful to begin to feel a little like a person, rather than a shell, a list of symptoms, or a problem to be solved.

I am absolutely exhausted, though! Getting to work requires rather a lot of steps – working out what time to take my medication on an evening, in order to sleep properly and get up on a morning (this one is a bit of a work in progress), washing my hair, putting on some make-up, finding some acceptable clothes (preferably ones not covered in paint… though I did discover some blue acrylic on my skirt yesterday, oops), remembering everything I need to take with me, working out my food for the day, getting out of the flat, getting into the car, finding somewhere to park… all of these things before even getting into the office. They might sound like insignificant, fairly everyday activities, but depression makes everything more hard work. It makes everything take a more-than-would-be-usual amount of energy, and if that wasn’t bad enough, it also depletes your energy, so even before you do anything you’re already working with a reduced energy reserve. All in all, things that are ‘everyday’ to the average joe, can become a real challenge when depression gets involved.

Today is being spent in my PJs, doing the things I did to do from the comfort of a big blanket and some daytime TV. I am completely worn out.

I find myself getting frustrated. I want to be better. I want to be able to do things. I want to be able to work full time, to see my friends and family, and to keep up with my hobbies. I want to be active and productive. I want to be able to drive here, there, and everywhere. I want to be able to volunteer again. I want to be the person I have been in the past.

The reality is, though, I can’t do that. My body isn’t well enough, my mind isn’t well enough, and there’s little I can do about that other than keep trying to manage what I can.

I’m slowly poking my head out of a big, black, hole. I’m slowly trying to do things again. But I’m not ‘well’. I’m better than I was but I’m not ‘better’.

I have an illness, and I am trying to accept that (for now, at least), I have to work within the limitations of that illness. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to do more of the things that I want to do, but it’s going to take time. For now, I will keep trying to do the little things, keep working on recovery, and keep trying to reacquaint myself with life, bit by bit.

What Does Stigma Feel Like?

Can you remember in primary school and you did a project on ‘people who help us’? I can. I remember cutting and sticking smiling pictures of smiling police people, happy fire crew and kind-faced nurses. I remember colouring a surgeon in green and a doctor in blue. I remember displays on the classroom wall. We were taught which people would help us with what. We were taught that there would always be someone to help us if something bad happened.

At 22, I’ve discovered that isn’t necessarily the case.

Imagine feeling scared. Imagine feeling alone. Imagine feeling completely worn out by a medical condition which is doing it’s very best to kill you. Imagine feeling guilty for visiting the doctors, but doing your best to go to all of your appointments nevertheless. Imagine being passed from one professional to another – none of them wanting to take responsibility for your care.

Imagine arriving seeing a new professional, and being treated like a person, like a real human being (much to your surprise), only for them to find out that you have a particular health condition, and abandon you.

Imagine leaving appointments, feeling even more exhausted than when you went in, and completely and utterly let down. Imagine sitting in the car on the way home and not knowing whether to feel sad, scared, disbelief, angry, or just resigned to the fact that nobody will help you.

Nobody will help you because they blame your physical health on your mental health, your mental health on your physical health, and blame you for getting ill in the first place.

Nobody will help you because grief services won’t deal with mental illness, mental health services won’t work with grief, and physical health services won’t touch either of them, so you end up back at your GP – a tired and stretched GP doing their best to try and hold everything together.

Stigma feels horrible. It’s an immense feeling of shame. You want the ground to swallow you up.

We didn’t choose to become unwell. Myself, and my friends didn’t just sit there one day and think ‘hmmm, I’d quite like to have this condition, that sounds like fun’. We don’t want to be ill. We feel guilty for the amount of NHS time we take up.

We don’t need anyone to make us feel any worse.

There are some fantastic health professionals working for our NHS, but where do you turn when nobody will help you? Where do you go when the people who are paid to help you, don’t?

Stigma is defined as ‘a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person’. Discrimination is defined as ‘treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way’.

I’m writing to let you know that the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions, is alive and well.

People with mental health conditions aren’t bad people. They aren’t second-class citizens. They’re not trying to drain NHS resources. They would much rather be meeting a friend for coffee than attending another appointment. They need kindness, compassion, and some understanding. They need treating like people, just like anyone else.

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Recovery: Things To Try

Today I got the news that I can (finally!) begin to return to work. Only for very few hours a week, and a very phased return, but this is such a huge step and so exciting.

When I left work at the end of November, I never envisaged being off for so long. In all honesty, I was struggling to live day to day and couldn’t see as far as bedtime. I don’t remember a huge amount from that time. I remember trying my best to get as far as the living room chair each day. I vaguely remember one or two people coming round. I remember telling people that I couldn’t keep living this way. I know that I could crochet – the muscle memory in my hands carried me through. I couldn’t do much else. I struggled to speak or move.

There is no quick fix for depression. There’s no straight line of recovery. There are better moments, then better hours, then better days. I haven’t reached much more then better ‘couple of hours’ yet, but I hope that one day I will.

I thought it might be good to share some of the things that I’ve found helpful, in the hope that maybe it might help someone else.

Get out of bed daily, even just to move to the lounge

Bed is a wonderful, comfy, safe place. Unfortunately, unless you have an inbuilt toilet, kitchen and workstation, you have to leave it every now and again. I’m no stranger to getting up, going to the toilet, and getting back into bed, but it can be really helpful to try and get out of bed each day, even if it’s just for an hour or two. It takes a lot of energy, and can be really hard work but the longer you stay in bed, the harder it is to leave.

Washing can be good, even if you just use wet wipes

Something which slips almost straight away when depression winds you, is washing. It’s hard work, it’s tiring, it takes energy. You also don’t really care about yourself and washing would constitute caring. But the longer you go without washing, the more gross you feel and the more you look down on yourself. If you don’t feel up to getting in the bath or shower, wet wipes can be a good investment. If you are low on energy, you could also try getting in the shower and just sitting there, letting the water run over you.

Take your meds

Meds can be a real pain. They can come with horrible side effects, and missing a dose can have even worse effects. I’m now on quite a combination of things and I wish I wasn’t, but the reality is that they are what I need to function at this point. It can be a real mental battle to take your meds, but it’s important to try and keep up with them – there’s a reason that you’ve been prescribed them. When my depression is really bad, I don’t have the cognition to work out what I’m taking and when, but I’ve spoken to my chemist and they now count everything out for me into weekly dossette boxes so it’s one less thing to worry about. If you’re struggling to work out what you’re taking and what time to take them, it could be worth asking your chemist if they do a similar thing.

If you struggle to book appointments because you don’t feel like you’re worth it, ask the health professionals you see to book them for you

I really struggle to feel like I’m worth enough for appointments, or deserve them. If I’m left to my own devices it can take half a day and forty minutes of persuasion before I will even ring the surgery, so it helps to have the nurses and doctors there do it for me.

Try to stick to ‘normal’ bedtimes and wake times (even if you don’t get up straight away)

This one can be tricky, especially when insomnia strikes and you’re off work so have nothing to get up for, but it’s probably one of the more important ones, because once sleep goes out of a normal pattern, it’s hard to bring back. For me, sleep is one of my biggest triggers, so I have meds to help me, but everyone’s different – if you are struggling with sleep it could be worth mentioning it to your GP.

When you’re up to it, wash your hair

Having clean hair can make the whole world feel better, but it’s hard work. Personally, I always wash my hair at night so it can dry while I sleep and I don’t have to deal with it. Also, if I’m low on energy, I sometimes just wash it over the bath rather than having to go to the effort of getting in the shower. I set myself a target of washing my hair at least three times a week. Sometimes this feels impossible and doesn’t happen, but it’s a nice thing to aim for.

Change your clothes every day, even if it’s just from one set of PJs to another

Some days you won’t get dressed, and that’s okay, but it’s good to at least change your PJs because it can help to make you feel more clean, and help to make you feel ‘normal’.

Leave the house most days, once you’re up to it (not every day – occasional PJ days are probably essential for human survival)

When I first left work, there was no way I was leaving the house. But as time’s gone on, I’ve felt more able to go out, and now it’s really important that I try to leave the house most days. Leaving the house forces me to get dressed. Sometimes I literally just walk to the post office and back, but a little bit of fresh air can do the world of good.

Crying is okay, so is not crying

It’s okay to cry. Sometimes it’s necessary. At other times you can’t cry… your body just won’t let you, and that’s okay too. There’s no  right or wrong way to have depression.

Try to keep your safe spaces clean and tidy (when you have the energy)

It’s hard to find the energy to clean and tidy but it can make everything feel so much better. You don’t have to properly spring clean everything, even lumping everything in one pile instead of it being all over the floor can make it easier to breath. It’s really hard to keep a whole house/flat/bungalow clean, so it can be good to have one room or space that you keep ‘safe’ or ‘clean’ and let the rest of your place do what it likes until you have the energy to sort it out.

Write or draw every morning

I have a notebook next to my bed with some colouring pencils and a normal pencil. Every morning I try to write/draw something before checking social media. Sometimes I have nothing to say or nothing in my head – but somehow stuff still comes out. I find it can be a good way of emptying my head, ready for the day ahead.

Stay in touch with work

My work have been amazing at staying in touch with me. It’s really, really helpful because it helps to ease the anxieties about going back. When I left work, I was unwell, I was unable to do my job, I was scared and very low… so thinking about going back was really scary. But work have stayed in touch with me, I’ve popped into the office a couple of times, and all of that has helped to prevent a huge anxiety wall from going up in my brain.

Crafternoons are wonderful things

I am ridiculously lucky to have some incredible, creative friends. Sometimes there’s nothing better than putting a giant plastic mat on the floor, pulling out some paints, popping something on TV, and putting the world to rights. It can be easier to talk about things when paint is involved, too.

Someone at the end of the phone can be worth more than they know

I have been known to come out of an appointment and text a friend saying ‘everything is awful and I want to die’. Everyone needs a friend who you can text that to, and who replies helping you come up with a plan. Sometimes all you need in that moment is to not feel alone.

Take a photo a day

I take a photo every day and post it on Project 365 and Instagram along with a sentence or two. I personally get a lot of support through this, but you don’t necessarily need to post them. It’s just a way to take five minutes out of life and do something a little bit creative every day.

Write, even if it makes no sense

I have word documents that I’ve written and not saved, others I’ve written, saved and never posted. I have a notebook that I sometimes write in, especially when I can’t sleep, it’s late at night, and I feel like the only person in the entire world. It doesn’t have to make any sense, it doesn’t have to go anywhere. Just write.

Find your paint

Painting (or art journaling in general) has made such a huge difference to me. Of course, not everyone will like paint… others will like music or sport or something. But find your paint, your escape from reality, and try and practice it most days.

Find your Blurt blogging

A few weeks ago, I picked up blogging for Blurt again. This has been amazing because I can do it from home, but it helps me to feel useful and have purpose. It’s also been really helpful in forcing myself to concentrate, and disciplining myself to work. Obviously not everyone can blog for Blurt, and a lot of people hate writing, but it might be good to find your Blurt blogging – something which you ‘have’ to do which gives you purpose (but who also understand if you really can’t do it).

All in all, depression is horrible, and there really isn’t an easy answer, but even when it feels hopeless and horrible, and you feel like you’ve tried everything you can think of and you’re doing your absolute best and nothing is getting better (believe me, I’ve been there, I’ve felt it, I still do feel it way more often than is ideal), even then, there is probably still one more thing you can try.

I’ll leave you with some wise words from Holby City, in the form of my art journal…

17

Art Journaling

A few months ago, I started art journaling. I now journal most days, and I absolutely love it.

I’ve decided that one of my new life goals is to be one of those people who always has some paint somewhere on their body/hair/clothes. I do it for myself, not others but I’ve started to post some of my pages on 04.jpgInstagram, and sometimes also share them on Twitter and Project 365. People often thank me for sharing them, comment that they can relate, tell me I’ve inspired them to start journaling and share their journal pages with me. I absolutely love hearing from all of these people, it’s wonderful. I’ve shared it with my GP, and other health professionals a few times, which I’ve found to be really useful because sometimes I struggle to communicate with words, so paint can help. The response I’ve received, coupled with the amount I felt it was helping, but also challenging me, and some great sessions doing it alongside a friend, have inspired me to keep going.

Quite a number of people have asked me how they could start art journaling. I am by no means an expert on the subject (I make it up as I go along to be honest), but I thought I’d attempt to write some tips on how you could get started, and to answer some of the questions that people have asked me, so here goes…

What is art journaling?

According to Wikepedia, art journaling is ‘a daily journal kept by artists, often containing both words and sketches, and occasionally including mixed media elements such as collages.’. I wouldn’t really say I was an artist… to me art journaling is expressing myself in a vaguely arty way, in the form of a book, so I suppose the whole concept of ‘keeping a vaguely arty journal’ is open to interpretation, and up to you to make it what you want it to be.

The Book

However you decide to journal, you’re going to need to start with a book in some form. For17270804_1159074677538533_1120881872_n some this could be a lined notebook, or a book with black or coloured pages, others might like to do an altered book. You’ll also need to decide what size you want it to be, and what sort of binding. I personally use an artist sketchbook because the pages are a bit thicker, and I tend to use a lot of paint/glue/things, mine is A5 because I felt like I’d get overwhelmed with anything bigger, and smaller would be too fiddly, and mine is casebound but if I was buying a new one I think I’d get a spiralbound one because it’s exploding a little at this point.

Equipment

05.jpgOnce you’ve got a book, you need some things to help you fill it. I’m a big fan of paint – it features on most of my pages. I personally use acrylics, but I’m not really bothered about brand or anything like that. Sometimes I add water to it, sometimes I use it in a thicker form, I often paint over other things. You don’t need to use acrylics, though, you could use poster paint (which is usually cheaper) or any other paints that take your fancy.

A printer can be useful to print your own photos, or letters, or anything else you fancy popping in. Magazines can be good for those sort of things as well – free campus newspapers are a good start, or I often use the Aldi specialbuy magazines. You can always pick up gossip magazines pretty cheaply (or if you’re feeling brave enough to ask, you might be able to inherit some from a doctor’s surgery).

Wallpaper can be great for different textures and patterns. I’ve never actually bought any, I just collect samples from B&Q, Wilkos, Homebase, and The Range.

27.JPGIn terms of a hierarchy of journal needs, I’d put some form of marker/pen near to the top. This can be sharpies or felt tips… anything you fancy writing with. I started with some glittery gel pens which I picked up from Morrisons which are good because they wrote over paint. As time’s gone one, I’ve picked up sharpies in different colours and thicknesses, some metallic markers, and a white pen.

You’re likely to need some sort of glue – pritt stick for paper things, PVA for tissue paper, cocktail sticks, or bits of sponge, and bostik if you need something a bit more hardcore for sticking bits of CD or things like that. I also have Mod Podge, but I’m still a little undecided on whether I’m a modpodge fan or not.

You might like to use some other art things like chalk, pastels, pencils, colouring pencils, ink, graphite pencils, watercolour pencils, or anything else you might associate with ‘art’, but they’re not essential, it just depends on the sort of thing you want to create.

If you want to do more mixed media type things, it can be good to pick up random bits and bobs. I use a17092837_1151419201637414_765826869_o lot of found objects like sponges, cut up CDs, cocktail sticks or toilet roll – I just collect them when I find them and keep them in my ‘box of stuff’. I have other things in there that I’ve bought specifically, too, like ice lolly sticks, tissue paper, and string. Personally, I also love polyfiller – it’s not made specifically for art purposes, it’s for fixing hole in walls among other things, but it’s really good for creating different textures.

Another thing you might want to buy is some form of plastic sheet (if you’re like me and tend to journal on the floor…). I just picked up a kid’s party tablecloth from the 05.jpgsupermarket for a couple of pounds which does the job and makes it easier to clean up.

If you don’t feel like using a lot of stuff, or getting much out, then that’s okay, too! Do a sketch page, draw something and colour it in, print a few pictures and write something over them. I love messy journaling, but I know lots of others don’t, and that’s absolutely okay.

Where to buy stuff

A lot of people art put off starting a journal because of cost, but it really, really doesn’t need to be expensive. Personally, I do own a fair amount of artycrafty stuff, but I’ve been collecting it for about ten years. You really, really do not need to break the bank. You also don’t need to go out and 10.jpgbuy everything all at once, I tend to just pick up little bits as and when I feel like it (or as and when I have money…), and have built up my collection that way.

The Works is good for cheaper art bits. They also often have mixed media bits for a pretty good price.

As well as having wallpaper samples, The Range do a lot of art bits, normally at a pretty decent price.

Supermarkets often have a stationary/kids craft section now and I often find things there, whether it be pens/markers, or fun things to stick in. They also often sell glue and string.

Poundland sometimes do acrylic paint and often do washi tape or other things you can stick on.

WH Smith do a lot of traditional art things, sketch books, and some children’s art things which are sometimes cheaper and can often be quite fun.17236856_1159084200870914_1478726121_o.jpg

Hobbycraft is heaven in craft form. They don’t tend to do things quite as cheaply as The Range or The Works but they have some wonderful and exciting things which you can treat yourself to.

B&Q sell polyfiller, and have wallpaper samples. They also have lots of paint chips which you could use for the names or the colours.

I live in York, so I’m lucky that we have a lot of local independent shops. But there may well be some in your area so it can be good to have a potter. They often have owners who will chat to you and offer advice and tips, they might even know of local art/craft groups you could go to which can be great for meeting others and finding inspiration.

Inspiration

I am constantly inspired by those around me. There are some fantastic art journals on Instagram and Tumblr. Some of us have started using the tag #journalthefeels, but there are loads of other tags out there that people are using such as #artjournal, #arttherapy and 16990766_1147368452042489_1259755976_o.jpg#journalpages.

Whenever I find a quote or lyric that I relate to, I copy and paste it into a word document. It’s an ongoing thing, about four pages long now – others might write them in a book or something, I just find a word document easier because I can delete them when I’ve done them. I tend to find the quotes/lyrics on the usual social media sites (pinterest, tumblr etc.), through books that I read, or through songs that pop up on the radio or my Spotify discover.

Pinterest has a lot of journal prompts, too, if you’re struggling for ideas.

Top Tips

As I said before, I’m by no means an expert on all of this, but I’ve come up with a few top tips which are hopefully helpful:

  • Let your book evolve with you. When I started, my book was a bit more ‘formal’. The front page is my safety plan and there are other pages in there like ‘Coping With Flashbacks’, but as time’s gone on I’ve done it in a much ‘looser’ way. I don’t tend to do specifically therapy-type pages and just go with how I feel in07.jpgstead, because I find it works better for me. Others will be different though and will prefer the more ‘formal’ type of approach. You might start your book one way and then move in a different direction and that’s okay! Let it grow with you.
  • Do it for you, first and foremost. We spend so much of our lives trying to please other people, or trying to do what we think others want us to do. If you start posting photos of your work online, especially, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of trying to do pages you think others would like to see, or ones you think will get you the most ‘likes’. It can also feel like once you’ve started posting, you have to post every page. You don’t. This book it yours, not anyone else’s. Hate paint? Don’t use it. Not a fan of quotes? Don’t use them. Want to just paint a page black? Go for it. It’s your book.
  • Just start. Staring at a blank page or a blank book is super hard. If you’re anything like me, a white page invokes fear and ‘argh’ feelings. Get rid of the white, even if you don’t know what you want to put on the page.
  • Everyone is creative, and you’re not bad at art. So what if your school art teacher never gave you a decent mark? Who cares if the arty mess that you make on a page doesn’t fit your traditional perception of ‘art’? If you enjoy it then it doesn’t matter. If you find it to be a helpful way of expressing yourself, who cares what it looks like? I personally don’t believe that there is a single person on this planet who ‘has no creativity’, it’s just that everyone’s creativity looks different.
  • It’s never going to be perfect, so don’t even try to make it that way. I really, really struggle with this and it challenges me daily. I can always see ways I could improve things, or just think things are rubbish, but perfection is an impossible goal, so there’s no point even attempting it.

This has become incredible long, but hopefully it’s readable and helpful. I absolutely love seeing other people’s journals and hearing their ideas, so if you journal too, or this has inspired you to start – please share it with me if you feel up to it!

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It’s Nothing Personal

I have lost so many friends over the past few years, and over the past few months the number of people I communicate with has dwindled significantly. But as part of my ‘kick depression in the bum’ plan, I’ve been trying to meet up with one or two friends recently (and yes, I do feel guilty about this when I’m not back at work, but I’m working on that one…).

These friends have to live quite close by. They have to live close enough to me that I can drive to see them. That’s because I don’t have the concentration to drive all that far, and I also don’t have the energy to walk that far, so driving is good but only for a short distance. There have been one or two times recently where I’ve driven a little further to see someone and realised that it maybe wasn’t the best plan I’ve ever had.

They need to be friends who understand when I have to cancel at short notice. People who I feel able to say ‘no’ to (which in itself isn’t all that easy for me).

The friends I meet up with have to be able to understand that I might have no brain. I can’t really deal with crowded places, or going out much at all at the moment, because I can be very overly sensitive to noise and light. So ideally we have to meet up at someone’s house.

Once we meet up, conversation might not completely flow. This can be very time-of-day-dependent. There are certain times of day when I am less on the ball, depending on how much medication is in my system and what kind of sleeping meds I had the night before. But conversations can be stilted, I often forget words, and sometimes switch off when someone is talking.

I often find that doing *something* can help the conversation to flow (don’t ask me why). This can be having the TV on quietly in the background, watching stuff on YouTube, scrolling Tumblr, pinning on Pinterest, journaling, crocheting… it doesn’t really matter, but doing *something* can be good.

Some days, I’m really not okay. I really struggle to human. My head can be in a really dark and horrible place – I’m not in crisis – but I need understanding that I’m not okay, that I’m fragile, that I might cry. I need understanding that I’m not always feeling positive, that I don’t always hold much hope. I need people who can listen to me say ‘I want to die at the moment’, and can say ‘yes, me to, but let’s sit and want to die together, because that’s better than sitting and wanting to die alone’. Sometimes you don’t need someone to tell you it will get better, or be super positive or anything like that. Sometimes you just need to sit and talk, or not talk, and craft, and space out, and watch TV, and just not be alone.

All in all, that is a list of slightly specific conditions that any prospective friend-meeting-up session has to comply to. So it can be tricky to meet up with people, particularly when I haven’t met up with a person in a while and don’t know how well I will manage it. For that reason I often meet up with the same friend or two.

This is a very long-winded and round-about way of saying that I’m sorry if you’ve wanted to meet up with me recently and I haven’t been able to do so. I’m sorry if you see posts on social media of me with a friend, and feel like I just don’t like you, or I’m ‘putting off’ seeing you. It’s not personal.

I can do some things, but I’m not well enough to do everything, and I’m sorry if that means that I’ve cancelled on you, or not even booked in a time to see you. I have nothing against you, I’m just not well right now.