A Shadow

If depression is a black dog, anxiety is a shadow. A shadow of who you are that follows you everywhere you go. You can jump, run, and even swim, but the shadow sticks on you like… well, like what it is, a shadow. Unlike Peter Pan, you can’t just snip the shadow off.

Don’t be ashamed of your shadow. Where would we be without them? Without shadows, we’d swelter, burn, boil on scorching hot days, no shelter. We’d wish rain would come to make us appreciate the sun again. Without the shadow of anxiety, how would we know when we are truly happy, truly content?

How bright is a smile if it never ever fades? Let your darkness help you appreciate the light.

My tips:

  1. Each day, write down 5 things you’re thankful for. It can be anything, from a good grade, your family, or even a particularly good cup of tea!
  2. Treat yourself. Eat that leftover Easter egg (as I did while writing this), have a bubble bath, watch your favourite show. Do you.
  3. Talk.

p.s. we should be aware of mental health every day, not just during this week. Like shadows, you might not always see people’s anxieties without taking a closer look.

Twenty Seventeen Reflections

With five days left of 2017, this might be a little early to do my reflections, but I highly doubt anything is going to happen in this weird period between Christmas and New Year, when no one really knows what day it is, so here we go.

2017 has been the best and worst year. The most surprising year which has come with the most change. I had my heart broken, I began a placement year, I ran a half marathon, and I found someone new. All things that I never thought would happen.
1)    IT IS OKAY TO MOVE ON. This is definitely the biggest thing I have learnt this year. There is a lovely quote by Rupi Kaur that I can relate to more than anything – “I feel apprehensive cause falling into you means falling out of him and I had not prepared for that”. I felt guilty and like I was betraying all I had convinced myself to be true over the last four years, but it was not betrayal, it was doing what was best for me. It was starting again and hugging happy memories goodbye.
2)    I can do what I set my mind to. When I told my dad I was going to run the Birmingham half marathon, his first words were “you’ll never do it”. But then I went and bought some new trainers. And then I was training three to four times a week. I ran 5 miles, then 8 miles, then 10 miles. And then I ran 13.1 miles. I’m not being dramatic when I say blood, sweat and tears went into the training. There were blisters and shin splints, and tears whilst struggling to run 6 miles because I thought I would never be able to run 13.1. But I did it and smiled the whole way round. It was the most insane experience and I can’t wait to do it again in Liverpool.
3)    TAKE YOUR BLOODY MEDICATION! This is something I have really struggled this year. To be honest, I haven’t been on Citalopram properly since June, despite still being prescribed it. I don’t know what I find so difficult about taking it every day. 1 pill a day – how hard is that? The first couple of months off it was okay because some was still in my system, but this convinced me I was okay and didn’t need it. But as time went on, it’s meant my moods are a rollercoaster, huge highs crashing to lows, in way they haven’t been since before I started on Citalopram. My new year’s resolution is to stick at it, and I’ve taken it every day for the past week, which is good for me lately.
4)    Life after uni is fab! Though I haven’t graduated yet, I’m doing a placement year, so am kind of getting the experience now in full-time work. And I love it! Every weekend I’m visiting friends doing placements around the country, and a Christmas without revision is INCREDIBLE. I love my job and it’s made me even more motivated to go into PR/Communications. The thought of going back to uni is terrifying as I can’t remember anything of what I originally planned to do in third year, but hey ho!

2018 will be better.

  • Take Citalopram every day
  • Liverpool Half Marathon 
  • Find a dissertation topic (oh god)

Goodbye to the Pill.

I was sixteen years old when, not even a month into a relationship I would be in for three and a half years, my mum marched me down to the local GP to get me put on the pill. Bish bash bosh. A tablet a day for the rest of my life, unless I wanted to get pregnant and die.
At eighteen, I finally went to the doctors to get help for my anxiety and depression, which had begun at the age of sixteen. I was immediately put on Citalopram, which I had to take each day with my pill. At nineteen, my dosage was upped to 30mg, which meant two tablets.
So that’s three tablets a day. As well as vitamins C and D (also for my moods), and an Antihistamine. So let’s recount: 6 tablets a day. Also known as, a pain in the ass.
I changed pills to Millenet after about two years, as my PMS was out of hand, but to be honest I think it was just my general moods, no matter what time the month was. Each day was a struggle. Exercise helped, but only till I got home and was left alone again. I tried counselling twice, I tried yoga and meditation. I just wanted to feel ‘normal’.
In January, my world was turned upside down when my boyfriend of three and a half years and I broke up. Going from being in a serious relationship to not being was a bloody shock. Once I had got over the worst of the upset, I began to think to myself, why am I taking all these pills? What is the point? I realised that I didn’t really know my adult self without some sort of unnatural hormone inside me. So, four months ago I decided to stop the pill.
Its been fifteen weeks since I cut out the contraceptive pill. I have never felt better.
In four years I have not been so happy and content with my life, and I fully believe it is a result of my coming off of the pill. Admittedly, things in my life are pretty good right now. I’ve just started my internship which I love and am meeting new friends every day. I love living in Birmingham. But usually, my anxiety would find a way to ruin it all. I’ve gone from having a breakdown a week, to going stretches of 5 weeks without a single one. I feel positive about the future, motivated and at peace with life in a way I haven’t for four years.
I know I have no scientific proof that the pill caused my anxiety and depression, and of course I still suffer at times. But the fact is that I can trace my anxiety back to being put on the pill. I was put on Citalopram a year after the pill and, to me, the correlation is insane. I have even downed my dosage of Citalopram with the aim of coming off it altogether by next year. I would never have considered it 15 weeks ago, but now it seems so realistic.

I’m not saying this would work for everyone. I had a good chat with my doctor before coming off the pill to make sure I would be okay if I did so, and if I want to go back on it, which I’m sure I will eventually, I need to wait long enough so there is no risk of blood clots. A bit of a pain, yes, but I feel I know myself so much better than I did when I was on the pill, so it has been so worth it.

‘I am not ok’

 The day before a second year university exam: not the most convenient time to have the worst panic attack you’ve ever had. Anxiety, sadness, exhaustion and worry curdled together and exploded inside me. It’s never been that bad before. Bad to the extent I was pulling my hair, gritting my teeth, and shaking all over. Bad to the extent that now, four hours later, I am still feeling weak.
I was home alone, but the loneliness was far more than physical. I was falling into a hole that I didn’t even care if I got out of, just as long as the pain ended. I closed my eyes and waited for the tears to stop. The darkness of my eye lids was comforting and eased my breathing. I managed to send a text to my friend, ‘I am not ok’. Within two minutes, a reply. ‘I’m coming over’.
It seems that it is at times when you think you are at your lowest, you have the opportunity to realise how special the people around you really are. But if you don’t speak first, you might never find out. It takes a special person to drop everything and come round just to make you a cup of tea when you’re crying, and I am lucky enough to have someone like that in my life.

No matter how many videos you share, quotes you tweet; no matter how many Mental Health Awareness day’s there are, some people will never understand what it’s like to suffer from mental illness. And lucky them! They’re lucky enough to have never felt a black dog walking behind them, or like everyone in the room hates them. Some people will say that you’re attention seeking, that you’re pathetic, that you’re weak. But you’re not. You’re fighting a battle no one else can see. And they’ll never see it if you don’t speak out.

Lessons in Mindfulness

This semester has been the hardest few months I’ve had in a long time, but I cannot deny that something positive has come of it. I have begun experimenting with different mindfulness techniques (something doctors have always advised me to do) and for once, I feel they are working. So I thought I’d share them with you, as we are constantly being told by the media, doctors, counsellors and university to be mindful. But what even is mindfulness?

I have come to realise that mindfulness can be anything you want it to be. Before, I thought it meant meditating to relaxing music, lasting for about an hour, and who really has time for that? Not me. So here are the techniques I’ve been trying: 
1) Unwinding: I cannot function if I am tired, and I am always tired. I’ve had an issue with sleep for years, and have experimented with over-the-counter medication like Niteol, but nothing has worked. Lately, and admittedly as a way of procrastinating my uni work, I have began to take a shower before bed, light some candles in my room, and watch a film with a snack or a milky tea. This has worked wonders for my sleep. I feel a lot more calm which helps me sleep better, and in turn makes me more awake in the mornings. I’m not saying I leap out of bed for my 9ams, but every little helps, right?
2) Food splurging: I’ve always been very restrictive in the way I eat. I don’t eat carbs with dinner (most of the time) and ice cream is only for meals out. But lately I thought, what’s the point? I exercise at least twice a week, and don’t really snack, so why don’t I deserve some Ben & Jerries if I want it? I definitely appreciate it a lot more and make sure I don’t do it too often. Yesterday, uni were giving out free Easter eggs and instead of saving it to give to my little brother, what did I do? I ate the whole thing in one and I don’t have a single regret (sorry Oscar!). Eating chocolate has been proven to make you happier, so if it means my summer body isn’t as ready as it should be, at least I’ll have a smile on my face!


3) SWIMMING! This semester I decided to take the plunge (sorry) and go swimming for the first time in the uni pool. I’ve always loved swimming but have been too scared to go to the one at uni. I got all the gear (goggles and a sporty cossy) and was thrilled to find heated floors in the changing rooms! Now I am totally obsessed and go at least once a week, and I’m already noticing a difference! My body is becoming stronger and I can swim 60 lengths in 45 minutes, which I’m hoping to cut down. In the water I feel utterly free from the stress of university and life in general, and all I care about is getting those extra lengths in. 
4) Movies: Yep, I am counting this as a lesson in mindfulness. Amazon Prime is a babe for good films. I also watched the ITV series ‘Victoria’ recently (embarrassingly watched the entire 8 episode series in 2 days) and was utterly obsessed. It gave me something to look forward to, and Lord Melbourne was a fantastic bit of eye candy! 
5) Friends: Being dragged down by a degree, it is hard to find time to see your friends, let alone the energy for a night out! I’ve been trying to find time each week to go for coffee, and just make sure that I don’t eat lunch on my own if I don’t have to. Being with friends makes me feel so relaxed, and reminds me I’m not the only one struggling. A favourite hobby of mine and a friend’s is walking round the Union looking for free food, because there always is some! Doing things instead of working together or just getting coffee is so much more exciting! 
What I’ve found is that mindfulness is whatever makes you feel happy and at peace. Whether it’s chilling with your friends, meditation, or doing exercise, mindfulness is taking time for yourself and putting yourself first. At university it is easy to become obsessed with your degree, making sure you have time to see all your different friend groups, and visiting home. It’s so important to take time each week, or each day, to do what makes you happy, or else you will simply overload. 

How to help someone in an anxiety attack

I’ve tried to write these hundreds of times, but often when I am okay I can’t judge what I would want in the situation as well. I am currently coming out of an anxiety attack, so I’m channelling my feelings into this post. It’s a way to help myself and hopefully others with friends suffering with mental health.

  1. Tell them you love them. During anxiety attacks, I feel desperate and completely alone. I feel like everyone is against me and that I am worthless. The first step to helping someone in this situation is to make sure they hear that you love them, even if they don’t believe you. 
  2. Don’t tell them they’re being silly or over-thinking. This is the least helpful thing you can do. I know I am over-thinking, I do not need it clarifying. I need calm, kind reassurance that what I believe to be true is not. That I am not worthless and I am not alone. 
  3. Do not leave them until they are calm, and even if they say they are okay, stay by their side (physically or metaphorically) until you are certain. 
  4. Don’t make assumptions about what they need. 
  5. Give them a hug! I can’t describe the comfort of physical touch during an anxiety attack; feeling your body pressed together when it feels like it is falling apart.
  6. Don’t say ‘I’m sure you’ll be okay later’. I know it will pass, but right now I feel like the world is ending and my heart physically hurts. I need to think about right now, not later on. 
  7. Tell them you’re proud of them.
  8. Watch out for their tell tale signs that suggest they might be struggling. For me, when I am feeling anxious I grab a lock of hair and hold it on my lips. It’s something I’ve picked up over the last few months, and I find it weirdly comforting. 
  9. Encourage them to breathe slowly. Concentrating on your breathing helps relax you and slow down the racing thoughts of an anxiety attack. 
  10. Ask what you can do for them, but don’t make them feel like they have to make rash decisions. Right now I have no idea what would help me. Be calm and understanding. 
  11. Talk to them about happy memories. Reminiscing over the past makes me forget my anxiety for the future. 
  12. Get them a cup of tea! Tea fixes a lot of my problems, in the short-term, anyway. 
Feel free to comment things that you find useful, this is just a list of what helps me personally and I hope it will help others. 


Twenty Sixteen Reflections

3rd January at 11:06pm, surely that’s not toooo late to reflect on 2016? I celebrated this New Years in the oddest way yet; at 12 midnight my boyfriend and I were stranded in the middle of Wimbledon Common with a bunch of people who may or may not have been in full control, hence the stranded part. On the upside, we witnessed fireworks across London, but these were through trees, whilst fearing for my life. A crazy end to an even stranger year.

So here we go.

1. Understanding mental health still has a long way to go. 
Recently I told some guy that I blog about mental health and he genuinely asked me, ‘what, so do you pretend to be mental?’ He didn’t seem to understand what I meant when I told him ‘I write from experience’. I’m sure if I’d have told him I write about something like asthma ‘from experience’ he’d have understood. I could have shown him my inhaler to help my physical ailment. I couldn’t show this guy my counsellor or my notebook.

2. Being a good person pays off. 
This actually happened on 2nd Jan 2017 BUT I say it still counts. I was in the queue in Cafe Nero with my boyfriend waiting for the small hot chocolate I’d ordered as I couldn’t afford a medium. The lady in front had ordered two drinks but could only carry one to the table. So, selfless human being as I am, I took the other drink over for her. The barista saw what I did and gave me a medium hot chocolate for the price of a small! Who knows what more good deeds could bring?!

3. University is not the be all and end all. 
Problems with my mental health this academic year have meant I’ve had to focus much more on myself and my wellbeing than my studies. Counselling, doctors appointments and breakdowns don’t exactly go hand in hand with a degree, so I’ve had to learn to prioritise mindfulness over revision. Ideally I’d like to do more uni work, and it’s something I hope to do this year, but I won’t look back and think I’ve not done the best I could. This year had brought more problems than worrying about a deadline.

4. If you want something, get it.

Cliche I know, but for someone with mental health it’s easier said than done. I’ve wanted lunch but not gone to get it because I couldn’t bring myself to leave my room. But going to New Zealand was a game changer. I wanted to see my best friend, so I went! It’s still my biggest achievement.

5. You’re going to get rejected. Get used to it.
Here’s where I am a hypocrite; I am not used to it. Each rejection from placement applications stings more than the previous, but it’s something I have to get used to. I have to write each cover letter like it’s my first application and I’m hopeful of success.

My New Years Resolutions:

  1. Practice mindfulness
  2. Draw more
  3. BLOG MORE!!! 
  4. Get a placement (in PR) for next year 
  5. Be my own person.
  6. Be a nicer, more helpful person… and not just because it might result in free/cheap hot chocolates! 
  7.  … Learn how to get rid of the frames around pictures on this blog, anyone know? 

Creative what?

The earliest memory I have of thinking about careers is saying I would be a writer. At the age of six I wanted to be just like Jacqueline Wilson. My first book, ‘Daddy Goes to Space’, hand-written and illustrated by me; loose A4 printer paper stapled together; was ‘published’ (again by me) when I was six.

At eight, each time I slept at my nan’s house, I would wake her and my step-granddad up with a daily news report. I would wake up extra early and draw a map of England for a weather forecast. I would make up dramatic news stories, ‘the Prime Minister’s trousers fell down during a speech today’… 

Ten. I wrote family newspapers. Informing my own family about what was going on in their house. I’d interview my mum about what she thought of the new dog next door. Ask my little brother how he felt about getting grounded last week.

Twelve. Obsessed with Mizz Magazine, I would write my own. Beauty tips, agony aunts (the parts of the aunt and the person who wrote in both played by me), horoscopes…

Fast forward to sixteen. An anxious, shy girl at a huge new sixth form, I tentatively signed up for the student newspaper. People liked my articles and my linear drawings.

Eighteen. Still writing for the student newspaper, but hit with both anxiety and depression, I desperately tried to escape having to write for the paper. Who would want to read what I had to say anyway?

Nearly two years on I am desperately trying to get back to my twelve year old mindset. I want to feel like I can do anything I put my mind to. I write freelance, I write for my blog. But it’s no career. My whole life has been pointing towards a career in writing and journalism, but now it’s real and I need to make a career for when I leave university, I haven’t the first idea how.

Trying to apply for internships for my year in industry is almost soul-destroying. Who wants to hire a girl whose only talent is writing words on a page? You need more. I never played sport, I wasn’t good at maths, and certainly not science. Not good enough to pursue a career in it, anyway. The skill I have developed from the age of six isn’t enough.

So what do you do when your best is not good enough? I still haven’t found the answer, but if you have it, please let me know!

New Zealand, New Me?

New Zealand was undoubtedly the most implausible, ridiculously far-fetched experience of my life. How was I on the other side of the world? How was Shasta standing right in front of me, after I hadn’t seen her for three years? How was I getting a ski-lift up a 2797 metre mountain? I still have no idea.

The flight there was certainly a challenge, especially for someone who hates flying. Before this trip, I had never been on a plane for more than four hours. I flew from Gatwick to Dubai, Dubai to Bangkok, Bangkok to Sydney, and finally, Sydney to Christchurch. Phew. It took around 29 hours, plus the four-hour drive from where I live to Gatwick. The three-hour flight from Sydney to Christchurch was surreal. I had dreamt of The Meet ever since Shasta left; seeing her through a crowd in the airport, her unmistakable red hair. I used the three hours to mentally prepare myself, and by the time I landed in Christchurch, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

The moment I saw her it was like the past three years never happened. I was sixteen again and happy. I had my best friend back. It was exactly as I had imagined, and our relationship had not changed a bit. Somehow, after moving to the other side of the world and starting a new life, Shasta had remained the exact same person I said goodbye to at St Margaret’s Bus Station three years ago.

First stop: Christchurch. The city was hit by a 7.1 earthquake in 2010, and six years later the evidence still envelopes the city. There is street art everywhere – apparently to take the attention away from the crumbling buildings and masses of building works. A Kiwi Brick Lane. An area of shops has been created out of shipping containers that have had one side ripped off to create glass fronts. Musicians play. Frankly the most unique idea and environment I have ever come across. 
I quickly discovered the Kiwi way of life revolves around exercise. The regular hikes we undertook made me question if I was in training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. We climbed to heights where the air became almost too thin for my asthmatic lungs to catch. Mums ran past us on steep hills with babies strapped to their fronts, and many OAP’s sped past me. It was a wakeup call, but it was liberating. At home I exercise at the gym to burn calories and build muscle. In NZ, I was exercising for the experience; the calorie burning and muscle building was a happy extra. 

In true American-self-discovery-movie style, we hired a car and drove three hours to Lake Tekapo. The drive in itself was awe-inspiring. We literally got on one road and drove the whole way without a single turn. Seeing the mountains in the distance for the first time was one of those movie moments when the little kid sees piles of glistening presents waiting for him on Christmas morning and rubs his tired eyes, thinking he must be dreaming. A crystal clear green screen, but this was real.
Yes, those are snow capped mountains, and yes, this was a regular sight.

The walks we took were utterly bewildering. We walked along hill-side cliffs, the billowing ocean to our left, rolling hills as far as the eye could see to our right. It made me feel insignificant in a beautiful way. We walked for hours without seeing a soul. It felt like we were the only people on the planet. Explorers discovering an untouched continent. There was something special about knowing that our footsteps would be washed away by the sea breeze and it would be like we were never there. 

As cheesy, corny and cliché as it sounds, New Zealand taught me that there is so much more to life than material things. Previously, I would roll my eyes at ‘Gap Yah’ students that travel the world to ‘discover themselves’ and find some inner meaning of life, and perhaps I still do. I didn’t discover myself, I discovered possibilities. I did something I never thought I could or would do and travelled to the other side of the world on my own. Though my anxiety hung over me along the way, I overcame it in order to have new experiences.

I planned to throw myself into exercise and adventure on my return, but the irony is that the extreme hiking and running has led to me injuring my knee, so I’m having to take things easier. The trip has shown me that I sometimes prefer long hikes to shopping days, new sports gear to new dresses. But as I sit here on the bus to London, my boyfriend asleep next to me, I am secretly looking forward to hitting Oxford Street!

Thanks for reading X 

A Plea to Bare with Me

My lack of blogging lately has been for a multiple of reasons:
  1.  I’m back at uni
  2. I’m extremely overwhelmed with the amount of work second year has thrown at me, and am also trying to write for Student World Online and The Gryphon
  3. My mood swings have been even more intense and rapid than ever before

As I’ve hinted in previous blogs, I am finding it incredibly hard being away from my boyfriend now that he lives in London, and it is even harder now I’m back in Leeds. I feel so far away from him and what makes it worse is I haven’t got my mum to look after me.
In my first ever discussion with a doctor about my mental health, we discussed my rapid mood swings, from extreme highs to extreme lows. The fact that these mood swings have crept back upon me is worrying because it suggests my citalopram isn’t working as it should be. My lows are becoming a sort of uncontrollable mania that looking back on feels like looking at someone else. Then, one thing can happen, like a phone call, and ‘click’, I am myself again. This is when I risk going into an extreme high, where everything is fantastic and I can do anything I put my mind to.
The result of thinking I can do anything I put my mind to is that in these stages I have taken on far more than I can actually handle. Hence being signed up to write for The Gryphon and Student World Online, as well as keeping up with my own blog, at the same time as completing a degree and searching for a placement year job for next year. All myself I have been the person who has gone the extra mile to impress academically, but at the moment I can’t focus; I can’t organize my tasks or even my money. It’s scary.
I also had a blood test yesterday (my first one, AHH!) to test for any dysfunctions with my thyroid, liver or kidneys, that could be contributing to my mood swings. For now, I am taking 30mg of citalopram instead of my usual 20mg (with the doctor’s permission of course). The word ‘bipolar’ has been mentioned which is very scary to me, and as well as a referral to a psychiatrist. My family have seen the signs of it for years and I am only now beginning to see it for myself. I’m home this weekend which is a great relief, and will be visiting Jamie in London next weekend.
So I guess what this post is trying to do is to beg you to bare with me while I sort myself out, because I love seeing how many people read my stuff and I love writing it too! I want to grow my blog but right now I’m a bit stuck, and we all go through that feeling.