Why I’m Not Writing About Body Image For Mental Health Awareness Week

For those of you who don’t know, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme for this year is body image. I’ve spent the whole week reading articles and looking at social media posts and wondering what on earth I should write, what I could say that’s worth adding to this movement. Body image is not something I’ve ever really written about and that’s because it’s something I find really hard to talk about. I haven’t even talked about it with my therapist. I just find it impossible to get the words out.

This afternoon, I was scrolling through the #BeBodyKind tag on Instagram and it made my soul really happy to see so many people working to embrace their bodies, even when they’re dealing with really difficult stuff. How wonderful and brave is that? But I’m just not there yet. My relationship with my body has always been difficult. I’ve never liked how I looked; I’ve always felt uncomfortable in my skin. And if I’m being honest, I haven’t been body kind. In fact, I’ve been really unkind. I’ve hurt my body, starved it, pushed it too hard, not pushed it hard enough. I’ve hated it. Most of the time I still do.

I’ve got a lot of shit to deal with at the moment but I’m trying. I’m not there yet but I’m trying. And that has to be okay. For now, at least.

‘Invisible’ Music Video – Out Now!

I’m so excited to announce that the ‘Invisible’ music video is finally out. This time last year, I put this very special single out and although I’d planned to put the video out straight away, life and mental health got in the way. But now it’s Mental Health Awareness Week again and I thought it was time this video saw the light of day. I would love it if you’d watch and I really hope you like it. It’s so, so special to me.

Almost two years ago now, I got together with Rosie Powell (my incredible director and videographer) and we planned this video. I really wanted to focus on the lyrics and the story behind the song so we came up with the idea of painting the lyrics on a wall (shout out to one of my parents for letting me paint all over my old bedroom wall). I was super excited. But having never been ‘in’ a music video before, I was  also really nervous about being on camera. I felt really self conscious and worried about how my issues with eye contact would affect the video. Autism problems, am I right?

Day one was painting day. We set up in my childhood bedroom (and by that I mean, we lugged all the furniture out – which I then fell over multiple times) and got to work painting the lyrics on the wall.

It was really fun but weirdly, really hard work: it was very physical and I was exhausted by the end of it. It was also really cathartic to physically put those words out into the world. I’m not very artistic – I’ve never been very good at drawing or painting – so this was all new to me: seeing what I’d imagined in my head out in the real world. It was very satisfying to see this…

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… turn into this:

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It was a really good day and I’m really proud of the work we did.

Day two had Richard (my writing partner and general partner in crime) coming down to Brighton and we shot the ‘performance’ section of the video. I felt very self conscious with the camera on my face so much but both Rosie and Richard are so lovely that I felt very safe. Again, it was exhausting – that might be my issues with fatigue coming into play – but really satisfying and fun.

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I had a lot of plans for this single and the video but alas, they weren’t to be. Life happened and my mental health took a lot of hits (if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll be aware of some of them). My depression has been brutal and made doing anything musical almost impossible. It’s been a long, hard road but I’m so, so glad this video is out in the world. I’m so proud of it and I’m so grateful to have worked on it with such lovely people. I wouldn’t have wanted my first music video to have come to life any differently.

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Quotes That Helped Me (Validation Edition – Part 1)

One thing I’ve really learned over the last few years is that, as important as support and help are, so are recognition and validation of what we’re going through. To feel like someone understands how we feel can ward off the intense isolation that can come hand in hand with mental illness. To have our struggles dismissed is sometimes even worse than them being ignored altogether.

In a continuation of this series, here are some quotes that validated my feelings and helped me feel understood. I hope they can do the same for you.


“I’m afraid I’ll be a book that no one reads. Music that no one listens to anymore. I’m afraid I’ll be abandoned like a movie playing in an empty theatre.” – Tablo

“We are all museums of fear.” – Charles Bukowski

“I exist too much, I feel too much, think too much. Reality is crushing the life out of me.” – David Jones

“I’m really afraid to feel happy because it never lasts.” – Andy Warhol

“Have you ever had to get through a day, smiling at people, talking, as if everything were normal and okay, while all the time you felt like you were carrying a leaden weight of unhappiness inside you?” – Elizabeth Wurtzel

“I get it now. I get it. The things that you hope for the most are the things that destroy you in the end.” – John Green

“I’m numb and I’m tired. Too much has happened today. I feel as if I’d been out in a pounding rain for forty-eight hours without an umbrella or a coat. I’m soaked to the skin with emotion.” – Ray Bradbury

“The truth is, I pretend to be a cynic, but I am really a dreamer who is terrified of wanting something she may never get.” – Joanna Hoffman

“The incredible pain returns again and again and again.” – Susan Sontag

“I can only connect deeply or not at all.” – Anais Nin

 “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” – Jonathan Safran Foer

“I’m not sure which is worse: intense feeling, or the absence of it.” – Margaret Atwood

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” – John Green

“I need to be alone for certain periods of time or I violate my own rhythm.” – Lee Krasner

“I am deathly afraid of almosts. Of coming so very close to where I want to be in life that I can almost taste it, almost touch it, then falling just a little short.” – Beau Taplin

“I’m just dying to say, ‘Hey, do you ever feel like jumping off a bridge?’ or ‘Do you feel an emptiness inside your chest at night that is going to swallow you?’ But you can’t say that at a cocktail party.” – Paul Gilmartin

“It’s all too much and not enough at the same time.” – Jack Kerouac

“She felt everything too deeply, it was like the world was too much for her.” – Joyce Maynard

“Even if you know what’s coming, you’re never prepared for how it feels.” – Natalie Standiford

“The sadness will last forever.” – Vincent Van Gogh

“How do we forgive ourselves for all of the things we did not become?” – David ‘Doc’ Luben

“There is a certain clinical satisfaction in seeing just how bad things can get.” – Sylvia Plath

“No one warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.” – Té V. Smith

“I am half agony, half hope.” – Jane Austen

30 Days of Self Care

A while back, I discovered the 30 Day Self Care Challenge (here) and I’ve been really wanting to try it. I’m always on the look out for more and better ways to help myself manage my life. As April was Stress Awareness Month, I figured this was a good opportunity. Stress and anxiety aren’t necessarily the same thing but there is an overlap and anyway, we could probably all use a little more self care in our lives.

I’ll admit that I was only semi successful at completing the daily challenges. I managed most of them but there were busy days, illness, and various other roadblocks. But I tried, and I thought I’d share some of the ones I did manage to do:

Day 4 – Write down 3 things you love about yourself

  • That I’m honest.
  • My hair – when it behaves.
  • My scars.

Day 7 – Burn a candle/incense

I burned my pink pepper and grapefruit candle (my absolute favourite candle) with the special wooden wick from The Candle Bar in Nashville. The wooden wick makes a crackling noise, like a fire burning. It’s lovely and the smell always relaxes me.

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Day 8 – Unfollow people on social media who don’t inspire you

I don’t think I’ve unfollowed anyone since I joined Twitter and Instagram and it definitely needed doing. I was following a lot of people and organisations that only stressed me out. More and more, jobs are involving social media so it’s not always possible to just unfollow every account that doesn’t bring you joy but there were definitely some that were unnecessarily stressful. So I started unfollowing. I went through my Following lists and unfollowed thirty accounts on Instagram and forty on Twitter. My social media sphere has felt a lot safer since then.

Day 9 – Take yourself out on a date to eat/see a show/go to a gallery/museum

I had to shuffle things around a bit for this one but for one of my parents’ birthdays we went to see Waitress the Musical. She’s always encouraged my love of music and the music in this show is so good. We decided to do something together for her birthday and this is what we landed on. We had so much fun and we laughed a lot. It was a good night.

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Day 26 – Read a chapter of a book

I technically failed this one but the day before, I read the whole of This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. It’s a collection of diary entries from when he was a doctor and it’s hilarious and disgusting and tragic in equal parts. It was a really good read and it reminded me of why I always loved reading. It’s like the rest of the world stops for a bit and I really needed that, even if it wasn’t the easiest read.

Day 27 – Take a nap

Mid morning, I went down with a migraine and the only coping mechanism I have for migraines is to sleep through them. So I ended up having a six hour nap.

Day 29 – Explore affirmations, and write three of your own

Before this, all I really knew about affirmations was that they were positive phrases that you repeated to yourself. But I did some research and it’s a really interesting practice – this article was particularly good. So I’m having a go at it:

  • I have the skills to do my job.
  • I am competent and confident.
  • Every action I take makes me more comfortable in my life.

Self care isn’t a one size fits all scenario and what I think is so great about this challenge is that it allows you to try all these different things that you can incorporate into your routine as self care. Some will work for you and some won’t. The last day of the challenge allows you to reflect on the successes and failures and while some were practices I already use as part of my self care routine, there were others that weren’t but will be now: I’m getting back into reading, I’m learning about affirmations, and I’m more comfortable on social media. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re not sure where to start with self care; it gives you a lot of options. Hopefully there’s something for everyone.

The New Plan

The last few months have been tough, medication wise. I had a wonderful, un-depressed Christmas (which I’m massively grateful for) but since then, I’ve been struggling. My mood just kept dropping and my anxiety just kept getting worse and we tried to alter the medication to compensate, to find that perfect balance, but it’s gotten to the point where we just need to try something new. So I’m taking stock of everything and trying to figure out how I feel about all of it.

The Clomipramine (a Tricyclic anti-depressant) worked for a while. As I said, I had a really good Christmas where I felt joyful and energetic and actually happy for the first time in a really, really long time. But then it seemed to lose its effectiveness and my mood dropped, whether that was because I was taking a magnesium supplement (I talk about that here) or because it just had a short shelf life. I don’t know. But it stopped working and my depression returned. Since then, my depression has been stifling and I’ve really struggled with suicidal thoughts, at an intensity I’ve never experienced before.

My anxiety also skyrocketed so, in addition to the Pregabalin (also known as Lyrica) I was already taking, I started taking Flupentixol to help manage it. At first I felt no different but after adjusting the dose, my anxiety decreased dramatically and I started to feel a bit more functional. But in the months since then, it seems there have been a number of difficult side effects: my energy levels dropped dramatically, to the point where even a shower is a real struggle. Standing for any length of time is impossible and I ended up being wheeled around multiple airports in a wheelchair during my Nashville trip. The worst part though was that my hands felt thick and clumsy, like my fine motor skills had just evaporated into thin air. Playing guitar was practically impossible.

At first I didn’t realise that these things were connected to the Flupentixol but thanks to my Mum and her incredible attention to detail, we realised that the dates all seem to match up and since we reduced said medication, these problems have disappeared. I’m ridiculously grateful to have my hands back, even if my anxiety has flooded back in.

We’ve reached a point where I can remain where I am or start over. So I’m starting over. I don’t want to live like this. So, after a lot of thinking and talking to my psychiatrist, I’m coming off both the Clomipramine and the Flupentixol. I’m not a massive fan of the Pregablin either to be honest but even changing two things at once is ambitious. So that one can wait. I’ve already started reducing the meds and I’m bracing myself for a barrage of mood swings, depressive episodes, and more. It’s not going to be fun. But it will be worth it. Hopefully.

The current plan is to come off the two drugs, go the ‘wash out’ period (two weeks of no drugs – apart from the Pregablin – so that there aren’t any negative interactions between the medications), and then start Phenelzine again. Yes, Phenelzine – the drug I stopped taking two years ago because it had stopped working, because the joyfulness it gave me felt fake and suffocating. BUT it’s the only drug that’s allowed me to be functional – creatively and otherwise – so we’re giving it another try. It did work for a long time and if it doesn’t, we’ll try another MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) anti-depressant.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. Part of me is frustrated and disappointed. I’ve spent two years trying to find something better only to end up where I started. But on the other hand, that’s two years of knowledge, experience, and confidence that I didn’t have before. I’m a different person and chances are, my reactions will be different: our bodies change and our chemical makeup is constantly shifting. These medications all but cause a hurricane inside us. So I’m trying to be optimistic. I’m trying to be hopeful.

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Claudia Boleyn on BPD and Obsessions

I’ve written about Claudia Boleyn’s videos before but this is another great one that I think really clearly explains something that happens with Borderline Personality Disorder (also becoming known as Emotional Intensity Disorder) and various other mental health problems. I really recommend watching it.

In this video, Claudia talks about how, when you’re struggling with your mental health, you can develop obsessions with certain things, particularly fandom related things: fictional characters, books, TV shows, etc. These special interests can overlap with autistic special interests but they can also come about as a coping mechanism; they can become an escape from the difficulties of the real world.

She talks about how she can categorise her life by her obsessions, including Emmerdale and Anne Boleyn and certain areas of art history. She talks in particular about her obsession with Anne Boleyn, how it strengthens her and gets her through the really tough times. She even uses Boleyn as a surname: “I use it to exist in the world.” She talks about how she uses this obsession and others to understand herself. All of this makes those obsessions really special and important. I can definitely relate to this. My life can be divided up by my obsessions: animals but particularly horses – I obsessively read the Animal Ark and Saddle Club book series – Harry Potter, crime dramas, Taylor Swift, certain youtubers, anything superhero related…

“My identity and my life is sort of filled up with the stories of other people rather than stories of my own.”

With BPD, there’s the extra layer of struggling with your identity and your sense of self. Claudia talks about how she would go to school dressed as her favourite characters and how a teacher once asked her, ‘When will you come to school dressed as yourself?’ But that’s really hard when you don’t know who you are. I’ve always found it very easy to lose myself in fandoms or characters because I don’t know who I am to begin with and I’ve had a couple of experiences where I’ve done things I didn’t actually want to do because I thought that’s what a character would do, i.e. what I should do to embody those good characteristics.

“I’ve never felt like I have a proper identity in myself so I’ve sort of constructed one in a way based on what I admire and what I want to be and what will make me as good a person as I can be and what will make me contribute to the world but it’s really tough.”

It can be a good, helpful strategy – until it starts to dictate your emotional state.

“I think this isn’t spoken about enough with BPD, especially because we can struggle with identity and who we are and what sort of people we are. I think we often construct ourselves based around fiction and around those characters we admire and I think it matters a lot to us. It feels like it becomes a part of our identity in a way, so when it goes wrong, it feels like we’re falling apart. Yeah, it’s difficult.”

Another problem in BPD is that of regulating your emotions. Small things – day to day things – can have massive impacts on your mood. It can be exhausting and stressful to go through such ups and downs and it’s constant; there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty involved. So escaping into an obsession or fandom can be helpful and soothing but then, when something goes wrong in or around that fandom, for example, it can cause really negative emotions because your escape, your safe place, has been threatened. It might seem extreme from the outside but it’s very real and personal if you’re going through it.

I really relate to this video and I’m really grateful to Claudia for putting it out into the world. We need to talk about all parts of living with mental health, not just the relatively straightforward ones.

A Letter Under The Floorboards

Today is exactly a year since we moved house. That was a terrible day. It was stressful and upsetting and exhausting. I had a meltdown when we finally collapsed in the new house (surrounded by boxes and carefully balanced furniture) and neither me nor my Mum slept that night. It was all just too much.

It’s better now. I’m still adjusting, but then I had spent most of my life in that house so I didn’t expect a quick recovery. I’m getting there. My room almost feels like my room.

Since we moved out, we’ve actually learned quite a bit about the history of the house and the people who lived there. Our favourites are two women who lived and worked together their whole lives, the first head and deputy head of Varndean School. We even found pictures of them, which is really cool. We were all weirdly moved to learn these stories.

When we moved out, I wasn’t thinking about the history of the house and our part in it. I was just trying to figure out a way to say goodbye. So I wrote a letter and tucked it under the loose floorboard in my room. It was a letter to any and all future occupants, asking them to look after the house for us, for me. We’re part of the house’s history now and perhaps, one day, someone will find this letter and feel the same way about us as we feel about these two women. And since we live in a technological age and the first step of investigation is to google something, I thought I’d put this out into the internet. Maybe one day they’ll find me.

To whoever finds this,

This has been my bedroom, on and off, for about seventeen years. That’s most of my life. That’s a surreal thought, one that I’m trying not to obsess over. It took a long time to feel okay about moving and I’m scared that thinking too hard about all of it will be the wind that blows me back into that storm. I didn’t think I’d survive it the first time. I don’t want to leave but I don’t want leaving to be a life altering tragedy. I’m trying to remember that I don’t need this room to be me, even if it feels like that sometimes.

A lot has happened in this room, in this house. I grew up here, watched thunderstorms, brought friends over for dinner, celebrated birthdays and Christmases. I wrote stories and songs and my brother learned lines and turned the flickers of ideas into masterpieces. I said a last goodbye to my cat of fifteen years, learned that I could love another one, and then raised two litters of kittens with her. I taught my dog to sit, sneaked him onto the sofa when no one was home, and sang to him while emptying the dishwasher. I studied for GCSEs, A Levels, and my degree. I graduated with a first and I found out in this room. I had my heart broken. I struggled with my health and my mental health. I found out that my Dad had died.

 I worry that leaving this room, this house, means leaving all of those things behind and that I’ll lose myself because of that. It may not be rational but it’s how I feel. I hope that I’ve managed to box all of that up with my belongings but I guess I’ll see when I get to the new house. There’s a little voice in my head that says that the rooms feel empty because we’ve packed all the memories and emotions but I’m scared to believe it.

Maybe this is all too flowery and fluffy for you. That’s fine. A room can be just a room. A house can be just a house. But regardless of whether you see it as four walls or a time capsule, please take care of it for me. For us. We have loved it dearly and hope that you will do the same. Fill it with life (and extra radiators because, as you’ll soon find out, it’s practically impossible to keep it warm). I hope you will feel as safe here as I have.

Look after this place. I’m trusting that you will.

LAH

16/04/18