World Poetry Day 2019

Hurray, it’s World Poetry Day!

I love poetry. I wish I had more time to read poetry and more poetry books to read and more spoken word events to go to but there’s only so much time in a day. I resent my physical limitations and the physical limitations of the world that prevent me from reading more. But today is supposed to be good and positive and exciting. So here are some spoken word poems that I love:

Cecilia Knapp is a wonderful human being and her writing constantly inspires me. The imagery and the emotions are so rich and magical. I don’t think there’s a poem of hers that I don’t like.

I love the chaotic nature of this poem, how the rhymes spring out of nowhere. It’s so intense and emotive.

(Trigger warning for self harm and sexual assault.)

I know there are a lot of mixed opinions about Thirteen Reasons Why but I don’t want to talk about that here (I’ve written about it in this post). I want to talk about Hannah’s poem. I love the imagery and the loneliness is so intense.

This one breaks my heart, the thought that these lines could fit in both love letters and suicide notes. It’s so achingly sad.

I love the references to Van Gogh in this one. I love the pulling together of parallel stories, especially with historical figures. It reminds me that we’re all deeply connected through our lives and our stories and our pain.

Do you have any favourite spoken word pieces?

I’m off to Nashville in a few hours so I’ll see you all when I get back. If you want to follow my adventures, you can find me on Instagram.

My Experience of Borderline Personality Disorder

I haven’t written much about my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, even though it’s a diagnosis that means a lot to me. It was hard fought: when my psychiatrist didn’t believe me, I presented him with all the research I could find to prove to him that it was at least worth considering. He both apologised and admitted that he was wrong, and it wasn’t long before he bestowed the diagnosis upon me. It was confirmed later that year when I got my Autism diagnosis.

The name Borderline Personality Disorder is not a clear one. People assume that there’s something wrong with your personality or that you only just have a personality disorder. Both of these assumptions are incorrect. The word ‘personality’ in personality disorder refers to the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are individual to each of us and the word ‘borderline’ relates back to early uses of the label, when it was thought to be a condition ‘on the borderline’ between neurosis and psychosis. Even though that has since been disproven, the name hasn’t changed although that is a popular idea. Suggestions include ‘Emotional Intensity Disorder’ and ‘Emotional Regulation Disorder.’

The symptoms include:

  • Intense fear of abandonment
  • Intense, unstable relationships
  • An unstable sense of self
  • Impulsive, self damaging behaviour
  • Suicidal ideation and self harming behaviour
  • Intense, unstable moods
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Intense feelings of anger
  • Paranoia or dissociation when under stress

I related to a lot of this: the intense emotions, the fear of abandonment, the shifting sense of self. But on the other hand I’m too anxious to be impulsive or get angry with someone. There were enough connections to keep investigating though and that’s when I discovered the quiet presentation of BPD. Where the classic presentation lashes outward, quiet borderlines internalise, blaming or harming themselves. Their fear of abandonment can make them people pleasers and they struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness, at a higher risk of depression than the classic borderlines. This discovery changed everything; I related to almost every experience I read and that gave me the confidence to pursue it as a diagnosis.

Despite the considerable stigma around BPD, I’ve had a really good relationship with my diagnosis. After so much anxiety and uncertainty, it was empowering to have a name for my struggles and it allowed me to get the support I needed. I’m aware of how lucky I am to have found the right people but that wouldn’t have been possible without the diagnosis.

Having said all of this, my diagnosis has been causing me a lot of anxiety of late. At the end of a session, my psychiatrist made what was probably, to him, an offhand comment about my collective diagnoses, that I might not need the BPD label anymore. I was too overwhelmed by a torrent of emotion to respond before the session was over – even a short session can take me days to process – but then the anxiety began to sink in. The idea of losing it – this necessary, hard fought piece of my identity – was terrifying. Is terrifying. This label explains a big part of my daily struggles and revoking it would be so invalidating, like saying that it isn’t happening, like my difficulties aren’t significant enough to even earn themselves a name. That thought of that happening is devastating.

The symptoms still feel very present to me. I feel things so intensely; they’re like physical forces acting on me. If I’m happy, sunlight is bursting out of me; if I’m sad, my ribcage is collapsing and I can barely breathe for the pain; if I’m angry, I feel like it’s strong enough to bring down buildings. They crash over me like waves and I’m overwhelmed by this panic to get back to the surface. It’s very stressful. I read somewhere that people with BPD are constantly in crisis and I definitely relate to that. Every emotion flares with life or death situation strength and it happens over and over again. They can swing so violently that it makes me physically sick and it can feel like there’s no solid ground to stand on. It’s exhausting. I also feel the emotions of other people, particularly sadness or pain, and it can take hours or days to recover from them.

“Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.” – Marsha Linehan

I’ve talked about self harm a couple of times on here (here and here) and this is my best description of it:

“One of the biggest things about self harm is the release you get from doing it. My emotions get so strong sometimes that I feel like there isn’t space for anything else in my body, in my brain. There isn’t the space for my lungs to expand; I can’t breathe. It almost feels like the emotion is crushing me and the only way to survive is to open up my skin so that it can escape. It’s like a pressure valve. Once I’ve done it, I feel like everything stabilises and I can think more clearly. If there’s a problem, I can deal with it and if there isn’t and it’s just an overload of emotion, I can take care of myself a little better than I could if I hadn’t.” (x)

Another example of overwhelming emotions…

The fear of abandonment is ever-present, willing or unwilling. The thought of it causes me to spiral into panic so intense that I’m unable to function. Indefinitely. I’m always running, running away from this black hole that’s trying to pull me in. Past abandonments have left me unable to talk or eat or do anything for weeks and it’s taken years to recover from them fully.

I struggle with a deep feeling of emptiness and I sometimes feel like my soul is empty, which feeds into the feeling of having no idea who I am. I feel like I have no real sense of self that’s mine: who I am seems to change according to who I’m with. I take on the traits of others, becoming loud and joke-y with one person and quiet and introspective with another. I don’t know what is actually me. I know small things, like ‘I like flowers with symmetrical petals’ and ‘comedies make me strangely sad’ but I don’t know the big things, like whether I’m a good person or a reliable person or an extraordinary person. If anything, I feel like a child, like I’m stuck as a child while all my friends turn into adults. I can’t cope on my own or look after myself reliably. I feel so intensely sensitive, like I’m too vulnerable for the world I live in and I get too overwhelmed to function properly.

To take this diagnosis away would be to say that this is normal, that I have to just live with it, regardless of the pain it causes me. To take this diagnosis away is to say that I don’t need support and that I should just ‘get on with it.’ That is so invalidating and so upsetting that just writing it brings tears to my eyes. That is why this diagnosis is so important to me and why taking it away would be so traumatic.

All of this is very scary to put out into the world but I feel like the only way to make progress and move forward is to put it all out there and be honest. It’s almost painful, like removing armour that I’ve been wearing so long that it’s fused to my skin and I’m peeling it off with my fingernails. But it feels like the right move. Maybe, in doing this, I’ll start to see change.

“People with BPD are doing the best they can, and they still have to change.” – Marsha Linehan

There’s more information about BPD here and some excellent accounts of Quiet BPD here.

Happy International Women’s Day!

In honour of the fact that today is International Women’s Day, I would like to honour some of the amazing women in my life. I’ve been very lucky to grow up surrounded by strong, intelligent, compassionate women and I’m very grateful for that. There are so many I could list – I’m incredibly fortunate to be friends and acquainted with so many talented and generous women – but here is a selection:

My parents – I am lucky enough to have four parents, all women and, of course, they deserve the greatest of thanks. They have encouraged me, supported me, and protected me for almost twenty-five years. Each of them inspires me differently and I love them all dearly. My Mum deserves a particular shout out. She has been my champion through all the Autism and mental health stuff; she’s my hero. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

My therapist – I have said it before but I’ll say it again: I’m so, so grateful for my therapist. She is an incredible human being and she’s done some incredible things. She’s saved my life for sure. She’s warm and honest and stubborn and I’m just in awe of her.

My Autism friends – For the first time, I have friends who also have Autism. It took me a long time to figure out what being autistic truly meant to me but last year, I heard about a group for young women with Autism and decided to give it a try. The friends I made there are so special to me. The things that always made us feel different and alone are the things that now connect us to each other and that’s pretty magical. To feel understood is something so easily taken for granted but it’s one of the most important things in the world.

Song Suffragettes – I’ve talked about Song Suffragettes before (here and here) but they’re a fantastic organisation that I’ll keep talking about forever. They showcase the up and coming songwriting talent in Nashville and they consistently push against the sexism in the music industry. So many of my favourite songwriters I’ve discovered through their shows and it was a huge honour to play with them during one of my trips to Nashville.

31045585_10155650068243121_7124576073697722368_n

Amanda Tapping – Amanda Tapping was my first hero and so will always be special to me. She played Sam Carter in Stargate SG-1 and Helen Magnus in Sanctuary and both of those characters had a really significant impact on me. It took me a while to figure out that I could be like them – I spent most of my teenage years trying to be just like them – without having to be exactly like them. For example, I could pursue the things I love and the things I’m good at with the same intensity and passion and commitment, rather than trying to turn myself into a duplicate of either of those characters. Amanda herself is also a worthy hero: she’s struggled and succeeded throughout her life and she’s dedicated significant time, money, and effort to helping others. For example, she’s run conventions that have raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity and where she makes the dreams of fans like me come true: I was an anxious mess when I finally got to meet her but she was kind and compassionate and wonderful. She’ll be my hero forever.

Chloe Bennet – Chloe Bennet currently plays Daisy Johnson in Agents of Shield, my favourite character in my favourite show. This character is an actual superhero and that, of course, is a cherished connection to my Dad. Watching and following superhero related things has allowed me to feel close to him. I know he would’ve loved Agents of Shield. Daisy massively inspires me but Chloe does too, especially since she’s talked so openly about her mental health. (x)

Taylor Swift – I’ve exalted Taylor Swift multiple times (here, here, and here) so I won’t repeat myself but her kindness and her dedication to helping others and doing the right thing continually inspires me and motivates me to be a better human being. I’m also massively inspired by her artistic drive and her commitment to exploring her own creativity. She’s constantly building on her work and it takes my breath away every time.

IMG_2836

Sara Bareilles – If I know you in real life, then I’ve probably told you (multiple times) about Sara Bareilles dedicating her song ‘Uncharted’ for me at her London show while I stood in the front row (the video is here). It was magical. Her singing and songwriting and piano playing take my breath away and I’m so inspired by the way she makes the music that she wants to make and doesn’t fold to the fickle whims of the music industry. I’m also really inspired by the way she’s pursued multiple different creative projects, like writing a book and writing the music for a musical.

P1010120

Maren Morris – I have loved Maren Morris’ music from the moment I heard ‘My Church’ and her concerts are some of my favourite memories. Her songwriting is direct and honest and every song inspires me to get better as a songwriter, a singer, and a human being. Her story shows that there is something magical about being yourself, truly and authentically, and that inspires me every day.

tumblr_piurscTDRm1qg6spe_500

Claire Wineland – I was and still am so inspired by Claire (I talk about her in way more detail here) and her approach to life and living. I will carry her in my heart forever.

These women are a huge part of why I am who I am and I’m so incredibly grateful to them. As Felix says in Orphan Black, “To my galaxy of women, thank you for the nurture.” Amen.

Books That Teenage Me Loved

As today is World Book Day – probably my favourite day of celebration as a child and young teenager – I thought I’d do something special and list that I absolutely adored as a teenager. I have never been so enamoured with reading as I was as a teenager and most of my favourite books are still ones that I read as a teenager. So here are some of those books, in no particular order:

Noughts and Crosses Series by Malorie Blackman (or any Malorie Blackman book)

I read every Malorie Blackman book I could get my hands on and then I reread them until they literally fell apart. I truly adored them and it was these books, I think, that inspired me to pursue writing as a career, rather than just a hobby. I even sent Malorie Blackman the book that I wrote when I was twelve (I never got a reply but I’m fine…). The story of Noughts and Crosses takes place in a society where the dark skinned Crosses are revered and the light skinned Noughts are reviled. Sephy and Callum grew up together, unaware that anything separated them but as they get older, the divide gets wider and wider. As characters, I found them – and their relationship – complicated and compelling, and I was so invested in what happened to them. The narrative discusses racism, privilege, terrorism, relationships, the individual versus the society, the lack of easy answers… and the sequels continue to tackles those topics, from multiple viewpoints. It introduces questions like ‘why are plasters all made in one colour?’ and ‘why does the law treat people differently because of their skin colour?’ in a way that makes you want to know why, rather than feel ashamed because you don’t already know. I think that’s important in a book aimed at young teenagers.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I was pretty late to the John Green party but I’m glad I made it. I know that many people have issues with this book but I loved it from the first page. The story starts as Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer support group and it follows their relationship and their quest to meet their favourite author and how their health impacts and interconnects all of that. I really related to Hazel and how she approached the world; her thinking followed the same paths as mine. My emotions synched up with hers very easily. I’m pretty sure I read in a day and the story has stuck with me ever since. I also absolutely loved the film when it came out and it’s still one of my favourite films.

Deeper Than Blue by Jill Hucklesby

Deeper Than Blue follows the story of Amy, a thirteen-year-old champion swimmer after an accident that changes her life forever. It deals with grief and identity, losing dreams and finding them again, friends and family from the most unlikely places. It’s warm and funny and sincere and it’s one of the books that made me want to be a writer; I wanted to tell a story like this one.

Tomorrow When The War Began Series by John Marsden

I had the Harry Potter Series in my early teens and this series in my late teens. It begins when a group of teenagers go camping in the Australian bush and return to find their country invaded. Everyone they know has been captured and their only safety is their camping hideaway. It sounds like a bit of a cliché – kids forced to be heroes – but it’s so much more complicated than that. This group of very different teenagers go through a lot: the loss of people they love, learning to survive on their own in a wild environment, conflict within their group, whether or not what they’re doing is right, and wondering why this has happened. They’re thoughtful and desperate but they learn quickly, staging rescue attempts and attacks against the enemy. The war goes on and on and there are no easy fixes. I loved this series and I have all of them on audiobook as well. The characters are interesting and complicated and throughout the series, you can go from loving them to hating them and back again. I loved how deeply they all felt everything, how they didn’t just brush it off and move on – it felt real. Neither the achievements nor the failures were clear-cut. I recommend it to everyone because I love it so much. And the film is great too. This series, man. This series is SO good.

Blind Beauty by K M Peyton

I was the typical girl-obsessed-with-horses when I was younger and although I never read the more famous ‘Flambards’ books, I fell in love with ‘Blind Beauty.’ I don’t remember reading it for the first time; it feels like a story I’ve just always known. It follows teenage Tessa who, having been kicked out of another boarding school, finds herself in the racing stable on her family’s property. It’s there that she finds Buffoon, the ugliest, most ungainly horse the stable has ever seen but Tessa loves him and dedicates herself to training him. While I didn’t have the problems that Tessa has – nor the strength of will that she does – I identified with the way she didn’t seem to fit anywhere, and how deeply she felt that, how deeply she felt everything.

Harry Potter Series by J K Rowling

Almost everyone my age grew up reading Harry Potter books. So many of my childhood memories are tied to both the books and the films: my parents reading them to me and my brother, almost being late for school because we needed one more chapter in the car outside the gates, the endless debates about this character or that storyline, marathoning the films, staying up all night to finish the final book… I grew up with these characters and the stories were as real to me as my day-to-day life was. They’re a part of my identity now.

Small Steps by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar was another staple of my childhood (and is possibly the best book to film adaption ever, by the way) but Small Steps spoke to me on a deeper level. It follows one of the Holes characters, Armpit, and his life after Camp Greenlake and the events of Holes. He meets, and falls for, popstar Kaira DeLeon but things get complicated when his past actions come back to haunt him. It’s hard to talk too much about it without giving away details that are much better revealed in the book.

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

It has been a long time since I read this book so please forgive me if my memory fails me here. The story follows Rowan as she copes with the loss of her older brother, with finding out that he wasn’t who she thought he was. The people she meets on this quest have a profound effect on her and while the details are a little blurry with time (I’m seriously considering sitting down and reading the book again after reading the blurb and reviews online), I remember so vividly relating to Rowan. She was thoughtful and perceptive and grieving. And I only loved her more because I almost ended up with the same name. It’s a story with a lot of tragedy but also a lot of hope.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

I would call this one of the best scifi books ever but I haven’t read every scifi book ever so I’m going to call it one of the best scifi books I’ve ever read. It’s old and so some of the language is difficult to get your head around (I vividly remember my friend reading it while we were on holiday and every few minutes she’d ask me what a word meant and she’s one of the most intelligent, eloquent people I know) and the lives the characters lead aren’t particularly relatable anymore but the effortlessness of how the story unfolds is breath-taking. The suspense is almost claustrophobic and the ending is perfectly executed. I would say more but I don’t want to spoil it. Read it. Seriously.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is another one I need to read again. I first read it because one of my parents had bought me a ticket to see Markus Zusak speak and in typical fashion, I didn’t start reading it until the night before. But a few pages in and I was hooked; I read it in one sitting. I’ve never read anything like it, before or since. It follows a young girl called Liesel, living in Germany with a foster family during World War II, but the story is told from the point of view of Death, as if Death is a very present character. Unsurprisingly, the theme of death and mortality is prominent throughout the story. But it was the themes of reading and writing and storytelling that pulled in teenage me who was constantly writing stories. It’s the kind of story that makes you feel like you’re a different person for reading it.

So I hope this has been interesting and that something in here that has inspired you to pick up one of these books (or any book at all). What are some of your favourite books?

Talking About Self Harm

Self harm (also described as self injury) is still a topic that people struggle with. That’s understandable. It’s a hard thing to think about. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. So, since it’s Self Injury Awareness Day, I thought I would write down some of things that I’ve learned, things I’ve found useful, things that I wish other people had known during my ‘self harm journey…’ So, without further ado, here are some dos and don’ts for talking about self harm, from my experience at least…

DOs

  • Try to stay calm – Simply put, don’t freak out and say something you might regret. It’s a hard thing to find out about anyone, let alone someone you really care about. You’re allowed to feel your feelings but try to control any outbursts of upset or frustration.
  • Ask – If you don’t know what to say, ask them. It’s okay not to know and asking, ‘how can I help you?’ or ‘what response do you want/need to hear?’ is better than anxious rambling or silence.
  • Offer what you can – Even if it’s only being a person to call, assure the person that you are there for them and that you will support them through whatever it is they’re going through. But don’t make promises you can’t keep by overcommitting.
  • Remember that it’s not about you – A person doesn’t self harm because their parents nag or because their friend said they couldn’t hang out. Yes, negative interactions and experiences can trigger it but a person wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t something really serious going on internally. It’s not about you, it’s about them and what they’re going through.

DON’Ts

  • Grab the area that’s injured or scarred and demand an explanation – A confrontational or accusing attitude won’t help either of you and it’s NOT okay to touch someone without their consent even if you think you’re trying to help. Try to stay calm, and allow them to direct the conversation if possible.
  • Judge – Unless you’ve struggled with self harm, you can’t know what it’s like. That’s okay. You’re not expected to understand it but that doesn’t mean you can’t be compassionate and supportive. Try to keep an open mind while having these conversations.
  • Simply ask them to give it up – If it were that simple, no one would self harm. If someone is hurting themselves – going against their body’s survival instinct – there’s something seriously intense going on and so just stopping isn’t possible. And that inability to stop can turn into a lot of guilt and self blame so it’s a sensitive subject in itself.
  • Ask them to give up for you – I know it can seem like positive motivation (and maybe it works for some people) but it actually just creates more pressure and more pressure is exactly what they don’t need right at that moment. I’m not an expert but from my own experience, pressure leads to feeling even more guilty and all the negative emotion just builds and builds and makes the whole thing worse.

I hope these things have been helpful and I’d love to know what else you would add to this. Awareness and understanding are so important and every conversation matters. And if you’re someone that struggles with self harm, I hope you remember that you’re doing the best you can. Obviously everyone wants you to be in a place where you don’t feel you need self harm but that’s a really big thing. It’s not a place you can necessarily get to over night but every day that you get through – every hard moment – is a success, however you get through it. It’s a process and whatever speed you travel through it is okay. Living is hard. You’re doing fine.

More information here.