A Little Life Update

Hi guys.

I’m sorry for my extended absence. I never meant to abandon the blog; it’s just been a really, really tough month. I’ve been taking the new medication (or old medication – Phenelzine), which seems to have had no effect other than to upset my stomach. But I’m trying not to give up hope just yet. One of my cats had kittens, which has been incredibly stressful. My depression has reached new lows and I actually started to find it difficult to think at all: sentences would not finish in my brain. It was frustrating and very distressing. I’ve also had quite possibly more meltdowns in the last month than I have had in the previous six. So it’s been hard and writing has just felt impossible. I couldn’t put what I was feeling into words and I didn’t feel like I had anything useful to say, anything anyone wanted to hear.

I don’t quite know what happens now. I love this blog dearly so I have no intention of abandoning it but you may have to be gentle with me as I try to get back to writing. I’m doing my best, I promise.

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?

A Year of Kittens

In the afternoon of the 26th February 2018, my gorgeous cat Lucy had her second litter of kittens. As with her first litter, she made a nest on one of the levels in my wardrobe and that’s where she headed when she went into labour, after checking that I was right behind her. For both labours, she came in search of me and yowled until I followed her up to my room. She was very insistent. So I went and sat with her; every time I tried to leave, she yowled. So I sat there all day and saw far more than I needed to… But it resulted in these two handfuls of fur: we nicknamed the older, grey one ‘Mouse’ and the younger, tabby one ‘Tiger.’

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(Day 1 – 27th February 2018)

They were gorgeous. Utterly gorgeous. They were soft and warm and just so cute. I loved every minute with them and as you can imagine, I spent most of their kittenhood with them in my bedroom. Watching them grow and explore and experience the world around them was enchanting: they are so completely and fully engaged with everything they do, from eating to playing to getting into trouble. Your whole world shrinks down to the room you’re sitting in. It’s very mindful to watch. And I found their innocence very healing. Then (and now) they look at me with such trust that it takes my breath away.

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When they were two months old, we moved house. Of all of us, the cats were the least traumatised: they continued to eat, sleep, and play. They even ventured outside and fell in love with the garden. I don’t think there’s anything as cute as kittens pouncing on long grass.

I was very distressed by the move (and still am to some extent) and it really exacerbated both my depression and my anxiety. So I found it very difficult to know how I felt about anything, let alone something as significant as whether or not we should keep the kittens. I was also repeatedly weaning myself on and off different medications, which did a number on my emotions. It was a mess. I was a mess. A very sad mess.

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Eventually we decided to keep them. I still felt very unsettled but I figured that since there had been so much change, a little more wouldn’t make much difference (in the context of my anxiety). We’d thought about it a lot: before they were born, we’d entertained the idea of keeping one but after getting to know them and watching how bonded they were right from the start, I knew that I couldn’t keep one and give away the other. We couldn’t keep two out of the little family of three.

Not long after we made that decision, Lucy started getting really irritated with them, hissing and swiping at them as they approached and even going out of her way to have a go at them. And when that showed no signs of stopping, I started to get really upset. That coincided with a medication change that made me so anxious all I could do was cry. I was terrified I’d made a huge mistake, that I shouldn’t have kept them but now I loved them too much to let them go, keeping us trapped in this very stressful situation. It was excruciating.

Fortunately, things have been better recently. They’ve all started to bond again and I often find them all snuggled in a bed together, legs and tails everywhere. It’s completely adorable. We even bought them a cat tree that has both a nest and a mouse on an elastic string; they absolutely love it and I get such joy from watching them play.

Now, I’m not just writing this because I love talking about my cats. Today is the kittens’ birthday and that seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the choices, the anxiety, and all the emotion that has gone into this experience so far. I haven’t got it all figured out yet. I still don’t know if I made the right decision and maybe I never will. Maybe it’s just a case of learning to live this life that I’ve chosen, just as we learn to live with every choice we make, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. But regardless of all of that, I love my animals and I’m grateful to have them in my life. Hopefully that’s enough.

Grateful 2018

Last year, I posted on Christmas Eve about the things I was grateful for (here) and I really liked it as a practice. Since we don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, there’s no holiday directly related to being thankful and I think it’s important to make time to think and feel these things. And I always feel overwhelmed by how lucky I am at Christmas so this seems like a good time to do it, to do this post.

My family – I am endlessly grateful to my family. They have loved and supported me through some really difficult times this year and even though that’s what family should do, I’m so, so grateful to them for doing that. I don’t take them for granted. A particular shout out to my Mum for going above and beyond. She’s my hero.

My friends – I am also endlessly grateful to my friends. I haven’t seen as much of them as I would’ve liked this year but I’ve been doing my best to stay in touch. They mean so much to me and I hope they know that. Again, a particular shout out to Richard because he has been incredible this year, supporting me as a friend and a writing partner. I’m more grateful than I can say.

My therapist – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am so grateful for my therapist. My depression has been brutal this year and there were more than a few moments where I had no idea how I was going to survive (I say that like it’s over and I’m not sure whether it’s over or not). I absolutely wouldn’t have made it through that without her.

Song Suffragettes – If you don’t know what Song Suffragettes is, prepare to have your musical life changed. It’s an organisation in Nashville that focuses on boosting the up and coming female songwriting talent and they have weekly shows showcasing these awesome women. I was lucky enough to join them on my last trip to Nashville and it was definitely the best day of my year (and one of the best in my life). Everyone involved is so lovely and they are doing such important work. Check them out on Twitter here.

Claire Wineland – I’ve written about Claire quite a bit (here, herehere, and here if you’re interested) but she’s been on my mind a lot. I miss her – her presence in my life – more than I know what to do with but I am so grateful to have had her at all. That doesn’t make me okay with what happened (not at all) but I am grateful. She was an incredible human being and she’s still helping people even though she’s no longer here.

Flowers – This is a simple one but having beautiful, colourful flowers around improves my mood and improves my day. In a year that’s felt very dark and colourless, having flowers in the house has made a noticeable difference to my day-to-day life.

My bullet journal – Having somewhere to organise my thoughts and my life has been so helpful. Up until now I’ve never had a system that really worked for me so this is a big deal. I’ve written more about it here.

Lauren Kaech – I discovered Lauren on YouTube earlier this year and I have found her videos and her attitude really inspiring. I talked about her in my post about social media favourites and she makes videos about her experience of living with an eating disorder. And while that’s not an experience I can directly relate to, there are aspects that I can. She talks about facing the things that scare you, the realities of happiness, and a whole host of recovery related topics that apply to anxiety and depression as well as eating disorders. I’m so grateful to have had this in my life this year and at my very worst (in the very worst of my depression), looking forward to her videos got me through the day and kept me going.

Swimming – I’ve written a whole post about this (here) but I wanted to include it here because I’m so, so grateful for it. Almost every morning, I get up and go to the pool and do something that makes sense. Even if the rest of the day doesn’t, that does. I’m also really proud of myself for keeping this up for six months, especially given how bad my depression has been.

Taylor Swift – Miss Swift was on my grateful list last year and the reasons are all still relevant. But this year, I got to see her live (twice!) and that experience was so much fun in the middle of a really dark place. I felt all that weight lift for a couple of hours and that is a big deal. I’m also really grateful to her for voicing her political opinions (breaking her career long silence on the subject) and encouraging young people to vote. In the twenty four hours after she made her Instagram post on the subject, 65,000 people registered to vote, which is just incredible. It made me really proud to be a fan. I don’t think I can say more than, as always, I am grateful for Taylor Swift.

So there you have it. I could write more – there are so many things to be grateful for – but I’ll stop there. I’m wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy Christmas and I’ll see you in the next post.

A First Attempt at Bullet Journalling

As you guys have probably guessed, I’m a stationary enthusiast and over the years, I’ve gone through many, many notebooks and diaries and planners. I’m pretty picky about the kind of books I like and that’s probably why I’ve never found a planner that really works for me. The layout didn’t work or the writing spaces weren’t big enough and so on. So I was always on the lookout for the right one.

I started looking into bullet journaling after seeing photos and videos of bullet journal ‘spreads’ on social media: pages to track spending, sleep, mood… As well as monthly and weekly logs to keep track of what they were doing. It seemed to be a way of creating a very personal, tailored planner and that appealed to me, although I’m definitely not artistic enough to compete with the ones I’ve seen on Instagram and YouTube. But since it seemed to work for so many people, I thought I’d give it a try.

A lot of thought went into the bullet journal format (the official website is very informative) but in short, it’s a flexible system to “track the past, organise the present, and plan for the future.” Most people seem to use dotted notebooks (like the ones that Leuchtturm make) and dedicate pages to calendars (future log, monthly log, daily log) and trackers (habits, sleep patterns). I’ve found this incredibly helpful so I thought I’d share how I use it. Maybe this would be more easily done in video format but here we are.

At the beginning of the year, I bought a Leuchtturm notebook (dotted, navy blue, A5 – available here) and got to work. I looked at photos on Instagram and watched a tonne of videos on YouTube (AmandaRachLee is my favourite) and that really helped me to figure out what bullet journalling could be for me. I set up the index at the front and created several general spreads, including my new years resolutions, all the birthdays in the year, books to read, and things to watch. Carrying all of this around is so helpful and it has definitely made me more organised. And motivated.

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One of my favourite spreads is the one for blog post ideas (and it actually spilled over into a second spread because I ran out of space). I find it so inspiring and motivating to look at. I’ve always been a list maker and I LOVE being able to tick things off a list; I’m always more motivated and productive when I’m working from a list. Having all of these ideas in one place has made blog writing much more efficient.

Many people do a monthly mood tracker but I did one for the whole year because I thought it would be easier to detect any trends in my mood and compare month to month. If I could do it again, there would be less categories. It took a while to figure out how broad each emotion had to be and as someone who feels emotions (and their subtleties) very strongly, it was very easy to create more categories than I necessarily needed. And I think a smaller spectrum of colours would make the whole thing clearer.

I found this particularly helpful when trying to judge my reaction to a medication: I could literally track my mood through each dose increase and assess how helpful it was. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in one side effect or judge it based on the most recent feelings rather than the overall experience. So it was really helpful in regards to that.

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Now to the month-to-month, week-to-week stuff.

It’s pretty standard to do a monthly log: a month at a glance of sorts so that you can see everything you’re doing during that period of time.

One thing that I love about bullet journalling is that you can refine your style and system as you go, to make it more useful to you. I went through several different layouts before I found the one that really works for me, at the moment at least. And you can be as creative as you want or feel capable of being. I’m not very artistic – in the drawing/painting sense of the word – but it’s been fun (and oddly empowering) to try my hand at something I don’t usually do.

Again, it took me a while to find a weekly set up that I liked. But I really like the one I’m using at the moment. It’s simple and quick to fill out and not overwhelming to look at.

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The official bullet journalling style involves a system of categorising all the information (tasks, events, appointments, etc), checking off tasks, ‘migrating’ them to a later date… Personally I found it overcomplicated and just not necessary. I know that there are people who like it, people who don’t, and people who have either simplified the official key or created their own version. But this is what’s great about this whole format: you can tailor it to what you need.

And lastly, I’ve recently started using trackers as part of my monthly set up. I kept the list of tracked things short so that it was actually doable and I ended up finding it really useful. Having that list of things written down made it easier to remember to do them and to build the habit. And as I said, I love ticking things off a list so the idea of filling in the boxes at the end of the day was really motivating.

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So I hope this was interesting. If any of you guys use bullet journalling or any other system for organising your life, let me know what works for you!

The Boy On The Bus

A few weeks ago, I went up to London to go to a concert with one of my friends. On the train, I’d started writing a new blog post (about getting a diagnosis – expect it soon!) and when I moved from the train to the bus, I kept going. Twenty minutes into my journey, a boy sat down next to me. I’m terrible at guessing ages but I think he was around twelve. I was in my own little world, typing furiously, when he asked me how long it had taken me to write “all those words.” It took me a moment to shift gears. I thought about it and said that I’d been writing for about an hour and a half. He looked half-amazed and half-appalled, which made me laugh. I told him that I like writing so it was fun for me. We talked for a few minutes before he asked me why I would want to put everything I’d written on the internet for people to see, which surprised me: I hadn’t thought he’d been reading over my shoulder.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that question. There are a lot of ways of answering it and I’ve been turning them over, trying to figure out which one is the best, which one represents my feelings in the truest sense. But maybe I need all of them to explain it: because I have this need to be honest, because I like to write, because I want to do something that matters, because I want to help people, because I’ll explode if I keep all of this inside me, because I want to be a part of changing how people see mental health, because I don’t want it to always be this hard… If I put something out into the world, maybe something will change. If I do nothing, I change nothing.

I’ve known some people who are very against giving people their hard earned secrets and while I agree with that in some areas (as much as I complained, doing the hard work in school subjects like Maths because the teacher withheld the shortcuts did mean I learnt more and retained it longer), I categorically don’t when it comes to mental health. If something I’ve learned can help someone else get a diagnosis or support with even slightly less struggle, then I will absolutely share it. Of course I resent how long it took and how painful it was to get to this point but that doesn’t mean I want someone else to go through the same thing. Imagine how quickly things would change if each person in the chain had it slightly easier than the person before. Feeling helpless is something I really struggle with and if there’s something I can do – anything I can do – to help, then I’ll do it. The damage that’s caused by the stigma and lack of understanding around mental health is irrefutable, in whatever form it takes. Not all suffering is equal but some people still seem to struggle with that, as if you have to go through certain things, certain examples of stigma or whatever, to be allowed to struggle. That’s just ridiculous to me. It’s like the “It’s just attention seeking,” response: if someone is asking for attention, maybe it’s because they need it. But that’s a rant for another day.

Getting back to the point… I have been so inspired by the positive, helpful things that I’ve seen people put out into the world and that’s what I want to do. That’s who I want to be.

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