Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – #KindnessMatters

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Originally, this year’s theme was going to be sleep but with the impact of the pandemic on the world’s mental health, the Mental Health Foundation changed the theme to kindness:

“We think it could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic – with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus.”

Their website offers some really powerful insight into the importance of kindness:

“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.”

We all know about Captain Tom Moore’s incredible fundraiser and Dolly Parton’s massive donation towards researching a cure, as well as other wealthy and/or famous people giving money to various charities that support all kinds of people struggling during this time. These are all amazing acts of kindness but the foundation are encouraging people to share acts of kindness they’ve experienced so I thought I’d list some of mine:

  • My street’s WhatsApp group – As many streets or communities do, my street has a WhatsApp group and the generosity displayed in it is really heartwarming. People are offering the use of various equipment, like ladders or gardening tools; people are offering to help those less able than themselves; people are giving things away for free, like packets of seeds, cooking ingredients, unwanted furniture, art that they’ve made, and so on. The sense of community has grown so much since the lockdown and that’s really nice to see.
  • My neighbour helping us to rescue my cat – When one of the kittens went missing, the WhatsApp group helped locate her (which has caused her to become somewhat of a local celebrity) and the owner of the garden with the tree she was stuck in was so lovely about letting us in to retrieve her (we were social distancing, of course). When I tried to get her and couldn’t, my amazing neighbour climbed all the way to the top of the ladder, got his shirt off while perched up there, and used it to drag her off the branch she was clinging too. He handed her straight over to me for a cuddle but asked for a quick cuddle with her himself to apologise for squishing her a bit while getting her down. He told my Mum later that he’s actually terrified of heights but didn’t even think about it while helping us. That actually made me cry. I’m so, so grateful to him – especially with a fear of heights – for getting Sooty down because even with us standing below her, she seemed absolutely paralysed and unable to get down.
  • The generosity of my neighbours – The family next door to us (the father was the guy who rescued Sooty) are just so lovely and have an allotment that they work super hard at. Whenever they bring vegetables back, they give us some and they often share cake or other gorgeous food that they’ve made. They’re honestly some of the most generous people I’ve ever met and I feel so lucky to have them as neighbours.
  • The trumpet player on my street – There’s a guy who lives in the street who has offered, via the WhatsApp group, to come and play ‘Happy Birthday’ on his trumpet for anyone who has a birthday while we’re in lockdown. It’s kind of bizarre but then the world is truly bizarre right now and it’s a lovely, special gesture for a birthday that could otherwise feel very un-special.
  • The handful of people helping my Granny – There are several people who have been helping my Mum’s Mum with her shopping and computer and series of electrical problems, as well as checking in with her (safely) to make sure she’s doing okay, and I’m so grateful. We speak frequently but we’re too far away to be helpful in the practical sense so I’m really thankful for the people making her life easier and safer.
  • The support of my module leader and tutor during the assessment period – This was a while back but still in the lockdown period so I think it counts. I found this assessment really stressful and difficult, whether that’s because I’m still not used to the Masters standard of essay writing or my mental health I don’t know, but my tutor, Dan – who is also the leader of this module – was so helpful. He helped me with sourcing material and gave me really useful feedback. The Masters course is the first time in education where, as an autistic person, I’ve felt truly, 100% supported in my learning, rather than being made to feel like a hindrance, a hitch in the otherwise smoothly running classes. This means so much to me, more than I can possibly articulate. While no autistic person should ever be made to feel this way, it still happens far too often so to have tutors be so accommodating (in such a non-judgemental way) has meant the world to me and made the course possible.
  • Kalie Shorr playing a song I’d requested during one of her livestreams – I said this multiple times but Kalie is one of my favourite musicians, Nashvillians, and people. I wouldn’t call us friends but we’ve met several times during my trips to the US and gotten on well (maybe one day we will be friends – that would be really nice). Since the lockdown began, she’s been playing a lot of livestreams, which has been really cool, and during one of those livestreams, she played a song that I’d requested. It’s an unreleased song, one that she posted a snippet of on her Instagram stories ages ago but I fell in love with it and had been desperate to hear more. So the fact that she actually played it meant a lot to me. And by some good fortune, that livestream took place when I was having a really hard week and it really lifted my spirits so I’m really grateful to Kalie for that.
  • My friend sending me a Sara Bareilles CD – I’m not sure now whether this was just before the lockdown or just after the lockdown started (anyone else having major issues with judging the passing of time?), but a friend of mine was passing on some CDs, knew how much I love Sara Bareilles, and sent me a copy of Little Voice. As I have the money, I’m slowly collecting my favourite albums on CD or even vinyl, so I really appreciated him gifting it to me.

Another one of the focuses of this week is to think about how to build a kinder future. I can’t explain it any better than they do so, again, I’m gonna post what they’ve said:

“We have a once in a generation opportunity not only during but also following this pandemic for a reset and re-think about what kind of society we want to emerge from this crisis.

Our own reports and others such as Sir Michael Marmot’s 10 years On report reveal how inequality is rising in our society and its harmful effects on our health. Life expectancy is falling for the poorest for the first time in 100 years. As child poverty rises, children and young people in the poorest parts of our country are two to three times  more likely to experience poor mental health than those in the richest. After the 2008 credit crunch it was the most vulnerable in our communities who experienced the severest consequences of austerity, with devastating effects on their mental and physical health. This not the hallmark of a kind society. We must not make the same mistakes after this pandemic. 

Applied kindness could have a transformative impact on our schools, places of work, communities and families. As the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said, now is a time to put values above valuations. We must seize this time to shape a society that tips the balance in favour of good mental health, for all of us, but especially for those who are most vulnerable.”

I have to hope that the kindness I’ve been seeing, the general community focussed behaviour and mindset will only continue after the lockdown ends, even though our lives will be busier, with work and school and so on. We’ll go back to our normal lives but that normal doesn’t have to be the same as the old normal. Hopefully we can build a new normal, one that’s kinder, more connected, more neighbourly, and more flexible, because of this experience with the pandemic and the lockdown. How beautiful would it be if we could create something so good out of such a difficult, distressing time? It won’t, of course, bring back the people who’ve died but perhaps it could be a tribute to all those who have suffered during this time. Maybe it’s naïve but I have to have hope.

I couldn’t make this post without acknowledging the incredible courage and strength and… kindness isn’t a big enough word by far… of the all the NHS staff, care workers, key workers, teachers (fuck the Daily Mail), and all those working unimaginably hard to protect us, keep us safe and healthy and moving forward despite everything going on. We can’t thank them enough. We’ll probably never be able to thank them enough. Someday, somehow, I’ll figure out a way to say  a proper thank you, a way to give back and help people in their honour.

But coming back to Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation are, as I said, encouraging people to share the acts of kindness they’ve experienced or witnessed, using the hashtags, #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek on social media. You can find out more and access further resources through their website. And to quote them once more:

“No act of kindness is ever wasted.”

Web

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…

IMG_3816

… turn into this:

IMG_3939

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.

IMG_4192

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.

IMG_3871.jpg

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

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

(Blog Note: I was hoping to post this yesterday but I just had to take a break from everything so it’s a day late. Sorry!)


As many of you will be aware, this last week, 14th to 20th May, was Mental Health Awareness Week and although I fully intended to have a series of mental health related posts ready to go up, life conspired against me to make that impossible. A big part of that was putting my first single out (available hereeeeeee!) so I’m not complaining but it has been stressful and taking up a lot of my brain. So my posts have been a bit all over the place – I’m working on that, I promise. But I did want to acknowledge this week because it is important.

I have seen so many social media posts this week where people have shared their stories and struggles with mental health and I’ve been blown away by each one. Sharing this stuff is such a big deal and I’m in awe of everyone who chooses to do so. This sort of stuff can make you feel like the world is shrinking around you but feeling understood opens it back up; it’s incredibly healing. I didn’t know how much I needed it until I found it. In my experience, talking about all of this has gotten easier, over time and with ‘practice,’ but it’s still hard. I still find myself hitting an invisible wall, choking on the air in my lungs, knowing that everything might change if I say the words out loud. It’s happened before. But I know that that’s the fear talking. And most of the time, I know better than the fear.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I live with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, although I wouldn’t blame you for losing track. My posts tend to jump around a lot, between different experiences and different diagnoses. Plus, things can change over time. Over the last twelve months, I’ve struggled particularly with the OCD, the anxiety, and the depression – the depression most of all. This time last year I was in a really bad place and one of the consequences of that was the decision to change my medication; it wasn’t the right thing for me anymore. Since then, I’ve been trying to find a new one without much luck; the side effects have been a rollercoaster ride and most of the time, I’m too numb to really feel any of my emotions. True, I’ve had very few meltdowns but, if meltdowns are the price of feeling things and therefore feeling like I’m actually alive, I will take them. So I’m not done with the medication search. Not yet.

I guess I’m surviving. I’m getting through. Hopefully, by next year, it will be more than that.

This week might have been about speaking out but that doesn’t mean it’s the only course of action that requires courage. Simply living with mental illness requires courage and as long as you are doing what you need to do to be safe and happy (or what will get you there), that’s all that matters.

Invisible – Out Now!

I can’t quite believe that I’m actually posting this but dreams do sometimes come true and my first single is out now! It’s called ‘Invisible,’ and it’s all about my experience with mental health, with trying to get support. I felt like I was drowning and yet the people who were supposed to help me couldn’t see it; I felt invisible. And that’s where this song came from. I wrote it with one of my best friends, Richard Sanderson, and now that it’s out in the world, all the proceeds are going to Young Minds, the mental health charity for young people in the UK. So please go and buy/stream/share it. I hope it will mean as much to you guys as it does to me.

Invisible

There’s more to say and more content to come, stuff that I’m really excited about, but I just wanted to announce that it’s out! This song, and this project, means so much to me and I’m both excited and scared to see where it goes. Please check it out; you can find it here.