Friday, 17 March 2017

I hate national holidays and big occasions.

It's St Patrick's Day and I'm really depressed. I hate days like today. I hate national holidays and big occasions. I don't like New Years; I've never had a good New Years Eve. Christmas always feels anti-climatic. They never live up to the build-up or hype.

I hate these days where people are expected to act a certain way. Right now, as an Irish person, I should be in the streets watching a green parade pass me by; in a pub listening to trad music or Ed Sheeran's new album; with green, white and gold painted on my face.

Instead I'm wrapped in my favourite blanket, fighting back the tears. I'm not sure what to do. Maybe watch some Netflix, read a book - but my heart's not in it. My heart's hollow.

I hate the pressure that comes with occasions like today. I hate the knowledge that everyone else, or at least what feels like everyone else, is out having fun. That the people I know are probably in the pub. I hate the fact that I'm not doing what's considered normal.

I'm feeling emotional and down. I'm feeling unwanted and unloved. My head is filled with thoughts of why I'm a terrible person. Replaying all the embarrassing things I did or said over the past week; the occasions where I said the wrong thing or overreacted. I wish I was more likable. I wish that I could like myself.

And in back of all these thoughts and fear is that I'm inadequate. How I'm not doing what's expected of me this St Patrick's Day. I can't even be a normal person, or do what normal people do. I feel like a failure.
On days like today my depression usually wins. I don't know how to fight back; how to pause my thoughts for long enough to have a chance of fighting back. So I sit in my favourite blanket as it takes over me, submitting to the strength of mental illness and allowing it this one victory.

Monday, 13 March 2017

No Tears Before Breakfast

I used to have a rule for my depression.

No tears before breakfast

Those four little words got me through some really tough mornings. One of the hardest parts of being in a depressive episode is trying to get out of bed in the morning. You have no motivation to get up. You are still groggy and tired from your meds and the nightmares. The day can only get worse from here.

No tears before breakfast

It sounds silly, but I would repeat this rule as a mantra on my worse days. If I woke up anxious about the day ahead, feeling physically sick and emotionally drained, on the verge of tears, I would say those four little words over and over.

No tears before breakfast

I would repeat the rule.
Even though depression doesn’t live by any rules. It doesn’t go away when you tell it to, and it sure as hell doesn’t let your day get any better when you try to tell yourself that it can.

But having this rule helped. If if managed to get through my breakfast without tears, my logic was that it didn't matter when or how often you cry after that. If I managed to get through breakfast before shedding any tears, the day didn't feel that bad after all.

You see, sometimes you just need to convince yourself, even if only for a moment, that there is hope. That things can get better.
And hey, if you managed to get through breakfast this morning without any tears, then this day is not as bad as the days when you were at your worst.

No tears before breakfast

For months, I woke up with my alarm and began getting ready for work. I seemed normal, doing what normal people did. Those non-depressed people. But I was grinding my teeth as I repeated this mantra. Fighting back the tears, fighting to appear normal and make it out the door to face the day. Some days, those four little words got me through the day.

I’m not saying this was a healthy way to manage my mental health. I didn't acknowledge my emotions, and I didn't accept the fact that things are not okay. That I was not okay.

But sometimes a mantra helps. Sometimes the act of repetition helps. And sometimes we need to find a way of carrying on. And no tears before breakfast was my way.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

What next? A blogging crisis

2017 started with a blogging identity crisis. After my year-long self-improvement project in 2016, I was left thinking ‘what next?’

It’s fair to say my goals for the blog changed last year. At some point, I stopped caring about turning my project’s research into a book. Or getting free products, making an income, or even writing a book. Success became redefined as something I was achieving offline rather than in or through my online life.

When I started my blog, it never occurred to me that turning it into a business was possible. But attending talks, conferences, and receiving goodie bags changed that. It became a possibility. It was other people’s reality.

Last October I attended the Irish Blogger Conf in The Marker Hotel. It was brimmed full of speakers who have made it. Bloggers with their own product lines, who travel the world for free, who make a million dollars a year.

And in my head all I could think was "I don't want that. This isn't for me".

I don’t care about Instagram themes. If you have an Insta theme, great. But I won’t notice it.
I don’t want a product line. What does a mental health themed product line even look like? Some sort of squeezable stress ball perhaps? A t-shirt emboldened with ‘This is what mental really looks like’? A memoir about growing up ‘different’?

Rather than leave me inspired, the Conference snuffed out my spark for blogging.
I hit a crossroads.

I realised that I don't want to be a full-time blogger. I don't want to make a career out of my experience of mental health.

So what was the point of stressing about my blog? Of putting time and money into something when I don’t have the enviable life goal of making a living from my thoughts? Why do I create a strict schedule and feel guilty when I fail to live up to it?

What was next for my blog?

When the Romeo Project finished at the end of 2016, I took a break. I gave myself time to decide on my blog’s future, but it was safe to say I had spent the previous two months writing half-heartedly and without inspiration.

From January, posts trickled out. But not by plan. I wrote when I felt compelled to write. When I had no other choice but to put my thoughts to paper.

When the media failed to call out Blue Monday, I wrote.
When so-called mental health professionals ditched ethics to label Donald Trump ‘insane’, I wrote.
When I was sick of hearing people throwing around the word ‘mental’ like some sort of metaphor for unusual, I wrote.

And somewhere between my thoughts and the keyboard and seeing my words appear onscreen, I remembered why I started my blog.

Maybe there doesn't need to an end goal or a money-making aspect at all. Maybe blogging doesn't have to be anything of the sort.
Maybe it's about the lethargy of writing, the therapeutic aspect of releasing, revealing and sharing.
Maybe it’s about having a space where I feel safe to say the things I can’t talk about offline.

Maybe it’s about giving a voice to those who feel the same way I do. Who’ve been rendered silent by society’s stigma.

I've been too focused on what other people do with their blogs or what they're in it for. I thought that wanting to be a full-time blogger was what I was supposed to want. But that's not for me.

I write because I've always written. Because I always will. Because I need an outlet, an expression. I write because I’m scared and angry. I write because I need therapy and I don’t have the time or the money to see a counsellor.

It's okay to write for no other purpose than because you WANT to. That's what I do. And that's what I will continue to do without a schedule or a plan or an aim.

For me, blogging is a hobby. It's where I vent and share, but also where I choose to spend my time. But more than all of that, it's good for my mental health. And that means I'm here to stay.

Monday, 6 March 2017

What's wrong with being mental?

 “OMG you were so mental last night.”“Traffic is mental.”“That new Donald Trump bill shows how mental he is.”“Did you see what she’s done now? Mental or what?”
Crazy, mental, insane, mad. These words are used as common descriptions of something negative. Something wild, unexpected, lack of self-control, not normal, a fault with someone’s mental health. Despite having connotations with straitjackets and asylums, they've become a part of everyday speech. But this isn't a good thing. Rather than normalising the language surrounding mental illness, the use of these words, and countless others like them, continue to reinforce the popular idea that the surreal, odd, different and scary is associated with mental illness.

But today I’m taking particular disdain with mental.

No, your tidiness is not OCD. And no, feeling happy and then sad does not make you bipolar. And depression is not a feeling; it is a state of being.

And I’m sorry to make you check your dictionary, but calling everything unusual, or that differs to your view of society, ‘mental’ is also not okay.

What's so bad about mental?

The Oxford English Dictionary says:
UsageThe use of mental in compounds such as mental hospital and mental patient was the normal accepted term in the first half of the 20th century. It is now, however, regarded as old-fashioned, sometimes even offensive, and has been largely replaced by the term psychiatric in both general and official use
Bloomsbury's fourth edition of Tony Thorne's Dictionary of Contemporary Slang lists polar opposite meanings of "mental": first as "mentally ill, subnormal" and secondly as "exciting, dynamic, excellent". (Source) Subnormal but also excellent? Sign me up please!

Using the word 'mental' in your everyday speech to describe an event, an object, or a person shows your ignorance. Language is the foundation that stigma is built on. The way we speak about something shows our level of knowledge, interest and respect. When we talk about mental health, we don't mean exciting health. Boy, I wish we did. It means the health of your mind, your emotional wellbeing, and everything that comes with it - your thought processes, feelings, acts and thoughts.

I have always shunned away from and dissociated myself from the word ‘mental’. Its societal connotations are profoundly negative: I’m crazy, bad, other, ‘not normal’, insane, a risk, dangerous, ill.

But maybe it’s time we embrace the term? Rather than hear it as an insult, could it be reclaimed, like how the LGBT community reclaimed the slur ‘queer’. The long history of abuse experienced by the LGBT community has been synonymised with this one word.
In many ways, mental has become synonymised with the history of mental illness and confining the people we deem ‘different’. We need to start thinking about how to take back ‘mental’.

This is what 'mental' looks like

This is what mental looks like. A 24 year old Irish woman with a full-time job who also has depression and anxiety. I like books and selfies and facts. I watch a lot of TV and love the outdoors. I have four pets. I have bad days and I have good days. I have more good days than bad, thank god. But it hasn’t always been this way. I take medication every day.
I know that 100 years ago I probably would have been committed to a mental hospital and deemed 'mental', and that’s okay. It's okay because it means society has more acceptance for mental illness now, albeit limited acceptance, and that’s progress.

You see, I’ve been mental for as long as I remember. I've never felt 'normal'. It's not a bad thing, it doesn't make me scary or dangerous. In fact, being 'mental' is what's normal for me.

Monday, 27 February 2017

The Thing About Nightmares and Depression

"Have you ever had really bad nightmares?"

I was asked this on a night out with friends. We discuss everything and anything on our nights out; from the new Lego Batman movie to rugby, work, books and overseas trips. Not unusually, the conversation ended up at sleep paralysis, and in turn, nightmares.

There are many ways to answer this question - a simple yes/no, a joke about how my excessive watching of true crime documentaries means I have no fear anymore, or heck, even the truth.

But I clammed up. I thought about answering. I thought about lying. I thought about answering honestly and frankly. I thought about telling them of how real my nightmares have felt. I thought about telling them about the nights I lay sleepless, too afraid to sleep. Or of the worst nightmare of them all. Of feeling trapped and suffocating and unable to wake up. Of recalling your nightmare in the middle of the day and freezing with the reminder of that real pain you felt. Or the days when it felt like I was still asleep and living through those nightmares. Of how my depressive nightmares are very different to my medicated nightmares.
About how I don't have night terrors of that severity anymore unless I forget to take my medication.

But that would involve bringing up my medication, and in the process my mental illness. Reminding everyone that I'm not quite okay. That I'm still not 'normal'.

In the end I choked on my answer. I swallowed it back down and said nothing.

I've discussed depression-induced nightmares on the blog before. It's not a new topic for me. But sometimes, when it comes to opening up in person, I clam up. I can't say the thing that stigmatizes me. That makes you look differently at me. That reminds you I am the same person who writes about their mental health online.

But then the next night I did forget my medication. I fell asleep without swallowing my two tablets which keep me sedated, pupils dilated, and sane. My routine is to take my tablets an hour before bed, fall asleep on cue and sleep throughout the night. I wake up groggy, always, but rested enough to get through the day.

But not on Saturday night. There's something about my dreams when I forget my medication. They're vivid, more real. I can recall them as soon as I wake up, like they've just happened. And they trap me. There is always a moment when I try to wake up. I can't open my eyes. It becomes a fight. I struggle to wake up but I'm trapped. I become fearful as I try to wake up. I panic.
And when I do wake up, I feel physically sick. I'm disorientated. And I can't tell the difference between reality and what just happened in my head. It's scary. I have no words to describe how scary these nightmares are because there is nothing quite as scary for me to compare them to. They keep me up at night and prevent me from waking.

Yes, I have had really bad nightmares. But I take medication to keep them away.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

5 Good Things This Week

Here are 5 of the little things that made a big difference to my mental health this week.
Forest cat

1) Taking my cat to the forest for a walk (yes, I swear) - Okay so everyone takes their dogs out for walks, but cats? Well my little Evie is not like other cats. She's affectionate and loyal and obedient. So when we were taking the dogs out to a local forest, I suggested we bring our newest family member along too. And it was awesome.

2) Feeling valued in work - Work was super busy this week, but I also loved the feeling of knowing I was doing a good job. One thing I've learned as an adult is to always and only work somewhere where you feel valued and appreciated. It does wonders for maintaining good mental wellbeing.

3) Seeing friends - I had some long overdue catch ups with my college friends this week. Between a few drinks and four hours, we had a fun night reminiscing on our university days and catching up about adult life. It had been ages since I went out for even a couple of drinks, and honestly I missed it. Not the alcohol, but the socialising. I like people.

4) Ireland beating France in the Six Nations to top the table - It was incredible match to watch, but even more fun to spend it with friends.

5) Lego Batman - As a nerd, I was super excited about seeing Lego Batman, and this week I finally got to go see it. Filled with Batman, DC and comic Easter Eggs, the film is made for fans. And I spent the film laughing out loud (and reminding myself that there was a time not so long ago when I would never even thinking about laughing in a public place) and just genuinely loving the movie.

Monday, 20 February 2017

8 things my mental illness has taught me

Mental illness comes with a whole lot of symptoms. But my depression and anxiety have also come with some life lessons. Here are eight of the key things I've learned over the past six years. 

8 things my mental illness has taught me:

1)         Sleep is not over-rated 

·         There were nights when I couldn’t sleep a wink and there were others where no matter how much sleep I got, I couldn’t overcome my tiredness. As a result, I will always try to get my scientifically recommended 8 hours sleep a night. My social life must arrange itself around this. Sentences like this one are not uncommon: ‘No, I will not stay out late tonight because I have to be up at 7am, which means I need to be sleeping by 11pm.’ I value my sleep highly these days. 

2)          Who my friends are

·         Yes, there were people who thought I was ‘attention-seeking’ with my mental illness. Some stopped talking to me, or stopped making an effort with me on my worse days.
·         But then there are the people who accepted me unconditionally. There are the people who stuck with me through the highs and the lows. These are the people who I could be myself around.
·         And I have made new and like-minded friends. These are people who I never would have known if I hadn’t had my mental illness. 

3)          You have to take time for yourself

·         Not all of the time that you spend on your own needs to be spent in self pity and loathing. Now that's an important life lesson I wish I had learned as a teenager. I love chilling out by myself after a long, stressful day. It allows me to practice acts of self care such as going to a bath or working through my adult colouring books. And you know what? It's entirely guilt-free! 

4)          I appreciate the little things

·         My nail varnish didn’t come out lumpy.
·         That person I held the door open for said ‘Thank You’.
·         The sales assistant was friendly.
·         My dog is happy to see me home.
·         When you are feeling down, sometimes every little thing gets to you. If I forgot about my tea and let it go cold, I’d probably shed a few tears. You might think it sounds stupid and childish, but some days it just feels like nothing is going right. And these little things can be the trigger that sets you off. So when the little things do go my way, even when I’m having a crappy day, I now smile to myself and appreciate that even one small, obsolete thing has happened in my favour today.

5)          Everyone’s mental health experience is different

·         Everyone’s journey towards wellness varies – some choose talking therapy, medication, CBT, meditation, mindfulness, or just diet and exercise changes.
·         It’s often a trial and error experience to find what works for you. And just because something works for you, doesn’t mean that it is right for everyone else.

6)         Suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously.

·         When I first had suicidal thoughts I dismissed them. As time went on and I began to struggle, I reached out to a friend who also dismissed them.  
·         People seem to forget that suicide is 100% preventable. Don’t dismiss mental health problems. Don’t tell somebody that their pain is insignificant. And know how and where to refer someone on for help. When someone finally did take my suicidal thoughts seriously, I finally got the help I needed.

7)          What my passion is

·         My experiences with mental illness lead me to start campaigning around mental health issues, and in turn it has lead to advocacy work. I’ve become more confident; I was brought out of my shell. It’s where I found happiness. And I never would have discovered it if I hadn’t had my own personal experiences with mental illness.

8)          There is help out there. You are never on your own.
·         I felt so alone when I was living with a dark depression. I didn’t think anyone would care if I wasn’t here anymore. Only now looking back can I see just how wrong I was.
·         Sometimes the hardest thing to do is reach out for help, but when you do, and to the right people, you’d be amazed by the help you receive.

Out of the darkness, out of all the bad, there can come some good. These are just a few of the very important lessons I've learned over the years. Do you have any you would add to the list?