Monday, 11 September 2017

Why are we still okay with ‘haunted’ asylums at Halloween?

It’s that time of the year again. I love autumn leaves, autumn colours, pumpkin spice lattes. I love Halloween. What I don’t love, is the constant use of Halloween to reaffirm the stigma around mental illness.

I’ve written about it before. But at this time every year, another event, another TV show, another movie, uses former lunatic asylums and mentally ill patients as a trope.

The Nightmare Realm, who run ‘haunted house’-type experiences in Ireland, are adding some new elements to their popular scarefest this year in Dublin. One such addition is a haunted asylum.
NightmareRealm.ie 

It’s all a bit of fun. I’m overreacting right? I mean, there are scary doctors involved with inhumane treatments, not just scary patients!

The problem is that there still remains a stigma around mental health. People with mental illness are still seen as and treated as second class citizens. Mental illness changes how our friends, family, and workplace see us. We lose friends, we lose our jobs, we lose custody of our children.
Many people struggling with their mental health are still to afraid to seek help. They hide it because they don't want to lose any of these things. They don't to be seen as weak, helpless, pathetic. They don't want to be seen as scary, dangerous or unstable. But the asylum continues to reaffirm the image that we're dangerous, threatening and savage.

Despite modern psychiatry having moved away from not only the word 'asylum', but the very idea of confining people with a mental illness, horror loves to reuse and rehash it for cheap thrills.

It's a widely popular theme and it's directed into our homes on an almost weekly basis. From Supernatural to American Horror Story - it's all over TV. The local ‘asylum’ is commonly used in Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf to add an element horror. Even Modern Family have gone there, receiving backlash for their homemade asylum episode, full of insensitive jokes about mental health:
“Sexy people go crazy too. Read a People magazine.”
“She spent six months in a cuckoo farm in Nevada… She gets mad when I say that. It was in Utah.”
As a teenager, lacking any sort of mental health education in school, I thought asylums still existed. I thought that sad, mad and bad people were all locked up. I was scared of those people. They weren't like 'us'. When I started to struggle with my own mental health, I worried that I too would be locked up if I told anyone. I didn't want to end up in an asylum.

Don’t get me wrong. Asylums were horrific, horrible and terrifying places. Patients were not treated with dignity, in fact many were not ‘treated’ at all. Bedlam or Bethlem Royal Hospital, the most infamous such institution, is best known for how it publicly displayed the interned ‘lunatics’. Like animals at a zoo, people would visit and walk by the cages either pointing and laughing, or jumping in fright at what they saw.

But haven’t we moved past that? Haven’t we all accepted how wrong and immoral it was for mentally unwell people to be publicly displayed for entertainment and horror? So why do we keep returning to asylums at Halloween?

The Nightmare Realm, like many other similar events around not only the country, but the world, would like to reaffirm that stigma. They want to show you how the patients ‘live’. And considering some of the images they use in their promotion, I can guarantee you it’s not going to be an accurate, fair depiction.
Source: The Nightmare Realm
The straitjacket is a nice touch.

Is it too much to ask for a Halloween where people with a mental illness are treated as PEOPLE, not jokes?

We are already stigmatised on a daily basis. People are scared of us. Your straitjackets, gurneys and shackles reaffirm people's incorrect beliefs of us. Your inhumane treatment tells people that we are less than human. That we are so less than human we can be experimented on, laughed at, poked and prodded for your own pleasure.

Running an asylum for Halloween is not and should never be acceptable. It perpetuates the stigma around mental health. Asylums scare people into not seeking help, because no one wants to end up like that. It creates an us vs them. And like anyone else, even I want to be on the 'us' side.

I am not less than human. I deserve better than to be represented by the image of a straitjacket in an asylum.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Five things I do every day for my mental health

There are many things that those of us living with a mental illness have to do just to get through the day. Some days are harder than others, some weeks don't even have ONE good day. But through it all there are five things that I do every single day to help manage, protect and promote the best possible mental health.

Here are the five things I do every day for my mental health.


1) Get up early
I love mornings. I get up in plenty of time before work to allow me to shower, do my hair and make-up and generally get ready without feeling rushed and stressed. I make the time to have a sitdown breakfast, catch up on any messages I received over night, and look over my planner journal before I have to head off and face the day!

2) Make a to-do list
I usually make this list the night before, but having my to-do list to hand keeps me right. I need a routine. I need to write down tasks and goals so that I actually do them. I need the sense of accomplishment you get from ticking off an item on your to-do list. I need to feel like I’m not back on my worst days where I'm unable to function, and I have nothing to show for staying in bed. So, every day I write down dates and tasks and anything that comes to mind, then combine them in my journal in the evening. Before I leave the house in the morning I always take a look at my tasks for the day and leave with a focus in mind. Here's to productivity!

3) Eat well
I'm not good at sticking to this, and I don't stick to it religiously but I do try to make a conscious effort to eat more healthy than I used to. I keep my bottle of water refilled in work, I always have berries and yoghurt in the fridge, and just love the evenings where I can prepare a nice salad or make a some healthy eggs. Don't get me wrong, I love to snack on cereal and some chocolate at night, but I rest assured that at least my lunch is healthy and that makes me feel better about life.

4) Take my meds
I need to take medication to manage my mental illness. This one time I stopped and my entire world collapsed and I thought I was going to die. So now I take them every single evening, around 9:30pm, before I go to bed. Within an hour and a half (at the very longest!) I am sound asleep. I'm okay with the fact that I've been on medication for five years, and they're a very important part of my daily self care.

5) Go to bed early
One thing I've learned over the years of battling my depression and anxiety is how much I need my rest. Not only does my medication make me tired, but after a long day of acting like a mentally-stable and fully-functioning human being, I need SLEEP! Trust me, pretending you're okay is mentally draining and exhausting, and my 9:30pm I'm in bed watching a TV show and colouring in to recover from the daily stress. This means 1) I'm asleep by around 11pm every night, and 2) I wake up at 6:45am with eight hours of sleep and feeling refreshed, and ready to face another day.

It's not always easy living with a mental illness. What do you have to do daily to stay sane?

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I’m not happy with my body

I'm getting very personal today. It's something I've been struggling with for a while now, but have been too self-conscious and embarrassed to share. But it's about time I was brave and admitted I'm struggling and I'm not okay. Trigger warning: weight issues.

I wanted to let you know that I'm struggling with my body; my new healthy body. 

I don’t like the way I look.

When I’m out, in particular out in a dress, I feel self-conscious. And without meaning to, I compare my body size and shape with everyone else’s.

I wish I was thinner.

For the past year I’ve been struggling with my body confidence. It comes and goes. Some days I’m happy with how I look, how my curves fit into my clothes, the slight definition of muscle starting to form.

Other days I’m not. I hate how my tummy hangs out over my jeans, how my love handles are prominent under a tight t-shirt, how thick my thighs are. I feel fat and frumpy and big.
The word big sticks out in my mind.



I was out at the weekend in a pretty dress, bare legs and heels. And midday way through the night I realised I looked so much bigger than the other girls here. My legs looked so much bigger than my friends in photos. I couldn't stand how big I looked. And with that my night was ruined. I cried and called it a night.

But yet big feels unreasonable.

The average dress size in the UK is supposedly a size 16. I’m a size 10 and yet I still feel ‘too big’. My mind likes to defy reason, logic and argument.

When I was diagnosed with depression, I was 18 years old and I weighed 7.5 stone, which is 47kg. I was severely underweight. At first, the doctors thought I had an eating disorder, rather than just a lack of appetite because of my depression.

I was encouraged to eat and get to a ‘healthy’ 60kg. One of the side effects of the medication I was put on is weight gain. My mirtazapine stimulated my appetite. And over the years I started to put on and retain weight for the first time in my life.

Now I'm 25, and I've surpassed my 60kg prescribed goal.

And I've had comments about my weight gain for over a year.
'Zoe's put on a good bit of weight, hasn't she?'
'You are a little bit fat though, aren't you?' 
'You've a lot of meat on your bones.'
'A healthy 60kg' repeats in my head.

Too big. Too big. Too big.

I'm sick of feeling dissociated with my body. I'm sick of feeling like I don't belong in my own body. I'm sick of feeling awkward, ugly, BIG. And right now it's so hard to convince myself I'm healthy; that my body is worth cherishing - every roll, scar and stretch mark of it.

I wanted to let you know that I'm struggling with my body; my new healthy body. I don't know how to overcome it yet, but I'm trying. And I promise I'll keep trying.

Until next time,

Monday, 14 August 2017

All the good things this week

I have had a jam-packed, fun-filled week!

Keeping active is such a huge part of keeping me mental illness in check. I need a plan, structured activities, and many, many to-do lists to manage my mental health.

And this week was especially busy, but also mentally rewarding. I love how much I got ticked off the bucket list as my Summer in Ireland comes to an end.
Unfortunately, keeping busy often comes with a cost. And it's often difficult for me to achieve my much-needed sense of achievement and self-fulfillment without breaking the bank. This week offered a mix of free, cheap and also costly activities that may give you ideas for looking after your mental health.

1) Monday: Going to the zoo
Even though I was more than happy to pay my way in, we managed to get into Dublin Zoo for free (saving €20 each!). Sadly, a lot of life is all about who you know, and we were lucky enough to know someone who offered to get us in for free. I love Dublin Zoo and the efforts they take to invest in bigger and better enclosures for their animals, so it was fabulous to finally see the new Orangutan enclosure for the first time. (*hint* the climb on ropes above you!) This visit also offered my first chance to see the Zoorassic exhibition featuring the second largest complete T-rex skeleton ever found. I've told you how much I love dinosaurs, right? It was the most wonderful Bank Holiday Monday!

2) Tuesday: Tea and catch-ups
On Tuesday I went over to my friend's house where we drank many cups of tea, had a good catch-up, ate berries, watched some Supernatural, and updated our to-do list for the rest of the year! A nice twist on having a night in.

3) Wednesday: Abbey Theatre - Jimmy's Hall
I LOVE the theatre, and I really love the Abbey. Maybe it's the history of the place, but I just find it magical to attend. The boyfriend was very excited about seeing Jimmy's Hall, a new stage adaptation of the critically acclaimed Ken Loach film. Cheapest tickets are from about €15 and it was a fabulous way to mark the midweek.

4) Thursday: Exercise and journaling
After a very busy few days, I needed a night in! I got all the good endorphins from a quick work out, made my favourite scrambled eggs with turkey rashers, and then spent the evening organising my journal! My journal is my planner, diary, habit tracker, and goal recorder all in one. I would be lost without it!

5) Friday: Homemade enchiladas
Does anything taste better than a homemade meal? My boyfriend and I had so much fun preparing, cooking and then (the best part) eating our enchiladas and our own Guac. It was the perfect lazy Friday night in.

6) Saturday: Newmarket Sqaure
Saturday morning called for a bit of exploring around Dublin 8. We headed to Green Door Market and the Dublin Food Co-op for locally sourced and produced foods and crafts. I tried an onion bhaji for the first time, and I got the nicest coffee I have ever tasted from The Thursday Cafe.

7) Saturday night: Partying like it's 1920
Our group bought our tickets for this back in May, and then spent the whole Summer not only looking forward to it, but shopping for it! I love The Great Gatsby, but also just the whole fashion, style and auro of Prohibition-era America. We got glam and headed to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham (my first visit!) where there was prohibition punch, burlesque performances, Charleston dancing, croquet and live bands late into the night.


Until next time,



Friday, 11 August 2017

Struggling but surviving

Mental health is a weird topic in the media. It hits the headlines when important people realise that services are underfunded and under-resourced. The mental health of celebrities is examined when they die by or threaten suicide. People's stories are told when they show signs of cures or recovery.

But what about the rest of us?

What about those of us who still struggle with mental illness? Those of us who are struggling but surviving?

It's hard to find an accurate depiction of what it's like to live with a mental illness in mainstream media. These are rare, but a notable example is Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers recurring features on Newstalk. But other than this, I don't know of any other.

Instead, the media cares about sensational headlines and details. They call murderers and terrorists mentally ill. They run documentaries about the dangers of anti-depressants. They make light of celebrity breakdowns for webpage hits. They love stats on suicide attempts, self-harm, the number of people waiting for an appointment, people contacting helplines.
If you read a newspaper, you'd presume that anyone with mental illness is 'off the rails'. They're a danger to themselves and others. They're all either in therapy and or on meds. 
You'd think it's okay to call people with mental health problems a 'nutjob', 'bonkers', 'psycho' and an endless list of other insults. 

Where's the day-to-day reality of mental illness? The accurate portrayal of more 'complex' illnesses like schizophrenia or anorexia?

Where's the personal struggles of not being able to afford to pay for private counselling?

Where's the people who pop out on their lunch break to see their psychiatrist?

Where's the fact that not everyone recovers, but also not everyone who doesn't recover spends their life on a psych ward?

Where's the evidence that tabloids, and people in general, are actually learning from the occasional personal stories they do share and putting that learning into practice?

The lack of realistic coverage in the media fuels the stigma around mental illness.

I want to hear about those who are living with mental illness. How are they surviving?

Perhaps this is why so many people struggling with their mental health have turned to blogging about it. There is an incredible amount of mental health bloggers out there. I've lost track! There are too many for me to even follow them all! It's a movement, it's moving, and it's brave. We want there to be an accurate depiction, a real voice out there. So many of us are dare to bare all online.

I'm angry at the media for what they continue to do to people like Sinead O'Connor. She should not be ridiculed. I'm angry that they don't care, on our worst days when care is what we need most.

I'm struggling but surviving. And when there's no fair representation in the media, it often feels like I'm doing it alone.

Until next time,



Tuesday, 8 August 2017

I can’t take criticism

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who can take criticism in their stride. You know the type, it seems to roll right off of them. They can take it on board, move on and get over it.

I am not one of those people. Critiques, comments and criticisms can play on my mind for not only days or weeks, but sometimes months after.

One personal failing of mine has haunted me for about 20 years. Me and my sister were at a fun fair, but our parents would only allow us to go on one ride. My sister wanted the bumper cars, but I wanted the ghost train. As the youngest sibling, my choice won out. But alas, the ghost train was the LEAST scary horror show ever put on and we ended the ride very disappointed. I’m guessing my sister voiced her dissatisfaction with my choice. Or maybe I just blamed myself. Either way, I’ve been replaying this incident for the past two decades as proof that I make bad choices every time I’m faced with a decision.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m sensitive. And your critical opinion plays on my own insecurities.
Source
Spotted a typo in my blog post and pointed it out publicly? That’s a paddlin.

Asked me to repeat myself for a third time? That’s a paddlin.

It’s like I have to think of myself as perfect. And if you point out anything less than perfect, it’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.

I write by profession. Having a typo called out feels like a real personal failure. The fear hits me. Is my whole job jeopardized because I make typographical errors? What if I'm fired? If I'm not good at this, then  (because not perfect = total failure to me.)

As a kid (and still sometimes now as an adult-in-denial) I would get my r's and w's mixed up. I can specifically remember doing spellings in like my third year of primary school and two of the words to learn for that week were Jar and Jaw. And I could not say them for the life of me.

Anytime someone asks me to repeat myself, I get flashbacks of my angry school teacher asking me to repeat Jaw again and again. (I still can't say it today, and refer to it as 'the chin area').

I guess it's just a part of my sensitive personality. Yano? The reason I cry at films, TV shows, books, personal stories etc. The reason I was probably predisposed to depression to begin with. The way I feel about things.

I'm not over my past. I'm not over my insecurities. And I'm still wrapped up in feeling like a failure and being self-conscious.

But I do want to work on it. I want to not presume everything you say to me is actually an insult. I want to believe that when you point out an error, a mistake, or some make-up I forgot to blend in it's not a commentary on how I'm failing in my every day life. But it's not that simple.

I'm trying to remind myself that no one's perfect. That perfect is a myth. That I've been buying into this myth my whole life. That skinny celebs are also not perfect, because being skinny isn't all that great.
And I'm trying to learn to handle criticism more constructively. Like, I will carefully check I have blended my make-up correctly in better lighting.
And just to take criticism. Take it and not over think or over analyse it. Just take it and carry on with my life without having it weigh me down.

(Seriously, throw your criticism at me – I want to learn to take it.)

Until next time,

Thursday, 3 August 2017

I’m over ‘get over it’

There are many terms that reinforce the stigma around mental health. And I’m sick of them. Every time you use an out-dated, offensive and utterly unhelpful remark it tells me that my mental illness isn't legitimate. 

Here are some of the worst offenders that I'm totally over.

Get over it.
If only it were that simple to abandon all worries, fears and insecurities... 

Look on the bright side.
Oh thanks hun, I’ll be sure to keep my anxiety-ridden negativity to myself in future.

It’ll get better.
Now that YOU say it, I suddenly believe it! Yes, it will get better, but when? How much longer do I have to feel like this? When will the pain finally end?

It’s so depressing.
No hun, depression isn’t an adjective. It’s an illness. And what you’re feeling right now, what you think is comparable to my illness, is not depression. Also said as "Everyone gets depressed/depression at some point."

“It’s all in your head.”
I know it’s in my head, which is why its so all-consuming and I can’t escape it.

“Maybe you should go back to therapy if it's that bad.”
Do you think it's that easy to walk into an appointment? Ever hear of waiting lists? Understaffing? Lack of resources? In an ideal world we'd all be in therapy, not just those of us who are struggling. 

“You’re getting worked up over nothing.”
This. Does. Not. Feel. Like. Nothing.

You should try meditation.
I've tried most things to help with mental health at this stage, including meditation. It doesn't work for me but sure, keep making helpful suggestions. Also filed under "You should try exercise/God/journaling and other countless tips."

“You shouldn't take medication for your depression.
Seriously? What makes you think that you have a right to tell me how to manage my mental illness? Why are you trying to shame me for managing my mental illness?

“But you don't have that anymore, do you?”
Is there a time limit on mental illness I didn't know about? Am I meant to be recovered by now? Am I less of a person if I do still have it? Why do I now suddenly feel like a failure?

What unhelpful and insensitive phrases are you over when it comes to mental health? Have you got any to add to my list?