Monday, 15 May 2017

Mental health in the workplace

I'm a 24 year old professional who works 9-5 in an office-based job. Sounds pretty boring, right?

I actually love my job, and I know I'm one of the few lucky enough to say that. I enjoy the challenges, the mundane everyday tasks, and often not knowing a new day will bring.

As someone who usually has extreme anxiety when facing the unknown, I'm surprisingly okay with the fast pace and level of uncertainty that comes with my job. Yes, you see I am also mentally ill.

Mental illness can present challenges in any environment, but it's something that it commonly tricky in the workplace. I have both friends and acquaintances who have personally faced stigma and discrimination at work due to their mental health. Some have been bullied and harassed due to their illness.

A study published today found that almost half of all people in Ireland's capital city would not want to work with someone who has a mental illness.Half of people surveyed would not want to work with ME. And let me tell you, they're missing out because I am darn good at my job.

Today I want to talk about me experiences with mental health in the workplace, and why I'm now succumbing to stigma and keeping my mental illness under wraps.

Over the past four years, I've been in a number of unpaid or low-paid internships, and part-time jobs. Mental health was a topic that would come up naturally. My CV and past experience is littered with mental health awareness campaigns and events, and I am proud to have been Chairperson of a mental health committee in my university. As a result, I've had job interviews where I told prospective line managers about my mental health mid-interview.
"What inspired you to gt involved in mental health campaigns?" "Well, I ended up getting involved in mental health awareness after my own mental breakdown..."
The topic was on the table. And if I felt that I needed to, I knew the way for paved for me to talk to my line manager about my mental health.

That's not to say I haven't faced stigma. I've sat around the lunch table with colleagues where I've had to listen to:
"Terrorists are all mentally ill. There's no other excuse."
"I always thought depression wasn't real; it's just something in your head."
"Donald Trump has to have a mental illness. All the signs are there."

There have been times where I felt confident enough to rebuff a throwaway comment about mental illness with fact and logic. But there have been other times where I've kept my head down and my mouth shut. Or where my personal experience of mental illness has been dismissed with some pseudo-science someone has read online.

But now that I'm in a 9-5 full-time job? I've kept my mental health relatively under wraps.
As an online advocate and offline mental health ambassador, I know I'm being a hypocrite. I know that I should wear my badge with pride and start the conversations required to end stigma. But life's not that simple. And stigma is real, and sometimes fear of this barrier is too high for me to breakdown. Sometimes remembering what people I know have faced and been put through for revealing their mental health in work causes me to fear the same stigma that I may have to deal with.

Like when filling out forms on my medical history before I could start my job. I sat staring at that form for at least ten minutes trying to decide whether I would admit my own diagnoses or current medication.
Where would this files live? Would my colleagues have access to this data? Could someone in HR look up my medical history and discuss it over lunch with another colleague? Would it be passed on to my managers?

Or when faced with another form for declaring your disability. Was my illness currently debilitating enough to be classified as a disability? What if it's not today but is tomorrow?

Here I am staring at paper and inflicting stigma on myself.
I have no reason to presume my workplace would be unsupportive. But I choose to hide. I feel safer this way. This is how I protect myself any possible future hurt.

This way, I don't have to have a comeback when someone makes a stupid, inaccurate comment about mental illness.
This way, I don't have to be the one explaining why not all terrorists are mentally ill.
This way, I don't have to defend my very diagnosis.

But here's what I will do. I will put some Green Ribbon posters up in my office and stick some green ribbons in the canteen. Because maybe someday I will feel ready to tell a co-worker why I got into this line of work. And I want them to be ready.

This May is Green Ribbon month. Wear a green ribbon and show that you are willing to talk about mental health and end the stigma.
Visit www.greenribbon.ie to find out more.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

5 reasons why I take medication for my mental health every day

Like me, I'm sure you've heard the arguments about the overuse of medication in mental illness and why taking medication is bad.

Sure, big-Pharma sponsor my mental illness. Prescribing anti-depressants is an industry. Increases in diagnoses of mental illness over the past few decades also reflect the rise of the anti-depressant industry.

And if you're like me, you might also be absolutely sick of hearing these arguments. Yes, taking medication for a mental illness is incredibly common. Often, it's the 'go to' method for medical professionals treating a mental illness, which isn't right. And taking any medication comes with side effects. But that doesn't mean that I or others shouldn't be taking them.

I've been told by medical professionals that I should try to wean myself off antidepressants as soon as possible, that they're addictive, and I've even been advised to stone-cold quit taking them without any support. If even the medical profession have mixed opinions regarding medication and mental illness, how are we, the patients and service users, meant to know what to do?

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to medication and mental health. And often, the voices saying don't take them are loudest and increase the stigma for those of us who rely on them.

For six years I have been taking medication daily for my depression. It took time to find a combination and dosage that works. Medication is not a quick fix for your illness. There is no 'one cure for all'. You won't wake up happy. You won't be cured. But for many people, like me, it's a start.


So despite the stigma, I keep taking my pills. Here are five reasons why I take medication for my mental health every day:

  1. They help me to sleep
  2. They clear the fog
  3. They have allowed me to feel again
  4. They have given me back hope that things can and do get better, and hope for the future
  5. They make recovery possible

They say you're not recovered if you still take medication. To me, recovery is about being brave enough to help yourself. And medication helps me.

It is naive and dangerous to ignore the many people who have had successful results with anti-depressants. So please don’t judge those on medication, those on medication for a long time, or those who will always be on medication. It is nothing to be ashamed about. We don't do it to support the multinational corporations that manufacture medication, we do it to survive. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Why I'm Wearing a Green Ribbon this month

This month, you may spot people wearing a simple green ribbon.

The idea is simple, by wearing the green ribbon, thousands of people are showing their support for ending the silence around mental health.

This year is the fifth year of the Green Ribbon campaign organised by See Change, national programme to change minds about mental health problems in Ireland and end stigma. Half a million green ribbons are being given out for free throughout the country for the whole month of May.

See Change say: "You don’t need to be an expert to start talking about mental health or have all the answers. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to let someone know that you are there for them and simply listen."

Here's why I am choosing to wear my green ribbon again this May.

I am an ambassador for ending the silence around mental health.
It's a symbol of support for a worthy campaign.
It helps create awareness.

I want people to see the ribbon and ask me why I'm wearing it.
I want people to see the ribbon and know that they can talk to me about mental health.
I want people to see the ribbon and without having to say anything, they know that they are not alone.
I want to end the silence and stigma around mental health for me, for those closest to me, for my friends with mental health issues, and for the people I haven't had the privilege of meeting yet.
I want everyone and anyone who is struggling with their mental health to know that they are not alone, and that talking about mental health is a sign of strength.
Whatever your reason for wearing it, you can pick up green ribbons at train stations, all Boots stores and at events in your local areas.

You can find out more about the Green Ribbon project and the events taking place in your community at www.greenribbon.ie.

Monday, 24 April 2017

It's been six years since I was labelled 'depressed'

This month marks six years since my diagnosis with depression. And boy has it been a whirlwind of ups and downs, battles, wins and losses. Many of which have been documented on this here blog.

I've graduated from university. Twice.
I've had three internships, one part-time job, and one full-time permanent job.
I'm on my third cat and also gained two dogs.
I've gone from self-harm to self care.
I've been diagnosed with anxiety.
I've faced stigma in the workplace.
I've faced stigma from my peers.
I've stigmatised myself.
I've turned my mental illness into something positive.
I've been interviewed about my mental illness on national TV and in national newspapers.
I've found a positive and supportive relationship.

As I write this, I feel content.
I am happy with where I am in my life. My job. My home. My relationships.
I am happy with what I can see in my future.
I take two types of medication daily.
I have more good days than bad days.
I've found a balance between self care and my commitments. It's not always perfect, but I get there in the end.

I cringe at the word 'recovery'. It's been six years and I am not recovered. Am I in recovery? Maybe. Maybe not.
My mental illness has been a journey. I'm still on this journey.
But I'm still celebrating. The fact that I am still on this journey is a victory.

It's been six years since I was labelled 'depressed'. I've learned to love this label, and everything that it's brought with it into my life. Both the good and the bad. Here's to the next six.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Sorry you think I’m rude but

I'm sorry you think I’m rude but
  • I was planning out something to say in my head
  • I was feeling self-conscious
  • I was thinking about how I’m socially awkward
  • I was worrying whether you already didn’t like me
  • I didn’t know what to say
  • I find it really hard to talk to strangers
  • I was worrying about whether you’ve found out I’m mentally ill
  • I was wondering if what I just said was stupid
  • I was scared I'd say something stupid
  • I feel safer on my phone than talking to an actual person
  • I had another social interaction earlier today and it did not go well
  • I was remembering that mean thing a girl said to me when I was 10
  • I feel unworthy of anyone’s attention today
  • My chest feels tight and I’m not sure why
  • I feel left out
  • I know everyone’s talking about me
  • I was actually trying not to cry
  • I was afraid I would cry
People with mental illness often come across as rude or standoffish. But really, we’re just paranoid and worried about what you think of us. We can be self-conscious and shy. We can act reclusive because we presume no one likes us. Some of us have social anxiety. Talking to strangers, or even people we know well, can cause us anxiety. And sometimes we try to avoid all social interaction because of that.

Please be patient and don’t judge us just yet. It can take us a while to feel comfortable around new people, and to pluck up the courage to smile and talk to you.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Making friends with anxiety is hard

Making friends when you have anxiety is hard.

You hate meeting new people.
You don't see anyone you meet as 'potential friends'. They're 'potential people to dislike me'.

You worry about what everyone thinks of you all the time.
What will I wear? Will they judge me for this dress? Only like 70% of first impressions are based on your actual appearance, so no pressure.
I know I'm not important enough for people to think about, but they are definitely thinking something negative about me right now.

You hate meeting people who already know each other.
So am I the only one here who doesn't share the these childhood memories? 
How do you even join in with those conversations? 

You overthink everything.
Maybe they're only being nice because they feel sorry for me?
When can we officially call this a friendship? Like, are we friends yet? It's been 30 seconds without incident, so I call this a record.

You try not to give your mental health away.
Did they notice that I scratch myself and keep pulling on my hair?
Someone says 'The weather's been so depressing' and you freeze before questioning whether your opposition to this phrase will reveal your mentally ill state. 

Trying to keep friendships with anxiety is also a challenge.

You can't text them first, it'll only annoy them.
They're busy, you don't want to annoy them. Basically, this friendship is little more than a huge annoyance to the other person. Initiating contact actually terrifies me, so if you could text me first, that'd be great.

Lack of motivation
And other times, texting another person is a huge effort. You put it off, and off, and off until it's four months later and even renewing contact at this stage is embarrassing.

Having a friend is also scary.
You are setting yourself up for direct rejection. They won't show up to brunch and you'll be left there trying to decide if you should just leave or eat something while sitting there alone. Friendship is like handing another person a grenade to throw at you. And it really freaking hurts, trust me.

Am I over-friending this person?
Is there such a thing as being too keen? Are you coming on too strongly by suggesting three potential dates that suit to meet up? It all comes back to overthinking.

WHAT DID THEY MEAN BY THAT MESSAGE?
'See you soon' means they haven't come up with any alternative plans, so do they not want to see me again?
I mean, this might be an overreaction, but I'm pretty sure my friend's style of writing just changed overnight and now they hate me.



As a teenager, I hated social events. Heck, I hated any sort of interaction with another person. I used to make my sister take my clothes to the checkout so I wouldn't have to face the shopkeeper-induced anxiety.
Every time I left the house I would feel physically sick or have knots in my stomach. Going to school or meeting a friend was hell for me. I used to always have a fear that I would arrive at an event and no one else would be there. It was all a ploy to embarrass me. I'd be left on my own. I presumed most people I knew didn't like me. That I was the victim in some sort of life-long Carrie style prank.

But I'd try to put up a front, at least in school anyway. And I'd still attend every single event, and experience that severe anxiety in the process, just to try and get people to like me.

I'd like to say I've come a long way from those days, but the truth is, I haven't. If anything, I'm more anxious than ever when it comes to people. I'm more reclusive now than I was as a teenager.
 My ability to fake it until I make it has long since evaporated.

I had a major anxiety attack a few weeks ago. I was travelling solo on the train out to meet a friend, to a place I'd never been before. I started profusely sweating. I felt nauseous and faint, and panicky. I seriously contemplated turning back, going home and crawling into bed to cry. Instead, I cried at the train station before forcing myself to board the train and crying some more on a packed carriage. And in the end, I had an amazing time and felt so stupid for having gotten worked up about something that other people do every day.

And that's the thing about anxiety and friends. That what is so simple and comes naturally to other people, we tend to overthink, overreact to, panic and obsess over. Our brains are wired to make these situations difficult. I'd much rather stay shut in my bedroom by myself than bump into someone I know on the street. I hate answering phonecalls, and making phonecalls. And don't get me started about confrontation or I won't be able to sleep for a week.

Making friend with anxiety is hard. So give us some space, a break and take it easy, okay?

Saturday, 25 March 2017

What TV gets wrong about mental illness

Recently I watched an episode of Casualty. As is often the case when I randomly watch a TV show I don't normally watch, it happened to be an episode focusing on mental health. In this case, bipolar disorder. And I was a bit miffed by what I saw. Sure, the end criticised the lack of care available to people. Great, but nothing we didn't know there. And then there were questionable parts too. Like why was the manic character dressed like The Joker? And why did a mental break have to occur in a graveyard to enhance the spookiness? But what I was really bothered by was the fact that healthcare professionals, doctors and nurses, expressed fear when they discovered someone had a mental illness. That the distinction between being a nurse with bipolar disorder and a doctor in a manic state wasn't clearly made. That some of their negative words and the stigmatising connotations that come with them were not challenged.
"You couldn't deliver milk in your state.""You are ill. And I am not giving birth in a graveyard with a mentally unstable nurse.""Get away from me, or I mean it, I will scratch your eyes out.""I guess a crazy, manic nurse is better than no nurse."
And I was left with the image that the people we trust to treat us when we're ill are actually frightened by us. Why would anyone seek help?

I tweeted my frustration at this portrayal of mental illness, and also another storyline in the episode where a staff member couldn't even say the word 'bisexual'. And I was met by a barrage of criticism. Apparently Casualty is so popular that its fans, and actors, are passionate enough to follow the #Casualty hashtag on Twitter on a Saturday night and reply to tweets.

Casualty is not the first show to do a mental health storyline and get it wrong; far from it.
And I am so tired of TV characters being terrified of mental illness, of mental health only being portrayed when there's a 'break', of the godforsaken asylum being used as a huge, scary plot device to incite fear in young people. Watching how the negative comments on Casualty from healthcare professionals were not challenged, while I was in a depressive episode myself and already frustrated by people not understanding my illness, was breaking point.

So here's a list of what TV gets wrong about mental illness

People with mental illness are dangerous
This is probably the most common way mental illness is currently portrayed on TV and movies. Just look at Norman Bates in Bates Motel (the character from Alfred Hitchcock's movie Psycho as a young man). We keep being told Norman is mentally ill, he refuses to get help, and we watch him black out and murder character after character. The body count is high, and the show, now on its fifth season, links the term 'mental illness' with 'killer' in every episode. Mental illness is not something that should be feared or run away from. We are not all dangerous and trying to kill you. At least, no more so than the rest of the general public. In fact, we are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence.
Publicity photo for Bates Motel. Just look at Norman's mentally ill stare. 

Blink and you'll miss it diagnosis

We see this a lot. Mental illness is brought up in a show (yay for inclusion) but the storyline lasts maybe just an episode, six episodes, or a season. There is no further explanation or follow-up, and the reality of the ups and downs of recovery are overlooked. Pretty Little Liars' Hanna revealed she had an eating disorder in Season 1. But it apparently went away on its own, once Hanna became skinny and popular, and is only referred to again when people call a slim teenage girl 'fat' in flashbacks. These are missed opportunities to get it right, and show what living with a mental illness is really like.

The Asylum
Yep, despite modern psychiatry having moved away from not only the word 'asylum', but the very image of confining people with a mental illness, it continues to be used as a trope on TV. Missed it?Look no further than the entire Season 2 of American Horror Story set in an insane asylum (but it at least challenged stigma by portraying a whole cast of characters with mental illness and suggesting hallucinations of aliens and demonic possessions as actually real). Not to mention teen shows like Teen Wolf and Pretty Little Liars where the asylums are somewhere were the bad characters are locked up without any actual diagnoses. But sure, let's keep showing 12-25 years old that we contain bad people in a mental hospital.

Just having a story line about mental health doesn't end the stigma
Other shows, like Degrassi which received a lots of criticism for its portrayal, think its enough to just have a storyline about mental health. As if mentioning the word schizophrenia will somehow remove the stigma. And they expect, and often receive, praise for it. OMG a mental health storyline is o progressive, well done TV. Having a character with a mental illness, or one that attends therapy isn't a good thing if its not done right. You have to challenge perceptions. You have to use your opportunity and your stage to tackle the image of mental illness. You can call your show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in mockery of the 'ex who isn't good with rejection' trope, but when you then decide your main character does have mental illness issues thanks to childhood trauma, it's a bit of an insult. You might want to think of a rename for Season 3.

Healthcare professionals don't understand
I get that this is a true reflection of many people's experiences. You seek help for your mental health only to find healthcare professionals do not understand mental illness and are not be supportive.
(Photo: National Alliance on Mental Illness) 
BUT how does this help people who need help? It discourages them from telling people, people who should know better, about their illness or seeking treatment for it. Sorry Casualty, but saying "I guess a crazy, manic nurse is better than no nurse" does not instill confidence that you will look after me when I'm mentally ill.

Turning your Halloween episode into a mental illness stereotype
Thankfully, this is rare. But you will find some shows, and some events in your area, that think its okay to mock mental illness at Halloween. Look no further than Modern Family, the sitcom based around a regular American family, the Dunphys.  The Dunphy family's opinions on mental health, however, aren’t so modern. Their 2015 Halloween episode thought it was a good idea to turn their house into a mock insane asylum. Full of outdated terminology and decades old movie stereotypes, the show was insulting and enraging. But maybe I'm just too sensitive, yeah? Must be my mental illness....

Last weekend I was called easily offended and too politically correct for being angry at how mental illness was portrayed on TV.
Suicide remains one of the most common causes of death in young people. Stigma is alive and well. There is no need to perpetrate it further. It stops people asking for help, getting treatment, and tells them that there are no relapses in recovery.
Is it too much to ask that TV shows portray my illness and other people's illness in a realistic, sensitive, and forward thinking way? Stop saying we're dangerous. Stop pretending this is 1900 and we're all locked up in an asylum. Stop refusing to challenge stereotypes.

But let me also say, you CAN get it right. Thanks you This is Us, Jessica Jones, and you know what? These are actually the only two I can recall. How's that for TVs problem with mental health.

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?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

50 Ways to Yay - Yay or Nay?

Alexi Panos - 50 Ways to Yay!: Transformative Tools for Less Stress, More Presence, and a Whole Lot of Happy


I've just finished reading 50 Ways to Yay by Alexi Panos on my Kindle.

The book is described in its own introduction as “fifty inspired and thought-provoking lessons and exercises to help you break out of the ordinary and jump into the extraordinary.” It's a mix of philosophy, popular psychology and personal development; all brought together to guide you in becoming the person you want to be. Panos combines her own personal anecdotes with real world reflection and knowledge in her 50 life tips.
"There are many secrets to success and happiness out there, but very few people are actually WILLING to apply them to their lives."
When it comes to goal setting and making New Year’s resolutions, this is the book you want beside you as you make your plans. The tips are broad enough to fit anyone at any time in their life - but they are given specificity through Panos' own personal experiences that she weaves throughout. he book is easy to read. Each chapter is short and succinct, and centred around reaffirming one single point. But putting the theory into action is the hardest part, and it’s the part that can actually make a difference to your life.

The book is designed to help you focus on the little things that make a big difference. Panos herself explains in the opening; “I made this book as fun and easy to digest as I could, so that you can actually TAKE ACTION and experience the results that you’re truly after.”

She likes Caps Lock. A lot. Like, nearly every sentence has to have at least one word in All Caps to reaffirm her point. As a writer, I always find All Caps jarring. It's the type of shouty tone we associate with Trump tweets rather than a self-help book.
"Every time we use the words "I AM" we are sending instructions to our body and mind to think, feel, and act a certain way."
In order to make the most of the book, you really need to be reading it with your journal next to you. Each chapter (or tip) ends with a Mission and Reflection to help you to apply the tip to your own life and start taking steps towards achieving your goals. But I must admit, I didn't use it in that way. While it is unique in offering Panos' own personal insight, it read more like the wise teachings of the Dalai Lama at times, and not in a way that suggests Panos is the next Dalai Lama. The tips offered were not new, it was filled with age-old wisdom passed off as her own thoughts like the below:
“Those who are happy with nothing are happy with everything.”
If you haven't read many other self-help books and want to dip your toe in the water, then this book is for you. If however, like me, this is your 25th self-help book in a year, its content is probably not worth your investment.

Nay.

Find out more about Alexi Panos here.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

5 Good Things This Week

Today I am reflecting on the good things from the past seven days, and showing gratitude for what the universe has sent my way. With mental illness, its important to acknowledge that good days still occur and that the little things often play a huge role in our mental health.

5 Good Things:

1) Spent time designing and updating my bullet journal because being organised and feeling on top of things makes me happy.

2) Work was super busy on Thursday BUT I had an absolutely amazing day in the office anyway, and felt so proud of myself by the end of the day for staying on top of and managing everything that was thrown my way.

3) Went to a bookstore and lost a lot of time wandering around, discovering new books and picking out all the ones I'd love to own some day.

4) I cooked! And not just one meal. I made a healthy salmon stir fry, I made scrambled eggs and kale, I made a mean bolognese. Cooking calms me (even in a hot kitchen), and I love eating something I've prepared from scratch. Here's to more home cooked meals!!

5) I had a very chill day off on Saturday. I grabbed coffee with the boyfriend, had lunch in front of the rugby, and curled up in bed with a book and my favourite TV shows. It was the perfect way to spend my only day off in the week.


What were your 5 Good Things of the week?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Nothing Tastes As Good: the mental health take on eating disorders

Have I told you how much I love Young Adult fiction? Even better, is Irish YA, and even better again, Irish YA which tackles mental health.

How could I resist Claire Hennessy's Nothing Tastes as Good?

Nothing Tastes as Good was released last year and has already been shortlisted and nominated for a number of literary awards.

Annabel, is sent as a spirit guide to former classmate Julia. The only problem? Julia is fat, and Annabel detests fat. Acting as her inner voice, Annabel urges Julia to assert control over what she eats; a voice that caused Annabel's own demise.

Set in Ireland, the book details Julia's journey through her final year of school and Annabel's journey to get one final moment with her family. *This review contains some spoilers*

The characters were likeable. Who doesn't want a loyal and loving friend like Maria? Or a charming but genuinely nice guy like Gavin? And watching Julia grow throughout the novel made my heart swell with pride. And even Annabel. I found it hard to like Annabel at first. I felt sorry for her, yes. But I also hated helplessly watching as she tried to influence what Julia did with her own body. The part where Annabel finally realises the impact her death has had on her sister was incredibly moving, and it won me over completely to her character.
While the supernatural, otherworldly-ness of Anabel's 'ghost' can feel a bit jarring in an otherwise relateable school setting, the book has a great sense of humour and an honest, unpretty look at eating disorders.

"I don’t want to just be some cautionary tale." - Annabel

In many ways, this is a cautionary tale. Hennessy's accurate, and rare, portrayal of the mental health side of eating disorders speaks volumes about the power of the voice inside a teenage girl's head.

Annabel's guiding voice is the voice of pop culture and society telling us that being slim is beautiful. We consume images of skinny women daily; it's only natural for young women to assume that skinny is what is beautiful. And how easy it is to make young people feel like they're not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough.

However, I did feel that for people who are struggling with their own food issues, whether an eating disorder or something else, Annabel's realisation that it was her food obsession that killed her comes too late in the text. There is no questioning of Annabel's voice in Julia's head, Julia goes along with it, and readers are meant to know that it's unhealthy and wrong themselves.

I myself found this side of the text particularly difficult to read in January. Like many people, January was the month I pledged to finally get my body in shape. I wanted to eat better. I set myself the goal of exercising every single day. I have a bikini body to attain by my summer holidays after all.
But sometimes I would hear Annabel's voice in my head. Saying exercise more. Eat less.
Do you really need to eat cheese and crackers before bed? The answer is always 'yes' but Annabel's voice made me feel bad for making this choice.

For anyone with a history of eating disorders, or any mental illness, the book can be a difficult read. It's so eerily accurate that Annabel's voice doesn't always stop when you put the book down. But if you love YA for how it tackles the issues more 'grown-up' books are too scared to address, then you'll this.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Let's stop blaming Trump's policies on mental illness

You can't blame Trump's policies on mental illness just because you don't understand where they've come from.

Okay, let's start with the obvious. Donald Trump is a "bad" dude. Let's all agree that he's a racist, misogynist, prejudiced and privileged man. Okay? Ok.

But does that make him mentally ill?

Well, according to a number of psychiatrists who have been keen to get their names out there, it does.

Criticism of Donald Trump has been veering towards slurs about his mental health for the past week. "He must be mentally ill" to have come up with such policies as the Immigration Ban. The media has been quick to jump on these psychiatrists who claim they have found a diagnosis to fit Trump (side note: let's not even get into why such a diagnosis is unethical and fundamentally flawed). I've also seen a large number of tweets and Facebook posts absolving Trump of responsibility for his actions and blaming it on an illness they suppose he has without any diagnosistic proof.

I have a problem with this. Mental illness is not an excuse for racism, or other bigoted views.
Mental illness diverts blame from a grown man onto a real, serious and life-threatening illness that affects millions of people. Using it in this way is only serving to restigmatise mental illness as something only the 'crazy' other has, rather than something 1 in 4 of us live with on a daily basis.
Mental illness is being used as a weapon against Trump. How can he be a fit President if he's mentally ill? I refuse to accept the label of mental illness as an insult.
Mental illness does not explain how millions of Americans, and others, have flocked to Donald and pledged their support for the way he is governing. Are they all mentally ill? Or just misinformed? 
Citing mental illness dismisses the prevalence of racist, Islamaphobic beliefs.
Mental illness ignores how the far right have gained a lot of popular support. And if we ignore it, how can we learn to stop it?
"In every generation, there are quite firm rules on how to behave when you are crazy." - Ian Hacking 
Here's the thing. 'Mental illness' has been used as an excuse for views that defy the 'norm' for hundreds (if not more) years. During the feminist movement, critics were quick to throw mental health labels at protesters too because they challenged the established society. And now, Trump too is challenging the progress towards a fair, just and equal society that has been made over the last few decades. And once again, 'mental illness' has been used to justify a belief system the rest of us cannot fathom.

The reality is that right-wing rhetoric has been growing for the past number of years all across the globe. The Christian right wing have been on the rise for years in America. Trump's policies have all been born out of that.
Trump was born in 1946.  He was brought up before the 1960's Civil Rights movement. Where black people had to use separate drinking fountains. Where the KKK were still very much active. The last lynching of a black man took place in 1955. He woke up one day suddenly an equal to these same people he had lived with as inferiors. Racism is not a sudden, and new concept to him.
Abortion laws have been rolled back to restrict access to abortion in Southern states for the past number of years. Alabama, for example, only had 3 clinics left at the time of the making of the Trapped documentary last year. Trump's pro-life stance is the natural evolution of such policies.
'Lad culture' has been normalising sexual harassment and rape culture for years; Trump's views on sexual assault are frankly not that surprising.
And he's narcissistic? I challenge you to point out one business CEO who doesn't display some narcissistic qualities. Again, this is not proof of a mental illness.
It's proof that he possess views and qualities based on his upbringing and who he is a person.

Trump may have a mental illness. He also may not. Does it matter? Why do we feel the need to slap labels on something just because we don't understand it? And why do we assume that those who are intolerant must have a mental illness when in fact they are just bigots?

Monday, 30 January 2017

I Just Want Back In Your Head

Why I practice Mindfulness

While I never fully embraced mindfulness in Tony Bates’ book ‘Coming through Depression’, it is something I’ve tried to practice since. I attended a workshop on it in college and I found it to be really useful. Last year, while at a volunteer workshop I rediscovered Mindfulness.
Through a simple deep breathing exercise, I immediately felt more relaxed, calmer, and my fears had left me. I swore that I'd keep it up in times of stress. While I can reflect a year on from this workshop that I haven't quite managed that, mindfulness is something I know that I should return to. And what better way to ensure I do that than through a blog post?

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist tradition – It's said to be up to 6,000 years old.
The focus is on your present physical state. It teaches you to be aware of yourself, right now, as you are. That means no worrying about what you've done in the past, or what you will do in the future. 
The Mental Health Foundation give this kind of cheesy definition: 'To be aware of your negative thoughts and judgements and to let go of them, open yourself to new feelings, positive ones.'
I can hear you yelling 'hippie bullshit' from behind your screens, but hear me out first.
Being aware of negative thought and judgements is also a huge part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and people aren't as quick to discard that. And positive feelings can't be a bad thing in any context, can they?

Mindfulness does get a bad rep due to images like the one above - the idea of meditation and lots of humming.
And sometimes it's easier to describe what mindfulness is, by explaining what it isn't. It isn't a religion. It isn't meditation.
But it is more than possible to be 'aware' without sitting cross legged while burning your incense (But if that's what helps you reach mindfulness, that's okay too). 
Today, mindfulness is recognised by counsellors and therapists as a form of CBT.


Living In the Moment
A lot of counsellors like to go on about ‘the present’. The ‘here and now’. And while it’s easy to dismiss this as waffle, it actually has a lot of truth in it. This is a huge aspect of the practice of mindfulness. 
There is no point in living in the past; you cannot change it.
There is no point living in the future; you don’t know what will happen.
Living in the present is truly the only way to find happiness.
It sounded a little bit ‘hippie’ to me at first. But when you think about it, it does make a lot of sense.
Mindfulness teaches self-awareness in this way - recognising what's going on now, right at this moment in time. So if you're feeling particularly emotional, don't bottle it up or try to hide it. Embrace your sadness, let it out and reflect on why you're currently feeling this way.
Mindfulness also refers to consciously noticing when your mind wanders. If we're to really to live in the moment, you should be focused on the present, and not the million and one other things that fight for the forefront of your mind.

Benefits of Mindfulness:

  • Used to treat physical and mental illnesses.
  • Fights Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety.
  • Helps to regulate emotions.
  • Improves performance.
  • Lowers levels of stress.
  • Used to treat chronic pain e.g. arthritis.
Basically there are so many benefits, it is impossible to list them all.

Stay tuned for a very simple and easy mindfulness breathing technique over the next week that can help with stress and anxiety.


Thursday, 12 January 2017

I HATE Blue Monday

And probably not for the reasons you think.

It’s the same every year. The most depressing day of the year comes around on the third or fourth Monday in January, and the media feed you story after story about how to fend off the dreaded Blue Monday.


Well I have news for you.

Depression is not a day of the year.

It is a real illness – ILLNESS.

Illness. 
Noun. 
A disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.

Stop using 'depressing' as an adjective to describe your feelings. It’s not a feeling.

Feelings are not dictated by a date. 

Stop pretending a scientific formula found this date to be the 'most depressing of the year'.

It trivialises mental health issues. You’re saying that my mental illness amounts to a crappy day at work. You’re saying that the illness I battled for years to overcome just lasts you 24 hours. You're saying that my 'sad' feelings on every other day of the year are not as valid or socially acceptable as they are on this day. 

There is a difference between feeling sadness, and being depressed.

If you have a crappy day where you feel sad and hopeless, on any day of the year, I’m sorry. I know it sucks. I know it can leave you unmotivated, exhausted, and exacerbated. But it is not depression. There is a clinical and medical difference between sadness and depression.

Blue Monday does nothing to address the reality of mental illness or the stigma that continues to be attached to it. It popularizes a 'depressing' feeling, but not the reality of living daily with and battling against a mental illness.

I would much rather see a discussion about how January can often trigger mental health difficulties, particularly in those with a history of mental illness. Not some bullshit bandwagon based on pseudo-science. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Thinking about the future

For many reasons, the future can be scary. We don't know what's to come, or even what to expect. It's full of uncertainty and doubt.

The future can be, and has been for me, a problem for our mental health. Not knowing potential outcomes can lead to overthinking, negative thinking and patterns of self-doubt and criticism.

For a long time, I saw no future for myself. And when I did learn to keep on live, I couldn't see any happiness or success in my future.

But I'm also learning that the future isn't all bad.
Where to go from here?
One of my favourite things about January, is making New Year plans, goals and resolutions. and my bullet journal has come out in force the past week in preparation. So much so, that I've found myself actually looking forward to the year ahead and what it might have in store for me.

I've set myself several goals for the year; without going into specifics they revolve around the themes of self-confidence, budgeting, and upskilling.

And I've established a habit tracker to help me break my bad habits and develop new, better habits (yes, exercise is one of them).

I've been writing down birthdays, concerts, musicals, anniversaries and other upcoming events.

And it's left me this week feeling calm, good about myself, and somewhat like I-may-possibly-have-my-life-together. Possibly.

You see, in the darkness of my depression, during the worst days and the worst years, I couldn't see a future. The thought of one filled me with dread. Because despite everyone saying things do and would get better, I didn't feel it.

It took years of work, hard work of CBT and medication and counselling and the sheer effort of forcing myself to get out of bed and carry on, to change the way I felt. And years after my initial diagnosis, things are better and I know that in future, they can get better again.

Now, the future holds one thing I couldn't feel before.
Hope.