Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Everyone hates me.

I’m crying. I’m crying really hard and really loud because I think everyone hates me.

In fact, I know they must hate me. My family, my housemates, my work colleagues. Everyone.
And why do they hate me? Because there’s something wrong with. I’m wrong. I don’t fit in. I don’t have many friends because people don’t like me. I’m too argumentative, too passionate about my world views. And when I show that side, people want to leave. When I’m not arguing, I’m too quiet. I’m shy and reserved. People don’t like that. I force awkward silences on them. I don’t have anything to say so I keep my mouth shut. I don’t like sharing.

Want to know how my holiday was?

‘Good. Fine. Only a few showers. Mostly dry. Went swimming’.
You’re not getting anything else out of me.

That’s not normal. I’m not normal. What’s wrong with me?

On Saturday night I sat up for hours crying. A never-ending stream of thoughts filled my head. Examples of social rejection, fights with siblings, throwaway comments made years ago all came back to me as evidence that I am hated. After everything I've done, I hate to be. I jumped from conclusion to conclusion. I was trapped. I couldn’t get out of my mind, I couldn’t make it stop. Everything that I was ever self-conscious of, any past event that ever could make me feel self-conscious flooded my brain.

But then it occurred to me.

Hurt yourself to make the thoughts stop. You know it works. You’ve done it before.

Pathetic, I thought. Seriously mental illness? You think you can trick me that easily? I am not going to do that.

I cried until I was numb. I cried until half of me felt already dead, and the other half wanted to die.

"You're getting yourself worked up over nothing".
 But it doesn't feel like nothing. It feels real.

I don’t know what Saturday night was. A breakdown? An episode of depression? A relapse?


All I know is that it will take a while to shake off and fully get over. I still feel emotionally and physically drained. I still feel like a lesser, emptier me. And I still feel like people don’t like me. However, I’m being more realistic about it. Everyone doesn’t hate me, because not everyone in the world has met me. But, everyone may possible hate me if they ever do meet me. I’m challenging these destructive thoughts one step at a time. 

I still feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. I still feel too preoccupied with the stream of negative thoughts only I can hear to really pay heed to anything going on around me. 
I stepped out in front of a car this morning. Not intentionally. I was just so withdrawn and so consumed by my mind that I didn't think to look. I was lucky I didn't get hurt. 

This was the worst low I can remember in the past two years. But it differs from how I used to feel in a time before medication and support. It differs because despite what my mind told me, I didn't want to die. I didn't want to hurt myself to make the feelings stop. Hell, it was hard ignoring those thoughts, convincing myself not to act on them. But I did it. 

Despite Saturday night, I'm still winning the battle against my mental illness. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

Is talking about mental health really ending the stigma?

We've been talking about mental health for years now.

It's in the media every day. Another personal story, another awareness campaign. It rarely ceases.
It's mainstream now. We’re all familiar with the term.
So what if many people still think it synonymous with mental illness? At least they know about mental health.

It's a cause that has ambassadors.

A-listers are revealing their eating disorders, medication, anxiety and depression in ever increasing numbers.
Amanda Seyfried. Katy Perry. Prince Harry.
They bring a sense of glamour to the usual discussions of mental health.

Even in Ireland it’s been on everyone’s tongues for the past number of years.
We have male sports stars and musicians speaking out specifically to encourage men to get talking about their mental health.
Conor Cusack. Philly McMahon. Bressie.

I've been blogging about mental health for just over three years. And I’ve lost count of the number of Irish mental health bloggers out there.

But is it enough? What has all this talk about mental health got us?
News reports continue to show that we aren't lowering suicide rates. People continue to feel alone, to not ask for help, to self-harm, to die by suicide.

People may be talking about mental health, but that doesn’t mean they care enough to provide it with adequate funding. Mental health services are under resourced. There are not enough of them, not enough staff, and certainly not enough beds. Waiting lists are growing because, while we are encouraging people to seek help for their mental health, we’re not ensuring that ‘the help’ is available to listen.

recent headlines

So are our conversations ending stigma? Are we saying the right things?
When a white man commits an act of terror, we’re told it’s motivated by mental health.  

When Ant McPartlin, one half of the UK’s most famous and award winning TV presenting duo, entered rehab for ‘depression and substance abuse’ he’s told to go get ‘real problems’. 

Britney Spears infamous breakdown in 2007 is still used a slur today. ‘I haven’t shaved my head yet’, said Katy Perry earlier this year. Because she may be mad, but at least she’s not that mad. 

Sinead O’Connor. Amanda Bynes. Kanye West. Their mental health battles are not taken seriously by the media because they don’t fit with our image of a celeb. They should be happy, rich and have it all. 

Sympathy isn’t our first response when we see mental illness. We question motives. Wonder if it’s attention seeking. Tell them their problems aren’t real issues like a physical illness is. There’s no arguing with the severity of a physical illness that you can see after all. 


Shops continue to use mental illness as a joke to sell products. From slogans on Urban Outfitters t-shirts to straitjacket Halloween costumes in Tesco, it takes public outrage rather than common sense to pull these products from stores.

Have we succeeded in anything? 

Personally?
Sure, I feel less alone seeing mental health in the media and social media. I think, “Great! Now people will understand that it’s real, I didn’t choose this.” 

But that’s not always the reality. I still hear comments reinforcing stigma, mainly regurgitating what the media spews out. I overhear lunchtime conversations saying 'people with mental illness are dangerous' and 'I wanted to hang myself'

If I ask myself that same question as a service user? Well, I still feel alone. I still don’t have access to the care that I need. I still don’t have professional support. If I have a relapse in the morning and find myself in a major depressive episode, I wouldn't know where to turn for help, or even if I ever would get help.

I also ask myself this question as another service user. Perhaps one with schizophrenia. Because unlike me with my diagnoses of anxiety and depression, people with schizophrenia don't see their mental illness openly addressed in the media. While there is greater understanding now of what depression actually is, the same level of coverage isn't given to other mental health problems. There is still a major misunderstanding that schizophrenia involves multiple personalities. The media aren't so quick to clear up these misunderstandings. 

So then, what next for mental health?

Sometimes it's hard not to feel like you're speaking into a vacuum. Especially when the media still play on stigma when it comes to celebrities and crime. Especially when politicians have yet to answer our cries for help.

But that should never mean we stop trying. Conversations around mental health have changed substantially in the past 10 years alone. Who's to say we won't break down more stigma in the next 10 months, yet alone years?
So never stop.
Even when you look around and see how far we have yet to go. Let that be your strength to carry on the war. 

Friday, 23 June 2017

No one expects depression

No one expects depression.

No one expects it in the teen striving for attention.

No one expects it to be high-achieving.

No one expects it to be sitting in a lecture theatre with 200 other people, diligently taking down notes.

No one expects it to be status after status on social media.

No one expects it to be the fast-talking, enthusiastic volunteer.

No one expects it to be at a concert, singing their heart out.

No one expects it to be the one with their whole life ahead of them to look forward to.

No one expects it to be the girl dancing with her friends, taking pictures with drinks in hand.

Or the one with the confidence to hook up with a guy she met on a night out.

No one expects depression to be all consuming but yet still invisible.

No one expects depression to be high-functioning; to be able to leave the bed yet alone the house.

No one expects depression to go unnoticed.

No one expects to be oblivious to their own depression.

No one expects asking for help with depression to get them nowhere.

I didn’t know what I expected depression to be. But it wasn’t this.
It wasn’t the carrying on as normal. The hiding it from friends and family.
I thought depression was noticeable. That there'd be a big warning sign at least internally, if not externally. That I would know what was going on inside my head, and what was wrong with me.
But when I was diagnosed, I was expected to carry on as normal. To stay in the city away from my family. To go to class. To sit my exams.

Where were the straitjackets I was promised on TV? Why wasn’t I lying down, looking serene while at therapy? Why was my madness not visible?

No one expects depression to look normal. But the reality is that it does. There are people with depression waiting in line with you at the coffee shop, getting the same bus to work with you everyday, living in the apartment next door.
You can't tell.
And when it hits you, you weren't expecting the sheer force of the hit. But you're expected to cope, to carry on, to recover.

Mental illness doesn't live up to expectations.
So don't be so quick to leap to conclusions. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Old habits

It’s easy to fall back into old habits.

For me, it’s patterns of thinking. Thinking negative thoughts to be precise.

Somehow, 24-year-old me has found herself stuck back inside the mind of 15-year-old me.

“Everyone hates me”. “She’s been giving me dirty looks all night”. “Why can’t I be more social like everyone else?” "I don't want to do that in front of everyone."

And these thoughts have gripped me with anxiety. Over the past few weeks I’ve lost any small trace of a care-free, easy going attitude I ever had.

I’m paranoid. I’m scared of meeting new people. I’m too shy and awkward to get involved in group conversations. I’m worrying over little thing I’ve said. I’m comparing myself to others. I’ve been going to bed in tears, unable to explain my sudden loss of confidence.

I’ve thought about quitting my blog entirely, deleting it, in fear that someone will use it against me.
And it’s made me feel ill.

What’s happened to me?

I can’t remember when I last felt this hopeless and helpless. It used to everyday, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been trapped by these old habits. And now they’re back with a vengeance.

It’s debilitating not being able to escape your own mind. You can’t switch it off. You can’t even get a good night’s sleep, with your fears and anxieties often plaguing your dreams as well.


I’m sick of feeling insecure, paranoid and like I’m 15 again. I’m sick of caring so much what everyone thinks of me. I’m sick of thinking they all hate me.

But I don’t know how to make it stop. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Time Out


I’ve been taking some time out from the Blogosphere lately. I’ve needed it.

Life offline has taken some pretty difficult turns over the past two months and brought with it a lot of changes. I’ve needed to focus my attention in the real world, with my family and friends by my side.

I felt guilty about it. Leaving my space on the Internet to gather dust was never my intention. What did I work so hard building it up for if I was to abandon it so suddenly, without excuse?

But it’s what I’ve needed to do to clear my head, get my thoughts in order, and find a way of coping with the obstacles thrown at me.

And why should I feel guilty about that?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Do you have issues?

Ever been asked something so direct that you’re not sure whether to ignore it, answer it honestly, or just downright lie?

Sometimes direct questions need a sure-fire automatic response.

How are you?

Not too bad I say, often feeling the opposite and wishing I didn’t always automatically respond with the same standard answer. Where's my honesty? Why am I saying the same thing over and over without stopping to think about it first and then answering?

Direct questions are often hard to answer. Especially when you have a mental illness.
They are asked every day, multiple times a day, all the time.

How are you?

And often we develop a standard response as a defense mechanism. We don't want to reveal too much, give ourselves away. So we lie.

But this weekend took on a whole new dimension. I was asked a question I haven’t been asked in years. Not since I was at my worst, and clearly I wasn’t doing very well at hiding my worst.

Do you have issues?

Let’s also note that huge emphasis was placed on the ‘you’ here. Just in case I hadn’t realised the personal, insulting meaning of ‘issues’, it was elongated and thrown at me with rage.
But how do we answer a question so direct, so personalised, and so angry?

Do we answer honestly? Yes actually. Many issues. Donald Trump. Theresa May. Oh, and a mental illness or two.

Do we lie? No, I (unlike every other human being in existence) have no issues, thank you very much.

Or do we ignore it? Pretend we didn’t hear. Continue on your conversation in a room full of people, knowing full well that all eyes are currently on you wondering if you will respond.

I did the latter. And I’m angry that I ignored it. I’m annoyed at myself for not sticking up for myself, for not wearing my heart (or in this case, my depression and anxiety) on my sleeve and admitting that yes, I damn well do have issues.

It's hard to answer a personal question you haven't prepared for. It's why I like my stock answer to 'How are you?' so much. I don't need to think, take it in and formulate an answer. I just spit it out and overthink my overuse of those three words afterwards.

Maybe I need to start thinking of standard responses to all kinds of questions now.
Best to be prepared so I don't give too much of myself away. Don't want to be caught shouting Depressed and Anxious from any rooftops by accident.

Do you have issues?

Yes, but it's none of your business and I'm not sure how you expect me to answer such a stupid, rude question.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Guest Post: How to Survive a Mental Illness


Today I have a guest post for you from James R Robinson. James is a writer and blogger and wanted to share the below with all my lovely readers. I hope you enjoy.


How to Survive a Mental Illness

www.pexels.com
Having a mental illness is really tough. There are loads of people complaining about all the pile of work that they have to finish before the week is over. There are lots of people complaining about their tough schedule whereas there are other people who have bigger problems.

Even if you are battling a dragon right now, there is still no greater battle than battling with one’s head. Yes, I am talking about depression and other mental illness.

There are lots of people who take mental illness lightly, thinking that mental illness is just a matter of self-motivation. Some people think that mental illness is just a matter of having enough will power. But it is really not.

A mental illness is a real illness. As a matter of fact it is the worst illness of them all. It is really hard. At one point you’ll be happy and then the next thing you know you are feeling below yourself. All of a sudden, it is like you don’t know your worth anymore.

Just think about going through all that trouble every single day. There will be definitely be a time when you’ll feel like you want to give up. But you just can’t. So, here are some tips to help you survive if you have mental illness:

Go for a psychologist that give you value and respect
You already have mental illness. You already doubt your own self-existence. The last thing you need is someone giving you more reasons to doubt yourself. 
You need someone who can show and remind you every time you are feeling down that you are valuable. Your psychologist should be someone who can remind you that you are respected despite what you think. 

Commit to your treatment plan
Planning in healing mental illness is the same with all other plans. You have to stick to it. Otherwise, nothing is going to happen. 
It doesn’t matter even if you hire the greatest psychologist in the entire world, if you are not going to commit to it. 
Once your psychologist gives you medication, you should do your best to commit to it. 

Spend time with your family 
People are used to spending time with the wrong people. Oftentimes, we spend our time with the people who always see our flaws. 
We should not focus on our flaws. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be better, but we should still focus on spending time with people who can remind us of our good sides. 

Author Bio
James R. Robinson is an essayist for hqassignments.net. Needless to say, he has a passion for words. Most of his relatives are quite obsessed with science. His family is a streak line of businessmen, architects, doctors, and lawyers. He, on the other hand, chose art. He chose to write. Even so, he doesn’t think he’s that far off. Being a writer isn’t all art. It’s a part science and half art. So, he’s sort of in between them.

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?