Read my BBC News article- Coronavirus: ‘I felt least afraid when the pandemic started’

Hello! Just dropping in to say you can read my article on the weird phenomenon of actually feeling really mentally well during a global pandemic on the BBC News site – click above.

Me and Mark – Cabin Fever Podcast for BBC Ouch

Hey! How are doing during this GLOBAL PANDEMIC?

I’m alright. You can find out more in the BBC Ouch Cabin Fever podcast with me and Mark Brown, where we talk the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, lost bras, panic attacks, zombies, interminable Zoom calls and the radical concept of kindness.

How #TheGoodPlace Is Helping Me Face My Fear of Death

Death! I talk about it a lot, don’t I?

In my defense, there’s been a lot of it about. My last but one entry talked about two peoples’ deaths – David and Lyra. Two different people with two different – and two violent – deaths.

So forgive me, it’s been on my mind. It’s always on my mind, really. I’ve talked at length in this blog about my death anxiety – thanatophobia for the Greeks out there – and its vampiric impact on my life. I’ve been in therapy for it before, but it was the wham-bam-thank-you-mam CBT, which did nothing to address the elephant in the room. Or, in Phillip Larkin-speak, the wardrobe.

The elephant is trauma. It’s terror. It’s checking for breath with a mirror when you’re 6. It’s shameful grief, collective grief, lost grief and grieving. It’s feeling it is shameful to grieve. It’s trying to understand why I am the one who wakes up screaming, and not my husband. He has watched countless people die, but he’s not afraid. (He’s not a serial killer – he was a carer for 8 years).

The Grieflings

I started therapy (again) a few weeks ago. This therapist is of the psychoanalytic variety, so some of it so amorphous it’s hard to get a grip on what it is actually is, and what we’re talking about. I went, ostensibly, for my anxiety. My anxiety – again, which I’ve written about at length here if you want to hear more – can occasionally be so incapacitating I struggle to cross a road. Far from impulsivity, my primary problem, for some years now, has been indecision.

When I sat down in front of the therapist – the kind of slim, green jumper wearing kind of one – I decided I was going to talk about death. Because I have come to realise that it is the genesis of my anxiety, all of it.

I am sometimes so afraid of crossing the road because I’m afraid a car I will hit me. I am sometimes so afraid of meeting new people and making a friend because they will die (ha, I mean, this is valid, let’s be honest now). I am afraid of happiness because it will end – I am afraid of all endings. I am afraid of saying something stupid in front of someone or to someone because I am afraid it will harm them. I have felt unsafe my whole life and I need to be safe and to keep people safe. Basically, here’s that big

D again.

I can’t actually remember the first session now, except that I cried for around 4 hours afterwards. I talked through some of the losses in my life. Throughout my life, it has been a procession of violent ends. Vicky, who killed herself, she was 16. My dad, of alcoholic liver failure, when he was 47. Brendan, who died of an overdose when he was 32. David, suicide, when he was 40. Lyra, murder, she was 29.

These losses are complicated and different from each other. Anyone could understand my grief at my dad’s death. But they’d have understood it a lot more if he’d died of cancer and had been a smiling Werthers Original type dad, and not someone who died how he died, and had lived how he lived. The head tilt, “At least he’s not suffering anymore” is coded, “At least you’re not suffering anymore”. But we were, just differently. In the same shame we lived with while he was alive – your drunk dad – there was shame when he died, too. How can you let someone you love so much die like that?

Lyra and I were not best friends. She is so widely loved and adored I have felt another sense of shame around my grief for her. I have felt I do not deserve to grieve and that my feelings are stupid. I don’t grieve for her or know her as people close to her did and do. My feelings are tied up a bit in the crushing sense of regret – that I pushed her away when she was being kind to me and that I wasn’t kind enough in return. I was no loss- she had so many people to love and be loved by – but I wish I hadn’t allowed my own grief in 2018 shut me down to our friendship, and I am trying so hard not to let my own grief shut me down again. It’s tied up too in just sheer anger and rage on her behalf, that she was taken as she was. It’s tied up in fear of the future. She was one of my biggest champions moving back to Belfast – telling me, you will be happy, you will have a career, it won’t be like it was back then, things are different. And then she dies, and how.

But they are my feelings – I can’t deny that they are. They may be wrapped up in the other unresolved grief, in the other unfair, horrible, violent and just not fucking right deaths of people who had so much more to give and who deserved so much better. But they are still feelings that have left me howling on my bed in the foetal position, and now in therapy, trying to make some sense of them.

So I’ve been trying to talk a bit about them. The shameful grief of my dad’s life and death. The unseen grief of David with no place to go but a scarf I wear and a voice in my head. The formative grief of a beautiful 16 year old friend ending her life, and the trudge through mud almost 20 years later to a tree you vividly remember. The collective grief and rage of Lyra – rightly so – but everywhere, hard to escape from, knowing your own tiny speckness in it all, but it still lays you out crying and not knowing who or what to turn to.

I think this is why I am so afraid and Robert isn’t. He saw people feeling ready. My experiences of death have been people who are not. Who shouldn’t have died. This does not make me special. I am not unusual – lots of people have experienced lots of losses, and of people closer, in ways much worse. But I can’t picture another experience of death. I can’t form another image in my head that isn’t the face of people I have loved not being ready. And I’m so afraid for myself and the people I love because that idea is agony to me.

Whenever you’re ready

So, what’s this got to do with the Good Place? Are you just tagging your post this for the clicks?

No! Well, a wee bit, yes.

My second session was on a Friday morning. I love the Good Place. It’s something I watch with Robert, but I knew what was coming from the episode title. So before I went to my session, and without telling him, I watched it by myself. I knew I’d have a possibly unpredictable reaction to it and I wanted to be alone with it to process it a little. Which was just as well as I sobbed for about 2 hours and then had a panic attack for another.

How is that helping me cope with my fear of death?

Because I was still crying when I got to my therapy session. I didn’t stop crying all the way there, and I didn’t stop when I was there. I didn’t apologise and I didn’t try not to cry. I just kept at it. Had a cry, in public, in front of someone else.

How are you so certain?

The therapist asked me this when I told him what I thought happens when we die (nothing, basically). I’m not certain, I can’t be, nobody can be. But I’m as certain as I can be. And I think this certainty of one thing or the other is shaped by our experiences of death. If someone has a, “good death”, you could well imagine they are free and their soul has gone somewhere. Likewise, you could well imagine that is the end because they change so much in that moment- but either of those things, you can imagine and the imagery isn’t coming from fear.

I said I don’t find debating the what ifs comforting or useful. So maybe then what is the point of this therapy?

I still need comfort. I still need a way to navigate these feelings so that I can live my life. I have so many regrets and my absolute greatest will be that I wasted my life worrying about death. Because that wardrobe’s going to crash right onto my head one day.

“Picture a wave”…

I’d never heard of or read about Buddhist conceptions of death, beyond reincarnation. I am drawn towards the finite perceptions. I am drawn, generally, towards the topic, though also repelled by it. I can’t, for example, really tolerate graveyards. I hate zombie things, and I have a bit of a discomfort around, “old” things. But I like Camus and existentialism. It terrifies the shit out of me, but not in that cold, creeping way a graveyard does.

Other things I’ve read posit that we all become energy and give back to the world when we die. Through natural processes, through, “ripplings” as Irvin D Yalom described, through what we leave behind in art, love, music. So a sort of reincarnation, really.

There is one place I always find comfort, and that’s by the sea. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s something as elemental as the song of the waves. Whenever I’m feeling low or untethered, I am drawn towards it. Which maybe is why Chidi’s speech above gave me more comfort than I can express. It is an idea of death I’m okay with, and one I can intellectually reason with. It’s an oneness and going back to where you belong – not away from, not leaving. It’s a concept and one explored in public and collectively that helps me to find a language to express and explore it.

Love and grief

 It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

Nick Cave

It occurred to me in this session that I had stopped remembering the people I loved or cared about who had died. I had stopped recalling their faces (voices, harder). When I get too emotional or feel overwhelming feelings, I shut down. For all my splurging on here over the past decade, and on social media in the same, I am a guarded person emotionally in real life. I geyser out occasionally, then when overheated, shut down. Sometimes for an evening, sometimes for months. Sometimes it’s feelings that feel so private and personal and sharing them makes them someone elses’. But they’re mine.

I have been trying to forget. I have been dishonouring them by not allowing their ripplings to ripple. How do I remember?

Anyway. Here are some unformed thoughts on this unformed therapy and unformed focus. Will it help? I don’t know. At least I’m thinking about this stuff without my shut down switch going off. That’s progress, I guess.

Dear Me – A Letter to my mental teenage self

Dear me,

I’m not sure when you’re reading this letter. When would it have been the most helpful for you to find, tucked under your pillow, like a pound coin for a tooth? The magic that happens when you’re asleep. How would you feel to wake up and find this, unfolding in front of your swimming eyes, still half in dream?

It was often hard to wake up. It was often harder to sleep. Since you could remember, you were in dread of the downstairs, the muffled monsters of night-time arguments. The mornings not any better, the alarm clock psst of your dad opening a can of beer in bed, and the day begins. These are the sounds that have echoed down the corridors of your years.

Nowhere ever really felt safe for you then. I remember it all. You couldn’t even live in your own body. You starved it and purged it and hurt it. The more you hurt it, the more people noticed, and the more you hated it. The more you hated it, the more you were told, “Stop seeking attention. Stop being a drama queen”. The more you were told it, the more you believed it.

I wonder if you could have read this when you were 15. You were so sad. You departed for almost a year. You wore a yellow fleece your mum bought you. She called the fuzzy duck fleece. It clung to you for every sallow day for months on end. The effort of a bath was too great. You missed nearly all your GCSE year and had to drop two subjects. They stopped marking us as late; they were just glad on the odd days we still showed up. When you put your coat on, you didn’t take it off again. You couldn’t look into a mirror, you couldn’t separate what was real and what wasn’t, you could barely lift a hair brush.

And then one day we rose; and frenzied months followed. You kept your mum awake at night with your talking, you climbed out the window and wandered the nights. Years followed of rising and falling; kicked out of school because they thought you were too ill to continue, leaving the country, starting again, and again.

I would hope you would keep this in your pocket. You lost a lot along the way, of all the starting-overs. House moves got smaller and smaller. The world did, too. From your house to the doctors and back again. The hospital waiting room, the crisis team. The pill bottle and the water, and the long, implaccable sleep of medication. I remember how you felt, that this was forever, but it wasn’t.

I’m sorry to say though that you’re mental. We’ve heard it a lot! In a lot of different ways. From a lot of different people. In a lot of different words. Bipolar disorder, self harm, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder. All the disorder of being mental, coming down to one neat thing; pain. Just pain! I know it’s crap. I know you’ve been in a lot of pain. I know you feel bad still that you just wished for silence in the night as a child, and when the silence came, the echoes haunted you afterwards.

People don’t care. Wait! Don’t crumple this up. I know what it’s like to have our memories locked in someone else’s head. I know all those words for that neat little thing means we’ve acted in ways that make us want to dissolve, have led us to places we can’t return from, the places people we loved have gone to and not come back from.

Don’t follow. People are more forgiving, more open, and thankfully more forgetful that you think they are right now. It is not the end of the world. None of it is. None of it ever was. Your world will go on. The more it doesn’t end, the more you will feel able to go on, too. The worst happened. It happens again and again and I promise, you’re going to be okay. You don’t have to keep running every time you rise and fall.

I wish you’d known that one day you’d feel sympathy, affection for your hated skin. That your body would do amazing things. That you’d become a mum and grow a person, and grow your heart, and fall in love. That you would rise and fall for always, but not the mountain and the cliff; you are still, a bottle bobbing gently up and down over the widest sea. That things you did and said and couldn’t forget, or be forgotten, you forgot, and were forgotten.

I’m sorry that there’s so much grief in the years to come. You know there will be. There is for everyone. You’re going to feel like it will extinguish you each time. I know it doesn’t.

You’re going to find a home. You’re going to find a place and space without that itch, without the waiting for the next disaster ready to run. You’re going to unpack a bag and keep it that way. You’re going to be able to pick up a book again one day and read it. I remember that desolation when you realised being ill and being medicated had taken that away from you. You’ll be a bit slow – but you’ll get there.

You’re not going to feel ashamed anymore. You’re going to tell people what happened to you. And they are mostly going to listen. What happened to you happened to me. It’s happened to other people. You are not as alone as you feel you are. We were never as alone as we felt we were. In the unsleeping nights, you are going to find comfort in this. In the years to come, you’re going to be able to nap again. Sometimes, strangulating panic is going to jolt you awake. But it comes and goes. That’s ok.

Don’t give up. Don’t let the words define who you are – it is not all of you, even though it feels like it sometimes. It will, you know, but that’s okay too. You need to go through that, and own them, inhabit those words that you’ll hear and see written down about you, explore them, unpack them. That’s the way you’re going to do it.

You are not going to be standing in the big clean glittery recovery kitchen where you’re going to prepare wholesome whole foods and drink nothing but green tea. You are never going to be slim. You are going to drink so much Coke it stains your teeth and your kitchen cupboards will be overflowing with bags and debris and all the normal things of a normal life that you never thought you would live to see.

Fold me up now and remember, keep me safe. In the nights when the panic comes, take me out and read again. There is light coming through the window to see by; always.

Is it time to end The Secret Life blog?

I haven’t really been posting here, for a number of reasons.

One is that social media has taken over slightly – discussions are had more in real time than in the reflection of blogs and comments.

Another is that, in terms of my own mental health, there’s nothing really to report. I remain the same anxious bundle of energy that I always have been.  Parenting with my history – well, that’s something I’d like to discuss, but I feel like I’ve sort of backed this blog into a very specific corner that my life and thoughts – my normal, every day life and thoughts on other topics- don’t really fit into it. Nor does any sort of creative writing.

For all I’ve shared here over the past OH MY BLOODY GOD 12 YEARS, I haven’t shared much about my day to day life. Because it’s not very interesting! Nor do I share my thoughts on many other topics.

My 2 most recent posts have been me trying to reconcile and understand grief and missing Lyra and David, which don’t really fit into this blog’s topic.  I actually got some shit for my post about David on my blog’s Facebook page which led to me pulling it down for a while. But I can’t write this stuff out there then where to?

Part of my reluctance to just quietly put this blog into mothballs is that it has been my home on the internet for over a decade, and I don’t want to start again!

So, to whoever is reading, I ask you:

 

 

It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.

It’s nearly 2am here and I can’t sleep even though I’ve got to get up and cycle my son to school tomorrow, before going to work. So I thought I’d come here and write something for the first time since October because my head is chainsawing again.

The last time I wrote here was when David died – well, two months after he died as it had taken me that long to find any words about it and I still don’t think I really said anything, and this post will be the same.

When I found out he died, after I finished work, I had posted on Facebook, in that way you do because you don’t know what else to do. The first person to get in touch with me, and who checked on me in the days after, was my friend Lyra. I mentioned her two blog posts ago here. I had first got in touch with her on Twitter in 2017, when I had watched a dramatisation of her beautiful letter to her 14 year old self, struggling with her sexuality, the journey of acceptance and hope and love. Please watch it.

I contacted her because I couldn’t believe someone from Belfast had written it. I had never heard these thoughts being voiced so openly and so compassionately, personally, articulately, in this country which still doesn’t allow gay marriage.

She had lost 2 people to suicide in the previous year and knew how I was feeling. I went straight from work to a pub and drank on my own. I rebuffed her offer to meet up because I felt so hollowed out. But she stayed patiently on the other end telling me however I wanted to cope with this it was okay.

I remember feeling not feeling. My chest was concrete. I didn’t want kind words. I was small and inside and felt, “Don’t touch me here in this place. Don’t try to touch me down here”. I shrank away. After David died, I publicly avowed, I am going to open up more. Because what I regret are those missed meetings. Those missed words. Those missed relationships, and days, and conversations and laughter and love. I’m not going to do this anymore. I am going to open myself up to friendships and people and love.

I didn’t, of course. I stayed the stone. And all my last conversations with Lyra are those of me cancelling plans, not replying to messages.

You will have heard about her because her death has outraged Northern Ireland and the UK and broken hearts. Lyra McKee, 29, who was shot dead in Derry, doing her job, the day before Good Friday. Lyra McKee, investigative journalist, writer, activist, a laugh, a sweetheart, hopeful, helpful, kind, generous with her time, her love, laid to rest in Saint Anne’s Cathedral with hundreds of people there, (me included), from everywhere, from every community, from every background, from the Houses of Parliament and the Dail.

I had been following the riots on Twitter then gone to sleep because riots here are nothing new. I woke up to a text from my sister saying she was sorry. Her murderers are still out there. Her sister has offered to meet them to turn themselves in. It is mindbendingly surreal that in 2019, a journalist, and our friend, was shot dead on the streets of Derry in the night by the IRA. She hadn’t long lived there. She had moved there to live with the love of her life. It was supposed to be the beginning and not the end.

She was murdered and I can’t get my head around that still. We weren’t close friends, but she was incredibly kind to me and I thought the world of her. She listened and counselled me through all my fears about moving back here (which feel well founded now to be honest. I can’t get my head around this still), my worries about raising Oisín here, the bad memories I have of this place, and the first night out in Belfast I had when I did come back was with her, pissed, wandering through the closed city centre, feeling like it was all going to be okay after all. A large part of me feels stupid and angry at myself for feeling so lost and upset at her death and of being awake again at 2.30am with her on my mind. The loss is something I find hard to fathom. The heartbreak and the absolute utter waste of someone who was changing the world for the better, the unfairness. She had many close friends. People often bullshit when people die. Say how wonderful they are when really they’re saying how wonderful they are for putting up with them. But no-one is bullshitting about Lyra. She was that wonderful. No-one has a bad word to say about her because there is nothing bad to say. She was a tiny genius dynamo and I wanted to be her. She was universally loved and her close friends and family have been pouring the love into action and doing her memory and themselves proud.

Ellen made this video – please watch it.

Her friends and family have just completed a 3 day peace walk from Belfast to Derry.

She is everywhere. In Writers Square where I last saw her and stole her chips, across the road where I said goodbye.

This is going to peter out here because I wanted to write a beautiful rallying cry befitting of her and everything she stood for and everything she did and would do and which those who loved her are doing in her honour. I wanted to link you all to her work which you should read.

But I can’t get my thoughts straight and I can’t sleep again and I am thinking of you, missus.

Capture

Death, the digital distance, and David.

My friend David killed himself on the 13th of August. I found out when I was at work, in a room full of people I didn’t know, filming their stories of mental health hope and recovery, and David was dead, across the world, in a different time zone. I’d say it was ironic, but it was just horrible. I asked to take a few minutes and went into another room where I sat down, feeling as though I had been shot. Dizzy, numbing ear roaring hollowness. Then I went back to work and tried to hold it together.

I’m lucky I found out at all, as David lived in America (though he was a dashing Englishman and capitalised on that fact frequently), and living in America while you live in Ireland doesn’t give you a lot of mutual friends. But we had one, and she told me- I didn’t find out weeks later, and I am so grateful to her for that.

I’m not going to eulogise him here or talk about suicide (honestly fucking sick to death of suicide now). David existed within a constellation of complex relationships, of which I am further than Pluto so I don’t feel it’s my place. He was loved, fiercely, protectively, sometimes frustratingly, by many, many people, myself included. He was lovable and his death has shattered many people.

I’m not writing this to go, “Wahey, let’s make my friend’s death all about me!” but to try and make sense of something that I’m struggling with and that I don’t know how to make sense of otherwise than writing through it.

I met David on a Manics forum, back when I was 18 – 15 years ago. D was 25. We had intense friendship- I was a bit in love with him for a while, like so many of us were. But it was easy to be, with that letter-writing, literary, labouring to impress kind of friendship Manics fans like us build up, and also when you’re 18 and a bit of a dreamy immature dick. Also, David was very, very loveable. In the later years, as we both grew up, grew older, we grew closer, more honest with each other, an easier, gentler, genuine friendship and love. He didn’t feel far away. We video chatted, we messaged often, emailed, and then there was the immediacy of social media to keep up connected. I speak to most of my friends more online than I do in real life. He never felt far. I knew his friends’ names and faces, and their habits from what he shared with me privately, and what he shared publicly. I knew when he was in crisis because he told me, I knew where to look and who to call and I did (not enough). He was my friend and someone I would call a real friend and for a long time, a close one.

There must be so many of us out there who are struggling with the same thing as the world has changed; friendships online, and how to cope when your friend who you met online dies, how does anyone around you understand it?

How do you grieve for someone who wasn’t, “there” and who never was? There are no old haunts to visit or vigil, no day-to-day hole that burns. No passing the house, or gathering friends for reminiscing. How do you grieve for someone who is, to those around you, a phantom? Luckily, my husband and my family all met David and he kept in touch with them all. He felt part of my world. But he wasn’t, not in the way Robert is, not in the way the people I see every day are, not in the way he was to people who were around him every day and shared his life with him. There’s just an Oriels jersey to wear to bed. There is no memory repository to dig through for comfort; just 3 days and thousands of messages and emails and voice messages to rake through in agony, because there’s the last ones, and there are no more. And there the ones you didn’t answer, the question marks left in the air. Nothing left but just wish, wish, wish.

How you miss someone who wasn’t there, but who you can visualise with painful luminosity, whose face you can summon when you close your eyes as easily as you can your own, who you can feel in that warm spot on your cheek from where you finally laid your head on their (damp, haired) chest, one day in 2012?

What do you do when you don’t even have that virtual space to remember and to grieve with other people? David and I were estranged since last October; we fell out over things friends fall out over which I won’t go into. But unfriended on Facebook, so I couldn’t post on his wall, or share any memories, or comment on others or offer anyone any comfort and I had no idea what had been going on with him before he died. I had wanted a hundred times to get in touch, to say something. A day before he died I got a Snapchat notification that he was on it; I’d just started using it and thought, “I could take a silly picture and message him, keep it light, make him laugh and maybe we would talk again”. But I didn’t, I didn’t get back in touch, I didn’t know if he’d want to hear from me, I didn’t know how to explain, maybe I should have been gentler, maybe I should try to understand. I try not to think too much about other things. Wish wish wish.

Some people wouldn’t call it real grief, to grieve the phantom, but it feels real, but then you think how can I grieve a phantom, am I wrong for feeling this way? (I grieve who he was and who is lost to the world for ever, grieve because I knew his mind and grieve because I can imagine too clearly what may have been going through it). Am I being silly? Is this basically insulting to people who were actually there, every day, the real friends and loved ones? Why do I feel so sad? What do I do?

I don’t know. I started by going to his memorial.

I first met David when he surprised me by telling me he was coming to my wedding in 2012. Sometimes (gotta admit this eh) I had lied to people and said I had met him before because I was slightly embarrassed by the intensity of my feelings for him, having not met him yet. But it was then that I met him, crumpled, delighted, shy and exactly who he had always been to me, at arrivals in Heathrow airport. A huge hug, the strangest thing, that voice in my ear, really! I was overjoyed to have him there on my wedding day two days later (reading some of the messages we sent to each other during those days, breathless at being a bus ride away, I wish you were still here), he had been one of my most beloved and enduring friends and it meant everything to me, and I find this hard to write about. I said I wasn’t going to eulogise so I won’t. I wish we’d had more time, I was so preoccupied with getting married and getting drunk on my wedding day, I wish we’d seen each other in person again- despite many plans and schemes, we never did.

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I wished I had still lived in London then. To have some sort of link back, to be sitting in the same airport making the return journey to him (this was not how I had ever visualised that). But I don’t anymore, so I told work I needed the time off, gathered together the $1000 for flights and got on a bus to Dublin. Took a flight and got hammered on the free red wine and tried to enjoy the novelty of tiny TVs on seats. Our mutual friend had kindly offered to pick me up and let me stay with her, and again, I can’t express how grateful I am for her and her family for this, when she was grieving too and trying to support others who were, at such a difficult time. I never would have had the courage to go if not for that, and coming out of the airport to a friendly face made the whole journey bearable.

She and her husband took me to some of his places; drove by where he lived, we went to a bar they’d often gone to together (I had heard of it, he had talked about it, had a few drinks, we all needed them that day), walked around his neighbourhood, went to one of his favourite pubs after the memorial.

I wanted to go to his funeral to say goodbye to him. I felt like, even though we had fallen out, it was the least I could do, and it was the last. It was for closure – as they are generally – but because I don’t have those physical spaces, those physical memories, I wanted to go to make him, and it, real to me again. His real spaces, and his physicalness, and to be around people whom he had known and loved, to put spaces to names and faces. To, and this is all part of the struggling where and how to grieve this, validate myself and my own feelings, too. To be there, really, like we all do.

I felt awkward as fuck. I wondered if I should be there (would he even have wanted me to be? I feel like, even though we’d fallen out, he would have done the same for me) Funerals and memorials are awkward anyway. They are surreal and odd (though this one was pretty celebratory in tone, story sharing, memories, still surreal).

It was standing room only (you silly fucker) and I wondered if should get up and offer my seat to someone. When I looked up, I started crying. Where do you even begin with these things? How do you make sense of it, any of it?

I said I wouldn’t eulogise, I’m trying not to. I don’t want to go through all the details of all of this, it’s not my place.

I have a few of his things which were there for anyone to take, a few things I need to send. His Holtzmann glasses (he was a cosplayer) live on with my son:

I went on BBC News recently to talk about young people and self harm (even though I am no longer young and no longer self harm) and wrapped David’s scarf around me (“like my own sweet shadow”)

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warm day today…the sun on the unmown grass outside makes me sad as all this will soon be gone…thinking about ‘Concrete Island’, perhaps this is homesickness – my memories of boyhood summers are staring through the back passenger window of a car at the London orbital.

Anyway- after writing this, still no closer to making sense of anything, sorry. I love you still. Go hug people, or pick up the phone.

Has Belfast changed or have I changed? – Back “home” after 15 years

Apologies for the long silence. As alluded to in my last post, it’s been all go here.  We’ve moved country, I’ve moved jobs, and in the midst of it all I was flattened by an episode of ferocious (and probably to be expected) depression which has made it hard to write, and think. I’m starting to feel a little brighter now, so lassoing the thoughts before they float off and freeze in a cloud. Hello anyway!

Moving country. Not in any exciting, exotic sense where I’m now blogging on a balcony with a view over some bustling European piazza. I’ve moved back home – sort of – to Belfast.

I’ve written before about my feelings on my hometown, and wondering whether it was time to return.  I don’t believe there always should be a time to return; we can make our home wherever, without ever returning to the original.  It’s the kind of place that, for me, made for interesting stories but unhappy memories. (Incidentally, Derry Girls pretty much NAILS IT in terms of the more ridiculous – and heartbreaking- aspects of growing up in Northern Ireland).

London makes it extremely hard to make it your home unless you are extremely wealthy, which is ultimately why we have to leave. Supporting one family on my very modest indeed charity job income (and all the freelance work I can get too just to make it harder for myself) became impossible. We lived in a literally crumbling 2 bedroom house we were trapped in because we were on housing benefit and the fact that we were on housing benefit at all when I worked 2 jobs just felt so stupid and pointless.  Here, it’s merely just very difficult so slightly less soul destroying. Upgrade!

Robert’s from London, so it’s been hard for him to leave.  I feel like I’ve always had one foot out of it, and never felt entirely at home there.  Now I’ve left, of course I realise I was at home, because I lived there for 15 years and you’re always quantifying it on some phantom of childhood or that one night you had on a roof with people you never saw again.

It’s strange to be back. It doesn’t quite feel like back. Back is gone. I’ve become a weird hybrid of Norn-Irish/English, and it grieves me to admit it. I have all these insipid Englishisms which are utterly at odds with the Norn Irish straight talk- I say, “let’s have a chat” instead of, “we need to talk”, “bollocks” instead of, “ballix”, “privy” instead of, “toilet”, “perambulator” instead of “pram” etc. I have developed the English reticence with strangers and orienting myself is tricky.  People talk to you and it takes me a second to respond because I’m not used to being spoken to by human beings I don’t know. WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM ME?

In work, everyone leaves at 5pm. Dogs to feed, kids to pick up, and generally life to get to. People eat dinner at 5.30. I don’t know if that’s just my workplace, but it was unheard of in London, even in the charity sector, to rarely ever work past your hours.  I love this. People go to church and aren’t the facsimile lefty atheists I’m used to in the London charity sector.

It’s been almost three months now, and we can see that Oisin is starting to adjust. His spirited brrm-brrm bus journeys around the living room has ceased calling at Brixton and now stop at Rugby Road, Shaftesbury Avenue, City Centre… He says, “cave” and “eight” with that crater-trip in the middle, like a Norn Irish person does.  He says other things in the mannered English accent of his dad (a speech impediment potato in his mouth enunciating rubbing off on young minds and mouths).  He’s very impressed by the weather, lover of storms and rain and defier of parental screech from the sideline and mocker of elaborate aged sighing.

oisinscooter

“Back”. It is strange. I left when I was 17, so I’ve never been an adult here.  I rarely ventured outside West Belfast (where I’m from) and the City Centre. I think I went to a party in East Belfast once, and remember being called, “Emma” in Sandy Row since my actual name may as well be Fenian McTaig. But a lot of the city, and the country, is still a mystery to me.  My mental map, my topography, is London.  My childhood is West Belfast, and coming back has been occasionally wrenching.  It’s not as though I’ve buried grief about the things that happened there -namely, losing my dad – but cruising past the hospital he did in a bus, the funeral parlour, your granny’s old house, no longer as memories or memorials to be honoured at Christmas but places again, part of your day and life- strange.

It’s strange coming back to somewhere you’d sermoned about authoritatively for years to people who weren’t from there, and confronting your own total ignorance about it.

I live in South Belfast which is the fairly, “gentrified” bit- not a deliberate choice but necessity in that I had 1 day to find somewhere to live and was staying with my friend of the Ormeau Road. It all happened very quickly. We had one last muted Christmas in London and then in January, we bundled into a rented car with Oisin and the cats and got a boat and then here we were to very little fanfare.

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Bedroom window view.

It’s gentrified but still has a flute hall and union jacks everywhere that I’ve pretty much stopped noticing already. I’ve always hated union jacks- to me growing up they signified I was in a place I wasn’t welcome, and every sodding holiday in the UK would have them plastered all the shop, equally hated there.

Quick aside for people who don’t know what the fuck I’m on about; basically Belfast still has bits which lean towards being “Loyalist” (ie loyal to the UK, the Crown, all that) and Republican (ie not loyal to the Crown, want a united Ireland).  They’re the political terms- others are Unionist and Nationalist.  And there’s a lot of grey areas – I’m not an Irish nationalist but I am an Irish Republican, if that makes any sense.

What denotes you’re in a specific area is flags and murals. I am naturally more comfortable around Republican flags (tricolour mainly) and murals because I am from a Republican area, grew up with it, part of the scenery, so I don’t find them at all intimidating. I understand totally why someone who grew up in a Loyalist estate would.

I do find other flags a bit intimidating.  Here’s a “Seaneen Shits Herself Hierachy of Flegs”:

Union Jack

union jack

Not even a tummy rumbling, especially since the Union Jack renaissance which, even though it remains a resolutely political symbol in Northern Ireland, is more closely associated with various, “Great British…” TV shoes.

Ulster Banner

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Probably wouldn’t shout my name out in this area, but again, no stomach stirrings.

Orange Order flag

2000px-Flag_of_the_Orange_Order.svgThere’s a flute hall around the corner, so this wouldn’t induce a squeaky fart as it would have done back in the day, but I wouldn’t go knocking on their door collecting for Trocaire.

UVF flag

uvf

Cramps and diarreah.

I’ve resisted posting murals and graffiti but this is an excellent blog full of them which also gives them their context. 

What’s changed though is, when I’m trying to orientate myself, friends are encouraging nuance around these things. I really wouldn’t have walked into a Loyalist area as a teenager- it’s why I don’t know much of Belfast. I’ve been quizzing my friends about different areas I’d never have ventured into- how have they changed? What’s going on there? From street to street the answer is different (it has taken me all this time to realise why people here refer to streets!) but much more different than it ever was.  I know I sound like an eejit with all my questions (“You’re from here!” But I’m not; I’m from here in 2003).

I left in 2003, which was 5 years after the Good Friday Agreement.  My abiding memories of the time are the pamphlet coming through our door and the, “Time for Peace, Time to Go” adverts on TV.

That’s just, well, celebrated isn’t the right word, but had its 20th anniversary.  Having been away for such a long time I don’t feel qualified to comment too much on the complexities of life since then, but there are some thoughtful pieces on the Good Friday Agreement here, here and here, and an event here.  And some pieces on how Brexit may entirely fuck it up and how the government licking the hole of the DUP almost certainly has, so well done there.

There’s much talk of Belfast having changed and certainly, it has.  It can be glib and simplistic to think that because we’ve got a Wagamama, because capitalism is flourishing here and hotels are popping up and people actually want to come here, it’s all well and good. We’re normal! Just like everywhere else! There’s craft beers! Costa! WE’RE BASICALLY LEEDS! We have tourists who come and write facile slogans on the “peace walls”! There are buses going through the Falls Road! Come Home was set here and didn’t reference the Troubles! (Did half expect the ‘Ra to turn up at the end and claim custody, though.  I hadn’t really appreciated the bravery of my English husband in full make up, fur coats and often a dress moving to Ballysillan when he was 18, in 2000. It was despite fierce protestations from his family which at the time I was scornful of.

And I have to say I want that to be the case sometimes, too. I like finding a fancy wee coffee shop and going, “Fuck me!” at the price and then not having any more fancy wee coffees ever again. And I like the democratising culture here, that it really does feel like it’s for everyone, and for everything, when in London, because of being poor, not being university educated, I felt so constantly on the outside and unworthy of it.  I can’t say if that’s changed, because cultural life was not what a 17 year old me indulged in while I lived here. I can say that if we were truly “just another place”, it would be a huge shame. Because Northern Ireland is different. It is morbid. It is mordant. It is silly and warm and curious and it fosters a different kind of culture.

Morbid. Another piece written by my friend Lyra, and something that has been affecting me more than I thought it would, describes the, “Ceasefire Babies” – my generation and after. Suicide since the end of the Troubles has now killed more people than the Troubles themselves.  The suicide rate in Northern Ireland is higher than anywhere else in the UK, and highest in my generation, the children reared in and born after the ceasefire in 1994, and living in the shadows of trauma. Trauma in every sense; their parents, disconnected, unheard, unhealed. The communities; closed shops, tout graffiti, broken windows. Economic, social, personal.

Northern Ireland is a tiny country and every week there’s another, “sudden death”, “tragic death”, “died unexpectedly”. All coded words for suicide. I hear more detailed stories off the pages. That bald, Northern Irish way of speaking. “Poor divil”. But the divil is ancient and forever, and these people are young, so young.

I understand why they’re coded words. Part of me doesn’t want to understand it. There are many initiatives and charities to support people, such as PIPs, but no government to implement any cohesive strategy for something that’s so complex.

It is striking and it does, on a selfish level, scare me and sadden me.  I know myself how indiscriminate mental illness is, but it’s not entirely true that suicide is. Suicide is less indiscriminate than mental illness.  Suicide kills more poor people and more marginalised people. It discriminates.

I worry about raising a child in a place where suicide is so prevalent, and so amorphous.  I always think campaigners are immune to suicide in a way- since y’know ending stigma and “reaching out” and “speaking out” apparently cures suicide, but an alarming amount of prominent campaigners for mental health here have died, and partly I would imagine because they’ve become campaigners due to losing someone close to them to suicide. And so it goes on. I don’t know to insulate and protect Oisin from it. I don’t know how anyone in Northern Ireland can insulate and protect the people we love from suicide. I remember my dad’s devastation when a friend of his killed themselves. I remember mine when mine did, she was only 16. I remember how offended I was the first time someone suggested I might have 1) got the fuck out and 2) had mental health issues due to things like falling out of bed at night when a bomb went off and living with the British army at your front door. If we can’t admit to ourselves that it fucked us up, what hope is there?

Intergenerational trauma aside, further trauma ripples.  I’m almost more worried about Oisin killing himself here than I am about the Troubles kicking off again. If the Troubles did we’d get the fuck out. But you can go as far away as space and if you want to die you will still want to.

So, strange. And I don’t want to end on such a note in this brain dump post, so here’s some lovely pictures too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to me and Mark Brown talk dogs, Trump, the Faff Zone and mental health on BBC Ouch

Do you procrastinate to the point that you get very little done? And how do you break free?

Presenters Mark Brown and Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan (that’s me!) call it the Faff Zone and say it hijacks your mind.

It’s a mental health takeover on this week’s BBC Ouch podcast. Drop in on the two as their lively and reassuring discussions give a bit of necessary focus and humour to living with mental health difficulties.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05vb4f9

(Sorry for sharing this in a less detailed, personal way – I have just moved country and am starting a new job tomorrow!)

Christmas love to you all

I’ve been a bit AWOL, apologies. Just wanted to swing by to wish everyone a nice Christmas, or at least, one that’s not too shit for you. Or if it’s just another day, then I hope it’s one of the better ones.

If 2017 has been bollocks for you, I wish you a better 2018 instead. We’re just two years from sounding like we’re living in a dystopian novel, and given the way the world is going, we may just well be.

I’ll be back writing soon – take care if you’re reading.

And if you’re struggling, this might be helpful.

Me talking self harm on Metro’s “Mentally Yours” podcast

Absolutely lashing with sweat due to illness, and having just burst an eardrum by being stupid, I went to a restaurant in West London to meet Yvette and Ellen of the Mentally Yours podcast in which, now having listened, I was surprisingly coherent in retrospect.

I don’t find self-harm the easiest topic to discuss. It’s pretty hard to without getting a bit graphic, so a warning that this podcast does have some fairly graphic language, as well as a few fucks, because it’s me. I haven’t self-harmed in 8 years, but because I live in a scar suit, the reaction my body gets from both the public and the medical profession means I may as well never have stopped.

It’s also not an easy topic to discuss because everyone is so different.  The hardest question I was always asked when I self harmed was, “Why do you do it?” I know the circumstances I self harmed in, the houses, the rooms, the ritual.  But the why, the visceral, deep down why, is mostly a mystery to me even now. I tried to explain here as best I could, the same way I tried when I was a teenager and was confronted, badgered, hectored with the, “Why?” from everybody who in turn wanted to understand their own anger, rage, disgust at it.

I talk about why self-harm might be on the rise in young women, on which I wish I’d said more. What I didn’t mention was my feeling that there’s an earlier sexualisation of young bodies, and self-harm can be both a fuck you to that, and a way of acting out self hatred.   I also touch a bit on the trivialisation and dismissal of childhood and teenage emotions, and of their trauma, and the unfathomable things children endure and can’t express (and bear in mind I blocked someone on Twitter for asking if I had self-harmed due to something like a teenage crush on Boyzone, so do refrain from making fucking stupid comments like that please).

And I chat about coping with scars and what led me to stop, how I stayed that way, and some advice to anyone who might want to hurt themselves.

Thanks for having me, Metro! Have a listen.

 

ANXIETY IS FUCKING BORING

I’m not the most exciting person. Most days, the most exciting thing I do is break our geriatric tap in the kitchen. Whoosh, there is goes again. The momentary crisis of grabbing cloths and jumping back and hot geysers, a tiny little flood. That’s about as exciting as life often gets for me. Occasionally, I might say something slightly witty at an advert. Or write a tweet that gets FOUR likes and retweet. Put on the good bra to go to the shops. Pulse quickening.

I get plenty pulse quickening with my anxiety. Constant, worsening anxiety that turns every single thing into the same thing. Heart palpitations, hard to breathe, floaty, distant, shaking anxiety.

It used to just be Some Things. The Big Things. I’ve written at length about my fear of death and the therapy that I uselessly underwent to help it. I still have that but my more constant anxiety has even turned that heart stopping, face clawing, screaming existential terror into a mundane nightly chore, like brushing my teeth (just kidding, I don’t brush my teeth nightly, I’m not the Queen).  I climb to bed (it feels like a climb because I know what’s coming, that huge boulder perched on the precipice ready to flatten me), put on my sleepy sounds (an app that has waves on it), try and read shit on my phone until I can’t stay awake, but then I invariably do because I’m reading shit on my phone, then a word, a thought, death, dead, older, you’re 32 in a month, I wonder what it’s like to be 82 and know with utter utter certainty you’ll die soon, some sort of black jellyfish thing floats into my brain and sting sting stings until I can’t breathe, and want to fling myself out of the window, just to not feel this way anymore. I’m in bed, I’m safe, nothing is happening to me.

Every night. I could set my watch by it, if I had a watch. I don’t, because ticking clocks make me think of death and I can’t be in the same room as one. WHAT A CARD I AM.

How BORING IT IS to not be able to be in the same room as a ticking clock.  I just go through my nightly panic attacks alone. Occasionally I’ll have flung myself across the room. Reader, in previous years, I’ve even wet myself from fear. Really quietly. Try not to wake up Robert. “Why don’t you wake me up?” Because it’s fucking BORING. BORING. BORING. How many times have I talked this out, with you, with him, with a therapist, with this blog and Facebook and all the other things I fling my feelings at when I’m sick of them clinging to my heart like tar. It is BORING. I have reduced the most primal feeling of all men, all, since the beginning of time, to something so FUCKING BORING.  So self obsessed, so insular. Panic or paralysis, that’s about it.

It makes me angry.

It makes me angry it’s just gotten worse and worse. When is it my time to be okay? Over the past year or so my anxiety has changed from something that happened to something that just is. Everywhere, always. It has infested every single aspect of my life and made every single thing in my life bloodless.  The only exception is my son, because he is life and also because he is so attention consuming in his tiny toddlerness and I have to stop him walking into traffic it’s hard to think or feel anything else but hypervigilance.

Twee cartoons, though helpful for many, don’t capture the boredom of anxiety. They convey chaos, a mind racing with possibilities and thoughts and fears.  And that is anxiety, but racing isn’t the right word. It’s tumbling, jumbling, crashing, smashing and smithereening. Over and over, so it’s just a hum.  Just one catastrophic thought after another. From the big. I am going to die. Smash, bang. I am going to die soon. Smash, bang, thump. Then you panic. Smithereen. Rinse, repeat. (I am not going to do this thing at work well.  Now I’ve wasted so much time panicking I have no time to do it well. I am scared if I don’t cross the road at the right time I will get hit by a car. Now I am dissociating at the traffic lights and can’t remember how to cross the road. I think I fucked this thing up. Everyone must know I fucked this thing up.  I am anxiously obsessing over this thing to my friends. Now my friends must be annoyed at me.  I am coming across as a weirdo because I am feeling anxious and spacing out. Blah blah blah).  I am not suicidal in the least but I think about killing myself with alarming regularity just to never have another day of anxiety.

I am just really bloody tired of it. It is really exhausting. I don’t know what to do about it anymore. I have to think everything over a thousand billion times. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that. I find it hilarious I was once described as “impulsive” when I’m now everything I do is at a glacial pace because I have to investigate every other known option and settle on none of them.  I know in a sense it’s habit. Useless CBT tried to break that habit, it didn’t work. I can’t do mindfulness because so much of my anxiety is wrapped up in mortal things; hearts beating, breathing and all that, so it actively makes me panic more.

I was off work for months due to anxiety.  I had counselling, and was kicked out for missing 2 sessions (one flu, one sister visit). The counsellor was also clearly a bit unsure of me, having expected some sort of 12 session wham bam you’re cured mam and getting someone trying to process trauma and manage a mental illness on top of the day to day stuff (and it is the day to day stuff now really, it takes up such a huge amount of my energy to stay relatively sane while holding down 2 jobs to live and trying to keep everyone in my house not homeless). So I went to a private therapist for an assessment, begged skintness (despite having 2 jobs, I am skint) and will do more therapy, and maybe it’ll help, and maybe it won’t. I can’t take SSRIs because they kick off mania which would be another whole boring pile of shit to contend with. I’ve taken propranolol and it does its business but doesn’t do anything about my head.

Here are some ridiculous things my anxiety has made FUCKING BORING lately.

  1. Booking a holiday. Being in the privileged position of being able to take our first family holiday thanks to my mum in law, I decided the most fitting way to celebrate was to faff and worry so much I didn’t book anything for weeks until it was really expensive and we picked somewhere almost at random. Then I worried about that and felt responsible for preemptively ruining everyone’s holiday and terrified of wasting a lot of money we don’t have on not going somewhere utterly perfect and anyway taking a 2.5 year old on holiday is fucking stupid so I’ll have to ask Facebook for opinions and talk about it constantly until I eventually have a panic attack in the street while I’m holding an emergency sausage roll. THANKS BRAIN.
  2. A meteor shower. The splendor of the heavens! Shooting stars! The inky canopy dotted with bright stars, so beautiful and visible at my mum’s up in the mountains of Northern Ireland.  OH HEY BY THE WAY YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHY THEY’RE THERE AND YOU’RE GOING TO DIE BEFORE YOU FIND OUT. Time to go back inside.
  3. Watching a beautiful sunset from my bedroom window. Aaaah, isn’t this nice, and it’s light enough still you might not have a panic attack in the dark. Try to go to sleep now. Go on. Sleep like the dead. What are you doing with your tiny finite life YOU COULD BE DOING SO MUCH MORE FOR ALL IT MATTERS ANYWAY. ARRRGGGGH.

NOTHING HELPS. Talking about it doesn’t help because there’s no solutions. That sausage roll might have helped for a few minutes, just like this glass of wine I had might have helped too, but that’s it. No baths, no walks, no runs, no good food, no wanky “self care” helps. Because it, all of it, becomes part of the same stair climbing routine with a panic attack at the end.

I’ve mentioned it before but the insularness of it makes me angry. I wonder sometimes if my anxiety is some sort of pressure release system due to feeling constantly and rightly worried about losing my jobs (therefore I must be perfect at them but then I worry so much I am shit at them) and making my family homeless. It is so internally focused that I have tried to block out the world in case my brain just fucking collapses.  Since I last wrote here a thousand awful things have happened and are still happening so I focus all my anxiety on internal, BORING things, some of which are in my control, and if they aren’t, then I try to wrench them into it. Of course, you can’t control everything, and then you freak out.  And this is the biggest thing in my life I don’t feel I have any control over whatsoever which just frightens me more. And bores me, because I am constantly trying to keep it socially acceptable, and that’s boring.  To just be a stuck record that skips over and over. A voice from a speaker in the distance garbled through air, a static buzz.

I’m bloody fucking sick of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Having a diagnosis of mental illness doesn’t mean you’ll be a bad mother.

No matter what they tell you, for years.

I’m often too knackered/too busy/too dispirited by the world to blog, so you can often find me on Twitter instead. Here’s a series of tweets I wrote tonight on the topic of mental health and motherhood. Come and find me and say hello.

(Click on the tweet to read the thread)

Me and @MarkOneinFour on BBC Radio – Ouch: Disability Talk, Let’s talk about mental health … but then what?

Hello! You can listen to me and the lovely @MarkOneinFour talk mental health, Prince Harry and inappropriate dancing on the BBC Ouch podcast this week. Let me know what you think! 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p050rhtp

Evening all

Hello everyone who came from Blurt! And thank you Blurt for the hat tip-check out that link for more excellent mental health blogs. 

Sorry there’s no TOP QUALITY BLOGGY GOODNESS here. That’s because I’ve been really busy. I returned to work after being signed off for two months so I’ve been pretty exhausted. I also have a new job that I’m starting next week, which I’m terrified about (leaving lovely Mind and all my lovely people! Everything and everyone I know! My first Proper Job!) but which will hopefully mean a better balance in my life (no three hour a day commute, hooray!)

I’ll write more soon but for now, here’s a cute picture of my son shouting, “Flowers!” and generally being happy. 

x

Housing benefit scrapped for 18-21 year olds 

At 21 I was mentally ill, couldn’t work, had a dead alcoholic dad and my mum on benefits across the sea.  I would have been homeless without housing benefit. It’s not just a room or a roof, it’s a base, a safe space. Without that I never would have recovered enough to be able to work or have a child, I don’t think I’d still be alive. Stopping work and being able to claim benefits was a positive turning point in my life. That’s just me, one person. 

This will badly impact on LBGTQ people, people who have been abused and can’t “prove it” (how do you prove emotional abuse? Physical and sexual abuse which shames you into silence, gives you a mistrust of anyone with authority over you, as well as the fact that some people rightfully fear the police?) Since the single room rate is for over 35s now anyway what’s even to be saved? Just more needless pointless cruelty.
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/housing-benefit-axed-18-21-year-olds-dwp-damian-green_uk_58b99db8e4b0d2821b4dcc6e?ncid=engmodushpmg00000003

My Blog is 10 Years Old! Hooray!

Happy 10th birthday to this blog! If it were a person, it’d be in its last year of primary school. Bloody hell. 

When I wrote my first entry, I was newly dispatched from a psychiatric hospital, newly having just-lost-my-dad, and trying to find my way in the world through a fugue of medications and grief. Although I started this blog to write out feelings I felt were burdening people around me, to get closer to what I was experiencing, really this blog was a way to put distance between me and what was happening to me. To storify it, to fling its tendrils into others and drag them close to me, to share in it. Because I felt alone and for however wise and clever I tried to sound, I didn’t have a fucking clue.

And I had this phone: 


A fair amount has changed. I’d have hoped 10 years on I’d be shiny haired in my giant kitchen and recovered, but I’m not. (The Recovery Myth innit)  I’ve been off work for the past month with another to go as I continue to be ill (largely strangulating anxiety, never really recovered from being ill at the end of last year) but I’m coping. 

Long ago- long long long ago- I surrendered the identity of, “manic depressive” and started to deal with the messy foreverness of just mentally interesting, maybe slightly fucked in the head, maybe also struggling to deal with things that had happened to me, maybe with a dash of madness that a capitalistic world instills in people like you and me (and the late, great Mark Fisher, who ended his life last month, wrote about it beautifully here) in living each day.

But at the beginning, and the middle, I needed that identity. It was a necessary part of getting to the point in my life where I could view the many limbed beast as something that floated alongside me, sometimes vapourously inside me, that didn’t define me, that didn’t own me. To submerge completely, to view my life through that one lens for a while was what I needed. I did, for a long time, need those medications, need that deadening sleep, need that anaesthesia and blue chaired routine of confession and penance. It was painful and exhausting and stumbling and sometimes humiliating and destructive but it did, eventually, get me into a quieter place, a quieter mind of being able to begin to untangle the what it is and what I am, and to be more gentle with myself and those around me who often suffered alongside me in each episode and in its self obsession.

That’s the biggest change, really. That I am a person with, or who experiences x, y, z and not just that. You can’t escape that- the that is why I was under the perinatal team in pregnancy, the that is why it takes me so long to ask for help when I need it, the that is why I feel shame, despite  everything, the that is the that that lurks in the background whispering it can kill you, anytime, no matter what, when you least expect it. But I’m still here.

I’m still short, still fat. I’ve got a child, whom I adore, and reading back those early entries were such anxiety about ever having children, and I’m so glad I did. I don’t write as much as I’d like to, I work now when I wasn’t sure I ever would, I don’t take medication anymore but don’t rule it out, and I still can’t read a novel to save my life. I made it a rule not to discuss my relationships in detail in this blog, but I’m married and happily so, boringly happily so. I’ve always been quite lucky in that respect. I’ve got friends and quite a few of them I made through here. I also pretty much got my job because of this blog. 

The world has changed in 10 years for the worse. Back when I started this blog I was on benefits and didn’t fear too much the brown envelope, which is unthinkable now. I don’t write so much about that either as I never feel I can do justice to it, someone always says it better. I feel like what I say about that here would be facile, so I’ll save it for another post.

Thanks to everyone who’s stuck with me for the past DECADE. (I am old). For the people who were there at the start and carried me through the worst years. And who are here now listening to my bollocks on WhatsApp. For historians, this is the first public entry, 10 years ago. I made most of my earliest blog posts private due to the toe-curling embarrassment of writing while under the influence of being 21 years old.  Most of my early posts here made me utterly cringe in their melodrama- but now, with my greying temples and the tantrumy toddlerdom I live with- I’m far more sympathetic to the barely out of teenagehood of it all. There’s a sweet romance in the melodrama of that age, whether you’re just out of a psychiatric hospital or just out of school, or both.  

So if you’re a teenager and reading this, and you’re Instagramming, tweeting, blogging or Snapchatting mental health, keep doing it.  When I started writing here, there weren’t many mental health blogs around and there wasn’t much of a community. Now there is, it’s flourishing, people are sharing their stories, finding each other. Keep finding each other.  Don’t worry about how you sound or look or if you’ve written something lovely. It’s not about that. Challenge the narrative, don’t let anyone speak for you. I wish you’d all been around when I was a mental self harming teenager who had no idea what was happening to me and no way to explain it. You’re doing good things. Keep doing it.
Not sure there’ll be 10 more years- it gets harder to write here the more of a, “normal” life I need to lead. Despite 10 years, I still feel worried or self conscious about what people must be thinking when they read this. But maybe if I can make more time, more space, I can write more and care less. That’s what I’d like. Either way- thanks for sticking with me. You’re a great bunch of lads.  I hope my bollocks has helped!

For historians and statisticians:

Total views: 1,512,968 (one and a half million, what the feck)

Busiest day: 8th May 2009 (when the Radio 4 play based on this blog was broadcast- read this post)

My favourite post: Musings on Mumhood- Feminism, Love and Grief 

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Weirdest search term of the day: slapping your sister in d dream correcting her and u were very angry with her

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Goodbye Carrie Fisher, drowned in moonlight,  strangled by her own bra. 

​I generally dislike the snowflake especial, self aggrandisement of bipolar disorder, where it’s treated like some sort of wonderful gift or quirky personality trait. 

It’s usually a thing that men do because famous men have so very much less to lose by being open about mental illness and bipolar disorder gets them their, “Tortured genius” badge, whereas it gives woman their “Tragic Slut” or “Psycho Bitch” one.

Carrie Fisher owned being a mad woman,  being mad in a way only men are allowed to be (not quietly, and with a massive side order of coke and booze), and at a time when women shouldn’t be, and being totally fucking unashamed of it, as well as hilarious, human and seemingly bereft of self pity. If women are to be forgiven for their transgressions (mostly imagined),  it is only by wilting quietly and apologetically.   She didn’t. She bloomed and had her bollocks out and wrote so, so beautifully about ugly, funny, wonderful, painful things. 

She was a hero to me and many, the kind of princess I wanted to be.  There’s a lot more I can and will say another time but for now- goodbye,  Carrie Fisher. 

Sorry for the silence… 

… I’ve not been very well over the past few months,  unsurprising given its autumn and I’m always ravaged by depression at this time of year. I don’t really know why I ever hope it’ll be different.  In the last few years I’ve had round the clock anxiety too which has been lots of fun. I haven’t been at my worst thankfully, I’ve had worse than this, but it’s been bad enough that I got signed off work for a little bit,  only a week.  My doctor wanted me to take longer off,  but am trying to keep myself going as much as possible as I don’t want to end up back on medication, which was what the doctor suggested if I continued to get worse.  Because I can’t take antidepressants on their own I’d have to take a mood stabiliser and antipsychotic again too, and it was hell getting off them and I struggled to function working full time with a long commute and it would be doubly hard now with a baby to care for too. 

It took me a long time to ask for help because I was terrified if I did,  they’d take my son from me. That’s my worst nightmare and I was angry at myself for not being magically cured now I have him, for feeling weak and shit. He always makes me happy, was the only thing that did really. But I’ve been feeling like some sort of toy, plugged in and can smile and talk then becoming unplugged into slackness and silence.

So I’m trying my best. I do feel a bit better.  I need to take a bit of a look at my life though and think about what I can reasonably cope with. It is so hard in London just trying not to go under.   

The state of the world generally has been getting me down too and I haven’t felt like writing.  What is there to say anymore that hasn’t been said already? The world is a terrifying shitshow full of unimaginable suffering which is going to become worse and worse.  There’s my hot take.

I’ll be back though, just wanted to say hi and explain why I’ve been quite quiet over the last few months. 

Oisín is still lovely, though. Here he is on Halloween (he was a punk zombie bit in truth he was just himself with some hairspray and a bit of facepaint).  And more for avid Seaneen baby followers… 

 

BBC Ouch Podcast-me and Mark Brown talk mental health 

Hello!  ​I was on the BBC Ouch podcast this morning with Mark Brown talking about celebrities coming out with their mental health, disclosure, the changing nature of celebrity, social media, sexism, Zayn Malik, mentalism and tea. And I also talk a bit about this blog (which is now so old it’s in its last year of primary school)   Listen to us here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04c13bz

The Loneliness At the End of the Story

Mark’s piece has made me want to try and put something into words that I’ve long struggled to, and that I probably will struggle to now (edit: reading over this, yeah, I did). I am struggling to write generally at the moment. Continue reading

Hiraeth/West Belfast/Home

Been a while, sorry about that. I’ve been in complete survival mode lately, just trying to get through the days and collapsing at night,  with Oisín’s sleep all over the place so I’ve been knackered. 

But somewhere in the back of my mind- and often at the forefront- is, “Does it have to be like this?” Do I have to work full time in London and commute 3 hours a day and only see my baby before bedtime, and weekends (although luckily I can work from home once a week too) , and work in a fairly responsible well paid job and still have to claim housing benefit in order to put a roof over our heads,  paying more than half my wages still to rent? 

It’s a dilemma that is tediously ordinary- most people who live in London have had it. Many do leave. At the moment though, we have no choice. The other viable option is to move, “Home”- “home” to Belfast, and Belfast has no jobs. Especially not in my niche, very London-centric field. I still have some sad ambitions of being a writer and making money off that, but again, the other tedious dilemma (and truth) is that we rely solely and utterly on me to make sure we aren’t homeless and hungry, and that also traps me in full time work, and makes me afraid to take any risks.  The pressure is massive and sometimes I feel like my brain is going to explode from it, but I’ve still stayed largely well so *fist bump*  But the financial noose is tightening, and we will never be able to have another kid here.

Life is very short. 

If someone handed me a wad of cash tomorrow and said, “Go back to Belfast”, I’m not sure I would. Belfast is the place I ran away from as a wild eyed, manic 17 year old. My parents always expected me to come back, each year, each phone call, and I never did.  Now my mum has moved out of the hated house of so many teenage miseries, where my dad turned yellow and died, and I don’t have a real sense of attachment to where she is now, or to those memories. I was incredibly unhappy there. It was a small minded, petty, violent, frightening shithole. It gave me many an interesting tale to regale Kent dwellers who’d never seen a machine gun, but so many memories I would drown in the deepest if I could, and I have tried. As a weird teen I dodged bottles and stones and spittle and I couldn’t wait to leave and took the first chance I could to. Why would I go back? It’s defeat.

Brexit makes it all the more uncertain –  economically,  NI relies a lot on the EU,  and should the border come up again there will be hell to pay. 

But…but.  My uncle was on YouTube the other day and he found this:

That’s my dad. That’s my dad, speaking, real and alive in 1998, vox-popped about the Good Friday Agreement in a graveyard. I haven’t heard his voice in a decade, I had forgotten it. Had forgotten how softly spoken he was when not drunk, and his wispy ever windblown hair. I had forgotten the smell of that coat- that very one, with pear drops packets always crumpled in the most remote pockets- the musty, male charity shop scent. I had forgotten that khaki grass and listless sky.

I didn’t cry when I saw this video, although I watched it in silence about 10 times. Then I showed it to my son (who at 17 months doesn’t understand, but will one day). I don’t know what I felt or feel watching it, sadness, longing, a certain sense of pride, nostalgia? A similar feeling I get on the taxi ride back from the airport when I visit,  landscapes, all wrapped up indelibly in each other. The mountains and trees and the graffiti. Of being there and leaving at the same time. Sometimes I feel as though my dad has flattened and become part of it, instead of the person, but most times I know that’s because it’s a preferable feeling to the chest crushing grief and regret of his fullness and life and death.

I’m from West Belfast in Northern Ireland- from right here, to be precise:

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I used to get incredibly angry when people said I wasn’t, “really Irish” because I was from the North. Because I was from West Belfast, which is poor, Republican, Nationalist, bilingual and which is an area that has suffered in every sense for it- economically, physically, emotionally- it felt like we had fought for the right to identify as Irish. That being really Irish is being a fighter.  I was a right wee Chuckie when I was a kid, because you were, being from there. I tried to explain this badly on Twitter one evening, when the vote for bombing Syria was happening. As a kid, you can’t rationalise that there’s reasons for things, you don’t know the mechanics of the IRA, they weren’t the ones on our streets with machine guns, raiding our houses, and you will hate the occupying outside force with a greater strength and unite against them, no matter who the internal bastards are, if they’re not the bastards dropping bombs on your head. It will backfire. I was a kid at the end of the Troubles and still lived through stuff I’d rather forget. I tried to articulate having this feeling as a child, who hated the British army and bottled them gleefully, and was told to, “do one” and then blocked by a fairly well known TV journalist. I understand why, of course, but I’ve tried to explain a thousand things about being from there, and have failed and have never been understood once in the 14 years I’ve lived here, or it been understood I’m always talking from the perspective of a relative child.

The more I’ve tried to explain and failed, and the less I’ve been understood, the less I’ve minded being not, “really Irish”. Because I’m not. I’m Northern Irish. With different culture, frame of reference, art, really fucking awful TV programmes, slang, politics, worldview. I’m not a Nationalist, and I’m only a Republican in the true sense of the word, but I’m not really Irish.  But the, “not really”, at least for me, gave me a shaky sense of belonging when growing up. A sort of unwanted feeling- the South didn’t want us (how as a child I wanted them!), the mainland certainly didn’t (fairly understandable really)- that I still sort of have now, living in London for my entire adult life. I’ve never felt like I belong here, either. You are, to an extent, whether you like or not, a product of your environment, and I don’t know how much my sense of ill fitting is just my personality or is a culture clash. I have quite a dark,  morbid sense of humour, which strikes me as a Northern Irish trait, a doggish type of friendliness and energy, which also does and puts me at odds with quite a lot of people I met, I tend to say what’s on my mind and talk much more quickly than my thoughts are formed which means I talk a lot of shite.  I find myself always trying to shut up. And speaking in generalities. I prefer myself when I’m in Belfast. But that could just be romanticising, just be trying to find a connection, a place called home.

I don’t feel at home here, but when I do get that throb for home, I don’t know where that is or what it means- if it’s qualities I have I wish I could share with people, or my family, or the landscapes (I got a bit emotional going through Yorkshire a few weeks ago, it wasn’t flat!) or the sense of humour, or the people. Whether it’s inside of me, or outside with my husband and son, or everywhere, or even in bits of London that I would miss massively. I moved a lot as a kid and I continued to when I moved to London. I’ve moved 10 times in 14 years, to find home, and I still haven’t. Whether it ever existed at all, or would again, or what it would be. I’m not and never will be English, and feel such a sense of shame over England politically I often don’t want to live here.

The closest I’ve come to pinpointing it was when I watched the Irish animated film,  Song of The Sea, just after my child was born.  It’s rich with mythology,  beauty and humour,  and is a study of grief and loss. And mythology was a way I made sense of my own feelings as a child.  To understand my own sense of not – belonging,  I used to walk around my parent’s room with a mirror that had broken off a dressing table.  I tried to get into that world beyond,  the mirror world that existed in our own,  the Tir na Óg. I’d try to lose myself in the farmlands behind our house and talk to the horses and birds and imagine they understood me. 

But that is hiraeth because it can never be returned to,  it doesn’t and never did exist. 

How will Oisín understand himself or his feelings,  with what reference? Where will he belong or feel at home?  Watching a documentary about London back in the day, expansive,  diverse,  grand and historical,  I thought if we moved him out of here he’d hate us for it.  But it’s also transient,  and many people we love face the same dilemmas and move on,  but also probably will in Belfast as adults,  as I did. 

I don’t know whether I want to bring up my kid in a place of my defeat but I wouldn’t live in West Belfast anyway. Robert feels Belfast as home- that one brief year he lived there affected him deeply- but it’s his home, birth home (not house, but place), we live in now, in Streatham.  And I like that, that forever and forever, our son will be from the same place as his dad, no matter where we go.  Belfast would have cousins for our son and people who could pronounce his name (although to be fair I’m sometimes unsure myself if I’m saying it right, because the South and North pronounce it completely differently). Belfast is different now than it was, although still backwards in some ways. That in itself is sort of exciting when I feel like London is shrinking and pushing everyone not rich to the fringes. What’s the point of living in the biggest city in the world if you live on the edge of it? But there are still rarely visited streets in the centre which are maps of my early years here,  where I remember. 

Anyway, I was hoping I could write this all poetically and meaningfully and try to explain something profound or interesting, but instead it’s come out as a bit of a jumble. Bollocks.

10 years dead

How the fuck did that happen? Here’s my piece about my dad.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/seaneen/7-things-i-learned-as-the-child-of-an-alcoholic-20ojv

Bulimic Beats Aka I Thought I Was Over This Shit

I was going to give this an ambiguous title, but thought it best to be upfront in case you wanted to click away. I’ll wait.

My brain is a bit of a mess at the moment. The only time I feel peace is with the baby- no expectation, no social contracts to worry about, no bullshit, just pure life, giggling at cats. I think sometimes in my writing I give the impression I threw a jacket over my shoulder and whistled off into the sunset. But there are no sunsets, this day never fucking ends, not really.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d been told I had pre-diabetes, which is a warning sign for diabetes. I have been doing as required, weight loss and (very little, see above about exhaustion) exercise. Low carb diets are apparently the way to go, so I have gone. I have no choice. I have to lose weight, and I know I should view this as a good thing- after all, who wants to get diabetes?

Diets, and low carb diets in particular, set off something awful in my head. I had bulimia for years. For lots of years, I was fat and bulimic so even though I was tearing my esophagus and fainting, nobody took me seriously. I actually got congratulated by one doctor for losing some weight when I went for help, having smashed my head the previous night when I lost consciousness over the toilet bowl. Another doctor told me I had a nice figure. Because that’s always been the deal- as long as I wasn’t fat, I was fine.

It was a low carb diet that started it all. I gained a huge amount of weight on olanzapine as a teenager (as a teenager?! on olanzapine?!) and went on the Atkins diet. I lost weight- a fair amount, and enough to put into, “still a bit fat, but socially acceptable” range, and I also had a very physical job (which I lost due to being mental) which kept me quite fit. But the way it framed food- as carbs bad (PS CARBS ARE NOT BAD, IT IS BULLSHIT), other stuff good- gave me a chronic fear of carbohydrates and I found myself panicking and vomiting if I ate them, even accidentally. And eventually came off the diet for my sanity, but the eating disorder remained. It waxed and waned, I maintained my fat to doctors but thinner than I was on olanzapine physique, and then years later I was put on Seroquel and gained 4 stone in a few months and returned to my eating disorder with a vengeance. I was never a huge binger, I mostly threw up my meals and with particular panic if it had carbohydrates, so decided to forego food entirely. I even went on a liquid diet, all the while also being bulimic, and was eventually slim enough that the commentary from the paramedics as they hauled me into the back of an ambulance in 2008 was that I was beautiful so why would I try to kill myself? I doubt they’d say that now.

I recovered from it without any help other than sheer bloody mindedness- or shitty mindedness, since I was also abusing laxatives and spent most of my sisters 2009 visit in the toilet. The chemist stopped serving me, I was hopping pharmacies, I went on holiday and in the post-holiday photo flickage saw my dewy eyes in a restaurant in Barcelona and remembered I’d thrown up that expensive squid ink, that my moist panda face was due to just having vomited and not from the candlelit joy, and now I couldn’t shit without 10 laxatives. I’d fucking had enough and I stopped taking them and started eating and keeping it down. This, combined with still taking antipsychotics (and other medication like Lamictal), also meant I started gaining weight again, and a dose increased banged on a few stone in 2 months, and there I was, the fattest I’d ever been, but no longer bulimic, and I was proud.  Proud and fat, two things you’re never allowed to be at the same time.

I’ve had some hairy moments. Pregnancy was one long hairy moment, but particularly the 12 week scan when I was tactlessly inducted into a study on women with BMI over 30 at risk of gestational diabetes, and told they’d watch what I ate. Bear in mind I’d just gotten a train I had carpeted with my vomit from intense pregnancy sickness that meant I could barely eat anything. I was given a very stern warning- sterny stern, you’re fat, stern, you can’t gain any weight (I’m fucking pregnant? Are babies made of fluff?), you’re going to get diabetes, pre-eclampsia (I got neither) while I sat in shaken silence, waiting for my trisomy screening results to come back, wishing, somewhere, noted, in big red letters, was that I’d had an eating disorder, and it might be best to have these conversations with me a) privately and b) tactfully.  Being weighed every time I went there was hard, as I’d thrown my scale out some time before.

I actually didn’t gain any weight due to the sickness, but there were times I wondered if there wasn’t a psychological element to it. Somewhere, in the back of head, was and still is, “You didn’t gain weight because you threw up. Vomiting works”. That conversation and the ones that followed changed my perception of what my body was doing- I had felt I was nuzzling, nurturing, protecting, being a cozy home for my wee Bean, and the constant emphasis on my weight (which I could not help, because I also wasn’t allowed to come off medication) and the horrible things that would happen to the baby because of it made me feel like my body was a cesspit that he’d be lucky to emerge alive from. The final kick in the balls was on my fiftieth diabetes test where the doctor said I needed an extra one because I was on Seroquel, and women on Seroquel had a 95% chance of getting gestational diabetes. I was absolutely furious because I knew he had pulled that statistic out of his hole, that it wasn’t true, and that it was said just to frighten me enough to have another GTT when I’d had three, including one the week before, and found them horrible because I felt so ill and would wake up lightheaded from fasting yet again, and then spend two hours trying not to vomit up the sugar liquid. I didn’t get gestational diabetes, but then I got this warning, so I no longer feel smug, or even angry. Maybe I deserved to be treated like a fucking idiot, because I’m fat.

So here I am again, on a low carb diet. And, although it never really went away, I did reclaim some of the brain space that food had filled for so many years. I filled it with other things, flowers, joy, eating that sourdough with olive oil, nights of meals where I wasn’t distracted by where the toilet was, where I didn’t disappear for an hour afterwards, and later nights where I didn’t have to get up to sit on the toilet for another one.  I find where I work to be a very difficult place when it comes to food.  I work at a mental health charity, which, with me being an anxious person generally (that’s why it’s called generalised anxiety disorder, Seaneen) it can be tough to be surrounded by wellbeing messages, and by a focus on exercise which I don’t do, with a body I don’t have, with feelings I don’t feel.   I try not to eat my lunch in work, which means I spend a fortune, but I hate any sort of commentary, any sort of scrutiny, even if it’s kind or polite.  But the way I coped was to nothing food and exercise, to not ascribe any sort of moral value to it, even a good one like, “it feels good, it’ll make you feel better”. Because it’s just another stick to beat myself with. (Should go without saying, these are my feelings- no reflection on anyone I work with. I work with a few really close friends, and the rest of the people I work with are brilliant. This is all me).

I know these are quite irrational feelings and things I do, but they’re ways I have of pickaxing that territory back. And now all that space I fought to reclaim has been avalanched again with food, with a fixation on numbers, good/bad, and an even greater sense of panic because I HAVE to lose weight now.  And it means I’ve had my head down a toilet again a lot more than I care to admit, and new scars on my knuckles and a feeling of despair and self loathing. I don’t want this, and I wanted to be a model of good eating and good self esteem for my son. I love eating dinner together, in the years of clawing back my mind, eating became a pleasurable, social thing. But there are things they have to eat (like pasta, carbohydrates) that I can’t. I eat lots of veg, I use flax seed, I have the odd slice of Burgen bread, and I’m not doing Atkins style low carb, but my diet is largely separate from the family table now, and it is depressing, and it feels like I have fallen so far backwards. I’ve also started eating meat again which is something else to feel awful for, because I had no fucking clue how to feed myself. As a vegesaurus I was living on beans, lentils, veg. And now, I was getting to the end of some days feeling like I was going to faint.  It was one more thing to worry about, because I was struggling to get enough protein, and would eat more carbohydrates from hunger, and panic. I have no moral highground because I’ve been on and off meat, but had gotten to the point off meat where I felt like I was really, well, off.

I’m meant to go to some sort of Eye of the Tiger soundtrack diabettus group and I can’t face it, because I know it’s going to be fixated with weight loss and weighing and food. I can’t do it, it isn’t going to help. The thought of being sat around a circle on those uncomfortable blue chairs fills me with dread. And it makes me want to lose even more weight so I can say, “Well, see? I don’t need this group”.

I am hoping things will settle down as they become second nature.  This is pretty much my lifestyle now. I have lost weight, but I don’t even feel good about it. I feel like now if I gain it back, even a pound, I’ve failed in some way. A lady in Tesco I talk to commented on my weight loss and said I must be doing, “something right” and my brain went into an utter tailspin. I know this is my problem, and that it’s silly in a lot of ways, but I worked so fucking hard, and it’s a dogwhistle to self hatred. I feel like I kidded myself.  I was never comfortable with how I looked (and massive LOLs to the fact that when I eventually got therapy for body dysmorphic disorder I looked a way I would kill to now) but on most days in the past few years, I could think, “Banging boobs. Nice eyes”. But now I find myself looking in the mirror with contempt. I see big fat sagging tits, and eyes that are squashed by the weight of my face. Although there is a lot of truth in that my medication has made me gain a lot of weight (because antipsychotics do), I feel like, well, why I didn’t I tell them years ago that I wasn’t going to take them (and I did but psychiatrists vacillate between, “you don’t need them” to, “YOU’LL DIE WITHOUT THEM”).  I can’t blame it entirely, and it’s a cop out to do so. Why didn’t I even carry on being bulimic if I meant I wouldn’t get so big and end up almost diabetic. Why did I have that Gu, or eat that pasta, or enjoy that meal.

But I don’t want to be bulimic again, and I’m on a very slippery slope. I’m trying to be honest about this- I’m in touch with someone who’s on a similar diet for similar reasons and who struggles with similar feelings so we can give each other a bit of support (even if we don’t, it’s still sort of nice to know someone else is feeling the same) and I have told very close people so they know I’m not being weird and they’re also being supportive. So I just wanted to say it somewhere.

PS: I feel like an absolute loser for writing this. Breaking stigma, yah yah yah. I’d still be mortified if someone googled me and found this. None of this paints me in a good light. Hiya.

 

 

 

 

New Buzzfeed article- 6 Things I Wish I’d Heard as a Bipolar Teenager

Bipolar isn’t the whole story of my life and definitely not my teens, where I started to become ill but was mostly unable to cope under the psychic pressure that teenagehood is, a stew of hormones, trauma, the Manic Street Preachers and very shitty make up.  It was a pretty lonely, pretty frightening time, pretty silly time for me at points. So I wrote an article for Buzzfeed on things I wish someone had said to me as a teenage mentalist. You can read it here.

Spoiler- it doesn’t end with me shiny haired and recovered, because that’s never how it ends.

Give Us Your Body, We’ll Give Your Mind

I wish I could go back time and never have taken psychiatric medication. I’m not even sure how much I credit it with my stability. There are definitely times that it was helpful, but did I need to take it always, forever?

When I was prescribed carbamazepine when I was 16, nobody told me why, or what it would do, or what side effects it did. I was so drunk and dizzy on them, so sleepy, I’d fall over. I was 16 and my life should not have been like that and if it had to be I should have been told why. You take them because an adult told you to and your life was falling apart and you were scaring everybody with how you were behaving.

When I was 17 I was prescribed olanzapine and again nobody told me why or what side effects it had. I gained a frightening amount of weight in such a short space of time that I stopped recognising myself, I felt like my body was being inhabited by an alien.

I’ve been on antipsychotics my entire adult life so far. I never got to know who I was without them, except for the periods I’d stop taking them to see how I felt, and naturally I got ill (ill or withdrawal? I still don’t know). It’s not as easy as just going, “I’m not taking them”- you get labelled, “non-compliant”, “difficult”, and when you’re trying to live your life, rocking the boat is scary.

Now I’m 30 and I’ve been off them for about 6 months. I had tried many times to, and I was okay to stay on them postnatally as I could see how they’d help (even if it meant I could do no night feeds, and miss out on that special, defining parental experience).  I came off them, finally, when I had to go back to work and realised I couldn’t take them and parent, and work, and that I’d had enough of weight gain. It wasn’t as hard as it had been before because I was in a good space mentally, I’d titrated down, and used antihistamines to take the edge off.

I’ve only lost 7lbs since being off but it is the first time in years the scales have gone down.  I am almost 5 stone overweight and the only time I’ve been slim in my adulthood was when I had an eating disorder. I wasn’t a slim teenager either but I wasn’t fat, and I wasn’t the antipsychotic fat I am now, with a bloated face and huge tummy.

Doctors have never taken me seriously about this. Despite gaining 3 stone in 3 months on a dose increase.  Nobody was ever honest about this with me, about side effects in general. I was always made to feel it was my fault, that I was just stuffing my face, when I wasn’t. Always told to do more exercise when my medication made me so tired that I could barely get up in the morning, and when I said that I was told to go to bed at 6pm.  Whenever diabetes was mentioned, it was always with an apologetic shrug. Despite the fact that due to my medication I was supposed to get annual health checks and blood sugar tests, I only got one- my first one- last week.

Now the inevitable has happened, what I’d hoped to escape by getting off them, but I haven’t. I have prediabetes and now I have a fuckload of work to do to try and undo this, to avoid diabetes, if I can at all, I don’t even know.  I need to, what choice do I have? I am already on my knees with exhaustion, I commute 3 hours a day, I work full time, I have a baby, I am trying to manage my mental health without medication and it is hard.  But I am not going back on it ever. I am petrified of getting diabetes, of anything that will shorten my lifespan. I’ve always known the 20 years younger statistic,  I’ve quit smoking, my cholesterol and blood pressure is perfect at least.

I’m not blaming the medication entirely, but I wouldn’t have gotten to this weight without it, and I have no idea what it’s done to my body. And I’m scared and worried, and wondering- was it worth it?

One

I have a one year old. How the hell did that happen?

Happy first birthday to Sunny Boo, little Bean, beautiful Oisín. It is a singular joy being your mum and watching you grow from a mini Bean to a human Bean. At one, you still love the cats, you love music and dancing, shaking your head and jumping up and down on your bum, bibbling, pretending to have a tantrum then laughing, Chu and Where’s The Cat (‘at!), the light of the moon and little eggs laying on leaves, hurling yourself onto teddies, talking to the bookshelf, cleaning your high chair tray with a cloth, watching other people, being carried up the stairs by your dad still makes you dance with happiness every night. You still love your little baby gym- you couldn’t even reach the dangly toys when we got it and now you can lift the whole thing up to tip over, and those toys are well chewed. You love the feel of the wind in your hair. You love being sang to, sometimes when I sing to you at bedtime you flip out so much I have to stop. You are hilarious and make me laugh more than anyone else. You push books to us to read and flick back to your favourite pages. When you have night terrors I feel like I’m walking an ancient path, responsible for such a small life beginning to make sense of their world, a sovereign being in your own right, but being carried around by your daddy and a cat always makes it better. You have weird taste in food and love anything strong, you turn your nose up at mild cheddar and yomp down the vintage stuff, smoked salmon and celery. You make the most amazing noises (the cats have their own special ones) and sometimes wake up in the night to babble with slightly unnerving clarity. You’re the most sociable and sweet baby I’ve ever met, you share your happiness with everyone around you, looking into our faces with a grin. You have the best selection of smiles, the softest skin and the longest eyelashes. Having you has made me reevaluate what’s important, made me kinder, happier, given me the closest thing to the answer of what the universe means that I think I’ll ever get. You’re the best and we love you. And thanks to everyone who’s been through this year with us, helped, hung out, given advice, made him giggle.

Oh, and happy 8th birthday to the cats too!

One year ago today:

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Now:

7 Things I Learned as the Child of an Alcoholic- My Buzzfeed article

Hello you lovely lot. I wrote a Buzzfeed article about my dad- 7 Things I Learned As The Child of an Alcoholic. 

Do check it out and tell me what you think. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know my dad’s story.  Hopefully it helps someone out there. There’s a lot of us kids of alcoholics lurking around.

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Discharged from perinatal psychiatry

So much I want to write about! I’m still gathering my thoughts on Bowie but I posted this on Facebook on the day he died (he died?) and it sped around Twitter. It was quite reassuring to know lots of people felt the same way.

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For now, here’s a quick update from MentalLand.

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I was discharged from the perinatal psychiatry team on Monday. Hooray! I got a, “well done on not getting psychosis” talk from the psychiatrist and a “haha but no really” aside that I’d be referred back in any future pregnancies.

But it’s good, it feels like validation that I can mum it alone, like a normal person. The question of whether any of us actually should be doing it alone is another matter.

I didn’t really mention the anxiety stuff to her because I can’t see what they can do to help. There are some times when I’m leaving for work and freeze outside the gate and am hit by the sense that something awful is going to happen. So strong, so vivid and real it is that it feels like a premonition. But I have to just carry on and try not to become too paralyzed by it. I really do, it can’t be drugged or talked away, it just is and that’s that.

I did just want to be left alone by now, too. Life hums by, mentalism is there in the background and it flows and recedes, occasionally tsunamis, and it is what it is. Recently I started fraying a little due to basically not sleeping for a fortnight. Thankfully (what odd thankfuls we have), I got floored by a cold and it gave me the excuse I needed to lie in bed for a few days and sleep.

So now, it’s basically try to stay well for the rest of my life.

Blog series: Bipolar pregnancy, birth and beyond

So, at the moment, there’s a storyline on Eastenders where Stacey Slater, who has bipolar disorder, develops postnatal psychosis after the birth of her child.

You might have found this blog searching for bipolar disorder and pregnancy. Or you may be watching Eastenders and feeling quietly terrified. Or relieved. Or confused. Or even disgusted.

From finding out I was pregnant, to having my babe, I’ve been blogging about what my experiences of having bipolar disorder and being pregnant and under psychiatric care have been like, including the good stuff, the shit stuff, the triumphant stuff and the angry-making stuff. And on how my having a mental illness has also not defined my pregnancy, or my parenting, as much as I feared it would. I’ve collected those posts as a series, which you can read here.

The Beginning: Pregnant, Mental and Fat

My Big Fat Bipolar Pregnancy: featuring the perinatal team, the birth plan and the Fear

My Birth Story, Why Birth Plans are Bullshit and the Stigma of Mentalist Mums

Musings on Mumhood: Feminism, Love and Grief

Therapy Tales Part 1– when I started therapy for death and postnatal anxiety

Therapy Tales Part 2 and 3

Therapy Tales Part 4: Trauma

My Body Has a Trigger Warning: Self harm and stigma

Stopping psychiatric medication after 16 years: My Drink and Drugs Heck

The Beauty of Babyhood

And if you don’t have time to read, here’s my video which talks about how my diagnosis shaped my care:

But if you’re already in the trenches of depression or more and want some support and real life stories, then you can check out PNDandMe on Twitter.

Hope this helps someone.

The Beauty of Babyhood

Last Import - 141The baby stage is passing with incredible swiftness. Here are some things I love (shared here and not just privately, who knows):

His big grin when Robert picks him up. Even if he’s crying and feeling crap, he grins when Robert picks him up. Every night, Robert takes him up the stairs to bed and Oisín grins his head off up every step. I stand at the bottom and watch while he does this 😀 I follow slightly behind to watch his grin at a rackish angle, his fluffy fringe.

His cat noise. He sees them every day and is never bored. He gets night terrors and sometimes wakes up crying and completely blank. You just hold him, unrecognising, but then a cat pushes their way in (and they always do when he’s upset) and slowly he comes back to himself and starts giggling through his tears. He has a special sound for them, and a silly, exaggerated crawl, and Girl Cat is especially patient with him.

His total unbridled love. He just loves seeing us and I know it’s not forever. I know it’s uncomplicated by anything. Robert often lets me lie in, because he’s not only a total dote, but a wonderful dad who understands I need a bit of sleep more than most. And when I clamber downstairs, Robert says, “Here’s mummy!” and Oisín’s face lights up with a huge smile, he starts jumping and flapping and wriggling and crawls towards me. Recognition! Of the best parts of you. The loving, warm, uncynical parts of you. There you are. I thought I had lost you (I thought I had lost you). When we’re together, he looks from each of us with total wonderment and reaches his little hand out to our faces and strokes. Waking up at 6am can be shit when you have to go to work, but he’s so happy it’s hard to be too annoyed.

His massive gummy kisses. He swishes his head from side to side when he wants to kiss you, but when you say, “Kiss?”, he opens his big drooly mouth and tries to kiss you. They’re so clumsy and cute.

The way he falls asleep when I sing to him. I stopped singing for years and I’m not even sure why, when I love to sing. Since he’s been born, I’ve been regaining my voice, singing to adverts, to the radio, and to him. Tonight I sang a mix of songs while he groped for my hand, found it, and fell asleep.

The night wakings. He bought us to our knees when he woke up every half an hour. But as long as I get a bit of a lie in (which won’t happen when I’m full time), I like doing the 4am feeds. I volunteer for them. I miss him, he misses us. I’d rather he didn’t wake up (for everyone), but that hour, those hours. Love, love, love. Crawling, silliness, half asleep, a bubble. Quiet, quiet world, and here we are.-

(But you do odd things when half asleep)
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The babble. I can’t wait for them to becomes words, but his babble is adorable. It’s taking form, and tone. We can tell when he’s having a go at us, or when he’s happy, or curious, or being silly.

Trying to make us laugh. When he’d had enough of dinner earlier, I shook his highchair and pretended it was an earthquake, which he laughed his head off at. After that, he started rocking his chair back and forth and hooting, turning to me and giggling, waiting for me to laugh back.

The tininess. Tiny hands, tiny nose, tiny feet, fluff head. All of which I call him. His tiny hands in your big hand. His oversized lashes on tiny eyelids, heavy and lush.

I love his anticipation before Robert blows on his belly. Hands poised, big grin, giggle already forming in his throat, then a big guffaw.

I love his open trustingness (and it also makes me sad that won’t be forever). He has a bit of separation anxiety, but he loves, adores, people. Studies their faces, coos, giggles, chases, babbles. He loves to make friends. When we’re on a bus, he’s either patient and watching out the window, or cooing his head off at a nearby person, smiling.

And I love his reaction to his teddies. He hasn’t got a firm favourite, he cuddles them all. If we hold one out to him (too paranoid about SIDS to put one in his cot), he hoots and giggles and reaches out then bear hugs them. For some, he will run at them and then wrestle them in a cuddle while laughing.

Although it can be boring, I love that he has his favourite books. They always chill him out. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chu’s Day and Where’s The Cat? are his best ones. He pushes you to read them. Kneels and looks at your face for reactions and laughs. Sits with his downy head against your cheek and hums. Hands turning a piece of hoodie string. Eyes looking. Cupid mouth, and hum. Softness.

I love his good mood even when he’s sick. We’ve both been sick but for Oisín it’s been snuffly, coughing business as usual while I bitch and moan. He’s an example to me.

The privilege of watching someone grow from scratch. And scratch isn’t blank. I recognise aspects of his personality I saw at days old. Straight from the packet. In every aspect, in every way. It is amazing. I know some people find it boring, and I understand that, but to me it’s fascinating. To see a person- a person!- become, be, like, dislike, love, unlove, is amazing. It feels like an honour to be witness to it with someone you love so much, to guide them.

I love that he helps me rediscover things about the world and myself. I was a nature baby, an animal child until I was bitten. I look at the hearts of leaves and the sky again and share in the wonder. Find books and words and songs. And feelings. Stripping off the skin feelings that are often unbearable and a barrel wetness of emotion and anxiety that can be hard to cope with- separation, forever, whenever? It’s terrifying. But my darling.

And a depth of love for Robert I never imagined. Watching someone you know and love know and love, tenderness, endless gentleness, playfulness, humbleness. Love, love, love, everywhere. My love.

And there are more. Many. Much. How can I love someone so completely, utterly, totally? My babe.

 

(Love, love, my season)

 

 

My Drink and Drugs Heck- Being Off Medication, Out of Therapy and Back to Work.

I meant to write my therapy tales as a weekly series, but it ended quite abruptly. Not for any bad reasons, but because my therapist was off to Peru (!) and wanted to finish the sessions before he left- which would involve squeezing a few into a week, which was the week before I went back to work. I would rather have spent time with my son than with the therapist, so we had two more sessions and left it there.

Did I find it helpful? I’m not really sure. There were more talk of trauma but a lot of it was just going through the self-help resource website. And the trauma is a whole other thing, so it picked at those threads a bit and left them dangling. My panic attacks have reduced but they often do when I’m incredibly busy, and I still have my horrible intrusive thoughts, but what can you do? (Except more therapy!)

I’ve also finally gotten off Quetiapine, which means I’m now medication free for the first time in 14 years. Yep, I’ve been on various brain potions since the tender age of my brain still developing, and that thought slightly horrifies me. I literally have no idea who I would be without medication, and I will never have the chance to find out since my brain is most likely permanently altered by them. Hooray! I can pretty much chart my life with various medications- 16: carbamazepine, 17, olanzapine (and becoming huge), 19-22, Lithium and Depakote, with various antidepressants and antipsychotics added, 22-28, on and off Lamictal, 22-30 antidepressants in low periods, Quetiapine. My Drug Heck.

Quetiapine was the last medication standing and the one I’ve found hardest to come off due to being dependent on it for sleep. My psychiatrist has utterly denied it causes a) weight gain and b) sleep dependence. She almost dared me to come off it, saying it didn’t have any withdrawal effects (I’ve almost torn my skin off with itching when trying to get off it before, taken a fork to bed where I’d lay awake for a week), and I can’t resist a dare, so I did. I can’t take Quetiapine if I need to do baby night duty which I would do twice a week so Robert could sleep. One night I just didn’t take it the next one. Instead took some promethazine (an antihistamine) and put on my sound machine app to sleep, and it worked. Promethazine has mitigated the worst withdrawal effects but i’ll need to get off that, too. I had gotten down to 75mg of Quetiapine which is why I think it wasn’t so tough this time. In the past when I’ve withdrawn I’ve gone mental fairly quickly and ended up back on it. But it’s been almost a month now and I haven’t had to call the police because I thought there was someone in my house wanting to kill me, so I call that a success.

I don’t feel hugely different. I tend to get quite down this time of year, and I am a bit. My brain is a bit more buzzy and detuned but I can get out of bed in the morning which is such a difference. My gorgeous human alarm clock helps, but even without his glorious gummy face I think I’d be much better. I haven’t been late to work once since I started back, when I used to be late every day (I’m late to my own time so I can leave by 5pm, but that’s transport rather than me).

As for being back to work- there’s a whole other post in there, about how it feels being a working mother. Lots of emotions, guilt either way, when I am at work and when I’m not. I’m only in for 3 days at the moment because I have a lot of leave to use up, but I’m fairly apprehensive going back full time in the new year because I will pretty much never see him in the week. My awful commute means I often don’t make it home to put him to bed, and I miss him terribly. He’s such a beautiful wee thing, in a lovely stage where he’s a real, proper little person. He’s crawling everywhere, chasing the cats, laughing his head off all the time, babbling (lots of, “mamas”, but I know it’s just babble right now), loving being read to (he brings you a book and puts it in your lap to read)- just an utter, utter joy.  It’s nice to be amongst adults at work, I have some excellent friends at work, and I’m lucky to have a job I love and an understanding workplace. I would probably go mental being a stay at home mum, since I’m an introvert anyway and work forces me out. My social skills totally disintegrated when I was off work for four years. The baby is incredibly sociable, he seeks people out, smiles at everyone, makes friends everywhere he goes, and I’m not great at getting out when that’s what he needs.  And it’s not healthy for him to just be my life, nor I his. I want to set a good example, and I’m glad he’s growing up with his dad being at home, to teach him, well, so many things, but one thing being that women aren’t handmaidens. And I know there is drudgery and frustration (a lot of the latter, since he’s so frustrated himself with being a baby), and it is good to get a respite from that so I don’t mind it so much.

It feels almost unfashionable to say this, to not don my power suit and sing Eye of The Tiger. But I really enjoy being with him, much more than I ever expected to. He’s with his dad, so that’s great (we can’t afford childcare, and Robert quitting work made sense) but I’m always worried about how Robert is coping and feeling, too. I feel a bit like I’m letting everyone down, and I’ve got a case of imposter syndrome going on with work, my confidence is in bits. I’m sure it’ll get better and I’ll settle in, navigate the space between, but I had a bit of a cry at the station earlier after missing my second train, so it had taken me two hours to get home.

To this face. I mean, c’mon. You’d cry too.

(PS, I don’t smoke anymore either. Pass the yoga mat)

Family.

Family.

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Yep, I’m fat, have scarred arms and an incredibly happy son.

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Meeting Sugar the rat!

Meeting Sugar the rat!

He saw an alpaca for the first time.

He saw an alpaca for the first time.

My body comes with a trigger warning – Self harm and stigma

Hello!  I wrote a blog for Mind on self harm,  stigma and conflicting messages.

“Stigma” has two meanings. One is religious- they’re the literal marks on the hands of Christ at the crucifixion, and then bestowed upon those whom were holiest- and by extension, those who suffered the most. The other is social- a mark of disgrace. Self harm is both. It is highly stigmatised in society and within the health system, and it is a mark of suffering.

Suffering only has cache if it’s quiet, or, “dignified”. If you make people uncomfortable with your suffering, then there’s stigma. And therein lies the rub.

How do you combat stigma on something that makes other people uncomfortable?

How do you say people who self harm should be treated with kindness when their bodies are seen as attacks on others, to say that self harm shouldn’t be a problem hidden in the dark, when we do exactly that by not allowing representations of self harm?

I just have scars now. They’re very noticeable but also very faded.

Recently, I had a baby. In the postnatal ward, a midwife wrote that I was sitting on the bed holding my baby, “scars on arms”. That’s six year old self harm scars, as relevant to my medical history as a broken leg, and yet so very present, because they were, on a hot stuffy ward, visible. That’s what I was reduced to- “scars on arms”, the loving arms holding my newborn son, the arms of a new mother, a person, exhausted, elated, and ordinary.

If you’d like to rest the read,  it lives here.

Therapy Tales No. Etc- Death and Trauma. Fun.

Therapy is ending soon.

Losses, fears, love- that’s basically it. Losses of things I loved- including animals (I know pets die, but mine in sudden, cruel ways I can’t go into here but which haunt me) and people. They all died lonely, premature, unfair, painful deaths. As soon as I really understood what death really was (which happened when I had another loss- my friend who killed herself when I was 15), I have been completely heartbroken ever since. Of what life is. Of feeling. Of finality. Of memory. I can’t bear it, any of it. That’s when the fear really started. I’d always been afraid of my parents’ death, i obsessed over it. But that was my first big loss, of someone I’d seen so recently, so young, so similar to me. We were all steeped in bullshit pop music mythology, playing with self harm. But she died. Alone. And I was unforgiven for something. I never got to explain or say sorry. And she died. Died. Death. Forever. My first cremation, too.

Memory is important to me. Memory is evasive to me. I have convoluted memories of my own childhood.  Different from my siblings’ because we’re different people. Everything is kind of mixed up, muddy. Then my own brain conspired against me, and I don’t remember a lot of my periods of illness, or the life that existed, inevitably, as life does, within them. And I had my own fractious relationship with the truth when I was young.  When I look back I realise it was because I found it so hard to be living the life I had, so created another, not even one that was easier, but one I felt could justify the pain I was in without ever being honest about what was really causing it (it still feels churlish and trivial, and now I am at the other extreme of exposing honesty).  Other people have memories I don’t, largely negative and embarrassing. My own bad behaviour haunts me not just because it hurt those it was directed to (or caught within), but because I know it has become part of the memory arsenal, that chorus always waiting to be summoned, or to butt in, uninvited, and to hurt. And I hate that. I don’t want to be someone’s bad memories. Maybe if I can be better now, I can replace it or erase it? And all I want is to give my son happy memories. Robert says I’m morbid, which is true. He keeps us in the present- he thinks, “experiences”, I think, “memories”. Already living in the past tense.

Memory is all we have, really. In the end, if we’re lucky, that’s all we have. Since my dad died I have dug deep and cling to the good memories I have of him. Further and further away. It’s hard to remember happiness. It’s not the visceral gut punch of despair, more the balloon in your hand that drifts away, bright and then small and smaller. Physical pain is hard to remember (I couldn’t describe now what my contractions felt like, even though I know they hurt), but emotional pain recalls itself constantly. So I often only remember the bad things clearly (and how bad they were), and it feels like they just happened. How jealous I am of people whose parents weren’t like mine and who they went out to lunch with and they didn’t die like my dad did. Even those who did die but in ways that people had some sympathy for (alcoholics dying, lowest of the low, fuck their children, the way we were treated by the medical staff, my baby brother and sister, fuck them forever and forever for it, for every person afterwards who turned their face away from me),  I have to unfollow people on Facebook posting happy pictures with their parents. Out at lunch! Having drinks! Doing normal things.

Memory is the twoheaded monster. My memories of my dad are awful, Sometimes they engulf me and I feel like tearing my skin off in agony that I can’t go back, can’t change something, can’t intercept this awful image and make it different. That was it. And his memories. I think that’s perhaps worst. HIs life which he didn’t deserve. That he was so desperately unhappy. That he died like he did, and that I knew he was afraid of it. And there are tears pouring down my face as I write this. To be afraid without comfort. Without hope. I wanted to be there when he died to be a hand or a face or a word, and I wasn’t.

Me being there wouldn’t have changed the outcome, he would have died anyway. But I wanted to do something, anything.

My friend Brendan died not long after my dad. He was an alcoholic too, was trying to recover. He died of an accidental overdose and my last communication with him was a voicemail he left on the Monday before he died asking me to meet up, saying he was nearby, just passing, are you in? get in touch, and I was so up my own fucking selfish arse I never did and then he died.

In therapy we talked about safety behaviours and my big one is having my phone on me and being always contactable. I have a three hour commute to and from work and most of it is underground. I went for a rare night out on Tuesday and had a panic attack on the train as I visualised (fear not feelings etc, but it felt like a promotion, it felt like destiny), Robert screaming over our baby, screaming and screaming and I wasn’t there. That if he died I wouldn’t be there. What would his last memory be? Be held, be there, be loved. Not alone.

(Howl)

This is hard to write. I’ll come back to it.

It’s also about fear. I used to have nightmares about my dad dying from his drink. But he did anyway. It happened even worse than I screamed about. So why should I trust my fears aren’t real? That the worst won’t happen? It did. All the worst fears I have (dying myself is a worst fear that will inevitably be true, but I fear dying young, leaving my baby, Robert dying, my baby dying, my mum being unhappy and dying) came true so why not these? It’s hard not to take my anxieties as facts. They happened.  And with Robert and my baby in particular, who are my husband and my son, I love them so fiercely, I think, my love must insulate them from suffering, from death. But it doesn’t and it won’t. How can I ever accept that? I know it’s a childish and possibly a bit narcissistic but there it is. When Robert has the slightest bit of discomfort, my refrain is, “What can I do? How can I fix it?”

We talked about my intrusive thoughts which often take the form of, when I’m speaking to someone, imagining them dead. And realising they have the same expression, that I am just superimposing my dad over everyone’s faces, just reliving it constantly.

We didn’t even get on that well when he was alive. We had some beautiful moments, a lot of understanding, and he was a good person. But I often hated him for what he put us through. I used to fantasise about him falling downstairs and breaking his neck just so he’d shut up. Stop shouting. Stop drinking. Then we’d be free. (I hate this freedom. I hate myself).

So the therapist talked a bit about trauma and how events can be too big for the brain to process so they never become memories. They’re always happening instead. A sort of PTSD. And how if you break them down they can be processed and become memories and stop being so present. I’m skeptical. I have some extra sessions before we quit but feel like we’ve pulled a thread and I want the jumper back. And I don’t want to do the homework. I don’t want to write it all down. I want to keep pushing it all out. I don’t want to break it down. I don’t want to break down.

I cried a fair bit after that session and Robert gave me a lot of hugs when I came home. And then abruptly I just stopped talking about it, as I do, Silly, trivial, depressing.

Yeah.

(Stay with the feelings)

CBT Tales- session 1 and 2

Hello! I promised to update you on my therapy tales. I had my first session 2 weeks ago and it was so uneventfully boring I didn’t really have much to say about it. It was just going over what we’d be doing. He said a few times, “you fit the model so perfectly”, which I gather was meant to be reassuring but irritated me somewhat. I don’t want to fit any models but of course, we all do in varying ways. Especially us mental health bloggers who literally define ourselves by the set of symptoms we fit that all adds up to a few words on a doctor’s monitor and our entire lives.

There was a lot of diagram drawing on how thoughts and feelings and actions all interact. Talk of safety behaviours, and my biggest is keeping busy all the time, mostly by fucking about online, never letting that thought creep in, having my phone glued to my face until the very second I fall asleep. And it doesn’t work, because in the second afterwards, panic creeps in. And I have an awful tendency to use my phone to look up the things that scare me- cancer, death, cot death, death, death, more death.

Session 2 was yesterday. I wrote this for A Day In the Life, a website which gathers the stories of a day in the life of someone with mental health difficulties. You can submit yours too over at A Day In the Life. The stories are anonymous but I don’t mind outing myself for the purposes of this post.

26 August 2015

Today is Therapy Day. I had about three hours sleep, which isn’t good on Therapy Day. In the days before my baby was born, my medication (Quetiapine) would make me sleep for twelve hours straight. Now, with an internal Mum Radar activated, I wake up when he does (multiple times a night), although I’m pretty uselessly doped up from drugs and it’s up to my husband to feed him. The one time I tried I dropped the bottle and spilled milk all over the floor, mumbling dream talk, his crying from the end of a long, dark tunnel. So it’s pointless lack of sleep, but lack of sleep nonetheless. The baby, now five months old, has decided that 6am is a brilliant time to wake up, so I’m up too.

Despite being up from 6am, I’m still late for therapy. The hours in between are lost in a haze. I eat, too much, to try and muster some energy. A jam bun and some toast. In my sleepiness, I’ve forgotten my homework and worry all the way on the bus that the therapist will be pissed off at me for it. It’s just CBT- I say, “just” because it’s not the kind of therapy that plumbs your heart like a dentists’ drill. It’s functional, rigid, and thus requires concentration I can’t summon on so little sleep.

This is only the second session. The focus is on my anxiety about death. Or, as we find during the session of comparing, “Theory A to Theory B”, the focus is on my anxiety about my anxiety about death. The problem, the therapist says, isn’t that we’re all going to die. That’s true and has always been true. It’s that my anxiety about it is controlling my life. So we go through what happens when I feel anxious. About intrusive thoughts and how we shouldn’t try to control them. The more we try to control them, the more we think them. The aim, he says, is to accept them. To let them intrude.

Towards the end of the session he says we’re going to do something which may make me have a panic attack. It’s to feel where my anxiety is, to hold an image in my head and to focus on it. I try, but all I can focus on is the ticking of the clock coming to the end of our truncated session. I try to hold an image of myself panicking but nothing really happens. He then talks about how the more we look at an image, the more our mind will demonster-fy it. It might become interesting, comical even. I’m not finding this to be true, but I’m left with the instruction that the next time I get an intrusive thought or feel anxious to stay with it, examine it, and not try to suppress it. Good luck, me.

I leave and wander around the shops, thinking of lunch. I’m trying to treat these sessions as little holidays from my life, and take an hour afterwards to drink coffee or eat before I return to the baby, leaving whatever was in therapy scattered along the cafe tables. I get the bus home and exhaustion floors me. I can barely hold my head up and resolve to go to bed when the baby does. We’re all tired today, we forego any attempt at dinner and eat burnt creme brûlée that Robert impulsively bought from Tesco.  I take my medication just after I put the baby to bed, and let it drag me into the blackness of sleep by 8pm. He wakes at 10.30 and I do too, stumbling with my pillow into the spare room while my husband feeds him. And then back to sleep. It’s just like the old days- I slept for 12 hours.

First therapy appointment…

…is flipping tomorrow! That was quick. I was hoping for the traditional 18 month wait. Wish me luck.

Therapy Tales Part 1- So You’re Terrified of Death?

(If you’re wondering where my previous post went, I have made it private as I’ve found this to be true. Thank you for all your comments and encouragement!)

So, I’m starting therapy for death anxiety (my medical diagnosis that led me to it are generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder but I prefer to think of them as ARGH).  Expect this series of posts to be even more introspective and self obsessed than usual, and for this blog, that’s saying something.

Two years ago (christ), I wrote a post called, “When Fear Becomes Phobia”. It described my ARGH FUCK panic around death and deadness, and how my world was getting smaller and smaller because of it.  Last year, I went to the doctor and asked for help. She was so sympathetic that she made me cry. Saying what an awful thing to carry around with me for 12 years (14, now) and she referred me to therapy. I found out I was pregnant, had an assessment and things didn’t go any further because I was suffering such crippling morning sickness that the 40 minute bus journey to the appointment was 1 hour 30 minutes because I’d have to jump off twice to vomit. Later on in pregnancy, I dispensed with such courtesies and just huffed up all over my lap, or into a friendly plastic bag.  Pregnancy was also pretty distracting- all my anxieties were focused on that, and I didn’t have the mental reserves to panic about death anymore.

My panic has returned, as it does. It’s not constant and strikes at night when I’m trying to sleep (and flip, I need my sleep!) It doesn’t disturb anyone because I sleep in the spare room (Robert does night feeds due to my medication). It means it’s quiet, private, lonely. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows.  It’s probably unsurprising. I had a baby, then I lost my grandmother, and it was my dad’s anniversary.  Catholicism ritualises death in a way that’s both comforting and horrifying. It makes you look at it, it makes an object of it.  She was in a coffin in the sitting room that my dad’s coffin was in, for days, with the same yellow, unnaturally smooth, chillingly cold skin that you have to touch to say goodbye. Their coffins, and every childhood Christmas. These things bring death bubbling back to the surface of your mind. It’s hard to close it out when you’re trudging up a hill behind it. Robert’s grandmother died the month after, and her funeral was like a trip to Argos. Closed, quiet, scripted, burned. I prefer the visceralness of Catholicism, even if it haunts me. It does at least give death, and life, some gravitas.

So, I’ve been referred back to therapy for it. My psychiatrist initially wanted to increase my medication but I refused. This feels existential, albeit obsessive. I’ve often been able to distract myself and try to be less up my own arse, but distraction is tricky and I’m introspective generally. It doesn’t need to be medicated away- that just makes me feel worse.

The assessment happened pretty quickly. A chat over the phone, which gave me a sense of pride that I didn’t have to list a litany of other issues. I haven’t self harmed in six years, my bipolar disorder (if I ever had it) is pretty well controlled. I wasn’t depressed, wasn’t struggling otherwise. I’ve come quite a long way. I knew what they’d recommend- CBT (*spits*) but I’m willing to give it a chance.

The therapist is called Sean, which means the assessment didn’t entail the usual 45 minutes of tuition in how to pronounce my name. It’s high intensity IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), so the sessions aren’t at the mental health team (thank bollocks, I used to work at my local one), but in an unassuming house with comfy sofas, pot plants and James Frey books that I had to stop myself openly guffawing at perched proudly on the Ikea shelves.

He asked me what I wanted help with so I explained. I forgot to bring the questionaire they sent me so went through some of it there. My depression score was low, as I knew it would be. People tend to assume I must be suffering from depression if I’m having panic attacks and anxiety.

Au contraire.

Depression is both a mortal enemy and an enemy of mortality. For me, it is ageless, timeless emptiness. It tries to kill me, and it kills the thing inside me that makes me afraid of it doing so. I want to die when I’m depressed.

So when I’m not depressed, I’m scared of that. It’s like being held under water and a peaceful acceptance of what it happening envelopes you, until the final second, and you kick, you convulse in order to be free, to be alive, to throw off the aggressor and then relive over and over at how close you came to drowning.

I do sometimes feel depressed because of the panic. I feel frustrated and angry with myself that I have panic attacks. I feel frightened and distressed by some of the intrusive thoughts I have (like when I’m speaking to someone and suddenly an image of them dead flashes into my brain, with hallucinatory vividness) and sometimes they make me feel like I’m going mad. But depression and this panic don’t come together, and that’s a big massive pain in the hole. The panic tends to be the worst during the happier periods of my life. I’m happy, hurrah, and then my mind goes, “This will end it, all of it, everything, and because it will end, this is meaningless, you won’t be here one day, any day, none of them will” and that’s just BLOODY FUCKING GREAT isn’t it. I don’t want to die, ever, because I enjoy my life. I’m essentially a happy person who wants to see what’s going to happen.  I want to be standing at the end of the universe with Robert and Oisín watching supernovas and planets and the sun.

(Rest your head)
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(Close to my heart)

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(Never to part).

Maybe it is partly a coping mechanism, the fear. Like pinching yourself.

He asked me if I had other anxiety- I do, social anxiety, but I’m dealing with that in my own way so I didn’t want any help which he accepted (and I think it’s tied up in this anyway).

Two things were said during the assessment that made me willing to continue. One was something stunningly obvious but that I had genuinely never considered. The therapist said that my kind of anxiety is, “idiosyncratic”. It’s not a common reason people come to therapy. That floored me. “Doesn’t EVERYONE feel this way?” I said. No, apparently not. At least, not to the degree they end up in therapy. So, is it that this is such an ordinary fear we live with it and are in denial, or am I the odd one for being periodically consumed by it?

Another was asking me where I think it came from. Nobody has ever asked me that before, and it’s not something I’ve thought about. The worst of my panic began when I was 15. That’s when it started flinging me screaming across the room. “Is that when your friend committed suicide?” Yes, it was- but the panic attacks started before then. Robert (who I first went out with when I was 14), remembers my panic on the phone, but it was more contained, and I was easier to comfort and distract.

It started well before then, when I was about 7 (?). Both my parents had mental maladies. I felt like they were going to die and I was terrified of it. I became aware they wouldn’t be there one day and I feared all the time it was the day. I used to pad into their room at night to check they were still breathing, then pad back and lie awake in the moon (just like I do now with the baby!). I realised I was going to die too, and sometimes would wake up screaming.  Death felt close, ever present, non abstract. I could only perceive it in my childish way, but I never felt safe, and I never have since.

Of course, that’s just a bit of it- I might be wrong, but I had never connected the two things before. I had a massive resurgence after my dad died, too, which is natural. But it wasn’t so much his death as knowing that he feared it. That kills me, still. I hate that he was afraid. If I could do one thing in my life, one magical thing, it would be to take that fear from him before he died.

He asked me what I wanted to get out of therapy. I don’t know really. Not to have panic attacks anymore. To be able to watch/read/listen to anything again. Not to have to ring in late to work because I’ve disintegrated at a funeral procession. To fall asleep. To be able to think about Oisín’s future. At the moment, I’m too scared to talk about it, think beyond tomorrow, in case he’s not here for it, or that I’m not. I’m petrified of something happening to him, and feel superstitious about it. It’s a loss I know I would never, ever recover from, be able to go on living beyond.  Pregnancy should have taught me the futility of this- when it seemed like there was bad news at the 20 week scan, my anxiety didn’t protect me. It didn’t cushion it, it didn’t make anything easier.  I want to be able to talk to Robert about him riding a bike, or going to school, or falling in love. I want to be here and present in the moment without thinking how it’s going to end. That it is. I want to be able to sleep without hours of panic beforehand. I want to be able to not feel regret about not living if I do die tomorrow. When I’m going through anxious periods I always feel mildly dissociated, not here. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I don’t want horrible flashes in my brain anymore. I don’t want my coping mechanism for the feelings of helplessness and inevitability to be nihilism, as it means I make unhealthy choices (like smoking, which will actively shorten my life, and thus leads to more panic attacks). I want to be present for myself, for my child. Life is so brief. And it is all.

He said that this will involve some unpleasant feelings, but that it usually helps. He says when it doesn’t, “work”, it’s often because people haven’t done the things long enough (bit of, “blame the patient” here, but I understand what he means as my last assessment person gave me a workbook I barely glanced at). I’m pretty frightened of what this is going to entail, and how hard it’s going to be. I’m aware it might mean it gets worse before it gets better, and I’m feeling pretty apprehensive about that. Shit scared, to be honest.

But I’m doing it. So let’s see where this goes. I’ll keep you updated!

Labour are miserable, spineless, traitorous cowards.

And they are rapidly becoming indefensible. For anyone who looks to them for hope or humanity, we are further abandoned. People are suffering and the suffering is going to become even worse and Labour stand by to watch it happen.

Shame on Labour. I am disgusted I ever voted for or believed in you. I give up.

Well done to the 48 who voted with a conscience (including David Lammy, oddly) but you still belong to a party of bastards.

I know this post is insight free, just wanted to register my anger somewhere.

Ruby Wax Is Right- You Don’t Have To Tell Your Employers You’re Mental

Ruby Wax has caused a minor kerfuffle by suggesting that those us whom struggle with our mental health should keep it quiet from employers, and in fact, lie to them in order to protect ourselves.

How many of us have had, “a cold” when general misery has flattened us to our beds? Had dodgy trains when it’s really been a panic attack?

In a perfect world, we’d be able to tell the truth. And our employers would be able to respond compassionately and sensibly. But it’s not a perfect world. Nor is it some post-stigma world as Eleanor Morgan suggests in her response to Ruby Wax:

For Wax, a prominent advocate of mental health awareness and visibility, to tell those of us who experience a mental health problem – one in four in the UK each year – that we’re still stigmatised seems a significant regression. Because as a nation we’ve got much better at not looking on those with mental health problems as weird.

If this has been your experience, then frankly, you are privileged. You are lucky. Mental health problems and the people who experience them are still stigmatised. Just because we’re a bit better now doesn’t mean there aren’t people collapsing under the weight of the word, “psycho”, thinking of which imaginary family member they went to care for in that gap in their CV, having obvious self harm scars people frown at and comment on, being laughed at in the street by your neighbours, having friends and strangers speculate on their mental health when they leave the house or spend their benefits money on something other than bread and water as meaning that they, “can’t be that depressed”, writing their DLA form knowing they’re fucked anyway because in this shiny, happy, post stigma world, mental health problems are being written out of the script altogether and it’s just mind over matter, just Not Trying Hard Enough. It’s hard to know which is worse- being written off as a psycho forever, or your experiences being flatly denied in crazy-making gymnastics which make you wonder if you imagined them all, too.

I’m privileged. I’m sure most of you know this, but I work for Mind, the mental health charity (and it goes without saying that this blog is my opinion, not theirs). My manager is, as you’d expect, very good about mental health and they know all about mine, and what to look out for if I’m getting unwell (thanks to a WRAP). I have reasonable adjustments and understanding for my issues (I’m not too sharp early in the morning due to medication, for example).  In my case, I feel valued partly due to my experiences, and not in spite of them. And that makes me very lucky.  Although we want to work towards a world where this is the rule, not the exception, there’s no way of knowing what your workplace is until you get there.

And it’s fine not to want to tell.  There’s so much talk of, “fighting stigma”, as if that makes us all these foot soldiers. You don’t have to be. You don’t have a responsibility to disclose to, “fight stigma”. You don’t have a responsibility to anybody else but yourself and you should never feel bad that you want to protect yourself. You aren’t failing anybody, letting any side down, by not wanting to be open about your experiences or diagnosis. The reason celebrities can come out and speak is often because they have a lot less to lose (but even then, look at the reception different celebrities get, how struggling with addiction and depression is treated differently from just depression, how Paul Gascoigne is an object of ridicule whereas Stephen Fry isn’t, and in particular, look at the attitudes towards women who speak out as being trivial, hysterical or overemotional).

And things may be evolving, as Eleanor Morgan says. The discourse may be changing around depression and anxiety- but it’s not so much around personality disorders and psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia. Could we change it by opening up? Maybe- but often the shittiest response is in the mental health system itself both to its patients and its employees, and if it’s been demonstrated to you time and time again that yes, you actually do have something to fear, and you will be treated badly, how is someone going to get the confidence to open up generally?

Of course, if you need support and understanding, it is better to tell. If it becomes unavoidably obvious, it’s better to be honest. But although Eleanor says,

Here are the facts: it’s illegal to be dismissed from your job because of a mental health problem. The Equality Act, bringing together the laws that were found in the Disability Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act and Sex Discrimination Act, protects people from discrimination on the grounds of disability. If you have a mental health problem you may not think of yourself as disabled, but if it has a significant impact on your day-to-day life for a period of time, it will probably be considered a disability under this law. It’s a very detailed law, but Mind provides a legal briefing about how it works.

Most important, an employer should not treat you unfavourably because of a disability, and must make “reasonable adjustments to work practices, and provide other aids and adaptations” – for example, being flexible about hours, and temporarily allowing you to work part-time, or have a period of sick leave with the clear reassurance that you are still valued as an employee. If you feel as if you’ve been fired under the cloak of “something else”, chances are you will be protected.

It is extremely hard to prove you’ve been sacked for mental illness, as well as extremely time consuming and legalese. If you’re a temp, you might feel like you have little recourse, likewise if you’re on a zero hour contract and they stop giving you hours. I’m neither wealthy nor successful but i have been fired for my mental health. I was a temp, and there was an extremely specific search to this blog that only my employer could have made, and the next day, I was fired. They just “didn’t need me” anymore. I knew they’d found my blog and read it and that was that, but I couldn’t prove it. And many people with mental health issues will be in unstable employment where it’s tougher to know your rights, or harder to fight for them. And as for, “getting back on your feet”, as Eleanor puts it, no matter how much we want to say mental health and physical health are the same, they aren’t. They should have parity of esteem, but mental illness affects people differently than physical health. You may get, “back on your feet” but have lost your family and friends in the process, and you might have to be on medication for the rest of your life that will affect you physically and cognitively. In a lot of cases, you can be well, “recovered” but need adjustments for the treatment.

Those adjustments may not be made for you, either, due to the nature of your job. I left my nursing degree due to being told to suck it up- I had to work nights and late earlies which meant I wasn’t able to take my medication and invariably I became ill. There was little practical support and no adjustments (and that isn’t even accounting for the shit attitudes I encountered as a mental health nursing student with mental health issues, including a staff member grabbing my scarred arms in front of a patient and shouting at me). My experiences might not be reflective as a whole, but it also shows that there isn’t a cohesive approach to helping employees (or students) with a mental health issue.

The onus on fighting stigma shouldn’t just be on us, but on the people who treat us, the people whom we work for, the people who love us. Whereas Ruby Wax compares mental health to gay rights, and it was gay people who fought for those rights often to a huge personal cost (and their lives), we should be able to count on the backup of those institutions for whom our diagnosis, in one way or another, matters. If you want to tell, if you want to be the one to challenge it, if your workplace is trying, then tell. It can definitely be a powerful thing to take that control instead of worrying about being, “found out”. But please, don’t feel bad if you don’t. Don’t feel like you’re buying into a, “regressive” idea, because you aren’t. It’s okay not to tell.

And employers who are crap with this stuff- you’re missing out on some amazing people. It’s your loss.

I wrote a bit for Dear Stranger- letters on the subject of happiness

A gigantic THANK YOU! for all your comments and reblogs on my last post.  What a lovely response.  I feel like I should follow it up but I’m still one lap short so consigned to my phone. I’ll update proper soon.

Instead of an epic post, I thought I’d give you a quick heads up about:

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Dear Stranger is a compilation of specially written letters on the subject of happiness. Such excellent people as Marian Keyes and Caitlin Moran have contributed, and all profits go to Mind.

I’ve also contributed with something I think is a bit odd (and written in the hormonal, angsting fugue of the overdue pregnancy) but which other people assure me isn’t too weird and is actually quite good. Hooray!

It’s about something I wrote about here, too. My fear that my mentalism would blot out my wedding day and that I’d have to be pushed up the aisle like a chess piece (because mental illness isn’t picky). And how that jellyfishing, stretchy depression gradually shrank over the next few months.

It’s out on July 2nd- you can get your copy here.

*shimmy*

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