We shouldn’t shy away from the ugly side of mental illness

1 in 4 of us experience mental illness at some point in our lives – but its prevalence doesn’t make it an easy ride.

We have the US president tackling the ‘stigma’ of guns by blaming mass shootings on mental illness instead.

But the image of violent mentally ill people is untrue. According to Time to Change, the majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems, yet 90% of people who die through suicide each year are experiencing mental distress.

And at the other end of the scale, I feel it’s unfair to talk of the ‘common’ disorders (e.g. depression and anxiety) as if they’re nothing more than feeling a bit down or on edge.

Read the full article on Metro.

It’s fine to be flawed

I had a big cry-baby snot fest the other night. First time in ages. Other than, perhaps, the sporadic slightly fizzy nose that occurs when happening upon ‘suggested for you’ Facebook videos of cute ‘n’ cuddly animals loving each other despite their differing species’.

It’s hard work spitting all those tears out. But even though your eyes feel sore and your nose looks like you’re six months too early for Comic Relief, it’s actually quite relieving. So I’m going to finish the job by blogging. Let’s see if we can get the rest of this stubborn nonsense out via a qwerty keypad…

This is not a reflective post. This is not a ‘today I learnt x…’ post. This is a ‘perhaps with each word I type I will make myself feel a teensy bit better’ post. It’s an attempt at self care, I guess.

So here goes.

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Good morning Storycampers!

I can barely believe it’s been a whole year since I slept in, bodged my eyeliner and didn’t have time to wash my hair before dashing to the train station and winging my way to London for the Time to Change storycamp event.

But it has. A whole year. And in that year so much has happened. Needless to say, Time to Change and all the fabulous peeps there have played a big part in my life.

So I was seriously chuffed to be asked to speak this year alongside Andrea, Shea and Jodie (I love the blummin’ lot of them).

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It’s behind you!

As part of my therapy, my counsellor asked me to write a metaphorical story about me, as a child, and my struggles. So this is a little story about anxiety and the upbeat parts of my personality that I wouldn’t give away – the excitable parts. Would I swap my excitability if it would take away my panic? I’m not sure I would.

I’ll be taking this with me next therapy session to discuss it. Which is kind of nerve wracking. But here goes…

She opened her eyes. They were still sticky from sleep and she struggled to make out the shapes of her teddy bears sitting in a neat row at the bottom of her bed. The dust was floating calmly in the sunshine as it shone through the gap in the floral curtains.  The mass of teddy-like shapes gradually sharpened up and she could make out her favourite bear.

It was morning.

But wait. What was that? Was that a dark shadow lurking behind her purple woollen bear?

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Psychology – I’m a believer!

Psychology has long fascinated me. But I never truly believed that psychological approaches would work for me in quite the way they seem to be right now. I never believed they could have a long-lasting, deep rooted effect. But much like The Pixies, Courtney Love and, sadly, Sun-In spray-on hair bleach (my locks haven’t been quite the same since the early 90s) I think something really is beginning to have an impact.

Given that I’ve had almost as many therapists as I’ve had hair colours over the years, I must make it clear that none of it was a waste of time. I’m not contributing to the suction of resources from the NHS for a giggle. All my sessions have helped in some way or another, and I have never forgotten the CBT tool and tactics that I picked up along the way.

The difference today, however, is that my therapy has shifted from symptom management to tackling the meaning behind my anxiety.

Now the meaning of my anxiety has always been as vague to me as the meaning of a Pixies song (I bloody love ‘Caribou’, I wanted it as my wedding song, but WTF is Black Francis on about – ‘I live cement, I hate this street, give dirt to me’??).


Sleep – one of my favourite things. Not recently something I’ve been very good at.

I guess the reason behind this apparent murkiness of meaning is laziness. I never truly believed that I could find any meaning to it, so I tried about as hard to find it as I did to pass my Law A Level. I just let the idea wash over me and carried on Googling sinister illnesses and then minimising the impact of said Google searches with CBT. Talk about sticking plasters.

But amazingly, when you let yourself open up to the idea, so much stuff magically appears in the front of your mind. So much stuff from your childhood. So many memories of feelings and behaviours that keep repeating themselves in my adulthood.

I panic when my husband goes snorkelling. To the point of begging him not to go back into the sea or to stay where I can see him, rather than going where the beautiful fishes are and enjoying himself. But I remember now that I felt the same about my dad when I was a kid. He used to go out for miles and I would feel unsettled until he returned.

However, when it came to me, I loved nothing more than jumping the waves on the Newquay beaches during the surf festival as a kid. I would stay there for as long as I possibly could with my sister, eventually realising that the tide had gone out so far that we were all of a sudden miles away from our wind break, sandcastles and now predictably warm and gritty sarnies. But we didn’t care.

‘Can the three girls jumping the waves in the surfing area please return to the beach. I REPEAT, CAN THE THREE GIRLS IN THE SURFING AREA RETURN TO THE BEACH IMMEDIATELY’.

Cue me, my sis and our best mate Pippa almost getting skewered by a surf board and a lifeguard on secondment from Bondi Beach seriously losing his Aussie cool.

So there is possibly something to consider here. As a little girl, I wanted to have fun, I wanted to take risks but I was also terrified of people getting hurt. It’s as big a conflict as deciding whether you’re a (commercial) rave fan or a (mainstream) grunge fan in high school in the early 90s. It’s a hellish conflict!

So I can see this now. I can see this little girl desperate to have fun but terrified of the world around her. And last night, in bed, when I felt as though heart palpitations were sneaking in, when I remembered the last time I had a major panic attack was after consuming pizza, chips and beer too, instead of losing myself in panic central, I imagined that little girl. Me. And I imagined giving her a hug.

Little meDon’t laugh. No, please don’t. I’m honestly not a hippy dippy love type channelling my inner soul and all that stuff. But it really worked! I have an image in my head of me, as a little girl, aged about four, wearing a navy dress with a little boat on it (how apt), sitting in a chair and wearing my white blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. And I imagined cuddling her (in reality, I was cuddling Tumba – my cuddly monkey hot water bottle). I imagined feeling her hair under my chin and slightly messing up her hairstyle with the hug. And then I fell fast asleep.

I woke up still clutching Tumba. There had been no panic attack. I slept through the night.

This might be a coincidence. But given that my last counselling session was on Thursday, and I have had two bloody brilliant sleeps since, it’s worth the effort to keep going. It’s worth it because it means I might be able to keep consuming my caffeinated Diet Coke and still get to sleep. It’s worth it because it will allow me to conserve my energy at night, rather than waste it all panicking about something imaginary like having a fatal illness that doesn’t even exist. And surely that’s more ridiculous than imagining that I’m giving my child self a hug?

However, as much as I love ‘Caribou’, I’m still not convinced I will find the real meaning there. So if anyone else wants to enlighten me, please go ahead.











Show me purpose and I’ll raise you a fighter


My ultimate purpose – family

Anyone who’s in the not-so-exclusive club of the 9 million peeps who have read ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor E Frankl will totally get this. I’ve not even finished it, but I’m finding it as inspirational as Madonna’s Virgin Tour was to the eight year old me. But unlike the queen of pop, the king of spiritual enlightenment, Frankl, will not be going off trend any time soon. And he is not encouraging me to walk the village streets wearing purple lipstick and lacy fingerless gloves. That was the 80s. Frankl wrote this in the 40s – and it is still as relevant and widely accepted today. Unlike Madonna’s fashion sense.

There’s a quote in there by Nietzche and its theme runs throughout:

He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.

Wow. That’s quite a statement. Especially once you learn that Frankl experienced the Holocaust.

Now the Holocaust is too horrific to even contemplate. But my god, if people can find hope during times like that, we sure as hell owe them an attempt at finding hope in our world today. So this idea of having a ‘why’ can be applied to almost any situation.

Finding purpose

I once had a job where I was treated unfairly. During that time, I lost days to anger, anxiety and a few too many bottles of wine. My mornings were peppered with tears and involved me hollering at my loved ones for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Every day I’d get on the bus to work and sit obsessing over my anxiety symptoms, believing I might have throat cancer or worse because it felt like my breakfast bagel was lodged in my throat when in reality, all that was lodged in my throat was a big ball of stress. And possibly a 24-hour reminder that cheap wine has the same effect on the throat as a strong wallpaper stripper does on wood chip.

Basically, I was going through the motions. Living life without seeing anything beyond the monotony of the utter shite that was work. If you become consumed with the shit storm, you’re going to miss the gentle breeze that blows around it and the little rays of sunshine that offer up the all important vitamin D. You’re going to forget who you are and who you love. And you’re going to forget the ‘why’.

You’ll no longer laugh at Sarah Millican’s ‘taking the bins out’ joke. Kylie will no longer manage to get your arse up off the sofa and wiggling round the kitchen while cleaning the oven. And you’ll not even notice that your husband is wearing ridiculous Sponge Bob pants that practically glow in the dark.

And then, one day, you decide that fate isn’t your master. Fuck that. Where the hell have I been for the past six months? All of a sudden, Sarah Millican tells the world she got knocked up by Mr Kipling and I nearly pee my pants. And speaking of pants, my husband’s are shining so brightly his arse appears to be radioactive. I am once more Spinning Around with Mr Muscle in the kitchen and wiggling my own arse (please take note, in our house, we both clean the oven. And we both put the bins out. In literal and Sarah Millican terms – but enough of that filth I don’t write for Razzle).

I remembered that I could deal with the shit in my own unique way. I didn’t have to lose myself to other people’s actions. Win or lose, I knew that I would feel calmer by fighting through it, rather than letting the mucky whirlpool of water drown me out silently.

Weirdly, by taking on what seemed like a load more stress (i.e. applying for new jobs, battling a legal fight), my anxiety levels started to drop and my confidence started to tell me that I was way stronger than I thought. So strong, in fact, that if I spilt a drink over Courtney Love in a bar I could hold my own in the ensuing fist fight (sometimes, you can get a little over excited with new found strength I guess).

I chose to be myself in the situation and not some kind of rapidly expiring lost soul waiting for fate to sort things out for me.

It’s the same with mental illness isn’t it? You can feel like its kicking you down into the pits of hell, but what seems at the time to be the smallest step towards recovery (often talking about it with your GP) sends a great big ray of light towards you. It’s not cleared the black menacing clouds yet, but you know it might be on its way. And that little ray is enough to keep you going.

There’s a wonderful scene at the end of Denise Welch’s award-winning film about depression, Black Eyed Susan, where she sees the golden light shine through the curtains. That moment changes everything.

I’ve fought that fight and many more (believe me, there’s a few people better off since I challenged the inconsistency of bus fares on the Gosforth to City Centre route a couple of years ago. Esther Rantzen eat your heart out).

Public speaking

I’ve overcome a fear of public speaking to be able to use it for a purpose

But it’s not just about fighting. It’s about purpose in its broader sense. What is our role in life? For me it’s about loving my infuriatingly annoying but wonderful and eccentric family. It’s about cooking my stepson his favourite veggie chilli. Or singing so badly to Bonnie Tyler that it makes my husband start his Monday morning with a chuckle as he leaves for work. It’s about being part of a family of animal lovers who rescue poorly hedgehogs and birds. And of overcoming a fear of public speaking allowing me to speak out passionately against mental health stigma.

There’s so much I still have to do.  And to learn, of course.

There’s more to life than the Tories striking a deal with the DUP. There’s more to life than the fact that Donald Trump got into politics and that Katie Hopkins has a few too many ignorant Twitter disciples. Because if there wasn’t we wouldn’t really have any reason to care about these what these complete dicksplats get up to would we? We’d have no reason to fight the arrogance and intolerance if there wasn’t a bright side to life. If there wasn’t hope.

Some of my ‘whys’ are above. The ‘how’ can be pretty difficult at times. But the ‘whys’ trump the ‘hows’ every time. I’d love to hear your ‘whys’ too. You don’t need to be famous or running the country to have them. I mean, those who are running countries seem to have forgotten what theirs even are don’t they….