I don’t know, really, it’s hard to say.
Depression is you, at three times your body weight, riding on your back. It’s a version of you that slows you down, every pace heavy and aching. It’s you, anchoring yourself in your bed, as daylight’s break becomes a distant echo and the phone keeps ringing. It’s a booming, mocking voice.
“What was that for?”
“That wasn’t funny”
“You’re embarrassing yourself”
It’s the urge that tells you “you might as well have another”. It’s your flabby body, screaming that you’ve let yourself go, and it’s your fault.
It’s there, whispering to you on another sleepless night about your deepest fears and anxieties. It’s the screenwriter creating coked-up conspiracies. “And here’s when you lose everything”.
It’s on you when the trip to the supermarket, reminding you that Yes, Everyone Is Staring. What’d you put that in your basket for? You’ll regret that. And that chat you made with the cashier? What was that?
You plead with It to stop the headache, but it’s not really a headache. It’s a constant, angry malaise, as if waking up suddenly from a fever nap. It doesn’t relent. You hate your friends, it decides. “These people like you?”, It asks. But they won’t if you spend another evening staring at your pint. Come on. Chin up. Talk. Say something. “You won’t.” And if you do, it’ll be absolute nonsense.
It’s a poisonous lover’s call to bed when you really should see the doctor. “But they won’t look after you like I do. Nobody can”. Ah, It’s probably right.
It tells you nobody will want to speak to you when they see you in the street. But if they do, make sure to be in total panic and speak absolute nonsense. You hate your job, don’t you? Go with that, that’s what people want to hear. They texted you a few days after to see if you’re alright. Maybe get a drink some time. Or go bowling, they mentioned something about bowling and you said oh, I’ve not done that for ages. You won’t reply.
Sometimes It’ll indulge you to make a spectacle. “Have a night off”. So the rush of enjoying a pure moment in the present gives you centre-stage to overdo it. To make plans for dinner that never come to fruition. Shots! They’re always great. To sing karaoke. You should be in a band, you’re honestly dead good, mate. “Joking aside, you should not be in a band.”
None of your clothes suit you. When were turn-ups cool? 2012?
I should phone my pare- “You should not phone your parents. Leave them worried. Be the main story next time you catch up.”
It urges you to hurt yourself and laughs when you haven’t the courage. It tells you nobody would miss you, before it savages you for even thinking about doing it.
It saps at your energy and creativity like a parasite in your stomach. It squeezes your heart until it pleads for respite. It’s in every bead of sweat when you wake up panicking. And It lies next to you with the audacity to ask “what now?”. It knows exactly.
But then you harpoon the fucker. And It doesn’t die, but let me tell you - harpooning anything is quite bad for it.
You actually go to the doctor. For the first few days of the course of your answer, whatever it is, it takes last, hopeful shots, like a dying villain in a Western. The weight you carry on your shoulders starts to loosen. The colours brighten. The trees blossom. You can taste. You can touch. There’s electricity in your fingers. Your pupils focus. Your chats with the cashier at the shop become genius exchanges. You’ve just made their day with some razor-sharp, A+ patter, and you know it, too. You go to the gig and hear instruments, rather than the dull yawn you’d heard before. People enjoy your company. They wouldn’t bother seeing you if you didn’t. You know that.
You get out of bed.
You put in a shift. You hate your job, sure, but who cares? Everyone hates their job.
You put a reasonable amount of poison in your body, but it’s nothing you can't handle. And you wake up fresh.
Turning up your jeans is still cool.
“Hi Mum. No, I’m actually fine, how are you?”
The bad dreams are less frequent. If anything, they’re just weird, in a quasi-Lynchian soft-pornographic way. Maybe that’s just me.
“That was good”
“That was really funny”
“You’re alright, you know”
It’s your job to keep It off your back. You know they’re still around, just wounded. The more time you leave it to grow back the hole in its chest, the smaller that hole becomes. You still got that harpoon?
The louder your voice is, the smaller It’s becomes. The more you acknowledge Its harm, the more you have in your arsenal to beat it. The longer you wait, the more those snarling, cackling voices come back to tell you you’re nothing. However you do it, that’s your call. Some medicate, some talk, some do endless yoga, some do all three, some do something totally different. But you’ll know if it’s healthy and if it’s the right thing.
So what’s depression then? It’s a fight against a warped version of yourself, three times your weight. That’s how I feel, anyway. It might be different for you. In any case, make sure you remember where the harpoon’s kept.
‘I’m Sorry, I’m Too Tired’ – on being tired from mental illness, chronic pain, and just from living.
I am always tired. As I write this I am sat in bed, my muscles ache and my chest feels congested as if I’m about to get a cold. My skin is hot, like the first flames of a fever are licking around me, my eyes prickle like I’ve been up all night. Except I haven’t. Today I went to work, sat at my desk, went home, went to the gym for a gentle 15 minute jog, made myself dinner, and got into bed by 8.30pm. Yet I feel like I have run a marathon, climbed a mountain, or walked miles home in the rain. This is not the contented, warming tired that comes with those achievements, it is the weariness I feel in my bones, that climbs up from my ribs into my chest and spreads out across my shoulders until I know, that if I don’t stop I will be stuck in bed for a whole weekend, barely able to make it to the kitchen and back before curling back into sleep.
My whole life revolves around finding enough time to rest and sleep, to feed myself so my body can make more energy, while many of the things which help take from my already limited resources. So I am frugal with what little energy I have, spending a little to see a friend who lives more than a short bus ride away one day or to make an unplanned trip to the shop, and sleeping through night and day to try and gain it back the next. I don't remember what it was like not to have to weigh up every choice against the aching, heavy exhaustion that comes if I get the balance wrong. And even when I get the balance right, I am still pushing back against this dragging wave which pulls me down.
When I am tired I am short-tempered, irrational, and panicky and I move through the world fumbling and bleary eyed, making stupid mistakes and lacking enough resources to care or to fix them. When I first went on antidepressants I would sleep all day, wake for a shower and some food and then climb back into bed, shaking from the effort I'd exerted. I fear that place of barely existing, barely moving out in the world so much and yet every day that I am unable to keep going, that I have to cancel my plans and return home to lay my weary body down I feel as if I have not come so far from that place at all. This is not the tired of a long successful day, or of an unusual exertion, it is a daily weight I carry that I can only manage but never escape. A close friend of mine has chronic fatigue syndrome and helped me understand with the process of measuring my 'spoons'. ‘Spoon theory’ is a metaphor commonly used by people with disabilities and long-term conditions to explain how energy works for them. The essential idea being that you get a certain number of spoons, each task and activity (which can be as small as cleaning your teeth) takes a spoon, and once the spoons are gone there is no way to replenish them except to rest.
I am keeping my head above water, I go to work every day and manage a social life but it's within the constraints of this fear, this fear of what happens when I go over my limit. I am so lucky to have friends who understand without question that sometimes I can't, I just can't - that the invite to my flat instead of theirs has more behind than laziness or selfishness. It doesn't take much to wear me out, and I can't always predict when it's going to happen, something as small as planning out a nice Saturday with friends and then a surprise extra activity or an accident while cooking which needs cleaned up, or something bigger like a night out that I don't leave early enough and then - I am empty. Once emptied of my resources, I cry like a toddler (if I have the energy), unable to find it in me to articulate words for how frustrated I am - I've been running for too long and there's so much left to go and I cannot keep on. To recover I know I will have to treat my body like something made of glass: early nights, nourishing food and nothing too exciting or stimulating on the telly - I don’t want to let my body create adrenaline, because that in itself can be tiring. This is the level at which I have to operate when I am at my lowest. And then, eventually, I am recharged enough to hope for a spontaneous adventure which I can complete without the nagging fear of the recharging time. But my life doesn't have space for that realistically, I have rent to pay, a cat to take care of and interpersonal relationships to maintain.
But why? Why am I empty of resources? There isn’t an easy answer. My tiredness is part of my mental illness; the draining hyper vigilance and adrenaline of anxiety leaves me panting for air like a marathon runner at the end of each day, the fog of depression adding another rock to the pile on my back I am trying to carry. The exhaustion of putting on a brave face when another conversation at work comes back around to #metoo, or the thudding fear of running into my abuser on my morning commute, and the burning ache of chronic pain in my jaw joint that has no cure – drip by drip my reserves are drained away by this tangle of intersecting illnesses and experiences. This piece of writing is my acknowledgement that my tiredness is part of my illness, but it is also part of my existence, living in this patriarchal world is part of the weight I bear, and some days the fear of being catcalled in the street, or accidentally outing my sexuality to someone who is going to respond negatively is what tips me over into emptiness. Johanna Hedva put it far better than I ever could in her piece on Sick Woman Theory which explores how gender, race, sexuality and class dictate whether your pain is acknowledged, whether you have access to the resources for it to be treated, and how the world treats and views you has an impact on your physical and mental health.
We are always told to push ourselves, to get up early and work hard, then stay up late to party. We are expected to skip breakfast to squeeze in extra hours at the office, throwback coffee after coffee to keep going and wear the dark circles under our eyes with pride. All of this in the hope of being the best, achieving a dream (whether that be a first class degree, a promotion at work, or even just escaping the fear of not being quite enough). We are expected to constantly be pushing and aiming for more. I am living my life in rebellion to this, I want my life to be steady and manageable and mediocre. Part of me still pushes for more - I finish a day at the office, exhausted and drained and I come home to sit at my laptop and work away on my writing or head to the gym to try and beat my personal best on the treadmill. But these are small moments of endeavour in amongst the ordinariness that I crave. I know my resources are limited and that my successes come at the cost of days spent in my pyjamas, barely able to stumble to the kitchen and back. I am trying to be enough whether or not I am achieving anything. As I write this I think about the things I have missed out on to save my energy for the things I have to do to survive, even just today. I know I should feel sad but its past feeling like a choice - I live within my means and accept the consequences that comes with (the lost friendships, the experiences I’ve missed) because there is no alternative for me right now. I want to collapse on the sofa after a day of work because I want to, not because my whole body aches with exhaustion from sitting still. When people became outraged at the prevalence of pre-prepared vegetables in shops I thought about how I've had to tailor my cooking around what I can buy prepared because that means I'm more likely to be able to eat something balanced, of the spoon that saves me.
I don’t know when it gets better, I dodge between regular gym sessions in the hope of gaining fitness to make this easier and weeks of exhaustion that comes after a successful month of doing so. I take my multivitamins, tell the doctor how I feel in the hope that one day there will be an easy answer to living like this, when really I know this is how it is for now, and I should be glad for the things I can still have despite the tired. I know too that I am lucky, I have resources and privileges that many do not, but I am still all too aware of what I do not and cannot have because I am too tired.
Disclaimer: if you experience any of these symptoms and have not spoken to a medical professional about them I would encourage you to do so, they should check if you are experiencing any kind of underlying physical cause and refer you for a diagnosis. I am not a medical professional and this information is written based on my own experiences and research. However, medical help for mental health is complicated and depending on your location can be financially prohibitive. There is a list of sources, resources and helplines at the end of this article should you wish to understand more or feel the need for some immediate support.
Dissociation is at the most fundamental level, feeling of detachment, it can range in strength and has a variety of causes. It’s also something a lot of us do naturally to a lesser degree, like falling into a deep daydream if you’re bored on the bus or switching off part of your brain to get through something monotonous at work, but it can also be more severe and have a serious negative impact on your quality of life. Dissociation has a range of causes. It is common in people who have experienced trauma or have PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety but it can also happen for other reasons, and it may not even feel linked to direct a cause.
The concept of the window of tolerance is very useful for understanding and dealing with dissociation. This concept explains how we all have a window in which our brains function best and can process stimuli. If you are operating within that window you will be able to make decisions calmly and rationally and reflect on consequences. Extreme stress can cause you to move out of that window into either hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal (or, as I like to think of it, overstimulation and under-stimulation). Outside of that window of tolerance, your brain cannot process input properly, this can cause panic attacks and dissociation. If you have experienced a traumatic event or are struggling with mental illness, or extreme stress it is likely your window of tolerance will be smaller, and that in the past as a way to cope you brain may have used dissociation as a way to escape and now uses it as a reflex when you’re struggling.
Dissociation during trauma or extreme stress can make you feel like the event is happening to someone else, as if you are viewing the situation externally from a distance. This makes sense as a natural reflex and way to cope, if you are in a situation of danger your instinct will be to find a way to survive, contrary to popular opinion, the body does not just have ‘fight or flight’ to choose from, there is also the subconscious option to freeze and wait for the danger to pass. This can be a cause of dissociation, but particularly for survivors of trauma, once a traumatic event has passed your body may still reach for this coping mechanism in situations of stress. It is also likely that your tolerance for stressful situations is smaller because of the traumatic event and how that impacts your body’s ability to respond appropriately to stress. Panic attacks are usually characterised as an outward expression of emotions, but they can also feel like a kind of freezing, where you feel unable to move or talk or interact with the world around you.
Dissociation and dissociative disorders do not just occur because of trauma, but regardless of the cause they can be very disruptive, it can feel impossible to maintain interpersonal relationships while you are dissociated, you may not be aware of the world around you which can be dangerous (for example when crossing the road. Ultimately it can just be very frustrating not to feel in control of your life and not to feel able to choose whether or not you are fully present and aware. They can affect your memory and make you feel like you’re ‘losing time’ or find it hard to recall important information, for example if you dissociate in a meeting at work or when spending time with friends, you may then not be able to recall precisely those events at a later date, You may feel like you do not have a sense of self, or that you are watching yourself from the outside as if in a film, as if you are floating or as if other people are not real.
Tips for managing dissociation when it’s happening:
· Describe out loud 3 things you can hear, see, smell and feel. Repeat this several times, if there is someone with you who can spot when you are dissociating this is a good thing they can ask you to do to ground you.
· Run your wrists under cold water, this will remind you that your body is yours on a physical level and it’s also very refreshing and calming.
· Feel your body: this could be in a very small way, like rubbing your hands together or massaging the base of your thumb, or you can gently touch your arms and legs to remind yourself they are there and are part of you.
· Remember this feeling will pass and understand that it is your body trying to keep you safe
· Accept the feeling for the moment, fighting it may make you feel more distressed and make you feel more frozen, but try to remember you are not going to feel like this forever, it will pass.
· Take 3 deep breaths in and 3 deep breaths out, with each breath lasting three seconds.
· Apply moisturiser to your hands, this can be a good one for public situations as it won’t attract attention but is very grounding.
· Use a lip plumping or menthol lip balm, the tingling feeling can be very grounding and again won’t attract attention
· Text someone, it may feel impossible to talk so why not send the person you are with a text if they are someone who can understand, or tell someone who isn’t nearby what’s going on. Describing it can help you feel more in control.
· Do a meditation that focuses on grounding you, it may feel uncomfortable as dissociation is your body’s way of ‘detaching’ from your physical form as it is trying to avoid a perceived danger, so making you aware of your body may feel stressful or scary. Don’t force yourself if it feels too much, but if you can this is sometimes a useful option.
Remember that this a defensive mechanism, your brain and body are trying to protect you from a perceived danger. Try and treat yourself with patience and kindness and know that you do have control of what’s happening, it may just take time for you to find a way to manage what’s happening to you that works, and to understand what is setting you off.
‘The Body Keeps the Score’ an interesting read if you want to understand more about living with trauma - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Body-Keeps-Score-Transformation-Trauma/dp/0141978619
Contact details for the Samaritans support service - https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI1OzA-eOd2QIVAhwbCh1dFwJkEAAYASABEgIcovD_BwE
Language is important. Sticks and stones breaking bones whilst words would never hurt is not something that has ever rung true to me. “Well, you would say that,” scoffs my imagined interlocutor. “You’re a writer with an alternating grandiose and inferior sense of self, of course everything hinges on what you do.” Why yes, imaginary and somewhat hostile imaginary interlocutor, and more than that. It is not only a matter of what we say to each other but also what we say to ourselves.
So much of tackling your own mental health comes from seeking out the root of a dislocated perspective and trying to dislodge it. Talk therapy or taking your own thoughts head on, in every sense, often reaches the point of feeling exhaustively semantic. But it’s precisely that point of exhaustion that means something is giving way. I don’t know about you but as someone who thinks in words and whose thoughts are more often than not prone to going skewiff, the labels we give things and behaviours in an attempt to connect with, understand and heal each other are vital.
My bugbear is the term “self-care”. Just how it sounds, for a start. Self-care. My skin crawls. It clogs in my throat like swallowing too-sweet cookie dough. Not the behaviours and attitudes that the term labels but the term itself. As terms go, self-care is nowhere near as useful as it could be, which risks the principles of practicing self-care in the first place. So, what’s the point of self-care? I am taking it to mean a set of behaviours and attitudes directed towards oneself, for oneself’s wellbeing. Hard to argue with that, in theory. But the critical element of self-care is about practice, actually doing it. If the words in your theory fall flat when it comes to real-world application, you’re not going to get much further than that.
Self-care is too often synonymous with “treating yourself”, the murky realms of certain performances of femininity that is ultimately a gateway to consumerism. Like all good middle class white girls, I have a soft spot for Cherry Healey’s documentaries. When she looked into the tactics of how shops get us to splurge, she hooked herself up to equipment that monitored her heartbeat and other physical symptoms of excitement and stress. Any time she spotted something she liked in the sales, her results were through the roof. Her body responded on a level akin to any other kind of addiction. There’s a rush, there’s a fallow, there’s a crash. Then follows the craving, the searching, and the cycle repeats itself. How is overloading an already frazzled nervous system with “retail therapy” going to do anything other than rendering your spirit and wallet completely bankrupt?
As someone who has just bought a new footstool for her living room and is eyeing up rugs and waiting on a Monki delivery, please be assured that I am not against, nor immune, to the odd treat. A genuine, once in a while treat. But an indulgence repeated over and over again is no longer an indulgence, it’s a dependency. This is not a helpful model for trying to manage ongoing mental health issues, the boom and bust pattern more often than not eventually exacerbating symptoms through this perpetual stress. That’s even if you can afford it in the first place. Thing is, self-care is such a neat term to commodify. It’s ripe for plucking and if it’s good for you, well, then. Even better - and even harder to resist.
But enough of lofty economic criticism that I am not strictly qualified to comment on, beyond being a buyer myself. What I can tell you with certainty is that my most recent bout of depression this year brought my issues with the words themselves to the surface. When I tentatively told those around me that yes, unfortunately, I am ill again, with the potent mix of shame and disappointment that came with it as I did, they could not have been more supportive. How language encourages us to comfort those we know with calls to action - look after yourself, take care of yourself. But I still didn’t know what that meant. Most of why I was unwell was precisely because I didn’t understand what that meant. Besides, I was so tired of everything, I wasn’t sure I could even rally myself to start. I just wasn’t worth the fuss.
Everything people were suggesting that I do sounded so nice. Icky touchy-feely things. In the pit of self-loathing, self-care only shares a prefix. Depression is ruthlessly straightforward in its banality. Practicing self-care was as alien to me as living in the jungle. I knew that people did it, I had no issue with them doing so but it wasn’t even an option for me. There is no choice to make. The mental picture of self-care I had seemed stuck around the ‘90s adverts for Cadbury Flakes. I have had great times in bubble baths eating cheap chocolate - indeed, near-orgasmic as the adverts promised - but never when I was depressed. There’s a sinew between where I am at when I’m depressed and the prospect of getting better that’s severed due to the Big Ol’ D. It is not sewn back together by a hot yoga class that cost £12 as the instructor tells me to, “Clear my mind of all negative thoughts.” You think I haven’t tried that? That’s like telling someone to stop the car when they don’t know which terrifying looking stick is the handbrake. Desperately reaching for any source of stability as I crumbled from the inside, attempting to practice self-care ended up making me feel even more lost and despondent.
What if we were to replace the term self-care with something more appealing and downright functional than the icky touchy-feely vibes conjured by its mere utterance? A solid term that could do the work of the labelling but not be hijacked by commerce and twisted by our minds?
Try this on for size: essential maintenance. Hear me out. I know it’s not fancy and fluffy but it’s practical, has helped me and, dear reader, we’ve come this far, so it’s my heartfelt intention that it helps you too. As a label, its intention is to bring focus to the fuzz. There’s action imbued with ‘maintenance’, but an ongoing action, a little and often sensibility. ‘Essential’ is down to you. What are the essences of your life? Of you? I know, this could be just as viable a term for the criticism I’m levying at self-care but I don’t mean it in the New Age-y way. This is meant to further focus your lens on yourself to prioritise. It’s not one-size-fits-all precisely because everyone’s essences are different. There is plenty of overlap in terms of our umbrella term principles - vocation, service, health - but how we each express those are key to our identity and, therefore, our recovery.
There’s the essence that covers things that you need to nourish and support your physical being, whether it’s consecutive nights of uninterrupted sleep, eating a green vegetable or twisting your wrists to shake out that tension. Essence is not restricted to simply those kinds of behaviours, though. Humans are not machines. We are more like instruments, physical beings capable of creating and emanating great beauty. You need to discover and explore what you can do to keep yourself in tune. We can all point to a Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs but when you can identify the things that keep your heart pumping as well as make it swell with the shininess of being alive, then you’re onto something.
For me, that often means feeling the fear and doing it anyway with a lot of life admin. I have been terrible with bank statements and council letters and paper waste of that ilk for a long time but taking a deep breath, doodling to steady my shaking hand as I’m on the phone to HMRC and thinking of how good that cup of tea is going to taste afterwards means that I can clear that debris from my path of aforementioned swelling shininess. How often do we shirk from necessary adulting, saying it’s boring because that’s less scary than admitting we’re terrified? Back in the days when I attempted self-care, that time would have been spent watching show after show on Netflix because I adore telly and work it in too, so double bonus, two birds, one stone, research and relaxation, lovely stuff. But really, I was just staring at a screen, the anxiety muffled but still very much there. Numbing myself, sinking into the paralysis of self-doubt. Anaesthesia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
That doesn’t mean that essential maintenance is no fun. Quite the contrary. I still watch hours of Netflix but I have a firm but gentle talk with myself beforehand to see if it’s will best meet my essential maintenance requirements of that moment. Implying that desire or joy aren’t integral parts of being a healthy human on the prickly path of balance is to lose the best tool in your arsenal against burn out. Looking at my friends with kids, I’m in awe of how parents can get so much done by integrating elements of play into the most humdrum of everyday tasks. We learn from the off by exploration, with no sense of competition, just a vague sense of our own progress that gets stronger the more we let ourselves follow it. It’s a great shame that that’s under threat once we begin to navigate adulthood.
The more years I add to my working life, the more I appreciate what a taking a break means, the value of refreshing my head by plunging into a book or having a staring competition with a potted plant. Not only do I do better work when I’ve turned away from it by even just putting some hand cream on and breathing in the woody scent of it that I love so much, I am most definitely a better person to be around. Helping yourself most certainly helps others better than the martyrdom and suffering work ethic that is only getting worse within our working culture, which served as the logic bypass to help me sew that sinew back together this time around. Taking whatever measures that ensure you take yourself sincerely rather than seriously, to blunt the sharp edge of egotistical survival that the world so often demands of us, is to not only survive but thrive.
But please know, the core of each of our essences, the one overlap we all share, is that we do what we can get our self-s through another day, with our self-s as intact as possible. I hope I have brought you round to considering rephrasing self-care as essential maintenance, or at least to realise that your essences are your impetus. You are responsible for them but it is also your absolute right to pay attention to them. Keep your instrument in tune. I can’t wait to hear your song.
Content warning: This essay discusses suicide, death depression and anxiety.
I first became aware of caring too much about what others thought last year. I turned 27 and had been a fun-loving, carefree individual throughout my teens. It changed when I turned roughly 19 and I started college. I was thrust into a male-dominated environment and whilst, at the time, I didn’t think that bothered me, when I look back, I know it was the beginning.
I became more insular as I started to doubt my abilities, there were comments about me being the only female in class and I was asked if I was sure I could “handle the pace”. I laughed it off and considered it banter, but now I reflect with a degree of bitterness. I managed to prove my worth and worked through and progressed to university. The heavy male environment continued, but my confidence had been dented somewhat by the consistent sexual innuendos, those laughing at my academic ability as a woman in “their field” and other digs.
There was a gradual progression and my doubt about my own abilities and strength as a person was not only applied to how males thought of me, but I started to wonder if I was capable of being successful amongst everyone.
I managed to graduate and whilst I was somewhat happy, I was more relieved than anything. My mother had passed away when I was 9 from cancer and I had no strong feminine presence in my life to reassure me that things were going to be ok, or that I was strong enough to stand on my own as a young woman. I craved that defiance more than anything.
I started to play the sympathy card and would bring my mother’s death up when things became hard so that people felt sorry for me. When I would fall out with friends, I would blame it on not dealing with her death as a child and I felt guilty, but I just wanted to be accepted. I started to lie about things in order to gain popularity.
On the flipside, everything I was asked to do I would say yes to. I wanted to be liked, I didn’t want to let people down and I didn’t want to seem weak. I was also too scared to say what I believed in, I felt that if my opinions were too strong, even if I thought something was wrong, I would just keep quiet or agree with the majority.
Things took a turn for the worse when I was about 24, I had started working and made a group of friends, but I started to imagine that people didn’t like me. If people didn’t respond to messages or calls within a certain timeframe, if people cancelled on me, if people looked at me funny or if people just say they couldn’t do something then I would automatically think it was because of me. I would sit for hours even days thinking “what the hell have I done?” I would trawl through conversations and my own actions to try and think what I had done. I started to hate myself.
I started cutting people out of my life. The sickness and anxiety I felt from having certain people around me made my life miserable. I would snap at people for no reason, I would say hateful things in a bid to remove those from my circle and life.
I wanted to be authentic, I wanted to be liked. I just wanted a life.
At 25, I attempted suicide. I felt that there was no point to me being alive, no one liked me, and I couldn’t maintain any relationships successfully in my life. I had no support around me (or so I believed) and I didn’t feel any desire to make an effort. It was a cry for help. I did it in my dad’s house and feel like a coward for doing so. He found me, and I still remember the pain in his voice as he cried my name. I will always be sorry for that.
I took time out to recover, moved back with my dad and started therapy.
There was a lightbulb moment last year. Following extensive therapy, I realised that a lot of this came down to my worry about what others thought about me. It had been staring me in the face all along, the realisation was when I started to think about what was truly important to me.
My strength now is immeasurable. I don’t let people’s criticism from their own insecurities come between me and my own personal fulfilment. I have realised that is their issue. I have realised the differences between my right and wrongdoings and I deal with those individually. I also now deal with the fact that some people are not going to like me, and I am not going to like some people. What’s the worst that can happen?
I say no now. That seems to be the most important self-lesson. I am not scared of saying it and I think people respect me more for it.
I have found my inspirations in life and I have surrounded myself with things and people that care. The time I spent alone and in therapy has made me realise what I want and need from those around me. I have realised that others don’t care as much as I think they do and have their own lives to map and live. The stark truth is that people may not even spend much time thinking about me at all and that is something that I now find contentment in.
We as people are controlled by an idealised standard of what people want to see. I have now started to feel freer than ever before. I gave up trying to pander to peoples’ thoughts and opinions. I gave up changing myself for others.
Whilst I have those around me now, I am comfortable being alone. I don’t feel that I have to surround myself with people and enjoy my own company. I now do things for me. I like travelling alone, if people can’t do things with me then I will do them myself, I eat lone in restaurants and cafes with no issues. I go to events by myself. My life is mine again.
Content warning: This essay discusses emotional abuse, depression and anxiety. There are mentions of self-harm, negative body image, physical assault and sexual assault.
I’m not very good at processing events that happen to me, or the emotions that come with it. Instead I just binge watch TV series and project myself and my emotions onto the characters, and deal with my trauma through that. It’s probably why I hate Dean in Gilmore Girls so much. I’ve been rewatching Grey’s Anatomy recently and there’s a scene where a few months after one of the character’s husband dies, she goes to a grief group. The leader tells her that at some point during the day, she needs to take the time to say to herself “I’m a widow”; something about accepting the label being an important part of processing the grief. The character laughs at it, but cut to a scene after a patient loses his wife unexpectedly later in the episode and she’s crying in front of the mirror. “I’m a widow”.
I am not a widow. I am an abuse survivor. It has been three years since that relationship ended, yet I am not always comfortable with that term. I’m wary of claiming that I survived abuse, even though I know I did. My ex never sexually assaulted me, nor did he ever hit me – although he nearly did once. I don’t doubt that had I stayed, the abuse would have escalated. However, the abuse was entirely emotional, and in my head I feel like that doesn’t qualify. To a lot of people, that also means I don’t qualify either.
I was in a really bad place when I met him. I had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression six months previously; four weeks prior to meeting him my first serious relationship broke down. We had loved each other, but both of us were going through mental health problems and couldn’t be there for each other in the ways that we needed. Naturally, I internalised this – if only I hadn’t been mentally ill, I could have been a better girlfriend, I could have supported my partner more, the break up was my fault. I was absolutely full of self-loathing. I was still new to being mentally ill and didn’t know how to manage my illnesses; I was even newer to being alone. I met him – H – on Tinder of all places. I recognised his face from Instagram; I swiped right. The most modern of romances. A week later we went for our first date, closely followed by a second and a third.
Initially, everything was wonderful. H seemed funny, interesting, kind, charming and sweet. What’s more, he seemed to really care about me. He went above and beyond to show it to me; he would always make sure to buy my favourite food in for breakfast and make me breakfast in bed whenever I stayed over. We would go into town and he would make a habit of noticing the things I was looking at and buying them for me. Depression meant that I struggled to get up in the mornings; he memorised my timetable and would ring me on mornings when I had early lectures to make sure I made them. He saved as many cute animal photos to his phone as the memory would allow, ready to send them whenever I mentioned I was having a bad day.
There were a few warning signs; like when he slipped into conversation that his favourite term of endearment for women was “bitch”. Or that on our first date I turned up in a pair of Converse and one of his first comments was “Who the hell even wears Converse these days anyway?”. Or that when we talked about exes, he called all of his ‘psychos’ and laughed that one of them had to break up with him six times before he got the message. Had my mental health not been what it was, I like to think I would have recognised these for what they were. Instead, it was easy to turn a blind eye and to laugh them off as little quirks. I threw myself into the relationship. It was much easier to lose myself in somebody else than it was to attempt to confront my own mental health problems. At a point in my life where I was struggling to take care of myself, here was somebody who seemed willing to put so much effort into taking care of me. I lapped it up.
Little quirks soon turned into huge, glaring arguments. The first one that I can truly remember is where we were talking on the phone one evening and I was telling him that I had cut my hair that day. He asked me why the hell I would do that, snapping at me that I “wouldn’t look like the kind of girl he wanted to be with”. I was taken aback and hung up the phone. He called constantly; I asked for space. He turned up at my door in tears the next morning and told me what an awful person he was and that he was sorry, that he didn’t deserve me and would do whatever it took to make things right. This became a familiar pattern; he did something hurtful and would make a grand gesture of apology that ended with me having to comfort him, despite him being the one to have hurt me. I didn’t see it for that at the time; I saw it as him showing how much he cared about me. I believed that we only argued because he loved me so much, and I was secretly thrilled that somebody could seemingly care so deeply about me.
For a long time, I believed that he wasn’t doing it intentionally. I look back now and realise that every time I confided in him about my insecurities, he would go on to purposefully use them against me. This was no accident on his part. My mind, twisted through mental illness and his manipulation, believed he deserved somebody better. Somebody better looking, somebody thinner, somebody cooler, somebody smarter, somebody less mentally ill. Somebody less me. We would walk through town and he would point out girls that looked nothing like me, and comment “That’s the kind of person I can see myself settling down with”. My appearance became a point of contention – tattoos were a huge part of reconciling my body image issues, but he wouldn’t speak to me if I got a new one without his explicit permission. If I was buying new clothes, I had to send him photos before I was allowed to buy them. One time, I bought myself a new pair of jeans, already embarrassed that I had had to size up. He put the jeans on himself, and took pleasure in pointing out how big they were on him. I was nervous about collecting my final year results – I had a panic attack in one of my exams, and hadn’t even answered one of the main essay questions. I scored 55 in this. Despite having done better than expected in every other exam and averaging a 2:1 overall, the first thing he said to me was “55? That’s shit – I’d be mortified if I had got 55% in an exam!”. We had a blazing row in front of all of the people on my course. He said maybe I would be better off without him; in anger I agreed. He couldn’t believe I would say such a thing; I spent the rest of the day comforting his hurt and ignoring mine. I was offered a scholarship for a masters and a PhD. The masters was in Business – way out of my comfort zone - and I told him that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pass it, but I was determined to work hard. He told me that he had taken GCSE Business, so knew that I wouldn’t be any good at it. I was lazy, and I wasn’t ‘business minded’. I believed it. I talked about my previous relationship with him, and told him that my ex had once said to me that as a result of my mental illness, I was no longer the girl he fell in love with. I told H how much this had hurt me. A few weeks later, during an argument, those exact words flew out of his mouth. I believed them. Another time we argued and he made me feel so terrible about myself that for the only time in my life, I self-harmed. His response to this was to punch the wall right next to my head. He spoke about my self-harm to his friend, and took delight in repeating back to me that his friend thought I was completely crazy, I deserved to be locked up, that H deserved better and he was such a good partner just for staying with me – nobody else would. I believed it.
Of course, I wasn’t attractive enough. Of course, I was too fat. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough. Of course, I was too mentally ill. Of course, I wasn’t a good enough girlfriend. These were all things I believed about myself anyway - he just gave external validation to them. He wasn’t mentally ill, whereas I was ‘crazy’ - obviously, I would give more weight to his perspective to my own. The rare times I would speak up for myself and voice any of my problems with the relationship, he would convincingly twist it back round to why these problems were all my fault. His constant gaslighting had meant that I didn’t trust my own perception of reality nor of the relationship, and his was so convincing that I accepted it without further question. I remembered how good everything had seemed in the beginning, and attributed all of the problems since to being my fault. I vowed to work harder; if I could just make myself better, make myself smaller, make myself quieter, we could be happy again. After every argument we would have a honeymoon period where things would be good and I would be on a complete high. I was reminded of why we were together, why shrinking myself down to becoming his ideal girlfriend was worth it. It never lasted. He began to lose his temper with me more frequently and for more trivial reasons. I stopped having opinions. I did everything he said and tried to become everything he wanted; every argument we had added to the list of things that it was easier for me stop doing than to deal with the consequences.
It was a relatively benign thing that made me realise I needed to end the relationship. I had just moved into a new flat, and I purchased some green plates. H saw them and flew off the handle – green wouldn’t match the white plates he already owned. He couldn’t believe how inconsiderate I was to not to take him and his OCD into account when deciding what plates to buy. He couldn’t believe I had been so selfish – he told me that I was always at the centre of any and every decision he made, but I never thought about him. We didn’t even live together, and he didn’t have OCD. My choice in plates would have no influence on his life. It’s almost funny to look back on, as are half of the inconsequential things he would lose his temper over. It’s also terrifying that somebody could react so strongly to such minor things. It was like a light had started to flicker on in my head. I realised that we weren’t arguing about plates. We were arguing because he had to be in control of my behaviour at all times. I realised I could never win. The goalposts would keep changing. I would never be able to shrink myself enough.
It wasn’t immediate, but it was like slowly regaining consciousness. Two weeks later I wrote down a list of every reason why we needed to break up – I knew that when I eventually tried to break up with him, he would try to manipulate me into staying. The big apologies, the grand gestures, the gaslighting. I needed a script to stick to. I phoned him and ended the relationship. It wasn’t an easy break; I expected relief, but none came. My entire existence had been centred on moulding myself to fit another person; all I felt was guilt, fear, doubt and sadness. He poured his heart out on social media, telling the world how heartbroken he was, how he wished he could do differently, how all this was a mistake. He manipulated the narrative of our relationship once more. I read through comment after comment from his followers about how I wasn’t worth it, how I had never been good enough for him anyway, how I was a bitch for what I had done. I wondered if this was true. He would call or text me at every available opportunity – we were good for each other, he would do better, he loved me, this was what love was meant to be like. I nearly got sucked back in; I understood why his ‘psycho’ ex had to break up with him so many times. Soon his messages turned more spiteful. Guised under the pretence of friendship, he would tell me about the girls he was hanging out with - how they had better hair than me, how their cats were cuter than mine. He tracked down my private blog and took very specific screenshots to show to these girls, to turn them against me even though I had never said a bad word about them, only him. My inbox filled with messages from his newest victims; to them, I was the crazy ex-girlfriend. I lost my temper and sent him a long text detailing exactly how emotionally abusive he had been, how he had preyed on me when I was vulnerable and used my mental illness as a way to control and manipulate me. I never received a reply.
I don’t know how to end this story. I want to be able to say that I am doing better than ever, and that I am carrying out my revenge by living well. In some ways, this is true. I got a distinction on the masters he didn’t think I would be any good at and finished in the top 5% of my class. I have successfully completed two years of my PhD, and if all goes to plan this time next year I will be a Dr. I wear outfits he would have scolded me for with pride. I am covered in tattoos he would hate. My cupboards are filled with green plates. My social circle is exclusively filled with people who only encourage and support me. I have a better relationship with my body image than I ever have done. I have in no way recovered from my mental illnesses, but I am better at managing them and attempting to have an existence that isn’t entirely controlled by them. I shout about the relationship as loudly as possible to anybody who will listen because I refuse to let him silence me anymore than he already did. I have been in two relationships since him, and while they have not worked out, their ending was not my fault. Many people tell me that I am strong.
I do not feel strong. I feel fragile and like I might break at any moment. I am still learning how to process and deal with the trauma that comes with an emotionally abusive relationship. Much like with mental illnesses, the recovery from an emotionally abusive relationship is not a linear process. I can go stretches of time relatively unaffected, other times it’s as real as it was the day he punched the wall. I hear the word ‘bitch’ in passing and suddenly I am stood in his shower with a razor blade again. I see a picture of him and I can not breathe. Most days I am simply exhausted by the effort it takes to convince myself that my perception of reality is true. That I am not any of the things he so convincingly made me believe I was. For the first year after the relationship ended, I was so heartbreakingly sad that somebody who was meant to love me could treat me like that. Sadness has merged into anger. The further I have got out of that relationship the more I realise how abusive it was and the more angry I am at the way I was treated.
I am angry that he still gets to exist in this world unscathed while I have had to claw some semblance of a life and a personality back together from nothing. I’m angry that my overwhelming memory of relationships is of being constantly afraid of my own partner and their reactions; of having a panic attack every time my phone rang and his name flashed up. I am angry that I am still a complete pushover in all of my interpersonal relationships, because I am so desperately terrified of conflict. I’m angry that he will never have to be held accountable for his actions, and that if I stop talking about what he put me through then there is no evidence it ever happened. I’m angry that what he did to me impacts every single relationship I have had since - be it platonic or romantic. I am angry that I can’t trust other people. I’m angry that if I hear a man raise his voice near me, I burst into tears because I have seen how this can end. I am angry that I can’t trust my own feelings or perceptions of reality. I am angry that because of this, I still find myself questioning whether it all ever even happened in the first place. I am angry that because of him, my initial reaction to anything is fear and distrust. I am angry that he took so much from me while giving so little in return. I am angry that he is allowed to carry on abusing women. I am angry that people can – and do – choose not to believe me. I am angry that people choose to turn a blind eye and continue to interact with him. I am angry that to this day he will not believe he did anything wrong. I am angry that to him I am another one of the ‘psycho’ exes he will laugh about with his next girlfriend, and I am angry that he is so convincingly able to play the victim. I am angry that I am still angry with him and that I can’t simply continue my life in peace. I am exhausted by my anger, but also proud of it. He never allowed me to be angry.
There’s another Greys scene, where Cristina is talking about her relationship with Burke. “He took something from me. He took little pieces of me, little pieces over time, so small I didn't even notice, you know? He wanted me to be something I wasn't, and I made myself into what he wanted.” I am still learning how to put those pieces back together. I am still learning how to make myself into what I want. I am an abuse survivor.
We are delighted to be launching our wee Saturday morning walking club. We have been conscious that we want to make things more tangible. Social interaction, nature and fresh air are all things proven to help mental health.
Our first walking club will take place Saturday 13th January at 10am.
I (Halina) will be at the main gates of Queens Park (map below) and each week, I will take a gentle route around the park.
Important things to note:
· This is a voluntary club and it is free.
· I do have a Mental Health First Aid Certificate, but I am not medically trained.
· If you have any health conditions that potentially could affect you then it is advised that you consult your GP to make sure this is ok for you.
· Please make sure you have suitable footwear and clothing for all weathers. I want you to be warm and comfortable!
· Please bring a bottle/container of water. It is super important to keep hydrated.
· Make sure you have had something to eat in the morning. It is also important that you have something in your tummy!
· The walk will last for about an hour to begin and we will look at increasing this.
· You don’t need to stay for the full walk, you can leave at any time.
· If you have issues with agoraphobia and stay near the Southside, I am happy to come and collect you. I have been there and sometimes it is hard enough leaving the house.
Most importantly, I want this to make you happy!
If you are interested in coming along, or have any more questions in advance then I can be contacted on 07943104257 or by emailing email@example.com
A picture of the gates is below:
Anyone claiming to have the definitive understanding or guide to antidepressants is not being honest. They have a different effect on everyone because everyone’s brain, body and lifestyle is different. However, I’m hoping that this article will offer a nuanced explanation of how antidepressants can impact you based on my own experiences and personal research. I’m not a medical professional, I’m not trying to persuade you one way or the other about whether taking medication is right for you. In the face of a lot of negativity and misrepresentation about the impact of taking medication for your mental health, particularly SSRI antidepressants, I think it’s worth offering a balanced guide to some things you might expect to experience, how to deal with them, and a brief overview of how the medication works
This article is intended to be a resource for people who have been prescribed SSRIs or are considering asking for them from their doctor. If that’s you I would recommend doing some reading around and being open with your GP about what it is you’re hoping they’ll help with.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs are one type of antidepressant medication. They can also be used to treat generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, sever phobias, bulimia and post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s not a comprehensive list of the situations SSRIs might be offered to you as a treatment, but it show that they can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions. According to NHS.uk SSRIs work by ‘increasing serotonin levels in the brain’. If you want a more complex explanation of how that works I’d recommend reading the NHS guide to SSRIs. It’s important to note that altering your serotonin levels is not itself considered to be a fix, but the improve in mood that should come with this may make you more responsive to other forms of treatment such as therapy. When I first went on SSRIs I remember being told that I should consider it like a bandage on a wound that will still need further treatment but the bandage being in place should make it more possible to treat the wound itself. This is not going to be true of everyone who takes SSRIs for their mental health, but if this is your first time taking them I think it’s worth taking them while also getting some other kind of treatment such as a form of therapy (this is of course limited by the fact that in the UK it can be very difficult to get therapy because of waiting lists, but it’s something I would personally recommend doing if it feels right for you and if you are able to).
Starting Your Meds
If you have been prescribed antidepressants by your doctor you will probably be aware that there are several kinds available. The 3 most commonly prescribed for mental health conditions are citalopram, fluoxetine and sertraline although there are other kinds available too. Your doctor will likely explain to you that it may be the first kind you try isn’t the right one for you and that your dose may change depending on how well it’s working for you.
The first 2-4 weeks are a ‘settling in’ period. You won’t feel a benefit necessarily, although I’ve personally found that I get a bit of a placebo effect when I start taking meds for the first time. I think that’s because it makes me feel more in control of my mental health, which is no bad thing because any lift in my mood when I’m feeling bad is welcome!
There will be side-effects, you should read the leaflet that comes with your medication to understand the ones you’re most likely to get, but any side-effects you get in the beginning may settle down or change as you adjust.
Things To Know and Tips
- Be patient: it takes 2-4 weeks for you to feel the benefit and it’s recommended that you take antidepressants for at least 6 months to feel the benefit but…
- It might not be right for you: it may be that the side-effects are too strong for you or that you’ve tried a few different types and it’s just not helping. If that’s the case it’s ok to stop taking them, they aren’t for everyone or it might just not be the right time for you (but please ensure you decrease your dose gradually under medical supervision - the side-effects of stopping cold-turkey are not fun)
- If it is right for you, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise: there is so much scaremongering and negativity around the use of antidepressants and certainly they’re not a quick fix or cure-all but if they help you then you should feel no shame. I’ve had it suggested to me that being on meds means you’re not getting the most of your life or that it’s pointless because I’ll just go back to feeling bad when I stop taking them, or even that I’m limiting my own creative potential (to which I reply that depression does the same thing anyway). Both of those things are untrue but you don’t owe anyone an explanation on how you manage your own health.
- You might not get it right first time: as I mentioned earlier, there are a few kinds of SSRIs out there and it may be that it takes you a few goes to find one that works for you. You might also have to try a few different levels out before you find the dose that works for you.
- There will be side-effects: it is different for everyone but there will be some kind of side-effect. It might be very small, barely noticeable and it might be a lot bigger and harder to deal with. It’s up to you whether you feel the benefit outweighs any side-effects, but I would recommend being patient and not making quick decisions as these things work slowly.
- You can’t mix grapefruit juice and SSRIs or take ibuprofen if you’re on SSRIs: just something to remember! Grapefruit can interfere with how you metabolize your medication and be potentially dangerous and you can’t take any NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen) while taking SSRIs as they can cause serotonin syndrome or bleeding.
- Get a routine with collecting your prescription: you will probably be expected to have an appointment with your GP every month to collect your prescription (obviously this varies depending on location etc). This can be difficult to fit in so it may be worth talking to your doctor about whether there’s any flexibility within that, or if you can maybe make a phone appointment with the doctor and have your prescription either posted to you or sent electronically to the pharmacy. The worst thing to do when you’re taking SSRIs is to let yourself run out of meds and slip into withdrawal because you will not feel good, so make sure you make time to get your meds.
This is just a bit of advice on how to handle the side-effects I’ve personally experienced. NHS.uk lists the main potential side-effects as:
- feeling agitated, shaky or anxious
- feeling or being sick
- blurred vision
- difficulty achieving orgasm during sex or masturbation
- in men, difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
I’ve found personally that some kinds of SSRIs make me more anxious and shaky than others. It can feel difficult because this is one of the things they’re supposed to be treating but if your medication is making you very anxious definitely speak to your doctor about it and they may recommend changing dose or type.
The side-effect I find hardest personally is the tiredness. This is not going to be the same for everyone, but if it’s something you’re struggling with too, make sure you’re prioritising your sleep – you need it. Try and practice good sleep hygiene, make time for yourself to be tired, don’t be angry at yourself if you can’t do as much as you used to.
I also struggle with my short-term memory when on SSRIs. It makes my brain feel kind of ‘slippy’. I manage this at work by always carrying a notepad with me and keep notes on what’s happening even in informal meetings so that if I find it difficult to recall something that happened a few minutes ago I have a way to look it back up (plus it makes me look really serious and hard-working). If this is something you’re finding difficult and are able to, it may be worth confiding in your manager or relevant colleague as there are probably small changes they can make that will make it easier for you to keep on top of things. But remember that these things will feel a lot stronger and more noticeable for you than for those around you.
If you’re struggling with side-effects, consider the benefits of the medication too. Does it help you handle difficult emotions? Do you find yourself feeling more evened out? I’ve come off SSRIs because I found the side-effects too difficult in the past, but there have also been times when I’ve understood that the trade-off is worth it, I can handle feeling bad in these ways if it makes me feel better or more manageable in other ways.
If for whatever reason, you’ve come off your medication instantly without gradually decreasing the dose you are going to have some unusual side-effects. I’ve personally found brain zaps to be the most surprising and they can even be a little scary if you don’t know what’s the cause – if this does happen to you I’d recommend taking the time to read up on what side-effects are likely to happen as then you’ll know why it’s happening and that it’s only temporary during the withdrawal period.
Ultimately, remember to look after yourself. Don’t let the opinions of others make you feel ashamed or ‘reliant’ on medication. It can be very hard to reach out and acknowledge you need help, it’s not a sign of weakness to need or want to be on medication for your mental health.
All the science and facts for this article are taken from NHS.uk - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ssri-antidepressants/
Information an all kinds of antidepressants - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antidepressants/
Information on sertraline - https://beta.nhs.uk/medicines/sertraline/
Information on citalopram - https://beta.nhs.uk/medicines/citalopram/
Information on fluoxetine (Prozac) - https://beta.nhs.uk/medicines/fluoxetine
Mind guide to antidepressants - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/antidepressants/
‘Antidepressants work so why do we shame people for taking them? - https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/01/antidepressants-work-shame-people-ssri
The only time I remember not giving a shit about the way I looked was when I was about 6 years old on a beach in just my pants. The thrill of just being able to run about, there was no fear, no worry. I wasn’t looking down at my small protruding belly and thinking, “what are people going to say? I must cover this up or find a way of covering it up.”
It all changed when I hit around 12 years old. I started to realise I was bigger than the other children in my primary school, the comments started, but it wasn’t the kids around me, it came from the adults. I could hear them talking about “my size”, “what they were going to do about it”. That’s the first time I felt a real fear, I find it hard to describe. It’s the same feeling I get now if I haven’t done something that’s super important or I have an argument with someone. It’s as if the oxygen has temporarily been taken out of your body and your stomach temporarily becomes bottomless.
They tried to do things for me, they tried to temper my diet, but I would eat in secret. I would sneak into the fridge or cupboards, I would always find a way. It was my comfort. I guess I just wanted to be able to eat normally and enjoy it. The immediate guilt after doing this each time was shocking. I felt as if I wasn’t allowed to eat like other people.
By the time I was 16, I had become a big girl. I could always see the other school kids looking at me with judgement, but because “I was the funny, confident one”, I didn’t get as much hassle as I suppose I could of. It came from the strangers, the young guy on the street with his group of pals that thought it was funny to pick on the fat one, the old man on the bus that would complain about not having enough room to sit down. The tutting, the sighs, the feelings that you were a fucking burden each and every day.
My parents obviously had my well-being in mind, but when you face comments, looks, judgements each and every day, the effect on your mental health is so overwhelming that you start to give up. The vicious circle of trying not to eat and then binging was becoming exhausting.
I hit rock bottom about 3 years ago. My size was affecting my health and the periodic bullying from members of the general public was becoming unbearable. I have now been on a weight loss journey for about 2 years and getting there. I still, however, worry about what people think about me every single day. You walk down the street and if someone looks at you longer than a glance, you automatically assume they are thinking badly of you. That’s where my mental health has still to improve. It’s the one thing I find so hard to change within myself. Some days I don’t give a shit, I have more important things to think about, but others, I just want to swamp myself in a sack like a Dementor and float along like an apparition.
I know there are thousands of people that think like this. I pass people and see the sadness or fear in their eyes. I just want to pull them to one side, hug them and tell them that I know how it feels. I know the pain, I know they just want to be “normal”.
At what point did we get to this stage? Introduce a very young child to someone that is not conventionally what we deem normal, someone that might be scarred, someone that may be disfigured, someone that might have lost a limb or indeed someone that is overweight and they will not pass judgement. I fucking hate this society. I hate that we have got to this point of making people feel that they can’t exist in a way that they want. A way of complete acceptance and one that appreciates our differences.
No doubt there will be one person reading this that will think “but you can’t change some of those things, you can change your weight and it’s your fault”. Well mate, fuck you. That’s my response. There are many reasons that people put on weight or are overweight. Steroids, underactive thyroids and mental health issues that make you not want to look after yourself.
The impact on my mental health has been extraordinary. For all the bad reasons. My anxiety and panic attacks come purely from the social situations that have led me to this. The negative thoughts that have manifested themselves into moments of unadulterated fear. The hyperventilation, the shaking, the pins and needles in my fingers and toes, the need to camouflage myself to blend into the high street or on public transport. The normality that people crave.
Then, I think no. No, I want to stand out, I want to be different. I want people to notice me. I want them to see this and understand that we can’t all be something that certain cretins have decided is “beautiful”.
It’s inevitable that you will look at someone and make some form of judgement. The next time though, I want you to really challenge what it is about that person you noticed that made you judge. How does it affect your life? If you are worried about their health then I get it, we want to make sure those we love and care about are happy and healthy, but there are ways to approach this. Offer support, offer your time, offer your kindness. And to the strangers? Just smile at them.
The new student terms is almost upon us, you may be starting university or college for the first time, you might be returning, you may be travelling to a new city, you may be a mature student or more.
We have put together a list of tips from our own experiences that we wanted to share. We hope they help:
· Register with your university doctor as soon as you can.
· If you think there is a chance that your current mental health situation may impact your uni work, get in touch with support services. If you have been assigned a person tutor they may be a good place to start. If you have a long term mental health condition, you may also be eligible for DSA (Disabled Student’s Allowance). This can give you practical support, for example, they can help you buy a printer if you find going to the library to print things difficult because of anxiety. It is also a good idea to have an awareness of what allowances and support your uni can give, as it varies for each institution, so that if down the line your mental health gets suddenly worse and affects your work you know how to manage the impact it has on your studies.
· It can be hard suddenly being in a new place away from everyone and everything you know, making the effort to stay in touch with friends from home can help with this, even if they feel far away and this just means an occasional Facebook message or skype call). It’s also important to remember that there are definitely people around you going through the same thing, even if they’re keeping it to themselves.
· Look after your physical well-being: staying nourished, hydrated and rested is not easy when you’re a student. Your mental health will suffer if you’re not looking after your physical well-being, find a way of eating well/better that’s manageable for you.
· As important as it is to make new relationships and socialise, it is also important to look after your finances and not to become too frivolous by partying too much. If you get a loan or are living on a certain amount each week, it is very important to budget. Make sure you allocate money for a shopping list that includes a balanced diet, money for toiletries, to do your washing if need be and any materials for studying.
· We have mentioned diet a few times. It’s important to keep nourished. Save The Student have an excellent essential cooking guide on their site. We recommend reading it!
· Try and join a gym or do as much exercise as possible. Gym memberships such as Pure Gym give a student discount when joining so take full advantage.You can also get Pay As You Go options as well if you don’t want to commit long-term. Alternatively, go for walks, take up running, exercise inside your room! The endorphins will do you a power of good and it will in turn help with your studying.
· Manage your stress in other ways by doing Yoga (you can get tutorials on YouTube). Write a journal, putting your thoughts down can be a really effective way of relieving stress. Meditation can be excellent (again YouTube tutorials), mindfulness is a wonderful thing and there are plenty of free apps such as Headspace and Mindful which offer simple and effective ways of practicing.
· Remove the expectation for yourself that it has to be the best time of your life. For a lot of people, going away to university is built up to be just that. It might not be like that for you, and that’s ok. There is a lot of uncertainty, change, and stress as part of the experience and that can be difficult. It might take time to find people that you click with, you may find being in a new place takes a long time to get comfortable with. It can be amazing, but nothing is amazing all the time and being realistic about what it may be like reduces the fear of missing out that can make you feel like you’re not doing it properly.
· Try not to think about failure. We now put more pressure on ourselves than ever before. If you don’t pass something then it doesn’t mean you are a failure, you may just need more time to get through it or you need more help. Don’t assume that everyone else is a whizz either, they may be in the same boat, but too scared to say something. Speak to your lecturers regularly and also break things down into small chunks. ONE STEP AT A TIME.
· Find a balance that works for you between partying, studying and making space for yourself – and if going out clubbing regularly just isn’t for you, that’s ok too! There’s a lot of pressure to have the *fresher’s experience* but if you know that’s not for you or that if you do it too often it’s going to have a negative impact on your well-being, you don’t have to force yourself into it.
· Try not to drink too much. This is a really each thing for us to write, but if you go out too much it will impact a number of things. Your studies will suffer, your immune system will deteriorate, your finances will evaporate and your mental health will become very poor. It may also become quite addictive. As the point above says – find a balance!
· Try and avoid drugs taken in sociable situations. If you suffer from anxiety, depression or any form of panic disorder they can amplify negative feelings and make you feel worse. Sometimes people drugs to "self-medicate" but this can aggravate problems. This, of course, does not include medication prescribed such as anti-depressants.
· Remember why you wanted to study in the first place. The pressures of uni and college can sometimes make you forget why you wanted to do this so it's important to think back and think daily about why you are doing this. It's for you. You are number one and whilst sometimes, it might not be the right course, you might need to change, it might not be what you expected, you are not tied to anything forever. Your happiness and health always come first.
· MIND also have an extensive advice section for students that we highly recommend reading
Content Warning: contains discussions around anxiety, panic attacks and HIV.
I’ve sat for the past hour or so wondering just how to start this. As someone who talks and writes about mental health regularly, I would love to say it was an alien feeling having something about myself that I couldn’t quite bear to expose, but it's not. As much of an open book as I try to be, there are still chapters I hope no one ever has to read.
I have decided to open up about the events that led to my first major panic attack and eventually, my acknowledgement that after moving from a teenager to an adult, my mental health hadn’t improved like everyone said it would. It had in fact, gotten worse.
In my late teens, much like many people, I had a lot of nights of heavy drinking with my friends and plenty of evenings which were totally lost to ever anxiety inducing ‘black out’. Also, around this time I remember reading an article in the Agony Aunt section of the ‘The S*n’ (I cannot vouch for my colleagues at the time’s taste in newspaper’s sadly) where a man had written in to say he had contracted HIV but claimed it was from falling over landing on a used needle, rather than through any drug use of his own or sex outside of his marriage. He was torn to shreds by Deirdre of ‘Dear Deirdre’ and was told that it was highly unlikely that he could have contracted HIV in this manner and should admit to himself, and his wife, what had really happened.
I have no idea why but as time passed I thought back to that article on a few occasions and somewhere, deep in my subconscious a story started to spin. I started to wonder whether I could have, in one of my many drunken stupors, somehow come in to contact with an infected needle. Could I really be sure that I hadn’t somehow contracted HIV or anything else for that matter? As I sit and write this now, even reading it back, it seems laughable, but stick with me.
I couldn’t pin point exactly what age I was when this all started, but I’d guess around 19 or 20, I was in a happy, long term relationship (which I am still in), I had never cheated on my girlfriend and my sexual experiences prior to this relationship were certainly nothing extravagant. I had never had a test for sexually transmitted infections but had never felt I needed one, given that the chances that I had contracted anything were minimal.
I think it was around 2 or 3 years, but perhaps more, perhaps less, that I allowed myself to be tortured by the possibility that I had somehow contracted an S.T.I, either through some contact with needles when I was blind drunk (thanks, Dear Deirdre) or through my past sexual experiences, which as I said, were unlikely to bear any real risk. I spun narratives in my mind on an almost daily basis that I could have contracted some infection and had passed it onto my girlfriend. I thought of all the horrible medical problems I could have caused her, and at times felt almost 100% sure that I was on borrowed time, that one day one of these stories would come true, I would be unveiled and my life would come crashing down, along with hers. Simply put, I was allowing myself to build a situation where I had ruined everything, a situation that simply did not to exist.
Of course, I considered going to the sexual health clinic and taking a test but this felt almost impossible for so many reasons. I did not want to go and keep it a secret from my girlfriend simply because I like to be honest and also because I feared she would think I had slept with someone else, which is also the reason I felt I couldn’t tell her I was going to take a test. I followed that path in my mind hundreds of times too and became terrified of her accusations. Again, allowing my brain to race off and create situations that didn’t exist. Anyone seeing a pattern here yet?
So instead, I just let it boil inside of me, again and again building these horrible situations up inside me and allowing them to a crescendo, I endlessly felt guilty for things I hadn’t done and felt powerless inside my own mind. Something deep down knew how irrational all this, but it did not stop the wrenching in my stomach every time it crept back into my brain.
This couldn’t last forever and it didn’t. Early one morning at work, I was slightly hungover from a few drinks with friends the night before and was trying to combat this by drinking an energy drink. The mild hangover and the caffeine provided the final fuel needed for everything to crumble. I was sitting lifeguarding a swimming pool, watching people get in their morning lengths when it hit. My breathing became agitated and heavy, I burst into tears and felt completely, for lack of a better word, panicked. As soon as I could I alerted my colleagues and was taken away from poolside and sat down in the office where I started gushing about everything; the constant narratives I had been running over and over in my mind and how I didn’t want to give in to these delusions because I felt like if I did, I was allowing my mental illness to win. Something I hadn’t confessed to myself or anyone else up until that point.
I was, of course, advised to go the sexual health clinic and get myself checked out, for my own peace of mind and then contact a doctor about my mental health issues. Unfortunately, at the time I was only ready to take the first piece of advice. I can still remember the understanding look on my girlfriend’s face as I told her I was going to get the test and why I felt I had to do it and the wry smile on my own when I sat down in the clinic waiting room, knowing even then there was nothing wrong.
I am still bothered with totally irrational thoughts, but thankfully, nothing as bad as these ones has ever cropped up since. The only advice I can offer from this experience is that if you feel something beginning to eat you up, deal with it however you need to, at the earliest opportunity. Allowing your mind to race off and twist your thoughts serves no purpose. It may also ruin someone’s morning swim.
I have since made the trip to the doctor and have actively started trying to deal with my anxiety. Whilst I still struggle massively at times and am a long way from where I’d like to be, taking those first steps have been vitally important and are something I’d recommend to anyone who feels they are struggling. Aside from this I have simply begun reading more about mental health and I can’t overstate how helpful this can be, reading about the root causes of these issues or about others who have had similar experiences can be paramount in helping you realise that you are not alone and in being able to separate yourself from any issues you are suffering. Sites like this one are massively helpful, providing a bank of useful information from various sources.
I have also started my own blog and podcast which focuses on talking about mental health in an open and honest way, whether it be a deep, candid conversation or a more light hearted chat. Getting to speak to different types of people, whether it be musicians, poets, comedians or tattoo artists, about mental health is hugely interesting and it’s often inspiring to hear the stories of others. It’s also a lot of fun too.
Words by Nathan Brown (https://www.facebook.com/pg/365aberdeen)
Illustration by Abbi McCaffrey (https://www.facebook.com/pg/AbbiDesign)
Content Warning: discusses mental illness, rape, intimate partner abuse, victim blaming.
In 2013, the CDC published a study revealing that bisexual women were significantly more likely to experience sexual violence and intimate partner abuse than either straight women or gay women. No one really knows why for certain, but bisexual resource website Bitopia argues it’s due to a culture of biphobia. They determine that negative stereotypes of bi women as flighty, indecisive, promiscuous, confused, hypersexual, and prone to dishonesty, make us more obvious targets for abuse and subsequent victim blaming. Bi activists have grafted for years to dispel these qualities as myths, but I possess all of them.
I haven’t always behaved like this. I’ve known I was bi since Kristen Johnston co-starred with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 3rd Rock From the Sun, but all my teenage romantic relationships were with boys. I was committed, upfront about my thoughts and feelings, and, crucially, monogamous. But one bad ex-boyfriend aged 15 rolls into another at 16, rolls into a flurry of other people’s boyfriends and girlfriends at 17. A chaotic, emotionally abusive relationship, two violent married fathers-of-two, and a full forensic examination later, and at 23, I’m finally referred to a psychiatrist to read me to filth:
‘Do you ever feel used?’
‘Do you feel abandoned?’
‘Do you ever end the relationship?’
Diagnosis: PTSD from complex trauma. Quelle surprise.
A lot of the criteria for being a Good Bisexual matches a lot of the criteria for being a Good Rape Survivor. Have one monogamous sexual relationship at a time, preferably with someone who is a different gender. Decline inevitable offers of group and casual sex, but only ever politely. Fully disclose your sexuality/history of violence to anyone who asks, but don’t go on about it. These are, we’re told, the proper ways to conduct oneself in order to attract a Good Partner and Prevent Abuse. But I’ve been a palatable bisexual. It didn’t save me.
My boyfriend at 18 first told me he loved me, and that he’d cheated on me, in the same text. That was enough monogamy for me, thank you. There was something about being betrayed romantically, physically assaulted, publicly bullied, and repeatedly sexually assaulted by men who ‘loved’ me that just put me off the whole thing. Better, I decided, to spread my emotional eggs across a number of baskets. That way, if one basket decided to smash my eggs and call me a bitch, I had other, less aggressive baskets to support me. It’s not an exact science. As one counsellor - an EMDR practitioner - pointed out to me, having a sexual relationship with another person increases your vulnerability in that dynamic. Increased number of partners, increased vulnerability. I agreed that I got where she was coming from, but pointed out that I had been harassed, cut, and raped by monogamous partners. She let me leave the session crying before I went home, had a panic attack, and promptly threw up in my sink. On reflection, she had nothing constructive to teach me about vulnerability.
When your ex-boyfriend scars you permanently and tells you that you’ll never find anyone as good as him, it’s difficult to not take that as a challenge. It’s normal to swiftly rack up a number of sexual partners so that the last time you were touched wasn’t rape. When you’re the last person to find out about all the sex your partner’s having that isn’t with you, you end up with something to prove about your worth. In some ways, my Tinder habit has made me vulnerable; I was re-traumatised waiting for my referral to the Community Mental Health Team. But it’s also my promiscuity that has given me a sense of what is normal; what I deserve. I’ve learned that the vast majority of people will stop if you ask them to, as they should do. People who are not abusive will notice and respond appropriately to nonverbal signals of discomfort. If I firmly, repeatedly, ask a man ten years my senior, with two infant daughters, to stop touching me, I should be able to trust that he will. Dogs can manage that much. If he doesn’t, it’s assault. And that isn’t on me.
I don’t like people who don’t know me deciding that I am an abuse ‘survivor’. To me, that word glosses over all the showers I don’t have before going to work and my crutch of a ketamine habit. Recovery is not a linear process; much day to day life after complex trauma is continual firefighting. If The Village People had been bi women rather than gay men, they would probably have just performed as six firefighters in leather. We’re not a flawlessly supportive community; the only ex-partner I have recurring nightmares about is another bi woman. But bi women need other bi women. It was a fellow ‘unpalatable’ bisexual who paused her own firefighting to direct me to Rape Crisis and sat in the sexual assault referral clinic for three hours while I was examined. It’s the bisexual women I date, who don’t have a chance at having their rapists jailed either, whose beds I can sleep in soundly. I recently thought that I’d made a genuine connection with a straight man from Tinder who I thought would help my recovery. He ghosted me, but a friend he introduced me to; another imperfect, promiscuous, traumatised bisexual, is still there for me. Which I predicted as soon as I met her.
One of the first things my contact worker at Support to Report told me was that it was that not pinning my recovery on a conviction was a good thing, because conviction rates for rape and sexual assault are pitifully low. I am promiscuous with poor mental health and shared beds with men who assaulted me; I am a Bad Rape Survivor. I am promiscuous, paranoid, and unable to sustain a monogamous relationship; I am a Bad Bisexual. An unsympathetic victim. Unlikely to convince a jury. What I actually have to tide me over during my time on NHS waiting lists is the mantra about living well as the best revenge. I take enough shifts to keep myself in high-end skincare and iced coffees. Generally, I do well at uni. I exercise when I can do. I complained to the psychiatrist that I found it impossible to turn down Tinder dates, to which she nonchalantly replied ‘of course, to fill the void’. She’s heard my story before because she will have spoken to promiscuous traumatised bisexual women before. All of our stories will vary, so I can’t offer definitive answers as to why abusers target us, or why we’re more likely to develop PTSD and depression than monosexual women. What I do know is that in the support group I attend for survivors of sexual violence, all of us happen to be bisexual. All of us happen to genuinely enjoy some form of sex, intimacy, or flirtation, be it with our monogamous partners, Tinder dates, co-workers, or strangers in gay clubs. And we are valuable; to ourselves, to each other, and the world around us. There is so much you can learn from us about all the ways people can be intimate with each other and the value that a range of human relationships can have. But you have to drop the misogyny, the biphobia, the victim blaming, if you’re going to learn and grow half as much as so many bi women have been forced to from trauma. We are the source of the strength we find, as individuals and communities, in the face of violence. But we are not the source of that violence.
That isn’t on us.
Once again the cold ache descends and I retreat into the dark corner of my mind where stillness and chaos are one and the same. My rushing thoughts echo through the trees from a distant waterfall, barely audible yet impossible to ignore. Whispered half sentences hang in the air above it. In the search for fully formed thought some of them escape and I watch as they come closer. They begin to mutate, growing wings or sprouting horns so that when they reach me they are impossible to grasp; either gliding delicately through my fingers or tearing my skin. They turn into ghosts and set up homes in the branches above me. Largely unaware of my existence, they play just out of reach, singing half-forgotten choruses and teasing one another. I sit, empty, watching; too tired to climb up and join in the conversation, too numb to invite them to come down to me.
This is the best way I know how to explain my mind on a bad day. Having never been given a formal diagnosis from doctors or counsellors, I have come to understand my experience of what I believe to be anxiety as a type of mental tinnitus. It is always present yet hardly noticeable in day to day life. However, the very fact it can be drowned out by other noise means that when I do experience its symptoms, they often comes as a shock. The panic attacks appear to come from nowhere, the exhaustion feels unwarranted and the lack of motivation uncharacteristic. It seeps into my sleep, giving me vivid nightmares, and conducts sporadic ambushes, taking my motivation, aspirations and self-esteem hostage with no ransom note or conditions for release. I am never ready.
And yet, at the same time, it is so tediously predicable. So repetitive. So boring. Once again, I am too anxious to meet friends, once again my limbs feel so heavy I can’t move, once again I become a burden to people I care about.
So I keep busy, which largely keeps me well. And wellness is what I would like to focus on. Because my anxiety doesn’t define me - it is something I experience. As a friend describes it - ‘it’s all just weather’. I don’t say this to be glib or discount the experience of feeling mentally ill - sitting outside on a warm summer’s day is much more pleasant than during a snow storm - I say it because it helps me feel safe. It reminds me that, much like wearing a coat or sitting beside a fire with a hot toddy in your hand reduces the discomfort of adverse weather conditions, there are ways to navigate the seasons of your mind.
And that’s what I am doing right now; exploring ways to sit in a snow storm, listening to a whispering waterfall while ghosts play overhead. Sometimes I ask friends and family to come and sit there with me, sometimes I ask them to take me on a walk so I can rest, I write songs, practise yoga, read books, play football and breathe. It may last 5 minutes or it may last a couple of weeks, but by talking openly about it, letting people know what I need to feel well and finding activities that give me a sense of purpose I am learning to find meaning in the blizzard when it comes around.
Words by Clare Mcbrien
Illustration by Danni Gowdy (http://dannigowdy.com)
I was motivated to write this after reading Deborah Orr’s piece in Saturday’s Guardian. I was confused by this article - what was it trying to say? Clearly, the writer is going through something personal and difficult. It’s a positive thing that a prominent journalist in a major paper is willing to share her experiences of mental health. There is a valid point to be made, sadly, about the weakness of mental health provision before, during and after diagnosis and it is right to attribute this to funding shortfalls in NHS mental health. But – to generalise from a personal experience is not always appropriate.
Ms Orr’s experience of Citalopram was clearly difficult for her and I feel sympathy for that. I don’t want to minimise or pass judgment on how she felt after her first dose, because I am not her and she knows how she felt. But the information leaflet that should have been in the pack would have advised against taking it in a public place; it would also have said that Citalopram needs to build up before it can impact, which can take a minimum of 3 weeks, and potentially even longer, and negative side-effects are likely to decrease after the first 1-2 weeks. A quick google search could also have given her this information.
There is a danger in her piece because Citalopram works for many, and her article may have scared people away from something that could be the answer for them. I have seen it help someone I love, who has had a long and hard path to improving her anxiety and depression, of which Citalopram was one element, but an important element. There was a time for her when it was the only thing that made it possible to be.
Many people, me included before I saw it work, have a kind of inbuilt fear of anti-depressants. We think they are a slippery slope down. Ms Orr is right to say that support and counselling are needed as well as medication, and it shouldn’t be the first response for everyone, but to make Citalopram a villain is not helpful. There is more to it than that. Reading that article might just push someone away from something that could make their days tolerable enough to live through.
Of course, she’s right, there is so much lacking in our mental health system at present and you need to fight and push to get what you need-something a mentally unwell person is often going to struggle to do. But don’t run away from an anti-depressant because of that article – think it through, get counselling and support whenever you can, as well. But make it a considered choice, not one fuelled by misunderstanding or fear.
What is self-care? I ask myself this question a lot - when I make a choice or decision, am I doing it to look after myself? Are the benefits short or long-term?
I started the #selfcaresunday feature on The Respite Room Instagram because I think it’s something that gets mentioned on social media a lot, but usually in its most aesthetically pleasing and easily digestible form. So rather than just posting pictures of the cute self-care things I do, I’m also going to be sharing the real stuff, the things I do to ensure I keep my life together when things get hard. I’m also going to use this blog post to explore where self-care comes from, how useful it can be, when it becomes a little dangerous and how I’ve benefitted from using it as a way to consider my choices and coping mechanisms.
Self-care has become something of a buzzword, even a way to sell beauty products. I think this stems in part from the way social media encourages us to make everything we do aesthetic, easily digestible and beautifully lit. It’s also deeply linked with capitalism, if we are told that the answer to our problems lies in buying the right product, rather than as a part of mental illness (which is perhaps caused or exacerbated by the lifestyle you have to lead to succeed in a capitalist society) we’ll buy the product, blame ourselves if it doesn’t solve anything, and come back to buy it again.
I used to think self-care meant having a bubble bath, painting my nails, or plucking my eyebrows. All of these things involve taking care of myself arguably, but if I’m low on energy, is that the best task to complete? Would it not be more sensible, although probably less fun, to complete any of the household chores I’ve been neglecting due to the combination of lack of energy and low mood my mental illness creates? I’m adjusting to working full-time after many years of working part time and being a student, so some days when I get home from work, I go straight to bed and don’t get out until the next day because I’m so exhausted and overwhelmed. Functioning at the required level to retain my job is difficult for me, it means that some days I don’t feed myself, clean the flat, see friends or talk to family. These are the times I need to be making self-care choices that are more meaningful than my beauty routine. I need to pay my council tax on time even if the thought of opening my laptop is so deeply exhausting I start crying just thinking about it. I need to ensure I have clean clothes for work, I need to respond to emails, I need to answer the phone when my mum calls (most of the time), I need to be thinking consciously about what needs to get done in order for me to be coping long-term.
The term self-care actually originates in the practice of self-managing health-conditions, both mental and physical. In the context of a health system struggling due to Tory austerity this can seem a little scary. Does this mean we become our own doctors? While researching the term for this piece, it seemed that self-care is usually ‘prescribed’ in the form of education for patients to help them achieve the best possible quality of life with a chronic condition. It’s not something I’ve ever had explicitly mentioned in an appointment with my GP about my mental health, but it has come up a lot in the treatment I am having with Glasgow Rape Crisis.
The NHS has a free self-care toolkit online which helped me understand this more clinical definition. It asks questions in order to define a ‘vicious health cycle’ which can be treated with self-care; ‘do you do more on good days and less on bad days?’, ‘do you have a problem saying NO to others?’. It also specifically refers to managing persistent health conditions, and for those for whom ‘your healthcare professionals may have done all that they can to help you’. This isn’t a fun thought, and I like to think it applies more to long-term health conditions than someone seeking support for a newly diagnosed mental health condition, but it makes a valuable point. Self-care is important, it is necessary, and if done correctly it is a form of treatment.
When it comes to mental health, based on my own experiences, I really advocate seeking a diagnosis (if that feels right for you) and attempting to access professional treatment– which can take a pretty determined attitude and a lot of patience to be successful sometimes. But that option won’t be available to everyone for a variety of reasons; maybe where you live healthcare isn’t free, maybe like me you’ve tried to access treatment and are still on waiting list months later because of massive underfunding to our health service, or maybe your mental health situation makes the process of accessing treatment much more difficult than it is for other people. Clearly then, there’s value in unpacking this term, taking it back to its root and considering what we can do to support ourselves. The NHS toolkit I mentioned highlights an important fact – people with ‘persistent health conditions’ on average spend less than 3 hours a year in contact with a health care professional, and for the remaining 8,733 hours are alone, in charge of their own health. Self-care then, is about taking charge of your situation, empowering you to make the best choices for yourself. I won’t reiterate everything the toolkit covers, but it’s a good starting point in understanding self-care as a treatment, rather than a lifestyle choice. You may not agree with it all, but it definitely makes some meaningful points.
There is still a certain degree of privilege in this discussion of self-care. What if you don’t have the resources? There have been times in my life where I haven’t been able to make the right choices. For example, it’s sensible to say that if I am exhausted and hungry, I should go to the shop to buy food to cook and nourish my body with, but if I don’t have the money or resources to do so, it does me little good to know that. Similarly, it’s easy enough to say that if you know you’re too exhausted to prepare a balanced meal, you should spend a little bit more on a balanced prepared meal instead of convenience food, but that isn’t an option for everyone for a variety of reasons, and it’s inappropriate to suggest that it’s something available to everyone.
To me, self-care can be a double-edged sword. I’ve used it as an excuse to make some bad choices ‘I don’t have to do x because it’s creating anxiety and that’s self-care to opt out’. This line of thinking works if I’m in a complete state over going for coffee with a friend who understands my situation, but if I applied that logic to paying my rent (something I do find very anxiety inducing because it means looking at my bank balance and sending a large amount of money), I’d be in big trouble pretty quickly. Used appropriately though, it’s a useful rationale to make the best decisions for myself ‘if I do this, am I doing it for myself or to please someone else? Will it impact negatively on my energy levels? Do I have the time and space to recover from it?’.
I’ve come to understand it like this; take care of yourself as much as you can, make choices that are right for you and not based entirely on ensuring other people’s happiness, listen to your body, but equally, if you don’t have the resources available to you to make some of those choices – that’s not your fault. Capitalism has crept into the concept of self-care and poisoned it a little, made it into a product you can possess. If you just have the right look, the right clothes, the right routine, you’ll feel better – I don’t buy into that, self-care has to come from within. It’s about finding a sense of strength to push yourself into making the choices that will benefit you long-term.
As I mentioned at the beginning, we’re posting an image of a self-care choice every Sunday on The Respite Room Instagram #sundayselfcare, and we’d encourage you to share yours and tag us in it @respiteroom. It doesn’t have to be cute, that’s the whole point, maybe taking the time to sit down on your sofa and have some peace is your self-care choice, maybe it’s paying a bill you’ve been ignoring, maybe it’s preparing food for the week because you know you’re going to be too busy. It can be small or big, we all have unique situations so your self-care choices are going to be just as unique, there’s no judgement here at The Respite Room. I’ve already found myself doing things that I’ve been avoiding or acknowledging choices I was making which were not benefiting me long-term, because I knew that I was going to be making a #selfcaresunday post, and it’s becoming a useful habit, so get involved if you’d like!
@melreeve on Instagram and Twitter
Trigger Warning: This blog includes discussion surrounding panic attacks and suicide.
You read so many blogs about panic attacks, the experiences of them, how people describe them etc. You nod, understand the pain of what that person is going through and you wish you could take it away. Trying to explain it to someone that has never had one is the hardest thing.
I have never experienced fear like it. For me, I start to fidget, I can't sit still as I need to distract myself from the thoughts. Those deafening thoughts of "you are going to have a panic attack, you won't be able to cope, you will look like a fool, people will laugh at you and this is going to feel like absolute hell." It does feel like hell, I am not going to sugarcoat it. After the fidgeting comes the cold sweats, then the pins and needles in your fingers and toes, then your heart rate starts to increase, it is deafening and provides a soundtrack to those aforementioned thoughts in your head. Then the fear, it rises like water in your body, the best way I can describe it is like the No Surprises video by Radiohead. It rises from the bottom and works it's way up and over your face. I then start to hyperventilate and game over, I am lost. I am in an open sea, I have nothing to grab onto, nothing to ground me and nothing to save me. I feel like I am going to die.
Imagine trying to hide those emotions so people don't you are any different. Public transport is the worst for me, I still don't quite know why it is so bad in that sense, but I think it's because I am in a confined space with people and you are under more of a magnifying glass. I haven't been on a bus since November. Since that wobble. Since I felt it coming from nowhere.
I spoke a therapist once and they told me to identify it as someone trying to hold me back, a being. Someone that I could think of physically and it would be easier to push away. For me, it's a him.
I was on the top deck and I could hear him whispering to me. He was starting his abuse in my head telling me that I was going to fail and I would have to stop the whole bus and get off. I managed to quieten him until the last stop. My hands were throbbing with pain from holding onto the railing on the bus so tightly. My knuckles were like milk curdled with blood and my veins like a road map of a remote part of Scotland. When I got off the adrenaline kicked in and I was shaking. I could see a couple of people looking at me, maybe concern, maybe thinking I was a weirdo.
As the days went on I began to avoid the bus. The worst thing was when it happened in a taxi. Taxis have always been a safety mechanism for me because I can basically ask to stop at any time. Now though, my thought process has changed and I have started thinking "what if the driver thinks I am completely crazy". On trains I need to sit near a toilet, I need to have an escape route. I need somewhere where no one can see me. Now I walk into work and I walk home. Granted exercise is wonderful, but I am still avoiding. I am avoiding him. If it's late then I will work later so that I can get a taxi home when the roads are quiet and there's more chance of me asking to get out.
I was at a music conference at the weekend and one of the rooms has rows of chairs, this is my worst nightmare. I always have to try and sit at the back and at the end of a row. I cannot sit in the middle of a row or far away from the door. I need to know I can get out. This will probably be the same case for everyone. We were late walking into a particular panel and there were no seats at the back and anything on the end of any row was taken. The panic set in and I just had to walk out. I felt so fucking ashamed of myself, I felt ashamed that I didn't have the strength to talk him down. He keeps winning. There was another panel later and the usher was directing everyone to the front. I explained that I couldn't sit at the front, there is that immediate confrontation and I had to end up lying and said I had to leave early so they let me sit at the back. How could I explain to this stranger, "oh hi there, I have panic attacks and I don't want to look like a tit if I have a total freak out in front of your really important music guests".
I wish there was more in place for people that experience these things. I wish there was almost a safety zone or something that you could do. People play it down though and think it isn't a massive problem, but it's stopping me and a lot of people from enjoying our lives. What I would give to get on any mode of transport, to sit in the middle of a row of a theatre or cinema, to travel around the world, to see it on a whim. I don't know if I will ever get to that stage. To make a deal with the devil is something that you wish you could almost consider doing these things.
I have considered taking my life away. Something that isn't easy to write and I apologise to my family and friends reading this. When you feel so incredibly restricted you start to wonder how it is possible to enjoy things going forward. You wonder what the point is. I am currently in a cafe every day in Punxsutawney and I have taken Bill Murray's place.
This is when the guilt sets in. The guilt when you look at people who live amongst the most tragic events, who have no food, no home. They are running from war-torn countries and more. That's when I feel horrific that I have considered taking my life away when these people fight so hard to live theirs.
Music is the only real thing that has ever helped me. I get so lost and distracted by it that my love affair with it is the only real constant in my life. At packed gigs I feel fearless, I can stand in the crowd and I want to push to the front. I feel me again and he is a distant thought.
I say this over and over and have written it many times. As humans, we were not made to confine ourselves to this life of bill-paying, rigid working routines and constant worrying. The art we experience and make, the fun we have with our friends and loved ones, the laughter, the tears, the social experiences are all part of something that makes us truly human. My anger at what governs us is something I cannot put into words. I worry about the next generation and indeed ours. I worry about our consumption of things and how we consume. I worry that we are not encouraging the young to experience art enough because of the cuts our government makes. I worry that mental health is a second thought and again we are not taking the respite from our daily struggles. I worry that we feel guilty for taking a day off work or taking an evening out of a busy schedule to have our own time and recharge. We put off plans to meet with our friends and family because of that extra bit of work we have to finish when the social experience and tangible aspect of being in human company is what helps our mental health. I am guilty of all of this and more.
I guess that's why I am proud to be part of The Respite Room. I hope we can make a difference and I hope some of these thoughts make people realise they are not alone. And for me? I will get there. I don't think it's about me anymore though. It's about us. "He" will be always with me, but I now need to make friends with him and not fight him. I am at a point that I don't want sympathy, I just want to see progress and change. In a very worrying landscape and time in the world then you get to a point that you don't care about all the talking and just want to action. We will action, we will do great things and we will make a difference even if it's with one person. I couldn't ask for anything more.
If you are feeling suicidal, there are people you can talk to who want to help:
- speak to a friend, family member or someone you trust as they may be able to help you calm down and find some breathing space
- call the Samaritans 24-hour support service on 116 123
- go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department and tell the staff how you are feeling
- contact NHS 111
- make an urgent appointment to see your GP
Trigger Warning: This blog includes discussion surrounding eating disorders, eating and weight.
Mental health is not formulaic, it does not adhere to ‘swings and roundabouts’, ‘crest and waves’ thinking. Periods of mental ill health can creep up on you unannounced, slowly devouring your ability to function, or can capture you all at once without warning. My own struggles with mental health have predominantly manifested themselves within my relationship to eating and food.
Awareness of your own well-being is one thing which poor mental health can impede right away and I feel this had a larger effect on me than the actual disordered eating that it resulted from. My own mental health problems had in many ways evaded my acknowledgement, it took me quite a while - well after the most serious episodes - to accept I had an issue with eating. ‘Had’ being used kindly as residual issues still stand.
At my thinnest, I was a size 8 but have always been curvy and, at the times when my eating devolved into all but starvation, managed to not look or seem ‘unwell’ coupled with a ‘healthy’ appetite at other times, allowed my condition to largely go unnoticed - by myself included.
Jovial observations about my somewhat quirky eating habits were occasionally made by friends, I developed an unannounced predisposition to eating only hashbrowns for a time at University, but not many people pried further. Issues around avoidance or refusal to eat anything other than one certain type of food for a period of time has lessened over the years but at times I would eat solely mashed potatoes for months like a self-destructive Badger of Bodger and Badger fame.
Despite this rather obviously difficult relationship with food and eating I’m not entirely sure when these issues began or at what point I became aware that my eating habits were a mental health issue. Periods of eating little to nothing were often intense and concentrated but I would easily find excuses which lay within external situations and not on my own choices or mental well-being. For a long time I felt that because I wasn’t severely underweight I couldn’t claim to have suffered from an eating disorder, and only through understanding how I feel and act with regards to food when I’m feeling healthy and uninhibited have I came to be able to identify my bad periods.
The journey of understanding and accepting my own mental health issues has brought me a better toolkit to deal with my struggles around eating, although even now I still find it difficult to say I have had an ‘eating disorder’ and prefer to say ‘disordered eating’ - partly due to my own reservations about claiming a term I’m still not entirely sure I fit into or yet feel comfortable claiming. But also partly to do with wanting to be able to express and shape my own narrative without a stereotypical understanding of these conditions being applied as soon as ED is mentioned. Even now I still find it slightly difficult to marry the concept of suffering ‘issues with food’ and ‘poor mental health’ together, I sometimes still distance myself from the reality of it, perhaps out of shame or perhaps out of a continuing inability to fully claim ownership over my experiences.
As with mental health the coping and recovering of poor mental health is also not formulaic, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be fully recovered, but as we all undertake our own unique journeys it’s important to try and find even the smallest means to remain aware of our well being. This can take various shapes but for me finding out others around me had suffered in similar ways; women who had been in my life for years, women I didn’t really know, complete strangers, allowed me to finally view my situation, not as something ‘othered’ or removed from the ‘typical’ narrative of eating disorders but as just another way of experience.
Over the coming months I’ll be writing more about eating disordered and the people affected by them, exploring lesser known issues around mental health and eating/food issues as well as further reflecting on my own journey - if you have any stories you wish to share or would simply like to chat please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or across any of our social media channels!
Whilst we are honest about not having medical or professional qualifications in the field of mental health, we are looking to improve our skills as much as we can by whatever means we have access to.
We have been made aware of Scotland's Mental Health First Aid course and we feel it would be beneficial for our core team to undergo the course to make the Respite Room a more inclusive space and feel safe in the information we are giving.
There are 4 core members and the course costs £65 per person equalling a total of £260.
Our Facebook, for example, has nearly 350 people following, if we were just to ask £1 from everyone this would cover our costs. Any excess we would donate to a mental health charity.
As Respite Room is a voluntary collective, we don't have funding to rely on. Our set up has been self-funded.
- How to apply the 5 steps of SMHFA
- How to respond if you believe someone is at risk of suicide.
- How to give immediate help until professional help is available.
- What to say and do in a crisis
- The importance of good listening skills
- Practice listening and responding
- Understanding recovery from mental health problems
- Understanding the connection between mental health problems and alcohol and drugs
- Understanding the connection between mental health problems and discrimination
- Some basic information about common mental health problems
- Self help information
Our Just Giving page can be found HERE and we would be so grateful for any contributions.
Respite Room x
It’s weird but I kinda new before I had my first, full blown panic attack that it was going to happen, even if it hit me like a double decker hits a rogue piece of hanging tree.
I’d been building up to it gradually, with the thoughts I was placing in my own head. A head governed by a desire to take a step back, to reconnect with my family, friends, city and country I’d left behind for a taste of adventure and the new.
Wrongly, I started feeling guilty - and left out - for having spent the last four and half years in northern Spain as an English language teacher. Feelings that just didn’t make any sense. And why should they have done? I had a good job, great colleagues, a solid group of friends and a lifestyle which reflected my beachfront, cycle to work location. One of few concerns.
It's as if I had maybe squeezed out as much of the Spanish lifestyle, language and customs as I could, and in doing so, had gone as far to the other end of the spectrum as I could, in that, in doing so, I would often forget about home. I’d neglect to think about family, and friends, and everything in between, and just focus on me and my ‘new’ home.
Crazy how the mind works, but these sensations began to feel like a heavy backpack, or a straightjacket, that would weigh me down on occasion and manifest itself, once in a blue moon, in feelings of mild anxiety and panic and in different situations. Where, perhaps, the two conflicting thought processes in my head - one of enjoyment, one of guilt - would conflict.
And this became more acute when I found out that my old man wasn’t doing so well healthwise.
One marked by an increasing sense of homesickness that began to wash over me, like the waves I could hear from my bedroom window at night. I’d started to feel occasional discomfort down by the beach or in busy pubs when it was surrounded by nattering Spanish voices.
It reached a head one Saturday afternoon, when, after a heavy night the night before, I had spent the morning lounging about drinking coffee, and basically trying any which way I could of getting rid of the groggy, cider culpable dry mouthed hangover which was clouding an otherwise clear blue sky day.
As I was cooking up a greasy lunch, my dad rang. And that jolt from Spanish slumber post night out to Scottish reality really turned my world upside down.
My chest exploded and tightened, my breath shortened and I couldn’t speak properly. The conversation didn’t matter, I held the phone away from my ear and eventually dropped (I think I said two or three words to him) it as I, in the midst of my terror, thought clearly and decided I needed to get out onto the street incase I eventually keeled over.
I didn’t, but I spent a solid half hour thinking I was going to die, as I tried to dampen the stress through forcing through the normality of going into the local bar and buying a coke, even though, from my actions - and the look on the barman’s face - I was certainly behaving far from normally.
Eventually, It did die down, and so did the ‘death’ thoughts, as I returned to my flat, drank water, and lay down on the sofa, but the episode’s consequences were far reaching.
I felt like that was my body telling me I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, that It had had enough and that it was time to go home. So convinced was I of this that a few days later I explained to my boss at work, and booked my one-way flight home for the following winter break.
The change did feel drastic, but to me was the role of the dice necessary to help me deal with a desire to never again have to put my mind though that sensation ever again. One that, although extremely brief, had a profound effect on me.
And funnily enough, I feel like the very fact that I’m a man didn’t, and hasn’t to a certain extent, really helped me to accept and deal with anxiety; not only its triggers and consequences but the fact that it happens to others, a lot of them.
Between myself and my male friends, it’s certainly not something spoken about. As taboo as seeing an erection on the telly as one female friend said to me.
But with women, the picture looked completely different. As different as night and day. And it’s been women from various angles that have helped me to do the most fundamental thing that I needed to do to move forward with my life, just accept what has happened, and benefit somewhat from the fact that I wasn’t alone.
Those two key factors enabled me to deal with my demons. To not sit about and let those negative feelings gestate and gain a foothold in my everyday. And do what I’m doing now, write about it.
Women who haven’t been afraid to go on social media and speak about it never dressed up in bells and whistles. Tweets and Facebook posts - they have been godsends to me - about their own struggles, coping strategies, funny anecdotes, self-help notes, or just general banter.
Lines that help lessen something I considered to be akin to a monster, lurking in a dark, underground cave thrown out into the open for others to see in its true form, one to joke about, point out and converse about, while at the same time state the obvious - its very existence.
Others such as "F", a well-known DJ. She herself has suffered panic attacks, and has spent time on medication, something she has openly shared on social media.
And my pal "N", who, while out for a few drinks recently, spoke of how she too has been affected by anxiety and panic attacks. Something that has affected not only her own life but those close to her too, who perhaps didn’t know or could fully comprehend what was going on.
Real life savers in the face of c*nts like Piers Morgan, who himself has received criticism from many sectors, other than for just being a c*nt, for belittling Will Young’s struggle with PTSD and ex-footballer Stan Collymore’s battle with depression (one especially rank given Morgan’s “man up” laddish comments).
Studies indicate that anxiety is a growing phenomenon, and it's easy to see why. Societal pressures fostered through the microscope of social media are the touch paper that, lit, sets off the firework that is a panic attack.
Pressure to do, be seen to do, act, behave, feel, dress, or be a certain way. Pressure to ‘perform’, to let people know how good your life is, down to the tiniest detail.
And for me, these are pressures whose very existence women are much more aware of than men, pressures that perhaps are much more felt by women than men too.
And thanks to certain women, I’ve realised the most important thing in dealing with anxiety.
I wasn’t, and am not alone. And that fucking helps. Big time.
Any feelings of shame are out the window. When you realise it’s not just you that sometimes feels or felt incapable, crazy and unable to process what was going on within your own head and body, then there’s nothing to be ashamed about.
As Carl Jung said, “What we resist, persists.” If and when we accept that we have anxious feelings, they pass themselves.
Simple, yet worth its weight in gold in terms of helping point in the right direction.
Not being afraid to do things that might trigger a feeling of anxiety is another step, one I did by moving to Poland not long after returning to the UK. Placing myself in a city and country where no one knew me. Speaking to people, making friends, and just being comfortable being by myself, in my own ability to meet others and take comfort and heart from the unfamiliar, the new, the different.
Anxiety is real and very present. But being real and present doesn’t mean it needs to be dangerous. Not if you don’t want it to be. Not if you choose for it to exist in the distant background, unable to venture into sight.
And don’t take the piss out of others for feeling shit, nervous and down.
Here’s to the Ns, the Fs, the Paula’s and all the other women out there who are taking to social media and voicing their personal struggles and battles.
You aren’t just helping other womenm or yourselves, you’re helping men, like me, too.
Craig Williams (@glasgowmixtape)
Welcome to the Respite Room!
The Respite Room is a project run by 4 Glasgow based women, aiming to raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues, including anxiety and panic disorder, as well as offering a space of understanding and informal support. We’re not experts or professionals, but we do have lived experiences – this is a space of understanding, for us to get honest and realistic about what it’s like to live with mental illness. We’re sharing the challenges we face, our experiences and mistakes, and how we manage our conditions in the hope that this will help others to further understand their own situations – maybe even find new techniques for dealing, but at the very least make some people realise they are not alone in dealing with these things.
The first episode of the podcast will be online soon, which gives an overview of the challenges we all face but some information about my personal situation:
I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I’m in the process of getting an official diagnosis for PTSD(or potentially C-PTSD…I’m waiting for a medical professional to give me the specifics but it’s safe to say I’ve survived some trauma and that’s had real consequences). I’ve been receiving support with this from the amazing Glasgow Rape Crisis for over a year, but mental illness was also a huge part of my life even before the emotionally and sexually abusive relationship which caused the PTSD.
I can’t remember a time where I didn’t get tired more easily than my peers, where I wasn’t afraid of some normal things to such a degree that I was unable to function normally, where I didn’t get easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, or struggle with intrusive thoughts about suicide. I went through a fairly severe period of depression in my teenage years which left me detached, self-destructive and deeply unhappy. I was first prescribed antidepressants when I was 18 and would be on them on and off for the next 2 years or so. This also happened to be the time the abusive relationship started, so as you can imagine from then on things got pretty bad for a while.
I’ve come a long way since then in many ways, but I won’t ever forget what it’s like to be in that dark place, it still finds me sometimes, and I’m still finding a way to live my life while dealing with anxiety and PTSD symptoms.
I’ve begun by listing these issues because I want to make it clear what I’m up against, it’s certainly not unique, nor is it something I am ashamed of. Talking about mental illness is not easy, it won’t fix you overnight either - but it can ease the burden and encourage others to be more open about their struggles too. Getting treatment can also be pretty challenging, but both of those things are an important part of finding a way to live with what you’ve got. I don’t like to think in terms of recovery, my particular circumstances feel pretty static at the moment, that might change (never say never!) but I’ve found that instead of wishing to wake up all ‘better’, it’s more useful to find ways to live within my limitations and once I’ve found that balance, then I can push myself further with the things that I find hard because of my mental illness (but know are good for me really).
Everyone’s mental health situation is unique, what works for me in managing these issues might be really bad, or just not possible, for you. The Respite Room isn’t here to tell you that ‘you just need to get out more and it’ll be fine’ (something the first doctor I went to about my mental health told me), but we are going to be shedding a bit of light on a dark place, encouraging discussion, sharing and debate in a safe environment.
The internet can be a real catalyst for mental health issues – on my worst days you can usually find me in bed in the dark constantly refreshing Instagram in a boring, self-destructive spiral - all while still posting pictures from the previous weekend to maintain the façade that I’m fine and my life is fun and exciting. The Respite Room is a virtual space for you to find a bit of rest from this (which may even be physical at some point in the near future…). On all the social media we’ll be sharing links to relevant, interesting pieces on mental health, practical advice and techniques, lived experiences from ourselves and others, as well as regular blog posts, as well as regular podcasts from us four.
Find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the website, I hope you’ll find a bit of respite and companionship. Mental illness can make you feel incredibly alone, The Respite Room is here to prove that’s not the case.
@melreeve on Instagram and Twitter