June Favourites – Lockdown Edition

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Books

Instead of talking about books that I have read over the past month, I want to highlight books by Black and Asian authors, in the wake of the BLM protests and George Floyd.

  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
  • Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
  • Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • It’s Not About the Burqa – Mariam Khan
  • Does My Head Look Big in This? –  Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • I Am Thunder – Muhammad Khan
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  • Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
  • The Girl Who Smiled Beads – Clementine Wamariya

 

Film/TV

I’ve been continuing to take advantage of lockdown by watching more things on Netflix. I loved Dead to Me, a comedy focusing on a widow who is searching for the person responsible for killing her husband in a hit and run. Unbeknown to her, the driver befriends her at a bereavement support group. In a weird way, it explores the funny sides of grief, loss and forgiveness and I can’t wait for series three.

Based on the book by Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere, is a recent adaptation for Amazon prime. I was slightly underwhelmed by the book, but I loved the series.

Glow Up has become a little bit of a guilty pleasure over recent weeks. It reminds me of when I was at university and my Tuesday evenings were made with another BBC Three creation, Hair, which followed hairstylists bringing to life crazy and unique hair designs, to be crowned the best hair dresser. Glow Up follows a similar theme but with makeup artists undertaking various tasks and elimination rounds. I didn’t want to like this, but I’ll hold my hands up, I love it!

 

Spoonie Favourites

I recently discovered B12 super energy patches. I decided to try these as my B12 levels aren’t great and I struggle with absorbing tablets due to my gastroparesis (and I take so many on the daily). It’s hard to tell whether or not they have made a difference, or if it’s just been a placebo effect, but I seem to have more energy and less fatigue so it’s a winner for me.

Odds and Sods

Okay so it’s not really a secret that I love the Body Shop, so whenever they realise a new range, I’m normally pretty happy with it. Their latest range of cooling cucumber and zesty lemon has not disappointed. The cucumber body yogurt is brilliant if you are a little bit sunburnt and the lemon is a lovely scent without being over powering.

I recently decided to have a moment of extravagance and purchased the most expensive skin care item that I have ever bought. Said item is Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Eye Rescue. At £42 for a 15ml pot, it is a lot of money and whilst I really love it, I don’t know if I would buy it again because I cannot justify the price. My eyes seem slightly less puffy and the skin feels smoother but my black bags haven’t magically disappeared which was what I was hoping for!

My final favourite for this month is a bit of a weird one. As many of you will know, May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome awareness month and out of coincidence, Matalan have been selling a cute little zebra cushion. Zebras are the EDS mascot so it was meant to be! At the time of writing, it is out of stock, but they do have other zebra-ish stuff, so it’s worth a look.

 

 

 

How I Survived Lockdown

c5912582950c0186a1fc30b74387836cI found out yesterday that I will be returning to work on Monday (15th June), after 13 weeks of isolationa/shielding. I started shielding a week before I was medically told that I needed to and I was incredibly lucky that my employers were understanding – I think being honest about my health from the start helped. But they didn’t complain or make me feel bad, in fact they went out of their way to reassure me that things would be okay and that it wasn’t causing huge issues. Despite that, I felt incredibly guilty for leaving them in the lurch. I was also bloody angry that yet again, my health was dictating what I could and could not do.

Rewind to this time two years ago, I wasn’t working, due to my worsening health. I was very isolated and rarely left the house, unless it was for medical appointments. I can’t deny that part of my anger stemmed from the fact that I had spend over two years effectively in isolation due to being so poorly that I couldn’t properly partake in society, and now I was facing months of yet again being stuck at home, unable to work, unable to see friends and family and losing my independence that I had worked so hard to regain. 

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That said, I have coped remarkably well with isolation. I think that living with chronic and mental illnesses kind of prepare you for not being part of society for long periods of time. When you have a chronic illnesses, the chances are that you spend weeks/months/years at home, often unable to leave your bed. The world carries on, outside your windows, but you aren’t part of it. Whilst I had moments of feeling a bit penned in, lockdown didn’t really bother me that much because it was a lifestyle that I was used to. Having mental illnesses also prepared me, in part, for the madness that is covid-19. I have anxiety and can easily catastrophise about the world ending and going through endless what ifs. On so many occasions, I have convinced myself that the absolute worst was going to happen, so when the world imploded and shut down, it wasn’t actually as bad as I had built it up to be in my mind. Every day I panic about the people I love dying, and suddenly that became a very real threat. But that threat felt normal for me, so whilst other people were panicking about loved ones getting ill and dying, I basically sat back and thought “this is my normal, this is okay.” Having an excuse to be anxious and not being viewed like I was being dramatic or overreacting was quite a nice break. I felt like saying “welcome to my daily life. Exhausting right?” I wasn’t having to constantly explain my irrational thoughts, because suddenly they weren’t irrational. 

That said, I did make a conscious effort to try and look after myself during lockdown. Mentally, things were a bit wobbly towards the beginning (nothing to do with covid) and I quickly realised that it was unlikely that I would get any additional support because, put simply, it wasn’t there any more, as everything had shut down. It was a bit of a sink or swim moment, and I had spent so much time sinking, that I figured that trying to swim was worth a try. 

So how did I survive lockdown without relapsing and becoming very unwell?

Sticking to a routining has been really important. I’m not going to pretend that I was up and dressed by 8am every single morning, like I would if I was at work. That would be a lie. But I have tried to wake up by 10ish (unless I felt ill) and then get up. I could happily live in pyjamas but I made sure that I could dressed every day because I will admit, I mentally feel better if I have made the effort to look presentable. I tend to put aside some time every day to exercise in some form, do some of the endless medical and adult admin that seems to have accumulated over the past few months and I have done a lot of reading. I kept meaning to write down all the books that I have read during lockdown because it’s a pretty impressive selection. Even though I haven’t been able to go out-out, I have spent time in the garden and actually developed a bit of a tan. I know, mad. 

On the days when the weather hasn’t been so good, or when my body has been rebelling, Netflix has been fantastic, as has Amazon Prime. I have had the time to discover so many new series over the past few months, including Dead to Me, The Good Fight, Alex Rider, Chernobyl and Little Fires Everywhere. 

Weirdly, during lockdown, I have felt more connected than I have done in ages. I am so grateful to my friends who have been at the end of a video call a couple of times every week. Even though no one has been doing anything particularly exciting, just spending time in their company has been really nice and it’s left me feeling a lot closer to them. I also have send more letters and happy post to friends, because receiving something other than a bill or medical letter makes a change from the norm.

Being kind to myself has been really important. We are living in unprecedented times so doing little things to try and keep myself happy, sane and healthy has been a priority. This ranges from using a hair mask once a week to try and save my hair when I can’t see my hairdresser, to making a conscious effort to try and eat well. I’ve tried to exercise most days and have also been doing sudoko and other brain training games. I don’t for one moment that it will improve my brain skills or intelligence, but I want to keep mentally active, as well as physically active.

As life slowly begins to return back to normal, spare a thought for those people whose life won’t be drastically changing and will instead be remaining at home and isolated from their friends, family and society. Millions and millions or people are silently missing, please don’t forget them.

Dating and Chronic Illness

I am single. Happily single most of the time, however that’s not to say that I don’t date and I haven’t been in relationships. I do date and I have been in relationships, just right now, I am single, a cat lady and I love to starfish in my bed.

If you had asked me as a teenager, I should be married by now and well on the way to the 2.4 children that is the average. Life had different ideas for me and I feel mixed about that. It’s not that I don’t want a relationship: I have profiles on two online dating apps and I have been speed dating (that was an experience in itself!) but I am aware that I come with additional baggage and that can be a lot for someone else to take on. There are days when it feels like I haven’t come to terms with having long term illnesses, so how can I expect someone else to take that on as well?

Honestly, my experiences of dating with a chronic illness have been mixed. Trying to decide when to tell someone about the various chronic illnesses that I have is hard. Telling them too soon and they are likely to freak out, tell them too late and they are likely to be annoyed that you didn’t say something sooner.

I had a pretty bad experience with someone I met through an online dating app, I made the decision not to say anything about my health but I constantly felt like I was deceiving him. Things were going really well, but it got to the point that I had to tell him that I wasn’t well. I had just been offered my dream job but had to turn it down due to worsening health issues and obviously he asked questions about why I wasn’t in work. I explained that I had long term health conditions and because of that, I was in hospital a lot and not able to currently work. In an instant, it was clear that he had lost interest but also very clear that he didn’t really understand when he said “but you look fine?” Date night came to a rapid end and I never heard from him again. I’m not going to pretend that I was heartbroken, I wasn’t, but I was hurt, mainly because I expected better than that reaction. I had hoped that given he had got to know the “real” me, he wouldn’t be completely freaked out by what I said. How wrong I was. It hurt because it made me feel unloveable, a feeling that I have now experienced one too many times.

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Learning from that experience, I decided to be honest earlier on in getting to know someone. And that didn’t go well either. I tend to start with the caveat similar to “this is a lot to take on, so I’m telling you now so that you have the choice to leave before we get to know each other better.” I don’t know if it’s the right thing to say, but it’s kind of giving them permission to run away and not feel like a dick about it. I get hurt, but hey, at least I’ve spared their feelings! On one occasion, I was asked numerous questions and felt like I was being interrogated. Then there was the radio silence, never to be heard from again. On another occasion I was told that it wasn’t going to work because he didn’t want to be with someone who would break during sex. For clarity, I do not “break” during sex. Another time, they had the decency to carry on talking to me for about ten minutes before disappearing into the abyss, never to be heard from again.

And I get it. It is a lot to take on. Quite often people can’t see beyond the illness or understand that if you take away all the health conditions, I am still a normal woman in her twenties, eventually wanting to settle down and think about having a family. Whilst I might joke and say that they weren’t the one, that doesn’t take away the hurt. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I feel undeserving of love because it’s too much for someone else to take on. It doesn’t take away from the fact that being loved for how I am is too much for the majority of people to take on. So yet again, I am left with having to pick myself up. I leave it for a while before dipping my toe back into dating, telling myself that this time, it will be different. I’m yet to have an experience that is different. I’m yet to meet someone who is fine with the fact that I’m a bit wonky and my body does weird things, but is prepared to love me for that. As well as feeling unloveable, I feel faulty. Like, can I return to sender and get a working body please? One that doesn’t freak people out.

Who knows, maybe in a year from now, I’ll look back at this blog post and smile because I am happy and in a relationship. Or I might still be psyching myself up to dip my toe back into the dating pond.

I don’t think there is a clear cut answer on how to address chronic illnesses when it comes to dating. I’m sure there are good people out there who understand, I’m just yet to find them.

Supporting Someone With a Chronic Illness

I recently wrote a post about how to support someone with depression. It made me realise that talking about how to support someone with chronic illnesses would be worth touching upon too. It can be really hard to grasp the reality of not ever getting better, unless you’ve actually gone through it. And very often, being hit with cliched platitudes can leave us feeling worse. It’s really important to note that illness and pain are not character defects or signs of weakness. People living with autoimmune or other chronic illnesses are proof that the human body is a fallible system. Life is imperfect and our bodies are too. So below are some tips on how to support people with chronic illnesses.

Believe them. So often, people with chronic illnesses, especially if they are invisible, are told that it’s all in their head and spend years fighting for validity and a diagnosis. A lot of the time, a person might look okay, but that doesn’t change the fact that they could be in a lot of pain and it definitely does not mean that they are suddenly cured. People frequently have to put on a brave face and that might include a full face of makeup and being up and dressed. Some chronic illnesses are rare, meaning that doctors don’t always have the specialist knowledge around conditions and patients become the experts. Unfortunately, instead of admitting that they aren’t always knowledgeable, doctors can become dismissive Patients are branded as being dramatic at best and hypochondriacs at worst. Symptoms are brushed aside as being psychosomatic and it isn’t uncommon to be silenced with anti-depressant medications. 

Listen to what they’ve got to say and actually hear them. Asking how a person is can make such a huge difference because it shows acknowledge of their condition. They might not always answer honestly, often saying “I’m fine” is a lot easier than saying “I’m fed up, I’m in a lot of pain, being awake is painful and I just want to go back to bed and hide from reality” but in asking, you’re opening the door and allowing that conversation to take place. It’s really easy to not be an idiot and inconsiderate. Reaching out to someone is easy, but be genuine about it. Remember that you are not their therapist and don’t try to be one. Chronic and mental illnesses often do go hand in hand so don’t blur the boundaries between friendship and therapy. Constant and repetitive talking isn’t always needed, follow their guidance and know what is best for them.

Find out more about their illnesses. When I first became ill, it meant the world to me when a friend said “I’m going to research more about xyz” because it showed they cared. You’re not going to have all the answers and you don’t have to become an expert, but understanding that pain isn’t going go away and having an idea about what is faced in day to day life means that people feel less isolated and alone. Don’t pretend that the illness isn’t there: it is very prevalent is their lives and it isn’t going to go away if you ignore it.

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Don’t give up on them or abandon them when times are tough. Constantly feeling unwell can turn people into a bit of a bitch. Think about having flu all the time combined with widespread pain, whilst trying to walk through treacle backwards. It can be a really shit situation. Losing friends is an inevitable part of dealing with a chronic illness but that doesn’t make it any easier. Knowing that you’re too complicated to deal with is hard to hear and guess what? People who are chronically ill do not choose that lifestyle. It’s a lot harder for the person unwell than it is for those around them. Pick up the phone, send a text, send a cute card in the post, offer to help in practical ways. Would they like it if you turned up with coffee? Or some snacks to share whilst watching a trashy film? Stamps for letter-writing? If you do bring a little something, make it nice. I think people tend to skimp on gifts for chronically sick people: they aren’t going to get better so it can become expensive over time. Remember, a gift does not have to cost money.

Ask how you can help. But understand that there might not be a simple answer to this. I know from experience that trying to juggle being ill and my life can be really hard and I don’t always have the brain capacity to think about how other people might be able to help me. Use your brain and think about what might be helpful. Would help with a food shop be useful? Think about specific things that might help.

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Don’t belittle their experiences or their treatment plans. Different things work for different people. Some people will respond well to traditional medications, whereas other people will lean towards more holistic therapies. And that’s okay. Criticising treatments is pretty toxic and incredibly unhelpful. Everyone gets tired and everyone gets ill from time to time but that is not the same as having a lifelong, enduring, chronic illness. Don’t confuse the two.

 

When you’re in pain, it feels awful having to let your loved ones down but it feels unbearable to not be believed or to be criticised when you are trying your absolute best. Chronic illnesses form a huge part of people’s lives and it’s understandable that people will talk about them, a lot.

 

Dear 18 Year Old Self

Dear Laura,

You are eighteen and it should be the most exciting time of your life. Unfortunately, right now, you are finding life hard. You are in chronic pain and you don’t know why and you’re spending a lot of time in and out of hospital. But you’re going to get through it and it will make you even stronger (we love a cliche). You think that your A Levels are going to destroy you. Spoiler: they don’t. You won’t enjoy them, you might even cry during them but you’re going to get through them and you’re going to go to university and start the best three years of your life.

Don’t take life for granted and don’t waste time on the wrong people. You will meet the wrong people and part of life is learning lessons from the bad times. Don’t hold on to anger, resentment or jealousy because it will take over. Try not to put your self last, even though doing the opposite seems completely unnatural to you. The things that bother you now will not bother you in the future, trust me on that one!

Hold your good friends tight. The friends you value now won’t necessarily be in your life in the future, but know your self worth and know that it is okay to move on. Laugh and cry with your friends, stay up late and drink bottles of wine. Don’t pressure yourself into going clubbing because it really isn’t as great as people make out.

Believe in yourself! Know your own worth and what you can offer. Don’t be silenced by people who are louder and more confident than you. Try not to compared yourself to other people, everyone is walking their own path and there’s no point comparing your step one to their step five. You’ll get there, in your own way.

Learn how to be independent. Don’t rely on other people for your survival, be happy on your own and be happy with other people.

Dating the wrong people is not a mistake, but staying with them, because you feel that you have to, is. Be your own person and don’t change because a man wants you to. You will make mistakes, in relationships, in life, with decisions but you will learn from those mistakes. Mistakes are okay. Self talk, problem solve and don’t regret what went wrong. It went wrong for a reason.

Asking for help is okay. There will always be people there who are willing to help you. This is your time to learn, but that doesn’t have to be done alone. There isn’t an age limit on success, now is the time to explore, live your life, make decisions (good and bad) and don’t beat yourself up if it goes wrong.

Make memories. Take photos.

Stand up for yourself.

Risk it.

Find and enjoy whatever it is that makes you happy.

Respect yourself and respect others.

Save money and don’t spend all your student loan in one go when you get to university. You’ll be thankful for this when you’re not poor and hungry.

Your mum is [nearly always] right. She will tell you things that you don’t want to hear and she will nag you until the point that you want to explode but she does it because she loves you and cares for you. Never forget that and try and listen to what she says, she is the person that loves you the most and will not turn her back on you.

Also, always drink some water before bed after a night out. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

You’ve got this,

Laura x

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Emily McDowell

 

 

Volunteers’ Week 2020

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The first week of June marks Volunteers’ Week across the UK, a week to say thank you to volunteers for giving up their time and celebrating work which is done by volunteers. I have been volunteering off and since since I was 15 and I personally think that it is one of the most rewarding things that you can do. You’re able to contribute time and skills to help people, often who are vulnerable, as well as gaining new experiences and opportunities, whilst making a huge difference. Not only that, but at some of the toughest times in my life, I have been able to hold on to the fact that I volunteer: it has given me a purpose and something to focus on when everything seemed impossible hard and has also forced me to think about something other than my wonky body or spiralling mental health. Put simply, I genuinely think that volunteering has saved my life.

As a teenager, I volunteered with Barnardo’s, a children’s charity, before being offered a paid position as a play and support worker. It gave me an escape from the reality of exams, applying to university and instead gave me confidence, new friendships and an escape. It was really tough at times, I was working with disabled children and young people, frequently people who were the same age as me and I was having to do intimate personal care, amongst other things. I very quickly learnt the importance of dignity and putting aside disability and treating service users like “normal” people. Most of my friends worked in retail, but I knew that retail wasn’t the job that I wanted to do. I would go to work and be having to restrain children for their own safety, if they became violent, I would have handfuls of my hair pulled out, I was urinated on and had sperm wiped in my hair (I wish I was joking) and I was dealing with medications and tube feeding and complex health conditions like it was nothing. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life, other than being really interested in working with people and this job was my first paddling into the world of supporting young people with additional needs and I loved it.

I stayed in this, now paid, role for six years, working around university and living 200 miles away and gave as many hours as was possible in holidays. It’s only now that I look back, ten years on, do I realise how vital this volunteering position was. When I started, I was deep in the grief process, after losing a friend to suicide. I was struggling with my own health and being bumped around different hospital departments to try and figure out what was happening and I was unhappy at school due to the pressure of exams. My confidence was low but I was welcomed with open arms by a fantastic team of people: little did I know that my initial enquiry about volunteering would see the dark clouds above me start to fade away and bring new light into my life. Not only had I made a difference to people’s lives, I had also made lots of new friends and built my own confidence as well.

Fast forward to September 2018 and I started volunteering with Girl Guiding. In January 2018 I had been offered my dream job, working in children’s social care, but my declining physical health meant that I had to turn it down and instead forge a life on universal credit because I was too ill to work. I sent an enquiry to Girl Guiding to see if there was any volunteering that I could do. Initially this was purely because I was thinking about my CV and was forward planning for when I would be returning to work. The atmosphere in Girl Guiding has made it one of the best places I’ve worked. Everyone is awesome, and I don’t say that lightly.  Everybody goes into Girl Guiding with their own story and reasons for volunteering but one thing is certain, you cannot beat the passion and positivity from everyone you meet. The two hours when I was helping to run a Rainbow group (five to seven year old girls) quickly became the highlight of my week. It gave me my smile back when I felt very lost and without a purpose.

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Girl Guiding Killamarsh

My health deteriorated further over 2019 and I had a few months away from volunteering when I was in hospital. I remember being so anxious about returning and potentially having to face difficult questions. But yet again, I was welcomed with open arms and unwavering support. I didn’t face any stigma or discrimination, maybe because the other leaders had their own stuff to contend with too, I don’t know. It makes such a difference working with people who have a shared understanding, there was a mutual respect that we all had stuff going on in our private lives and sometimes we talked about it whilst always focusing on making the sessions as fun as possible for the girls. The diversity of the role means that even if you’re having a bad week, there is still a role for you. You can be sat dealing with the admin side of running a group or be actively playing with the girls and having fun with them.

Without a doubt, choosing to start volunteering as a teenager was one of the best decisions that I could have made. Continuing to volunteer throughout my twenties proved to me such a strong protective factor in my life that I now can’t imagine my life without volunteering in some respect. So whilst volunteers’ week is about saying thank you to volunteers, it seems only right to say “thank you” to all the people who saw the potential in me and allowed me to volunteer in the first place. You’ve made my life better because of it.

How to Talk to Someone With Depression

Depression can really change how a person thinks and perceives information. It can cause friction between friends and family members and often lead to a person feeling even more isolated. Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone. It is not something that you can simply snap out of or a sign of weakness.

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Mental Health Foundation

Below are some ideas around talking to someone with depression and questions that might be helpful.

Ask if they have had anything to eat or drink. If not, suggest having a glass of water and have something to eat if they can manage it. Talk about healthy and quick options, to avoid carb-loading which is likely to only give a quick burst of energy. Foods that are rich in protein are good. The thought of cooking for yourself when you are deep in depression can be too much to even consider, so offer support in buying healthy and nutritious ready meals that can be shoved in the freezer and cooked easily.

At the risk of sounding like someone from a crisis team, asking someone if they have had a bath or shower when they are feeling awful is sometimes an idea, providing the person is able to keep themselves safe in doing so. Self care is terminology which is thrown around by crisis teams very readily, but there’s no denying the fact that feeling clean is going to make you feel slightly better about yourself than being unclean. I get it, I really do, the energy and effort involved in having a bath or washing my hair means that it’s the last thing I want to do when I am depressed, but I try to remind myself that I deserve to be clean and I deserve to look after myself.

Again, at the risk of sounding like I am regurgitating snippets from the crisis team, encouraging someone to stretch their legs and move from their bed or the sofa is a way of showing that you care. I am not for one moment suggesting that you need to be walking miles in the picturesque countryside or be running a half marathon, but a quick walk around your immediate local area is enough to get those endorphins zipping around. Gentle exercise in the home is an option if you can’t face leaving the house, you can find lots of simple home exercise routines on Youtube, if you can’t face watching a highly positive and energetic fitness blogger and the NHS has home workout videos which are easy to access and follow.

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A big part of depression is shutting yourself away from people and not engaging with friends and family. This is definitely something that I do and I am fortunate to have a really support group of people around me, to check in with me and talk rubbish to distract me from the mess inside my head. Encouraging people to talk can be with friends or it could be with a medical professional. Ask if they have had any medical input and find out when the next planned contact will be. You can work out if you should be encouraging them to make contact with a professional sooner, or, if it can wait, suggest writing things down, to share next time there is contact. Don’t be afraid to offer physical contact, like hugs, but know that this doesn’t suit everyone. Whilst I love a good hug or cuddle, I know that for some people, this is their idea of hell, so knowing what works for the individual person is important. Pets are also a value source of companionship and support.

Ask if they have had any changes in medication and if they are taking their medication are prescribed. New medication can really mess with your head, especially in the early days when withdrawal is a risk and side effects of new drugs are more prevalent. Make sure that they are safe, as some medications increase suicidal thoughts and ideation and then wait it out with them. If things don’t improve after a few weeks, suggest contacting their GP.

If you don’t know what to say, just say that: tell your friend that you are there for them. As a humans, we want to immediately have the answers and be able to solve every single problem that we are faced with but sometimes, that isn’t possible. Let them know that you’ll be there, don’t accuse, threaten, blame, or make light or joke about how they might be feeling. Reminding a person that you care is one of the most important things that you can do. Knowing that you’ve got someone holding you up and fighting the beast alongside you is less isolating and is a reminder that you matter.

It’s worth remembering that what works for one person might not work for another. Asking how you can help and if there is anything in particular that would be useful is another way of showing that you care. Not everyone is open to the offer of help, not everyone knows what help they need and what you think is helpful and what they think is helpful could be two very different things.

Even if you can’t relate to a person’s problems or they seem insignificant, don’t belittle how they are feeling. Try to resist solutions that might seem simple to you. Most importantly, don’t make judgements on how they are feeling. Everyone’s feelings are valid and we all react in differing ways to situations. That doesn’t make us wrong, weak or defective, it makes us human.

I Am Depressed

This isn’t going to be a particularly cheerful blog post, I will be talking about mental illness. If you’re feeling vulnerable, please read with caution.

I am depressed. By that, I don’t mean being a little bit sad, I mean full blown life altering depression, resulting in me being in hospital. People are using the term “breakdown” and to be fair, that’s quite an accurate description. I don’t feel ashamed about the fact that I am depressed.

Depression is ugly At times, it has felt like there’s been no way out. There aren’t any clear cut answers and it’s been more than a little bit chaotic. It is so much more than just being sad. It’s a feeling of endless hopelessness, combined with a fear that in unexplainable. It’s nothingness. It’s not knowing how to and not wanting to carry on.

Having said all of that, I consider myself as pretty lucky. When things started going wrong, my GP very quickly referred me back to mental health services, someone from the team rang me that same afternoon and the following Monday I had an assessment with the mental health team. I wasn’t expecting much, my previous experiences with the mental health team haven’t been positive, I’ve always been “functioning” meaning that despite any mental health battles, I’ve held down a job and coped (for the most part) without any intervention being needed.

This time, things were different. I was so depressed during the assessment, I could hardly speak. I couldn’t cry because I was too depressed to cry. Within ten minutes, a decision had been made that I needed to be referred to the day patient service at the local psychiatric hospital. I was shocked, scared but ultimately, numb, to this news because I honestly felt in a place whereby I was beyond help. I wanted to die. It’s a hard thing to admit, but I’m not going to shy away from it. By the end of the week, I had been assessed by the day service and then started the following week.

I’m now nearing the end of my two weeks as a day patient and will be transferring to a step-down service, run by the mental health team and Mind. Honestly? I am terrified. The walls of the hospital have been my safety and security. I’ve been under constant supervision and I’m scared about how I’m going to cope without that. But I’ll never know unless I try. I have got to try, for myself but also for the people who have had my back over the past few weeks and supported me when I have felt unsupportable. I’ll still have support from staff, albeit less intensively – I’m not expected to go out into the world alone just yet, thankfully. I could fall, I could fly, but I will not fail, whatever happens.

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There has been progress. Despite being physically unwell over the past few days (yay gastroparesis), mentally I’ve been okay. Last weekend I was counting the hours until I was back in hospital, I resorted to behaviours that I haven’t engaged in for years, and I mean years and the thought of getting to Monday morning and being back in hospital felt impossible. This weekend hasn’t been completely struggle-free but I’ve managed. I’ve used the advice and things that I had learnt in psycho-education sessions to keep myself safe.

Why am I writing all of this? Because I’m angry. I’m so bloody angry. I’ve struggled with mental illness for years and years, so maybe this was inevitable. But maybe not. The biggest trigger to this breakdown, or whatever you want to call it, has been my physical health. In the past 18 months, my life has changed drastically. I’ve gone from holding down a full-time job, saving to buy my own home and being a fairly independent adult to being on longterm sick leave, frequenting hospital more than I frequent pubs, with no real hope of moving out, being heavily reliant on my mum. Don’t get me wrong, I was still ill when I was working, but the diagnosis of gastroparesis and then Addison’s Disease has turned my life upside down. And I have had no support in dealing with that. There is a huge correlation between mental and physical health: you have a cold for a few days and mentally you feel like shit. Now imagine feeling shit, but more, every single day. With no escape.

Chronic illness, or any form, is life changing. But you don’t get the support in dealing with that. You’re expected to cope. Expected to just get on with it. That is not okay. I know of too many people from the chronic illness community who are now in hospital because of their physical health. I’m angry because I’ve been failed and I’m angry because so many other people are also being failed.

So yes, I’m feeling mentally stronger having been a day patient, but none of the underlying issues have been addressed. The trauma of my life changing so much in such a short space of time has not been addressed. No one has acknowledged the trauma of having to fight with medical professionals just to be believed. The medical traumas that I am unable to even begin to speak about are still being brushed aside.

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We have got to connect the dots between mental and physical health. One cannot exist without the other. I don’t know how to make the changes that need to happen. But I do know that this has got to be talked about more, to prevent more people from being failed.

March Favourites

Here we are, another monthly favourites blog post. I was too unwell to write a monthly favourites post for February, and I’m not going to lie, I missed it a little bit. It’s such a good way of looking back over the month and picking out the good bits; chronic illness can be miserable and isolating so it’s nice to remember that life isn’t always like that!

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Books

My standout book from this month has got to be Paper Avalanches by Lisa Williamson. I’ve read Lisa’s previous two books and fell in love with The Art of Being Normal but was underwhelmed with All About Mia. Put simply, Paper Avalanches was a beautifully powerful book that I read in one sitting. Looking at parental mental illness, through the eyes of a teenage young carer, it gave a fresh look at the stigma surrounding hoarding and how dangerous it can be. Ro Snow is a character full of warmth and wisdom, way beyond her fourteen years of age and her frustrations towards Bonnie are quickly shared by the reader. I hope this book wins all the awards that it deserves.

Another book which I have loved this month is Looking at the Stars: How incurable illness taught one boy everything by Lewis Hine. Diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour and water on the brain at 17 months, he wasn’t expected to survive. But Lewis proved everyone wrong; he’s not only surviving but thriving. In one Facebook post on his sixteenth birthday Lewis invited everyone to see how he faces head on the challenges from his ongoing illness, and he went viral. Thirty million views later, Lewis now spearheads a campaign, Friend Finder, to make sure no one ever faces childhood illness alone. In his book, Lewis reflects on his brain surgeries and continual health problems, which are a daily challenge. He is at high risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) and has a pump in his brain just to keep him alive and experienced horrendous bullying. Lewis shares how he finds the strength to overcome all this and still lead a fun and fulfilling life. 

My third and final literary favourite for this month is A Girl Called Shameless by Laura Steven which is part of the Izzy O’Neil series. In Laura’s first book in the series, we met Izzy, a loud and confident teenager who was subjected to revenge porn, something which is yet to be criminalised in the United States and the double standards surrounding the videos, in terms of gender stereotyping and feminism. In this second book, we catch up with Izzy, two months post sex scandal, The Bitches Bite Back movement is gathering momentum as a forum for teenage feminists, and when a girl at another school has a sex tape shared online, once again Izzy leads the charge against the slut-shamer. This time she wants to change the state law on revenge porn. If you’re interested in politics, feminism and gender debates, this is a book for you.

 

Film and TV

I haven’t watched much on television this month, combined with needing a lot of sleep and binge watching the box sets of Waterloo Road (judge me if you must), there hasn’t really been enough time. That said, I’ve been loving the Great Stand Up To Cancer Bake Off and have chuckled away and the celebrities’ awful baking skills, whilst being left wondering how they actually function in real life.

 

Spoonie Favourites

I’m fairly sure that I’ve taken about Nuun tablets before, but they’re so great, I’m going to mention them again. Designed to keep you hydrated wherever your active lifestyle takes you, Nuun tablets are packed with optimal electrolytes, containing clean ingredients. I was recommended Nuun tablets by a doctor in London to try and keep my hydration levels up and now use them daily. I’ve noticed a huge difference in terms of my concentration levels, which is saying something, considering I often have the worst brain fog possible.

Because of how unwell I was in February, being admitted to hospital was looking very likely. I (like many people) find hospital environments really stressful and I became aware that I wouldn’t manage with just my iPad to distract me due to battery life and charging etc. This lead to me to buying a portable DVD player which has been one of my best purchases ever and it has saved me during the long nights of insomnia when I haven’t wanted to turn my TV on and wake my mum.

Odds and Sods

I’m ending this blog post on a slightly different note. At the start of February, a friend lost her long battle with mental illnesses and sadly died. Megan devoted her life to helping others, even when she was struggling immensely herself. Her death has left a huge Megan-shaped hole in the mental health community and people are still trying to come to terms with her sudden death. In 2012, Megan founded the Recovery Shoe Box Project, Recovery Shoeboxes are mental health toolkits containing items that help you cope when times are hardest and coping feels difficult. Each box will include items that might distract, pamper, soothe and motivate and they are personalised to the individual receiving them. Since Megan’s death, £8,785 has been raised in order to keep her project on-going as a legacy to her. The aim is to reach £10,000 and after that who knows. If you’re able to donate, it would be much appreciated.

 

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Simon Godsave and Recovery Shoe Box Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Is Not Consent

Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few weeks then you will have heard about how a girl’s underwear was used as evidence in court, during a rape case. In the trial, the defence lawyer told the jury “you have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

The 27-year-old man was found not guilty of rape shortly afterwards.

This case then led to a series of protests about how wearing a certain type of underwear does not equal giving consent.

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As a teenager, I was sexually assaulted. If you want all the explicit details about what happened, then you’re in the wrong place, because this is not the place to share them. I find it hard to speak openly about what happened, I have spent years blaming myself and analysing events, trying to work out how it happened and what I could have done differently.

But here’s the thing: I did not consent and just to make it really clear, my underwear did not consent on my behalf. When I was at university, someone said to me that I needed to consider how my behaviour and actions and what I was wearing will have encouraged him. That broke me and it was confirmation of everything that I had tormented myself with. However, I’m now at a point whereby I can recognise that my clothing did not play a part in what happened, I was wearing jeans and a jumper and even if I had been wearing a short skirt or a top showing my cleavage, that would not have been consent either.

Likewise, I know that my behaviour did nothing to encourage him. But again, had I been performing a strip tease and then changed my mind and firmly said “no” my behaviour still wouldn’t be consent.

I was not drunk. I had not been taking drugs. I was stone cold sober, fully aware of my surroundings and I was not wearing a thong. Using the argument that someone is wearing a thong and is therefore consenting completely bypasses the fact that you can’t see a person’s underwear until their clothing has been removed.

Some people would like to think sexual assault is just a result of miscommunication, especially if the victim has some tie to the perpetrator and believe the perpetrator to be incapable of doing such a thing. Let’s put it very simply: unless a person clearly says “yes” to any form of sexual contact then you can’t assume and go ahead with sexual acts.

Likewise, asking a person if they were under the influence of alcohol doesn’t then mean that the assault was justified. By asking if someone was drunk, you’re asking if they were openly making themselves more vulnerable and therefore “asking for it.”

Anyone who has experienced a sexual assault knows how damaging victim blaming can be. Being asked what you were wearing or how you were behaving or even worse, why you didn’t fight back is so harmful. Only last month, women in London were being warned not to wear headphones or use mobile phones because of a number of sexual assaults. Yes, you need to be aware of your personal safety, regardless of gender and sexuality, but the only people who are responsible for sexual assaults are the perpetrators. Headphones don’t rape women, nor do their outfits or undwear or dark streets or clubs or alcohol and drugs or parties.

Don’t get me wrong, the people are carry out sexual assaults are in a minority and it is not a case of all men are bad. Women can also be perpetrators but we don’t see men being warned against wearing headphones. The reason that rape culture remains such as issues in the 21st century is because rape is still prevalent and sexual violence is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture: a women’s underwear being used as evidence in court is a perfect example of this. Women’s rights and safety are being disregarded by the very people who are meant to protect.

Women’s rights are human rights, and the blame has got to be shifted from women who suffer sexualised violence  or assaults to men who inflict it upon them. People are told that they wouldn’t have been attacked on the street if they weren’t walking alone, almost as if it was an inevitable event. That isn’t okay.

In the years since I was sexually assaulted, I have swung from blaming myself to being able to acknowledge that it was not my fault and then back again. Sometimes I feel utterly repulsed by myself, other times I feel repulsed by him. I’ve spent years in counselling and therapy, trying to come to terms with what happened. I can talk about the facts, but not the emotional side of events. But the thing is: I did not say yes and fundamentally, that was not respected.