Anxiety, Eczema, It me, mental health, personal, tattoos

New Year, New You, New Danger

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I’m a bit of a sucker for a new start. I love the idea of each year being a tabula rasa filled to the brim with potential. I buzz off the excitement of new projects, the crisp lines of a new notebook, the opportunity contained within the pages of an empty diary. But, I’m also acutely aware that writing about new year’s resolutions is one of the worst lifestyle blogging cliches. And, before you say anything, I also know that reading about other people’s new year’s resolutions – many of which they’ll have broken by the second week of the year – is pretty boring. So, I’m (going to do my best) not to write about them here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about reinvention recently. I read this piece by Deborah Orr in the Guardian and was shocked by how much I related to her experiences of living with difficult mental health. Like too many people I know, last year wasn’t the easiest one for me. I was stuck in a job I hated (and was eventually made redundant from), experiencing some pretty nasty health issues, saw too many bad things happen to the people I love and – the cherry on top of this cake of shit – the return of the crippling anxiety and depression that has plagued me since my teenage years. At one particularly low point, I deactivated all of my social media accounts and almost deleted this blog because I was just so tired of seeing everyone else leading brighter, better, happier lives than mine. I hated the way I looked, I hated the way I felt and I hated logging on to discover everyone living it up while I was stagnating.

Of course, this is not a particularly rational way of thinking. Particularly for someone who works in social media and so should be totally aware of the glitter and artifice people sprinkle over their lives when discussing them online. Being alone with my thoughts only made them worse. I found it increasingly difficult to get out of bed and had to start working from home more to accommodate this. I was having panic attacks in my sleep and drinking too much. When I was at my office, I would repeatedly find myself bursting into tears and having to go and hide in the toilets. I had to finally face up to the fact that I needed help.

I went back onto antidepressants and discovered one that worked for me (I had been wary of them since a terrible experience with Citalopram in my late 20s.) I started seeing a therapist who helped me to unpick some of my ways of thinking and examine them in a new light. Being made redundant helped me to realise that one of the reasons I was so depressed was because I was in a job which wasn’t right for me and it provided me with the impetus (and money) I needed to finally go it alone.

I’m saying all of this not out of a desire to make people feel sorry for me, but more because I’m proud of managing to come out on the other side. I did some amazing work in 2016 – both professionally and personally. I’m entering 2017 happier, stronger and with much better hair. I’ve also acquired some awesome tattoos, but that’s by-the-by.

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My noble steed

Like many people, I have big plans for 2017. I want to write more, both for myself and for others. I want to make my freelance career a success. I want to be more careful with my money, not just because I am acutely aware of the precariousness of freelance life but also because I want to find methods of self care which don’t just involve purchasing things that I don’t really need.

My friend James came to visit me over the Christmas break and was kind enough to fix up the old Raleigh Shopper bike which had been gathering dust in my hallway for a number of years. Last week, I found myself going on a 13 mile bike ride alongside the River Mersey, enjoying the feel of the wind through my hair and feeling so incredibly lucky to live in such a scenic part of England. I don’t know what will happen to me this year. But I know that if I continue to take pleasure in the little things, I’ll be OK.

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Take good care of yourself: some thoughts on mental health & self care

This is fineI’m not very comfortable with publicly discussing my mental health. So, the irony of writing a whole blog post about it is not lost on me. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since I was 14, but – bar a nervous breakdown when I was 21, and a rather bad episode when I was 25 – I’ve managed to deal with it relatively well. I have a good job. I have a great relationship. I earn enough money to do all the things I want to do with my life. Moaning about my own experiences of anxiety just feels a bit privileged when there are others out there with real issues to worry about.

However, I’ve had a few blips recently. Blame it on the changing seasons, my new job and the sheer exhaustion born out of a daily cross city commute, but I feel as though I haven’t been thriving as hard as I could be. I’ve spent days worrying that everyone I know and love hates me, or that I’ve made some catastrophic fuck up at work which means everyone thinks I’m useless. There’s been a lot of paranoia and breathing exercises in disabled toilets. It hasn’t been much fun.

One of my favourite podcasts is Another Round. I love it because it’s funny, it’s honest and provides so much excellent life advice (not least ‘drink more water’ and ‘call your mum’.) The two hosts – Heben and Tracey – are open about their depression and anxiety issues, and how they deal with these. Most importantly, the advice they give is never patronising. It just is what it is, two good friends exchanging coping strategies on how to navigate the world when your brain doesn’t want to play ball.

A topic they frequently discuss is ‘self care,’ which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Self care is, simply, the things you do to take care of yourself when you’re tired, or feeling low. They are the strategies you put in place to protect yourself. I practice it so I have the strength to keep doing all the things which I know I’m good at, and which make me feel better about myself, my abilities and my place in the world. Some days, it will be something like attending a yoga class after work, and on others it will be something as simple as remembering to perform my cleansing routine and brush my teeth before bed (which is a big deal when I’m so tired I can barely remember my own name.)

A glamorous work selfie. Because this blog post would be pointless without a gratuitous picture of my face.

A glamorous work selfie. Because this blog post would be pointless without a gratuitous picture of my face.

I think that there’s a lot of misapprehension about self care. It can sometimes be misread as being all about vanity or consumption. (And there’s a whole other conversation to be had about why neither of those things are necessarily negative.) Plus, a lot of discussions about it on the internet (or at least the internet spaces I frequent) can sometimes read as over thought and strung out. It’s great hearing about how a Brooklyn based beauty writer or the lead singer in a band practices it, but their life experiences can often feel vastly different from mine and the people I know. ‘Why should I listen to some hipster reminding me to wash my face?’ as I once saw someone comment.

But at the same time, I don’t think that a lot of us are particularly good at practicing self care. It takes time and effort, both things which are in short supply when you’re just trying to get through the day. I try and put aside a little time each day which I can commit to doing things which will make me feel better about myself, and just silence my brain for a bit. Often, this will involve going for a lunch time walk near my office, visiting the library or sitting in a cafe and reading a good book. At other times, it will be something like buying a lipstick, applying a face mask, listening to the football in the bath (one of my favourite weekend activities) or taking some selfies to remind myself that I’m of worth and my eyebags really aren’t as bad as I think they are.

I’m also an advocate for stepping away from the internet for a bit when it all gets too much. I love social media more than words can say, but it can be emotionally exhausting. Switching off the thing I do for fun (but which is also my job) allows me to get some valuable breathing space. After all, sometimes it’s OK not to have an opinion on everything.

It’s vitally important that women have discussions on how to take care of themselves in a world which often feels antagonistic and cruel. But I’d also like to see these discussions taken out of rarefied spaces. I’d be really interested in hearing how you practice self care, and what it means to you.

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