This page has been blinking blankly at me for far too long.
Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day and over the past week or so it’s been practically impossible to avoid discussions about mental illness, isn’t that wonderful?
What with ASDA, Tesco and Amazon apologetically withdrawing ‘Mental Patient’ and ‘Psycho Ward Escapee’ Halloween costumes, Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor partaking in a rather public tet-a-tet regarding the latter’s struggle with mental illness in the past, and The Scum newspaper weighing in with a typically disgusting headline designed to stigmatise and scaremonger, discussions of mental health have become centre-stage and front-page. And really it’s about time.
I’ve been reading and watching a lot about mental health recently, and today I made a pledge to ‘Rethink Mental Illness’ on Time to Change, a programme dedicated to challenging mental health stigma and discrimination.
In the past during discussions of mental health with friends, I have declared, quite ignorantly, that I just don’t understand, or believe, people who suffer from mental illness. I think what I meant, equally as ignorantly, is that I didn’t understand why people who suffer from mental illness don’t seek the help or support they need. What I actually meant, whether I realised it or not, is that I simply did not understand mental health at all.
Had I understood it, I would have known that people who suffer from mental illness, the 1 in 4 of us who do, face a real personal struggle to understand or acknowledge their own condition, never mind trying to explain it to anyone else. I might also have begun to understand that something that sounds as simple as seeking help can become a monstrous challenge when firstly, you consider the nature of depression and anxiety that some people suffer, secondly the stigma and discrimination they’re faced with when they do try to address their mental illness, and thirdly the lack of support structures in place to help those people who really need it.
While I am still continuing my self-education on the subject I am pleased to say that I have begun to Rethink Mental Illness and I implore everyone to do the same. 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental illness, but we should all be taking care of our mental health.
Below are just a few of the articles and lectures which I consider essential reading/viewing on the matter.
Yes I have returned from South East Asia, and yes I have been dying to use that little wordplay since I first left.
But don’t let the title fool you, I’m not in Liverpool, I’m staving off the post-travelling blues by travelling to the slightly less exotic destination of Aughabrack for some home comforts.
I did return to Liverpool, and reality, with a bump (quite literally) nearly one whole month ago and must confess since then I have been suffering with the dreaded post-holiday blues. Reality, the mess of a bedroom, lengthy To Do List, mountain of washing and financial ruin which I returned to, really did hit me with a bump, as waking early (thank you jet lag) feeling rejuvenated, invigorated and determined to start off on the right foot I decided to kick-start with a morning run.
And it all started so well, powering up Parliament Street I had a whirlwind of ideas in my head, all sorts of plans and good intention to put things back in order. Writing ideas were tripping over each other in a bid to grab my attention, I was suddenly full of confidence and determination to get back on the job hunt, and most importantly, I was intent not to dwell on the fact that I wasn’t spending my morning lying on a beach. Sadly, that all that power cut out halfway back down the other side of the Anglican Cathedral and that right foot that I was sure I’d gotten off on caught on a loose paving stone and turned me and all my good intentions upside down.
It was one of those slow motion falls, you know what’s going to happen, you can see it unfolding as though you were a third person detached from the actual movement, stifling a giggle. It’s only as the ground makes angry contact with your hands and knees that you remember this isn’t some comedy fall you’re watching from the comfort of the sofa, that’s you right there going crash bang wallop outside one the city’s biggest tourist attractions, right across the street from your place of work. Not so funny now is it?
Lying flat on my back, staring up at the clouds I decided to focus on the silver lining – at least it’s early, too early for tourists, at least it’s the summer, no LIPA students around to revel in my literal downfall, and at least my only witness was a very kind-hearted taxi driver who offered to drop me home for free.
I gratefully declined, and hobbled home with blood-soaked hands and knees to curl up on the sofa and feel sorry for myself.
My mind might have thought itself fighting fit, but my body obviously wasn’t ready to get off the sun lounger and go back to porridge. I was tired, severely sorry to be home, and criminally skint. Fuck good intentions, I’m going back to bed.
Of course the wallowing passed with just the right amount of comfort food, a few convalescence trips to the pub with dear friends, and a brave venture back into the ugly world of freelancing.
Just as I was getting back on track, the tracks were yet again ripped from under my feet with the very sudden upheaval of my living circumstances and another financial punch in the face. But that is a rant for another day (watch this space).
Thankfully, the jet lag wore off after about a week, the home comforts have done wonders for the post-holiday blues, and my knees have just about healed, though they’ve left some unsightly patches in my tan. With a dreaded return to porridge and working life this weekend, it’s about time I gave a second attempt at knuckling down, starting afresh and getting off on the right foot… with eyes peeled for any bumps in the road, and maybe I’ll invest in some knee pads.
The morning after the night before.
You tentatively open one eye against the piercing drill of natural light, pat yourself down, checking that all limbs and digital extensions of yourself are intact, and then you wait. Slowly and carefully, your brain collates the full extent of the damage, your body anticipating the full force of two bottles of wine to crack you around the back of the head any minute now, there you float in hangover limbo, awaiting the imminent self-inflicted punishment like a soldier before the firing squad.
And then it hits, in all manner of physical attacks, depending on the particular poison on which you’ve overindulged: headache, dry-mouth, unexplained bruises, dodgy tummy, or if you’re very lucky, just an insatiable hunger to consume every carbohydrate this side of the M1.
But there is another hangover symptom which seems more and more common as we creep ever-closer to our mid-twenties, it is perhaps the most dreaded symptom of all, The Fear.
Like the calm before the stomach-churning storm when you first wake, while your body realises the full extent of the hang, The Fear is an emotional and psychological manifestation of that dread which lurks in the recesses of your mind for hours, sometimes days, long after the cement-mixer in your stomach and the pneumatic drill in your head have been laid to rest.
Urban Dictionary, perhaps the most important and relevant reference database of our era, defines The Fear as:
– a sense that people or organisations are out to get you;
– angst that you may have offended, inappropriately touched or physically attacked someone the night before;
– foreboding about the next time you meet those people or return to the bar where you degraded yourself the previous night;
– and a feeling that you are going to die.
And that is it in a nutshell, you find yourself shoulder deep in a black panic and paranoia that you have embarrassed yourself or offended another beyond repair, that you will have to face up to consequences of your own dishonourable behaviour. You scour through sent messages and dialled numbers, social media streams, awaiting the dreaded tags on Facebook photos, the well-humoured text messages from friends teasing you, mocking your pitiful state, torturing you with what you can only hope are exaggerated tales of your own self-disgrace.
As the day progresses, slipping past you, out of reach from where you lie on the sofa in the foetal position, you suffer palpitations and anxiety attacks as flashbacks of dance moves and tumbles out of taxis come flooding back at unpredictable intervals during the day.
You desperately try to fill in those Desperado induced gaps in the memory, reassuring yourself that the reality couldn’t be half as bad as the eventualities you’ve cooked up in your infested mind.
Unless it is.
In which case it might be better not to know.
And nothing is sacred when you’re hanging with The Fear, areas of your well-balanced and fulfilling life which had never caused you a second’s concern before now are suddenly bearing down on you with heavy, urgent, self-reproach.
Look at the state of yourself!
What are you doing with your life?
Call yourself a writer?!
Even the cat looks disgusted by your mere existence.
You are Peter Pan, plummeting ever-closer to earth as Hook picks away at all the happy thoughts which have kept you afloat all these years. You are doomed, destined to fail, to fall, to plummet to earth with no one there to catch you.
When this happens, you should have a bacon sandwich and immerse yourself in something suitably warm and fuzzy, anything Disney, although you may need to fast-forward through the first fifteen minutes of UP! That romantic sad story is surefire suicide when you’re grappling with The Fear.
This is the only advice I can give you.
Lock the windows and doors, turn off your phone and settle down with your calorie-heavy food of choice and enough sugar-coated romantic comedies to suffocate even the most hard-hearted pessimist. Talk to no one that you do not trust beyond doubt, who in your present state, will be no one, not even the cat. Do not dwell on the possible sins of the night before, but repent anyway for anything you might have ever done wrong.
You will feel like you might actually die, but this state is temporary, do not, I repeat, DO NOT ask anyone to phone an ambulance/priest/your mum for you – you will be ridiculed both by your friends, and whichever caregiver you have chosen to bother with your heightened ideas of mortality.
This too shall pass.
My latest lengthy absence can be explained quite simply. I have been very busy burning the candle at both ends.
Having booked an expensive, but thoroughly worth it, summer adventure in South East Asia and committing myself to building both savings and bikini body, I have unsurprisingly spent a great deal of time catching up on some painting, specifically, of the town, in red.
Between work and socialising and festivalling last week I successfully burnt myself out and came down with the worst bout of tonsillitis to date. I knew it was coming, I could feel it as I supped cider at a barbecue last Sunday when I realised that I hadn’t supped a glass of water in approximately 42 hours. I could feel it in my bones on Saturday as I dined on a breakfast of Corona and Korean barbecue having had four hours sleep, about to embark on a 12 hour (plus) day of reviewing at Sound City.
I could sense it.
My body knows when these things are coming, but it powered through, God bless it, until the adrenaline wore out somewhere between Sunday night tipsy and Monday morning inflamed throat, unable to eat/talk/stay conscious for longer than a HBO sitcom.
Naturally this affliction hit just when the British summer peeked, adding nicely to the light-sensitive headaches and feverish sweats I was enjoying indoors under my duvet.
But having spent a week in bed, drinking nothing but water, thinking constantly of rich, indulgent food I couldn’t hope to consume, watching anything that Sky On Demand had to offer and having some of the most vividly weird dreams ever, well I’ve had time to dwell on things.
Now as far as resolutions, personal development and good intentions go, faithful readers will know all too well, I rule supreme, but having spent a week in joggers, under a duvet, looking every bit the homeless meff, you can understand my need to resolve. And after a healthy dose of antibiotics and Jane Austen I listed some of my life’s great ambitions.
1. To have in my wardrobe, items only which I know to suit and flatter me, or which are too incredibly comfortable/sentimental/cool to throw away.
2. To never grow tired of consuming books, pretty stationary, cake or Italian food.
3. To one day regain the svelte figure, tireless energy and general fitness level I maintained up until the age of eighteen.
4. To establish myself in a career for which I have real passion and interest, and which pays handsomely in both monetary and personal terms.
5. To somehow successfully exercise the virtues of good judgement, self-restraint and patience when it comes to stupid people/loved ones/men who are no good for me.
6. To one day be too cool and busy to Instagram trivial little delights such as culinary achievements, the cat/dog, and good hair days.
7. To live, day-to-day, with the utmost serenity, diligence and integrity, or generally to not have a can of Strongbow on my chest of drawers and the contents of my laundry basket on the floor.
8. To someday repay my debt to society by buying the physical equivalent of all the films and albums I have illegally downloaded over the years. Or at least the ones that I consider worth paying good money for.
9. To read all the books which I claim to have already read/people have lent or suggested to me/should have read at university/are considered “classic” by right-thinking society.
10. To travel the world, become rich beyond my wildest dreams, live lavishly and in perfect happiness, and to never grow up.
I’m also reminded of a life ambition I had in my earlier years, to be brutally murdered as an extra in a Quintin Tarantino movie. Having since decided to be a pacifist I’m not sure where I stand on the brutal, if theatrical, murder thing… but if the opportunity were to arise, I wouldn’t turn it down.
I’m just putting that out there in the webisphere.
So despite all my good intentions, I’ve done it again, I’ve left my beloved little blog unattended and neglected, cold and unloved for far too long yet again. Here I come, crawling back to my one true love after flirting and sowing my writing seed elsewhere (here at Yuppee and here at Get Into This if you’d care to indulge).
I am quite used to making up this kind of ground. I am chronically late to meet friends for lunch, the clock at work runs five minutes fast, mine runs twenty minutes late, I always forget to ring my mum back, I push deadlines to the absolute limit, I get distracted by shiny things and You Tube videos of cats, I plan on being late for my own funeral just so friends and family believe that is actually me in the coffin.
Of course I could reel off the twenty-seven thousand excuses I have to hand, most of them fairly substantial, as to where I’ve been recently, but rather than relying on embellishment like a true writer I will be perfectly honest in a brief history of the last few weeks. Since the beginning of March I have been operating as a one woman Mothers Day Card production line, getting coerced into drinking into the early hours by a dear friend back from the desert for a gin-soaked weekend, going to loads of gigs, rejoicing in the misfortune of others (cruel but infinitely satisfying), finally finishing Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, catching up with old friends, mourning Ireland’s performance during the Six Nations, doing St Patrick absolute justice by partying for as long as my body could physically stand it (my voice gave up after three days), and then suffering with unimaginable fear, having my ego rubbed and then beaten to a pulp, and going against my better judgement to play, as always, the romantic fool.
You may not believe it, but in the pursuit of a career as an actual, real, grown up writer, I consider all of the above research.
For my birthday last year I received a notebook in a huge bird-themed group of presents from some very dear friends, and in this notebook all my pearls of wisdom get scribbled down, usually, frantically, by the light of my phone thirty seconds after lying down to sleep. Full of good intentions I romantically noted one of my favourite quotes on the opening page, from Benjamin Franklin:
“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing”.
You see, like I said, research.
At the raw age of twenty-four I will not pretend to have anything of universal importance to write about just yet, although documenting my life and times as a bar wench may prove otherwise. But in the meantime I must go out, be merry, grab life by the proverbial balls and live it up, which is why another favourite quote of mine is ‘no good story every started with a salad’. So in Lena Dunham fashion I have been dedicating every hangover and heartache to the pursuit of my writing career. Eventually it will all pay off.
In the meantime, I promise not to neglect you my darling little blog.
At least not until the next drink-fueled religious holiday.
It has been little over a fortnight since I last put metaphorical pen to paper yet somehow it feels like it’s been decades. I am going to assume that this over-exaggeration of time lapsed is simply another compulsive symptom of becoming a “real” writer – in the same sense that alcoholics count every second that they have been on the wagon, a writer is tormented by every day when all they produce is yet another blank white page.
It would be lovely to blame writers’ block or psychological burnout or other such professional hazards, but I’m afraid to say my absence is due to much simpler, baser reasons – it’s been damn cold this month.
Yes, that’s right, I’m attributing my creative block to brain freeze. All the snow and slush and gale force winds have completely smothered, drowned and blown away every creative notion I might have had.
As well as trying to keep warm, I have had other distractions – work for one. Along with writers’ block and mild alcoholism, one of the greatest threats to a writer’s career is having to balance an actual job alongside it to ensure you can pay rent. But somehow among it all I have found the time to get started on a few of the New Year’s Resolutions I wrote about here a few weeks ago.
Full of goodwill, a friend and I went along to a local drive to give blood for the very first time. I’ve never been particularly squeamish about needles, unlike my father who used to stand facing the wall when I received my boosters as a child, but up until this point I hadn’t even had blood drawn at the doctors more than once. I was a little nervous, but mostly just excited, after all, giving blood is one of those selfless good deeds which really does save strangers’ lives. But as full of good intentions as I happened to be, my body wasn’t quite prepared to cooperate. Whether it the extreme cold or the excessive consumption of Baileys and cheese over the festive period I’m not sure, but my blood decided it was staying put. After squeezing the life out of my bicep to bring forth a vein, a very lovely, very patient nurse, did her best readjusting the needle to find a steady flow but to no avail. My body was having none of it. After producing less than a Martini glass of O Positive my body decided it had done enough for the good of humanity and went faint. It is amazing just how quickly the goodwill can fall right out of you when you find yourself upside down under a full-powered electric fan.
But I had given blood for the very first time, as little as it was in the end, and bonus life experience, I had fainted for the very first time too! It wasn’t on my list of resolutions but hey, two birds one stone!
Now completely at ease with the idea of needles, and with the bruised inner arm of an intravenous drug user, I was determined to continue on a roll – More holes in my skin!! So in an effort to feel more like a grown up I did what every seven year old girl does with her First Communion money, I got my ears pierced. And none of this pissy gun thing in Claire’s Accessories, I walked into a serious piercing shop where other people were waiting to get holes in their tongue, nipple and various other painful places, and proudly asked a woman with more metal on her than the Golden Gate Bridge, if she would put some little holes in my ear lobes. And the lovely metal woman obliged, giving me an endearing ‘bless your cotton socks’ look I had expected. I even got a sticker.
In other resolutions news, I have successfully baked two batches of scones by Granny’s foolproof recipe, made what can only be described as an ‘Any Veg Going’ soup and have only been to Tokyou once.
I’d say five out thirteen ain’t a bad start by the end of January. Whether I have started as I mean to go remains to be seen.