Rule of thirds

For the last three days of April I did not leave my bed, my depression flung me into a low unlike anything I have previously experienced, even prediagnosis (the last time I actively tried to end my own life).

During these three days I could not eat without feeling an overwhelming pang of nausea and pain – even dry toast unsettled my stomach – to a point I convinced myself I was dying. I would wake with shooting pains down my right leg, that rendered me unable to move, so I laid in bed with the curtains drawn weeping into what felt like my end.

At some point on the third day, with encouragement from a concerned colleague I managed to get to a doctor. The two minute walk to the clinic down the road took ten, as I limped and stopped every so often to clutch my stomach as the agony of life washed over me. After being poked and prodded for a while I was given a prescription of anti-nausea medication and valium (diazepam) in order to restore some of my life signs, and allow my basic physiology to function.

Previous to these three days I had spontaneously booked a trip to Ireland, about a week prior, because I wanted to “go somewhere green,” mainly due an increase of stress in my work and personal life, the two of which have become more intertwined during the last couple of months, and as a result had manifested in physical deterioration and my all time low.

During my time in Ireland, I made the decision to unplug from all social media. This included WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Also disabling all email notifications from my three accounts and leaving my usual travel devices at home in order to “take my mind off my mind for a while.” [McCormack, Mike. Notes from a Coma, p. 104]

In place of my regular social media consumption, influenced heavily by my personal fear of missing out, I took two books, a sketch pad, and a list of suggested activities for both Dublin and Galway. I allowed myself some allowances such as the use of my phone camera to take photographs, SMS, and music for the plane and coach rides. I can honestly say that this is one of the best decisions I have made for my mental health.

As I unplugged from the 21st century world of social media, intended to make humanity more connected but often leaving us isolated, I connected with myself again.

I found myself consuming my first book – Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig – within three days, reading it on the banks of the River Liffey until the single rain shower of my trip fell and I retreated to a nearby pub, sipping on pints of Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Alkoholfrei (annotating page 111 of my copy with “Ominous sign that when I started reading it started to rain heavily? – No! You’re in Ireland.”) as the bartender offered me a hurley to disperse of the gentleman trying to engage me in conversation – he was very taken aback by the somewhat peculiar sight of a young woman reading in a pub as people chattered around her and a live band played, perfectly content in my own presence.

Couple walking along the bank of the River Liffey
River Liffey – 3 May 2019

In between spells of reading, I socialised with the other patrons in my hostel even attending my first pub crawl, sober, and visited some of the many sights and attractions Dublin had to offer – my favourites being the Long Room at Trinity College where I wanted to bottle the scent of library that transported me into memories of my youth – particularly when I tried to live in the local library because “I wanted to read all the books overnight.” And my day trip to Glendalough, where I could have spent hours walking in the sunshine and sitting beside the babbling brook watching the wild deer and goats frolicking in the near distance.

After three days in Dublin I headed west to Galway, making a beeline for The Cornstore on my arrival, as after beginning my copy of The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, I found it did not feed my literary need after having read Reasons to Stay Alive.* I picked up a copy of Notes from a Coma by Mike McCormack, a work of fiction about the life of a Romanian orphan adopted by the rural community of County Mayo, who suffers a sudden mental breakdown that leads him to volunteer for a government supported coma.

I again began to consume this; this time along the banks of the bay, on the side of Killary Harbour during a pit stop on a day trip to Connemara, and standing in the beer garden of O’Connell’s – which again bought attention due to the peculiar sight of a perfectly content young woman whose own company was enough to satisfy her, sparking the curiosity of many and leading to new friendships, and even a piggy back.

Fjord on the West Coast of Ireland
Killary Harbour – 6 May 2019

Reading, singing, dancing, crafting new friendships and drawing badly in an unplugged world made me feel more connected to it. I lived in the moment and left my worries behind – “We [often] find ourselves through the process of escaping.” [Haig, Matt. Reasons to Stay Alive, p. 130]

Although, it is true that there were moments that I missed social media, no WhatsApp for instance made is difficult to message my new found friends (all on international numbers), which meant resorting to early 2000 meeting tactics when we wanted to hangout, but for the most part it allowed me the privilege of listening to myself without the distraction of life and its expectancy.

Yes, it is also true that I have the same battles ahead of me as I did before I went away; at the end of the month my employment contract ceases and I face being jobless for the first time since 2014, without employment I will most likely need to move back to the UK and leave my life in Belgium behind me, it is likely too that I will face homelessness for the third time if I am unable to secure my future.

This is a terrifying prospect, but if the sun can shine for a whole week in Ireland in May, then there’s also the chance it’ll work out in the end, and if it doesn’t as 13th century poet Rumi once said:

“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.”


* I recommend Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive to anyone who has suffered from / is suffering from / or knows anyone who has or is suffering with depression. I owe my copy along with my immense gratitude to my perfect stranger who gifted it to me in December after stumbling across this blog – thank you, as the Joanna Lumley quote on the cover says it is “a small masterpiece that might even save lives.”


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/


Time to stop running from reality

For the past three years I’ve been running from reality, ironically since I started to gain a better understanding of my mental health, and the life experiences and events which contributed to the alteration of my mind, I also began losing a grip on many parts of myself.

The facade built by denial was breaking apart and the intricacy of my mental mechanics was being revealed. Coming face to face with my flaws was never going to be easy, humans rarely likely to be proven wrong. For me using the excuses of my upbringing and mental illnesses was an all too easy scapegoat, a denial to my reality and the fears it was revealing, yes I was working at becoming better and still am, but I was also throwing caution to the wind in the name of acceptance, even though this led me down the path of destructive and dangerous behaviour.

I’ve been living in a prolonged period of turbulence over the last three years, a constant pattern of altercations which have made me tackle numerous obstacles that I was not prepared for; political discourse; the loss of love; the death of a friend; the terminal illness of parent; and the overwhelming sense of fear and hopelessness that accompanied them, all collapsing in on my existence like dominos. The tethered moments as I broke along side my fracturing world.

Although I have admitted to these moments, it doesn’t mean that I have fully accepted their existence. I hate these moments, even though they are the source of much of my strength, they have also warped my soul, leading me to run from them, but I’m tired of running.

Over the past three years I have not been the most sensible, responsible or logical person, as I desperately try to cling to any sense of certainty to solidify my identity and break away from scars of my past and the echoes in my present, using them when I lose grip of that inkling of certainty to behave irrationally and frankly like a bit of an arsehole, the excuse being that if the world is turbulent why can’t I be?

This is not a good enough excuse, mental illness and past cruelties are not a green light for bad behaviour, for dangerous behaviour, or for destruction behaviour, they are instead cautionary tales to be sensible, responsible and kind. If you know the world to be unkind give kindness to it, not unconditionally at the cost of ones self but in the moments where you can.

Remove toxicity from your life but be careful to not let it tarnish your soul, take pride in who you are but do not do it at the cost of belittling others, realise that you will not get everything you want in life but if you keep hope in your heart you will eventually get what you need. Life is unfair and unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean it can not be understood, it just may take some time.

I myself regained my equilibrium this weekend just past, I learned that it is not a place or a time or a moment, but instead something that resides within me, it is my core and my centre and it is with me always. External factors will influence my life, I will occasionally have no control over these and the consequences they bring, I will be affected by them emotionally and tested mentally but it doesn’t mean that they will hold control over me and my life forever. I may have no clue what tomorrow will bring, but if I have to meet with oblivion I will do it with my eyes wide open and standing a full 154cm tall, shoulders back, head high and brave.

Brave enough to be kind in a world that’s gone to shit, to overcome some of the most devastating obstacles without polluting my soul, brave enough to be me – not unapologetically but with enough grace to admit when I am wrong, when I need help, that I have a soft heart, and I need to do better and be better. No more excuses or running from reality, it’s time to face this.

Is it more acceptable to be blackout, than blue?

I’m pleased to say that my dry January of 2019 was a success, not a single drop of alcohol entered my system for the whole month, even when temptation reared its head. I haven’t stayed sober in 2019, having had a few social events where an open bar and want to let loose have taken over.

Having abstained and indulged in alcohol this year I’ve come to realise a few things about myself:

  • I drink when I’m anxious, I drink heavily when I’m anxious, as someone with severe anxiety I’m anxious a lot;
  • I drink so I have an excuse to act out of character and a bit wilder than usual, alcohol gives people an excuse to let their inhibitions free – say what they like and do what they like all under the guise of ‘sorry, I was drunk;’
  • I still have blue days when I’m sober;
  • Other people will have a bigger problem with you not drinking, than you have with not being able to drink;
  • My social life revolves around beer and wine;
  • My nationality influences my relationship with alcohol greatly, and people expectation of it.

Circling back to the top of that list, anxiety, particularly social anxiety is a big problem for me.

Crowds freak me out. People freak me out. Life freaks me out. Since I was a teenager social situations fill me with dread, not because I dislike them but because I am convinced that people don’t actually want me there. 

You could probably link this back to an early childhood memory of mine, where I distinctly remember my two closest friends at the time running away from me under the pretence of play, often leaving me in tears on the other side of the playground, feeling rejected and abandoned, having spent a few minutes running after them – my small stature and naturally non-athletic ability rendering me fairly easy to leave behind. This memory has stuck with me throughout my life, and resurfaces when I experience similar moments in my adult life almost two decades later. 

As an adult, I realise that social events are necessary if you want to avoid becoming a hermit. Particularly when you live almost 400 kilometres/200+ miles away from home, away from your closest friends and family, away from the comforts, and the routine you had spent years crafting and altering to suit your needs.

However, like most people I’m still marked by the memories of my past, I still fear rejection from my peers so often find myself appearing rather defensive or cold as a means of protecting myself. In order to counteract my anxiety in social situations, I drink – because drinking is a socially acceptable coping mechanism, staring at people awkwardly from the corner, wide eyed, like a deer in the headlights, is not.

Even when you drink until you drunk dial your exes and wake up with hangover that feels like a 4am hotel fire alarm, realising that the pharmacies are shut and wanting nothing more than to crawl up and die, this isn’t considered as odd; when compared to saying that your anxiety is kicking your arse, your fight or flight is having a domestic in your brain, and you’re finding it difficult to breathe.

The month I didn’t drink was hard. I didn’t have a social crutch, and it was noticeable. People noticed I wasn’t drinking, and people questioned it. Part of the reason I chose to do ‘dry January’ was because it was a pre-existing premise, so I thought it would removed at least some of the questioning, but it didn’t. I still found myself explaining that the reason for my choice to not drink was because I wanted to see how it affected my mental health, which made for a very awkward set of conversations, because mental health still carries a very negative stigma which often makes people feel uncomfortable.

Another thing I realised in my month of sobriety was that the blue days didn’t disappear, as I was hoping they would. I hoped that not drinking would be the cure all to my depression, an easy fix if you will. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to depression. It doesn’t go away overnight, and is something that many people struggle with throughout their lives.

I did however realise that drinking when I was blue exasperated my negative thoughts and feelings, turning pale false spring skies into the depths of an inky ocean, the monster within it spiralling in my mind and tormenting me until my emotions leaked out of me like waves crashing against the shore line in the midst of a tempest, toppling unsuspecting (relation)ships and swallowing them whole, with no remnants left behind.

I’ve suspected this correlation for a while but never really addressed it, the fear of being ostracised from the social circles which I’m desperately trying to infiltrate due to my loneliness has blinded me somewhat from this reality. However, following an unexpected visit from a friend last week, a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam, and a string of sunshine days following I have been able to see more clearly, and I hope this clarity will allow me to tackle life’s obstacles head on, from the root. Disregarding the opinion of others, and the societal expectation which I am supposedly meant to adhere to. I live for me and only me, I care for the people around me and who are in my life, but ultimately I take centre stage in my reality. 


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/ 


 

Dry eyes, dry January

This year I celebrated the first New Year’s in at least five years where I haven’t cried. From ill timed breakups to breakdowns New Year’s Eve 2013 – 2017 have each been unhappy milestones in my history – especially the year where I got food poisoning and spent the countdown alone in a pitch black room clutching my stomach in pain, whilst my then boyfriend sat celebrating in the room next door.

However, this year despite a rocky past few months, which was catalysed into overdrive in the last few weeks of December due to work and personal events I was determined not to repeat history. I was determined not to cry or find a reason to cry as 2019 chimed in (accompanied by a remix of the Auld Lang Syne).

Firstly, I spent it with friends, my best friends, the ones who have been there through thick and thin and would probably die for me (and even take a rail replacement bus service on a Sunday during the holiday season) just to see me happy. We booked tickets in advance to a bar event on the other side of the river, arriving early to avoid disappointment and loading up on carbs, to avoid ringing in the New Years hugging a toilet bowl while your mascara mixes with tears, alternating between apologising and heaving your guts out.

Drinking sensibly and surrounded by the people I love, I allowed myself to enjoy the moment, something I had forgotten how to do; I danced, I laughed, I took way too many selfies, and for the first time in a long time I had fun. I felt happy, I felt content, I felt loved.

Prior to our New Year’s Eve outing I had made the decision to partake in ‘Dry January,’ and in order to stick to my first challenge of 2019 I stopped drinking at 23:45 on the 31st December 2018.

I’m 8 days into the challenge and determined to succeed at it. I have spoken openly about my depression in previous posts and as most will know alcohol is a depressant, so it’s only logical that a depressant will make a depressed mind worse. For years I have used alcohol to self medicate my depression when it was getting too much, it has never helped, the destruction of my physical and mental state visible through the blackout moments I can’t remember – a stream of unfiltered WhatsApp messages the next morning jerking my memory to realise it was bad whatever it was – self loathing and a disregard of my safety driving me to act dangerously and feed the black dog of depression inside.

Alcohol does not soothe the beast, it enables it to drag you further into the pit of despair, closing the exits as you go deeper into the rabbit hole of your mind, convincing you that you need it to cope with the world around you and blinding you to the beauty in it.

Although, I have had a turbulent relationship with alcohol, there are moment where I have enjoyed alcohol without blackout moments and feelings of regret and deep sadness the next morning – New Year’s Eve for example.

I’m not sure if I’ll drink again in February or there after, but I hope this challenge will teach me how to cope on my blue days without alcohol, to go to social events without feeling the need to drink because my anxiety is running laps around my rational thinking and entangling me in paranoia, and I hope it will give me the tools necessary to fight the beast my way.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/