10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … Sh*t

In 10 days my home country is set to depart from the European Union. As a British expat living and working in Belgium, this is a period of grave uncertainty for me.

Like most expats, both British and mainland European, living and working within the EU28, I’m still unsure about what the 29th of March will mean for me or them.

Will I be able to stay in my newly found second city? Or will I have to pack my bags on March 29th and bid farewell to the place I’ve called home for the last 6 months? Will the deadline for departure be extended until June, so I can live on borrowed time and in denial for a little longer? Or will we actually leave at all?

In short the will we won’t me of the situation is driving me a bit barmy, I hate the uncertainty. Not just this uncertainty, but all uncertainty. A somewhat ironic notion, as I love spontaneity.

A realisation I made a month ago, during an impromptu visit from a former colleague and friend, where a bottle of red wine on a Friday night resulted in a weekend trip to Amsterdam, the following day, because “Flixbus tickets are only €10!”

Following the 3 hours coach journey, we arrived in the Netherlands and I was washed over with a sense of calm. I often feel this way when I visit different cities and countries, despite the fact I often don’t speak/know the language, I’m usually alone, and my entire life in that moment is dependent on my mobile phone and EU data roaming.

As an anxiety sufferer who has struggled with my identity and finding clarity of thought throughout my life, arriving in an unknown place without understanding should probably feel me with dread, but it doesn’t. I didn’t realise this, until I saw that expected dread in another person.

I began to question why someone with my past life and current experiences, that could make up enough content for at least three series of a tabloid talk shows, was so calm with uprooting myself and placing myself in an unknown place without understanding.

After a day of thought the answer was simple: I inject cultivated chaos into my life which allows control over uncertainty, because I have chosen to place it there, and it is not something that is being done to me without my consent. If my world is going to be uncertain, I want to be the one to make it so. I want to find method in the madness and order in the chaos.

Unfortunately for me, and many people like me this isn’t always possible. Currently my external and internal being is uncertain, and I hate it.

I have a tri-factor of mental illnesses, which I attempt to subdue with a small yellow pill each night, but this doesn’t equate to the certainty that I’m not going to wake up screaming soaked in sweat because I had a flashback, because the chemicals of my subconscious decided to put on a private show of my nightmares and my memories … again.

These flashbacks of course stemming from the memories of uncertain things, which went against my individual autonomy and resulted in such a impactful mental blow it manifested as PTSD.

As someone whose internal being is so often against them, I often look to my external surroundings to find grounding in my life, but in this suspended moment that looks to be impossible.

My country is a shambles heading over a cliff’s edge into uncharted waters without a paddle or even a boat for that matter, and I find myself feeling hopeless and scrambling for something to hold onto in order to protect myself as my world descends further into madness. I don’t know what March 29th will bring, but I hope I can survive it.


If you’re experiencing similar mental health related 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/


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/ 


 

 

 

Blue

If you have known me for more than a month, it is likely you’ve seen me on a ‘blue day’ – a period of time (sometimes a day, sometimes longer) where my depression and anxiety are royally kicking my arse, and I find it near impossible to cope.

During this time my insecurities manifest to point where I am convinced that I am sub-human, everyone secretly hates me, and I’d be better off if I just removed myself from the equation of life.

I also become insecure about the fact that I’m feeling depressed and anxious again, and am probably irritating my nearest and dearest with my apparent inability to be a happy person, instead I’m stuck in a seemingly endless loop of sadness, despite my best efforts.

My blue days are not always obvious, in fact I hide them quite well. Over the past few years I have created a facade of being a happy, smiley, confident person, which makes them almost undetectable.

Most people know about my blue days because I talk about my blue days. This is a recent revelation, which came about due to my hope, that by admitting my vulnerabilities, insecurities and flaws they could not be used against me, as well as being tired of pretending to be okay.

My platonic loved ones often tell me how much I mean to them; I am told I am brave, strong, beautiful, funny, admirable, smart, loyal, kind, as well as many other positive attributes either based on my personality or my appearance, unfortunately if I’m having a blue day I do not see this.

On a blue day I am in fact incapable of seeing this. On a blue day my internal vision is clouded by every negative thought, feeling, and experience I have gone through, I try to filter it out but the filter usually breaks, and the blue hue rushes over me, leaving me stained and bruised.

It’s a constant battle between myself and my own brain and it’s exhausting – a bit like playing Street Fighter when you and your mate want to both play as Ryu, so you end up playing Ryu v Ryu, and inevitably end up yelling at the screen because you can’t differentiate which Ryu is your Ryu, and you know it would have been far easier if you just played as Ken v Ryu, or Sagat v Zangief, or something, but instead it’s you v you, so you’re stuck in a paradox, scrambling for a way out.

Unfortunately, I have also found that my blue days are a breaking point for a number of people, and has laid waste to numerous relationships in my life, mostly romantic.

I have struggled with romantic relationships since my adolescence, having been bullied for my appearance in both my teenage and adult life, and having been in a series of emotional and physically abusive relationships, it’s often difficult for me to view myself as desirable. Adding to this the times where I have been desired romantically have been marred with ignorance, racism, and fetishism, which has made me sceptical that I will every truly find someone who loves me for me.

I often hear that in order to find love, you must first love yourself – that you have to be more confident, more positive, more … just more, but why do we always need to be more than who we are? Why can’t we be insecure, why can’t we be vulnerable, why can’t we be flawed? Why can’t we openly be shaped by our past?

People are not perfect, far from it in fact, so why are we so hellbent on pretending that we are?


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/ 


 

Wobbles and blips

On Thursday, I had a bit of a wobble with my mental health, and with my journey to improve it.

Following a large work event, myself and my colleagues went to a bar to unwind and celebrate a job a well done, a combination of anxiety, sleep deprivation, and not really having eaten anything all day resulted in myself becoming blackout drunk. I woke up the next morning having lost my phone and parts of my memory.

I’m too embarrassed and ashamed to ask what I did in those blackout moments, but whatever it was I deeply regret.

Over the past few months, I have been actively trying to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, after connecting it to heightened feelings of depression and suicidal ideation, especially when I am already feeling low.

Despite alcohol acting as a temporary break from my reality, once its effect have worn off I am left in an emotional pit of despair, catapulted back into the reality I was attempting to escape. Even though I know this in hindsight, I still have blips which blind me from common sense, resulting in situations like Thursday.

When I drink in excess my mind sets itself to autopilot. I’m unaware of how much I’m consuming until it’s too late, and I lose control of my reality, with my mind slipping somewhere else entirely.

When I drink like this I’m often in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, such as crowded or unfamiliar places where I feel out of place, this causes me to feel on edge and triggers my anxiety. In these situations I use alcohol to drown out my anxious thoughts and fears, and also to fit in with those around me. If my peers are drinking, I often will too. It’s unhealthy but in that moment it’s a mechanism to cope.

I think its a fair assumption that most people have a desire to fit in and be a part of a community, to be liked, and to be wanted. In order to do this we follow the status quo of whatever situation we find ourselves in, so that we are not ostracised or rejected, this can sometimes lead us to do dangerous or harmful things at our own expense.

I am not holding other people accountable for this desire, I have my own free will and am in control of my actions, but although I know I shouldn’t feel the need to change myself to fit in with others, it is often easier to assimilate, particularly when you are already different.

Throughout my existence, I have often heard that it is cool to be weird, that normal is boring, and having a brain that isn’t wired quite right is just a fun quirk.  An example of this being the portrayal of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ in film and television, which often romanticises mental illness as a plot device for the protagonist to fulfil his role as the saviour.

In reality mental illness isn’t fun, quirky, or cool. It’s exhausting. I would love to have a normal brain; one that isn’t damaged in anyway, that’s chemically balanced, that isn’t deafeningly silent on some days, and an carnival of chaotic thought on others. I would love a brain that is calm and works in harmony.

However, I know that in my present state this isn’t a possible reality for me, there isn’t a quick fix that magics away my problems, some nerdy guy in a vintage band t-shirt isn’t going to swoop in and save me. If I’m going to survive I’m going to have to save myself.

I’m going to have to learn to control the wobbles and blips and to identify there causation, but I also need to accept that I’m human, and humans are flawed. Some days I’m going to have bad days, and that’s okay. I’m going to have wobbles and blips, and that’s okay. I’m not perfect, and that’s okay.

I will keep trying to identify my problems and also continue to work to overcome them. It’s a process of trial and error, but I hope that one day I will learn to control the darkness and the fragments in my mind.


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/ 


 

Finding my balance

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me, and offered their support. Your kind words and actions mean a lot to me and I appreciate them, and you.

When I’m struggling to cope with my depression I often forget that people genuinely care and love me. I convince myself that I am unlovable, unwanted, and unworthy of kindness from others. I focus on the love and the affection that is missing from my life, craving it so much it blinds me from the love and affection that surrounds me.

Depression is selfish in this way. It floods my mind with negative thoughts and convinces me I don’t know how to swim. It is often accompanied by anxiety, which can lead me to over analyse things, through a mindset of catastrophic thinking. I become afraid to tell anyone about the negative thoughts, out of fear of being judged or considered a burden. It convinces me that if I hate myself, then others must too.

This is however false; I am not a burden, and I am not widely hated or disliked. The support I have been shown over the past few weeks is evidence that I must be a half decent human being, if people are willing to lend a helping hand, and effectively fight to ensure that I stay in their lives, even on the bad days. I apologise for not recognising this sooner.

In the past I was afraid to speak openly and honestly about my mental health. I believed in the stigma that surrounds it, and I was scared that if people knew about the carnival inside my mind then they would disown me or use it to harm me in some way.

Some people have left my life when the topic of my mental health has come up, which is upsetting, but many people have also stayed.

Mental illness can be a difficult thing to cope with, especially when it is seemingly destroying someone you care about. When those some have left, I find myself wondering in moments following their departure how or why they have left, especially if they claimed to care about me. In hindsight, I can find reasoning in their decision. There is sadness for things lost but there is also appreciation and happiness for the things found.

In learning to control the carnival in my mind, I need to identify the good things in life, instead of dwelling on the negative and allowing myself to be blinded by it. In order to aid this need, I have started to keep a daily log which notes three things I have accomplished or enjoyed in my day.

I can’t change my past, and although there are things in it that I regret, I can learn to accept it as part of my history, and use it to shape a better future.


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/ 


 

Rumpelstiltskin

Last week I found myself at the edge point of a depressive episode.

I had received a message two weeks prior from my estranged father, who I hadn’t heard from in seven years. Instead of dealing with it rationally, I tried to drink it into submission, and bury it inside of me. This resulted in a bubbling of emotions, which eventually erupted in a cortisol fueled break in my stability. In summary: I cracked.

I rapidly spun into a depressive state, marred by the feelings of despair, loneliness, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. My previous post ‘Hold me like sand’ was written whilst in this state, it was a ‘cry for help’. I had fallen into a well of negative emotion, bought on by suppressing an unexpected occurrence, that had dragged up an armoury of feelings all targeted at my wellbeing.

I didn’t want this to occur but it was happening anyway. It was a cataclysm of external factors which didn’t fit neatly into my preexisting microclimates of things I knew how to cope with. I was out of my comfort zone.

I tried to ignore it but it was still there, and it was causing a rift of cognitive dissonance in my mind – I hadn’t spoken to my father in seven years, his neglect and failure to nurture me as a child caused me to show a great disdain towards him; when asked about him and I’d often respond with the rhetoric that ‘I don’t need him’ and ‘I’m better off without him in my life.’

However, this occurrence drudged up two questions from my childhood ‘why don’t they love me?’ and ‘why wasn’t I good enough?’

These questions are harboured in the foundations of who I am as a person, and are the likely causation of my attachment anxiety, which particularly manifest with romantic partners (something I hadn’t realised until a few days ago).

In the past I have reacted irrationally to the breakdown of a relationship, using targeted words and actions to cause the maximum amount of damage; because ‘I don’t need him’ and ‘I’m better off without him in my life.’ I feel rejected by that person so my brain uses its learned behaviour from my formative years in an attempt to protect itself.

I had thought if I continued to achieve in other areas of my life, than these questions would simply dissipate and cease to exist.

However, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, identifying it as a problem and tackling it does – a bit like Rumpelstiltskin, if you can identify something you can solve it.


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/