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/ 


 

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/ 


 

Travel, stereotypes, and being a coconut.

If you follow me on social media you may have seen that I spent the first 2 weeks of July country hopping in Eastern Europe and Germany.

Following the breakdown of a long term relationship in 2016, I subsequently was bitten by the travel bug, and have since visited 18 different cities (19 if I count the hour spent in the Eurostar terminal in Brussels).

In other words I embarked on a budget friendly, I’m a 20 something renting in London, and trying to maintain a full-time job, version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’

Travelling for me, like many things I do, is not only a way for me to broaden my view of the world – learning about new cultures, people, and experiences – it’s ultimately a way for me to understand myself and who I am, and how I fit within the society that surrounds me.

Figuring out who I am and what my place is in society is not a new concept to me, it is one I’ve struggled with my entire life.

I’ve previously written about growing up in British Indian household, and have touched upon aspects of my less than ideal childhood, from the stigma surrounding mental health in the South Asian community and also my relationship, or lack thereof, with my estranged father.

However, I’ve never really spoken openly and honestly about my experience growing up between two cultures, and how this has shaped the person I am today.

In an ideal world both my cultures would coexist peacefully, my Britishness and Indianness would no conflict in the slightest, and they most certainly wouldn’t lead to a conflict of existence in my inner being, more articulately describes as an identity crisis, which fuelled most of my childhood, adolescent, and early adulthood angst.

For me growing up with two cultures often meant choosing sides or being stuck in the middle, there was rarely a neutral point, I was either one of the other but never both.

Memories of my childhood visits to my father’s family in Yorkshire mainly consist of judgement and disappointment from my extended family over my apparent failure of not being Indian enough, and or appearing/behaving too ‘Western’. Visits often included questioning by various aunts and uncles over my ability to speak and understand Gujarati (my mother tongue) – with my elementary grasp of it often being considered a betrayal against my heritage, which was often accompanied by negative comments on my appearance and attire due to my choice of jeans and t-shirt over a ‘traditional’ salwar kameez.

On the other side of this, I spent a majority of my school years as a spectacle for my peers to examine, the curious minds of children never ceasing to amaze as well as the ignorance of some teachers – which I would grow to become amazed at and wished would cease. Each wrongly directed “namaste”, “I wish I had a tan like yours,” “when did you come over to England?” and “but where are you really from?” starkly reminding me that I was different and didn’t quite fit into their predetermined idea of what was British.

It didn’t take me long to realise that in the eyes of my family I was too ‘Western’ to be a proper Indian, and in the eyes of my British peers I was too brown to be a proper Brit. I was a ‘coconut’, stuck in the middle of constant reminders that I wasn’t enough of either of the two cultures I’d grown up in to be considered a legitimate part of them.

The separation I felt between the two cultures worsened following the breakdown of my parent’s marriage when I was 9. As I has opted to stay with my British-born mother as a opposed to my Indian-born father, I found myself assimilating with my British surroundings more and more, as our tie with the Indian community I had grown up knowing was severed – due to my mother’s apparent ‘unthinkable’ and subsequently ‘unforgivable’ act in their eyes (this act being my mother’s bravery to stand up to a man who was meant to love her but instead forced her to live in constant fear of him, through a myriad of psychological and physical abuse).

We were ostracised and isolated. I still had my melanin and my name, but my connection to that part of me was lost. As I had been shunned by my family and community I began acting in ways directly opposed to their values, I shortened my name to make it less Arabic sounding, I denounced my childhood faith becoming a kaffir, I started drinking alcohol with my British friends, and at 19 I got my first tattoo.

However, despite all these acts I was still a ‘coconut’. Instead of appearing British, I was just a non-traditional Indian girl who drunk and had tattoos, I still didn’t quite fit in.

The constant reminders of my otherness was apparent in multiple aspects of my life, from going to the shop to buy a pint of milk and explaining my entire family background to the shopkeeper out of politeness, to the backhanded compliments and fetishism that would paint my love life (my earliest encounter of this being at the age of 12, where I was informed by a boy in my year that none of the other boys would be as “open minded” as him as to like a brown girl).

To this day, dating and romance often comes with a caveat, usually accompanied by overthinking on my part. I spend a lot of the time wondering if someone genuinely likes me for who I am, or whether they hoping I fit a preconceived set of of stereotypical traits they think I have (which I will inevitably disappoint).

The constant exposure to phrases and sentences like “sari seduction”, “Asian persuasion”, “I’ve always had a thing for brown girls”, “I bet you make a great curry”, and a multitude of Kama Sutra references that I’m not even going to start on, have left me weary and skeptical about love (although I still remain a hopeless romantic despite this).

However, the more I travel, the more places I visit, the more people I meet, and the more cultures I am exposed to, the broader my view of the world has become.

I’ve come to realise that for every person who says I don’t belong, there is always another who says I do, and this has given me hope.

I wish I could say I’m no longer affected by the commentary which comes with being British Indian, but I would be lying.

Although, I am confident in referring to myself as both British and Indian despite growing up with the two cultures conflicting and I’ve learned that I don’t need acceptance from others to be myself, and I certainly do not need their permission.

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. 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/


I am …

On the wardrobe to the left of my bed I have a blu tacked sign that reads: 

‘I am strong,
I am smart,
I am kind,
I am beautiful,
I am worthy’

I wrote this sign in September 2017. It is slightly crumpled with a distinct fold down the centre, and is decorated with a felt tipped drawings – a lightning bolt, a heart, a butterfly and a flower.

I read it every morning when I wake, and every night before I fall asleep. By reciting these words I remember to never underestimate myself.

My strength has made me smart, my kindness has made me beautiful, and all four looped together have made me worthy. These attributes make me worthy of living; of safety; of love; of confidence and respect – resulting in the self-actualisation to love myself and be the best I can be.

The realisation and understanding of what it means to be worthy has helped me to find calm in the chaos. I have come to realise that the worth that I am entitled to is that of my own, and not dependent on the thoughts and feelings of others. I am the measure of my own value.

No one is entitled to anyone else. We are merely granted the privilege of intimacy, both platonic and romantic, through choice. The realisation that the relationships and bonds you have with others is decided by choice, is a humbling one. It not only teaches that you dictate your journey in life, but also that you are important and you matter. Each friendship, each partner, each loved one, is someone that chose you. You are not entitled to them but they have deemed you worthy simply because you are.

Even those relationships deemed ‘unconditional’ by societal standards hold some sort of condition. This is usually dictated by whether an individual is deemed trustworthy and loyal enough to be worthy of this level of intimacy. Although, it can often be clouded by the feeling of obligation and or fear, which can stem from internal insecurities, resulting in self worth being hidden.

You are not obligated to give yourself to anyone you do not deem worthy, the intimacy you grant is your choice – and vice versa.

Coming to this realisation and understanding has allowed me to love myself and appreciate the person that I am, as well as all those who I have the privilege to know and love.

I will continue to recite the words on that blu tacked sign. I will continue to be, because I am.