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I’M MOVING ON…

Recently, I had become weighed down by the routine and responsibilities of life. This sounds like the most stereotypical millennial thing to say but why should that stop me? It’s true. The transition into University life has been difficult; the constant pressing down of academia on any and all of my spare time and the looming dread of deadlines and exams have been a burden. At Uni there is a constant pressure to be many people all at the same time; the ambitious person with a five-year plan, the social butterfly, the student who juggles five extra-curriculars, the party animal and the person who can survive on four hours sleep a night and powers themselves on a constant stream of the bitterest black coffee. Why do we do this to ourselves? Honestly, I have no idea. We are so caught-up in trying to copy everyone else that we forget how to be ourselves and do what we came here to do; to develop as a person.

Cynicism seems to be the most popular currency at Uni. I know that the world can be a very dark place but constantly working to seek out and analyse those dark spaces can be exhausting. I feel like in my first term I forgot to give myself a relief from all the critical arguments and debates which I felt that I had to constantly keep pace with in my classes. My course demanded that I immerse myself completely in other people’s pain or become just generally distrustful of everyone and everything in the world. That was not sustainable or healthy.

Now I have made it my mission to remind myself to actually breathe. To not weigh myself down so heavily with the cynicism of academic theory and the pressure to be a hundred people all at once. For me, I do this by looking around me and seeing what is actually happening, taking in the moment rather than constantly burying myself in articles which are telling me that the world as we know it is coming to an end or that we are falling into our inevitable doom as a species. Instead, I am focusing on issues that I am passionate about and that I can have an actual effect on, especially the environment. Living a more sustainable and eco-friendly life makes me feel productive and like I am giving energy back into the world rather than parasitically sucking it out. I am organising things that I can look forward to and enjoy, rather than scheduling work experience placements to bulk-out my CV.

I am so privileged that I can take a breath and think about what is best for me and my health. I am not having to constantly struggle to provide a living for myself or work a 9-5 job and I should take advantage of that because who knows what my life will be like in the future and what it will demand of me? For now at least, positive choices are ones which work towards bettering my mental health rather than my grades. If that means taking a path which I was not initially planning on, then so be it…

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PROGRESS ISN’T STRAIGHT FORWARD

Progress isn’t always linear. There’s not always a finish line in sight. Things that we labour at in life don’t necessarily work-out mathematically, we can’t time ourselves and set concrete targets for when to hit our next milestones. Some things just have to take as long as they take which is probably why the intangible frustrates the human brain so much.

Neither my anxiety nor my depression can be measured. I can’t draw a pencil line on the wall to set my bench mark and then keep drawing lines until I flourish to the point of blooming five feet above my initial line. Wouldn’t that be quaint? Instead the journey with mental illness often seems a lonely and meandering one in which fog fills-up my mind so frequently that I become disorientated and wonder whether I actually have a final destination to keep moving forwards to. My illnesses aren’t visible, so cannot be judged on their reduction of prominence over time. Instead, they are confusing swathes of thoughts and feelings which ebb and flow in how much they cover and suffocate my mind and body. Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward then three steps back.

Today the pessimistic route presented itself as the easy one to take. Time has felt like sand slipping through my fingers recently and the hum of everyone moving past me, their progress whistling in my ears, only felt louder the more I pushed towards the positive route. Today and writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of having goals and a picture of where you want to be, not just in one or two year’s time, but tomorrow and the day after that. When the possibility of progress seems to be so distantly set in the faraway future, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue onwards on the right path. So, I set myself short-term goals, literally for the next day, like waking-up and telling myself that it will be a good day, getting to my seminar a couple of minutes early, smiling at whoever I sit next to in class, holding the door open for someone or managing to get myself to say even just a couple of words to whoever will be near me in my lecture hall (this is the most ambitious as my words dry-up in my mouth when I am around people). These things may seem silly and inconsequential but I need the reassurance that work can always be done on some aspect of my mental health and the route which will take me looping backwards to my darkest place isn’t the only one available to me.

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BIG MAGIC

Yesterday evening I finished reading ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert and I feel lucky to have read a book that connected so profoundly with my own state of mind, my own needs and my own perspective. It reminded of a fact which I have forgotten since studying at University; that creating art can be fun. University puts so much emphasis on masterpieces and the genius of those who make it into the literary canon that I have forgotten the nuances of creative experience. This book reminded me not to put so much pressure on myself, I do not have to write pieces for the express purpose of them being profound or important, instead I can create and write for the joy of it.

Here are five of the most important lessons that I took from ‘Big Magic’:

1. Do not be fearful of your art, be playful and curious with it

I think that most people who create anything go through periods where they are too scared to pick up a pen, a paint brush or whatever their implement of choice because they are worried about the outcome. Either they are scared of people laughing at what they have created, they fear that they will feel let down by their own efforts or that they will not find any inspiration to engage with. Firstly, Gilbert reminds us that the act of just focusing on creating art in whatever form is a human victory in itself and if someone laughs at you for it then you can feel sorry for them for completely missing the point of a creative existence. Secondly, being self-critical is okay in small doses but once in a while we should give ourselves a pat on the back for just exercising our creative energies whether we created something we loved or not because at least we are teaching ourselves and bettering our creativity during the process. Thirdly, inspiration comes in many forms, sometimes it is clear and easy to decipher, at other times it seems to hide from us and we have to tease out it’s content bit by bit through being open and determined to find that next creative spark.

2. Do not take yourself too seriously, your art will suffer if your ego takes control

“How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation”

Something about this quote from the book really resonated with me. When I am going through patches where I feel that my creativity has dried-up and I am just producing inane drivel I feel so frustrated and angry at creativity, I blame it for leaving me adrift. However, there is no point on sitting around aimlessly waiting for a lightning bolt of genius to hit you and gift you the bulk of a novel on a silver platter. Equally there is no point in refusing to create in these dry patches because you believe that you have too much self-respect to create something anything less than greatness – that is your ego talking. Keep creating just for the sheer hell of it, this is your life and if you feel a calling to live your life creatively then you have to ride the rough with the smooth and keep exercising those creative energies whilst keeping the faith that the incomparable feeling of inspiration will visit you again when both you and it are ready.

3. You do not have to go through pain or misery to produce good and profound art

Creating should be fun, however this is never a point which is emphasised within the arts. Instead, I have been lectured numerous times on the individual pains which the great writers went through to write their famous works. It is almost like we are taught that creating has to be a form of purgatory, we cannot enjoy it, instead it must be torture and it has to be agony to produce whatever it is that we want to. There is a myth that any profound art must come from a place of darkness where a person has struggled against hatred of the creative process to bring their idea into reality. I know that creativity can sometimes be frustrating but why can’t it also be fun? Why can’t I be playful with my inspiration and ideas rather than have to permanently suffer because of them? 

4. The Earth will not stop spinning if your creation is not perfect

“while it’s definitely true that failure and criticism will bruise my precious ego, the fate of nations does not depend on my precious ego.”

Sometimes we can be paralysed by the fear that what we have created is not good enough and so we will do nothing with it. I have fallen into this trap many times, the notion that if I am not writing with the intention of producing a master piece or something profound and original then I shouldn’t write at all. However, if I take a step back I can see how ridiculous this is! Who the hell has the authority to decide what a masterpiece is anyway? I can create because I love to and to hell with anyone who says that the imperfections in my writing make it stupid and pointless, the imperfections they see in my writing are probably what makes it distinct and mine anyway. Plus, nothing dramatic is going to happen if I produce something which is nearer the crappy end of the scale rather than the genius end. Sure, it will be disappointing and I will be sad about it but then the world goes on and I will take what I need to from that experience and move on because no big seismic shift will occur in the world because I produced a story with blatant plot holes and grammatical errors.

5. Creativity should be cherished

“I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly. Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment – not entirely human in its origins.”

As you can see from the quote, Gilbert talks and thinks about creativity in a reverential way. She speaks about it like it is a force which is outside of our understanding, unpredictable and totally, divinely, beautiful. I believe this too. I cannot explain creativity or inspiration, its ebbs and its flows. Sometimes it shines its full grace on me and I feel completely immersed in the magical feeling of imagination, purpose and art. Other times its a little trickier to place and I have to pursue inspiration with a renewed sense of determination. Either way, creativity is a hard idea to pinpoint precisely because of its unknown nature. People who live a creative life place their trust and faith in a force which can seem like it is playing them at times; teasing them with an idea just outside of their grasp. However, the way creativity can light-up our lives and bring us out of the usual routine of things surely means that it should be cherished, respected and revered.

 

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GRATITUDE…

This post is largely just going to be about me – probably quite a boring topic for others to read about! Although, I’m just writing this because I feel that it is really relevant to my mental health journey and I want to chronicle the change in my perspective over time. So, feel free to instantly click-off if you are reading this, genuinely I won’t blame you!

This week has been a pretty tough one for me; from going back to Uni, to my doctors’ appointment taking an unexpected turn to suffering the effects of my own disorganisation. In the past I would have taken this week as a complete write-off and lamented the different things which did not go as well as they could have. Doing this in the past has constantly made me feel like a failure, like there’s no hope and like there is no point in trying at life because tough things appear at every turn. However, this time I am making the conscious decision to appreciate the difficulty in life, not love it but learn to like it for everything it teaches me, the new paths it takes me on and the way it challenges me to approach things better next time. Also, the difficult parts of life do not inherently have to overshadow the positive bits, they are not superior or deserving of more attention and positivity certainly should not be cast aside so that negativity can hog the limelight. So, this week I am writing a gratitude list about the positive things that have happened this week that I am grateful for:

  • My mum packed lots of chocolate bars in my bag for my return to uni
  • My brother landed safely back from his time in Switzerland
  • I was looked after so well by my GP and nurse on Thursday who went above and beyond to help me
  • I got an unexpected invitation
  • I started an inspirational book called ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • I saw a tiny wild bunny on my way to a seminar
  • I tasted the most delicious flapjack that I have ever had (and I have had a lot of flapjacks over the years!)

These things may seem really small and random but when each of these events appeared in my life they made my heart smile a little broader and me more resolute to radiate positivity into other people’s lives so that they could feel that special feeling too, if only for a moment.

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5 TIPS FOR THE SLEEP DEPRIVED…

I am one of those people who really struggle with getting enough sleep. Every night, I lay in bed for hours waiting to fall asleep, I wake-up multiple times, toss and turn and then I wake-up in the morning feeling the opposite of refreshed. As with lots of people, this problem becomes a lot worse when high levels of stress are thrown into the mix as I cannot stop my mind from buzzing during the night and jumping from problem to problem which I feel like I have to fix right there and then, even if the situation is out of my control. My University exams are quickly approaching and I approach this period with a sense of dread that I will be a walking zombie throughout it because I will only manage to grab a few hours of sleep here and there. So here are five tips which I have been given along the way during my trials and tribulations with poor sleep which I have found really help if I actively discipline myself to act upon them rather than reverting to my own bad habits…

1) Do not go to bed earlier than you usually would

This may seem counter-intuitive because your mind tells you that if you are going through a period in which you are not sleeping well then you should go to bed an hour or two early to counteract your lost sleep. However, often your body-clock will not agree. Your body gets used to the time that you usually go to bed and settle down for the night and so even if you feel that you are tired enough to go to sleep your body may well resist you. Then you might start a snowballing feeling of frustration as you toss and turn in bed for longer than necessary and get yourself annoyed rather than relaxed which is obviously what you need to drop-off during the night.

2) Read for a bit

When you get into bed, don’t instantly try to fall asleep, give your body and mind time to relax and switch-off instead. Personally, I find reading very therapeutic especially if I am reading from a physical book rather than a device like a kindle. You do not have to work your way through masses of pages or delve into a heavy-going classical literary masterpiece, this shouldn’t feel like school homework or a burden in your evening. Instead, pick a book you find genuinely interesting and hopefully you will find yourself getting so lost in the words of the book that anything weighing your mind down will disappear.

3) Jot down a list of your worries

If stress is what is restricting your sleep then roughly jot down a list of bullet points about whatever is occupying your mind. Any thoughts that occur to you, just scribble them down and do not worry about writing in flowing prose or making grammatical sense, this is purely an exercise to relieve your mind of the issues which are bouncing around inside it, demanding your immediate attention and distracting you from falling asleep. Once you have written them down make a conscious decision to leave the issues until the morning and give your brain the chance to refuel and recharge during the night so that you can tackle them the next day.

4) Do yoga or stretch of an evening

Especially if you spend your days huddled over a desk or scrunched up around your laptop screen, your body develops a lot of tension during the day which can be another thing which weighs your mind down as well as making you feel uncomfortable. So, of an evening try to do a few stretches or, if you’re into yoga, roll out your mat and get to doing a quick twenty minutes of yoga to relieve your muscles of their tightness. Whilst you are doing this, focus on your breathing so that you give your mind a break from being occupied by stressful thoughts. This is also beneficial because it will boost your sense of accomplishment of what you have managed to do during your day if you can incorporate an exercise such as stretching or yoga which are both good for your wellbeing.

5) Do not clock check

I am awful at taking my own advice on this one! When I am lying bed waiting to fall asleep, my head pops up every ten minutes or so to check the time and I mentally calculate how much sleep I am losing and how long it is until I have to get-up in the morning. It is blatantly obvious that this is unhelpful. Constantly looking around at your clock is only going to build a sense of frustration and annoyance in you, as well as anxiety about the sleep you’re missing out on. In the end, checking the clock only makes you ruminate harder on your sleep problems which has the adverse effect of making them worse.

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MY HEROES!

I don’t know where I would be without my two dogs, in fact I don’t even want to think about the possibilities. Some people don’t understand the bond or the relationship which flows between pets and their owners but personally I call my dogs my babies and my best friends.

Their trust and loyalty have opened up so many new doors for me. Before they came into my life, leaving the house could be an insurmountable task for me and so I would live day by day feeling trapped in my house. However, their eagerness to go outside and their boundless enthusiasm for the tiniest details on every walk has given me a new perspective on the outside world. Whilst I still think twice about leaving the house and panic about the process, when I have my dogs with me I can see our walks through their eyes as they appreciate every flower, smell and other animal that they go past. The way their eyes light up as we pass the front door gives me that extra push to confront my worries and anxieties for them.

I’ve always struggled to make friends and communicate the way I would want to with people but even when I feel at my most low about my lack of friends, my dogs can lift my spirit. When I first see them in the morning they bound up to me, tails wagging and rub-up against my legs, telling me that their love is unconditional. Whilst I find it difficult to trust people, I know that I can completely trust my dogs. They can sense when I am anxious or feeling vulnerable or sad and they never shy away from these emotions like humans can do, instead they do their best to protect me from any harm or bring me one of their favourite toys!

They have taught me to appreciate the little things, to put others before myself, to see the  world as full of possibilities rather than threats, to not languish in a bad mood when I could be playing with them instead and to have confidence in myself.

 

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I AM NOT BROKEN!

As I approach my 19th birthday, I’m beginning to realise the absurdity of the amount of labels people have and continue to pile on me. Whether people know me well on a personal level or not, once they get a glimpse of my history and the classifications of mental health problems which come along with it, they make-up their minds about me; I’m ‘damaged goods’. Either I am someone to be wary of in case they get swallowed into the dark, depressive rabbit hole I have been known to disappear down during portions of my life or I am someone they feel that they have to fix. However, what is glaringly obvious to me is that I am not broken!

I am going to be 19 soon, I have suffered and I have isolated myself from the world for vast patches of my existence but what is more important is that I have recognised my mistakes, I have had various rounds of therapy to learn about my brain (note: not to fix my brain) and I have come out the other side more determined to move on from my past and grow. Labels do not have a place in my life at this age. I am young and I am exploring the offerings of the world rather than cementing my place as one thing or another within it.

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When people view me as ‘damaged goods’, they assume that I must be ashamed of my past or that it must have had a permanent negative impact on me and my character. What I would like to tell people is that I am a better person for what I have been through, if I didn’t have to struggle with the weight of mental health issues, I would not have learnt half of the valuable life lessons that I have gathered and continue to gather along my journey. The world has various ways of teaching us things, of pushing each of us to our limits and stretching our personal growth which comes to all of us in different forms. Whatever the world throws at us, we have the power to accept it rather than let it drag us down forever more.

Millions of people across the world have been through things vastly worse than what I have and for them I can only try to give my most powerfully positive affirmations. However, my being a more positive presence in the world can only be facilitated by laughing at the idea that I am ‘damaged goods’ and appreciating all of the negativity I continue to go through for all of the gifts I know it has given me.

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5 WAYS TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SPRING

Here in the UK we are experiencing the initial couple of weeks of Spring after the snow which covered us in March. So, here are five ways to make the most of this lovely season…

1) Keep a look-out for beautiful spring flowers
Spring flowers are my favourite of any season. The vibrant colours of daffodils, tulips and crocuses light up my day and give me a renewed sense of appreciation for my surroundings. I feel that Spring is when nature looks at its most hopeful, as new growth starts to flourish and what looked barren a few weeks ago suddenly looks bountiful and promising. So, as you are going about your days, try to keep an eye open for the variety of colours and shapes which Spring flowers offer and hopefully the sight of them will offer a bit more colour and light to your day!

2) Eat your breakfast outside
This one may sound odd but if you have a patio, garden or balcony eating in the glow of the sunshine can be a heartening start to your day and give you a brief time for reflection and appreciation before the bustle of daily life kicks-off. This may be especially appealing if you work in an office where you feel restricted from fresh air and the sun 

blog for spring 2during the bulk of the day.

3) Take advantage of the day being lighter for longer and go for a walk after work or school
During the winter it may seem like there are not enough hours in the day to do everything you want to and make the most of your time. However, the Spring offers a great opportunity to maximise your daily activity, adding to your sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Also, if you’re not great in the heat (like me), Springtime is perfect because the temperature remains at a happy medium.

4) Visit a farmer’s market
The inspiration of Spring and the returning blue skies and sunshine makes me more motivated to cook which feels especially good when you work with fresh produce from a farmer’s market. Getting your food this way can make you want to try making new meals when you see all of the offerings in front of you rather than buying your usual from the grocery store. Buying direct from farmers also has the added bonus of supporting farmers rather than when you buy food from supermarkets which does not offer farms as much profit.

5) Make plans for your summer
Spring gives us a renewed sense of anticipation for the summer as we remember the feeling of the sun on our skin and the gratification of more sunlight hours, so this is the perfect time to get started on your preparations for summer. This way you can look forward to all the activities you have planned in the near future and remind yourself of these whenever you are feeling low or demotivated.

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MY RELATIONSHIP WITH FITNESS AND EXERCISE

Recently, I have made a conscious effort to change my perspective on what role fitness and exercise should play in my life and what mental approach I should take to maintaining my health.

In the past, I have completely avoided doing any exercise. At school, I found it endlessly embarrassing to run around and play sports in front of the other kids, many of whom would take advantage of any opportunity they had to poke fun at me and chip away at my fragile confidence. Also, I had little to no self-discipline at the time and if a sport did not come naturally to me, I would quickly give-up and actively try not to participate by hanging around the back of the court or hiding behind the more proficient kids.

However, recently an epiphany and it hit me that I am 18 and yet I get out of breath going up a flight of stairs. It’s a sad situation which makes me ashamed of my current state and eats away even further at my self-confidence. So, a couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to make myself proud for once and take control of my health-related situation. For years people have told me that exercising could have a positive impact on my mental health, from reducing my anxiety to instilling me with more energy. So, I have taken-up yoga.

For me, yoga is the perfect form of exercise. I can set realistic goals for myself, attend small classes locally and, if I feel too anxious to leave the house on a certain day, then I can practice by myself at home. I’m not pressurising myself to stick to a cardio-heavy exercise routine which I would find intimidating and disheartening because of my present bodily state. Instead, through yoga I am reconditioning my body, strengthening myself and using it as an outlet through which I can feel calm and peaceful.

I am building towards feeling more confident in my body by taking control over what form it takes and strengthening my body rather than focusing on my weight or comparing myself to others who thrive in the gym and can run easily around the streets. In the past, I have shrunk from people who spoke a lot about fitness or exercise because of my personal shame but I would honestly plead with anyone who is struggling with either their fitness or confidence to take-up a manageable routine which takes them on a gradual conditioning journey rather than pushing themselves to their natural limits.

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10 QUOTES FOR SELF BELIEF

1.“The essence of independence has been to think and act according to standards from within, not without.” – Aleister Crowley

2. “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau

3. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

5. “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” – Vincent Van Gogh

6.“There is darkness in light, there is pain in joy, and there are thorns on the rose.” – Cate Tiernan

7. “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, story tellers and lovers of all kind.” – the Dalai Lama

8. “Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost

9. “Forever is composed of nows.” – Emily Dickinson

10. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” – Sylvia Plath

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SCARS ON MY BRAIN…

Who am I?
The mirage I see in the mirror
Or the crayon drawing of an oversized child?
A twisted, morbid, relic
The mask of chaotic innocence.

Should I be ashamed, afraid,
Confused, depressed or scared?
Love is not written on my arms,
Assurance is not absorbed in my veins
And my heart doesn’t pump,
Not like I remember it used to.

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STRIKE!

The breakthrough moment in my first year of Uni has been my lecturers striking.

Every one of my tutors are on strike at the moment and they will be for quite a long time to come. Whilst everyone else has been raging about it, whatever their opinion on the industrial action itself, I have had something close to an epiphany! For the first time in this whole academic year I have been proactive in my own studying, I have taken the initiative and decided to do all of the suggested reading because finally I feel like this degree is my responsibility, it is up to me whether I am going to be bothered or not to make a go of this.

Previously when I have been at Uni, I have done the bare minimum of work, just enough to scrape past and have a vague understanding of the syllabus. And it has been miserable. I have hated being the half-arsed student in the corner of the seminar room who is pretending to be aloof and above the whole situation when really the depression inside me was eating me up from the inside out. Finally I have instigated an actual interest in the work I am doing. I purposely start each day with the intention of finding something positive in the work I am doing, making the best of things even when a certain week’s topic may not be to my liking.

This is all down to the strike. Being left on my own to teach myself everything has been a revelation. Without the stress of having to go to seminars and the anxiety about sitting in a lecture hall, I have been able to breathe freely again and engage with my education because I choose to, not because otherwise I might be asked a question in my seminar and be completely stumped for the answer.

There has been a lot of anger and frustration surrounding this strike. Many students, whilst supporting the industrial action, have been annoyed that they are missing out on an educational experience that they have paid dearly for. However, for me, this strike has been my saving grace and I only hope that I can keep-up the momentum…

 

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DIARY #2 – SELF DOUBT

Today, I find myself staring at my blank computer screen, the brilliant white of a draft blog post staring blatantly back at me. And I feel intimidated. What I am looking at doesn’t seem to be a computer screen anymore, it’s taken on it’s own lease of life, masquerading as the many faces of people I dearly wish will never find this indescribably small corner of the internet that I inhabit. All of these faces leer at me, telling me that my writing isn’t good enough, that everything I say is cliched and that I should be embarrassed to spend my time pouring out these immature words. So, I feel afraid to write and my hands keep hovering hesitantly over my keyboard, frozen in a panic about whether or not they can trust my mind to give them good enough words to type out.

I’ll be honest, most of these faces take the appearance of people who have taught me over the years. People who have seemed to me to be impossibly clever, even scarily so as I remember their Oxbridge certificates taking pride of place on their walls, almost as if to prove my own inadequacy to me. Their faces contort into amused sneers in my mind’s eye as they look at me with the knowledge that what I write is absolute drivel that could never impress anyone. The way they look at me feels paralysing.

I don’t whether the force of their intimidation in my head is so strong because I got my first semester University results on Friday. The crude grading of my supposed intelligence and understanding has always felt frightening to me, as if the sum of my parts is presented on that results page in a disappointingly low percentage which classifies me as simply average. Whatever the mark, results are always a distinct bash to my confidence because it reminds me of how my future is in the hands of other people who are undoubtedly intellectually superior to me and probably marked my papers thinking how basic my work was. The most I can do is stick a figurative middle finger up at these pretend critiques which my mind has twisted out of the faint shadows of people I either used to know or barely know at all and continue to write in spite of the faces which drift across my consciousness.

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DIARY ENTRY #1 – APATHY…

A feeling of emptiness rules my life.

After going back to Uni, I’ve let the long train journeys that pass me back and forth as I switch between the careful gaze of my parents and the complete anonymity of University life, pass me slowly by. As these two hour long journeys drag painfully across my vision, they serve as a reminder that I am never heading towards where I want to be. Regardless of my destination, I never feel at home, I never feel satisfied. I trawl through life with a dissatisfied scowl on my face, bitter and resentful at how I have ended-up in this trap, resembling a pendulum swinging from one end of the country to the other. Yet, I have no idea how to resolve the situation…what is the cure, the solution that I am waiting for?

When I sit staring at the four walls of my room, I simply feel a gaping hollowness inside. This sounds dramatic and cliched but I have never felt anything so desperate and crushing before. It feels like my chest is constantly in danger of ripping open and the guttural scream that I suppress inside of me will finally unleash it’s wild frustration. The problem is, I don’t know how I will ever put myself back together if I let these emotions tear out of me.

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BACK TO FEAR…

I’m back at Uni and it feels like a completely alien space to me. After a six week break for Christmas and the exam period, it started to feel like that first semester had just been a bad dream, something that I had now woken-up from. I let myself fantasise about a different life, one where I didn’t feel trapped in a course which I mistakenly chose on a whim when I was mentally unwell. I thought about the possibilities of feeling ‘normal’, not like the outcast I have made myself at Uni. My creativity began to flow through my veins again and the unexpected pleasure of poetry popped back into my life again after years of absence.

Yet, I then found myself in my dad’s freezing cold car making the journey back to that dreaded place. Back to my room in halls where I had holed myself up a couple of months previously and torn my body apart. The walls of my room hold the memories of depression naps in the middle of the day in which I fell into impossibly deep sleeps because I felt so exhausted with the effort of getting up, washing myself and eating. Now, I have to face these memories again, shrink myself back down to the size I was when I was drained and hopeless wishing for a way out of education finally and desperate for a way to feel adequate again – not the sum of my grades and tutors’ comments.

Onwards I go into this new semester, scared of what is lurking around the corner for me and hoping that one day the sunlight will filter into my room and rather than feel ashamed of it’s touch, I will feel hopeful instead.

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NO HOME…

‘I want to go home’
Is the constant refrain
I repeat in unfamiliar terrain.
When I’m about to hyperventilate
Because there’s no space in my chest
For my stress to digest,
I look to the floor
And think of being trapped
In that same green room
Where at least I have control.

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STRANGLED…

Vocalising is the stumbling block
Which I am persistently made to re-visit.
My vocal chords are like knotted wires,
Entangling themselves in sheer panic
And choking my words.
I am dumbstruck, dumbfounded,
Suspended in time
By the immobility of my lips
And the vacuum they leave
While pairs of eyes-bewildered-
Ogle at me from perfectly formed faces.

To the world, it appears,
I must have no thoughts or opinions
As behind my face lies an airy space
From which no substance can be emitted.
But give me a pen
And a room of my own,
Then, again, my eyes will see
And I will awake from a dormant sleep.
The footfall of ink on paper
Will give me the energy to connect
With the heart I too often forget.

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DON’T GASP FOR AIR…

Sometimes it feels like sinking,
Like life is too heavy –
Denser than what the world can bear.

The tears that well-up in my eyes
Catch the back of my throat;
I can’t breathe.
I’m drowning.
I am enveloped in a cold embrace,
Eroded by salt, adding insult
To the injury of being torn apart
By waves that hit me from all sides.

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PURPOSE…

Purpose is a spineless word,
An excuse for existence
Without any merit or substance,
A carrot dangled in front of noses
To keep them pleading until the end.

Purpose can be elusive, mysterious,
Mixing itself with necessity and desperation,
A trickster keeping us running
Like clockwork; pained, rhythmic, undeviating,
For some cruelty, for some a blessing.

Purpose is practical and pragmatic,
Rarely whimsical or creative,
Too conformist to reach those people
Who dream of radical upsets
Or the hope of ink on a page.

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WILD IMAGININGS…

Routes are packed
With the absence of people
And abandoned woodland dens,
Still holding those insistent conversations,
The budding minds, pulled at the roots
Of bluebells and stared
Straight into the world’s eye
Which glowed down at them
Through gaps in the leaves.

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SCREAMING AT THIN AIR…

If I screamed
Would you even hear?
I may waste the air,
Lying restlessly in my lungs,
On you, pleading,
With every word
Scraped from my mouth,
Falling on deaf ears
That do not want to listen.

I’m convinced;
If I rearrange the words,
Form them into a pleasant landscape,
Then you will have to take notice.
Surely you cannot ignore
What is battering at your head
Insistently, for days on end?

If I take pains
To explain it perfectly,
Will you then turn your head,
Look into my eyes
And care?
Or will you tilt your head to the ceiling,
Bold and brash in your ignorance,
And hope you will never understand
The despair that I am feeling?

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HAUNTED HOUSE…

Gentle, insistent bleeps,
I flinch.
Hinges groan and creak,
My muscles tense.

This house is so full,
A time capsule of lives;
Moments lived and breathed,
Now immortalised and drifting away,
Garments of children
Long since gone
And changed from all recognition,
Shelves littered with ornaments
And old trophies mocking their winners.

We are tortured and plagued
By the memories which eye us
Eerily from every shelf and cupboard,
Poisoning the stifling air
Until a heavy hand comes down,
Pounds on stiff leather.
Occupants jump, hearts leap
The silence breaks – without release.

Those framed memories,
They take on a new sheen.
Frozen smiles now too stretched,
Casually slung arms;
Questionably stiff, formal, posed.
The happy group?
Now, almost comical,
Pale, fragile and holding their breaths,
Figures, now abandoned,
Suspended in time
Longing to be forgotten.

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OUT OF CONTROL

Thousands of characters
Rushing around my head,
All bouncing and waving-
Manically.
A little too much for me to take.

They punctuate those rare moments,
Where silence fills the spaces
In the vacant seconds of a day.
They pinch and prod me,
Appearing more real than reality.
They need me so that they can live,
So they can breathe,
So they can stretch and feel.
Without me, my characters have no life,
They wander and stumble in the dark
Frantic like a lost toddler;
Vulnerable.

They die in the dark,
So sleep is not an option.
They need the colour
Require vivid imagination,
Must have the control of my body
Down to my fingertips
Where I reach for a pen.

I watch them restlessly,
I’m worried, waiting for the day
When they wander off
Sick of not being fulfilled,
Tired that their fiction isn’t tangible,
Exasperated at my failure to listen.

My characters wander around,
Sometimes stomping,
Sometimes skipping,
Always around the perimeters,
Threatening my overspilling head.
I need them to survive.
They are my lifeline, my escape.
My only fact is my fiction.

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CONCERT MEMORIES

My lungs are burning,
A fierce, fiery pain
Stops me from thoughtless breathing.
A sharp ache rattles my chest
As I heave, a heavy reluctant breath.

My legs; stiff and cramping,
Cry out for each and every step,
As I trudge wearily away from my bed.

My throat rasps; uncomfortable,
Every word grating on sandpaper,
Each vowel terse and spiteful,
Scratches and pokes it’s way to my mouth.

But these are my reminders,
Short-term souvenirs, feeding me
Memories of the night before,
When I let go,
Unshackled my battered, caged heart
And sung and screamed;
A whole other person taking over me,
A voice I hadn’t heard for years
Escaping me,
The girl of my childhood
Bouncing with joy,
Not hiding or second guessing,
But plainly professing,
My love for my best friend next to me
And the other fans of my favourite band,
Who poured their hearts out,
Vulnerable in an arena of thousands,
Connected by our emotion
Shared for songs that mean something,
To this family of our own making.

 

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POISONOUS POPULARITY

It is a cult of your own making,
A stricken frenzy led by fascination,
A mistake; I think not,
But a world of your own careful construction,
Walls built high, barricaded with locks,
A censored world flourishing in dysfunction,
Yours is a paradise paying for destruction.

Death by criticism and isolation,
A gift given as your prejudiced consolation,
Your heels click neatly as they pound the floor,
With frenzied opportunists shouting for more
And your pseudo-interest in them giving you a parasitic tour.

The stage is set – a sea of red,
People salivating for the cruel words you said,
Your mouth mimes the action of knowing intelligence
Whilst a vicious dictator takes over instead,
Casting your spell over the living dead.

Faces recoil in all the other places,
Nooks and crannies – the liberal spaces,
Tears of anger linger in their facial creases,
But hearts of resolve solidify behind love-torn faces,
More powerful than the dirty money
Lying in your corporate briefcases.

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I’M SORRY

My life is your death,
I can see it pulling at the corner of your eyes,
Depressing your fake, stretched smile,
Straining your worry-scarred forehead.

You say this is what it is;
The common parental sacrifice,
A life of escalating heart beats
And sleepless nights of fretting,
I can feel myself sucking the life out of you.

The dreams you had for me:
Thrown away, dirtied and destroyed,
Replaced by flimsy, naive whims.

As I break under reality’s pressure,
I make you crumble with me.

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I’M IMPLODING (POEM)

In the least I am the rainbow coloured contradiction,
I’m filled to the brim with quiet,
I’m exploding with ‘that’s okay’,
I’m bursting into flames with a submissive smile,
I’m fizzing with subtlety and obedience,
I could kill you with kindness;
But don’t worry, I’ll give you a hug instead.

You can smother me all you want with your loud,
But don’t you know?
I’m simmering with silence
But I’m soaring with the voice inside my head.

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MY EXPERIENCE OF CBT…

I had a 12 session course of CBT in 2016 on the NHS when I was 16.

For those who don’t know, CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it aims to change the way you think and behave by talking through situations which you find triggering. Personally, my course of CBT focused on my anxiety because it was thought that if this was tackled and I could gain more independence, such as travelling on my own and such, then this may decrease my experience of depression and OCD because it would give me more freedom and lessen my tendency to worry about everything.

This is a difficult topic to talk about for me because I don’t believe that I got everything I could of out of my therapy experience. Whilst I seemed to make progress during my course of treatment, as soon as the treatment stopped after the 12th session I regressed back to my old ways because there was no-one working with me to maintain my progress, therefore there was nobody for me to disappoint with my inaction and hibernation in my house.

I have always found talking therapies a tricky experience anyway because part of my anxiety centres around talking and explaining myself in front of others. Therefore, it seems ironic that, in order to reduce my anxiety in the long-term, I have to put myself through hours of anxiety provoking treatment and talk about my deepest thoughts and feelings with a complete stranger! My fear of judgement and my embarrassment about my own wild thought patterns meant that I found it really hard to properly open-up to my therapist.

A lot of what my therapist told me was a repetition of the familiar refrain that my thoughts are illogical and not reasonable. When I told her about my feelings of impending danger whenever I left the house, she would reason ‘but there is only a very small likelihood of you coming to any danger by just leaving your house – it’s not rational to think that some crisis is going to descend on you when there are so many other people walking the streets right now who aren’t facing any danger at all’.

Every single session she would bring me back to the fact that my fears and anxieties were irrational, therefore there was no point in focusing on them and letting them rule my life. The problem with this was that I already knew that my thoughts were irrational. I know that my fear of leaving the house is neither plausible nor founded on any factual basis. Everyday I can see people walking outside my window without a care in the world or any threat of doom hanging over them. I wasn’t blind or stupid. The whole reason I wanted therapy was to find out why my life was so dominated by illogical thinking, why I am the way I am, not to just be told that my thoughts don’t make any sense. Instead, my therapist just continued telling me that my thoughts weren’t rational (as if this were a revelation) rather than giving me any practical advice to navigate my way around them.

So, for me, CBT didn’t offer me a route of a solution to my problems, if anything it just left me feeling more lost than beforehand. I felt like a failure for not leaving my course of therapy having been ‘cured’ and transformed into a carefree individual. The disappointment of my therapist who told me that I wasn’t making enough progress was, and still is, a heavy presence in my mind, telling me that my struggles are my own fault and that I am a lost cause.

I have no doubt that CBT works for lots and lots of people and it was definitely something worth trying because at least now I can say that I have tried it and I can cross it off my list of possibilities. It’s just a shame that it didn’t have the effect on me that I was hoping it would.

 

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I WAS BULLIED…

For years I have distanced myself from people I used to be friends with.

Since the experience of moving schools, being bullied and isolated in this new setting and falling under the weight of mental health problems which I could neither appreciate or understand at this point, I have made a conscious effort to keep my distance from people, including people I have bonded with in the past. I have gotten used to the idea that I can only be a disappointment to people because the accusations and opinions of my past bullies still burn at the forefront of my mind, demanding to be heard even all of these years later. Their words, the way they looked at me, the smirks they gave their friends when I entered the room and the sarcastic comments on social media that I would only hear about after they had trickled through the grapevine of the rest of the year group still remind me in every social interaction that I am inadequate, the weirdo, the outsider that no-one could possibly like.

When I look in the mirror and see my face scourged with acne scars I remember the boy who appeared next to me in the lunch line, laughed and told me that I should wash my face – it would stop me looking so weird he said. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a train window, I am transported back to the time when the boy who sat next to me in Biology burst out laughing when he saw my glasses for the first time and encouraged his friends to all have a good gawp at me, right there in the middle of the lesson.

When I am walking between lectures at Uni, I suddenly speed-up and look around fervently as my mind is cast back to the time when I was chased across the school courtyard by a group of boys who were laughing and shouting at me about how ugly I was. When I’m in my dorm room at Uni, I double check that I have locked the door before I can properly relax because my chest tightens when I recall the numerous times a group of boys burst through the closed door of the music room I was in alone and refused to leave, taunting me incessantly, knowing that I had no-one there to defend me and they could say and do whatever they wanted without any teachers in earshot.

I still remember the faces and names of these bullies, clear as day. I remember the viciously appeased look in their eyes which appeared once they knew that they had hit a nerve in me. I remember the aggression in their voices and movements as they collaborated to gather round me, knowing that I hated to be touched by anyone, let alone them. I remember the way they gave me a long studious look up and down when I entered the gym in my PE kit, making every part of my exposed skin crawl and my stomach squirm, knowing how inevitably disgusting I must look.

All of these memories are stored in a fire-proof box in my mind which no amount of talking therapy can penetrate. Any friends that I used to have, I push away, keeping texts to a minimum and conjuring a myriad of excuses as to why I can’t meet-up with them. I scroll excessively through my friends’ profiles on Facebook to remind myself about how much better their lives are in comparison to mine as I obsess over their carefree smiles which they share in photos where they have their arms slung over the shoulders of other pretty friends, which remind of how there are no pictures of me with my friends because I have always refused to put my face in front of a camera, as the bullies’ catcalls about my ugly face continue to rebound around my head. I tell myself over and over again how different I am to these people I used to call my friends, there is no way that they could find me interesting anymore, I am just a hermit who stays in her room and hides herself away from the world.

The words of bullies still control my life no matter how much I try to bat them away or rationalise them. But, as I get older, I have faith that one day I will be strong enough to make their words stop having such an effect on me. One day, this torment will be a bad memory that I have since learned from and the details of their faces and actions will be a distant memory. For now though, I will have to continue working and struggling through the long-lasting effects which their ‘fun’ has had on me and try to cling on to the friends who are still trying to reach out to me, no matter how much I have tried to keep them at arm’s length.

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WAVES OF INSOMNIA

It’s so strange how insomnia dives in and out of my life in waves.

I will go through long periods of time in which I will be starved of sleep. I will lie resolutely awake at night in my bed and stare desperately into the darkness, willing the night to take me in and invite me to share in it’s peace. During these months where I experience insomnia consistently, sleep is dangled in front of me like a carrot as the tiredness which dominates my brain seems to overcome me and it appears inevitable that as soon as my head hits the pillow, I will instantly fall into a satisfyingly deep sleep. However, after settling into bed, my brain comes alive and the fiery frenzy of my imagination is unleashed on my brain, stopping me from gaining any rest and being able to switch-off my anxieties.

Although, I do go through periods when I think I am cured and that I will be able to sleep restfully at will. Some days, I can sleep for 12 hours and not have to pull myself out of bed in the morning with sore, bleary eyes and the knowledge that I will have to face the day with even less energy than the day before. This seems to me like insomnia’s cruellest trick. It lets you experience a normal, restful sleep pattern and settle into a functioning nightly routine only to plunge itself back into your life again with it’s full brutal force and deprive you of the comfort you have since become accustomed to.

When a wave of insomnia overwhelms me, it twists and tortures me under its weight. My whole personality undergoes a process of poisoning as I begin to regularly snap at people for the smallest, most insignificant things. My patience for other people is slashed as a constant feeling of resentment pushes at the forefront of my brain, reminding me that these people aren’t having to stave off aggressive waves of exhaustion whilst dragging themselves through days where they are plagued with anxiety and depression as I am. Then, when I lie awake at night, I have to confront the guilt which these patterns of thought produce as I recognise that I have no idea what the people I meet during the day are going through in their personal lives and I should never turn my distress into a silent competition to be played against other people.

Ultimately, I have accepted that insomnia is going to be a fluctuating presence in my life for the foreseeable future and that, when waves of it pour into my life, I will just have to remind myself that I have endured the frustration of sleepless nights and the nagging hurt of exhausting days before and I can do it again.

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RESTLESS…

Recently, I haven’t been able to sit still.

As I write this, I am shifting around on my chair and fiddling with my fingers. I just cannot relax. Every time I sit somewhere to do something, I find some element of my environment wrong; my chair is too high, I am too cold, too hot, I need something to fidget with, my desk is too messy etc. I am aware that all of these things sound ridiculous. They are such little, inconsequential issues but for some reason these silly problems keep forcing themselves into the front of my mind at the moment and the more I try to ignore them, the more prominent in my head they become.

So, I am finding myself unable to complete any tasks recently. I start doing one thing only to become so frustrated that I decide to start something else, to see if I can get further with that. This is a bad spiral to get sucked into. Before I know it, I have reached the end of the day and the dark of the night is closing in around me, without anything on my to-do list having been ticked off. As a result, this kickstarts the process of me feeling incapable of being a Uni student because I feel unproductive and unfulfilled. I sit on my bed at the end of the day and feel drained but without the consolation of having done well in anything, achieved anything.

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LEAVING MYSELF ADRIFT…

Over the years, I have become a pro at avoidance.

Counsellors and therapists have been left exasperated with me because of the way I weave myself out of situations and wriggle out of any obligations which I know will make me feel anxious. At school, I used to make a concerted effort to avoid any teacher who took an interest in me, anyone who wanted to explore what lay behind my silent, passive exterior. For the most part, I have made my life an extensive game of hide and seek as I have consciously guarded myself against anything which could have the potential to brings things out of me that I would rather conceal. My sealed mouth and over-active mind act as an armour between me and the world, allowing me to pass through life with a minimum amount of confrontation.

Through time this has expanded to the way I dress and present myself. I make an active decision everyday to dress myself in a way that will act as the best disguise and which will reduce any individualism someone could associate with me. Essentially, I try my best to make myself invisible. I wear baggy black hoodies and jogging bottoms which cannot show my figure and cover as much skin as possible. That way I feel safe, for some reason. Protected.

The result of living my life behind a silent barrier is that I have left myself alone and without any interests that could draw me away from the confines of my room. My lifestyle is, by my own design, incredibly isolating. University was supposed to be a new start for me, a chance to re-create myself afresh but as I write this I have not been into any of my classes for the past three days because every time I think about entering a seminar room or a lecture hall I feel physically sick.

By trying to navigate through life as simply as possibly, I have made everything as far away from straight forward as I could have done. Many of the skills people have learnt during their time growing-up and experiencing new things, I have made sure that I have missed out on. I have made dead certain that I would always be on the outside looking in because I have always seen this as the safest place to be, looking at all situations from a distance in order to ascertain any ‘dangers’. Now I am finding nearly impossible to find my way back to a point where I can live without putting extreme restrictions in place between me and everyone else.

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GROWING OUT OF IT?

I have been told an obscene amount of times that I will ‘grow out of’ my mental health problems.

I find this one of the most annoying common phrases that counsellors, relatives and family friends tend to say to me when they find out about my mental health issues. They try to convince me that as I get older I will leave my depression, anxiety and OCD behind because to them it is obvious that no mature adult could still struggle with such immature issues.

Note to people who say this: you are being incredibly patronising. You are telling someone whose life is consumed by their struggles with mental health that their problems are childish and once they have seen more of the world and gotten older they will simply forget about their immature issues. However much you want to, you cannot dismiss someone else’s valid feelings out of hand because of your own ignorance and lack of understanding, telling someone that what they are going through is essentially just a phrase is extremely demeaning.

Other people have told me “Oh, when I was your age I was shy too but I soon grew out of it”. I appreciate that people who have said this to me were trying to show that they could empathise with me and give me a sense of comfort but it is so frustrating when people think that being shy is the same as suffering from anxiety (social anxiety and generalised anxiety in my case). Equating these two issues and taking them to mean the same thing means that you are dismissing the experience of panic and anxiety attacks, the daily struggle of leaving the house and the constant worry anxious people have to battle about what others think about them, as well as the isolating effect of having trouble travelling on public transport. People who say that having anxiety is essentially just being shy are telling people that they do not believe all of the serious effect which this mental illness can have as well as the incredibly varied experiences people with anxiety have, as it should be remembered that we cannot be all lumped together and told that the way we see and live life is exactly the same.

In essence, I wish people would take anxiety more seriously rather than just dismissing it as a phase to grow out of. How do you think that makes people who are older than my own 18 years of age feel about their own experiences with anxiety? Be sensitive to the overall effects that anxiety can have on our lives rather than just shrinking people who suffer with it to the image of your own slightly quiet self when you started secondary school; it is not the same thing.

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WINDOWS…

It’s not so much windows as the view that they allow me which frightens me so much.

In my mind, windows are a scary liminal space between the protection that I am afforded inside my home and the volatile and unpredictable world that lays just beyond the sheets of glass. The glances I sneak through the window seem to tease me, knowing that I will inevitably be scared of what I will see. The carefree people drifting past my driveway, listening to music or chatting to friends seem so alien to me. Who are they? What kind of people are they? My mind channels these thoughts into a bottomless pool of fear as I ruminate on the fact that these people are walking just feet away from me and the only thing which separates us is a couple of sheets of dangerously fragile glass.

I know that I am irrational and overly paranoid; that is me. Whenever, I hear the closing of a car door or the slowing down of a vehicles tires, my heart goes into overdrive as I worry that will be someone with a delivery for the house. Such an idea feels like a wholesome threat to me. A delivery would mean opening the door, literally giving someone power over the threshold of my house, allowing them to see inside the protective fortress I have built for myself for the sole purpose of keeping others out. Deliveries mean having to sign my name when my sweaty hands will not function properly and handling a pen that goodness knows how many other people have touched before. Windows cheat me out of a way of avoiding such situations. Before I have time to gather myself and hide from view, the deliveryman has already sauntered half way down my drive and spotted me like a deer caught in the headlights through the window.

Windows remind me of the world that I will inevitably have to step back into when my next seminar or lecture comes or when hunger’s necessity to have food will drive me out of the house to the corner shop.

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WHAT SCHOOL RUINED…

When did life stop being about romance novels set in idyllic cottages in the English countryside? When did I stop curling up with a bookend reading for fun without the pressure to analyse every piece of grammar?

Reading books used to be about fun for me. I could escape into someone else’s story, dream about them and pretend to inhabit their world. My imagination would be set alight by the endless possibilities of different endings and ideas for sequels so that I could keep that world alive. I would feel at my most safe when I was huddled under blanket knowing that I didn’t even have to move from the sofa for the rest of the afternoon if I didn’t want to, I could just sit in peace and read.

I devoured books quickly because I was hungry for that spark of magic that they held. I couldn’t savour them for long as quickly passed onto the next one that was sure to pull my into its own world. In this way, I had one corner of my life that was reserved purely for happiness and adventure through books.

I think I have lost these feelings though somewhere. I think I left them behind when I became desperate to prove myself to be an academic and someone who had an insight into pieces of text because I relied on my academic ability to feel like I had any self-worth. I stopped looking at books as magic portal keys into a different world and instead saw them as an opponent I had to face and conquer; something that wasn’t to be enjoyed but to be pulled apart and critiqued through the voice and eyes of someone else. I wrote long essays on books using opinions that weren’t true to me but what I thought would impress my teachers. I lost any passion for literature because if I read a book that wasn’t a Classic or prestigious I had the voice of a snooty academic in the back of my head telling me that was reading an unoriginal piece of commercial writing.

I realise now what a mistake it was for me to give into this voice. Reading made me happy and by giving in to people who felt that they had the right to lecture me on what was good and bad was ridiculous. If I get a sense of enjoyment out of book then I can think that it is good. It doesn’t matter that I am 18 and I still hunger to pore through the shelves of YA fiction in Waterstones, why can’t I give into that impulse if it makes me happy? Books don’t have to be micro-analysed. They can be if that is what you are using it for but primarily surely they are there to engage with the reader in whatever way they can. Also, I’m pretty sure authors wouldn’t be happy with teachers telling pupils what they should and shouldn’t think and feel in relation to their book. Books are made to be enjoyed, not for a teacher to force it down someone’s throat.

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TIRED.

No matter how much sleep I get at night, I always feel so tired.

Tiredness follows me around all day and hangs like a weight from my chest which drags me down. It weighs on my mind and makes me slow to make decisions. My eyelids droop all day and tempt me to give in to my exhaustion; close my eyes and sink into a world of oblivious darkness.

I pour coffee down my throat in large amounts to try and make me feel more awake and aware. The only result of this is that I feel jittery, anxious and paranoid for the next few hours but at least this means that I am able to feel something that makes sense to me.

I schedule my day around my tiredness, knowing that I will inevitably not be able to do any work in the early afternoon because my concentration will have gone out of the window. Then, for some reason I will feel more energised after 10pm, meaning that I cannot get to sleep however much I know that I need to. Then I am forced to lie awake listening to the parties going on around me on campus and hear people’s genuine rings of laughter and uninhibited shouts of joy which makes me feel even more isolated.

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AM I BROKEN?

My meeting with my student support worker went as per usual today.

It started off as usual with me updating her on my progress and what I was doing currently but then inevitably the conversation turned to my lack of socialising. She began questioning me on all of the clubs that are on offer at the University and the surrounding area and was enthusiastic about me going out and meeting people and forging a group of friends.

This is the point that I can never seem to convey to counsellors, therapists or support workers; having a group of friends does not appeal to me. I don’t enjoy organising trips out and meeting up with people to chat, I find it draining and daunting. I always feel that there is an invisible block between me and other people which stops me being able to fully immerse myself in conversation with them. Instead, I am constantly counting down the clock until a reasonable time that I can leave without being impolite. Also, I have nothing to talk about, no funny anecdotes to share unless they want to hear about the successive nights when I have stayed in my University room and chuckled to myself about inane youtube videos! I have a narrow set of interests that I find hard to talk about when someone asks me about them on the spot because I feel like I have to prove to them that I like whatever it is and then I just panic and fail to get any of my points across.

Does this all make me broken? My student support advisor has told me before that humans are sociable creatures, they are not meant to spend prolonged lengths of time on their own. So, does the fact that I have no desire for any relationships (whether romantic or otherwise) mean that I am a non-functioning human? Has a wire come loose somewhere in me and need re-connecting so that I spark back into animated life?

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AWKARD FIRST MEETINGS

At University it seems that I am a category. A box to fill. A task to tick off the list. This is usually because I present people with a problem; I’m not straightforward or easy to understand or communicate with and I come with a whole host of educational adjustments saddled around my neck. Therefore, professors approach me with an air of caution, confusion and curiosity.

This is because my teachers know about my mental illnesses before they even meet me. Along with my picture on their module database, they are invited to read about my history of problems within the education system and the issues which my poor mental health present for me. They know the workings of my brain in quite a bit of detail before they even see me in real life and experience me as a person rather than just a list of clinical judgements.

Frankly, I do not know how to feel about this situation. I feel awkward upon meeting lecturers and professors for the first time as I know that they will have seen the notes which have been made about me from various different assessments and meetings – it is like they have been let in on one of my secrets. Whilst this is helpful because they are aware of my situation which may provide context for my detached and anxious behaviour, I also feel vulnerable when I first meet them. I know that they have the knowledge to see me in a particular light which frightens me as there are no ways that I can hide the ugly complexity of my character, it is all laid out there in the open with a complete stranger.

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THE PROBLEM OF YOU AND ME

If I stay in here forever
Will you come get me?
Do I want you to puncture the surface?
Rather, just float on the outside,
Shapeless and stretching.
Keep an eye on me
But don’t come in between,
I can’t guarantee what you will see,
I don’t want you to become like me,
Not a mild affliction or contamination
But a full-blown malady;
Cutting off your life
Pinching the blood flowing in your veins,
Blocking your sacred arteries,
Spilling guts out of your mouth.

 

If you see too much then it won’t stop,
No amount of purification-
Society’s flushing out power-
Will stop the epidemic in your head.

 

Instead, let me fall,
Crash through the grimy cracks
And find a dark hole at the other side.
Smothered in darkness,
I will no longer dirty the light.

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YOU CANNOT FORCE YOURSELF

One thing I am learning is that you cannot force yourself to write.

I think I am addicted to the feeling of accomplishment and pride I get when I can press ‘publish’ on a blog post. I feel a rush of productivity through my veins and a sense that I am at least capable of something. Blogging gives me a focus and an outlet to scream into the void all of the things that I am too scared to tell people in real life. Writing gives me a release as I can vomit out all of my feelings into a post and then try to move on with my day.

However, I have realised that I cannot force myself to write a blog post just so that I can get those feelings. Well, I can but the post will be crap because I am not writing it after feeling compelled to do so after an experience or encountering a certain feeling. Instead, I am writing out of desperation. Posts that I save in my drafts and write when I am not feeling moved by anything do not even sound like me. I sound forced and strained as I pile pressure on myself to produce something so that I can feel productive and good about myself.

I want to make a resolution to not punish myself on those days when words will only trip and fall clumsily from my brain to my fingertips and the letters pressed on the keyboard do not make sense. Creating anything from your own brain is an achievement because you are the only person who could ever write exactly what you have written; your creativity is unique. Therefore, treat it kindly. Do not batter it into submission and berate it when ideas do not easily flow through you and excite your heart as you are writing. Instead, nurture your creativity and chalk each day down to experience. If you hate what you write one day, at least you can learn from it and remember to tell yourself that you have still produced something that is entirely you.

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A MANNEQUIN

In class it feels like I cannot move.

The seminar starts and I am welded to my chair, too brain dead to find the way to pick-up a pen and carve some nonsensical words onto a page. It is like someone pressed pause on my TV programme but pressed fast forward on everyone else’s. Their brains seem to whir incessantly, new ideas forming by the minute as they hungrily devour each new word on the page.

Whereas, I am a mannequin. I show all the outward signs of life, superficially I am there with them but behind the layers of clothing and the appearance of humanity, I am simply a faceless, brainless figure.

I am held in time, unable to function in the classroom I am trapped in. I want to scream in frustration and run away in fear but instead I just stare blankly into space. The professor may catch my eye but quickly he looks away, disturbed by the eerily empty gaze he has happened upon.

I am Isobel. I am a mannequin. I’m not very well.

 

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INSOMNIA – TAKE TWO

Watching wakefully as the hours stretch before me,
My mind navigates morosely
Through the miles of empty time.

My bed – once my friend
Pokes fun at my discomfort,
Jostles me as we wind through the night;
Together, yet alone.

We crawl past mental topic after mental topic,
Pausing sometimes for an indulgent pit-stop,
But ultimately forced to carry on
Rolling heavily through the undulating night.

Angry words pass between night and me;
Jibes that cannot be drowned-out,
Not even an untuned radio can save me from spite.
So I turn my back on night’s dark figure
And hope it choses a smoother path once more.
 

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HOPE IN THE FALL

As we navigate our way through the year’s transitional phase, I savour the sight of winter on the horizon. It glints comfortingly at me and gives me the sign that the days will no longer be irrepressibly bright like a suffocating spotlight upon my form.

I love winter. The excuse to wrap-up in soft layers as if to pretend that you were still snuggled in your duvet indoors. The excuse to scourge your roughened throat with hot drinks and comfort food. The almost nostalgic feeling of curling up to read a book whilst rain hammers at your window and your world is framed by grey clouds.

Someone asked me today whether the shorter days and darker nights make me more sad. I just laughed and breathed a quiet but definite “no”. I feel at home in winter, even akin to it. I find comfort in it’s look of sadness as if it is simply reflecting my feelings back to me, like a mirror which returns my features to the landscape. When the rain thrashes down it is as if the sky is crying with me, or maybe more than that. Perhaps the world cries with me and we use these watery tears to replenish ourselves. We both go on to another day after the relief of a stormy cry. 

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TEARS HAVE BEEN SHED…

My mum came to visit me on Saturday.

As the day started drawing to a close and a blanket of deep blue was being pulled across the sky, I longed for that time not to end. I wanted to draw each second into eternity and ride in her car forever, spending my lifetime suspended in a never-ending state of sub-reality.

Coasting through the undulating countryside, I could see from the peaks of hills into the dollhouses in the valleys down below. In those little paper houses were people acting their lives; telling their children that it was their bedtime, parents easing open bottles of wine and families lying lazily in front of the TV. Moving along above them seemed so simple. My life was no longer entangled with theirs because I was not one of them. I no longer had to be a doll, play a part.

As we got more and more lost in the winding, ethereal countryside, my heart found more and more solace. I love to be lost. If no-one can find me and I can’t find myself then I will hang forever in that state. I will be a memory to everyone and devoid of any connections except to those I have with myself.

I began to imagine those films which are spun from classic books where girls wander in desperation through the desolate countryside, barefoot and bewildered. The only purpose they have to run away from whatever they came from, rather than running to any signpost or mark in the sand.

However, my mum doesn’t like to be lost so much. She wound the car through the intricate bends which have carved themselves through the sweeping carpets of grass and brought us back into the clearing. Then, the pouring rain matched the motion on my own face. Tears fell silently and absent-mindedly from my drooping eyes as I yet again began to detach myself from reality. She led me back down the dreary halls of my residence and I dragged my feet along the rough carpet. I shoved my key roughly in the door, distantly aware of the thumping music coming from somewhere in the background of this nightmare.

I had been returned to my cell. My room. My cell.

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AN EVENING ALONE WITH A BROKEN BRAIN

CURRENTLY MY HEART IS THUMPING LIKE MAD, MY HANDS ARE SHAKING AND MY LUNGS HURT. TODAY I HAVE HAD WORK MEN IN AND OUT OF MY ROOM, A PORTER HAS SNAPPED AT ME AND I HAVE HAD A DEEPLY UNCOMFORTABLE SEMINAR IN WHICH I HAD TO SPEAK IN FRONT OF A GROUP OF STRANGERS.

HERE IS HOW I COPE WITH A BROKEN BRAIN ALONE, THIS EVENING:

1. I will make myself a mug of blueberry and apple tea

I am aware that this is a very British cliche but, honestly, the feeling of a hot sweet tea coursing down my throat is so comforting. It is a pleasant sensation that I can focus on rather than the other uncomfortable feelings occurring in my body right now.

2. I will listen to my favourite band

I adore Paramore and I know exactly what songs of theirs’ to listen to when I am feeling particular emotions. I know the lyrics to their songs so it is not hard listening, I can just let the familiar words wash over me and their comforting sounds surround me. Listening to music which I know inside-out gives me a cosy feeling inside which I really tap into when my situation feels anything but cosy and calm.

3. I will close my curtains

As I live on the ground floor of a large block of flats I have to contend with all the people walking past, many of whom enjoy staring straight into my room as they stroll past my window, looking at exactly what I am doing. For so many reasons I find this jarring throughout the day, so as soon as I can justifiably claim that it is the evening I will take advantage of this and close my curtains. It is easier to cope with being lonely and not having any friends when you don’t have to watch groups of mates giggle and have fun together on a Friday evening right outside your window.

4. I will watch videos

Watching my favourite youtubers is like catching up with a friend in someways. These videos give me some lighthearted entertainment which can temporarily distract me from what is happening in the moment as I can immerse in somebody else’s life which is edited and glossy and not distressing.

5. I will wrap myself in a duvet cocoon

When I am anxious, I very often do not feel safe. For whatever reason I feel vulnerable and on edge and being wrapped securely in my duvet really helps me to quash those fears and reassure myself. Being warm in my bed and snuggling in my most comfy pyjamas feels like such a luxury to me, as a lot of the time I usually spend in bed is when I am frustrated with myself for being unable to sleep.

 

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LOOKING AT THE POSITIVES…

I am aware that every blog post I have published on here has been overwhelmingly negative (I specialise in catastrophic thinking and ruminating on all the bad things in life). So today I am going to make a special effort to look at the positive things that have come my way over the last few days which have really brightened my days and given me hope for going forwards (I don’t want people reading this blog to think I am a Moaning Minnie basically:

1. I am so thankful for my Specialist Mentor at University

Meeting my Specialist Mentor this week has really renewed my vision of University life. Since I have come here I have fallen into the lonely and dark cycle of cynicism which meant that I thought this whole experience was doomed and no positive changes would happen in my life whilst I am here. However, the understanding and sympathy which my Specialist Mentor gave me when I met her has really spurred me on to try my best for a change whilst also not expecting too much of myself. She encouraged me that by setting small goals for myself I can over time both re-invent myself and my life, which for years now have both stagnated because of my ongoing struggles with mental health.

2. The idea of exercise

I used to be quite a sporty child; I liked cricket, swimming, running, rounders, hockey and running. However, at the age of 14 I essentially just shut down all my interests and retreated into myself. This was around the time that I was first encountering depression and I convinced myself that I was no good at these things and that I shouldn’t try and gradually I lost any interest or enthusiasm I had for these things. However, my Specialist Mentor really conveyed to me how much of a positive impact exercising could have on my mental health. It may give me more energy and also help me sleep as hopefully I will be physically tired by the end of the day. So, I am going to take-up running again. I am not going to set myself ridiculous goals and aim to run miles and miles when I am only just starting out again. I will be gentle with myself and hopefully I regain the enjoyment I once had for exercising in general.

3. The Wizarding World Loot Crate Box

For the first time ever, I received a Wizarding World Loot Crate Box this week. For those who do not know this is a subscription box which filled with all things Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts related. The things which I received in this box has really helped to make my University room feel more homely as now I can look around and glance at little Harry Potter mementos which make me feel comforted and happy just like the Harry Potter books and films do.

4. The University Housekeeper

This may sound like an odd one but bear with me! Starting University has been quite a lonely experience for me as most people give-up or don’t bother talking to me once they realise that I am anxious. I give off these signs, such as not looking people in the eye and fidgeting, which make people think that I am not interested when really I am just REALLY nervous. However, the Housekeeper for my block (who cleans the communal kitchen once a week, our toilets once a month and is around for general maintenance) is such a nice man and persisted with taking an interest in my life when he really did not have to. He noticed my Harry Potter key ring and started talking to me about it (which instantly made me warm to him) and then he took a genuine interest in my studies and just generally made me feel happy rather than like a failure which is how I usually feel when I am around people.

 

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NO MOTIVATION

I have gotten to a point where everything seems laid out in front of me; I have gotten into University, my course is about to start and my campus is a hive of activity. So, why am I not feeling more energised than ever? I thrive off of reading and the only validation I ever really get is my good grades, so why am I not raring to prove myself and start off down this track which has been set out for me years and years prior to this moment?

The next chapter of my life is at my finger-tips and I am sitting in a closed-off room trying to do anything but reach out for it.

This, in turn, sets off a spiral of uncontrolled negative thoughts which suck me down into depths of suffocating guilt and feelings of unworthiness. Also, I begin to wonder, if I am not driven by academia, then who am I? What else can I lay claim to? I’m not successful in any other field of my life, I just stay in this small pen which has been cordoned off for me for many years.

Is it because I am scared of failure that I am not excited to start my course? It may be that I am so terrified of falling off this degree and being incapable that I am unwilling to start it because that would mean discovering my own aptitude. Then, I am frightened of what I would possibly do in the event of me actually getting knocked-off this course. I will not be able to find any other path with which to navigate; I will be lost.

[Interlude:Progression through Higher Education is the most advertised and conventional road through life in this country. Whilst this is wonderful because it proves we have a certain level of freedom to access education, is it not also alienating?]

Or am I anxious that starting my University course will be like re-living my college years. College made me feel so lonely, like I was the only one lost in a crowd of people who all knew a secret that I didn’t. They had goals and friends and an individual purpose for each of them (it’s like an intellectual Santa Claus visited them all every year but constantly missed me out). Whereas, I spent my lunchtimes eating in a toilet cubicle if I felt too anxious to go and sit in the common-room. College made me look around as if part of me was missing and I do not want University to force me into recommencing that doomed and fruitless search.

“Always be a work in progress” – Emily Lillian (darling, some of us don’t have any choice)