Why I’m anxious today.

So, I know I preached on about therapy being amazing (it is), but there are some things that even the most well trained brain cannot escape worrying about, and today I’m presented with two, and I blame one on the other.

The first is the reason I haven’t left my house today. I agreed to join a social situation tonight with people I don’t know, in a place I don’t know, in an environment I’m unfamiliar with and that doesn’t appeal to me. My therapist told me I should challenge myself, but this a little far, for me. The problem lies in the fact that I’ve made so much progress that if I fall at this hurdle and cancel, that means something. I will have failed, and all my successes up to this point will no longer mean anything. However, if I go, I risk embarrassing or disappointing people by being unable to cope. I am, mentally, in a situation where I have to decide whether it is better to disappoint myself or disappoint somebody else.

The other reason I am anxious today is because I am actually already pretty fucking disappointed. I spent a little of my afternoon listening to President Obama’s final interview with his speech writers (on Pod Save America), and I wept. It still seems like an injustice to me that tomorrow Donald Trump will be in the White House. This, obviously, affects the globe, but I cannot stop thinking how little I trust our government and how I would feel if some of Trump’s actions were echoed over the pond. For example, Planned Parenthood appears to be in trouble. I cannot imagine not being able to go to a clinic and ask for the morning after pill to reduce the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. I have never had an abortion, but I have had pregnancy scares, and the thought that I, or anybody else, may have to carry an unwanted foetus to full term to comply with the law makes me nervous to my core. I have lost sleep worrying about what Trump’s election as president means for the world. I don’t trust the world right now. I feel like someone will squash the globe flat and we’ll all slide off into space because Trump is President and global warming is happening and I’m supposed to go out partying and I don’t ring my grandmother enough and my breakfast had too many calories.

What I’m basically getting at is the fact that when the world feels pretty catastrophic, it shakes you to your core. Cortisol and adrenaline create a fight or flight response in you that should only be reserved for animal attacks. All the small things in your life which might usually worry you a little feel gigantic, unconquerable, beyond you, because your heart is already beating fast, you’re looking over your shoulder, you’re scared. Donald Trump is, inadvertantly, ruining my social life. I am trying very hard to meditate and maintain a holistic view of the world, but right now I just can’t. He has grabbed hold of my physiological responses as he grabs women by the pussy, and he has freaked me the fuck out.

What I learnt in 2016.

I’ve been awful at writing lately, but this annual review has become something of a tradition for me. Here we go…

1. Don’t go to the gym.

I mean, do if you WANT to, but certainly don’t push the point. There was a point this year I went to the gym 4 times a week, but I went because I was bored, and because I felt fat. I have continued to pay (curse you, 12 month contract!), but haven’t attended since August, and while my stomach looks like mashed potato, I’m perfectly content. You don’t need a flat stomach to be hot af.

2. Stop working in hospitality.

Again, I have a caviat. If you love it, do it. If you serve a clientele of mostly businessmen who call you sweetheart and try to buy you into serving late, just stop. I lost ALL my faith in humanity in my last job. I became a cynic who did not believe in good people. I thought I wasn’t worthy of a ‘better’ job. I now have a better job. Not ‘better’ on paper, but a job that has changed my world and made me believe in people again. Not better paid, certainly, but genuinely nourishing for the soul. I recommend looking after people unable to look after themselves, as a profession, whole-heartedly. I love and care for and protect people like I’d never dreamed I could. I was not born to get other people drunk in exchange for money.

3. People die.

‘Cause if you doubted that at all, 2016 proved it. As will 2017, and all years to come. Losing people sucks, but death is literally the ONLY certainty we have. Laugh at death and give life, and all living things you love, a big sloppy kiss.

4. Dye your hair a dumb colour.

The benefits are many. I had kingfisher blue hair for half of 2016, and I have never felt more liberated. You can wear whatever you like, everything clashes and everything works, because your hair is blue. People will approach you in the street and tell you you look great, because your hair is blue. You scare off pervs and cat callers, because your hair is blue. Blue hair is the bomb. (Disclaimer: bleach it too many times and it’ll start to fall out. That’s why mine is now red.)

5. You will never have more fun…

… than dancing at a 90’s-00’s R&B disco where everybody is on space-hoppers (and drugs). Trust me. (This information comes courtesy of Secret Garden Party). Playing in a bouncy castle/ball pit with a strange girl having her first acid trip comes a close second.

6. Being in love is rad.

I have loved people before, but I never really enjoyed it. It’s been too possessive, too obsessive, too all-encompassing, too uncomfortable. I have found a love that fits me. I read somewhere that you should date “someone who is a home and an adventure all at once”, and I’m doing just that. He has the sassiest dance moves I’ve ever encountered, but just reeks of comfort. Anyone who can rival my alcohol intake and also introduce me to his nearest and dearest on a come down can’t be bad. This is my favourite kind of love yet.

7. Therapy is good.

My mental health has been pretty poor for ages. Dire. Doctors have always provided depressing, disappointing, or (most frequently) no help. Towards the end of the year I got help from a service who, in 4 sessions, completely restructured my thought process. My psyche changed from ‘You are worthless, everybody dislikes you, you are a burden on everyone you know’ to ‘You’re ok, most of the time people don’t think about you at all, if you were a burden then people would tell you to fuck off’. I’ve learnt to think in facts rather than emotions, and talk to myself as kindly as I would speak to my best friend. In that time, I have done at least 15 things that would have terrified me before, and I have survived. Things are cool. I don’t want to be all American about it, but even if you’re healthy, and you have access, just get a therapist, it’ll rock your world.

8. 2017 will suck.

Because of Trump and May and Putin and ISIS and Brexit and the rest of it. Many years have absolutely tanked before, but I cling to the fact that pubs, art, and glitter will still exist for a bit. Merry 2017!

Brain developments

Firstly I want to apologise (and simultaneously refuse to apologise) for the fact that this blog was supposed to be righteous and feminist when I started writing it, and now it’s basically just another mental health blog. I feel a bit guilty for losing sight of the badass women’s rights big picture to dwell on my own shit, but I guess that’s where my mind took me. Plus, there are much better places to go if you want to read about feminism and women’s rights (buy any book by Caitlin Moran, Animal by Sara Pascoe and Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates). Anyway, back to me… (sorry).

After coming home less than a month ago from a festival with my serotonin levels depleted by chemicals and having barely slept in 4 days, I had the closest thing I’ve had in a long time to an ‘episode’. Sure, it was a come down, and post-festival blues, and sleep deprivation etc, but post-festival blues shouldn’t be that blue, so I did something I hadn’t done in 6 years. I made a doctor’s appointment to talk about my mental health.

The first time I did that, six years ago, the doctor’s response to my crippling social anxiety and low mood was, essentially, “You probably are depressed, but it’s likely to be exam stress, it’ll go away, you just have to get over it.” I remember very clearly her telling me to “get over it”. I felt so let down, so crazy, SO much worse. So I decided not to ask for help again. Until two weeks ago.

Here is, almost verbatim, my conversation with my GP:

Me: I’ve felt very depressed for years and I’ve coped, but now I think i need some help coping.
GP: Are you having suicidal thoughts?
Me: No, never, I’m just really struggling to get through some days and I can’t find a way to improve it.
GP: Have you ever attempted suicide?
Me: No, I’ve never wanted to kill myself.
GP: Have you ever self-harmed or taken an overdose?
Me: Nope.
GP: What do you do for work?
Me: I’m a carer for the disabled.
GP: Oh, very stressful then.
Me: It’s actually not that stressful, I love it.
GP: What kind of treatment are you looking for?
Me: I don’t think drugs would be good for me, so anything else you can offer.
GP: Oh. Well, if you start to have suicidal thoughts, you can call the Samaritans on this number. Or you can refer yourself to a talking therapist using this number if you like. Don’t worry, it sounds perfectly normal.

That conversation sparked a week of crying, ignoring the people who care about me, letting people down, barely eating, napping constantly and losing just about all my faith in the mental health system provided by the NHS. When you tell a doctor you can’t cope, you expect them to help you, not tell you it sounds normal and palm you off on someone else. You want the right questions to be asked, you want support and you want to be told you’re not crazy, you just have *insert diagnosis*. I felt ashamed for even asking.

Luckily, after a really crappy week, I did self-refer with Talking Therapies and I had a half hour chat with a therapist who did ask the right questions, and did address that my thought patterns are vicious and working against me, and is helping me to get some sort of treatment. I told her that I’m in the best position I’ve ever been in in my life (a job I enjoy, I’m head over heels in love, I have great friends and family) and that it still isn’t enough to make me truly happy, and she understood. It’s not perfect, appointments are booked months in advance and the courses she recommended don’t fit in with my work schedule, but somebody made me feel like I wasn’t just crazy and wasting their time, and I already feel a little better for it. So watch this space, maybe I’ll be able to go back to talking about feminism again soon.

But I love EU!

This has been a terrible week to be a British citizen. We have been shown how malleable the British public are in the hands of the media, and seen intolerance that I didn’t know British people were capable of. I have a few things to say.

Firstly, no, we should not shut up about it. The successful voters criticise those of us grieving for our alliance with the EU of ‘whining because we didn’t get our way’. Wrong. We are in MOURNING because we didn’t follow what we deem the most logical, compassionate path. You have every right to disagree, but you cannot dictate how we feel. Had the remain voters won, I am certain that the Brexit voters wouldn’t feel the heartbreak that we feel. At worst, I suspect they would have said ‘well that’s a shame’. I do not blame those who voted to leave, but I am allowed to shout from the rooftops why I believe they made the wrong decision.

Secondly, we are entitled to point out the glaring flaws surrounding the referendum and the related campaigns. We do not lose that right because we lost. Those on the winning side mock us for ‘becoming political experts overnight’. Just because I didn’t see the result I wanted, does not take away my right to say that this referendum SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED. And this, speaking as a layperson who is NOT a political expert, is why:

Governments are elected by us to make decisions on our behalf. They should take into account the wishes of the electorate, consult amongst themselves and with relevant experts, and take action in the most beneficial and risk free way for our nation. Cameron had pressure within his party (and from the band of imbeciles labelled ‘UKIP) to look into leaving the European Union. Instead of settling that within parliament himself, sharing the evidence and advice amongst people whose JOB it is to make those decisions, and who understand the intricacies of the debate far better than the public could, he was cowardly and pointed at us. It’s like when a teenager begs their father to go to a party and he says ‘I don’t know, ask your mother’. Whatever his motivations for doing so, he placed a decision-making process into our inexperienced hands, and watched as the British public became baffled and began to turn on one another.

I have never, in all my years, seen or heard so many xenophobic or racist comments as I have in the last month. This referendum has, above and beyond any change in our EU status, created a climate of hate in the UK. The UK won’t even BE the UK for long, by the looks of it. It is not hyperbolic to compare the animosity on British streets to that of Nazi Germany, or Rwanda as they entered genocide. There is an increasing feeling of ‘us vs them’, and that’s really dangerous. It is by chance that any of us were born in this country. I feel grateful to have been born in a first world country where I could always be fed and educated. I am lucky to be British, but I am not, and never have been, PROUD to be British. And I have never been less proud than now. What our government and the Murdoch empire has created within the British public is deplorable, and 52% of us don’t realise it.

My third, and final, thought is one of hope. The 48% are made up of young, liberal, compassionate people who embrace our differences and deal in kindness. I don’t think we will be silenced, and I think we will find a way to stop our seperation with the EU from dooming us. We have so many years to make sense of our senseless political climate, and ultimately, we will be OK. This is a time to be sad and frustrated, but it is also a time to present ourselves as the future of this country, with ambition and sincerity and love.

Sup, Europe?

Within a month, the British public will have decided if they wish to remain in the European Union. Until yesterday I knew what I wanted without being particularly well informed, but now I’ve been to a debate with a famous person so I obviously suddenly feel qualified to write about the matter.

When I heard we were even having a referendum about this, I thought ‘What, why?!’. Despite never really thinking about it before, I felt in my gut that we BELONG in it. That has continued to be my stance, but I now have more than a gut feeling. The more I read and hear, the more terrifying the prospect of leaving the EU feels.

Let’s play devil’s advocate and look some of the arguments made by the Brexit campaigners:

1- We could control our own borders. Here’s the thing… we already do. We asked the EU very nicely if we could handle border control our way, and that was negotiated, and they appear to have kind of left us to it. This argument worries me because it sounds like paranoid xenophobia to me, like using the Channel as a moat and pulling our drawbridge up saying “We can’t see you, go home”. It sounds rather UKIP. If you happen to support UKIP and don’t want to be in the EU, remember that a couple of years ago we voted for EU representatives and 22 UKIP politicians were chosen. If you’d like to see them do something with that power, we need to stay in.

2- Break off EU trade agreements and organise our own. I don’t know a lot about trade within the EU, but as a layperson my question is WHY?! If we leave the EU, we open ourselves up to a lot of uncertainty. Do I believe the EU is perfect and always beneficial to us? It’s doubtful. However, if we break with the Union (note the word union, indicating togetherness, sharing of interests, alliance, friendliness), there’s no guarantee that everyone we wish to trade with  will enter agreements with us. Why risk it?

3- We pay an awful lot into the EU. That may be true. I’ve read a few sources proposing very different figures regarding our outgoings and incomings from the EU, and who knows which figures to believe? It does appear that we do get back more money than we contribute, though, so that’s something to think about. My second thought on this matter is that even if we did financially benefit from leaving, where would that money go? Our governmemt have been notoriously bad at putting money where we need it. Something tells me they wouldn’t invest that saved money into the NHS or schooling. This brings me to my main reason to vote ‘stay’…

I am scared of our government. I do not believe that the richest people in the country know how to run Britain in a fair, reasonable manner. I believe that their own wage bracket is more important to many people in our political system than welfare for British citizens. I do not want for people like David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt to be able to act without being held to account by a larger governing body. The EU has laws in place which act as a safety net against political recklessness. Brexit supporters surely see these laws as restrictive… good. We need a little restriction.

The other reason I want us to stay, though, is very simple and very obvious. I like Europe. I want to be able to visit mainland Europe without applying for a visa. I want to be able to put my life into a rucksack and turn up in Berlin, or Rome, or Paris on a whim. And to be welcomed with open arms, and speak their languages because British schools taught me how, and invite a new friend to England without worrying about bureaucracy. To reject the EU is to say ‘we don’t need you, Europe’, but we do. Why build walls? We’re not Donald fucking Trump. Working together with other nations isn’t just a sensible survival technique, it’s a rad thing to do.

Register to vote by June 7th, vote by post if you’re going to be at Worthy Farm, just vote. This is SO important.

Why depression sucks (but also why it rocks sometimes)

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, so I took a moment this morning to reflect on my own.

I’ve discovered that 2 things in particular trigger my depression nowadays, and they are ridiculous, and they are thus:

1. Having a plan cancelled. Any plan, even a plan I didn’t want to do. A phone call, a coffee, a doctor’s appointment. It feels like rejection and it makes me cry. This doesn’t feel so irrational to me, it’s OK to be disappointed when you have to rearrange your day, especially if you were excited beforehand. As for the second, not so rational…

2. Not being texted back. Sometimes. I realise this makes me sound like a 14 year old girl who adds ‘tb! xxxxxxx’ to the end of all messages. I can get inexplicably angry (lot’s of throwing my phone and saying ‘fuck you, then!’), then usually cry. Which is why I’ve started switching my phone off if I’m feeling a bit ‘blergh’ and suspect I’m not going to receive a reply. It feels like I take the power back, but really I’m just the idiot who can’t check her Instagram feed all evening.

Matt Haig (all hail!) has the answer to my second trigger in Reasons To Stay Alive:

“Human brains- in terms of cognition and emotion and consciousness- are essentially the same as they were at the time of Shakespeare or Jesus or Cleopatra or the Stone Ages. They are not evolving with the pace of change. Neolithic humans never had to face emails or breaking news or pop-up ads or Iggy Azalea videos”.

Shakespeare never had the line “You hath read my iMessage 37 minutes ago, where ART THOU?!” for a reason. And not because it would have been a rubbish line.

So that’s when I am having a ‘bad day’ (or week or month or even year), but what happens to the brain of someone who’s had depression and anxiety problems when they’re not feeling depressed or anxious?

Well, not to toot my own horn, but I’m basically brilliant. I think methodically, I tend not to overreact, I don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions. I don’t care if my bum looks big in this, or if I’m having a bad hair day. I balance out my occasional anxiety by being ZEN AS FUCK the rest of the time. I’m basically bossing life. I’m also way fun to be around, because I’m not too hung up on the consequences of my actions, so I figure whatever I get up to, it’ll all be OK in the end, as long as I had fun.

I’ve come to these conclusions about myself only since getting into a relationship with someone who has also had their fair share of mental health stuff. It’s not my place to talk about his business, but from my perspective it’s fair to say I have never had a relationship so free of bullshit. We don’t fuss about what the other is doing, who they’re with, why they’re doing that or any of the stuff that’s plagued all my past romances. Most importantly, we don’t really do jealousy. When at some point in your life you’ve been convinced someone was hiding in a bush with a gun trying to kill you, you really can’t care too much about how hot your boyfriends girl friends are. Depression and anxiety, despite all the horrendousness, give you a wonderful sense of perspective.

So if I had any advice for keeping on top of your mental health (even if you’re in tip top condition already)- it’s to ask the question “Does this REALLY matter?” when your cortisol levels rise and you’re ready to lose your shit about something. Usually, it doesn’t. I leave you with Matt Haig again:

“Understand that thoughts are thoughts. If they are unreasonable, reason with them, even if you have no reason left. You are the observer of your mind, not it’s victim.”

Turning that frown upside down

I’ve been really depressed today. Like, really, really not right. I tried all day to cheer myself up. I cooked comfort foods, I watched drag queens on Youtube, I read, I drank tea. But, because mental health doesn’t work that way I also cancelled all plans, ditched the gym and sat in bed for 3 hours staring into space wishing I felt something. THEN, something magical happened. 

I remembered that I once walked back, very tipsy, from a festival with a wonderful gay man who I barely knew (but shared a mutual adoraration for hotdogs with, both food stuff and euphemistic) in a storm, let ourselves into a mutual friend’s garden, and attempted to chain smoke in the pissing rain, drinking pints of milk, both crying deliriously with laughter because our fags kept getting wet and our milk was diluting.

So, entirely selfishly, I’m sharing here some other moments that I’ve half-forgotten, just to perk myself up. I can keep them for future reference. 

When I was probably about 11, my sister (aged 9-ish) attempts to describe ‘Thomas Crapper’ to my grandma in a game of Articulate. “His surname starts with a rude word that begins with C”. My super polite, dignified, English rose of a grandma replies “Umm….. OOH, CUNT!”. We don’t understand, but the grown ups all cry with laughter so we know it must be funny.

I am at a festival, and I’ve just taken a class A for the first time, and it has done all kinds of fab things to my serotonin levels. I’m wearing an electric blue sequinned jumper and tiny shorts, it’s getting dark, I’m at a drum and bass set, and the man that I’m in head over heels in unrequited love (but very requited lust) with dances with me and tells me that I’m killing it, that everyone loves me, that I’m amazing. I believe it. 

It’s Boxing Day, my friends are completely baked and we’re playlisting from Youtube. I play Ms Jackson, Outkast. A friend stares at the screen watching the video, I ask what’s up and his eyes well up. “Hollie… The cats… They’re getting wet!”

I’m in middle school, but it’s summer holiday and the weather’s good. My mum & dad worked super long hours and didn’t have too much time or energy, but one evening my sister and I knock for a friend and bring her back. My parents both insist on playing ‘it’ with us. We all chased each other at full speed, screaming with laughter while the sun went down. 

It’s my second year at uni, I’m in a performance group with two friends and we’ve arranged a rehearsal. One is on a huge come-down, and we soon realise that there’ll be no rehearsal. We bundle into bed, and have a little 3-way spoon. I was middle spoon. I was too hot and wearing a jumper and wanted to fidget and going through a break up, but cuddling two of my favourite people felt super serene. 

That’s your lot. I feel better. Send me your warm-fuzzies, if you feel so inclined.