mental health

Caution: Me.

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is wide open?” – Rumi

I have been out of hospital one week. One week of ‘freedom’… or so I’m told.

What I do have, is a new appreciation for anyone who has ever been held in any kind of institution for any length of time. Whilst you are locked away, the world does not wait for you. It doesn’t stop. And now that you’re out, it isn’t halting for that either. It isn’t waiting for you to find your feet or readjust.

Thrown in.


…Or don’t… Either way.

I remember the day that I was downgraded to Category One whilst in hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with what that means – I was given the freedom to leave the ward for short times, whenever I wanted. I could venture out on my own. Go for walks. Get a coffee. Nip to the shops. And I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to step outside, not have to have someone with me constantly. Be alone – what a novel experience that was going to be.


And terrifying.

I literally took two steps out the doors, before turning back and walking inside, where my nurse was waiting with words of encouragement. It is amazing how institutionalised you can become in such a small span of time. The world was foreign, and frightening. I was not confident of my capacity to navigate it anymore. Everything was so overwhelming. So bright. So loud.

Nevertheless, I built up some courage, and eventually my two steps turned into three steps, into four steps… into small outings on my own. But every time… every. single, time… I could scurry back to the safety of the of the unit. The walls of my room. Quiet. Dull. Calm.

Out here, in the real world… It is anything but.

Every sense is heightened. Colours are so bright. Movements are exaggerated. Noises are deafening. It is a sensory overload 100% of the time. It is both breathtakingly beautiful, and tremendously overpowering. And there is no ward to scurry back to. There is no quiet, dull, or calm hospital room.

There is just me; me against the big wide world.

Since discharge, I feel like my lack of hospitalisation has resulted in a perceived lack of illness. It is as if as soon as I walked out those doors… it was now up to me to prove I was sick. Or alternatively, to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘decide’ not to be.

It is heartbreaking to know that anything you do hurts the feelings of another – particularly someone close to you, like family, or friends.

But for some reason – when you have a mental health condition… people feel the need to let you know just how badly your illness affects your loved ones.

I do not know of any other illness, where the sufferer is held responsible for the heartbreak their illness inflicts on others; as if, somehow, they are able to control this. If someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer, for example, they would never ever be told that, because of their condition, they were ‘hard to deal with’, that it ‘wasn’t all about them’, that they needed to recognise that they were causing ‘heartache’ and ‘sleepless nights’ for others. They would never be left to feel like they needed to repay a debt, when they were offered support during their treatment or recovery.

I have been out of hospital one week… and I am still wearing my hospital identification arm band. I can’t bring myself to cut it off. I feel like I need it… I need it to prove that this was real for me. That I needed real help. That it is an actual condition… and I am not responsible for it. That I am recovering. That I need support… and that is OK.

And that support has come in waves, from so many people, in so many ways… and it has been amazing. I am so thankful for the people in my life. And I am so sorry that my illness has caused them heartache and pain. But I think it is so important for me, and for anyone who is suffering a mental health illness, to remember that it is not you causing that pain. You are not your illness. You do not need to constantly try and remould your shape to ensure that other people are not impacted by the fact that you are unwell. People do not need protecting from you.

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” – Anonymous

I think there is a big void, between us, as a society, being aware of mental health conditions… and understanding and accepting mental conditions, as legitimate medical conditions.  I do not think the stigma associated with mental illness can be reduced until we are able to recognise that distinction.

I am not my Depression.

I am not my Anxiety.

I am not my illness. And neither are you.




Prognosis? Invisible.

I have now been in hospital for the best part of two months. I have seen a lot of patients come and go in that time. I have seen a lot of health care professionals aid these patients with various aspects of their health. There is an obvious and overwhelming gap in the treatment of mental illnesses, versus physical ones. The priority is also always placed on the side of the physical, and never the mental.

I have had first hand experience with this, as I am lucky enough to get frequent nose bleeds. Ironically, they often occur at times when I am distressed or anxious. However, being a physical health issue, a referral was made to an Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon, who came to the ward to assess me, and my leaky beak.

At this point, I feel it would be prudent of me to let you all in on a piece of information quite relevant to this situation. One of my most significant triggers in terms of anxiety and panic, is a doctor with an implement, that s/he wants to poke or prod me with. Particularly sharp ones.

In this instance, I was waiting for the Surgeon, whilst three training doctors quizzed me about every detail regarding my nose; when did it start? How long does it take to stop? Do you have high blood pressure? Do you have allergies? Are you using cocaine?

There was no discussion at all about whether I was comfortable with what was happening. There was no discussion with me about treatment options. There was no real discussion at all. The surgeon simply waltzed in, asked his training team ‘what we were looking at’ (a very anxious me, is the answer to that)… and casually proceeded to stick a burning stick of metal up my nostril and cauterise my ‘wound’.

My eyes watered. My heart raced. My palms became sweaty. My vision blurred.

Unfortunately for me, the procedure was unsuccessful and actually resulted in exacerbating the problem. And so, I was told another round with this oh-so-empathetic doctor was coming my way. Only this time, I would have to go to him, in the Emergency Department.

I am not sure anywhere on this planet makes me as anxious as a hospital Emergency Department. I am on high alert from the moment I set foot in the waiting room. Any and all hospital personnel are now potential threats in my mind. I am trying not to breathe for fear of catching some sort of hideous gastro cross swine flu hybrid. There are so many people. There is so much noise. I can’t sit still. Every single sense is heightened. I am completely overwhelmed and bordering on panic. I feel nauseated and light-headed.

And this is before anyone has even laid a finger on me.

When I am finally ushered through to a treatment room, I am met with the same three audience members, and the surgeon. I am asked to lay down. I am asked to tilt my neck back. I am asked if he can ‘take a look’.

I am not positive, and please, correct me if I am wrong – but I am fairly confident that ‘taking a look’, does not involve a rather large needle being injected into my face. It also does not involve an electric machine burning my skin until I can taste it in the back of my throat. It does not involve being sprayed with anaesthetic.

Regardless… none of these things needed to be done without trying to first manage my other symptoms. I was having a panic attack on the treatment room bed, and it was as if it was invisible; I was shaking. I was hyperventilating. I was groping the edges of the bed so hard my knuckles were an impressive shade of white.

Here I was in hospital for an anxiety disorder, which is clearly documented to be heavily triggered by medical procedures… and yet, this illness had not been considered at all. Managing the situation holistically was not even attempted.

The loud and clear message for me?

My mental health was not taken seriously.

I walked back on my own to the Mental Health Unit. I was in tears. My heart was pounding. I was sweating, and I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.

In this day and age, I feel like this is simply unacceptable. How can you have a Mental Health Unit at a hospital, and yet the illnesses it is treating be considered irrelevant by any treating team member outside its walls? There is so much research. There is so much evidence. Surely the people that we are entrusting with our health and wellbeing should be well-versed and educated on the current thinking in the medical field. It is almost like an intentional ignorance. I whole heartedly agree with Nicole Ricketts, when she suggests that,  “With all the information out there, with so many people affected, you not taking this seriously says more about you than me.”

This got me thinking. If mental health isn’t even taken seriously by our health professionals… then how are we expecting that it will be accepted and treated as a legitimate medical condition by anyone else? How many people are having to prove how sick they are? How many suicides could have been prevented? How many lives have we lost simply because someone was too functional to be considered unwell? Health care professional or not, I think it is so important to remember that “not all wounds are visible… we need to walk gently in the lives of others.” – Unknown

I think the term ‘invisible illness’ makes such a powerful statement. Not about the illness. Because today, in that treatment room, there was absolutely nothing invisible about it. No… the term ‘invisible illness’ makes a statement about how mental illness is perceived.

So I challenge you.

Make some noise.

For yourself. For your loved ones. For your friends. For your family.

Don’t accept a world where they are forced to suffer in silence… where they are invisible. No one deserves a prognosis like that.

#makesomenoise #mentalhealthawareness #stopthestigma

mental health

Beautiful. Brilliant. Crazy.

When I asked my husband to describe me in three words… That was his response.




I think mental health awareness is often focused so heavily on the sufferer, that the people around them, the ones who are watching someone they love fall to pieces… they get somewhat bypassed in the chaos. They are the ones who are there to dry the tears. They envelope you in hugs. They carry you when you can no longer walk. They literally pick you up when you fall… but where are they, when we want to raise our voices and create awareness? Why are they not on the front page – the champions of mental health. Literally… saving the lives of the ones that they love. Helping them choose recovery. Again and again and again.

I went on a date tonight. A date with my champion. The man who has picked me up off the floor of the shower, and carried me in his arms. Dripping. Crying. Lost. The man who has held me until I have fallen asleep, after I’ve woken up at 2:00am kicking and screaming with night terrors. The man who has caught me more times than I can count, when my head gives up and I pass out from anxiety.

I asked him tonight what it is like living with me. What it is like living with Him. What it is like living with us – my depression… my anxiety… and me.

“Most of the time,” he responded, “I’m just worried.” He described that as the overwhelming emotion associated with loving someone who suffers from mental illness.

This was closely followed by “lonely”.

Physically, I am there with him. I cuddle and kiss him. I laugh with him. I cry with him. But my head is chaos. It is too full and busy trying to silence the storm, that he often feels I struggle to be by his side mentally. He has supported me every step of the way in my journey. I feel like he is so proud of how far I have come… But I know that there are elements of what I have been through that are hard for him to share. Embarrassing. Overwhelming. Complicated.

I asked him what he thought of my mind.

“It’s fucked,” was his first response.

I found that a rather amusing addition to the otherwise orthodox conversation.

“Your mind is absolutely lacking in reason and logic in the face of small tasks… but at the same time… it’s brilliant. Complicated… but brilliant.”




About me. About you. About life.

Those were the words that he used to describe himself, in his role as someone in love with me, and my crazy. I disagree. I see him very differently – I see him as a rock that keeps showing me patience, love, and kindness – even when I am at my most trying, unlovable, and mean.

To adapt a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert, he is here. He loves me. He does not care if I need to stay up crying all night long, he will stay with me. If I need the medication again, he will help me take it – he will love me through that, as well. If I don’t need the medication, he will love me, too. There is nothing I can do to lose his love. He will protect me until I die, and after my death he will still protect me. He is stronger than Depression and he is braver than Loneliness and nothing will exhaust him.

“Because you don’t want someone to save you, not really. You want someone who will plant kisses on your scars, and cover your bruised body with their own, and hold you at 2:00am when your world has fallen apart, and you have cried yourself into a coma. What you really want is someone who will help you save yourself.” – E.G.

I can not imagine the strength that it requires to love us. To keep loving us. To fight this battle with us. I do not think  I would have what it takes to be a champion of mental health. And for those of you who are; who are there every day. Struggling. Striving. Learning….

Thank you.

With everything I have… And on behalf of everyone who is suffering through this chaos… On behalf of all of us… For your patience. For your love. But most of all, for your kindness. Thank you.

I for one, would not be here without it.



Imperfect Earlobes

I was on social media earlier in the week, and found myself caught up in a discussion about ear-piercing. A mother was asking what the earliest age a child could be to get their ears pierced. This question came with a disclaimer – that she was not interested in any information regarding whether or not she should pierce the child’s ears, because “it was (her) baby” to do with what she wanted.

My first reaction to the post was actually curiosity – how early did piercers agree to shove metal rods through a tiny human’s earlobe? My second reaction was an overwhelming desire to be the voice for this tiny human, because this mother was asking how early she could pierce this tiny, perfect, little person, expose her to infection, cause her un-consented pain; and for what? To make her ‘pretty’?

This got me thinking – I know that this is not an uncommon procedure for young girls in our society. I don’t think mothers are ‘bad mums’ if they have their daughter’s ears pierced. I believe it is almost seen as a bonding experience for mother and child. But what, I wonder, is the message we are sending to these children, at such a young age, about their worth? About their value? About the fact that these risks are worth it so that they can be more aesthetically pleasing? This procedure for girls, is giving them a loud and clear message, that they are not good enough. They require enhancing.

I entered into the debate with my unsolicited views, and was met with hostile responses; but the one that pricked my ears (or eyes) the most, was a comment suggesting that the risk of infection was actually lower below 3 years old (I assume because 3+ children are out and about, getting dirty, playing in mud, having fun, being children). You’re piercing an almost newborn baby’s ears, for the sole purpose of making her ‘prettier’, and you are justifying that, by saying the risk of infection (which is only there in the first place because you put it there) is lower? Quite baffled, and feeling quite sorry for this perfect little baby with her perfect little earlobes, I began pondering this huge issue of societal standards for feminine beauty, and it’s impact on the mental health of girls and women.

Whilst I completely agree that there are unrealistic expectations driven by society for men, I raise the issue in regards to women in this instance, largely because, well, I am one – so this issue affects me directly… but also because I have first hand experience of just how damaging it can be. I did, however, find this twitter interaction an interesting take on the situation;

The question?

“How do boys look good without makeup?”

And that is so true, isn’t it? I look at my husband, with his electric blue eyes, dark lashes, and five o’clock shadow dusting his jaw, and I am almost annoyed with him. How does he look that good without makeup??

The answer?

“Because society hasn’t told boys that they look bad without it.”

It is extraordinary that this issue is such a long-standing one; it is not new. We, as a society, have known for decades that the unrealistic beauty expectations in the media have adverse impacts on the mental health and self-confidence of girls and women. Marilyn Munroe articulated it quite aptly when she addressed “all the girls that think [they are] ugly because [they are] not a size zero,” reassuring us, that they are “the beautiful one. It is society who is ugly.”

Of course, society has not learnt from the overwhelming stack of research that has piled up over the years. In fact… it has gotten far worse. We now have an estimated one in four women suffering from eating disorders; myself included.  And the problem is not only in magazines and on TV; which can be closed and switched off. This bombardment of information telling us we are not good enough is literally, everywhere. It is on our phones, in social media, in advertising… A subtle undercurrent, at every age, on every level, all the time.

Thanks to social media, we don’t even need corporate media to be shoving this down our throats; we are doing it ourselves, to each other. We add filters. We nip, and tuck, and present a false, enhanced, version of ourselves. Of our lives. Of our children. I go online and I scroll past 10 girls ‘live’, doing their makeup, giving other girls ‘tips’ on how to be better versions of themselves. The ironic thing about that, is that these girls are all too often school aged… and are ‘live’, during school hours… with a following of other school aged girls glued to their ‘life lesson’. When did education stop being about academic achievement, and start being about lip liner and contouring? And what will this mean for the mental health of these girls as they grow older and are faced with the unfortunate truth that beauty fades?

It could be argued that the problem was society’s standards… Now, the problem is that we have accepted them. And it is making us sick.

We are prepared to risk infection for our infants to ensure they meet this standard. We are prepared to find “Pretty”, an appropriate answer to the question, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” We are prepared to let our teenage girls go on diets, when their bodies need fuel the most. We are prepared to go and get injections into our faces to prevent aging. We are prepared to throw up the food we eat – the food we need for our bodies to function. We are prepared to distort the images in our mirrors.

I would argue that every single woman in our society has some level of body dysmorphia. How could she not when she is bombarded again, and again, and again with information telling her that she is not good enough.

And not only is she not good enough.

She never will be.

If our society sustains its current standards of what ‘beauty’ looks like… that ‘she’, that tiny baby with her perfect earlobes… she will never in her life, win the fight against her own reflection. And I for one, am so sad about that.


A Deafening Silence

I am currently sitting on my hospital bed, listening to the sounds of my neighbour have a dangerously heated argument.

I could not tell you who she is arguing with.

I have not seen them.

To me, they are not real.

I can only begin to imagine how completely frightening it would be, for this monster inside my head, to make a full blown debut onto a three dimensional screen that only I can see. For Him to be, for all intents and purposes, real.

This got me thinking… this ‘invisible’ illness… how invisible is it?

I think there is often a huge pressure placed on people with so called, ‘silent illnesses’ to prove how sick they are. But the more I look around, the more I realise that, whilst these illnesses are ‘mental health’ related; they, too, just like any other illness have obvious and often debilitating physical symptoms.

It could be argued that the most ‘silent’ factor is, in fact, society. “It is an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.” – Glenn Close

I have certainly noticed a divide in the treatment team during my admission. Whilst some health care professionals are supportive, empathetic, inclusive, and respectful, there are those who are quite openly dismissive, punitive, and patronising. As if, somehow having a chemical imbalance in your brain, automatically equates to you being some sort of simpleton.

I saw a wonderful quote by Lonely Lotus the other day, that read, “if mental illness could be seen on a sufferer, maybe society wouldn’t just say ‘get over it'”. However, I would challenge this quote after what I have seen, and after what I have been through on my own journey. This illness can be seen on the sufferer. I have scars; scars that have nearly killed me. I have rashes, nausea, weight loss, insomnia, cold sweats, blood noses, and bruises. I lose consciousness regularly.


If you can look at me, and draw the conclusion that I am well; then I fear that it is either you, who are a smidge ‘simple’, or a quick trip to Specsavers may be in order.

Yet, on so many levels, this illness is not taken seriously. Don’t get me wrong; since my admission I have had the absolute privilege of being looked after by some absolutely stellar nurses, lovely support staff, and an amazing psychiatric/therapy team. But there are also definitely those who clearly either do not fully understand mental health, fail to have/show the appropriate empathy, or are just outright condescending to patients.

The maintenance, or lack of, in the unit also sends an undercurrent message that our illness isn’t a priority on any level. You can walk into most of the bedrooms and literally see the pain that has lived in there. From the scratches across mirrors, where people have attempted to erase their own reflections, to the scraping at walls, where people have tried to claw their way out of their own skin. It is, in all honesty, enough to make someone depressed in some senses of the word.


We are not ‘crazy’. We are sick. And we are not our illness. I have played cards with the most beautiful girl, with the most awful rope burns around her neck. I eat dinner, and make jokes, and laugh with ladies that have bandages covering both wrists. I have watched a patient with hallucinations, create the most incredible artwork. And anyone who knows me, knows I love a good debate; and that guy with the uncontrollable anxiety? He knows how to hold his own in an argument.

We are fighting illnesses. Just like every other patient, on every other ward. Our illnesses are visible. You just have to take a second to look. And on that note, I have to say I agree with this twitter user; “I don’t think suicidal people get enough credit for not acting on their suicidal thoughts. This is for all of you who have survived the urge to end your life, either coming out the other side, or still fighting to stay alive. I have noticed that when someone has a physical illness, such as cancer, and they come out the other side or into remission, they are able to celebrate surviving. I think the survivors of being suicidal should celebrate too.”

It is not, in my opinion, about making a choice. It is not about the sufferer being ‘selfish’ if they don’t win that fight. It is about battling an illness… and losing. Just like any other death, from any other illness. Sad; yes. Absolutely. Gut wrenching. And I would not wish the pain of losing a family member to any illness, on anyone.

I think what I have learnt over the past two months in particular, after meeting so many incredible people, is best articulated by John F. Greden M. D;

“We need so much more openness, transparency and understanding that it’s OK to talk about depression as an illness. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a moral shortcoming. It’s not something people brought on themselves.”

So, to all of you fighting – you’re illness is not you.

And to those of you surviving – I will crack open a celebratory Ensure Plus in your honour.





A Fierce Beholder

I had an ex boyfriend, who once told me that we shouldn’t be friends if it made things ‘harder for me’. I found this statement in itself quite an entertaining one; there was such an assumption that I would be the one, out of the two of us, who would somehow find the fact that we were no longer a ‘we’, harder to cope with. I also found it strangely ironic that the relationship had actually ended as a result of his own fears. Even more amusing was this idea, that the solution to my alleged hardship, was to remove another layer of the relationship. Strip it bare. Rip it off and leave nothing in it’s place.


I was not always so confident in how I viewed my role, and my place, within the above interaction. I believe that we too often brand ourselves, and build a picture of how we think we are perceived, based on our interactions with others. I know I have certainly done this – often to my own detriment. But I have learnt, that this picture is too often a distorted one … and this distortion is no fault of our own.

Nevertheless, this distorted reality shapes us. It changes and shifts our sense of identity, and where we perceive our place to be in the world. It hugely impacts our mental health. This concept is aptly summarised in the quote below;

“When you depend on people to build you up, they’ll have the same power to break you down. You don’t need their validation to know your worth.”

– Kush and Wizdom

I see so many girls on advice pages, asking for their peers to tell them whether they should be worried about their partner looking at another girl, or watching pornography, or talking to his ex. I see so many memes on social media condoning and actively facilitating this idea that a relationship should be defined by jealousy. We seem to have lost sight of relationships that are grounded in a foundation of mutual respect and understanding. Too often, these traits are traded in and ‘love’ becomes some warped and ugly version of the term. “Perhaps we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us, they know exactly how it should be done.” – Rudy Francisco

The reality is, that the allusive ‘they’, don’t need to understand, or like, what you are doing with your life. You should be living for you. Doing things every day that make you happy. You don’t need to broadcast every high, and you definitely don’t need to hide every low. As a beautiful friend once told me, “depression, anxiety, and all other mental illnesses, are flaws in our chemistry, not our character”, and they are nothing to be ashamed of.

You’re trying to live. Not convince, justify, or clarify your existence for anyone else. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learnt whilst doing this ‘life’ thing, is that if they love you enough for who you are, then they will make the time, and they will put in the energy, to discover you. Every piece. On every level. Because you are worth it.

Make the changes you need to, to make you happy. If you find that someone is no longer in your life after you have done that, then perhaps they were one of those changes. To adapt how Amy Poehler so articulately puts it, “you attract the right things for you, when you have a true sense of who you are.”

Be your own fierce beholder #lovingmefiercely


Take a Selfie, Fake a Life

I was chatting to a close friend of mine today, and she mentioned to me that she was going through some mental health issues. I was genuinely surprised to hear this, as I see her gorgeous smiling face popping up regularly on my Facebook feed, always accompanied by an in-love-with-life caption. It makes me smile every time I see her, and whilst most of me is simply happy for her happiness, a small part of me envies her colourful, fun-loving, smiley existence.

I mentioned this in fewer words to her, and her response to me, was “isn’t that what social media is for? 😦 ”

Her response threw me.

I don’t know that we, as a society, have given due thought to the long-term, serious, and far-reaching impacts of social media on the mental health of users; particularly young adults. People are not only constantly ‘on display’, but they are also constantly bombarded with the displays of others. It used to be that we lived in a world where the impacts of unrealistic expectations were considered, because of the nipping and tucking done during post production on models in magazines. Now, we live in a world where this unreasonable standard applies to all areas of life; and social media would have us believe that everyone seems to have achieved it. Everyone, that is, except us.

We present a false depiction of our own existence. We make it up. We filter it. We are literally able to take a ‘selfie’ and apply the rose-coloured glasses.

My issue with this, is that, whilst we are all striving to make our lives seem blemish free, we fail to see that we have reduced ourselves to the confines of how others’ may or may not judge us. Why on earth have we become ashamed, or worse, afraid, to be real?

We seem to constantly be striving to present a more perfect version of ourselves. A selfie with less wrinkles, with more contouring, with better lighting. We are trying to outdo someone else’s falsehood. We have become jealous over illusions. We are envious over relationships and lifestyles, that don’t even exist. And the irony here, is that research shows us that individuals with a strong social media presence are actually more likely to exhibit undesirable traits, such as narcissism and anti-social behaviour.

There is an estimated 1.2 billion people currently using Facebook, with almost half that number as being reported to suffer from a mental illness.

I am firmly of the view that, as a society, we take a selfie to fake a life… and I have tried through my blog posts and notes on my mental health journey to be upfront, raw, and unapologetic about what this demon looks like for me. I have also tried to use both photographs and text to tell the story. I believe both sides of life need to have their story shared; I believe you can’t have rainbows without rain, or sweetness in success without failure, or courage without fear. And, in the words of Blush, “real life is messy, and random, and sometimes ugly. It does not wait for you to click ‘post’ and it does not give a shit if you’re having a bad hair day.”

So, I challenge you… #nofilterforlife ?