Being seen

I am going through a very happy period of my life at the moment. I have moved back to London and started a new job which I love. I’ve started dating someone lovely, I see my friends a lot and I am (whisper it…) enjoying my life! I still have anxious moments obviously and there have been a few teary meltdowns, but I am prioritising being as physically healthy as I can be in order to protect my mental health.

I have been struck by the novelty of feeling this happy and free. I caught myself stopping to smile at a cute cat on the walk to my morning commute yesterday and wondered what the hell was going on! A cute dog I always notice, but a cat?! I thought about it all day yesterday and came up with the conclusion that I feel this good because I finally feel like I have taken back the power over my own life.

I feel well enough now to dictate my own choices instead of having to make choices based on the needs of my illness. Last year I had to move home as I needed the support of my family.  I was also given incredible support by the wonderful people at Pieta House (an Irish charity which offers therapy to those in suicidal distress), I had six months of therapy at Pieta House and it completely changed my mindset. I let go of hurt and pain that I had been carrying around for years and I finally stopped blaming myself for being raped.  I am now well enough to be independent again and there is a huge sense of empowerment that comes with that. I don’t feel invisible anymore.

I feel part of the world again precisely because I am well enough to be out in the world and connecting with people around me. I mentioned something to my friend Rosie recently which perfectly illustrates how far I have come in the past few years; I told her that I have been amazed at feeling comfortable enough to sit in the staff room on my breaks and chat to my new colleagues. Rosie and I used to work together a few years ago and when I started that job I was so anxious that I would have to go and sit in the bathroom on my tea break. I simply could not sit in the staff room and chat to others, the mere thought of it stressed me out. I am self-aware enough now to know that I will have bad days at my new job and I’m sure there will be days where I won’t feel like sitting in the staff room but that will be a choice, and not a daily necessity. The power that comes with these little choices shouldn’t be underestimated. 

The feeling of being seen has also had a huge impact on my mental health. I felt invisible for so many years when I was at my lowest because I had to withdraw from the world as I couldn’t deal with it. Other people had to look after me and made decisions for me and I hated it. I’m incredibly stubborn and I hate being told what to do! Being independent and making my own choices is all I have wanted for a very long time and I am determined to enjoy it and never take it for granted. There is a whole world waiting out there for me and it feels incredible to be well enough to enjoy it.

And finally a little word about cats and the weirdness of stopping to admire them on the street! I am putting this down to staying with my friend Mary when I first moved back to London and falling in love with her lovely little cat. I feel guilty though so please nobody tell Dougal…

 

First aid kit

My life imploded last year, despite my best efforts to hold it together.

I had a job I loved, but I was barely able to function and couldn’t go to work. I had a man I loved and who loved me and a relationship which could have been wonderful, but I was so ill that I kept fighting it and him. I simply could not allow anyone to love me because I hated myself so much. This self-loathing manifested itself as anger and made us both miserable. I had wonderful friends who offered me support but I was too low to get out of my room and too anxious to be around people. My life wasn’t working because my head wasn’t working.

I had to leave London and go back to Ireland to get well. I did this through a mixture of psychiatric support, medication and counselling. I worked through a lot of hurt I’d been carrying with me for many years and finally let it go. For me, being well means being able to function again. I’m always going to be prone to anxiety but now I’m managing it and it doesn’t control me or stop me living my life.

My biggest fear now that I am well and back in London is that I will get hit by another bout of depression and be sucked back down into that horrible spiral of mental distress. I tend to panic on a bad day and think I’m on the way to another breakdown. Life is inevitably stressful and there is no way of avoiding that.

However, it has occurred to me that there are things I can do to protect myself in preparation for these little blips, so that the feeling passes (which it invariably does). The key is to bandage up my fragile mind so that stress doesn’t damage it.

I thought about something that happened a few weeks ago. There was a weekend when I was physically really ill and had to stay in bed with a really high temperature. At one point on the Saturday, I cried my eyes out because all I wanted was some 7up (the cure to all illnesses as any Irish mammy will tell you) and there was nobody here to get me some. This was my lowest point since I’ve returned to London: I felt utterly alone. However, I genuinely think I wouldn’t have felt so bad if I’d had some “mammy medicine” on hand. So, once I’d recovered, I stocked up on emergency supplies of 7up for the next time I’m sick.

So, stocking up my mental health first aid kit is something I have been working on. Some things are tangible, like the 7up, but other remedies are about how I think and plan my life. Here are some of the most important things I’m working on:

1. Physical strength – being as strong as I can physically is the best thing I have learned to do for my mental health. Being physically ill is terrible for my mental health – too much time to think and ruminate is not good for me. So I’m trying to eat well (plenty of green smoothies), take a lot of vitamins and up the amount of exercise I do.

2. Rest – being tired is a huge trigger for me. Bad days are always a hundred times more tricky if I haven’t slept. I get tired easily and I used to beat myself up about this. However, now I’ve come to accept the fact that sometimes I need a nap to get through a bad day! It’s nothing to be ashamed of and sometimes rest and sleep is the only cure for a low mood or a massive bout of anxiety. Not feeling guilty about this is the key here.

3. Widening my world – depression can shrink your social circle. I spent months alone in my bedroom at my lowest point as I just could not be around people. My world was just me and the thoughts in my head. However, isolation is really not a good cure for a bad day! The first step in my recovery was opening up and letting people back in. Having as many people in my life as I can is hugely important to me; I am well enough now to stand on my two feet but having a support system that I know is there for back up is a huge comfort.

4. Changing my mindset – I’ll let you in a little secret: I’ve never known how to be happy. I didn’t think I deserved happiness so it terrified me – I didn’t know how to relax and allow myself not to worry. Moreover, I assumed I was broken and I would never learn how to be happy. The key word here is learn: I’m slowly figuring out to change this mindset and allow joy into my life. Finding happiness in little things is a wonderful cure for a bad day. The simple act of making myself a cup of tea and reading a good book is a great solution to anxious moments.

5. Self-acceptance – this is the most challenging remedy I have been working on and also the most important. Learning to be compassionate to myself is the kindest thing I can do on a bad day. I have had to put in a lot of hard work to let go of all the self- loathing I have held inside for many years, and accept myself the way I am. This is very difficult for me and I have to work at it every day, but self-acceptance is a big tool to fight depression with. Feeling comfortable with myself is the mental equivalent of wrapping my mind up in bubble wrap to protect it from negative thoughts.

So that’s how I’m handling my mental first aid kit. Mind you, anyone who knows me will have noticed that I am also extremely accident-prone and clumsy… so maybe I should also make a big bubble-wrap coat to protect the rest of me!

Four practical tips for managing anxiety

I have struggled with both depression and anxiety in my life, and of the two, I would say that anxiety has actually had more of an impact on my daily life. I think of depression as a huge tide that comes crashing over me periodically, like when you’re surfing, and you’re “washing-machined” by an unexpected wave. It picks you up, spins you around and throws you down disoriented on the sand. Anxiety, on the other hand, is like a lot of little waves that just keep coming. The surf never stops, and anxiety doesn’t either. That said, small waves can be managed; if you are standing tall they can’t knock you down. So, here are some ways I manage my anxiety by rising above the waves.

1. The one hour rule. My anxiety is always at its worst first thing in the morning. I wake up consumed by worry, and that makes the day seem impossible. To manage this, I use a trick where I make myself get up and tell myself its only for one hour: sixty minutes to have breakfast and take my medication. After that, I can go back to bed if I have to. This breaks the worry down into a manageable chunk and then I can cope with getting out of bed. Then, breakfast raises my blood sugar levels which improves my mood, and I rarely need to play the going-back-to-bed card.

I use the one hour rule for other things I find overwhelming – for example, I tell myself I only have to go out for an hour and then I can go home if I have to. It’s often the anticipation of something that makes me anxious, and I usually feel better once I’m out of the house and with people. The one hour rule just helps me get over that initial stumbling block. It can also be adjusted to a shorter period of time on a really bad day.

2. Turning my phone off at night. I struggle with sleep, and tend to lie awake ruminating about past mistakes and worrying about what the future holds. Here’s a shocker: it turns out that endlessly scrolling through Instagram and Twitter late at night is in no way helpful for avoiding these thoughts!

Blue light from your phone can suppress production of melatonin (the hormone we need to sleep), and the internet is no place for an anxious brain that is struggling to switch off. This is something I really find difficult, and I have a terrible habit of reaching out for my phone at night if I can’t sleep – even though being online in the middle of the night when you feel at your most vulnerable is a terrible idea. Nothing good is going to come from messaging someone at half one in the morning, trust me! So I have bought an old-fashioned alarm clock to help me beat my phone habit, and I’m going to start leaving my phone downstairs at night time. It’s for my own good. Step. Away. From. The. Phone.

3. Stop comparing myself to others. My inner voice can be cruel and I inevitably come up short when I compare myself to other people. I like the Theodore Roosevelt quote which describes comparison as “the thief of joy”. I couldn’t agree more. Anxiety for me is essentially an endless cycle of negative thoughts fizzing away at the back of my brain. I berate myself for not being good enough for anybody or anything. This can even involve being cross with myself for being anxious in the first place! I see my friends coping brilliantly with full lives, careers and children, and I wonder why I can barely leave the house. This leaves me feeling pathetic and like a failure. It’s a vicious circle and there is no way I can win the battle in my head.

The way I try to manage this is to step outside of myself and turn my focus onto these other people. I try to practise kindness every day. Little things make me feel better, like baking a cake for a friend or making dinner for my family; so it becomes a way of being kind to myself too. I’m never going to measure up to other people in my own head, so I’m better off getting out of that negative headspace by turning my focus outwards.

4. Exercise! I’m really not good at this, despite appearances from the photo accompanying this blog! That bemused face marks the one and only time I’ve completed a 5k run, so I’m not going to miss the opportunity to remind myself it can be done. I rarely feel like I have enough energy to make myself get out there, but I know it’s great for my anxiety when I do. I’ve recently been angrily reminded of this by my body – my neck literally seized up a few weeks ago from all the anxiety that has been stored up there, and I have been going for very painful sessions of acupuncture to try and relax my muscles. The acupuncturist thinks that I store tension and anxiety in my spine, and I need to get moving to try and prevent this tension from building up.

And so I have unrolled my sadly-neglected yoga mat and started stretching every day. I’m also getting out of the house for a short walk on a daily basis. Walking is the most beneficial for me as I can feel the tension seeping out of my body while I pound the footpath. I’m going to try to work back up to my glory days of running, as I also found this brilliant for getting out of my head. Loud music in my ears while watching my feet move is a brilliant form of escapism. I need those exercise endorphins…

Mind you, I did once run into a tree while training for that one famous 5k, as I was so busy watching my feet. So, yeah, don’t do that. Managing your anxiety can help you to rise above the waves, but it can’t stop a tree from bruising your forehead!

Four things that have helped me to manage my depression

I saw my psychiatrist a few weeks ago, and she remarked that “I had some of my old spark back”. I had spent the last half an hour with her crying about how ‘stuck’ I feel and how little progress I have made, so I was somewhat surprised to hear this, and queried it. She went on to explain that the deep depression I have been in this year seems to have lifted. And… she’s right, you know.

I’m still highly anxious, and I’ve lost my confidence, but I’m not down a dark hole anymore. So, to celebrate I thought I would make a little list of some of the things that have helped me over the past year. That way I have something to look at the next time I have a bad day – and I hope it can also help anyone else out there who is struggling today. I’ve also used a selfie of me doing a silly face with this blog. My type of anxiety involves body dysmorphia, and until recently I wouldn’t have felt able to put a picture of me out there looking a bit ridiculous. But today it feels fine. So… you’re welcome.

Things that have helped me

* Reading – this is a huge one for me. I am an avid reader and have been since I was a little girl, when I used to get up early so I could read before school! One of the first symptoms of depression I experience is a loss of concentration, so I use reading to help me escape my negative thoughts. To counteract the difficulty in concentrating, I stick to easy reading. Any sort of glossy magazine will do, but I especially like Hello for the photos and the sheer escapism of reading about minor European royalty. Any sort of “interiors” magazine is good for this too – planning my fantasy house is a good way to escape the darker recesses of my brain. But my top tip is to reread books. It’s much easier to concentrate if you have read a book before. I have been through much of my local library at this stage, and rereading fiction has gotten me through long nights of insomnia.

* Reaching out – the natural instinct of a depressive is to isolate oneself and hide away. The world is a terrifying place when you are depressed, and interaction with others just seems too hard. I come to hate my phone when I’m depressed and it’s a trial to answer calls or texts. Of course, this is in fact the worst thing to do, as it leaves you all alone and at the mercy of your thoughts. So, reaching out to others is a way out of the prison that depression has placed you in. Texting a friend is a simple way of reminding yourself that you are loved and that you do matter. Texts are often all I can manage, and that’s ok – contact with the outside world is the important thing here. Lately, I have been making plans to see friends, but crucially not making too many plans, to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I would also recommend only seeing people who make you feel good, and who won’t make you feel guilty for your absence. Being ill is nothing to be ashamed of.

* Counselling – I have been going to counselling every week since April and it has helped me hugely. I never want to go, and somedays I would rather do anything than talk about my feelings, but I make myself go every week and it really does help. Talking about what has been going on in my head is difficult, and I know that therapy isn’t for everyone, but it has been a lifeline for me. Speaking to someone impartial enables me to process my feelings and to work through them. I always leave my counselling sessions feeling better.

* Medication – this is another lifeline for me. Anti-depressants have adjusted the chemicals in my brain and brought me back to a point where I can function again. My serotonin levels have risen and helped me to fight off the negativity which I was drowning in. I have also been taking sleeping tablets for the past few months and again, I wouldn’t have managed without them. I can’t sleep when I am depressed and I lie awake worrying. Lack of sleep makes daily life impossible and thus, it’s a vicious circle. Sleeping tablets are obviously not a long-term solution, but I am happy to be taking them for now. Sleeping for a few hours a night instead of no hours goes a long way in helping me to function again.

Climbing out of the hole is only the first step of course. I’m still at home with my family and not working, but my energy is coming back, and that’s crucial to give me the strength to get back into the world.

And that’s what I want – more than anything. I retreated from the world at the start of the year, but now I want to be free to start living again. I know there is happiness out there for me somewhere.

A New Relationship

“The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”

Carrie Bradshaw

Like most women of a certain age, I was obsessed with Sex and the City back in the day. I loved the clothes and the exciting lives they all led in New York… But most of all, I loved Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment. (Ah, how I wish it was possible to live like that writing one newspaper column per week!)

Anyway, the reason I quote Carrie now is that I am painfully aware that I have never managed to achieve a relationship with myself like this, and that has been a significant factor in my struggles with mental illness. And, to illustrate just how differently I view myself, let’s compare Carrie’s words to the following monologue that goes on in my head most days:

“YOU’RE UGLY, YOU’RE DISGUSTING. YOUR LIFE IS A FAILURE. HOW COULD ANYONE LOVE YOU? YOU’RE A WORTHLESS, SPINELESS, USELESS WASTE OF SPACE. YOU’RE A BURDEN AND I HATE YOU”

My Inner Voice

Imagine if someone said that to you. You’d be really upset, right? Well, those are the thoughts that swirl in my mind all day, every day. I’ve never liked myself, and have always compared myself unfavourably to other people. I always felt like the ugly duckling of my friend group. My self-loathing increased dramatically after being raped and it’s spiralled out of control since then. To be more specific, I’ve developed unhealthy coping mechanisms like self-harming.

That’s years and years of being my own worst enemy, of always being harsh on myself and never learning how to be comfortable in my own skin. I’ve tried to look for comfort in relationships, to find someone who could rescue me from myself. But of course, it doesn’t work like that. It is impossible to love somebody else if you don’t love yourself. You end up resenting the other person because you can’t understand why they love you, or even like you.

Loving yourself isn’t about ‘self-care’, bubble baths, or treating yourself to nice clothes. That’s all very nice and to be encouraged, but on a deeper level loving yourself comes down to silencing your inner critic, making healthy choices and looking after yourself. It involves being able to look in the mirror and pick out something good, rather than obsessing over tiny flaws.

The irony is that being kind is something that comes naturally to me, except when it comes to myself. I love looking after other people, yet I find it impossible to look after myself.

So I’ve decided I’m going to give a relationship with myself a go. To be honest, I don’t have a choice anymore. I’ve come to the end of the road this year when it comes to my mental health. I reached rock bottom at the start of the year, and I’ve found myself back at home, living with my family and unable to work or function.

The good news is that I’m doing everything I can to improve my mental health. I’m going to counselling, I take medication and I’m putting in all the hard work… yet I now realise none of it will make a difference if I can’t learn to follow Carrie Bradshaw’s advice and develop a relationship with myself. So I need to learn to at least like myself, at least a little. I might not ever learn to love myself as much as New York’s most improbably well-paid columnist, but I might be able to develop a kinder inner voice.

Running to stand still

I feel like I have spent the past year running. The problem is: I’ve been going round in circles.

It’s now the end of June, and I’ve been fighting my current bout of depression since last year. This time it has brought me to my knees and I’ve found myself back at home, living with my family in Cork, having had to give up my job and my life in London. (I say life, but in reality, life had shrunk to the point where I was confined to my room, barely able to function.) Coming home for some support was a last-ditch effort to find a way to get well.

Unfortunately, this has been the pattern of my life for the last number of years. I get well for a while, try to live my own life, and yet somehow it all comes crashing down and I have to come back home again. Here is the thing: I have been dealing with mental illness since my early twenties, and I always thought someday it would go away; that I would wake up one day and be happy. I thought moving to London would make it better: starting a new life, getting married, having a job I loved. And yet… none of it lasted. These things did help for a while, but the anxiety and depression were always lurking beneath the surface, waiting to pounce. That happiness never became the norm and here is the reason why: I hate myself.

Deep down, I blame myself for being raped, and I think I am disgusting. These are the sentiments that have defined most of my life and there is no running away from that. Everything I feel stems from this. I don’t think I deserve to be happy, I can’t accept myself the way I am, and I am consistently my own worst enemy. The inner voices in my head are always telling me I’m not good enough. I thought I had dealt with the rape and the trauma years ago but I’ve come to realise that isn’t the case. Getting divorced last year seems to have brought all the old feelings of shame and loathing to the surface.

Running home hasn’t made these feelings go away, but it has forced me to reflect on what’s going on in my head. I’m tired of running; tired of trying to escape myself. It’s not possible, of course. I have to learn how to like me as I am, and work out how to feel compassion for myself.

For now, that involves taking my medication and continuing with counselling. It doesn’t always feel like I’m getting that far, but at least I’m standing still and taking stock. That’s the only way I’ll create the space to change the conversation inside my own head.

 

Radio Star…

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak on the radio about my blog and my experience of anxiety. An old school friend of mine who works in the Irish media contacted me to ask if I was interested in talking to PJ Coogan from The Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM  to take part in a segment on panic attacks. This all came about following a video posted online by an Irish actress called Rachel Sarah Murphy, entitled ‘ Panic attack on a Train’. The video went viral,  and the production team at the Opinion Line decided to raise awareness of the issue.

I got a message asking me if I was interested at half past two on a Tuesday afternoon, and the interview took place the following morning. I told friends and family in Cork and elsewhere to listen out for me, and as the interview approached, I sat at my kitchen table in my pyjamas, already shaking with nerves. And then, just as I was waiting to go on air, the phone line went dead! All I could think of was the humiliation of my Auntie Mary waiting to hear me at home, PJ announcing my name, and me not being there…

Of course, these people are professionals, so they called me back and soon it was all systems go. PJ immediately put me at ease and we talked about my experiences of mental illness and my methods of coping. We also touched on panic attacks, and how to help somebody who might be suffering from depression and anxiety. My favourite part of the chat was talking about the very Irish phrase of ‘cop yourself on’, and how to deal with unhelpful advice from others. I felt completely overwhelmed after the interview, and it has taken me until today to listen back to it and feel able to share it here. Speaking about mental health can be difficult, but ultimately I find it very rewarding, so I’ve decided to share the interview here in the hope that it will help others.

Click on the “play” button below to have a listen, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

I don’t need to punish myself

Summer is almost over and I’m looking forward to the leaves falling from the trees and having an excuse to buy a new pair of autumn boots. I’ve written before about how I find summer to be the most difficult part of the year. Bright sunshine tends to make me panic and gouge holes in my face. That’s an odd sentence, I know; so let me walk you through how it happens…

I was raped when I was younger, and subsequently developed an obsession with hair. I associate hair with being dirty and have a compulsive need to be hair free. If I have no hair, then I’m clean you see? And being clean means I’m ok and not dirty. Writing this down is making me feel sad: it’s pretty clear to rational-writing-me that this hair removal ritual is because deep down I still blame myself for being raped.

I’m 36 years old and I was raped when I was 21. That’s a hell of a long time to punish myself for something that wasn’t my fault, but it’s a hard habit to shake off. I didn’t tell anybody about the rape until a few months after the event, and by then I had turned all my pain and anger inward. I started self-harming and my campaign of hate against myself had begun.

This has taken many different forms over the years: the aforementioned self- harming, an inability to look after myself properly, and the compulsion to be hair free and ‘clean’. The need to free myself of ‘dirt’ has probably caused me the most distress over the years. I’m not sure I could count up the hours lost in my magnifying mirror, trying to pluck out tiny hairs; first with tweezers, and then if that doesn’t work, with a needle, to get the tiny ones out from my pores. This is obviously a battle I am destined to lose, as we all have tiny hairs all over our bodies which are not going to enjoy being ‘gone at’ with a needle. So I emerge from this daily battle covered in red marks: self-harm 1 – me 0.

I’ve tried numerous times over the years to try to curb these compulsions. I’ve thrown away countless magnifying mirrors, yet I always buy a new one. My natural instinct when I have a bad day is to blame the fact that I am ‘disgusting’. So, to combat this, I’m trying a new tactic of putting little signs up all over my room like the one at the top of this blog: mantras to help bring some positivity into my head.

I have one more tactic which I am going to try today. I am going to write a paragraph to myself, and to anyone else who might need to hear this. It doesn’t matter who raped you, what you were wearing, or whether you had been drinking. Rape is not your fault. The rapist is the only person to blame; the only person who made that choice. There is nothing you could have done to deserve that. And if you haven’t done anything wrong, then you don’t need to be punished, do you?

So with that in mind, I am going to try and set down my weapons of war, and I urge you to do the same. Of all the relationships I’ve ever had, the one with myself is the most destructive. But the good news is that we’re working hard to resolve our issues.

Colouring in and covfefe

It’s been eight weeks now since I tore my calf muscle. That’s eight weeks of crutches and immobility. I’ve had to move back in temporarily with my ex, as my new flat is up several flights of stairs, and that’s not really manageable without two working legs. But I’m lucky that I have somewhere to go and people to look after me (including my dog, who helpfully licks my foot every now and then to ease the pain). I’ve not been able to work and Netflix has become my new best friend. But one way or another, Josh, Dougal, my crutches and I have managed to get by for the past few weeks.

My mental health has suffered somewhat as a result of this enforced period of inactivity. I have wonderful friends who have called round and kept me occupied (and even painted my toenails – thank you Eleanor!) but it’s difficult to keep fighting anxiety when you are cut off from the outside world and have too much time on your hands to think. When I’m cooped up, I don’t have any of the tools that I normally use to fight anxiety, and so I’ve been reminded of how fragile my mental health really is. Over the last week especially, my world has shrunk to a tiny pinpoint, and all I can think about are the negative thoughts taking over my brain.

Without a routine and engagement with the outside world to occupy my mind, I’ve fallen into bad habits. Without strict discipline, I tend either to ruminate on the past, or worry about the future. It’s difficult to stay focused on the present when you are feeling very anxious: the thoughts are all-consuming. For example if I try to have a conversation with somebody when I’m anxious, I find it hard to look them in the eye, and it’s virtually impossible to concentrate. The thoughts act like a swarm of angry flies buzzing around my head, making it very difficult to focus on anything else.

Normally, I try to defeat my anxiety with some form of activity to get me out of my head. This can be going to work, or doing some form of exercise; anything that forces me to turn my focus outwards, helping to swat away those angry flies! This has proved difficult whilst I have been stuck inside and I’ve been struggling to calm down my racing brain. Sleep becomes harder, too. I find myself aimlessly scrolling through Twitter… if I’m not careful, I’ll start tweeting about covfefe.

This need to try something has led me to think about mindfulness. Being mindful roughly translates as trying to live in the present moment and notice what is happening around you and within you at any given time. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, and can be a useful tool to calm an anxious mind.

My own mind, predictably enough, finds mindfulness a tricky concept. One therapist I saw a few years ago tried to teach me how to be mindful using the example of eating a square of chocolate. The idea was that you focus on feeling and tasting each square, to slow down the brain whilst you eat. Yeah, so that doesn’t really work for me. I just wanted to say: “Look lady, when I’m eating chocolate I’m concentrating on getting the yummy into me as fast as I can!”

However, if ever there’s a time to give the concept another chance, it’s now. So I decided to try out some mindfulness colouring-in… and I’m happy to report that it really does work!

Mindfulness colouring books have been everywhere for the past few years, and I was sceptical at first, but I’ve come to find them a really good starting point for mindfulness. The very act of the colouring – including the all-important staying inside the lines – focuses the mind on the present task, and forces the brain to slow down. Those anxious thoughts recede when I’m concentrating on the best shade of green for those trees in the background.

The best thing is that small, hobbly steps soon lead to bigger strides. So just as I’m starting to walk without crutches again, I’m also finding that the mindfulness colouring is helping to give me the calmness and focus to write. In the past year I’ve found that maintaining this blog gives me real confidence – but I need to be in the right frame of mind to write full sentences. If only the President of the United States could spend a bit more time colouring in…

Lean on me 

Today is world health day and the theme this year is depression. As someone who suffers from depression I find it really heartening to see so much discussion on social media encouraging people to talk about mental illness.

I have spent this week on crutches due to a silly accident, and the thought occurred to me that friends and family can be a crutch for those who are in mental distress. So what can you do to help someone is suffering?  Here are a few tips.

My own experience has taught me that talking can really help to alleviate the pain. One of the worst aspects of going through a bout of depression is feeling alone and detached from the world around you. So if you think somebody is depressed, reach out to them: send them a text, pick up the phone or call round to see them. Even a five minute interaction can help to brighten someone’s day. I’m lucky to have friends who have done this for me and whose love and support has helped me enormously. As recently as January, I had to take some time off work due to a bad bout of depression. During this period two work friends texted me every single day just to say hi – and to keep me up-to-date on work gossip! This kept my spirits up even when I was at a low ebb.

When depression hits, something as simple as leaving the house can seem impossible. So don’t judge your friend because they don’t want to go out, or if they constantly cancel social engagements. Instead of giving up on your friend, keep reaching out and try to offer your company in a non-scary way. For example, offer to pop round for a cup of tea or suggest a walk in the park. Little things like this can make a big difference and help to build up confidence.

The world becomes a daunting place for someone who is depressed. Someone offering a hand to hold to take those first baby steps back can really help. A few years ago, when my depression was at its worst, I had to go home to Cork to live with my family for a few months as I couldn’t cope on my own. My friends came and sat with me on the couch, and when I got a little bit better they took me out for tea and then brought me home again. It’s hard to overstate how much these little trips helped me on my road to recovery.

So that’s a few simple ways you can help somebody in your life who is suffering from depression. Or, if you are the person who is suffering, then I would encourage you to reach out to those who love you. Lean on people around you and you will find they want to help you through this.

Let’s keep talking about depression – it’s the best way to fight it.