Springing forward 

The clocks went forward last weekend and spring has officially sprung. London is looking glorious with cherry blossoms in full bloom and daffodils waving merrily at me from every park. In theory, more light in the day should mean an improvement in mood for those suffering from depression. More sun and light can contribute to feelings of wellbeing and those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder should see a marked improvement in their mood.

In practise however, I usually find the spring and summer months to be my worst time of year. Sunshine and brightness are a huge trigger for my anxiety. I feel like I’m missing out on so much by dreading this time of year, so I’ve decided to try and make 2017 different. After all, there’s no Olympics or football this summer competing for my attention, so I may as well try and fix my brain instead!

With this in mind, I’ve been trying to make sense of my anxiety about the light. This is tricky and not easy to write about but I’ll give it a go.

I was raped during the summertime, and my anxieties all began around that time. The sunshine now makes me feel horribly exposed. My fears about excess hair are magnified by it. I associate hair with being dirty, so having to worry about exposed legs and underarms adds worry upon worry.

My negative thoughts have a lot of power over me and I’ve decided to try and fight back this year. There have to be better ways to use energy than pointlessly fighting against the sunlight. So I’ve started to see a counsellor for some cognitive behavioural therapy, and it’s helping me to recognise negative thoughts patterns and, more importantly, how to diffuse them.

The trick to this is unpicking the reasons behind my thoughts. Deep down I still feel ashamed and dirty because of being raped. This leads to the need to constantly torture and pick at myself in a magnifying mirror. I can’t accept myself the way I am, and I struggle against things I have no control over. I can’t control the sunlight, I can’t control the hair that grows on me and will always grow back, and I couldn’t control my rapist either. And that’s ultimately what it is all about. The way I feel about how I look on the outside is a reflection of how I feel about the uncomfortable truths of having been raped and having a mental illness. When I compare myself to other girls and think I’m ugly, it’s because I don’t feel like I am as good as everyone else.

This is a sad way to live my life though isn’t it? Always struggling and never having any power. Beating myself up and not feeling good enough. So: taking back some power from my negative thoughts is the way forward.

Talking about them can help, as can writing them down. Either way, it helps to get the thoughts out of my brain. It’s uncomfortable to face up to these facts, but it’s the only way I can take back control. Being kind to myself, looking after my health and not punishing myself anymore is the way I would like to live my life. I think I have suffered enough.

So this is the plan for the spring and summer ahead. I may even take up gardening as a productive way to enjoy the sunshine. Wish me luck!

Postscript: how Murphy’s law works

I jumped down some steps in a burst of happiness after writing this blog… and tore a calf muscle in the process! Alas, my springing forward may be considerably slowed down by the crutches I’ll be using for the  next few weeks…

Living without hope

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of speaking on the radio about depression and coincidentally an article I wrote appeared in a newspaper the same week. I reacted to all this in a very Irish way by becoming deeply worried that people would think I was showing off by mentioning all this on social media. I also felt very exposed after it all and a few wanky comments online really got to me. My choice to put myself out there, I know; but still, I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing.

A few events since then have made me sure that writing about my depression is not only the right thing to do, but also something I am determined to persevere with, no matter how uncomfortable it may make me feel at times.

A dear friend told me of a young girl who’d committed suicide; a high-profile sports personality in Australia took his own life; and I received an email through my website from a bewildered father whose daughter died by her own hand and who was trying to make sense of it all. These are a number of ways of saying “suicide”; none of them easy, and none of them comfortable to write about. It’s very difficult even to broach this without running the risk of offending somebody… but I think it’s a risk worth taking.

When I write about feeling low or depressed or going through a bad patch, I will inevitably have been feeling suicidal most of those days. I believe the technical term for this is ‘suicidal ideation’, having suicidal thoughts quite a lot of the time. This doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of dying; I am just as afraid as anybody else. Personally, the preoccupation with suicide is less of a wish to be dead and more of a desperate wish to stop living. It sounds silly to distinguish between those things, I know: there is no in-between. Depression causes mental anguish, and the pain inside can literally be unbearable, so for me the desire to die is a desperate wish to make the pain stop. Unfortunately, this pain is most likely to hit when you are at your most vulnerable: in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning, or when you are alone with nobody there to reach out to.

Here’s what I have learned along my way through the depths of despair, and from coming back out again. You must learn how to become your own best friend and talk yourself down from that ledge in times of crisis. I have literally walked around my flat talking to myself in floods of tears and telling myself to hold on. Holding on is all you can do when the pain overwhelms you; cling on and know that the moment will pass. Sometimes when life becomes overwhelming I need to take it minute by minute, and then hour by hour until the panic subsides. In that vulnerable moment, it is very hard to see a way out of the darkness… but I do know it will come. I take comfort from knowing I am not alone. None of us is truly alone. There is help out there.

Depression is so dangerous because it takes your hope away; it blocks out all the light and you can only see darkness ahead. This is why we need to tackle it together and make sure that all of us – and young people in particular – are educated to look after our mental health as well as our physical health. We often don’t realise there is a problem until it’s too late. That’s why we need to start talking (and keep talking) about depression and trying to prevent suicide.

For me, the key is to try to take away some of the mental anguish that causes people to become suicidal. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of, and I will keep repeating this because I truly believe it. Life can be tough and lonely and difficult but it’s the only option we have. Little things can bring light in the darkness. This past week, I’ve had moments of happiness brought about by a hug from a friend, a cuddle from a friend’s baby, and a joyful tail wag from a dog. They made life feel worthwhile.

If you are reading this and feel alone, please reach out for help. Though it can be scary, in my experience, friends and family want to know how you’re feeling and to be there for you. And of course, the Samaritans are there to listen at any time of day. I’ve been there, I know exactly how you feel, and I know you can make it through to the other side.

Waiting for a magical cure

It’s been a while since I have been able to write. It’s been a while since I was able to do anything, to be honest.

A horrible bout of depression hit in November and it completely knocked me for six. Life has felt quite shaky and uncertain since my marriage ended, and it turns out not having some stability makes everything harder.

Depression can cripple you. It makes the smallest tiny thing into a massive hurdle, and all these little things turn into an overwhelming wall of fear that just cannot be climbed over. That’s what the last two months have felt like. I have spent a lot of time sitting on the couch literally not able to move, and bursting into uncontrollable bouts of tears all the time. All I wanted to do was sleep and I couldn’t focus on anything.

So what to do? I tried firstly to wait it out and hoped it would pass. I was managing to get to work and somehow function (but not much else), so I thought I might be ok after a while. But it gradually became clear that wasn’t working. So I tried some new medication which helped a little, but not much.

Oh, and of course this bout coincided with the festive season, which did not help matters. Feeling low when everyone around you is out partying is horrible. Having to keep making excuses for missing social occasions adds another layer of stress to feeling miserable.

I haven’t felt this low in a few years, so I missed the early warning signs and unfortunately ended up down a big hole and unable to see a way out. I kept waiting for something to happen; something that would “fix me”. I made wild plans in my head, to go away for a while, to do this, to do that…

Nothing worked, of course, because there is no magical cure for depression. It’s the little things that help, and over time they accrue and make life manageable again. When you feel at rock bottom though, you don’t have the patience to wait for the little things. You just keep waiting for the big change, and yet wake up every morning feeling the same way.

So I’m writing this as a little thing that I hope will help. I’ve been taking my medication everyday and I hope that will help too. I’ve reached out to people and admitted that I’ve not been coping so well and asked for help. I’ve taken a little bit of time off work to try and regroup and get my energy back. And I’ve been forcing myself to leave the house, to do little nice things. I know that all these things will help to get this illness back under control again and I will find a way back out. I’m writing this all down to remind myself of that.

There may not be a magical cure for depression, but it can be managed. I’ve done it before and I hope I will be able to do so again soon.

The pursuit of happiness (when you start off anxious)

Anxiety is the Conor McGregor of the emotional world: it will win pretty much every fight, and on the rare occasions it doesn’t, its still got a hell of a lot to say for itself.

So how do you fight back?

Here is an example of the power of anxiety. I spent all last week in the house with the flu, and my body dysmorphia took over to the extent that whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw crooked, yellow teeth. But then I started to recover, the anxiety lifted, and my brain started working properly. So this morning, my teeth looked normal and straight again.

Over the past few months, happiness has been trying to force its way into my brain. It’s not a state in which I feel comfortable. Think about the times you feel happy: hopefully you also have a sense of calm. Well, that’s the exact opposite of what anxiety does to your body. I mostly exist in a tense ball, constantly on guard, and battling my way through life. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for relaxation.

I’m starting to realise that being happy is possible, and not just in some far-off future. I always thought I needed to “be” something different in order to be happy. As in: “if only I looked a certain way, then I could be happy”. Of course, this is another example of my anxieties winning the battle in my brain and telling me I’m not good enough. But I’m discovering that happiness can be attained by letting go a little, and living in the here and now.

It’s difficult though.  My neural pathways need to be retrained to experience life, instead of expecting to struggle through. Anxious people by their very nature feel a need to worry about something, so we distrust feelings of happiness. Common thoughts are: “I don’t deserve to be happy”; “this is all going to go wrong so I probably shouldn’t even try to be happy”; or “I can’t be happy because I have so much to worry about”.

The key step for me has been figuring out that the anxious thoughts in my head are not necessarily true. Sometimes the way to do this is to run with the anxious thought, and think it through to its natural conclusion. So going back to last week, I thought my teeth had changed shape and colour. Umm, is that possible? And even if it was possible, would it be the end of the world? Honestly, would it actually impact on anything else in my life? And of course, it’s no, no, and no again. There you go: a punch in the solar plexus for anxiety! And in fighting back, I have also created some room for other emotions to creep in.

So, welcome to happiness. I can see that I have a lot to be happy about when I think rationally and don’t let the anxiety walk all over me. I’m aware that anxiety may always be a part of my life, but lately I do feel like I’ve worked out how to get it on the ropes. I know I can be happy: I mean, check out the nutella-fuelled delight in the attached photo!

I think I deserve it. Don’t we all?

Ireland’s Call 

Yesterday I wore a red dress to work to follow others in paying tribute to Anthony Foley, a Munster rugby legend who sadly died at the weekend (red being the Munster colour). I never paid any attention to rugby until I went to college in Limerick – a city that eats, sleeps and breathes the sport – but I’ve been a rugby fan ever since. So I really wanted to join in the tributes yesterday, even though I work in a library in central London where rugby isn’t exactly an everyday topic of conversation.

It also seems like seems a fitting day to write about belonging – and specifically, how I don’t really belong anywhere anymore. I’m Irish and I live in London. Ireland will always be home, yet I can’t imagine myself ever living there again. I love the anonymity of London; nobody really cares who you are and where you come from.

I do find England and the English baffling at times. Cricket is a sport I will never understand; it doesn’t look anywhere near as much fun as rounders, that’s all I’m saying! Marmite and chutney are two other oddities I can’t get my head around. Particularly chutney: you’re putting jam on your curry… why?

Despite all that though, I have grown to love certain aspects of the national character. I admire the Londoner’s ‘blitz spirit’ and stoicism in the face of global terrorism. Londoners get on with their daily lives and refuse to let anything stand in the way, and I find this hugely inspiring. I have also occasionally found myself adopting the  British ‘stiff upper lip’ on days when I feel depressed by making myself get out the door to go to work, where I can hide my inner turmoil for a few hours. Of course, this isn’t always the healthiest approach, but then again it has helped me to hold down a job and function as a human being.

Yet the longer I live in London, the more Irish I find myself becoming. I’ve always been patriotic, but now I’m the girl who puts on Ireland’s Call at parties, and forces everyone to sing ‘shoulder to shoulder’. A few weeks ago I found myself scrolling through Twitter searching for the score in the All Ireland football final, even though I wouldn’t be bothered to watch it if I was at home in Ireland. And I’ve scoured all the supermarkets in my area looking for Barry’s tea – it’s a dark day when my supply has run out and I’m forced to resort to Yorkshire tea instead! Sometimes it’s easier to love your home from a distance, and I certainly get on much better with my family with the Irish Sea between us.

I’ve realised that I love London because you can be whoever you want to be here, and nobody really cares. That can sometimes be lonely, but I have mostly found it empowering. At home in the village I come from I was always that girl who had been raped, and everyone knew me and the man who had raped me. He was somebody I knew, so for years I lived in fear of seeing him or his family. I would always have to scan whatever place I went into to check whether I would be safe there, and that’s exhausting. Happily, I don’t have to carry that burden around with me here. I can just be me – and also I get the benefit of living in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

So that’s me, an Irish girl not living in Ireland but loving it from afar. I guess I’m also someone who has grown to love the British, but who still definitely doesn’t want to be one of them. Like thousands of Irish emigrants before me, no doubt.

Girl on Fire

I’m typing this sitting in bed surrounded by hot water bottles. I am in bits and my whole body hurts.

It’s all been in a good cause though – I ran my first ever sponsored run on Sunday (alongside work colleagues for added pressure). It was a 5k: no big deal for sporty types, but not something I ever thought I would be able to do. I managed it in a respectable time, and even avoided injuring myself (I’m fierce accident-prone) so it’s worth the sore legs and back. I should explain that I am not blessed with a very strong immune system, so I tend to pick up illnesses on a regular basis. Indeed, a kidney infection and a course of antibiotics a few weeks ago threatened to ruin my entire training plan, but thankfully I recovered just in time so it’s now all systems go for Tokyo 2020.

The unusual thing about my kidney infection was that it was the first time I had been properly ill for a long time. It’s not just the mind that is affected  when you suffer from a mental illness. Turns out you can take all the vitamins in the world, go running, or drink green smoothies like they are going out of fashion, but anxiety will find a way of taking its toll.

The mind and body are intrinsically linked. It’s very hard to be physically well if you are feeling mentally ill, and vice versa. In Chinese medicine the kidney is said to be the force of willpower and determination, which is something I’ve had to rely on a lot over the past year, and so maybe it’s not surprising that my kidney threw a tantrum and needed a rest.

Just over two and a half years ago I had my last serious bout of depression. OK, let’s be honest: I had a nervous breakdown. I was so anxious that I couldn’t be left alone, and so I had to go home to Ireland for a few months. During that time my body was worn out from years of worry, and so I suffered from every illness imaginable. All of me was affected, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

To understand why, scrunch your hand up into a fist and squeeze tight. Can you feel the tension in your hand? Now imagine your whole body being squeezed by your mind on a daily basis, and you have some idea of the affect anxiety can have on the body.

That summer of 2014 was a horrible time. I was so anxious that I couldn’t even go in the shower because I would stand there and freak out about the hairs on my arms. So my poor, long-suffering mother had to make the bathroom dark, and then stand in there with me whilst I washed myself. We repeated this performance on a daily basis for the first few weeks of me being at home. Little wonder then that my physical health wasn’t in tip-top condition.

But you know what else happened that summer? I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. At some point, things in my mind clicked into place and I decided I wanted to get better. I haven’t looked back since. It has been a long, hard road but I’ve kept going in the right direction and I’m getting there.

Until then, I had been focusing all of my energy on hating myself, and it was only when I shifted this energy onto getting well that changes started to happen. I decided to use all my willpower for good instead of stubbornly clinging on to my old ways. In order to do this, I had to let go of being a rape victim. This sounds harsh and if anybody else said this to me I would probably punch them. But unfortunately it’s true.

I had spent years being utterly consumed by what had happened to me. I was so angry, and the anger had nowhere to go so it all turned back inwards. My whole world became about this constant hatred of myself and I saw everything through the prism of anxiety. God, it’s boring being anxious all the time though. I missed out on so much. Being physically ill all that summer with illness after illness – and being so anxious that I couldn’t leave the house – was so dull and miserable that I honestly feel like I may have bored myself into realising my life needed to change!

And changing my life is exactly what I did. I came back to London in September 2014 and a few months later got my job in the library where I now work. I still pinch myself that I get to work in such an incredible place, and having this job has given me the confidence to get out there into the world and start living. Life is stressful at times, of course it is, but it’s a lot easier when you’re not sitting at home on the couch counting the hairs on your arms.

I still get tired a lot and need to rest on the couch with my faithful canine friend, but crucially I accept that now, and I don’t beat myself up about not having quite as much energy as other people. I am learning (slowly) to love myself and my body and this means doing everything I can to nourish it.

So friends, if you bump into me on the street and ask me how I am, chances are I will have a sore back or sore throat or something. But, compared to where I was, I’m doing just fine thank you.

In fact, I’ve never been better.

Powerless

September is normally my favourite month. I love autumn and as a kid I always enjoyed going back to school. Yet as this September draws to a close, I realise that that this one has been frankly quite crap, and I feel a bit broken. In this past month, I have been really upset about a mess that I made of a situation. I feel like I have been disproportionately affected by it, but what lies beneath is an uncomfortable truth. So I’m hoping that writing about it will help to make sense of it all.

What happened is that I met someone amazing, went on a few dates, opened up, and then they chose to not want to see me again. To be clear, it’s not the rejection that hurts, it’s my reaction to it. And yes, I do realise it’s ridiculous to be so upset over someone you barely know. And yet…

As additional context, I should mention that this person referenced my anxiety as a reason for not wanting to be with me. Honestly, with hindsight I think it was a well-intentioned (if misguided) attempt to protect me. Nevertheless, at the time I massively overreacted, and then the boy disappeared.

Some women would no doubt brush this off fairly quickly, so why have I been crying in bed every night for the last month?

Firstly, with the benefit of hindsight I probably shouldn’t be going on dates with anybody just yet. I’ve only been single for a few months, and I guess I’m more vulnerable than I thought. But then, when somebody attractive and funny asks you out for a drink, it’s very difficult to say no. So we went out for said drink, and our first date was one of the best first dates I have ever been on. The guy was smart and charming and we talked for hours. Date two was agreed before the night was out and I went off home feeling happy and just a little bit smitten by his lovely eyes.

So the second date followed a few days later, and proceeded to be even better than date one. Again we spoke for hours and opened up to each other about life, love, rugby… all the important things. Date three was agreed, we said goodnight. Then the following day the problems began.

Essentially, I freaked out first because it felt like I was rushing into something too quickly, so we agreed to wait a few weeks until date three. All very sensible and grown-up. And, unfortunately, too good to be true. Because a few days later, I got a long text from the guy saying he didn’t think we could be together and mentioning my anxiety as a reason why I would be better off without him.

So this leads me on to my second reason for the tears: I think the experience has opened up old wounds. What I perceived (wrongly, it turns out) from his text was that he was using my illness and my past as a reason to not to be with me. This then triggered all of my worst fears about myself.  By the time we spoke, a few hours after he sent the text, I was in a bad place. I had spent the day telling myself that I was damaged goods and nobody would want me ever again. This all came at the end of a turbulent few months and felt like the last straw. My actions that followed were disproportionate. I was really angry with him, and then really upset. I was alone and so took out my frustrations about my life in general on him. So understandably, he ran for the hills.

This was all over a month ago and I have been feeling upset about it ever since. I felt powerless in the whole situation and this is what upset me so much. Not only was I powerless over his actions, but more importantly I was powerless in my reactions to him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why I hate feeling a loss of control in this way, and why it upsets me so much. The old wounds that I thought had healed are actually still there just under the surface, along with a lot of anger.

A final, uncomfortable truth is that I am still looking for validation from men to make me feel good about myself. I haven’t changed all that much from the shy teenager I once was, needing approval from boys to make me feel as pretty as my friends. I didn’t think I was that girl anymore, so seeing my true colours isn’t pretty. I was unable to deal with rejection in a sensible way and I guess that makes me more immature than I thought. I couldn’t see things from his point of view; I just took the rejection personally and used it as an excuse to beat myself up.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Thus September ends, and I don’t want to waste anymore energy being upset over this. Yes, the guy and I had a connection, but the timing was all wrong. Neither one of us behaved brilliantly, but what’s done is done. The end. Time to let it go and stop crying. “Enough now”, as the cute guy in Love Actually says to an undeserving Keira Knightley, “Enough now”.

And so I must move on to more pressing issues, like the other big disappointment of September: finally a new Kings of Leon video, and Nathan is in it for the sum total of five seconds. WTF?!

Is there anybody alive out there?

Meet Bertie, my partner in crime. Bertie and I like to share the papers and a cup of tea of a Sunday morning. Bed should be a place of relaxation, somewhere to unwind, to cuddle, to dream. A place to escape the world and lick your wounds.

Unfortunately, at times my bed becomes somewhere I dread. This happens when I have to share my bed with somebody else; let’s call her Insomnia. There is no point in sugar-coating this: Insomnia is an absolute bitch. She steals your dreams, your joie de vivre, saps you of all your energy, and leaves you with dark circles under your eyes. And there’s the added kicker that you don’t have the energy left to cover them up with concealer!

Lack of sleep makes everything worse. All of the demons that can be tackled during the day come back with a vengeance when it’s 3am and you can’t get to sleep. There is a reason banshees and ghosts only come out at night. I have learned how to manage my anxious tendencies during the day, and these days I’m pretty good at distracting myself, or catching negative thoughts before they spiral out of control. However, these coping skills are ineffective in the middle of the night when I am all alone and the wind is howling (literally or metaphorically). I lose control over my thoughts, my mind runs away with itself, and I lie awake worrying.

In some ways, my mind is a bit like Mario Kart. As kids, my brother and I would spend hours playing the game on our Commodore 64. Kieran would always win because I was absolutely incapable of driving my kart in the right direction. I would either whirr around in a circle, or somehow end up driving backwards on the track. That’s what happens to my thoughts in the middle of the night: they drive off in the wrong direction and I struggle to wrestle back control of the steering wheel.

Some thoughts that currently keep me awake at night include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • What if people reading my blog secretly think I’m a pretentious wanker?
  • Where has he disappeared to and why does it still hurt so much?
  • Why haven’t I done something to try and help the Syrian refugees?
  • How can I be so selfish and worry about myself when the world is going to hell in a handbasket?

Basically, any excuse will do to beat myself up at 3am, and I can usually manage to convince myself that I am to blame for all the negative aspects of my life and the world around me. Cognitive behaviour therapists would point out here that these ways of thinking are cognitive distortions; negative thought patterns that have worn a deep groove on my neural pathways. Of course it’s very easy to see that in the light of day, but rationalisation seems far away when I can’t sleep.

Soooo… Insomnia is a desperately tricky bedfellow to deal with, and if you too suffer from her, then you have my deepest sympathies. I’m certainly not going to pretend I have all the answers, but at least I can tell you what has and hasn’t helped me. I would suggest that the best thing you can do for your sanity in the middle of the night is to put down your phone and STAY OFF THE INTERNET. Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and the Twitterbox at 3am is a recipe for disaster. Now everyone likes a good nose through random peoples’ Facebook photos (please don’t pretend you haven’t done this: we all have; it’s ok!), but doing it in the middle of the night when you feel half-demented from the lack of sleep isn’t going to make you feel better. Going online with no sleep is a bit like holding a magnifying mirror up to your life: it’s only going to highlight all of your worst insecurities and fears. So please save yourself, and put your phone on to airplane mode before you go to bed. Or, even better, buy an old fashioned alarm clock and leave your phone charging in a different room. You should be decreasing your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels at night, and being without a phone is a good starting point.

In times of desperation I have also taken sleeping tablets prescribed for me by my doctor, but I have an uneasy relationship with these types of pills. Firstly, they have the potential to be addictive (unlike anti-depressant medication) in that their efficacy wears off over time, so you may end up taking quite a high dose in order to get the same effect they first had. Secondly, I am very little and this type of medication has a potent effect on me. I have taken a sleeping tablet before, been knocked out for an hour or so, and then woken up and sleep-walked around the house having entire conversations with people, none of which I remember the following morning. Finally – and this is probably the main reason I tend to avoid this type of medication – I usually wake up feeling really ill and hungover, so it’s just not worth it for the few hours sleep the tablet might give me. On a side note here, using alcohol to make you sleep probably isn’t a brilliant idea either, as it just knocks you out and you also wake up feeling horrible.

I have also found it helpful to manage the insomnia with techniques that doctors annoyingly insist on calling ‘sleep hygiene’. (Useful concept; stupid phrase!) This includes avoiding too much caffeine after 5pm. So I’ll stick to decaf coffee in the evening, but personally I think decaf tea is an abomination, so I just drink less Barry’s at night and have chamomile or some other worthy type of herbal tea instead. Next, it helps to go to bed feeling as relaxed as possible, so try to finish up work an hour or two before sleep if you can so that you can unwind. Having a bath can help, or reading something non-taxing. I also find magnesium supplements helpful: I use a powdered version which I take before I go to bed. Magnesium helps to relax the muscles (so don’t take too much…) and helps your body to unwind. Basically I have found if I try to do all these things, and go to bed not feeling too anxious or stressed, then I have some chance at getting a few hours of quality sleep, but if I go to bed anxious, then the chances are the Mario Kart will come out for a 3am joyride.

Excuse me wheeling out a tired cliché to finish; after all, I’m a tired girl. I love the poem “This too shall pass” by Helen Steiner Rice, and these lines have always comforted me:

…darkness will fade with the morning

And that this will pass away, too.

And it’s true that no matter how dark a night I have, things really do always look better in the morning, even if I don’t! So hang on in there and this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

 

Your love will be safe with me 

It finally dawned on me earlier this year while watching an episode of Peaky Blinders. I was increasingly intrigued by the love story between the characters of Tommy and Grace: it had become a sort of symbol of everything missing in my own relationship. I realised that despite our best efforts, Josh and I were not in love anymore and we would never be again. We had been together for seven years and married for three. Somewhere along the way we had fallen out of love and become best friends, and that’s just not enough to sustain a lifetime together. We both knew it, which meant that admitting it to each other almost felt like a relief.

So began the process of untangling the life we had made together and figuring out a way forward for both of us. Thus far we have managed to negotiate a tricky path well and without rancour. I am loathe to use the phrase “conscious uncoupling” (not least because Josh despises Coldplay), but that is what we have tried to do. And, I’m happy to say, it really does work.

We have a dog and we have tried to make sure he spends time with both of us so he doesn’t feel too much upheaval. Dogs (like most of us) take comfort from routine, so he has stayed in the flat with Josh and I have moved out. Even in the process of getting a divorce, we have tried very hard to remain a family, and we both hope we can have that for as long as possible. My family lives in Ireland so it’s nice to have some family here in London that I can rely on.

And thus I find myself single. Not alone, but not in a relationship anymore. It’s a big adjustment and has been at times incredibly lonely, but still, I am enjoying my new life. Being independent is a challenge, but also liberating. It has led me to do some serious thinking about relationships and dating and what may lie ahead. Dating is not something I am good at. The actual dates are fun, of course: who doesn’t like dolling themselves up and going  out for an evening with somebody you find attractive? It’s the part in between the dates that I struggle with. I hate all the rules; the endless games that you supposedly have to play. And yet, being myself and not playing by these “rules” doesn’t seem to work so well for me either (see previous heart-shaped potato post for more detail). So honestly, I have no idea how to go about dating again. Or even, frankly, whether I can be bothered just now.

The only thing I have figured out is what I do want in a future relationship. What matters more than anything else to me is kindness. If and when I choose to give my heart away again, I would dearly love for it to be safe and to be cherished. (‘Your love will be / Safe with me’: my favourite line in my favourite Bon Iver song.) Surely that’s all anyone wants? Real life can be mundane, and sometimes miserable, but being with the right person can make it worth pushing on through. Someone to share your life with; to melt your heart just by smiling. So at the risk of sounding like an incurable romantic (which I am), I’m going to hold out for that, even if it means being alone for now.

That’s my manifesto for love. I have no idea how to go about it, mind you. But at least I know what I want.

The sound of music

Sadly (for some, anyway), this is not a whole post dedicated to the Von Trapp Family. Rather, it contains musings on the joy of music, and how great a tool it can be for managing periods of anxiety.

I must be honest and say that reading has and always will be my favourite way to spend my spare time. I read voraciously and my favourite part of every week is the Sunday papers. I love reading the newspaper so much that I don’t allow myself to open it until after 6pm; it just feels wrong to experience the joy before then. Yes, I have self-imposed rules to control the fun. Form an orderly queue, gentlemen.

However, in the midst of great anxiety I cannot read. This may be familiar to some of you: one of the first symptoms of a bout of depression/anxiety can be a loss of concentration. I always recognise a bad patch is on the way when I lose the ability to concentrate on reading. The anxious thoughts become so persistent that I cannot read more than half a page. The past few months have been quite turbulent, and I haven’t read a book for about two months now. I have found music to be an absolute godsend during this difficult time. On particularly bad days the thing that gets me through is knowing I can get into bed at night, pull the covers over me, plug in my headphones and shut out the world.

Apologies in advance for a paragraph of fan-girling, but it may help to explain that, having been a teenager during the nineties Britpop era, I’ve long-since been a wannabe rock chick. My brother and I loved the Stone Roses and (thanks to a BBC Wales signal pilfered from our neighbours in Ireland) I also had a deep appreciation of many Welsh bands. My love for the Manic Street Preachers should probably have been an early warning sign for the years of introspection that lay ahead! My musical tastes evolved at university into a love of anything with guitars, and particularly Irish bands. One of my happiest memories of undergrad life was seeing The Frames (amazing Irish band) play during Freshers Week. I have since seen them play on many occasions over the years with my lovely cousin Laura, and these memories are some of the happiest I have.

Anyway, the point is that as a music-lover, I’ve learnt how to use it as a tool to manage anxiety. I once dated a wildly unsuitable drummer who passed on the following tip to me. Before I met him, I never really paid attention to the component parts of a piece of music, but he taught me to listen out for the rhythm of the drumming from the very beginning of a song. And I’m here to tell you it works: if you are feeling anxious or agitated, turn on a piece of music and listen out only for the drums. Allow yourself to concentrate on the rhythm, blocking out everything else. Your mind may drift and the anxieties will crowd back in, but keep pushing them out and pull yourself back to the beat of the drums. By the end of the song you should feel less anxious, and if not, try another one and then another until you feel calmer.

I guess this is the same as trying to use meditation to quieten your mind, but personally I have never been able to master meditation as my mind won’t stop chattering to me when I try. However, the drumming trick always works for me.  I feel duty-bound to warn you that this technique may leave you with a grá for drummers. Then again, there are worse problems in life than having an enormous crush on Nathan Followill…

More generally, music can be incredibly uplifting and a brilliant way to motivate yourself. I rather shamefully have a playlist on my phone called ‘Let’s go!’ (thanks to Andy Murray for that phrase) which is very heavy on the independent woman vibe. (My flatmate is less fond of this playlist). Containing lots of Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna, it’s great for creating a strong woman vibe in your head when deep down you actually feel like a scared little girl. And herein lies the magic of music: it can help you to escape your head and become anyone you want to be. You can dance around your bedroom and pretend to be a pop star and have some fun for a few minutes! There is a serious lack of fun involved in being a depressive, so seize every opportunity you can to get away from your thoughts and enjoy yourself. It may only be a few minutes, and it may be when you’re alone in your flat, but sometimes that can be enough to get you through the day or night.

And that’s what it’s all about: getting through. Keep getting through those dark days and long nights. The dawn will come and you will be glad you stuck around to see it. I know I am.