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.

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.