“Are You Doing Enough?”

Imagine being told that you weren’t doing enough during the Covid-19 pandemic; staying at home, keeping your friends and family safe, and muddling through university assignments is not enough.

No. Apparently, it’s time to focus on our CVs.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the “Student Futures” department at my university. The email, which started innocently enough, thanked all the key workers for their contributions; as it happens, I’m not a key worker, so I didn’t give it too much attention. That is, until I saw the next part of the email.

Whoever sent the email then went on to say that employers would not be impressed with potential candidates that didn’t have an inspiring answer for the question, “what were you doing during the Covid-19 pandemic?”

Apparently, we need to consider “up-skilling”.

The sender provided all of us “slacker” students with links to available courses. I mean, it’s not like we are trying to finish a degree or anything, is it?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people using this time to learn something new – if that’s what they choose to do – but for a university to criticize students for, apparently, not doing enough during this scary time? A time where near-graduates – like myself – are already anxious about what the future holds.

Let’s just say they received a lot of complaints.

The next day, the same department sent out an “apology” email; it was never their intention to imply that students weren’t doing enough, and they hope everyone stays safe and well during this scary time.

I don’t know how the email got approved in the first place.

Job Hunting and Anxiety

Job hunting is a daunting process. Do I have the right qualifications? Enough experience? Am I what they’re looking for? Are they what I’m looking for? Financial pressure. Applications. Resumes. References. Interviews.

Now add an anxiety disorder; a little voice that will accompany you through the already daunting process.

Are you what they’re looking for? What if you don’t get this job? If you don’t get this job then you probably won’t get any job. What then? Your degree will have been for nothing. What if you do get an interview? It’s not like you’ll be able to go through with it. You know you can’t talk to people, especially one on one. They’ll never hire you. And don’t get me started on references! Who would want to give you a reference? Your tutor certainly won’t since you spent all of university an anxious mess. I wouldn’t even bother applying. In fact, don’t bother. Actually, no. You need the money. But who would hire you?

It’s a constant cycle of negative thoughts, from the first search of the job site to clicking ‘send’ on the application.

It gets worse. The job market is extremely competitive, and rejection emails are common. Now, I know rejection is part of the process, but the little voice in my head sees rejection as confirmation.

See! I was right. I knew they wouldn’t hire you. I don’t even know why you bothered applying. Don’t even bother checking your emails next time, we know it’ll just be another rejection. Although, it’s probably a good job they rejected you now. At least you won’t embarrass yourself at an interview.

Now that I’m coming to the end of my time at university, and my current job relies on me being a full-time student, I’m in the midst of job hunting. Unfortunately I’ve had a few rejections (lack of experience, I was expecting it) so that little voice has been extremely loud for the past few months.

I’m trying to organize some volunteering/work experience in a relevant field, so fingers crossed I’ll have some luck there – I’m trying to be positive!

Has anyone else experienced this while looking for a job?

They Said I Should Lie

It’s common for someone with a mental illness to feel ashamed. There’s absolutely no need to feel ashamed, and this is something I fight against on a daily basis – in my ‘real life’ or through writing – but sometimes it can’t be helped. I think it’s our job as fellow sufferers (and, you know, fellow human beings) to try and lessen that feeling of shame. We need to show people that having a mental illness is valid, and real, and okay.

It can be difficult, however, when a mental health professional doesn’t feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve encountered some amazing people during my mental health journey. I can’t deny, though, that not everyone I’ve met along the way has been all that helpful.

The one that will always stand out for me is a professional I encountered during my mental health struggles in secondary school. Overall, this person was incredibly kind, but there is one situation that always comes to mind where I was left feeling shamed.

Long story short, this person encouraged me to lie about my absence from school. They said I should tell people that I have been having stomach problems, and that’s why I haven’t been able to get to school. Apparently, people wouldn’t react well to me being mentally ill, so I needed to tell everyone I had to be in close proximity to a toilet.

Now I’m pretty sure this person didn’t personally believe that there was anything for me to ashamed of, so why did they encourage me to lie? Maybe they thought it would be easier for me? Maybe they thought the other kids at school wouldn’t accept a mentally ill classmate? I’ll never know. But someone in that role encouraging a teenager to hide their mental illness from the world is just contributing to the stigma that surrounds mental health, and it needs to stop.

I chose not to lie, by the way, and my friends were supportive and loving and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Anyone who wasn’t that way isn’t part of my life anymore, and I’m better for it!

Maybe They Know And Just Don’t Care

This is a bit of a different post for me! I’m not a confident poet, but I came across a poem I wrote a while back and wanted to share it with you.

Let me know in the comments what you think!


The wandering hand in a dark nightclub,

the footsteps that follow on a poorly-lit street.

The wolf-whistle coming from the builder on that ledge,

“Give me a smile, love”, as they dig up the path.

The boss placing his hand on a knee in a meeting,

knowing it will stay there

until the meeting is over.

The one that is valued only for looks and

not for knowledge, experience, ideas.

The girl that feels danger walking alone at night,

but doesn’t feel safe getting a taxi on her own.

Another unwanted email with a photo attachment.

The eyes that stray across the body at work,

trying to ignore the lewd remarks and suggestive looks.

Two bodies on a train,

one edging ever closer,

oblivious to the other’s distress,

or maybe they know and just don’t care.

Schizophrenia

As I’ve said with my last few posts in this little series, I spent a lot of time on http://www.mind.org.uk to try and understand Schizophrenia as a condition – I have no personal experience with Schizophrenia so I hope I have given it the justice and respect it deserves. Like the others, this was part of a creative writing assignment at university that I thought was worth a post. Hope you enjoy reading!


Schizophrenia is feeling lost. I’m lost inside my own reality. I can’t keep track of the truth anymore. There are a sea of voices fighting for my attention, but I don’t know who I can trust. There’s a voice, the most common voice, that tells me to do disturbing things. Things I don’t want to do. This voice tells me I don’t have a choice. Do I have a choice? There’s another voice, a soft, feminine voice, that offers words of comfort, reassurance and love. Is she real? I can hear laughter and singing, screaming and crying. Constant whispers. Soft murmurs. Shrieks of terror. Howling. Sobbing. Sighing. Acceptance.

Schizophrenia is a blend of good days and bad days. On the good days I feel grounded. I can sort through the voices and make sense of the truth.

There are more bad days than good days.

On bad days I retreat to the back of my mind, the only place where I have a chance of escaping the cruel tongue of the voice. I lose myself for hours, clinging to this feeling of safety. The voice calls to me, searching, but I travel further and further inside myself. My body is no longer my body, but a hiding place.

Eventually, though, our game of hide and seek will come to an end.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Life Without Anxiety Makes Me Anxious

I had my first panic attack at fourteen – I prayed that I would never experience anything like that again. At fifteen, when I dropped out of school, mid GCSEs, I longed to be back in a classroom. At sixteen I got my first prescription, and couldn’t wait for the day that I got my last. When I was seventeen, I had to withdraw all of my university applications, and I cried, and I cried, and I cried. At eighteen, watching all of my friends start new lives in new cities, I ached to get better.

Why, then, does life without anxiety make me feel so… anxious?

The first time I had this feeling was bizarre, to say the least. I was at university and about to do a presentation for the first time in around six years. I had had several sessions of hypnotherapy (check out Hypnosis if you like) to get me to that point, but I still held the belief that I couldn’t do it. I just knew that I’d get to the room, get set up, and completely fall apart with anxiety.

I was right about the anxiety, but wrong about the cause.

The first twinge of anxiety started on the journey there. I read over my notes, made sure I had everything in order, but I had the same thought running through my mind, over and over; why wasn’t I having a panic attack?

I slowly typed my username and password into the computer, each key bringing me closer and closer to my biggest fear. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I crying, hyperventilating, running from the room?

As I set up the presentation and picked up my notes, anxiety settled in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t going to have a panic attack. I would have to present.

I realized something about myself that day. I was so sure that I would have a panic attack, and not have to go through with the presentation, that the reality of being able to face my biggest fear caused a new layer of anxiety that I have never experienced before – I was anxious because I wasn’t anxious.

I was used to hiding behind my diagnosis; I used it as a crutch. Oh, you want me to do a presentation? No, thank you. I actually have panic disorder. Did you know? Well, now you do for next time!

Panic attacks were my “normal”. I had gotten so used to experiencing anxiety and panic in certain situations that I actually expected a panic attack to occur, and when it didn’t occur, I had no idea how to handle it. What now? Am I supposed to do the thing? The thing I’ve been avoiding for years? Really?

Of course, anxiety and panic attacks are not that simple. One successful presentation doesn’t guarantee another (I found out just how truthful this statement is not that long ago), but now I have to face my new “normal” of giving things a go.


Has anyone else experienced anything like this? Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

Insomnia

Insomnia is aching eyelids. Night after night, trying to force myself into unconsciousness. No matter how hard I try, sleep is just out of reach. I long for sleep, rest, oblivion, but it’s beyond my control. Insomnia is like a waking nightmare; I close my eyes but they are quickly prised open by an unknown force that never leaves. I feel the fingertips caress my delicate skin, gently soothing, comforting, and I start to relax. Maybe sleep is finally in my grasp. Just as I’m about to succumb to the darkness, the soft strokes change, and my eyelids are wrenched open. The fingers shred the delicate skin around my eyes until there’s nothing left; my eyes can never close.

Insomnia is begging. I beg the doctor for drugs, something, anything, that will put me to sleep. I long for darkness; for dreams; for nightmares.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Addiction

This post – like my last post, Paranoia – is based on curiosity and research (thank you, http://www.mind.org.uk) and was submitted as part of a creative university assignment based on mental health conditions.

Anyone struggling with addiction should head over to http://www.mind.org.uk and look through the resources available. There are lists of websites and phone numbers that can offer support to people suffering from addiction.


Addiction is being controlled like a puppet on a string. The strings wrap around my body with the strength of steel cables. No matter how hard I try to claw my way out of their grasp, the puppeteer pulls harder, and I’m flung into the arms of my controller; my vice. I have tried for so long, for too long, to separate myself from this toxic relationship. I know it’s toxic, but I’m in too deep. How could I possibly leave when mere hours of separation makes sweat seep from my pores? My fingers shake with need, itching to grab a cigarette from the pack; rip the cap from a bottle; roll up a fiver and make a line. Chills sweep through my body, rack my frame, and force my body to convulse violently. I hunch over the toilet, clutching the seat in my sweaty hands. I’m too hot. It’s so cold. I brush my matted hair away from my face, flinching in agony. One delicate touch on my sensitive flesh is agony. Everything aches and I know nothing but pain. Excruciating, overwhelming pain. 


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Paranoia

My previous posts in this little series (Depression, Panic, Anxiety, Anorexia and OCD) all contain elements of personal experience. I did a little research along the way, but, for the most part, these are very personal accounts of how these disorders can manifest themselves within an individual.

This post, however, is a little different. I have experienced mild feelings of paranoia as a symptom of anxiety, but I have no personal experience with the disorders most closely linked to paranoia. I’ve done research on http://www.mind.org.uk to try and gain as much of an understanding as I possibly can without experiencing these conditions firsthand. This post is simply a product of curiosity, research and a creative university assignment.


Paranoia is the groping of a dozen hands. They rip my clothes from my body and tear through my skin. They gouge through my flesh with their fingernails, exposing my every thought and desire.

I know they’re watching me. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known. They’re everywhere I go now. I saw one, just this morning. I was waiting in line for my coffee when I saw her. The teenage girl behind the counter, with thick black liner and a nose ring, and dark roots giving away her natural colour. The dark bags under her eyes highlighted the bored look on her face, and her gaze always landed back on the clock on the far wall. She took my order and asked for my name. I couldn’t let her know that I know. I had to ignore my rapid heartbeat; trembling fingers; laboured breaths. If I gave her a fake name would it give me away? They can’t know that I know, so I gave my real name. I walked to the opposite end of the counter and waited for my drink. I looked at every face in the café, trying to work out who I could trust. There was a man, maybe in his early thirties, that kept glancing in my direction. He wore a shirt and tie with the sleeves rolled up. Smart yet casual. We made eye contact, and he smiled. Could I trust this man? He looked away and took his phone from his trouser pocket, his fingers moving quickly across the screen. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The corners of my vision began to blur and all I could focus on was the phone in his hand. Who was he texting? I frantically looked from customer to customer, desperately searching for answers. A young woman sat alone, shredding a napkin with her fingers. Her gaze alternated between her phone, resting on the table next to a mug of coffee, and the door. Her phone screen lit up with an incoming message. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The man was texting her. They were talking about me.

My name was called. It was the teenage girl again. I looked from person to person; from the teenage girl, to the smart yet casual man, to the young woman that sat alone. They were working together. I couldn’t let them know that I know, so I reached out with a quivering hand and accepted the drink. The teenage girl told me to have a good day.

I was back on the street when I realised. The teenage girl told me to have a good day. Did she know something? Was something going to happen today? I glanced at the takeaway cup in my hand. She must have put something in my drink. I didn’t see her make it. It’s the only plausible explanation for the glances, the texting, her asking for my name. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths.

I binned the drink without taking a sip. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

OCD

OCD is an uncontrollable urge. The urge takes over my entire being. I can feel it in my fingers, through my chest, down my legs and in my toes. An urge to flick switches and to check door handles. Every number must be even, unless it’s a multiple of five, then I can relax. I have to sit on the left side of the room, sleep on the left side of the bed, and walk on the left side of my companion. Such little things, simple tasks, that take over my mind and body. I need to do it. Bad things will happen if I don’t turn the tap tight enough, or lock the front door, or if I leave the volume on twenty-three.

OCD is an ambush of troubling thoughts; a mental whirlpool of worry, doubt and fear. Intrusive thoughts take up residence in my mind. I desperately try and evict them. I beg for them to move on, to find another home, but they threaten me with violence. I’ve tried changing the locks and barricading the door, but they always come back.

OCD is time. Hours and hours spent fixing my obsessions and giving in to my compulsions. Hours wasted. I don’t leave the house because it’s easier to keep the door locked. I don’t wash my hands so I don’t have to check the tap. I can’t leave the oven on if I don’t turn it on in the first place. I don’t have to live through the odd numbers if I stop all clocks on the even.


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