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!

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!

Finding My Place On The Shelf

Have you ever walked into a room and felt off? You can’t put your finger on it, but something is different. Maybe something has moved; a vase two centimetres to the left, or the TV remote from the armchair to the mantel. You can’t pinpoint what exactly, but something feels out of place. Even as you sit down to watch the television or read a book, your eye can’t help but flit from corner to corner, endlessly searching for the offending object so you can put it right.

That’s what depression feels like to me. Controlled by medication, but always there in the back of my mind. I manage to carry out daily routines, but at the end of the day the misplaced vase becomes my focus once again. I feel out of place, but I can’t explain why.

I no longer have the crippling sadness that depression brought me before the medication. Before the medication, and for some time after, I struggled to get out of bed. I didn’t want to shower, and I rarely washed my hair. Did anyone care what I looked like? I certainly didn’t.

Now my depression manifests itself through a feeling of emptiness. Instead of feeling sadness, I don’t feel very much at all.

Are those my only options? Crippling sadness or emptiness?

I would love an explanation. I would love to push myself two centimetres to the right, back to my original place on the shelf.


I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced something similar while trying to tackle their depression. Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

I’m So OCD: The Reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I’m an incredibly messy person. I rarely put my clothes away – most items have found a nice home on my bedroom floor. My makeup is regularly strewn all over the house, and my cream carpet is covered in black kohl pencil. I always drop food and drink down the front of my dressing gown (I can’t drink coffee without supervision). I don’t clean out my hairbrush very often. I drop towels on the floor instead of hanging them up. Mess follows me everywhere.

And yet, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Many people think that having OCD means you have to be an obsessive cleaner. Some people say, “I’m so OCD!” just because they like things clean, not realizing that they are using a mental disorder as an adjective, and actually saying, “I’m so obsessive-compulsive disorder!” instead.

My experience, like it is for many people, is all about compulsions; to check locks, close doors, and turn off switches. When I’m about to leave the house, my compulsions kick in full force.

I scan my room to make sure no plugs have been left on, then I go into the bathroom and make sure my taps are off. I focus on the one I haven’t used – obviously – because that’s the one on the left, and I need to focus on the left side of everything to feel balanced. I usually sing or hum and tighten the tap to whatever tune I have in my head at the time. My taps are completely ruined; they are barely attached to the basin.

Once that part of my routine is over and done with, I check the main source of my panic – the sockets under my makeshift dressing table. I rarely use my hair straighteners anymore (in fact, I haven’t even plugged them in for nearing on six months), but this is where I would plug them in if I did use them. I spend minutes staring at the empty sockets until the part of my brain that controls my compulsions accepts that I haven’t left anything plugged in, and that I didn’t have anything plugged in in the first place, and that the house isn’t going to burn down.

I do a final scan of my bedroom, checking everything is just right, then I turn off the light and shut my bedroom door. Most of the time I don’t make it to the top of the stairs before I have to go back and check again. I get such a strong feeling – I feel sick, my stomach sinks and I feel like an invisible force is pushing me back into my bedroom.

Then it’s time to tackle downstairs.

I go into the kitchen to check that I haven’t left the back door unlocked (I probably haven’t unlocked the door that day, but you can never be too careful). I push repeatedly on the fridge and freezer doors, once again waiting for the green light that tells me the doors are firmly shut (using my eyes to see that the doors are shut is simply not enough). I’ll probably check the back door one more time, just in case.

Once I’ve gone through my routine (sometimes going back upstairs to check something, or going to the back door once again), it’s time for my confrontation with the front door. I push down firmly on the door handle, over and over again, repeatedly pushing down with all my weight and force. Sometimes a few seconds is enough. Sometimes the neighbours give me a look because I’ve been stood there for so long. Other than the idea of burning down the house, this is my biggest anxiety. Scenario after scenario race through my mind; flashes of every bad thing that could happen if I left the front door unlocked. Some are justified, some are far-fetched, and some (most, actually) are downright idiotic.

If I’m lucky, the routine ends here. I can walk away and forget about my compulsions. Forget about them, that is, until I get home and have to repeat most of the routine before I go to sleep.

More often than not, however, I have to fight the urge to run back to my house as I’m walking away from it. On more than once occasion I have gone back to check my hair straighteners aren’t plugged in, or to see if I’ve left the iron on, or the check the back door, making myself late for the bus, and waking up an entire new layer of my anxiety.

If I’m ever in charge of locking another door – my sister’s front door, or the cellar door at work – then my obsessive behaviour goes into overdrive. The very idea of accidentally leaving my sister’s door unlocked and risking her possessions or leaving the cellar door at work open and risking thousands of pounds of stock almost drives me to a panic attack. In cases like this I use extra force on the handle, pushing to the point of pain and leaving a red mark across my palm. My sister’s door handle has actually come loose; the metal no longer rests solidly on the wood, and it wobbles with every use.

What caused my compulsions? Is there a cause at all? I never used to have such strong urges to turn off taps or compulsions to check door handles. I sometimes wonder if my dad’s carelessness is to blame. Years of hearing drip, drip, drip because my dad left the bathroom tap running, and years of following him around the house to turn them off. It doesn’t make sense to most people. People who can turn the key and be satisfied that they’ve locked the door, or people who flip a switch and don’t have to stare intently at the wall. It’s difficult to explain or give a reason why (if there’s a reason at all). I’ve tried to explain to my boyfriend, who has been witness to my obsessive behaviour more than most, why I repetitively tap my bedside table (which lives on my left-hand side) with my left hand. I need everything to be focused on my left side or I feel off-balance. I get the same feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as when faced with a lock or a running tap. Is it because I’m right-handed? I’ve often wondered if the constant use of my right hand has made my left feel neglected, and my brain is trying to make up for it.

What If Mental Illness Could Be Seen?

I used to feel embarrassed whenever I had to address my mental illness. I hid it from my friends until it became unavoidable and I had no choice but to tell them; constant days off school and meetings with teachers started to look suspicious. They were supportive – as supportive as people with no prior experience of mental health conditions can be – and, for the most part, didn’t treat me any differently.

Some people, however, failed to offer me any compassion or understanding.

I’ve encountered people who don’t see mental illness as important – or real. Depression isn’t depression, just sadness. You just need to cheer up. What have you got to be depressed about, anyway? Anxious? Everyone gets anxious. Relax. Pull yourself together.

I’ve encountered people who suddenly thought I was crazy. They would walk on eggshells around me, scared to say the wrong thing in case it triggered a mental breakdown. They would tense at the mere mention of anxiety, searching the room for the nearest exit.

I’ve encountered people – and these are the worst – that thought me pathetic for having panic attacks. They reinforced the stigma around mental illness and validated all the hateful thoughts I had towards myself.

If mental illness could be seen, would people treat it with more respect? If my depression was as visible as a cast on a broken leg, would people still tell me to pull myself together? If those things don’t work on physical conditions, why would they work on mental ones? You’ve got a broken leg? Just put some weight on it and you’ll be fine! Pull yourself together. What do you mean you can’t walk? Pathetic.

Don’t treat me as though I’m weak or fragile, just because I have a mental illness. Be there for me, be supportive, but don’t walk on eggshells. Please don’t judge me because I am experiencing something you don’t understand. Trust me, I judge myself enough. Try to be kind, or simply offer a smile. Your actions matter. Mental illness isn’t contagious, and you won’t catch anxiety just because your friend has it. Give me the space I need but be there for me when I’m ready to close the gap. Don’t offer me simple remedies such as ‘cheer up’ or ‘stop worrying’. Depression isn’t a choice. Anxiety isn’t a choice. Try not to ask for a reason why, because to be completely honest, I don’t know the reason why myself.

Hypnosis

My biggest fear is public speaking. Standing in front of a crowd of people – no matter the number – makes my heart pound. I hyperventilate, sweat, shake; completely fall apart.

For obvious reasons, I avoid any form of public speaking at all costs.

At the beginning of the year, however, I realized my usual tactic of avoiding anxiety-inducing situations was no longer an option. One of my modules at university was assessed via presentation and, unfortunately, there was no escaping it. I had to present.

I was completely distraught. I emailed my tutor immediately, desperate for reassurance. Surely they wouldn’t make me present? Not with my history of mental illness and a doctor’s note to confirm it. After emailing back and forth for weeks, it was decided that I had to at least try and present like everybody else. If that failed – and I insisted that it would – then we’d look at other options.

I decided to try everything possible to try and overcome my phobia. Years of therapy and medication were useless to me as soon as public speaking was involved. Any breathing techniques or coping mechanisms I had developed were meaningless. I felt completely hopeless.

There was one route that I hadn’t really allowed myself to consider. Hypnosis. Immediately I picture a person on stage, counting down from three, snapping their fingers, and sending their volunteers to sleep. I’ve always been incredibly skeptical of this process. I mean, surely the volunteers are faking it? Playing a part just to put on a show.

It’s safe to say, therefore, that when I booked a consultation with a hypnotist to discuss my anxiety, I wasn’t expecting much.

I told her that I was completely skeptical, but after years of panic I was willing to give anything a go. She explained the process to me. There would be no magic tricks or tacky productions; she would simply talk to me and play soothing music until I was in a relaxed state. She was also completely honest with me – hypnosis doesn’t work in every case, but she firmly believed she could help me.

I was totally unprepared for my first session. As I sat in her big brown chair, a total cliche, she told me to stare straight ahead and focus on the wall. Simple enough. She played her soothing music and started speaking to me in a gentle voice. Still good. When she had me close my eyes, however, I was in complete shock. I felt like I was falling deeper and deeper, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I became unaware of my surroundings, and all I could focus on was her voice and the music. The unfamiliarity of the situation caused me to panic and, just for a second, there was a battle between mind and body. One wanted to fight this strange sensation, while the other wanted to fall deeper and deeper into relaxation. It felt like mere minutes, but in reality, I spent over an hour in this trance. I was completely still, and my body felt heavy. Movement felt impossible, and the hypnotic spell she had me under made me never want to move again.

“Think of your happy place and imagine yourself there.”

Memories of Whitby beach flooded my mind, the place where I spent almost every weekend of my childhood. I pictured the dark sea; the water, murky, almost black, is more appealing to me than the crystal-clear water lapping at the sand in Hawaii. I imagined myself barefoot, shoes and socks forgotten behind me as I buried my toes in the sand. I could feel each grain on my skin. The air around me transformed; from the warm, homey scent of the hypnotist’s office to the salty sea breeze of Whitby, and I could feel the gentle wind blowing my hair around my shoulders.

“Who are you with? Picture them in your happy place.”

A lean figure stood at the water’s edge, a Cocker Spaniel at his feet. The dog’s fur, a sleek ebony gloss, was matted with sand, and he would routinely shake his body to rid himself of the sandy second coat.

“Whenever you feel anxious, I want you to visit your happy place.”

Her words became blurred, muffled, as though her voice was travelling through water. I vaguely remembered her words from the consultation; some people listen attentively, some people fade away into a world of their own, and some people simply fall asleep. While I can recall snippets of her hypnotic speech, my relaxed state made it difficult to cling on to her voice with any traction. Eventually, however, her words became clearer as she started to wind down the session, bringing it to a close by slowly counting to three.

“One. I want you to take notice of your surroundings. What can you hear?”

The rumble of a car engine. A door slamming shut. Soft voices muted by distance.

“Two. You are becoming more alert. You are becoming aware of your body. Feel yourself coming back.”

Head slumped to the left. Cheek rested on shoulder. Parted lips. Arms, soft and limp, lay on each side. Hands settled in lap.

Was movement possible now?

“Three. I want you to slowly open your eyes.”

My eyes opened. The room (or maybe it was my eyes, I couldn’t quite tell) was covered in a blanket of grey. I remember trying to blink away the dark tinge to allow my eyes to adjust to the light. She told me that I should take it easy for the rest of the day. I should avoid talking about the session just yet in order to let the hypnosis ‘settle’ in my subconscious.

I left her office in a daze, barely acknowledging my sister who was there to take me home.

In The Words Of…

As an avid reader, aspiring writer and university student, it is no surprise to anyone that I have read my fair share of books. Usually with each book I read there is a chapter, a page, or just a few words that stick out to me in some way. Sometimes, unexpectedly, a line will give me chills, move me to tears, inspire me, or even give me hope. These quotes are the ones that stick with me. I’ve compiled a list of my favourite quotes – some are obvious, some maybe less so – to share with anyone who stumbles across my blog. Hopefully these quotes will inspire you in the same way they inspire me!

“You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” – Lewis Carroll

I love this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland so much that I have it written on my bedroom wall! I think it has always inspired me so much because it promotes individuality and creativity. People often label me as “mad” or “weird”, and this quote speaks to me because Carroll is saying we should embrace our “madness”. The things that make us “bonkers” are the things that make us interesting.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – Charlotte Bronte

I have studied Jane Eyre twice – at college and at university – so my first read of the novel was not by choice. However, I am so glad that I was forced to read this book for my studies because it is now one of my absolute favourites. This quote (which I also have framed in my bedroom) from Jane, a feminist character way ahead of her time, is so empowering for women and such an important quote in feminist literature.

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – Roald Dahl

I love more or less everything written by Roald Dahl, but this quote in particular has always stood out to me. It’s such a lovely reminder that a person’s character is more important than their appearance. Kindness creates true beauty.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean that it is not real.” – J.K. Rowling

I can’t explain why I love this quote so much; quite simply because I don’t know. When I first read these words in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I got chills, and the quote wouldn’t leave my mind for days. Even now, years later, the quote makes its way into my head and stays there. I think the closest I can get to an explanation would be that this quote captures the importance of magic, dreams and imagination.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” – Stephen Chbosky

Anyone who hasn’t read The Perks of Being a Wallflower needs to read it immediately. The book explores growing up, adolescence, mental illness, sexuality, relationships and friendships in such a beautiful way. This quote is important to me because it manages to capture my struggle with depression. For years my depression has left me feeling sad, empty and hopeless, but this description is far too simplistic. Having depression doesn’t mean you can’t feel happiness. There have always been bright spots in my life – family, friends, my partner, animals, books, coffee – that have inspired a tiny spark of happiness even on my darkest days. I can identify with his feelings of confusion.

“I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.” – Stephen Chbosky

Another quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower that proves how amazing Stephen Chbosky is. I’ve heard “you should think yourself lucky” and “there are people much worse off than you” all my life. I have encountered many people that say, “what have you got to be depressed about?”. It’s important to remember that regardless of how anyone else perceives your problems, it is still a problem to you. No one has a right to belittle your emotions.

“Comfort, the enemy of progress.” – P.T. Barnum

Of course I had to include this quote in my list! Although from a movie instead of a book, this quote is incredibly important to me. It inspired this blog! Check out my ‘Home’ page to read about why I love P.T. Barnum’s words so much.


Share your favourite quotes in the comments below!

Welcome

“Comfort, the enemy of progress.” – P.T. Barnum

The moment I heard Hugh Jackman utter these words in The Greatest Showman, I was transfixed by the sentiment. For many years, and for many reasons, I have stayed safely in my comfort zone – ignoring things I don’t like and avoiding things that scare me. On many occasions this has been to my own detriment; opportunities have passed me by as I lay sleeping in my little bubble of comfort.

I have aspired to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but letting others read my work has always terrified me. I write and write, filling page after page, but rarely let anyone see. If anyone does read my writing, I bounce back and forth between wanting to rip my laptop from their hands or trying to justify myself – why I said what I said, why I did what I did. My biggest problem is that I actually want people to read my writing, but I have spent so long letting my fear and embarrassment control me.

Hearing this quote from P.T. Barnum has inspired me to finally wake up and do something. I have created this blog as a space to showcase my writing and put myself out there. It’s finally time to step out of my comfort zone.