Let me introduce you to my brain

Hey, wanna know something super not cool?
My brain sucks.

Here’s the thing, I hate it when people post personal stuff on the internet. I mean, I can’t be the only one who scrolls through Facebook trying to locate all the memes that were funny on Tumblr 5 years ago and injures themselves from eyerolling at all the unnecessary melodrama of people’s posts. Its all ‘here’s some beef I’m starting with my best friend’ ‘here’s some goss about my ex.’ ‘urgh worst day ever!’ followed by people who normally don’t give a crap about you having their curiosity piqued and asking whats up, only to not receive a reply from the original poster. Hence why I tend to keep most of my personal stuff bottled, because I don’t want sympathy or to give someone else something to gossip about. Also because I’m aware of my privilege and I don’t want to seem whiny. But I’ve kinda gotten to the point where I’m finding it hard to keep stuff inside. So… I’m gonna talk about it I guess. Only not on Facebook. I’m sparing my fellow eye rollers that at least.

Here are a few reasons why I don’t like to talk about what is going on with my brain.
Firstly, I am really not comfortable talking about something that I’m not over yet. Secondly, I have a lot of shame and guilt associated with it. Thirdly, on the few occasions when I have tried to talk about it… Well, let’s just say I’ve not exactly had the support or the reaction that I’ve needed.
In fact, we’re only opening this can of worms today because this week, I tried once again to get a GP to listen to me and take my problems with my brain seriously. Because I live in the UK, I got to use the NHS. However because the literal devil is in charge of the country right now I can’t actually go and make an appointment to see a doctor, I have to call and leave a message and wait for a doctor to call me back and decide whether or not I’m sick enough to be worth their time. Long story short, I am still not sick enough to be worth their time. I’ve been going back and forth to a number of GPs at this surgery over the past 8 years with the same complaint. Every single time I have had the rather unhelpful advice of: “have you tried exercising?” like after 8 years that wouldn’t have been something I’ve tried. Yet again I have to sign up to a bunch of free CBT sessions. Most of which are during the day when I am occupied with my job (Which is a whole other thing) and the rest are full. So onto the waiting list I go.
Which is just peachy and has made me never want to discuss my brain with anyone ever again because yet again, it isn’t taken seriously.
As if that wasn’t enough, today I was approached by someone who proceeded to tell me about a young man they knew who had recently taken his own life, only not in the way such a subject would normally be broached, she was very disparaging of this young man, she didn’t think he should have been in mainstream school if he was suffering from a mental health issue. Later on tonight, I found out that the same young man was a member of an organisation that I am also part of. The people there spoke incredibly highly of him and talked of their sadness at losing such a popular and creative person.
Though I had decided a little while ago that I wanted to be better, tonight really made me mean it. I want to be better. I don’t want to continue down this path and have people lament the loss of my potential or bad mouth me for finding a way out. I’m just not sure how. Maybe that’s the point of this. Anyway, like I said, doesn’t exactly make me want to talk about my mental health.

Here is a list of other things that have been said to me on other occasions when I have tried to discuss the problems with my brain, just so you know I’ve already heard them and don’t want to hear them again:

  • You’re not depressed, you’re just over reacting
  • Stop being so sensitive
  • You have anxiety? Haha, but you love getting on the tube!
  • What do you have to be depressed about?
  • You’re not depressed, stop being so negative, the glass isn’t always half empty.
  • Have you tried drinking more water?
  • Why are you being so pessimistic about it?
  • Pull yourself together and stop being silly, I’m going to be late.

That one was particularly special because I was having a panic attack at the time.
World Mental Health Day was this week and seeing so many people I admire and look up to be open and talk about their experiences had me in awe, but even though it’s 2017 and Twitter has been flooded with people being supportive and sharing,  I’m not comfortable talking about my mental health partly because I’ve never actually had it taken seriously. I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault particularly, I just think its something many people are ignorant about or just don’t want to think about. Maybe its because I come from a very working class background and the kind of people I grew up around didn’t have time for things like mental illness, they had mines to mine and unions to join and work had to be done because life was about getting up, going to work, sleeping and repeating. There was no time for emotions or lack thereof. (Fun fact, even though I still think of myself as being working class, I have a therapist and I’ve eaten quinoa which is quite middle class when you think about it.)
But without meaning to, every time someone brushes me off or invalidates my feelings (or lack thereof cos full disclosure, I alternate between anger, sadness and numbness) all you do is add to the overwhelming feeling of worthlessness. To you I am over dramatic, to me, the voice in my head telling me no one cares and wondering how long it would take people to notice if I died gets louder. That one is a particular favourite of my brain, it likes to ask me that question around the moment I’m just drifting off to sleep, which then leaves me staring at my ceiling blankly for hours trying to calculate whether it would take longer than a week for anyone to get concerned about not seeing/hearing from me. It’s a riot let me tell you.
I think my other reason for not being comfortable about my mental health stems from that invalidation because mostly, when I think about how numb or angry or depressed I feel I get a sense of guilt and shame. What have I got to be depressed about? I have somewhere to live, I have a car, I live in a fairly affluent area, I have a regular wage, there are so many people in the world that have it way worse. I don’t have the right to feel like this. Which of course, makes me feel sad about feeling sad.
I’m ashamed because I’m not strong enough to cope with day to day life. I’m ashamed because for eight years I have been crying at GPs trying to explain how I feel. I’m ashamed because my mum lost the ability to walk and there I am completely healthy and yet wasting my life stuck in this black hole. Then I feel guilty for being in the black hole at all.

I can’t keep doing this.
I can’t keep pretending I’m ok. I’m not.
I can’t keep wasting my life in this void.

The bullies I face every day are nothing compared to the voice in my head. The world around me isn’t as vibrant as I know it should be. I’m fed up living life constantly exhausted from having to pretend to be smiley. I started a project in January where I decided to film my life and upload it to the internet a month at a time, so I could look back on all the things that happened in 2017 and remember the good times. I managed to get to May before finding fun things to record started to get hard. I’m pretty good at the hiding it most of the time though. Like, if you watch that video from May, you’ll see me have fun japes with socialists in Brighton. I conveniently left out the bit where I debated jumping in front of a train, thank Southern Rail for being so delayed that the platform got too busy for me to want to do it, I also left out the bit where I sat on the beach for two hours practically catatonic just listening to my mind tell me about how worthless and pathetic I was to have gone to the other side of the country on my own and to have been there for a day without once receiving so much as a marketing email. I don’t want to remember things like that. I don’t want to be writing things like this. I don’t want to make excuses or be pitied, but I do want to explain, because the way my brain is makes me irritable and I snap at people who don’t deserve it. The way my brain is makes me not trust why someone would be nice to me because clearly I am an awful person. Things like this don’t happen to nice people – hey, rationality isn’t part of the deal sadly. The way my brain is makes me not have the motivation to do any of the things it knows it enjoys. The way my brain is makes me dwell on things that are too ridiculous to fathom. The way my brain is makes me doubt everything. The way my brain is makes me sad and lonely and angry and numb and makes the world seem dark which bums people out, so I try to stay away from them. All these things are kinda getting worse, so is this an apology? Who knows.
If you’ve never experienced that, I’m super happy for you. Well, at least I think I am. I don’t actually even remember how to feign happiness any more.

Will medication help me? Who knows. Certainly not my local GP surgery cos they don’t even want to give me the option. I guess I could run more, I guess I could see therapists I probably can’t afford, I guess I could actually talk to more like minded people on the internet. I guess I could try and let go of some of that guilt and shame and open up to people.

Whatever. I hate that I did this. I’ll probs delete it soon. But like, if you know me and you’re wondering wtf is up, I’m just very tired but I want to be better and I’m trying.

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Hello me, it’s you

Hello me, it’s you – Various

I picked this up for review after seeing the blurb, you all know I’ve been trying to read more non fiction, and I love books in letter format, this is a compilation of letters from a group of young people aimed at their younger selves about their mental health issues and for once, I don’t have to provide trigger warnings, because the blurb does it for you!

“Keep smiling and being you. Don’t let the world change you”
Hello Me, it’s You is a collection of letters by young adults aged 17-24 about their experiences with mental health issues. The letters are written to their 16-year-old selves, giving beautifully honest advice, insight and encouragement for all that lays ahead of them.
This book was produced by the Hello Me, it’s You charity, set up by the editor, Hannah. Hannah was diagnosed with depression and anxiety whilst at university and found comfort in talking to friends about their experiences, realising she was not alone in her situation. This inspired the idea for the charity and book. Through the creation of materials such as this, the charity aims to provide reassurance for young adults (and their families) who are experiencing mental health issues and give a voice to young adults on such an important topic. The result of that will hopefully be a reduction in the negative stigma surrounding mental health and an increase in awareness of young people’s experiences. All profits go the Hello Me, it’s You charity, for the production of future supportive books.
Trigger warning: Due to it’s nature, the content of this book may be triggering. Contains personal experiences of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, trichotillomania and other mental health issues, as well as issues such as assault.

I always cringe a bit when I hear something referred to as being an ‘important’ book, but I’m going to make an exception for this one, because I think there is something very important about breaking down the stigma of mental health among young people, not just for those experiencing it, but those that have never been through it. From the moment I started reading this I thought, yes, this is a book I wished already existed, what we have is a group of anonymous writers talking about a series of different experiences and despite all of them being somewhat horrific, (trust me, been there, wouldn’t wish it on anyone) every single letter shares stories of hope, redemption, acceptance and ultimately survival. Each letter is uplifting in a weird kind of way and provides something positive to those dealing with mental health issues.
Having said that, I recently watched a video from Hannah Witton (she’s great, check her out if you haven’t already) about how she can sympathise with people with depression, but not empathise, having not been through it herself, and I think that is a problem for a lot of people in my life and the lives of the letter writers, we have well intentioned people around us, but they don’t know what to say, or how to make it better, this kind of book is exactly the sort of thing that those people need.

Really, I think this and Reasons to Stay Alive should be compulsory reading in school, if it helps one person going through a mental health crisis, that is enough and if it helps those who aren’t help someone that is, that’s even better.

Every Last Word

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Every Last Word – Tamara Ireland Stone

I really wished that I had the time to read this during TimeToChange because it would have been so topical and relevant and I really wanted to be able to join the discussion without having to share things that I am still not really comfortable discussing on the internet. This book would have been perfect, not only do we have a character who suffers from a mental health issue, but we have one that is surrounded by people who accept and love her and help her accept and love herself. And honestly, that is amazing.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

So many books that I read about someone suffering from a mental health issue has them spiralling out of control, being admitted to hospital and then regaining control. Which is great, that is a narrative that a lot of people can relate to and honestly, the Bell Jar is a novel that completely and utterly articulates exactly what happened to me and how I was feeling a couple of years ago. But even so, there are plenty of people living with a mental health issue that aren’t on the verge of suicide, that don’t hear voices or need to be in a specialised unit and I feel a little bit like these people are under represented in literature, which is why this book is so good.  Sam, although being medicated and seeing a psychiatrist, isn’t dangerous to herself or others, she isn’t locked away from the world, she has to live in it and live with her OCD which was not only added to an already very rich and interesting character, but also gave another less explored insight into literature about mental health.

There are a lot of layers to this story, firstly we have Sam, who as we know from the very first page has a quite serious OCD, her thoughts scare her and she is medicated in order to sleep, we know that her OCD controls pretty much every aspect of her life and that she is scared of being seen as being as abnormal as she fears she is. We also know from the first page that Sam is part of a friendship group that makes her feel insecure about herself and her abilities, which is something we can all relate to. This friendship group is a fairly toxic one full of popular girls who have put Sam in situations where she hasn’t been a particularly nice person, something that she regrets, but is also one of those friendship groups where each girl feels the need to compete against each other, stab each other in the back and then just act as though that’s what friends do. Even if you are someone lucky enough to not be able to relate to mental health side of the book, you can certainly see the reality in the school life.

This isn’t just a book about a girl with an OCD, this is also a book about poetry, about growing up and finding yourself. One of the main themes of the book is how although Sam loves her friends, she is also scared of them. She is scared at what they would do to her if she wasn’t there friend, she is scared of being left out by them and she is scared of how they would react if they knew what was in her head. There are loads of instances in the story of her being upset by things her friends have said, I don’t know about you, but I know that feel. There is a huge strand of this story line which is all about Sam realising that people grow up and they grow apart and that the people you were friends with in primary school are not the same people when they reach secondary school. During the course of the story, this realisation hits her, especially when she starts making new friends through the medium of poetry. These new friends are just as complex and outside of the popular social circle of school. In fact, I guess this book, if we want to make comparisons, is a little like Perks crossed with the Dead Poet’s Society. This ragtag group of kids with their own issues going on have secret meetings where they write and read poetry and its kind of beautiful. Every Last Word is littered with these poems composed by various characters and even though I am not all that into poetry, it was something that even I could appreciate and enjoy. Being someone that loves words and loves books about words and stories etc, I am always very nervous when picking something up that involves those things. I don’t have a particularly good record of finding books about writers or fellow word nerds that are well… Enjoyable, but this was, in fact, every last word of Every Last Word was a joy to behold. The story was great, the narration was great, the characters were great, the portrayal of mental health was great. Basically I really liked it, can you tell?

I don’t feel like this rambly review is doing the story justice, but essentially, Sam learns to deal with her problems with a creative outlet and by exploring new friendships and hobbies and the fact that although she struggles with her OCD and it is clearly something that she see’s as a burden, it doesn’t necessarily hold her back which is a pretty important message to drive home to people if you ask me. It also just so happens that Sam’s life is told in a wonderfully positive and creative way.

Every Last Word is being released in June, so don’t forget to add it to your to buy/ to hire/ to track down lists, because seriously, it’s incredible and if there is one book that you should be looking forward to, it is this one. Many thanks to Net Galley for supplying me with a copy.

This is in fact the first book I’ve reviewed this year to get the Nick Fury Seal of Approval – others that would have gone into this category had I been articulate enough to review them after reading were: Falling into Place and Shock of Fall, which funnily enough, had similar themes to this book!

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