Blogger to jogger: fundraising for Mind, the mental health charity

So this week it’s less of a blog and more of a shameless plug – it’s time to get your charity on and support a good cause. Why’s that? Because I’m going from blogger to jogger and obstacle hopper, lacing up my trainers and hitting the gym – and not just to keep myself sane, which is usually the reason.

Nope – with twelve weeks to go, it’s time to get training. I’m not that strong, I’m not very big, and I’m not a particularly good runner—but on July 7th, I’ll be tackling Tough Mudder for Mind Charity—and I need your sponsorship. (And also for Adam, my fellow runner, to pull me over the really big obstacles).

I completed a Tough Mudder ‘half’ last year, but this time I’m kicking it up a notch by taking on the full race. Adam and I will be running (or stumbling) 10 miles, interspersed with 20 gruelling obstacles from the ‘Arctic Enema’ to ‘Electroshock therapy’. Yep, they’re exactly what they sound like: an ice bath and getting electrocuted.

Why am I running Tough Mudder?

It’s going to be tough. But I know first hand that some things are far tougher. Such as having an anxiety and depression induced nervous breakdown, and having to rebuild your life from scratch, for example. And some things are tougher still—like recovering from mental illness without financial support.

When I had a breakdown, I was far luckier than many people: I had the resources and the support to take time off work, see a good counsellor and recover at my own pace. I was an adult, but I had a loving Mum who was able to take me home and look after me. I didn’t have to worry about accessing services – I just focused on getting better.

Very few people are so lucky. NHS resources simply can’t cope with the growing mental health crisis: a report last year showed that 80% of NHS bosses fear they can’t support the levels of people now requiring mental health services. Waiting lists are long, the therapies available are often short-lived (4 sessions with a counsellor certainly wouldn’t have dug me out of the hole I was in), and services are woefully overstretched.

And this is a growing problem. Since I started Nicer Thoughts, I’ve been shocked and humbled time and time again by the people in my life who have approached me—quietly, overtly or ever-so-drunkenly—to share their mental health story. It’s everywhere we look, and it’s not going away.

And that’s a worrying thought. But supporting a fantastic charity like Mind can help to ease the burden. Mind provide advice and support to anyone experiencing mental health problems, campaign to improve services, and promote understanding. So any donations are greatly appreciated, and will help spur my sorry ass onwards through the race.

What can the money do?

£10 could help Mind campaign for better support services, talking therapy and crisis care for people whose mental health is in crisis.

£21 could help Mind’s supportive online community Elefriends run for one hour, giving people the chance to get hugely valuable ‘peer support’.

£39 could allow Mind’s Infoline call handlers to answer 5 calls from people, often in desperate need of support, helping them to find support and a way forward.

Where can you donate?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last seven months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

I’ll keep you up to date with my training. Lots of love, Nic x

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The summer I realised I hated my body: an apology

I can’t remember how old I was, the summer I realised I hated my body. But I think I was wearing a tankini, so I must have been pushing ten at best. Summer is bad for this. Suns out, guns out, with insecurities trailing in their wake.

It’s easy to forget, in the winter. Under thick jumpers and the comforting fuzz of red wine and mince pies, our lumps and bumps are somewhat closer to forgotten. But then spring rolls around, a summer holiday gets booked. A bikini beckons. And like the daffodils, the thought pops up, as if from nowhere: I hate my body. I want it to be smaller. I want it to be less.

This is a shame—it’s an otherwise lovely season—but it’s what summer does to me, and no doubt many others. The loss of layers makes me think of my body, and how I want it to be different. There are so many ways I want.

Some of my wants are completely irrational. At twenty-five, it seems unlikely that my legs are going to stretch out another two inches. Even when I was very thin, my knees were still rounded.

Some of the things I want, I could have, if I tried hard enough: tauter muscles, a smaller dress size. I know my body could do it, but it would be very, very hard. A constant and grinding effort, which I would inevitably undo, further down the line.

The older I get, the sillier this seems, and the harder I work to tamper these thoughts. For one thing, my body is small: the sort of body society approves of when clothed. A malign voice tells me it is fat, but I know it isn’t. I also know, objectively, that it wouldn’t matter if it were fat. It is not a crime to be fat, I remind myself, staring absentmindedly at the soft rolls of my stomach in the bath.

For another, it’s really bloody ungrateful to malign this body as much as I have done. Insofar as I know, it does what it should. My brain is another matter, but these limbs are ticking along. Also: my body does some cool shit. It’s taken me up mountains and down hills, across beaches, through fields. It has propelled me forward; ten metres under water, chasing a turtle. This body has sliced neatly into ice-cold lakes and emerged, shivering and pumping. It has jumped from a plane and a bridge (albeit not gracefully).

This body has been touched and held and kissed. I have fallen in love with this body: with the hairs on my arms and the lurch in my stomach. This body has been fallen in love with, too: I think this bum might even have got me a free drink or two in its time. This body is young and able, with just a few wrinkles appearing around the eyes, and muscles I have built, minute by minute.

One day I might find out that this body doesn’t work the way it should. One day something within me might veer off course. Cells multiplying. Organs faltering. But right now it works, touch wood. Not everybody is so lucky, and this reminds me more than ever how fundamentally pointless it is to hate a body that does so much for me.

This is a working body, and for that reason alone, I am very, very lucky. So this summer, I have another want: to stop being so hard on this vehicle of mine, and learn to quiet the voice that whispers in my ear. I’m sorry, body of mine. I’m truly sorry. Most of us don’t know exactly how old we were, the summer we learnt to hate our bodies. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is remembering the summer we learn to stop.

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Goodbye Seasonal Affective Disorder, hello Spring

Long before I had serious trouble with my mental health, I became aware how badly the seasons affected my mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a genuine pain in the butt: the second the clocks go back, I’m exhausted, mopey, and more prone to anxiety.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Much as I hate to lose an hour of sleep, the clocks going forward is one of the highlights of my year, because I know that lighter, brighter days (and a lighter, brighter Nic) are on the way.

Of course, you can’t rely on the English weather to boost your mood—so I’ve celebrated today with a trip to the Columbia Road Flower Market, not to mention spending the weekend with some of my favourite people in the entire world. All in all, I’m feeling good about life—but if you’re still waiting for the sunshine to kick in with its mood-boosting effects, I’ve got a few tips below to help kick the Seasonal Affective Disorder blues.

  • If you’re at work most of the day, it can be all too easy to get minimal genuine sunlight. Make a serious effort to get outside at lunch, even if it’s raining. I’m really naughty for this because I hate being cold, but even a twenty-minute walk in the middle of the day can help.
  • A Seasonal Affective Disorder light box can also be a valuable investment. They’re not for everybody—some people find the brightness a bit headache inducing—but I find if I use mine religiously it improves my energy, mood and concentration. I’ve got the Lumie Arabica, which blasts out 10,000 lux at 25cm. Apparently the natural wake-up bodylights are good, too.
  • Take your vitamins! Vitamin D is key (no euphemism intended, although: you do do). I feel like a different person after a month of taking them religiously, particularly in terms of my energy levels. (DLux Vitamin D+K2 Oral Spray, Vitabiotic Health, Vitality and Wellbeing, and Vitabotiocs Feroglobin, if you’re interested.)
  • Expose yourself to something lovely. Whether it’s an art gallery, a flower market or a day trip to the seaside, a beautiful vista may not have a scientifically quantifiable effect on your brain—but it’s sure to boost your mood, particularly if you do it in some good company.

And of course, if all else fails: book a cheap flight and get yourself some blue skies! Let me know if the comments if you have any other tips, and in the meantime, fingers crossed for sunny days ahead.

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best apps for mental health

Finding ‘appiness: the best apps for mental health

In many respects, our phones are awful for our mental health. Whether it’s sliding mindlessly through Instagram (comparing our not-so-perfect lives) or scrolling through a barrage of negativity on Twitter, there’s plenty of misery-making potential. But to give technology its dues, there are plenty of apps out there which can definitely be used to improve our mental health. I’ve rounded up my ‘best apps for mental health’ below—let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments!

Best apps for mental health

  1. Headspace

I can’t rave about Headspace enough. A lot of people find the idea of meditation hard to get on board with; I certainly used to struggle with how it could really help me in managing my day-to-day anxiety. It also took me a long time to find a way of learning to meditate that I really clicked with.

But Headspace, with its playful design and straightforward approach, had me hooked straightaway. Headspace narrator Andy Puddicombe also has the loveliest voice, the most calming presence, and—as an ex Buddhist monk—the zen credentials to match.

So how does it work? Headspace offers a few different options: you can build up your meditation skills with a daily ‘pack’ (e.g., a 30-day managing anxiety pack). Or you can try a ‘single’ relating to the moment of stress you’re experiencing, like ‘Burned Out’ or ‘Falling Back To Sleep’. The app does cost £9.99 a month, but for me it’s definitely worth it—and you can trial the app for free to see if it takes your fancy.

  1. Nike Training Club

img_7228As I’ve said on many occasions: I am a lazy swine and hate exercising, but it’s fundamental to my sanity, so it’s a non-optional part of my mental health maintenance. Nike Training Club is a fab little app if, like me, you’re content to do seven half hearted squats, a few stretches and call it a day.

Like a personal trainer in your pocket, you’ll be guided through the moves both visually and through your headphones. You can filter by intensity, duration, target muscle (glutes, obv) and also by equipment—so even if you don’t have a dumbbell or gym membership to your name, you can still give it a go. Plus: it’s free. Most of the good fitness apps I’ve tried require a monthly subscription, so as best apps for mental health go, this is a thrifty option.

  1. Podcasts

We’re all used to using our phones for music, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve really begun to make the most of my Podcast app. I might be alone in this, but I sometimes find music doesn’t actually help when my mental health is suffering. I am really not above being that crying chick on the tube listening to sad ballads, but I don’t think this does me any favours.

Listening to a Podcast, however, doesn’t trigger me emotionally—but it does help take my mind off things. Whether I’m pissing myself with laughter at ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno’ or expanding my mind with Russel Brand’s ‘Under the Skin’, Podcasts are the ideal way of feeling connected to the world of people and ideas.

  1. Two Dots (…or any other guilty pleasure game)

img_7226Sometimes, you just need to not think, so a mindlessly fun game on your phone can be a lifesaver. Two Dots is your standard addictive formulaic Bejewelled format, but with cooler graphics, a nicer soundtrack, and some indie design credentials that can’t really be argued with.

Some people are really anti mindlessly playing with your phone. This is true if it’s incessant, but I actually think this is a slightly snobby attitude to take: if it takes your mind off your worries, go for it.

So that’s it: my four best apps for mental health, and a good starting point if you’re looking to spend less time on the Gram and more time soothing your frazzled brains. I’m always looking for more suggestions, so comment below if you have any!

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voice of anxiety

Two fingers up to the voice of anxiety

The negative voice of anxiety is a negative little bitch, and can really stop you from enjoying the more exciting things in life. So if we want to stick two fingers up at this voice, it’s important to make a few decisions that are a bit ‘out there’.

I was reminded of this fact this week, which marked two years ago exactly since I walked into a travel agent—more or less on a whim—and splashed my life savings on a seven month, solo, round-the-world trip.

This was a bit of a rogue move from me. Like most people, I’d always wanted to travel, but I’d never hankered for the backpacker life. I like routine, stability, my own space and creatures comforts: not your natural candidate for hostel life, which requires a cheerful willingness to fall asleep to the sound of two strangers shagging.

voice of anxietyAdd to this the fact I was only three months recovered from a monumental nervous breakdown, and travelling solo around the world seemed less of a dreamy escape and more of a recipe for complete disaster.

But if there’s one thing being suicidal will do for you, it’s give you a hearty dose of perspective. If you can get over literally wanting to die, it becomes very apparent that nothing is forever. Life is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but always transient.

Which got me thinking: you should probably go travelling now, whilst you still have this cavalier attitude, because the voice of anxiety will talk you out of it before long.

When you’ve got anxiety—or are even just somebody who spends too much time worrying—you can talk yourself out of doing pretty much anything fun. I’ve missed out on countless opportunities because I was too busy fretting about whether they were a good idea. I’ve sat at home instead of making memories. I’ve said no when I should have said yes.

voice of anxiety 2I’ve not followed my dreams because it’s safer and more comfortable not to. Sometimes, it’s tempting to wear your mental health diagnosis like a suit of armour. It’s a get out clause: I can’t do that thing that makes feel nervous, because I have anxiety.

After all, you can try and live a life free from the things that trigger your anxiety. But that’s not overcoming anxiety: that’s just avoiding it.

It’s not easy. Before I left for my trip, I was bloody terrified. What if I couldn’t get by without my medication, my counsellor, my routine? What if I didn’t make any friends and hated every second and just wanted to fly home and bin it all off, after spaffing my life savings on the trip? What if I got back and couldn’t get a job and was unemployed and had no friends and no money for the rest of my life?

I had a million what-ifs. But I also knew there was only one answer to all of them: so what? Half a year previously, I had literally wanted to die. Now I was desperate to live, and live big.

nicer thoughts 10It wasn’t all roses. Sometimes I was anxious, or frustrated, or homesick. I can now boast about having had a panic attack overlooking the Sydney Opera House. People definitely romanticise travelling; it’s definitely not a magical cure-all for your mental health problems. (Seriously: don’t book flight tickets if your illness means you aren’t in a good place to make big decisions).

But it was also an amazing adventure; a chance to see things I’d dreamt of my entire life, and meet some truly incredible people from around the globe. And even when it was less than perfect, I always knew that it would pass. I proved my theory to myself, time and time again; travelling solo puts you in a near constant state of having to overcome feelings of discomfort, so I truly learnt that no matter how awkward I felt, it would never kill me.

I was always glad—and always will be—to have taken the leap. (And, being a recalcitrant sort, delighted to have stuck two fingers up to the voice of anxiety).

So whatever your leap is, think about taking it. Maybe you want to quit your job or move to France or get a fringe. Maybe you want to start a business, or tell someone you love them. Maybe someone in your life is a massive dick and you just need to tell them. The voice of anxiety says you can’t, or it won’t work out. Well, maybe it won’t. But so what? Just like me, you have survived 100% of your worst days.

Whatever the outcome of taking a big leap in your life, I promise, you will survive that too.

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dealing with anxiety

Dealing with anxiety: just sit with it

Dealing with anxiety is a funny thing.

It isn’t easy, but for the most part, you have to battle against it. As exhausting as it is, if you want to live any sort of a life, you have to try. Take your medication, go for your run, see your counsellor.

Because usually, these actions will help—at least, that’s my general experience, as is probably evident from the fact I run a blog bursting with tips for anxiety relief.

But sometimes—when the weather is awful and you’re tired and you’re stressed—it still doesn’t matter. Anxiety is a sly bastard, and it can creep up on you no matter how well you look after yourself. You can expend so much energy trying to do everything right, and still feel wrong.

(Wrong, in this case, being a numb, foggy feeling in my temples. A rolling swoop of fear in my belly at the smallest confrontation or sharp word. A tightening in my chest, and an insurmountable feeling of paralysis that makes it hard to focus, work, get out of bed).

This seems unfair, I think: so deeply unfair. But (obviously) life isn’t fair, so there’s no point dwelling too much on this. And (as someone wise pointed out to me this week) there’s also no point in beating yourself up.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to give yourself a break and sit with it. This is counter to our culture: we value productivity and solutions, quick-fixes and a ‘doing anything you set your mind to!’ attitude.

We’re also not used to just hanging out with unsettling emotions, most of us having been trained from our earliest days to avoid unpleasant sensations as a simple act of self-preservation. Feeling anxious is deeply unpleasant, so I very rarely allow myself just to sit with my nervously pumping heart and general feeling of unease. My instinct, when I feel anxious, is to try and do anything to kick it into touch.

But this weekend—at a loss for a better solution, not to mention feeling very short on energy—I’ve tried a new approach to dealing with anxiety. When my thoughts have started racing, I’ve just let them be. Like I’d accept a headache: frustrating, but not something to fundamentally be distraught about. (I haven’t worried myself about the jobs I wanted to get done, either. They’ll wait).

Sitting with your racing thoughts and allowing yourself to feel nothing but your anxiety is like doing a deep, painful stretch. It feels uncomfortable, for sure. But if you find somewhere quiet, settle in, and let the thoughts and feelings roll through you—eventually, you might come to a quiet place in your mind. It’s almost meditative.

Kind of like letting a snowball gain steam down a mountain. It seems like you’re hurtling towards disaster, letting your mind have free reign like this—but eventually, it always come to a stop. (Or melts.)

It’s not always a solution. Sometimes when dealing with anxiety, you have to do the work. Eat your greens, move your body, see your therapist. Sometimes—most of the time, in fact—you have to keep on battling through whatever you’re battling through.

But not all the time. Sometimes, you can just sit with it, accepting that your anxiety can exist within you without the world ending.

Things might not get done. You might not be productive at work. You might not be great company. But when you’re on the other side of it—as you always will be, eventually—you’ll know something important. Your anxiety can never truly overcome you. But you can always survive it.

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tips for anxiety relief

Tips for anxiety relief: five under £10

When I was writing about self-care last week, I started thinking about how a few too many tips for anxiety relief require a certain amount of cash. (Sadly, I don’t just mean swish candles and nice yoga classes—quality counselling, nourishing food, a gym membership and a relaxing, safe home to live in all cost money. But that’s another post altogether…)

So I’ve pulled together five tips for anxiety relief, which are either free or under £10. It’s not much, but if you’re having a rocky day, consider one of the below—light on your wallet and easy on the mind.

tips for anxiety reliefGet immersed in art

Hit up a (free) art gallery. I feel deeply uncreative when anxiety strikes. It’s nice to be surrounded by the wonderful things other people have made. For me, you can’t beat the Tate Modern: there’s always something whimsical enough to make me smile.

Get rid

If you can’t quite work up to leaving your room, get working on throwing some stuff out! As tips for anxiety relief go, this isn’t the most exciting—but taking an hour to declutter a cupboard or make some space in your wardrobe will give you a sense of achievement. I beat myself up about feeling like a useless toad when I’m anxious, so I like the immediate gratification of a good clear-out. Plus, you might find some good stuff to give to charity—so not only will this not cost you money, but it could help to raise funds for a good cause at the same time.

tips for anxiety relief 2Get ‘appy

Download ‘Headspace’ and listen to a meditation next time you’re feeling anxious—the narrator, Andy Puddicombe, has one of the most relaxing voices I’ve ever heard. Headspace is a beautifully designed little app which brings meditation to the masses: it teaches you the skills of meditation in a straightforward way. You can trial Headspace for free, and then a subscription costs about £9 a month. Worth it, believe me.

Get active

Exercise for anxiety is key, but gyms sadly aren’t free – fortunately, YouTube has gotcho’ back. Just a half hour yoga video is a solid way to release anxiety. I like this quick full body flow by ‘Yoga with Kassandra’. It’s not too taxing, but it’s challenging enough to make you concentrate on your breathing… and when you’re breathing deeply, a calm(er) mind is sure to follow.

Get outside

Go to a park—this biggest park you can find. (Preferably, a park so big you can walk around in it and not see a car for an hour.) If you live in London, I strongly recommend Richmond Park. For just the cost of an overground ticket, you can pretend you’re a million miles away from hectic city life. The UK really does do a top-notch line in public parks, so get on Google maps and find your patch of green to restore your zen.

tips for anxiety relief

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selfish self care

In praise of ‘selfish’ self-care: you can’t pour from an empty cup

There are a few bits of mental health advice I like to throw out on a regular basis, such as ‘don’t do drugs if you have crippling anxiety’. But a more widely applicable (I hope) nugget is this: you can’t pour from an empty cup, so prioritise self-care when and where you can.

I don’t know where I read that first phrase, but it’s stuck with me ever since. Even if you don’t have a mental health problem, we should all be reminded that no matter how ‘selfish’ it feels, self-care isn’t optional: it’s an essential act of self-preservation.

Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of modern life. Is it just me, or is there a certain cachet in pushing yourself to the edge nowadays? I regularly feel personally attacked wrong-footed by LinkedIn articles telling me success starts with a 5am wake up call. (Sorry, I know it’s not cool to admit to needing eight hours sleep, but I really do.)

There’s also a certain pride in the ‘I just can’t say no’ mentality. This isn’t a criticism, mind—the people who ‘just can’t say no’ are some of the kindest, most loving and thoughtful people I know. But they’re also usually exhausted and often unhappy, because they don’t put their self-preservation first. In turn, this gets taken out on the people they love, because (it bears repeating): you just can’t pour from an empty cup.

You’d have to be some sort of superhero or saint to have boundless energy for other people’s needs: the big JC turned water into wine, but he couldn’t magic it out of nowhere.

So remember: self-care first, within the realm of being a good human. The world won’t fall apart if you say no. Your friends should support this; if people only love you because you’re at their beck and call, screw them anyway.

So how can you implement self-care?

I’m not here to suggest you go out and buy a £100 candle in the pursuit of self-care. I read a truly excellent article by Amy Jones about the ‘Goopification of self-care’ this week, and saying no is a prime example of self-care that doesn’t involve luxury branded products. Self-care can be as simple as laying down boundaries about what you can deal with. (PS. Read The Pool

For example, I find it exhausting to have intense, emotional conversations over text. This isn’t because I don’t want to help people—in real life, I actually find it quite energising to try and help people with their problems. But I work in an office, staring at screens all day. I can’t get home and have intense WhatsApp sessions. It just makes me feel awful.

So I’ve just started telling people that. ‘I’m sorry if I can’t support you very much over text—I love you and am here for you, so please call me if you need to chat, or we can arrange to meet up.’

self care
Still hanging out on the sofa with a puppet. Not sorry.

Another example is time alone. I’m an introvert who needs this to recharge. But turning down plans always seems ungrateful (especially given my secret anxiety that everyone hates me and only invites me places under sufferance). I’ve learnt the hard way I need at least one weekend a month where I don’t have plans, and whilst people are occasionally offended when I say I can’t see them because I’m busy doing nothing, nobody has unfriended me yet (I think).

I’m currently on my ‘free weekend’ after a few big weeks of socialising and I feel a million times better after a 10am lie-in, several rounds of toast, and pottering in the flat. I will be a better human tomorrow because of this weekend. This is just who I am as a person. I really, really love hanging out on the sofa. I always have done. Please try it for yourself, if you can. Doing nothing is so underrated.

Go one step further, if you’re feeling brave. Actively call people out if they’re infringing on your self-care. My mum pointed out to me last year that I only ever phoned her to moan, which was draining for her at a time when she was personally struggling. I was briefly offended (in the way people tend to be when they’ve been rightly called out) then realised she had a point—so I’ve tried to adjust my behaviour, and I think our relationship is better for it.

Of course, your self-care will be different depending on your personality. Maybe you need to see people less. Maybe you need to turn down extra stuff at work that you don’t have capacity for. Whatever it is, find it, and don’t be afraid to do it—or rather, don’t do it.

Because you can’t pour from an empty cup. And it isn’t worth trying.

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Loving Someone With Anxiety: Here’s To You

Whether you like it or not, Valentine’s Day is a time which prompts thoughts about love—and I’ve written a few posts this week about mental health and love, discussing the how love won’t fix your mental health, and the strange narrative of the ‘mentally ill girl’ being somehow alluring.

They’re both important topics, but something I’ve noticed is that these narratives all leave something out – how difficult it can be to love somebody with a mental health issue.

I often worry (go figure: I have anxiety) about how frustrating life can be for people who invest and love deeply in their mentally ill boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses. Loving someone with anxiety can be exhausting, and the people who do this deserve praise and acknowledgment for how relentlessly they love and support people who are not easy to love and support. They deserve (in this week of love and card sales) to be thanked.

I have someone to thank. Roxane Gay has a phrase that always pulls at my heartstrings: ‘my person’. I feel a particular affinity for this, because I often feel boyfriend is not the apt term for the person I split my rent with.

‘My person’ has known me for half our lifetime and can spot a cloud on my horizon almost before I can feel it. He supports me when I weep nonsensically, and leaves me be when I need to be alone. He makes my life better, caring for me even when I am difficult to care for. (I think I do the same for him, although he inevitably needs it less).

He’s also tough, and takes very little of the shit I could probably dole out were I more indulged. I know that I am loved, and this gives me the space to be honest about how I feel. He tells me I am beautiful but also reminds me it wouldn’t matter if I weren’t. He’s my best friend. Here’s to him.

And here’s to you, if you love and support somebody through their darkest days. Here’s to the patient and compassionate lovers. The ones who support and hold. The ones who live with the storms and the rollercoasters. If you have somebody who supports you through your mental health ups and downs, take a moment to thank them this week. We could probably do it without you—but we really wouldn’t want to.

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Loving A Mentally Ill Girl

There are all sorts of narratives about women, love and happiness, and we see them from our earliest days. A popular example is that love will fix you in the broken places or save you from the darkest days of your life (thanks, Disney). Thankfully, this myth is losing ground, and our public narratives increasingly contain strong and empowered individuals who learn to save themselves.

This is all good news. But another narrative has emerged in recent years, surrounding love and mental health—and it’s quite a worrying one.

anxiety
Not goals.

It’s a narrative about loving the mentally ill girl. I see it in TV and film. The mentally ill girl is almost a trope, and there’s a certain dark glamour in loving this girl (providing she’s skinny and tousle-haired—I’m looking at you, Skins). This girl is dark and fragile and sexy. A glittering star in a dark sky. She’s a project and a fantasy and she needs a good man to straighten her out, all at the same time.

I also see it in written articles from time to time, suggesting people with anxiety are the best ones to fall in love with. ‘Why loving a girl with anxiety will be the best thing you’ll do’, and so on. Because girls with anxiety are sensitive and empathetic and won’t ever walk out on you. Right.

I can’t help but worry when I see these titles like this. For one thing, it diminishes women’s experience of mental health issues, turning them into a sort of stock character. For another, this strikes me as a disturbing and dangerous attitude to love. I think it comes from a good place – a place of letting people with mental illnesses know that they are valid and worthy of love. But when I was in the grips of major depression and chronic anxiety, I was not a good person to love. By turns weepy and distant, I was never more selfish or less easy to be around than when in the grips of my illness.

This didn’t make me unworthy of love, but it certainly wasn’t a way of being that anyone should idolise. When I was very ill, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to look after myself—let alone be a good partner to somebody else. Worse yet, a certain type of person is drawn to this—someone who wants to ‘fix you’ and take the credit for it, and then have you be indebted.

This blog revolves around the fact I think there should be no shame in being mentally ill, so let me make it plain: I am not saying mentally ill people shouldn’t be loved, because of course they should. But I will stand up and argue that it isn’t helpful to suggest ‘loving the mentally ill girl’ is the best thing you can do. Not all anxious or depressed people become compassionate, loving, empathetic and loyal. Many compassionate, loving, empathetic and loyal people have never been mentally ill.

This attitude reduces women. It glamorous a horrendous experience. Worse still, it’s potentially dangerous for women. And that’s not okay.

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