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.

12554_182294846552_2784362_n (1)

 

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

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.

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

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.

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

Why Love Won’t Fix Your Mental Health

Love is difficult to get right at the best of times, let alone when you’re in the midst of a mental health crisis. I’ve done all sorts of funny things when not quite in my right mind. I’ve made dubious and hurtful choices. I’ve broken up a good love and pursued a bad one.

But somehow, even when we know we should be by ourselves, love is hard to stay away from. It’s a story we’re told from the very beginning: love will make us better. Love will fix what is broken. It may even be our reward for struggling on through the enchanted forest and fighting a beast.

It won’t fix us, of course: romantic love is no better route for curing mental illness than alcohol or drugs, for all it mimics their mood-boosting effects.

It’s a tempting thought, though. Mental illness is exhausting. And being alone can be so very tiring, even when your health is well and good. Someone else’s arms can feel like the port in the storm.

And I don’t want to diminish the importance of love: you certainly can’t understate the support many people’s partners give them. I’ve written a post to thank these people. But it’s also important to remember that love won’t fix your mental health.

Because love, even a good love, can’t save you from your own mind. And whilst we’re at it: you can’t love somebody else into good mental health. You can do everything right and try to fight for it every way you can, but sometimes, the most important thing for your mental health—and your partners’—is to walk away.

And that’s a good love. A bad love can be downright dangerous for those with mental health issues, leaving people in a vulnerable state open to manipulation and abuse. Obviously, I’m not saying all mentally ill people should be single: if you have a supportive and loving partner, recovery can be much easier. But if your love is actively making your mental health worse, and you’re free to do so: leave. Life’s too short. There’s too much at stake.

Because whilst it’s scary to deal with your mental health alone, it could be the best skill you ever acquire. Something inside of you cannot be fixed by somebody else. Learn to sail your own ship and you can surmount any storm. Build the strength to go places by yourself, to sit in silence, to journey alone.

In the words of Jeanette Winterson: “In this life, you have to be your own hero. By that I mean you have to win whatever it is that matters to you by your own strength and in your own way.”

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS’ VALENTINES DAY SERIES

Time to Talk in Real Life

Here is my truth: once upon a time, I was very ill. During and after my father’s dying, I suffered from heavy bouts of depression and anxiety. Eventually, I did not want to be alive.

I’m still here. (Obviously: this blog isn’t a nuts piece of paranormal activity). The people who love me pulled be back, and whilst they couldn’t fix me, they made me want to want to be alive. They found the time to talk with me.

I am now, mostly, better, although I have glitches and bad days .Sometimes my mind races so relentlessly it makes me breathless. Sometimes I weep without reason, without logic. I don’t think I will ever be as I was before. You can step back from the precipice but you can never forget the sight of it.

But talking helped. My God, talking helped. I started this blog because I thought it might help—even just one person—to know the ways I wound my way back from the edge, to a life with happiness and joy and possibility in it. It is a pleasure to write and share, although often awkward and embarrassing as I lay myself bare.

Here’s the bit I can’t say loudly enough: a huge part of my recovery was learning to talk as bluntly about my mental health as I would about pulling my shoulder. (PS: sorry to all of my colleagues who have listened to me moan relentlessly about pulling my shoulder this week).

Talking bluntly is so hard. Today is Time to Talk day, a fantastic initiative from Time to Change and a ‘chance for all of us to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives.’ Read their fantastic tips for how to start the conversation here.

Now (obviously) I hope people read, like and share this post. But today what I hope more than anything is that you take the time to talk in real life. Social media campaigns are a fantastic method of raising awareness, but it has to translate into reality.

Because the stigma of mental health issues is decreasing, but this is noticeably more true in the online community than in reality. In reality, we still have a huge problem with talking.

So the problem is still there, still unspoken about, for many people. For the people who can’t access the services they desperately need because there isn’t enough funding, and are left with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

It’s there for the people who are too ashamed to access the help they might need. It’s there at the bottom of a glass or the 7am end of a drug fuelled night, the only oblivion some of us can find.

It’s there in the workplace. The fractious silence of colleagues who need help they have no idea how to claim, and who are too afraid to ask for fear of the response they’ll get. Mental health at work is extra tricky; understandably, people want to keep their private lives private. But it’s where most of us spend our waking lives. We can’t separate the two any more. I’ve been lucky throughout my life to work with compassionate colleagues and managers, but I appreciate for many this is not the case.

It’s there in too many of the men I know. Men who carry a private vulnerability and wear a public mask, only able to share their mental health struggle at four in the morning, eight pints down. Three quarters of suicides in 2016 were men. On that note, the latest Samaritans report shows female suicides are at their highest for a decade. 

It has to get better. We have to ensure that people do not feel discriminated against. Falling over the precipice should never be the end result.

So today, I add my voice to what will hopefully be thousands of others. It’s time to talk. It’s time to talk in real life. If you’ve read this, take five minutes to think and to ask—a friend, a colleague, a parent. Share your truth. Help someone share theirs.

It’s such a small thing. It’s such a huge thing.

#TimeToTalk

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

Art For Anxiety: Creating a Worry Free Mind

Good news, team. The end of January is in sight, and I for one couldn’t be happier. Trying to keep my mental health ticking along smoothly feels like a full-time (and exhausting) occupation in the post-Christmas lull, and I know I’m not the only one who finds it tough.

Fortunately, I’ve had something to look forward to over the last few weeks, and it’s given my mental health an unexpected boost. I didn’t set out resolutions as such in December (apart from Dry January), but I had been making noises for a while about learning a new skill in 2018. Something creative, like an instrument or a life drawing class.

So you can imagine my delight when I was bought a beginner’s pottery course for Christmas (at the fabulous Claytime studio in Finsbury Park). I used to be a reasonably good artist, but I gave it up in my second year of college. Essentially, I was too worried about not getting the grades and sacrificing my university place.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 19.02.27This was probably the sensible choice but it does mean it’s now been the better part of eight years since I really sat down to draw, craft or create anything more than a drunken fancy dress effort. (Although as you can see, my drunken fancy dress efforts were very good.) This makes me sad, because I really loved it, once upon a time. And it’s also a shame because art for anxiety can have really impressive results.

It’s a mixture of factors. For one, it’s hard to worry when you’re working with your hands. The problem with day-to-day living is that we can do it on autopilot, leaving our minds free to fret. When you’re learning a new skill—particularly something creative, which takes a lot of concentration—you’re forced to be present in the moment, thinking only about the techniques you’re learning. You can literally create your way to a worry free mind, even if it’s only temporary.

It’s also a nice way of physically working out your anxieties and tensions. There’s a reason kids like play dough so much: it’s intensely satisfying to spend a few hours squeezing, shaping, and rolling a big hunk of clay. Wheel throwing is even better—just the right balance between mesmerising and frustratingly difficult, requiring concentration levels so intense I wouldn’t have time to worry if I wanted to.

art for anxiety
It’s a bit lumpy, but it’ll do.

Don’t stress if you’re not creatively inclined. My pottery isn’t very good, and I’m probably going to piss my Mum off by trying to offload some to her for Mother’s Day… but I’ve had a nice time doing it, and that’s what counts.

So there’s my mental health tip for the week: get arty, not anxious. Have a search, and see if you can find a way to get creative—because even if you’re not creatively inclined, it’s a bloody good laugh and a nice way to meet people.

It’s given me a sharp reminder how therapeutic I found art, long before I was even troubled by mental health problems. It’s also got me noticing the #arttherapy tag on Instagram—this is something I really want to read more about, so if anybody has any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!

Lots of love,

Nic x

giphy-downsized-large

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

real kombucha

The best booze-free alternatives for Dry January

As discussed in this recent post, I’ve given up my favourite hobby alcohol for the first month of 2018, finally succumbing to the increasingly popular Dry January trend.

People have mixed views on Dry January, and to be honest, it’s not the sort of thing I’d usually be on board with, preferring moderation over total deprivation.

Sadly, alcohol and anxiety have a funny old relationship. I know people who use alcohol to cover their anxiety, and I know people whose anxiety is massively exacerbated by getting on the sauce. I fall into the latter camp, so I’m aiming to cut down this year to help minimise my alcohol-induced anxiety.

But since I bloody love sitting in the pub and clinking a glass with some pals, I’ve started thinking a lot more about the best low-alcohol or alcohol free drinks. I want to improve my mental health, but I don’t want spent Friday night necking Fanta, so I’ve been on the hunt for some more sophisticated choices.

Fortunately, the options have never been better. And far from the sugary crap you used to be able to get your hands on, some of them are actually pretty damn good for you. The best one I’ve tried recently is Real Kombucha, a fermented tea low in calories and sugar.

dry january 2Royal Flush is my recommendation: brewed from Darjeeling, I could tell you about its notes of rose, vanilla and quince—or I could be honest and tell you how much it looks and tastes like prosecco.

This is a huge win for me, because if we’re being totally honest, one of the hard things about not drinking is feeling like a fun-sponge at the pub. When you’re having a dry night, there’s nothing more annoying than you loving but ultimately sozzled mates ribbing you constantly for staying sober.

Real Kombucha is great in this regard—the guys behind the Booch recommend you serve Royal Flush ice cold in a champagne glass, and I agree. If I ever decide to follow in my mother’s footsteps and have a shotgun wedding six months up the duff, I’ll be toasting my guests with Royal Flush. If you’re more of a cider fan, try Smoke House—I can see myself necking around a campfire, if I was the sort of person who believed in paying to sleep outdoors.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 19.17.47And there are plenty of other great options out there, regardless of what your go-to beverage is. I had the pleasure of trying Seedlip the other day—I recommend the Spice 94 variety. Seedlip has some seriously impressive credentials and is stocked in Selfridges and The Savoy, which tells you all you need to know.

Sadly, I’m yet to try an alcohol-free beer that really floats my boat. Can anybody recommend one? The weather is currently pants, so I’m not missing sunny days in the beer garden too much just yet—but rest assured, I’ll be on the hunt come Spring.

Whatever your usual poison is, alcohol free versions are popping up faster than you can say ‘Booch’. So keep your eyes peeled and give your sober-self a spin–and if you have any recommendations to keep my Dry January fresh, let me know in the comments!

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

Dry January: alcohol and anxiety

Here’s a really sad fact about me: I get chronic post-alcohol anxiety. So this year, I’ve done the unthinkable and committed to Dry January. This is very unlike me, because A) I generally advocate for moderation not deprivation and B) I bloody love a drink.

alcohol and anxiety 2This sounds awful, but it’s true. I love red wine and cold pints. I enjoy fruity, overpriced cocktails and the camaraderie of popping a bottle of prosecco in the office on a Friday afternoon. I like squeezing fresh lime into a rum and ginger on a sunny day, and I’m especially fond of a glass of Baileys as a nightcap in a hotel.

In light of this admission, I really don’t want there to be a link between alcohol and anxiety, because that spoils my fun big time.

Sadly, all too often after a glass or two, my sleep is strangely disturbed. I wake in a panic, heart pounding, mind racing. It makes sense, to be fair. Alcohol raises your blood pressure and reduces serotonin levels in the brain. The depletion of this feel good chemical is enough to give anybody a touch of hangover ennui.

Hangovers also make me scatty AF, so I spend the whole miserable time panicking I’ve forgotten to do something important; I once travelled 45 minutes back across London to check I’d turned the hob off on a hangover. I had. Dope. I’m usually happy to put up with this, given it clears within a day or so.

But managing my anxiety is a daily battle, and whilst 90% of the time I have it well under control, recently I’ve needed all the help I can get—so I finally decided to commit to a booze free month. So what are the results?

Actually, pretty good. I was worried it would kabosh my social life, but instead of avoiding socialising altogether, I’m still going to the pub for a ginger and lime so I don’t feel like I’m missing out too much. Actually, there are some really good low-alcohol alternatives nowadays–check out my favourites here! My sleep is less disturbed, my heart rate is under control, and I’m generally feeling less maudlin.

alcohol and anxiety 3
I can’t promise never to do this again.

It took about two weeks for me to really start feeling better, so moving forward, I’m definitely going to try and incorporate some booze-free fortnights into my life. I can’t say I’d quite forever – I’m too attached to drinking rum out of coconuts – but I’ll certainly be more mindful now I know the benefits for sure.

If you’re suffering with anxiety, and tend to drink quite a bit, I’d definitely recommend giving a few sober weeks a whirl. If you’re worried about the peer pressure of drinking, or people calling you out, I strongly recommend dead-eying them and bluntly saying ‘I’m taking a break from drinking for my mental health’.

It’s also surprisingly easy to be at the pub and have nobody notice you’re not drinking – nowadays, there are all sorts of great low-alcohol options that look and taste surprisingly similar to the real deal, like Kombucha.

I’ve still got another ten days, but the mixture of my mental clarity and my noticeably healthier bank balance is spurring me on no end. So next time you’re going through a bad anxiety patch, give it a go, even if it’s just for a two weeks—because if you’re anything like me, the relationship between alcohol and anxiety might be stronger than you think.

alcohol and anxiety 4.gif

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

bad week

Just a Bad Week

I like to keep Nicer Thoughts as positive as possible, because dwelling on my problems is boring for you and unhelpful for me. But I’ll come out and say it: I have not had a good mental health week.

As if the post-Christmas period wasn’t miserable enough, it’s been a fortnight of absolute faff. I moved house, only to discover the flat had mistakenly been advertised as furnished when it was in fact completely empty, leading to plenty of arguing, sofa building and some sleepless nights on the floor. My exercise regime—the cornerstone of my mental health maintenance—fell by the wayside as I waited in for deliveries and trawled John Lewis.

b2cc1400-a358-4bfd-a636-bd7e66c51394.gif
This is actually the oven we have: Neff have a lot to answer for.

Then the oven door fell off on my foot (ruining my roasted aubergine dinner plans in the process). The Internet router got lost in the post, so I haven’t been able to work on Nicer Thoughts, one of my favourite hobbies. I had a tough few days at work. My bankcard got frauded. All things that, individually, I could have laughed off; combined, my anxiety levels shot through the roof.

I started to catastrophise, which is a common behaviour for many anxiety sufferers. This wasn’t just a Bad Week, the voice in my head told me: this is the end times. You’re going to get ill again. You’re walking back into the underworld. You’re going to be jobless and friendless and penniless, and your boyfriend’s probably going to dump you too.

Logically, this is all quite silly, because I have a loving family, compassionate friends, supportive colleagues, and am generally quite good at my job. If my boyfriend’s going to dump me for anything, it’s my strange tendency to squirrel weird shit under the duvet, like clothes hangers.

But, exhausted as I was, I just couldn’t help it. And then, stupidly, I started beating myself up even more—because I was too tired to exercise, too agitated to meditate. I was anxious about being anxious, feeling like a failure for not managing my mental health as well as I usually do. The further the week went on, the worse I felt. And I didn’t have the energy for my usual tricks. This all culminated in me crying on the bedroom floor this morning after accidentally smashing myself on the brow bone with a plug. So what could I do?

The answer is simple: nothing at all. When you’re truly shattered, and deeply stressed, sometimes you just need to kick back and do nothing at all. (Sorry: I don’t have anything insightful or thought-provoking to say this week; I’m too tired.)

Today, I’ve lain on the sofa, drank cups of tea, done some yoga. I’ve had a little cry and a cuddle, both of which made me feel better. Then I ate a fuck load of pistachios, which made me feel better still.

I’ve still got a shedload of things that need sorting, but I’ve given myself the weekend off to do nothing but recharge and chill. Every time my mind starts to race, I have another cuddle and remind myself of my favourite cliche: it was just a bad week, not a bad life. And if you’ve had a shitty week, I firmly advise that you find some time to do the same.

Lots of love,

Nic x

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

The stigma of antidepressants: a crying shame

I had a whole load of other ideas planned for my first post of 2018. And then a colleague sent me a news article on this topic, and three or four people (randomly and in quick succession) asked me for some advice about antidepressants.

Obviously, I’m not a Doctor, or qualified to comment on anything other than my own experience. I can only say that even as the mental health awareness movement gains steam, there’s definitely still a huge stigma about taking antidepressants.

It’s little wonder. The Daily Mail recently charmingly referred to them as ‘happy pills’ that Brits demand to ‘avoid feeling down’. I personally have never met anybody who was desperate to be on antidepressants because they’re a bit glum.

I’ve only met people who are desperately ill (me included, once upon a time) but don’t want to take them out of shame. And people who are on them but will never, ever talk about it.

Unfortunately, I’ve also met some people who are judgmental of those who do take them, as if this somehow makes you less capable of being a good friend, partner, parent, colleague, human.

This is ridiculous. For certain mental health disorders, medication is often completely essential, like insulin for a diabetic. For those whose anxiety and depression is stopping them from functioning—or putting them at risk of suicide—it seems horrendously worrying that stigma, shame and misinformation might prevent people from getting the help they need.

Yes, there are other routes people can take to conquer their anxiety and depression first, particularly in less severe cases. Counselling, exercise, meditation. It’s certainly true the NHS is under huge strain and can’t provide the levels of counselling and support required, meaning medication could end up being prescribed where talking therapy might work.

But that’s not the point I’m making here—my point is, if you’ve reached a point where you can’t even begin to fathom those activities, medication may help you get back on the even keel you need.

That was certainly the case for me. Here’s my history, for context: at my absolute lowest point (clinical diagnosis: severe anxiety and moderate depression), after several months of counselling, I was prescribed an SSRI called sertraline.

One reason people often don’t want to take them is the side effects, and I won’t lie, the first two weeks were horrendous. Shakes, shivers, retching, dry-mouth, constipation (cute), hot flushes, night sweats, sketchy dreams.

But then… clouds parted, albeit onto a still fairly miserable sky. My problems didn’t go away, but the mental fog and crippling anxiety gently abated. The issues in my life were still there, and I still had to deal with them, but the physical symptoms of the anxiety I’d been experiencing decreased hugely, meaning I was able to crack on with the business of sorting my life out.

I stayed on them for seven months, then slowly tapered off my dosage over three further months. I had resisted it for so long, afraid of the stigma, propped up by my own belief that tablets were just a temporary panacea and would somehow make me a shell of myself. They didn’t. When I was on them, I travelled, fell in love, was a bridesmaid, got a new job, took up a yoga habit. I lived my life. They helped me to live my life.

So whilst I’d love to say, ‘there’s no shame in taking antidepressants if you need them’, that would be wrong; there clearly is a stigma. I certainly felt ashamed, and put off taking them for a long time because of it. But, also: fuck shame. Shame also tells me I shouldn’t have little belly rolls on a beach, or dance really badly when I’m drunk, or fancy Dimitri from Anastasia as much as I do. (He’s a cartoon.)

The real shame is that people feel pressured to resist the help they might need.

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

Disclaimer: I can only ever write my own experiences. Antidepressants react differently with every individual, so what worked for me may not work for you. They can have adverse side effects, such as temporarily increasing suicidal thoughts, so always pursue any course of medication with correct supervision and an open dialogue with your Doctor.