5 things I’ve read this week that brought me joy

Content. Whether it’s books, articles, tweets or even a WhatsApp thread, most of us love to consume it. But the sad reality is that nowadays, we get an awful lot of negative content pushed to us from all angles. Which is definitely not good for our collective mental health. So here’s 5 things I’ve read this week that have brought a smile to my face.

Notes on a nervous planet, Matt Haig

I’ve written about Haig before in 4 books for a bad day. I regularly recommend Reasons To Stay Alive because it delivers exactly what it promises on the tin. I read it at a point in my life when I actually was suicidal, so it’s little wonder it holds such a place in my heart. Notes on a Nervous Planet is less emotionally loaded (or maybe I am?) but, just like RTSA, it’s wise, whimsical, thoughtful and earnest. If you struggle to consume content when your mental health is bad, as I do, it’s also extremely digestible, with short chapters and lists dotted throughout. Give it a go, and even if reading it doesn’t make you smile, following the tips within it will almost certainly help to give your frazzled mind a break.

Normal People, Sally Rooney

I’ve been in a definite non-fiction mood over the last year. Normal People bucked the trend: I gobbled it up in 24 hours, and it’s been so long since I did that with fiction that this fact alone made me happy. Rooney’s been described as the voice of my generation, something I resist on principle – but she certainly put into words ideas that I’ve been desperately trying to formulate for years, with no success.

As a novel, Normal People will make you think deeply about love, anxiety, self-esteem, the male psyche, millennial woes, the timeless concerns of being a pair of star crossed lovers. The two main characters are perfectly realised and the plot is engaging. I didn’t like all of the stylistic decisions, but ultimately, I thought it was an excellent read. Rooney is painfully on-the-nose about topics I’m very interested in, like privilege: ‘Suddenly he can spend an afternoon in Vienna looking at Vermeer’s The Art of Painting, and it’s hot outside, and if he wants he can buy himself a cheap cold glass of beer afterwards. It’s like something he assumed was just a painted backdrop all his life has revealed itself to be real: foreign cities are real, and famous artworks, and underground railway systems, and remnants of the Berlin Wall. That’s money, the substance that makes the world real.’ I kept wanting to read bits of Normal People aloud to people around me, because Rooney so frequently encapsulated ideas I have tried and failed to express a thousand times. All in: a book that made me sad and joyful all at once. Go and read it.

It’s decorative gourd season, motherfuckers, McSweeney’s

And in a complete 180 on the previous entry – an article that made me cry actual tears of laughter. (Which is always a good thing to do for your mental health.)

So, one of my absolute favourite things about my new job is that, by dint of being a team of writers, we are also a team of avid content consumers, and we’re always sharing articles with each other. Some are serious. Some are profound. Others are batshit insane, like this post about autumn from McSweeney’s. Not everybody’s sense of humour, but definitely mine. Content like this is just such a joyful antithesis to the seriousness of life. So, strap yourself in and enjoy the timely reminder – as the leaves start to drift from the tree – that: ‘It’s fall, fuckfaces’.

AI saves lives, The Good News Network

I think it’s important to seek out content that is purely good, instead of relentlessly depressing. I’m a technology copywriter, so I spend a lot of time reading articles about AI. Many of which intrigue me, some of which depress me, and virtually none of which actually make me smile. This one did. An AI system in China was able to correctly predict that patients in a vegetative coma state would wake up within 12 months. This was in contrast to the actual Doctors, who gave the patients such low survival scores, the families were legally allowed to take them off life support. Good save, AI! Best of all, in reading it, I found the ‘Good News Network’, which is exactly what we all need, given 95% of what we read is about the world going to shit.

My group chats

Our phones get a bad rep. And rightly so, in many instances: scrolling endlessly through the gram isn’t good for any of our mental health. But there’s one thing my phone does to improve my mental health, and that’s facilitate group chats. Honestly: all hail the group chat. (Sounds sad? Well, I moved to London by myself a year and a half ago, so excuse me for needing the human interaction.)

I have group chats for my best friends from uni, groups chats for ex-colleagues turned friends, group chats with family members – and they’re just bloody great. We go through ebbs and flows of activity but I always know they’re there as a little source of comfort and lols if I need it. If you are in a group chat with me: know that I value it very much indeed.

Time for your recommendations

Have a read yourself (although not number 4, obviously) and let me know in the comments what you’ve read recently that’s brought you some joy. The more (and sillier) the merrier!

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

dealing with anxiety

Suicide: the great mental health taboo

Globally, every 40 seconds, a person ends their life through suicide.

In the UK, 6,213 people killed themselves last year. The suicide rate for young women is at an all time high. Men are three times as likely to take their lives than women. Hanging is the most common method. More children are thinking about suicide than ever before.

Does this make you feel uncomfortable?

It makes me feel uncomfortable. Even as I write this, I keep looking away from the screen. Suicide is a thing we still don’t like to talk about, unless a celebrity takes their life. I understand why. It’s too uncomfortable and too loaded. It forces us to confront something too painful to bear.

I suppose if you’ve never been suicidal, or even close, it seems an unfathomable act. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to talk about. Although it might be something to do with the fact that ‘self-murder’ was only decriminalised 50 years ago, and the very act of suicide – even admitting to feeling suicidal – is bound up in shame.

Don’t get me wrong: we’ve come a long way on the mental health conversation front. Tell somebody you have anxiety or depression, and you’re more likely than ever before to receive a compassionate response, or even the empathy of shared experience.

But suicide is a different beast. Tell somebody you’re suicidal and watch the air freeze between you, like ice across a windowpane.

It’s the great mental health taboo. We do not know how to talk about it. Even I – somebody who literally runs a blog about mental health – feel myself dancing around the word. And I should really know better. I’ve been there, after all.

I was 22. On paper, I had everything going for me. I was young and high achieving, well-loved and financially secure. But I was also in the grips of a deep mental health crisis. I felt unreal, as if I were viewing the world through gauze. I had lost the ability to connect with the world around me. You probably wouldn’t have thought it to look at me. I have pictures of myself, graduating from my Masters, where I look positively suffused with joy. But most of the time I felt nothing at all, apart from the moments when I wept uncontrollably, until my chest hurt and I couldn’t breathe for gasping.

Everything that makes life worth living had slipped out of reach. Everything felt insurmountable. I was so tired. No wonder: it’s physically exhausting, to feel so very hopeless.

One day, the thought slipped into my head: I wish I could go to sleep tonight and not wake up. It didn’t go away. Over the next few weeks, I worried away at the thought; where could I do it, how could I do it? The idea followed me around; in the bath, as the tram approached the platform. What a relief it would be, not to feel at all.

The only thing that stayed my hand was the thought of my mum and sister, bereaved twice in 24 months. Not to mention the friends who relentlessly stuck to me. In the end, the people I loved dragged me back from the edge. They made me talk, breaking down mountains into hills I could imagine scaling.

Talking saved my life. But too many people don’t have anybody to talk with. In fact, too many people will never let their feelings slip at all. The thought, the urge, will remain unspoken. Until it’s acted upon. Until it’s too late.

We have to talk. It’s a hard conversation from all angles, I know. Admitting you are suicidal is exposing the rawest part of yourself. Talking about it still smarts now: I don’t want people to see me differently, to see me as unstable, when actually I’ve never been happier or more content. It feels like a dream I had a long time ago – one I can only remember because I wrote it down upon waking.

It’s hard for those left behind. Because it’s not an acceptable topic of conversation, people who have lost loved ones to suicide are forced to hide their grief, to blunt its awkward edges in conversation, for the sake of avoiding the discomfort of others.

And it’s hard to respond to. Sitting and looking into the eyes of somebody telling you they do not want to be here is painful and uncomfortable and heartbreakingly sad. ‘I hate to think of you feeling like that,’ people say, eyes shifting into the middle distance. ‘I can’t bear the thought.’

But what should we choose? The discomfort of the conversation or the event itself?

It’s difficult. But here’s some places to start: we have to start the conversation and keep having it, relentlessly, even when it hurts, until everybody who even has a whisper of that voice in their head feels like they can talk about it. We have to write explicit mental health provision into our workplace conversations and HR handbooks. We have to banish the word ‘commit’, with its implications of criminality. We have to educate ourselves on the signs of somebody having suicidal thoughts, and be brave enough to reach out when we see them. We have to listen.

We can’t save everyone. But we can sit down and talk, refusing to flinch, asking the difficult questions. It might make no difference. It might make all the difference in the world.

I’m publishing this the day before World Suicide Prevention Day. If you are worried that somebody you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out. There are some resources below, or if you want somebody to talk to, drop me a message. 

Resources

Read more

Why most things (probably) won’t make you happy

Sometimes, when I’m having a bout of anxiety (or a full blown panic attack), I close my eyes and imagine myself in an almost empty room.

Nowadays, this is the calmest situation I can think of, other than being by the sea or halfway up a mountain. A space without clutter, without objects.

I wasn’t always like this. But more and more, I’m mindful that ‘stuff’ (and shopping, AKA the act of acquiring it) does very little to make me happy. If anything, it actively makes me feel worse.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a minimalist or a committed experientialist. I’m not even particularly tidy. (I can imagine my Mum and boyfriend reading this and huffing, ‘HA! Sounds like news to me!’).

And I’m not judging anyone for buying things. I like things! I like objects that are beautiful and functional. I do a little wriggle with delight every time I sit on my balcony furniture, and my coffee table is a source of endless pleasure. I feel immediately becalmed by turning on my bedside lamps, which scatter light across the room like stars on a night sky. My friend Polly has a kitchen table made out of her childhood bed that genuinely makes my stomach contract slightly with lust.

But these are things that serve a purpose; they make a home a comfortable place to live in. I feel the same about clothes, shoes and bags: I’m still furiously in love with my four-year-old Barbour jacket and the multitude of pockets it offers. But nearly every dress I’ve ever bought has at some point made me feel shit about myself. Hmm.

As a result, I’ve started to read a hell of a lot about how I can make myself happier and less anxious by whittling down the amount of unnecessary crap I either keep in my flat or lust after online. This is important for your mental health on two fronts. One, clutter is stressful. The more clutter, the more mess.

Two, our need to keep buying things… well, it usually means something, doesn’t it? When we buy things, the sad reality is that we’re often trying to be somebody, or impress somebody, or plug a gap. But in reality, we’d probably get a lot more joy out of life if we stopped spending £200 a month in Topshop and spent the money enjoying activities with our loved ones, seeing new places, and building memories.

So what am I doing about it? I’ve started to unsubscribe from newsletters and direct mailers from brands I once loved. (Sorry, did anyone else think GDPR was going to do that for us?!). I’ve started to donate or throw things away if they’re sat in a cupboard or ‘tidied away’ somewhere.

Finally, I’m forcing myself to research before I buy, and only buy on a needs basis, like the rucksack I replaced recently. Most importantly, I’ve begun to question and interrogate my purchase. If you’re interested, here are the questions I’ve been asking myself to discover if an object is really going to bring me happiness, or if my money could be better spent elsewhere (e.g. weekend breaks to Europe).

img_6760-1

Does having it cause you stress?

‘Things’ should be beautiful, or useful, or both. But the things you own shouldn’t cause you stress. If all you’re ever doing with something is finding new ways to store it out of site, get rid of it. Likewise, if you own something that makes you feel bad about yourself (like, half of my wardrobe), get it down a charity shop pronto.

Even if you like it, do you actually need it?

I picked up some beautiful coasters yesterday, tootling home down Blackstock Road. And when I say ‘picked up’, I mean ‘picked out the four I wanted to buy’. But then I realised that we already have beautiful coasters. Like, more coasters than we could actually use, unless we both decided to drink three brews simultaneously. Or had four guests around. Sometimes, just because you like something, doesn’t mean you need it – especially if it’s just adding to an existing pile of clutter.

Do you need to pay that much money for it?

Will the expensive version of something really make you happy? This isn’t a snide question – I prefer slightly more expensive bedding, for example, because it generally feels nicer on my skin. T-shirts, however: no. I do not need to pay £100 for something I’m going to spill ketchup on. Get out of Selfridges and put it down.

Jeans are another good example of this. You can buy high quality, stylish, fashionable jeans for £50-100. (My thighs rub through anything cheaper). Is a £300 pair genuinely going to make you any happier?

Basically, before you buy something, ask if you’re really getting a level of value that’s proportionate to the extra spend. Because all of that ‘extra spend’, over the course of a year, could pay for an amazing holiday or the adult learning course you’ve always fancied to build your dream career. Just saying.

Are you buying this for the person you are or the person you want to be?

I can’t tell you how many pair of high-heeled shoes I bought as a teenager/young adult. I don’t like heels. I don’t like walking in heels. I don’t feel happy in heels. They’re deeply uncomfortable, and you can’t dance properly in them. And I definitely wouldn’t want to have sex with anybody who doesn’t fancy me in trainers, so I can’t even argue I wanted my legs to look thinner.

So why did I keep buying pairs of heels? I have no idea. I think I want to be the sort of woman that can and does walk in heels. Baffling. In short: you can’t buy your way into being a different sort of person. And you won’t find happiness by trying.

Do you love actually love it, or do you think it says something about you?

Very like the above. This is a hard and uncomfortable question to ask yourself. I have been guilty of it on so many occasions. And have, over the years, probably wasted £1403493024932 in Urban Outfitters as a result.

It’s not easy, and it’s a work in process – I’ve been trying to get up the energy to tackle my wardrobe with all of this in mind. But it is worth it – because every draw I clear and every penny I save from not buying crap needlessly is helping me on my way to a slightly saner, happier life. Which sounds like a good direction of travel to me.

img_8412-1

(This plant, this copper pot, and this Bowie print all make me happy every time I look at them. As does the chap in lurking behind).

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

Your beautiful state of mind

Do you ever read a quote and realise you’ve committed it to memory, without every trying?

In a book I read this week, a young would-be musician is in anguish, wondering whether composing is his true calling. Leon asks Marek – his hero, a Czech composer who has withdrawn his music from performance in the Reich – whether or not he really has talent.

‘No one else can tell you that.’

‘But how does one know if it’s worth going on? I don’t know whether I have any true creativity or –’

‘Good God, Leon, why do you always turn back on yourself? If you feel the need to write music, or play it, then do so, but believe me your creativity is of no interest to anyone. Write something – then it’s there. If it’s what you wanted to write, if it exists, then leave it. If it doesn’t, throw it away. Your beautiful state of mind is totally irrelevant.’

It stuck with me, that last line. At first, I thought: oof, little harsh, Marek. But it’s true. Your beautiful state of mind is totally irrelevant. More importantly, I think there’s a lesson in happiness there – at least for anybody who considers themselves a creative.

And this lesson was crystallised even further on Friday night, as I pottered round the Picasso 1932 exhibition at the Tate, one of my favourite spots in London. Don’t get me wrong, our friend Pablo had all sorts of issues, but looking at the work he created in a single year, it’s fairly obvious he felt the need to create and did so frantically. (PS., go to this exhibition if you can).

It’s a funny, lovely thing – the urge to make something. Whether it’s music or art or poetry, novels or installations or photographs. I think it usually arrives quite young, although certainly people discover creative skills later in life. It can be a source of great joy, or even a tool for improving your mental health. I almost never feel happier than when I sit back from something I’ve written and think, yes.

But the older I get, the more I seen how unhappy it can make people, too. Creativity can become a cage, particularly when we reach adulthood and start to feel like we haven’t lived up to our potential. Obviously, very few people get to make a living from the pure form of their talent. When I was a little girl, I would have told you I wanted to be an author. (Spoiler: I’m not. And I now know most authors have other jobs).

And I used to feel bad about not making that happen (or at least, not making it happen yet). If I were a Proper Writer, wouldn’t I be doing it? Wouldn’t I be writing the book idea I’ve always toyed with?

Perhaps. But the reality is, who cares? Why on earth would I let that affect my happiness? There’s no point beating yourself up about not doing something, if the reason you’re meant to do it in the first place is love.

It’s what I love about blogging, and bloggers, for that matter – it strikes me as an activity that is highly motivated by enjoyment, not a desire to be perceived in a particular way.

img_8801If you want to make something, make it. If you don’t, know that you might one day, but it really doesn’t matter right now. But don’t let it make you bitter. And don’t blame it on your life.

Because if what you’re clinging on to is just an idea of yourself as somebody who produces art, and you create just to conform to that sense of self, you’re not likely to find much happiness.

Worst yet, I think it can be a recipe for bad art. Sometimes it results in… too much artist in the art. It should be an insight or an expression, not a way of reflecting how you want the world to see you.

Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t stick with it. It’s part of getting better: painting every day, practising your instrument. Brilliant art doesn’t come without effort; by all accounts, writing a book can be a slow, tortuous effort.

But I think most of us would be happier if we followed Marek’s advice: if you want to create, create. If it’s no good, never mind. But just bear in mind that your beautiful state of mind is totally irrelevant. And there’s no small amount of peace to be found in coming to terms with that fact.

img_8804.jpg

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

The quote is from Eva Ibbotson’s beautiful book, Songs for the Summer. I read her books as a child, and still love them as an adult. 

Missing you.

Here’s the thing about losing somebody you love. It never leaves you. There will always be sudden, breathless moments—a shadow where a life should have been.

But ultimately, inevitably, the jagged pain is smoothed down, like a pebble. Then you are left, not with grief, but simply the feeling of missing someone. And—though not always pleasant—missing is an important act. Westworld had it right, when they wrote: ‘you only live as long as the last person to remember you’.

Because missing someone makes them immortal. I suppose it’s why I write: an act of permanence, given my aversion to tattoos. In the beginning I wrote to you, and then I wrote about you, and most of it never saw the light of day—but all of it was meant to keep you with me.

You can’t miss someone all the time, of course: you have to live and get on. But sometimes it’s important, to sit and remember.

And because it’s been four years—because today is a day when the loss is sharp and heavy (a pebble still hurts if you lob it at someone, after all)— I have let myself sit and miss you.

img_9696

First I miss a man who died long ago; the entrepreneur, the athlete who could walk the length of the garden on his hands, who told us bedtime stories and enforced a love of cuddles and Star Wars.

Next I miss the Dad: maker of embarrassing jokes, fixer of problems, chauffeur and handyman and wallet-opener. I miss glowing (or squirming) under the weight of your love and expectation. (Somehow I even miss the bad in you: your unfairness and your selfishness, your sudden, dark rages. Nobody said missing is rational).

I miss the friend you became. On the back of the Harley, holding a map, sharing a sandwich by the side of a road. I miss a man who always tried to show and explain the world to me, giving me the skills to back my own corner, and stand up for the things I think are right.

Then, somehow, I miss the you that never was. I miss the career advice I never had the chance to ask for, the prospect of your solid arm steering me down the aisle. I miss the opinions you never got to form and the arguments we didn’t have. (Where would you have stood on Brexit? Trump? Me living in the old Arsenal stadium?)

I miss all the years there should have been, watching you and Mum grow old, together.

And Christ, I really bloody miss you every time they make a new Star Wars film. I think you would have liked Solo. (I even think you would have liked The Last Jedi).

I suppose what I mean is: I’ll miss you forever, in almost every way. We all will. But as long as we’re missing you, we’ll know you’re still around. And when we’re not missing you, it’s because we’re happy and alive and doing well.

And I know you’d be pleased about that.

img_9683

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO 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 eight 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!

dealing with anxiety

Writer’s block and anxiety

Things have been quiet on Nicer Thoughts this month. It’s been a funny few weeks, and the first thing that goes out the window when I’m overly stressed is my ability to sit down and write for myself. (Writer’s block and anxiety: what a combo).

Now, this isn’t to say I haven’t been writing at all. Writing is 80% of my job, so it’s rare for a day to go by without me cracking out at least 500-1000 words. Whether it’s a few lines of copy for an invite or a 5,000-word research report, I spend a huge amount of time with ideas bouncing around in my head and fingers flying across the keyboard.

And recently, it’s been a lot more extreme. A lot of my role is stuff I have to do on a weekly/monthly basis, so when you throw a few big projects into the mix, there isn’t enough time in the day—and there certainly isn’t enough mental capacity for me to come home, fire up my laptop, and ping off something insightful or interesting for the blog.

Throw into this some general life stress (I was really ill for the best part of two weeks, followed By some anxiety-inducing medical stuff) and my fingers have been frozen every time I approached my laptop.

Time was, I would have beaten myself up a lot about this. Writer’s block and anxiety are a pain in the arse combination; they induce each other. It’s one of my most hated feelings in the world, because if you were to ask me what I’m good at, this is what I say: I write.

Like most wannabe writers, from the time I was very small, I crafted poems and stories and elaborate worlds in my head. I hope one day to finish a book. No matter how stressed I am at work, I am truly grateful every single day that I get paid to fill pages with words. I have always had a voice inside me telling me to write. My fingers have always itched for a pen. (Or a laptop. Or the notes app on my phone).

Because I am not athletic or musical or entrepreneurial. I’m not very interested in being famous or acclaimed or even hugely wealthy. I just want to string words together in a beautiful or functional or emotion-inducing way, and send them out into the world.

And recently, I haven’t been able to do that. (I’ve barely been able to stay awake past 9.30pm.) Historically, I would have beaten myself up for this, and tortured myself even further into the dreaded realm of writer’s block by desperately trying to scrape something together.

This last fortnight, I’ve tried to give myself the kindness to take a different approach. The ability to write is, for me at least, a finite resource during the day. I’ve been using all of these resources up at work (as I should do: Nicer Thoughts doesn’t pay the bills, sadly).

A huge part of mental health self-care is knowing your limits, and not beating yourself up when you’ve reached them. This morning, I lay in bed with the person I love. I woke up, dozed again, and came to slowly. I ate something healthy, I went to the gym. I pottered mindlessly. Then I sat on my balcony (it was actually bloody freezing, but still) and I looked at my plants. I felt quiet and still and content, after a week of feeling frazzled and frankly irritated with the world at large.

And then it came: my fingers itched, and a quiet fell over me. It’s time to write, the little voice said. So I did.

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO 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!

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.

16105728_10154391426921553_829011797954474127_n

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

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.

voice-of-anxiety-4.jpg

 

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

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.

READ MORE FROM NICER THOUGHTS

 

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