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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

 

Fighting thin: weight and the mental health crisis

The summer my Dad died, my Mum booked for my boyfriend and I to go on a lovely holiday. Obviously, holidays don’t make up for the untimely loss of a parent—but let’s face it, we’d all rather grieve on a sun lounger.

It was the summer between my third and fourth year of studying; I had a good eight weeks to ‘get ready’ for the trip, so like a million women before me, I decided to take up a fitness regime. I’d like to say I exercised repeatedly that summer to offset my grief with endorphins, but that would be rewriting history. Mainly, I wanted to look good in a bikini.

My Dad had just died, but what I really wanted was to look thin in a swimsuit. I did not feel I was allowed to go on holiday with a plump stomach and rounded knees.

But I digress. I probably lost half a stone that summer, and looked pretty good for it. I wasn’t actually medically overweight to begin with, I should add. But when I headed off to start my Masters that September, I was fit and tanned, despite my grief. Having always struggled with my weight and body image, I felt pretty damn pleased—I’d been trying to lose my ‘freshman fifteen’ (read: thirty) for the last few years, without much success. On top of everything else, at least I didn’t have to worry about my weight.

Fast-forward a year of grief-driven terrible decisions. I was (somehow) starting a PhD, living on my own in a flat in Nottingham. That September, I got tonsillitis and lost my appetite. What happened next was peculiar: it simply didn’t didn’t come back. As physical and mental illness collided, I completely lost the ability to eat.

Speaking as somebody who once melted a crumbly Cornish cheddar onto an M&S cornflake bite (no, really) I can categorically say this was something I had never experienced before. When I forced myself to eat, it came back up within the hour: I once threw up a mouthful of scrambled eggs, back onto the plate, in the middle of a restaurant.

At the time, this was the least of my problems; my daily panic attacks and 3-hour bedtime crying jags were a bigger source of concern. I was getting thinner, but it was hardly the number one issue on my agenda. But then a few pounds turned into a stone. Bones emerged from cavities I’d never seen before. It was an interesting turn of events. But it wasn’t a choice.

For the first time, skinny was not a battle I was half-heartedly waging—it was a thing I couldn’t stop.

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Hadn’t kept a meal down in two weeks, but was buying size six skirts, so smiles all around.

Friends tell me now I was too thin. I never felt that way, but there are a few photos fromthe time where I can see it, although I cannot reconcile those jutting elbows and scrawny neck with my own sense of self. I only remember the persistent cellulite of my thighs, the soft white rolls of my admittedly shrinking stomach. I was buying smaller sizes, of course; I went from a 12 to a 6. But the truly disturbing part is how it made me feel.

I revelled in it. I might have been suicidal, but at least I was skinny.

There’s a casual, dark glamour in whittling yourself away to the bone. Here’s the worst bit: did you know strangers are nicer to you when you’re thin? Isn’t that sick? The world is kinder to women who take up less space. As much as I was suffering, I felt rewarded for unintentionally stripping my body back to bone and sinew.

My feelings were not unusual. I have friends who have lost weight after anxiety stopped them from eating, and they have quietly admitted how good it can feel. How the rest of the world unwittingly praised them. I know too many women, and some men, who think their value in this world increases as they diminish their physical selves.

I also have friends—intelligent, kind, wonderful people—who have starved themselves, flayed themselves, binged and purged and exhausted themselves. All in the pursuit of Skinny and the strange rewards it brings. And this is endemic: our attitudes towards our bodies and the food that fuels them are broken. There are now many millions of us who on some level believe we are worth more when we take up less space.

It’s just… exhausting. Before my illness, I was on a lifelong semi-diet. What a depressing sentence (I LOVE food). 1200 calories a day, aged 16, to fit into a prom dress (which, in hindsight, made me look like a wedding cake-topper). Zumba five times a week to go on holiday with a man who already wanted to have sex with me when I was fifteen pounds heavier.

Years of my energy wasted on striving to be thin. All those opportunities to eat pastries, wasted. I never saw my body as a thing that carries around my brain, and deserved to be nourished. I saw it only as a thing I had to make smaller.

I only truly began to understand all of this when, having turned the corner of my mental health crisis, I decided—for the first time in my life—to try and put a few pounds back on.

Only when weight gain became a sign of my recovery did I begin to forgive myself for the crime of taking up space.

Excuse my language, but this is fucked. No wonder we’re a society undergoing a mental health crisis. It’s a marvel more of us aren’t completely batshit—we can’t even go on a nice holiday without torturing ourselves for a month beforehand about the state of our thighs. Worst yet, we treat fat like a crime—like a personal failing. We literally ascribe morality to food. PS., ‘naughty’ is bunking off work for a netflix binge, not scranning a chocolate brownie at your desk.

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A little bit chubby? Yes. JUST CLIMBED AN ACTUAL MOUNTAIN? Also yes.

It’s exhausting, this notion of fatness as failing. I’ve been overweight, yes, but I was still able to hike Machu Picchu, and be a First class student, and quote all of the really bad funny lines from Star Wars. But when I think how differently people treated me, I shudder. I shudder too, when I think how quick my own mind is to judge and dismiss fat bodies. We turn our eyes away from them, don’t we? The more space a person takes up the more eager we are to slide our gaze past them.

My own body is now nothing of note; a size 10-12, a little wobbly in places, a little muscular in others. Work-out endorphins are incredibly important for my mental health, so I endeavour to do that. But I am also constantly reminding myself that my weight is the least important thing about me. I let myself enjoy the food I love, and try not to critique this shell of mine too harshly. My wonderful, strong body, that has survived all I’ve put it through. I exercise now to keep my demons at bay, not my thighs.

Of course, I’m still battling with this revolutionary idea. Sometimes I cry when I feel a little fatter. I don’t think it will ever really go away; that feeling of my body being unworthy when it gets a little bigger. But I try to remind myself every day that my worth is made up of a thousand things that aren’t my weight: I am smart and well-loved and kind. I stand up for people who need it and I can dance on stilts, and do obstacle courses, and raise a laugh in the office a few times a day.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s the world I want to live in—and I have to start building that world with my own actions and words. Yes, look after yourself. But please know: you are not worth more just because you have made yourself smaller. You are allowed to enjoy the simple pleasures of toast and chocolate and blue cheese and red wine. It might feel like you shouldn’t, like you aren’t allowed to take up space—but I promise you, you are.

You are, you are, you are.

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The day I find this level of body confidence again is the day all my demons are laid to rest.

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