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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Importance of Anger - World Mental Health Day 2017

I'm having a pretty awful day today, if I'm honest. I'm angry. Lots of things are happening around me that I can't control and it feels frustrating. I feel jittery and can't sit still and keep running the problems over and over in my mind which makes me angrier and angrier.

I've talked before about the problems that come with Mental Health and Self-care turning into trendy buzzwords that people latch onto on the internet. One thing I mentioned throughout but didn't hone in on was that mental health advice that's actually valuable is often left to the wayside, with things that enhance the idea of a "positive" lifestyle are pushed forward because they fit with the aesthetic.

I've said before that I love mindfulness, and that it's helped immensely with my anxiety. I recently attended a whole host of talks on the subject at mental health at the recent Mental Wealth festival hosted by City Lit here in London, and one of my favourites of the day was on the subject of Anxiety and Panic Attacks, run by NHS Director Mandy Stevens. In it she did talk about the benefits of mindfulness, her experiences with anxiety and lots of tips and tricks for managing it on a daily basis. One of the most important parts of that conversation was on the subject of avoidance.

How the two of these things link together, is that I often think a lot of mental health ideas that get posited online preach avoidance as a form of self-care, when sometimes that is the least healthy thing a person can do. I have a big problem with avoidance personally, especially when my mental health is shaky. It's much easier to back away from the things that are causing or exacerbating my low mood and anxiety than it is to face them. Even if I pull myself out of an anxiety-inducing situation because it's genuinely bad for me, I will do anything to avoid the emotions I'm feeling. I'll sleep, I'll walk, I'll aggressively shelve books at work or listen to podcasts so I can divert my thoughts. The problem with this is that these emotions have nowhere to go. As one of my favourite bloggers HeyFranHey always says "Emotions are Energy in Motion", and if the nervous, sad, or angry energy in our bodies has nowhere to move to it builds, and festers, and slowly but eventually overwhelms us when we least expect it.

Part of what fuels anxiety is the fear of feelings in general. We catastrophise our feelings, convince ourselves that if we feel too much sadness or anger or fear that we'll die. Avoidance fuels that fear, and through that it fuels anxiety. Once you allow yourself to feel, which by the way is absolutely frightening and not something you can always just do, suddenly you've proven the voice in your head wrong because you haven't died at all. Eventually, that can help us liberate ourselves from that voice altogether.

Have you ever gone through a break-up from a romantic relationship, and told yourself to "keep busy" as a way of getting over it? It's not bad advice, but it ignores the part where you allow yourself to feel the feelings that this massive change in your life have brought up. You're supposed to cry, to get angry, punch pillows, reminisce and even complain. After you've done that, it's time to work on giving yourself things to do so you don't become trapped in those negative emotions.

The idea that mental health means perpetual happiness is not only impossible, it's unhealthy. Think about it in the sense of physical health: if you never get sick your immune system can't build resilience, so at the first sign of illness your body suffers with more intensity.

There are plenty of reasons to be angry these days. Personal reasons, political reasons, economic reasons, and so much more. It's important to know that you're allowed to feel it, let it burn through your body, and then let it pass. Meditation or drinking water or going for long scenic walks are things to do after you've allowed yourself to feel the emotion. If not, you just end up pushing it further and further down until you explode.

This world mental health day my advice is to feel the things you're feeling right now. Let them wash over you but not consume you. Cry if you need to, get really intensely angry. and do whatever it takes to open up that emotional wall. Being angry is important, today of all days, because it's healthy.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

5 Misconceptions about self-care

This is heavily inspired by a Tumblr post I saw recently called "Self-Care For When You Hit Rock Bottom", and I have to give credit where credit is due before I continue. I'm sure as a blogger who wants to make my writing space on the internet attractive and appealing I'm guilty of playing into the problem of glamorizing self-care. While I love that it's become glamorous and trendy to give a damn about your personal wellbeing, it's got to be said that this isn't an accurate picture of real-life, everyday self-care. It's not even necessarily 100% accurate of my life, because while I share a lot here there are things I'm not comfortable spilling out on the internet.

But this post kind of indirectly called me out on my shit, and I balked at first but I appreciate the reality check. Also the information in it is EXTREMELY useful advice for self-care in the moments where we really desperately need it. Personally, I've always struggled to remember to take care of myself in the moments where I desperately need it. I've posted about small tips and tricks that have helped me out with this, but this post is exactly what I've been looking for. If you value my opinions at all, it's worth taking a look yourself.

So let's talk simply, and honestly about some of the realities of self-care.

Self-care isn’t always glamorous

via CreateHER Stock Imaging

Self-care does not always look like the #selfcare tag on Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram. It's not always the kind of thing you want to show people, or even talk about. It can be those things, and that's fun and beautiful and worth sharing but that's not an everyday thing. Sometimes self-care is peeling yourself out of bed after lying in it for days on end, it's realising you haven't taken care of your personal hygiene in, oh god who knows how long, and maybe brushing your teeth but not taking a shower because you can't quite face that yet but feeling proud because you've made progress. Sometimes self-care is crying, and never knowing when it's going to stop, and once it finally does you feel ragged and empty but you're lighter, and that's at least something.

Harmful behaviours don’t count

While going out for a drink with your friends is nice, is fun, and there's nothing harmful about maintaining good and healthy relationships, the act of drinking is not self-care and we should not present any different. I don't think it's self-care if you know what you're doing is bad for your mental and physical health. Of course, there's nothing wrong with allowing yourself to indulge in things that make you happy but you have to understand the difference between that and actively taking care of yourself. Choosing to wallow in your depression can feel good, warm and comforting but we know it's not a form of self-care because all it does is harm you mentally.

It's a little bit jarring to see people bowing to their vices, stumbling on their journey to a healthier body and mind, and calling it "self-care" when all the arduous work you've been doing quitting smoking or going to the gym or learning to budget is the actual self-care. I fall into this trap a lot, where I'll "treat" myself to unhealthy food or shopping to make myself feel better if I have a bad day, when a much healthier thing to do is work through those emotions, or give myself some time to scream and cry and fall apart so I can keep going with the rest of my day.

Self-care doesn’t always feel good

This leads on perfectly from the last point because in the same way that the things which feel good aren't always self-care, the things that feel uncomfortable or challenging can often be the most care you can give yourself. Self-care is crying, it's exercise, it's locking yourself in your room, screaming and punching your pillows until you pass out. It's eating healthy and allowing yourself a cheat day every now and then, but still maintaining control of the habit you're trying to break. It's standing in front of a mirror and looking for something that you like about yourself, damn it, even though just looking at yourself makes you feel sick. The point is you feel enriched in the long run, and it's not necessarily about instant gratification.

Meditation doesn't cure everything

For some people, meditation helps them with anger management. Personally, I'd laugh in someone's face if they told me to meditate when I'm feeling angry. I might punch someone in the face if they told me to meditate while I'm having a panic attack, because I need help NOW and not after weeks of practice. Yet still, I meditate because if a panic attack is me at a 20, meditation helps me move down from an eight to a two, it helps me sleep, and it helps me focus my thoughts, and through focusing my thoughts I'm able to understand myself more easily. It sounds crazy, because how could someone not understand themselves, but when your thoughts are nothing but jumbled, disorganised noises and intrusive thoughts it's hard to wade through all of that and figure out what is actually going on with yourself emotionally. That said, medication does a better job of that than meditation. Walks, exercise, writing, so many other things might work for you and that's fine. One size fits all doesn't work when it comes to mental health.

No one can dictate what your self-care looks like but you

My blog, tumblr posts, articles, think pieces, YouTube videos...all of it is suggestions, all of it is full of biases, and none of it is tailor made to you specifically. All of these avenues exist so you have options, different methods that you can mix and match until you find the things that work best for you. Most of all, if none of the things I talk about in my blog have ever worked for you I don't want that you to make you feel like you're beyond help. You just haven't found your coping method yet, and that's fine.

via CreateHER stock images

Monday, 10 July 2017

Anxiety and Depersonalization: Facts & Feelings

"Dissociation" by Joe Z via Flickr

Any of the quotations I use in this post will be from the book I did the majority of my research with. It has the very succinct and completely easy to remember title: "Overcoming depersonalization & feelings of unreality - A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques."

The Facts

Depersonalization, derealisation or dissociation are all terms for a similar phenomenon that can be triggered by intense stress or fear, and is also a symptom of many mental illnesses like depression, OCD, anxiety disorders, agoraphobia, or bipolar disorder to name a few. This is not the same as a complete loss of reality, as someone with a form of psychosis would experience, but a feeling of being separate from reality, floating above it or standing to the side of it. It is also not the same as full-blown delusions or hallucination, because the person afflicted is still aware of the fact that these happenings are abnormal. It's not something that can normally be observed from the outside, as no physical symptoms are ever really displayed.

The definition from the American handbook of Psychiatric conditions (version iv 1994) is as follows:

"An alteration in the perception or experience of the self so that one feels detached from, and as if one is an outside observer of one's mental processes or body (e.g. Feeling like one is in a dream)"

The idea of depersonalization has been appearing in medical books and articles since around the nineteenth century, and in fact a lot of the work done on understanding depersonalization has been done in the Maudsley Hospital in my very own London.

Extensive research has helped to debunk some misconceptions about the disorder, for example it was once thought that depersonalisation was a precursor to psychosis. However, this is not the case and while there are rare cases there is no proven correlation between the two.

It has also helped to identify some high-stress situations that would lead to something like depersonalization or a feeling of unreality, but are not necessarily indicative of other mental health problems. Bereavement, neurological conditions like migraines or epilepsy, severe stress, and even jet lag can all trigger depersonalization in some people.

How does it feel?

"To the depersonalized individual the world appears strange, peculiar, foreign, dream-like. Objects appear at times strangely diminished in size, at times flat. Sounds appear to come from a distance. The tactile characteristics of objects likewise seem strangely altered ... Patients complain that they are capable of experiencing neither pain nor pleasure; love and hate have perished with them...the climax is reached with their complaints that they have become strangers to themselves. It is as though they were dead, lifeless, automatons..."

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Audio Journaling - for those who have difficulty writing down their thoughts

It's funny, I was always told as a child that talking to yourself is the "first sign of madness". The only thing that stops me going mad sometimes is going out for a walk and having a good old talk with myself. I do this on days where I feel frustrated for one reason or another. Being able to exert physical energy by walking as well as talk out loud to get my thoughts out of the jumbled confines of my mind is almost a form of meditation. Walking and talking forces me to regulate my breathing, and gets the thoughts out of my head that I find myself most frustrated with. When trapped in our minds, our thoughts can become warped and blown up out of all proportion, but getting them out into the real world makes them easier to decipher critically.

What I've begun to do in the past few months is tie this meditative exercise in with journaling through the use of my mobile phone's recording app.

Image from CreateHER
The idea actually came from a character flaw of mine: an inability to articulate myself properly in an confrontation. In a part relationship of mine I would air out my grievances with my partner by talking to myself but got tongue tied when the time came to say those things to him. To combat this, I started recording my rants and then writing down the things that I really wanted to say, so that when the time came I would have the words I needed to hand. It didn't always work, but I did find that it helped me gain perspective on a lot of my thoughts and feelings.

When I go for a walk and talk to myself, I'll use my mobile phone as a prop, so it looks as though I'm speaking to someone and people don't start throwing holy water at me. It's a lot to go through for a simple meditation, but it helps clear my mind in such a complete way that it's more than worth it. Since I'm using my phone as a prop anyway, I thought I might as well put it to good use and record what it is I'm saying.

The purpose of journaling is to provide that same cathartic experience. It's also for recording progress and just measuring where you're at in life currently. With talking you get the catharsis but lose the ability to look back on your progress and pitfalls. Recording your words gives you all of that back, in a format that may be easier for people that find it harder to get their thoughts out on paper, or have issues with racing thoughts and find speaking easier than writing in those moments. You don't have to combine it with a walk like me, but I'd challenge you all to at least try audio journaling if the written method hasn't worked for you. I've devised a simple plan for anyone who has trouble sleeping to try creating their own audio sleep journal. Use the picture below as a guide and let me know how it goes!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Your local library is a wealth of knowledge on mental health

All pictures in this blog post taken at various libraries within the Borough of Enfield

I mentioned on our twitter page for the blog that I sincerely appreciated the information about Mind and Childline at the end of each book in Jo Cotterill's Hopewell High series. It's a collection of books that deal with the subject of mental illness in teenagers. We ended up having quite a nice conversation about how important it is that people are given information like this, so thy know help is available whenever needed.

I commended Jo Cotterill and Bloomsbury Education for coming together to create a piece of writing that I wish had been around when I was a teenager, but in all honesty as a teenager I was never at my local library. Working in libraries for the past few years has given me a renewed perspective on how much you can actually find if you visit, from the knowledge of the staff, to the kinds of people you meet, the kinds of events being put on, and of course the books themselves.

This year's mental health awareness month sported the slogan: Surviving or Thriving?
It's very easy to become defeated when taking steps to improve your own mental health, especially when you've fallen into a safe, comfortable, half-dead routine. I'm currently working on a bunch of content encouraging all of us, myself included, to make the switch from surviving into thriving despite how difficult it may be. So this post is my first piece of advice on how to make the change.

So what's so great about going to the library, you ask? Surely you can just Google what you need to know? Well, let's look at the process.

You get yourself out of bed on a day where you were planning to do nothing, for example. Maybe you're not sure where your local library is, or you haven't been there in years so you do a quick search to find out the address and opening times. You shower, get dressed, have something to eat and make your way there. From the second you got yourself out of bed you began to wake your body up, get your blood pumping, and started to work towards your goal. Getting out of bed the first time is what gives us the motivation to keep doing so and to do a little bit more each time. You can walk to the library the next time instead of getting the bus, perhaps? Baby steps or strides, whatever is comfortable, but either way you're moving forward.

So now you're at the library and you want to do some learning on the subject of Mental Health. What do you do? Where do you start? 

Learn your Dewey numbers!

 Most public libraries in the UK tend to order their non-fiction in accordance with the Dewey Decimal system, so if you know the Dewey numbers that correlate to the subject you're interested in that gives you a pretty clear starting point. If you were looking for some information on your rights in the workplace, for example, knowing that mental health law comes under 344 gives you a clear point from which to start.

If you're looking to learn more about mental health, different types of mental illnesses, therapies, and other kinds of treatments then 616.8 is where you should be looking. However, if you're for interested in self-help techniques you will have much more luck in 158.1. This encompasses things like Mindfulness and other modern philosophies on the best way to live a more mentally healthy life.
If there is something you're looking for that you don't feel comfortable asking for there is often an online catalog you can search through, and some libraries have computers in-house that allow you to search the catalog as well.

Also, don't be afraid to consider fiction as well as non-fiction. There are often times we go through things that we aren't able to articulate, and then you see words on a page somewhere describing exactly how you feel and suddenly you have a point from which you can move. Some libraries may also have designated markers or spaces for LGBTQ+ books, for example, that may better resonate with you if you're part of that community or give you a perspective you were looking for if you aren't. It's worth knowing and understanding how your library categorizes its books, to make searching so much easier on your end.


Libraries often have notices up around the building advertising things that may help in your quest for knowledge.
  • Local classes or taster sessions to broaden your horizons and change up your routine
  • Group therapy sessions and support groups for
  • Adverts for charitable organizations with a focus on mental health
  • Pro-mental health initiatives both general and specialized
  • A list of local events for groups you may fit into (e.g; groups for women, people of colour, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, parents, etc.)
Even if you don't have the time to sit and read or use the computers, just taking a couple of minutes to pass by and have a browse through leaflets or notices might help you out with your learning, or at least let you know about a couple of good plays on at your local theatre.

Also look out for what kinds of books are on display. The above is a display about mental health issues for teens and young adults, as part of the Shelf Help Scheme created by the reading agency. At their core, local public libraries are meant to provide a safe environment for expanding one's mind. No matter your race, age, creed, ability, or gender a local library should represent a welcoming centre of knowledge. There are often displays for things like LGBTQ+ history month, Black History month, or even more general topics like mental health or health and wellness.
My final point is this: if you don't see the activities you'd like to see available at your local library I implore you to create them yourselves! Speak to the staff, see if they have a room for hire and what the availability is, or if you can put up your own leaflet on the noticeboard for a project you're thinking of starting to see if you can drum up some interest. There's a lot of beauty in finding a space that gives you tools to learn, and using those tools to in turn teach others.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

How does self-love impact our love of others?

"You cannot truly love others until you learn to love yourself". It's a well known saying, familiar to many of us through family, friends, and even modern media.

Now, can I get an amen in here?
It has always seemed to me an accepted, unchallenged idea. I know that it's something I never really questioned until I started to explore the world of romantic love. It made me a little angry, actually. I was perfectly capable of love, damn it, and there were times where I felt miserable in my own skin. I loved my boyfriend, I loved my family, I loved my friends and none of that hinged on how I felt about myself. It was like when people would say you don't know what love is when you're a teenager. How demeaning! How dare someone that isn't in my head tell me how I do or don't feel.
I would say that I still feel that way in part. It's a simplistic idea that doesn't consider people who learn to love themselves through the love of others, nor does it take into account the unconditional love that people feel for their family or close friends. There are many people who struggle with self-love, but know that they are loved by others and that knowledge is what keeps them struggling with it rather than giving up all together.

While all of this is true, I'd like to explore the truth that I see in the phrase itself, because these days I see a lot in it, but only once I picked apart what it actually means. I've broken it down into three major points that I've picked up from the subtext of that simple phrase.

1. Self-love is self-improvement
To work on one's ability to love oneself is to work on improving oneself in all aspects physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It is an act of understanding oneself better, knowing your boundaries, your desires, things that are worth changing and things that are worth compromising over. In the moments where I have made active steps towards improving myself, I've learned something new about the people around me. It might be that I see something in myself that I love which I can now love in others, or unpacked internal conflicts that have made me act abrasively towards those I love who don't deserve it. In loving myself better, I learn new and better ways to love the people that care for me, because my mind is clearer and my heart is lighter, revealing a greater capacity for love in them both.

2. We accept the love we think we deserve
If you feel like crap, and someone treats you as such, that evil, sadistic little voice in your head will have an easier job of convincing you that this is exactly how you deserve to be treated. Self-love is like an armour, and with every move you make towards it, you ad another plate to that armour. It shields you from disrespect, mistreatment, and manipulation. It gives you clearer vision to spot perpetrators of abuse versus people who may criticise you in an attempt to help you grow. It allows you to truly measure the way someone is treating you versus how you deserve to be treated: not so highly that you lose touch with reality, but no worse than you treat yourself. It also allows you to be more selective, to only give love to those who deserve it from you, and you get to decide what that means.

I feel comfortable saying that the love I feel for others now, now that I put more stock in my own importance, is a deeper, warmer, more fulfilling love. There are high points, low points, moments of sadness and anger and frustration, but with a knowledge that I'll be all right in the end. It is, undoubtedly, a better love because it enhances the feelings about myself I already have, rather than filling up an empty space.

3. In the moments where love can hurt badly, your own self-worth becomes a buffer

Part of what makes the love I feel for those around me better now is that I've been able to take the time to understand the relationships between us. It's easier for me to acknowledge when I've been an asshole, for example, when I'm not shaken to the bone at the idea of being seen by others as a bad person. Any issue or mistake that proves the little voice in our heads right can be devastating, but if there is even one thing that you can love about yourself it cushions the blow. When self-loves doesn't move into the territory of arrogance, it can actually give you space to acknowledge your flaws in a more positive way. You start to notice places where you could be a better friend/child/partner to the people around you and have the energy to make changes rather than being stuck in the negative space unable to do anything.
Image via CreateHER
What I feel it boils down to is that there are different ways of experiencing love, and a lack of self-love makes it more difficult for you to give and receive it. Even the smallest steps towards it can create stronger, more affirming relationships. It's just a different kind of love, and I'd say it's one worth striving for.

My final point is that I'd ask you to notice that I always speak about working towards self-love rather than achieving it. I can say honestly that I'm not 100% there yet, and that most people are not either. However, that doesn't block you or I from the blessings that self-love can bring. Any movement towards it is beneficial, and I believe that is another piece of nuance that the original phrase is missing.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

5 Things I've learned about OCD this week - #OCDWeekOfAction

This year, the 20th until the 26th of February is the "OCD week of Action". #OCDWeekOfAction is the hashtag being used online, with a focus on advocating for people with OCD and it's associated disorders, creating discussions around the subject, and encouraging those who may suspect that they have OCD to get formally diagnosed or seek treatment. As a way of joining in the conversation, and passing it on to those of you who enjoy my blog, I thought I'd do a quick post sharing five things I've learned about OCD this week, simply through researching online.

  • OCD is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010, the definition of a disability in this context being:
"[having] a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities e.g. using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport etc."

As such, a person with OCD is under no obligation to disclose this information to their employer if they don't feel comfortable doing so, and when applying for employment there are only very specific circumstances in which an employer can ask about your diagnosis, or any other health related questions.
(Source: OCD Action)

  • It is estimated that 1-2 per cent of the UK population has OCD. That's roughly up to 130,0000 people in the UK alone. (Source: OCD Action)
  • OCD can be treated with the use of CBT. Cognitive behavioural therapists view OCD as what happens when a person misinterprets intrusive thoughts as a sign that danger will occur if they do not adhere to their compulsions, and if danger does occur if they do not adhere to these compulsions then it is somehow their own fault. It is an anxiety disorder, and as such this form of therapy tries to disprove those catastrophic ideas, alleviate the anxiety surrounding them, and works with people to find ways to better manage their anxious compulsions and ignore their intrusive thoughts. (Source: OCD Action)
  • It was believed at one point that a number of conditions were linked as part of a spectrum of Obsessive Compulsive disorders. These included:
        • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
        • Compulsive Skin Picking
        • Tourette Syndrome
        • Trichotillomania.
        • Hoarding
However, it is now felt that these are all different conditions in their own right, with their being a common factor in all of them: they all involve, to some degree, the presence of repetitive thoughts, behaviours or urges. Hoarding can often be a compulsion driven by OCD also, so the two are connected in that regard. (Source: OCDUK)

  • As to whether OCD is inherited or brought on by outside forces, the answer seems to be a resounding: both. OCD involves neurotransmitters behaving abnormally in specific areas of the brain, most importantly serotonin, dopamine, and glutamine. Studies have shown that people can be born with a genetic predisposition to OCD, but it can also be brought on by highly stressful or traumatic events. (Source: Brainphysics)

Saturday, 18 February 2017

"Here comes a thought" - Steven Universe, and the impact of art tackling mental illness

All images in this post are the property of Rebecca Sugar and Cartoon Network

Steven Universe is one of my favourite pieces of television. I think it's inspired, I think it's beautifully drawn, and it tackles lofty subjects delicately enough for children to absorb and process, but obviously enough for it to resonate with adults. In some of its more recent episodes it's actually tackled the subject of mental health head on, more specifically anxiety and how it affects our relationships with ourselves and others.

The episode "Kiki's Pizza Delivery Service" in season 3 was all about the stress of being overworked, how some people have anxiety around the idea of saying no to people, fear of failure, fear of letting other's down, and the negative impact of bottling up emotions vs. how facing your fears and creating boundaries can be an act of self-care, all of this packaged in the character development of a young, black woman (my speculation is that the family is Ghanaian, simply because the dad's name is Kofi).

The episode talks about the importance of self-care, all the while giving an alternative spin on what black womanhood looks like in modern media. Not all of us are confident, and minority mental illness is real and frighteningly overlooked both in and outside of our own communities. I wonder how many introverted little black kids are growing up seeing themselves in Kiki, and seeing how important it is to look after themselves.

I want to talk more in depth, however, about an episode from the most recent season entitled "Mindful Education". If you know me or this blog well enough, I'm sure you know I fell in love with the title right away. However, I was expecting it to be some sort of pun, and not an actual episode dedicated to some of the ideas presented in mindfulness like meditation and allowing yourself to feel exactly what you're feeling in the present moment. I was stunned by how honest it was, how beautifully it illustrated what internal turmoil looks like and how we fall apart when we can't stop fighting within ourselves. Literal butterflies depicting that feeling of fear and panic, and how it can grow exponentially until it overwhelms.

I got emotional watching it, because I wish something like this had been available to me when I was younger.

When I was a teenager, I owned a book called The Boy with the Thorn in His Side, titled after the song by The Smiths. It was written by Pete Wentz, bassist of the band Fall out Boy, and in it he describes this feeling of what I can only assume was anxiety or panic. He described it as a feeling like "bird beaks and teeth", and that resonated me because it described exactly what I was feeling regularly at school and at home. It made me feel like I wasn't alone, wasn't exaggerating, and that this thing that made me feel like throwing up on the bus ride to school had some kind of name. I read that book countless times, because it made me feel like I was understood somehow..

This episode made me emotional because it made me happy. I got the feeling it's going to give sad, panicky kids like me solace in the fact that the characters they love on TV really understand how they're feeling, and not only that but they've been given tools to deal with those feelings that they might never be taught any other way.

Some schools, in recent years, have integrated mindfulness into their routines for younger children to see how meditation can improve focus and enjoyment in school. But even if you think the idea of children meditating is a silly one, there's still something to be said for teaching children to be comfortable with their own feelings, to take time out and feel sad, afraid, frustrated, and to understand what bad feelings are so they can grow as human beings.

It's not always easy to teach these slow processes to children, they want things quickly and to be immediately satisfied. But if the art they consume holds the same messages, from cartoons to film to music and anything else, the work becomes easier for the older people in their lives. And let's not forget all the older people that watch this show and feel that same resonance, that can see something they might deal with so regularly described in such an honest and beautiful way. I'm really grateful to Steven Universe, the writers and artists and everyone who comes together to create such an important show. They're doing good work.

Take a moment to think of just / Flexibility, love, and trust.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Autopilot, Anxiety, and Apple Cider Vinegar

I attended the Women's March on Washington's sister march in London this past weekend. It was a thrilling, affirming, and tricky experience for a number of reasons, and while I felt great about being proactive in marching for ideas and rights I believe need protecting, emotionally and physically I was verging on spent.

It was also very cold in London that day, and had been all week, so my skin and hair, both prone to dryness, were suffering. That plus being something of a tennis ball bouncing back and forth between being overwhelmed and being anxious, I wanted to extend some kindness to myself. So I've put the following steps in place for, at the very least:
    • One act of self-pampering every weekend
    • Daily Meditations
I have being doing the daily meditation through Headspace, who are wonderful, and I'll talk about that more in depth at another time. Self-pampering, however, is the important part.

I had decided that after a long day of marching for the rights of those who are going to have them obstructed over the next four years, I was going to treat myself to a long, warm bath, and a hair and face mask. This mask is made using water, Aztec Healing Clay, and Apple Cider Vinegar all mixed into a paste (you can also try using just acv if you have a lot of trouble with acne and oily skin, but that can be too harsh and drying for someone like myself so I added a bit of water).

I was thinking about this self-care I had promised myself in the week leading up to the march, pre-planning my evening, deciding on all the things I needed to, you know, truly relax. There was just one problem:

I could not find ACV anywhere.

Apple Cider Vinegar
"Apple Cider Vinegar" by Rose Ottley via Flickr
The one mystical ingredient, the one true key to my relaxation had been snatched from my grasp by the winds of chance!

That's not true at all, actually. I knew where to get it, but it was out of my way and any shop I went to that was on my way to/from work didn't have it. I could have made the ( very short) journey, but when the time came after work I was so tired that I just went home, and in my mind that was the only possible time I could have ever gone to the shops.

"That's ridiculous," I hear you say. "You could have just gone back out once you rested a bit. Or used Amazon, or just done something else for self-care that evening if you didn't want to inconvenience yourself."

 But no, none of those things happened because of my anxiety and its constant preoccupation with time. I'm always very early or very late for things, do things too far in advance and inconvenience myself, or work myself out of doing them all together, because I can't let time run out, and if time is about to run out them I just let it happen and beat myself up afterwards. So, because I had been feeling so run down, the energy I use to ward off panic gets put into my "let's get myself through this week" autopilot, and so I leave space for my mental illness to get the best of me.

On my way home after the march I was exhausted, and had failed in securing some ACV for that evening, but the winds of fulfilment had filled my sails and I was awake again, aware that I had been moving on autopilot for the past five days. So, on the bus home, I took a moment to turn it off and practice the mindfulness I talk about so much. I meditated whilst listening to my music. Just focusing on the sounds, the feelings in my body, and my own breathing. Do you know what happened then?

I missed my bus stop.

But, I so happened to notice this as the bus pulled up in front of the supermarket I had been avoiding all week. If that wasn't a sign, I don't know what is! So I went in and grabbed my ACV, and I had a very nice evening, actually, remembering to focus on building my energy back up so as not to let myself get so drained again.

The following Monday, I ended up having a conversation with a customer at work in which he brought up some of the health benefits of ACV he had discovered.

I had to laugh, because it seemed it had benefited my health in a way, too.

Monday, 2 January 2017

My 2017 Meditation

"Breathe" by Dasha Levchuk via Flickr

Breathe in. 

Today's post is simple. Full of calm. Because I am not feeling my best, and you may not be either.

Breathe out. 

I have spent the past few months learning about myself, my flaws and my shortcomings.

Breathe in.

I have spent the past few months figuring out the easiest ways to love myself, to seek happiness.

Breathe out. 

I've discovered there's no easy way.

Breathe in. 

Breathe out. 

Breathe in. 

Breathe out. 

This year, my blog will be focused on two things in particular: introspection, and obtaining new knowledge. I'm going to be doing a lot of reading, a lot of learning. Attempting to know myself and know the world around me in a more complete way.

Breathe in. 

I've been so sad and angry over the past year, but I have also been very happy. I've also been very loved, and very drunk, and very kissed, and most of all I've been very scared.

Breathe out. 

That's difficult to admit, but it's the truth. I've been very scared, and it's made me dishonest with myself and how I've been feeling. But it's much easier to

Breathe in.


Breathe out. 

When I just admit things to myself. Fear makes me a liar. Fear of what people say, what they think, of what's lurking in my brain and the fear that it's all true. But then it occurs to me that all of you may be fearing the same things I am, and this blog is for you as well as me.

So I've started meditating more frequently, and drummed up the courage to be more honest with myself and to start learning more about who I am. Everyone reading this is welcome on that journey with me, but first we must: Breathe in.