Book Review: Sane by Emma Young

Emma Young embarked on a well being journey for her book Sane. She explored what we can do to be less stressed and more mentally strong, whatever that means. Throughout the book many different stances are proposed as to what it means to be mentally strong. Throughout her journey, Young interviews ex-military personnel, professors of various disciplines in medicine, psychiatry and psychology as well as yogi’s, friends, and anyone who may have an inkling to the answer of how to achieve elusive holy grail of a clear mind, patience of a saint and an even temper in the most outraging of situations.

In the introductory chapter, Young outlines very clearly that she doesn’t suffer from any diagnosed mental illness, and that this journey has been embarked upon by someone more worn down by every day stresses, rather than someone facing a mental health condition. The list is very long about what Young is not, and what she is: an every day woman, mother and wife trying to feel less frayed, less snappy, less stressed and  more able to juggle all of life’s challenges more efficiently is a powerful place from which to start. From the offset Young is very relatable, and her daily difficulties very common amongst the average British household.

Many of the tools explored are also used and advised to those with mental illness too, although in less of a magical cure sort of fashion and more in a helpful maintenance or coping tool. The areas covered and explored throughout the book include: mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, stoicism, spirituality and faith, mental toughness methods addressing self-talk, and mindset in the face of adversity, using your senses and essentially, how to utilise each skill.

Many of these areas have been researched on healthy individuals as well as individuals with mental illness, so reading the book was a bit of an information digging sort of read on my behalf. There seemed to be some areas in here that I hadn’t addressed or come across in my journey to constantly  get better from my mental illness difficulties. Stoicism for example, is a stance I hadn’t heard of. To be copletely honest I wasn’t even sure what was meant by stoicism. I thought it was a blast to the past of the keep calm and carry on mantra, which in an essence it is, but it is slightly different.

One method that I thought I could really take home for myself was dosage exposure to the outside of my comfort zone. In doing so,, it is explained, that you learnt to adapt and therefore wind up expanding your comfort zone and tools for dealing with challenges that may arise. Thinking back to the progress I’ve made in the last 5-6 years and looking over what made me get a bit better than I was before, a key feature is the consistent and gradual pushing of the edges of my comfort zone.

Initially this occurred with eating whilst recovering from my ED, then with dealing with everything the ED numbed me to, then going out and interacting with people then, well, the list just goes on. On particular area of interest that is highly relatable is learning how to manage your relationship with food and diet.

Although there was no clinical eating disorder in Young, however, a constant and chaotic relationship with food and yo-yo dieting was hinted at throughout the book as a constant factor of anguish in Young’s life. It is very true when Young suggests that with practice, utilising techniques in order to avoid sugary treats and all the temptations we are bombarded with to gorge our faces on unhealthy foods in every direction does get easier with time. From my experience as well, at first dietary changes are very difficult, because you are breaking a habit that occurs multiple times on a daily basis but with practice and repetitive behaviour of new habits, it does get easier- Young reports a similar experience.

I think this is true for any habit you are trying to develop, change or stop. However, with eating the ease of change can be seen quicker because it is a habit with which we must engage with multiple times a day. This makes it both harder and easier in different ways.

There are many valuable insights revealed throughout Young’s journey on her quest to be less frazzled, less stressed and more able to deal with life head on, whilst being switched on and if possible, attain some level of zen in the process. At the end of the book Young summarises the areas of exploration in a rank of importance measured by perceived positive effect.

I won’t spoil the last chapter, but I found it a very valuable read for pointing out and suggesting new areas to think about in regards to building psychological strength and resistance within myself. My one criticism would be the amount of side tracked waffle of unnecessary information throughout the book. I found that quite irritating throughout the book because it generally disrupted the flow of information throughout the book. However, for the quality of the content over that of style, I would reccomend this is a worthwhile read if you fancy exploring developing your mental strength.

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How To Go About Getting Shit Done

It has been noticed and noted that having a routine is particularly helpful for me in terms of day to day functioning. Within that routine I have techniques that I used to get out of the house on time, to get out of the house at all and to get things done that need to be done, or I want to be done. They are methods and techniques I have quite frankly, made up, over the years. Very little of it is backed by any particular therapy I have completed, or any particular method that I know of being researched. I’ve just made it up via trial and error, and finally, I found some methods that work for me for now.

Since being away for just over a week, and having been away a few times over the summer break, I have fallen out of the routines and habits that have a sole purpose of getting shit done. My sense of routine has slipped, and this could spell the start of a downward spiral. Already I am finding myself not going out when I want to, not getting to places and getting a lot of fuck all done for a stretch of time. I am going to view this as an opportunity to re-install and maybe update my go to methods of made up-ness that get me by. 

It’s nothing major. I wouldn’t call it the begginning of an episode or anything like that. I am just currently out of sync. I just need to re-install these techniques and methods into my daily get go, switch myself off and reboot myself. The grand old ‘have you tried switching it off and on’ is basically me at the moment. 


The main initial hurdle is remembering what my techniques were. This may sound odd, but many of them were starting to become just how I do things and therefore requiring very little in terms of conscious thought. I haven’t even written most of them down, then again we all have our own ways right?

So I’m here, racking my brain for the, ‘how was I doing that before?’ answers, and the, ‘what was I doing and not doing?’. I have missed running crew due to scrolling social media right when I need to be leaving for example. It seems obvious to not do that when you need to leave the house, but it is something I need to constantly be aware of and reign in.

Hacks that involve not doing this kind of stuff are really what the following 10 ideas are about. The 10 methods listed are geared towards achieving a sense of contentment and purpose within my daily activities, and how to get myself to do stuff I want to do really, but maybe want to quit also because I’m tired, or anxious. So here goes:

  1. Don’t browse Facebook or any form of social media when I’m supposed to be doing stuff or getting ready to leave the house. Instead, browse when there really is nothing else to do: whilst travelling from a to b, or waiting for appointments, or avoiding social interactions for example.Keep social media for filler time, rather than I could and would rather be doing stuff time. Or the, I ought to be but I’m not kind of time.
  2. Leave too early for places rather than cutting it fine. You have 10 minutes for the train? Wait it out on the platform rather than from the comfort of your own home. That way, you won’t miss it and the 10 minutes waiting is still 10 minutes waiting. 
  3. Not feeling like doing your training run? Set a final time in your mind of when you will leave for your run. Plan a time and if you need to envision it slightly, do that too. Get out the house and just do it.If it really feels awful and today isn’t a running day you can cut it short. It is better to make this decision having tried rather than before any real effort has been made. That way you know you tried and haven’t given up or let yourself down without an effort.
  4. To Do lists on relatively empty days can fill them up with structure and achieve a sense of purpose from having done something. Include things you ought to do, i.e. chores, washing, dishes, and some things you want to do, i.e. reading, Playstation, Netflix. Really keep it varied between ought to’s and would like to’s.
  5. Check your Filofax in the evening, and plan the next morning if you need to. Also, keep it open and around because this is where you write everything you intended to remember, and you quickly forget when it isn’t open or to hand.It is basically my memory and planning all in one place, it’s a pretty useful tool to keep to hand.
  6. Meal planning.This makes sure you buy food you want to eat as well as making healthier choices. It also cuts the cost of food down, which is quite useful because then you have more pennies for the fun stuff, like the pub, or climbing or buying more stationary because, well… stationary.
  7. Rest when you need to rest. Push on when you need an extra kick to get on with things and learn to tell the difference between the two situations.
  8. Be mindful of your feelings so you can gauge how you are in general. Let emotions happen. Allow your feelings, the good and the bad.When you think your feelings are becoming disproportionate, take some time and space to gather yourself together again.
  9. Nap if you need to, and set an alarm to go off within 30-90 minutes depending on tiredness. Don’t exceed 90 minutes, and preferably keep it under 60 if you can. It is better to rest and refresh than to push on and crash, or risk mood instability due to tiredness.
  10. Be compassionate with yourself. It’s OK to go slowly. It’s OK to stop and rest. Be kind to yourself and others. Don’t quit. Keep on plodding, no matter how slowly, towards spending time doing the things you want to spend time doing, whether that’s studying, reading, learning music, being creative, making crafts, spending time with others.Whatever makes you feel whole and fulfilled is a worthwhile way to spend your time, even if that means watching TV or making art no one else will see. Recharge and be true to yourself.

Most of all, an overarching consideration is who are you doing it all for? Do it for yourself. Do it to feel good within yourself and about yourself. Aim to please yourself first and foremost. If you’re doing it entirely for the sake of others and it’s draining or taxing for you, or you’re not getting anything from doing that whatever it is for someone else, then stop. The most important opinion of you that matters is your own.


I realise I have veered from first person but writing to myself from myself in this way will hopefully provide me with a list of instructions to refer to as I build my stamina for doing things effectively again. Fortunately, once I am back from Berlin there are no more trips in the foreseeable future, and I’m going to keep it that way. 

 

Dream – Motivational Video

Madness: A Bipolar Life – Book Review

Marya Hornbacher is known for her gripping memoir Wasted, about her experience with anorexia. I read this as a teenager whilst I was unwell. It was amazing; she’s an incredible writer at telling her story of and through mental illness. Although our experiences were very different, at the time I felt she captured how my mind was working in relation to food. She was the first person who’s writing I read that really resonated with me. She got it, she really got it. During this time I read a number of eating disorder related books as the obsession becomes entrenched into every aspect of your life and nothing else is of interest, programmes, channels, websites, books, journals, academic books; all of it becomes much more interesting than spending any time with anyone else or doing normal teenage things. My tutor described me as an oddball when he asked what I’d done over the summer and I told him I just read all summer and didn’t see anyone. I was 17 so I accepted his comment and took no offence because it is a slightly odd way to send your summer holiday at 17.

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Hornbacher’s Madness: A Bipolar Life, a memoir of living with bipolar spoke to me, again 10 years later. At 16 when I read Wasted I never realised our illnesses would remain in a similar vein. She spoke about her experiences from childhood to learning how to manage her bipolar illness in adult life, including a good period of reluctance to accept her illness, comply with treatment and trying to deny anything much was wrong whilst conveying very deeply how very much was wrong. How very much she felt different and how bipolar disorder although known as a mood disorder is not simply about moods alone.

By exploring the cognitive aspects of the illness: forgetfulness, memory loss, psychosis and winding up in hospital to only realise a while into the admission that she’s there at all. Again, through writing about her experiences her experience resonated deeply within me. I am quite sure I am not the only one, her account is so accurate and profoundly detailed. Our stories are very different and our illness takes different forms at times: as is the nature of any mental illness despite having similar diagnoses. Having said that, whilst reading on my kindle I found myself highlighting paragraphs and pages of “Yes. That! Exactly that!” moments.

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It made it clear to me how much I didn’t understand my illness as much as I thought I did. It also encouragingly gave me the hope that my current stay well approach plan, which has been shaped through many years of successes and failures, is going in the right direction for the lifestyle changes recommended for those living with bipolar.

The book provided me with relief of reading someone else’s story that I could relate to, comfort in knowing many of the strategies I’ve started incorporating are on the right direction of track and sorrow that we have to live through and experience this illness at all: and how much of our lives we lose to being unwell, seeking the right treatment and trying to figure out what and how to manage living some form of purposeful life with bipolar.

It’s such a multifaceted battle that when you initially get a diagnosis it seems pretty easy and straight forward. Take some meds and you’ll be fine. Sometimes because of the information about coming off meds for other illnesses you simply come off your meds when your feeling better. Learning and realising that this isn’t the case, the hard way can take years upon years and lengthen the amount of time that it takes – which is already extensive – of finding the right combination of medication.

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It’s only when it gets to a certain point of illness that you start to resign from life a little and accept your disability. It takes a long time to accept that you can’t when you previously could, that you might not be able to like you’d previously dreamed, or that you have to put so much extra effort into functioning and getting through your days and life than – what feels like – everyone around you.

Yes people manage to work full-time and live very purposeful and successful lives with bipolar. This perpetuates the illusion that it’ll be just fine within a few months of diagnosis. For some I suppose it might be. For others, which is often not posted on self-help media and information online because it sounds a bit bleak, it might not. The key is to be realistic with people about how much they need to twist and turn and bend over backwards to accommodate their illness. She’s not going anywhere and you really need to walk on eggshells and twist like a contortionist to make your life work in a way you would like whilst working with and alongside your bipolar.

The temptation and automatic reflex to self medicate in some way can make things more complicated: drugs, alcohol, sex, food are all eligible candidates for self medication that significantly complicate the journey through illness to management. Pushing home the importance of taking your meds religiously as prescribed even if you feel well or good, and to avoid the temptation of letting a hypomania early signs become a hypomania or full manic episode can be difficult. This aspect of self-care with bipolar takes a lot of self-discipline because who doesn’t want to be achieving and having fun 24/7 with boundless energy to be the perfect super human being who can achieve all and encompasses almighty greatness above everyone else around them? Who doesn’t like feeling like that? It’s an illness filled with many steep learning curves, many great troughs that follow the epic highs that quickly become more menacing than exciting.

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In my opinion it takes a number of mistakes, fuck ups and slips to learn this lesson and that although far less exciting, balance really is the goal, and balance doesn’t include highs of grandiosity, marathons of achieving from hours of energetic and directive goal achieving.  It takes learning to forgo the excitement and euphoria of the start of a manic episode in order to avoid the devastation, chaotic destruction and yet alluring manic episode. Winding up in hospital bounding around the ward is not a good place to be, even if you’re still enjoying yourself and your ability to achieve with your goal directed exertion is stripped away from you. You are in there bare, on forced rest by sedative medications and IM injections when you become the embodiment of the untamable beast that bipolar can become.

Remembering the patches of these memories – because solid memories don’t seem to form during this time – enough times will eventually teach the lesson of balance, staying out of hospital, and really taking self management seriously whilst respecting your new lesser limits as a result of your illness.

The frustration and anger are very real. The hurt that you won’t be the amazing person you were destined to be cuts deep. Knowing that you might not even be able to pass as normal with a regular full-time job when it feels like everyone else is managing just fine is upsetting. Not only will you not be magnificent, or great even, you may remain someone disabled by your condition no matter how much effort and time you put into following the prescribed lifestyle guidelines of living with bipolar.

The reality of living with bipolar disorders has the potential to be bleak. It also has the potential to be a life changing illness through which you learn a lot about the mind, yourself, and people. Bipolar can turn you into the biggest grandiose asshole and a very sympathetic friend to lean on because you ‘get it’. Bipolar can turn your life upside down and in the words of Daredevil, ‘no one can give you your life back. You have to take it back’. This entails a lot of learning, a lot of self exploration, a lot of ups and downs, naturally, and a lot of damaged relationships. It can be ok though. It can and often does get better. Hornbacher’s memoir takes you on this journey in 300 or so pages, and it’s an accomplished and succinct tale of her journey that I am sure, resonates deeply with many who live with bipolar.

What It Really Means To Love Your Body

“I looked in the mirror and loved what I saw. If I can do it, you can too” – Insta Influencer

Of course you do, you epitomise the current beauty ideal: Gym Bunny Barbie, Health Freak Barbie, Can Survive In These Proportions Barbie – but this image is still unattainable for most.

#BodyPositivity #LoveYourself

Apparently loving how you look is still the secret elixir to loving yourself and your body. Loving yourself still equates to enslaving yourself to your reflection. I mean, it’s important to not hate what you see but apparently, according to this particular Insta influencer, aesthetics remain key to happiness and health.

Good for you but I call bullshit.

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When you love someone else how do you say what it is you love about them? Do you say, they have chiseled abs, a stunning jaw line and a booty worth twerking about? Of course you do during the lust phase, the honeymoon period of not being gable to keep your hands off each other. What about a year down the line, or five? After you’ve dealt with their death shattering snore, their farts at the airport security from nerves and little habits that are generally quite annoying, what do you say then? Valuing a partner on looks alone won’t sustain a relationship.

A deeper connection. The way they know what to say to cheer you up? The way they so badly don’t know how to cheer you up but you find it funny in hindsight? How about the conversations that never end and stimulate your mind and soul to no end? And the way they put a packed lunch in your bag even though you said you didn’t want one because they knew you’d get hungry and eat it anyway? None of those things are banging on about abs and jaw lines, so why should we focus on loving ourselves in this way? Putting the sole focus on body positivity on loving your reflection is pure, utter and complete bollocks.

The process of starting to love yourself includes more depth than this. It includes acceptance and appreciation, gratitude and developing core self-esteem. it is a process of the mind and a matter of perspective. I’ll use myself as an example. I don’t love how my body looks, far from it. I’ve gained a lot of weight these past couple of years from my medications, being unwell and generally neglecting myself at times. Self neglect when unwell with mental illness means more than not showering enough or brushing your hair, it includes not eating properly, not changing, not exercising, not sleeping, or over sleeping and neglecting every aspect of self-care there is.

I’m actually ‘technically’ according to the archaic BMI chart overweight at the moment. At the same time I don’t hat my body, far from it. In fact, I like my body more than I ever did and not because of how it looks. I accept that my body is at its biggest and I’m working on managing that in order to remain healthy. I accept my belly, and the scars on my arms and that a lot of my clothes no longer fit. I don’t like it and I accept it.

The reasons I love my body are more of an appreciation. My body allows me to run and climb. It allows me to have energy to do things in the day My heart beats and my lungs breathe with ease. My muscles are stronger than they one were and this allows me to progress at my sports activities if I put the effort in. I am capable of different experiences like the view from the top of a great big hill over a beautiful landscape, all thanks to my body. I feel different textures which can be soothing for me. I smell the beautiful wafts of perfume and baked bread thanks to my body. I can enjoy sex thanks to my body – here’s a hat tilt and wink to my nervous system and vagina for all the orgasms. I can see beauty. I can express myself fun entirely uncoordinated dancing. The list really is endless, but thanks to my body I am alive and can experience many wonders of living thanks to my body.

That’s some pretty dope shit and you know what the crux of all these things is? I can’t see any of this in my reflection or a picture alone. Yet I love my body for of these things.

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Through psychological work over many years I learned to respect, appreciate and accept my body in a holistic way. Becoming toned, health food obsessed and going to the gym most days didn’t change my perspective and feelings towards my body, therapy did. I didn’t even heal through an Eating Disorder service or therapeutic programme for eating disorders. I did it via a course of schema therapy. I am very lucky to have received this on the NHS I know, and I wouldn’t recommend going down the roads I did to land in the place. Now I’m on the other side of that part of my life though, I acknowledge this isn’t necessarily the answer for everyone. I also learned to stop caring what others thought of me and my body.

I enjoy my body and this provides my motivation to live a healthy lifestyle in order to maintain good physical and mental health. I exercise because it makes me feel good holistically in addition to reaping the health benefits over the longer term. I exercise because I love my body, not because I hate it to want to change it or look a certain way, and this is why I’m not buying the “I looked in the mirror and loved what I saw” as a phrase of self empowerment and body love.

Our love for ourselves goes deeper than our reflection, just as our love for other people does. It comes from our mind, our heart and a healthy dose of self compassion. Acceptance and gratitude are also helpful ingredients for the elusive loving yourself recipe. And if you don’t love yourself yet, but you are embarking on a journey of gratitude, acceptance, and self compassion honestly, it only gets better. It pays to pay attention to our mind and how we think about ourselves. Not everyone needs intensive therapy in order to achieve this, and if you do, that’s OK do. This is the part where I say, if I did it, so can you. You’ve got this, at whatever stage you’re at.

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I can honestly say I know how it is to hate yourself – and now look at all the things I think are pretty neat about my body. Reach out, ask for support, but most importantly work from the inside out and eventually maybe you’ll look in the mirror and say, “You’re not looking perfect dear body of mine, but I think you’re pretty neat and I love you anyway like I’d love a cat with three legs and one eye”.

*fist bump*

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Orthorexia is the New Anorexia, and It’s Not Cool

Social Media is bursting with #BodyPositivity #LoveYourself and #ICanSoYouCan to messages seemingly aimed at the average health conscious woman. At face value it seems like a pretty brilliant and groundbreaking trend that’s taking over. People are going to fitness events more, we are health conscious now thanks to a decade of public health campaigning.

Dig a little deeper and there’s another layer to this trend. People who have recovered from eating disorders posting transformation pictures from then and now. They’ve usually managed a level of good weight restoration – which is great. They often claim psychological healing from the eating disorder too, and who wouldn’t believe that when someone has restored and maintained their weight? That is what eating disorders are all about right? Weight. No, nope, nada, that statement couldn’t be any more wrong. Eating disorders are a psychological illness and mending the mind takes much longer than weight restoration.

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Especially when those same people are posting comparison shop of body shape and muscle with their weight displayed in numbers on each picture to prove that you can be smaller and leaner at a higher gravitational mass. The point seems to prove that weight loss doesn’t always count for stronger and weight gain can mean a leaner body. I don’t know when it was discovered hat muscle is more mass dense than fat. I think it was a long time ago. The proportionate representation of a Kg of each next to each other send this message home enough. I don’t know about you but I don’t need six packs and weight numbers emblazoned across two pictures to show me as well.

Back to the #BoPo trend, why am I sceptical of the complete recovery claims and love yourself campaigns by some influencers? Because the same woman pushing these messages of self-love seems to have migrated from one way of obsession over her body and food to another. I know, it sounds hypocritical considering my ED past and that I’m now studying nutrition, but hear me out on this.

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I’ll be frank, seeing your perfectly lean body, with no cellulite or wobble with a six-pack and long blonde hair (Why are so many successful influencers white and blonde?) does not encourage me to feel all #bopo about myself. The lack of diversity amongst the influencers is a whole other matter but in this instance I think what has really occurred is a shift from one beauty ideal to another in the last decade. This woman has successfully transitioned with the trends, from skeletal to sculpted. I further this stance by pointing out the body positive and self love messages still all revolve around “I love what I see in the mirror” or how they look clothed, barely clothed and basically it all revolves around reflections. Self love isn’t found in your reflection, it is deeper than that. Imagine a couple who are shit hot, heck, I hear this is what Love Island is about – what happens when they irritate each other or age, or sag – will they still be in love if it’s all based on a skin deep love? Anyone will tell you these kinds of relationships are shallow and won’t last at the very least.

Going back to the body trends. In the 90s we had heroin chic, then that was deemed too dark so we transitioned to 2006 with Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Mary-Kate Olsen who could be summed up at the time as bones, bones and more bones. They were idolised as the beauty ideal, put on a perfection pedestal that translated to being as skeletal as possible without being sectioned or dying because then you kind of lose by default. Thinspo became a thing, and sometimes the ones who did die from their eating disorder were further idolised by many as being the ultimate goal. These people were as unwell as it sounds. Many were genuinely unwell, how do I know? I was one of them. However, the mass media (this is pre-social media boom) perpetuated these images, this ideal and humiliated any celebrities who had cellulite by blowing the picture up in their magazines and encircling said fault with a fat red circle.

We’ve moved on from that. Its been 10 years after all. However, the retaliative movement was health and fitness: strong is the new skinny, suns out guns out and all that jazz. It’s not all bad, but there is a dark under layer of migration of pathology with food, body image and exercise emerging in the surfaces of popular media, magazines (ahem, Women’s Health) and social media platforms (Oh Hai Insta!). During the process super foods became a thing thanks to clever marketing and buzz words. Paleo, veganism and the ultimate heathen of ‘healthy living’ that we all utter under our breath as if he who should not be named, clean eating. We bought it. We buy it every time and in a capitalist society why are some people pushing these ideas? Obviously, there is dollar in health. There always has been and always will be. Each trend earns some people big bucks.

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Most of them have a singular continuous trend threading throughout them since the thinspo days of 2006: restriction. Each fad is a new way to restrict the diet, introduce vast numbers of rules around eating and achieve beauty ideals. Except in 2006 we knew being so thin meant an anorexia/eating disorder epidemic, not the trends and trend setters are more sinister; they’re disguising their restrictive eating and compulsive relationships with exercise and their reflection as health. We’re buying into it, they’re getting paid for it. the difference since 2006 here is that making money from social media didn’t really exist then. If it did I think a lot of people would have made a living from being anorexic and online; just like hoards of people are now for being orthorexic or an over-exerciser. We are paying them for their compulsions, and they are lying to us and more importantly, themselves. Evidently, I have a massive problem with this.

To all the body positivity social media gurus with six packs, steel thighs and a built derrieré from going to the gym more times than I blink in a week, I’m calling you out and I’m hoping that more people see through the rose-tinted veil of beauty you show to us. Orthorexia is the new anorexia, and it’s not cool.

Moving On From A Haunted Past of Home and The Inner Caverns of Self Hatred

As a child I moved a lot. Sometimes once a year, sometimes within 6 months of settling we were moving again. We didn’t stay in the same area either. We lived all over the south half of the country. When it came to going to high school my parents decided it was time to try to stay in one place. For the duration of those eight years I didn’t live in the same house the whole time: that would be a ridiculous expectation to have from my parents. I did however stay in the same town at least. I also managed to stay at the same high school from year 7 to 13. Unfortunately it turned out that the only school I stayed at happened to be the one I hated the most. It was perhaps the most damaging school I’ve ever been to in terms of self belief, self-esteem and building yourself during your teenage years. I don’t think the role of high school is to destroy you from the inwards out, but it seems to have that impact on many teenagers.

I remember walking up the hill from the bus park and one of my friends stated, ‘these are supposed to be the best years of our lives’ as if some wisdom of hindsight and insight had been bestowed upon her from the future. I hoped she was wrong when she said it. I know she was wrong 10 years later. School was not any of the best years of my life. Not at all. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Never.

When I was in high school I started to develop my first signs and symptoms of mental illness. This quickly turned into a long battle with bulimia, and consequently eating disorders and all the shenanigans that erupted at 21. I didn’t feel supported at school. I wasn’t supported at home, although my parents did somehow get me referred to CAMHs via my GP and this is where the one constant figure of hope and support came into my life. I would see her at the outpatients department of the hospital, which I would walk to most weeks. I was very much left on my own in this journey with CAMHs but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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During those years, mainly 2005-2009 I would haunt around the city streets and parks on my own. I spent a lot of time on my own, struggling to maintain friends and my illness in any form of harmony, such as mental illness goes. I would eat in strange places and vomit in even stranger places. The country lanes where I lived for the most part of time in my home town were haunted with my running and cycling endeavours in a constant bid to lose weight, disappear, punish myself and repeat after me, ‘nothing is more important than losing weight. Nothing is more important than losing weight’.

If I cast my mind back to this period of time it is shrouded in a mass of thick black smog. I couldn’t see my way clearly at all back then. I struggle to see through it without the inner of my emotive self construing into tangles of excruciating pain. Yes, this place is technically my home town because I spent the most time growing up here but it was never home. Where we lived was never home. I felt outcasted, strange and extremely alone in my own dark world of writing in coffee shops, puking in public toilets, hedges and woodland, and trying to muddle through school at the same time.

I did have some good times, mainly whilst drunk. Often these weren’t even good times though because drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea any time, but drinking on a stomach that hasn’t seen any form of solid food for 3 or 5 days is just a recipe for an involuntary puking disaster. Surprisingly I remember many of these moments well, puking in the gutter outside my friend’s house, collapsing in a field as the vodka spins took over and I could move, curling up in a hay bail in a barn completely disconnected from the music or people around me. Even my year 13 prom ended with me being traipsed home from throwing up in the hotels toilets for an amount of time that no one has any idea of. No one knows how long I had been in there puking and passed out.

Making connections with people was very difficult for me. It always has been. I put this down to moving house a lot and my impending shyness that creeps into each corner of my life. There was nothing healthy about these years. There was nothing positive to come from my life other than it could only get better once I moved away. It did for a while and even during my times of being very unwell in London I wouldn’t say they were as dark as my time growing up. I lived 4 of my 8 years waiting to leave. This hope is the only thing that kept me going and things did get better in my final year. I went to art school and had one of the best years of my life. Finally there was a crowd that accepted my quirkiness and invited me out anyway. Finally I had friends who I could actually relate to and I was old enough to drink my way through all of my problems without needing to sneak around, climb over fences into clubs and get creative in my ways of obtaining alcohol. Looking back, it really is remarkable that I survived those years as in tact as I did. To this day, I don’t know how I did it.

When I left home to move to London for university it very much felt like a second chance at life. It felt like a clean slate to move away from my demons, move away from the turmoil of my home life as a teenager and make my own way. It didn’t go quite to plan but here I found a home. Since I moved to London 8 years ago I have lived here for as long as I’ve lived anywhere and I’ve been to my home town 3 times. The last time was this year. Before that I went home for one christmas in which I was reminded very much how much it didn’t feel like home to be home, and how much it never really had felt like home. I went back a few years later, then left it a few more years before going back again.

The town felt haunted to me. Seeing my old school as I went by on the train sent a great discomfort through my body. Seeing the old hospital I used to walk to each week, sometimes multiple times a week, swamped me with all the emotion tied up in that experience at once. Seeing the old streets upon which I would wonder alone and drunk in a bid to escape my reality filled me with sadness at how alone I really felt at home. The first time I went home I realised how much I actually hated it. I cried and although I didn’t plan to not return for so long it felt necessary.

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The next time I went home it was slightly lesser of a haunting experience but still it felt strange. It was odd and nostalgic in the most unpleasant way in which nostalgia can stir up old feelings and experiences to churn them over into a curdled mass of sour substance within your stomach. This time I went home, it was a last-minute decision. I was hypomanic and struggling with it. It had become uncomfortable for me and I spoke to my Dad. He said he’d pick me up that night and drive me down.

He has moved house a few times since I left home. He has finally settled in one home which oddly feels more like a home than any of the buildings he has occupied previously. With is having been so long since I left and started to build my own life in London, London is my home. London is the place I’ve been more able to be myself, received more intense help for my mental health problems and met people who are ‘my people’. Sometimes they come and they go but being able to come clean about my mental health illness and still be accepted as a friend to people is something I never experienced growing up. My illnesses being met with compassion and support in my education settings since I’ve started studying up here is something else that has been new. Finally, an education institution with support services and compassion and the belief that you can succeed rather than being surprised when you don’t fail is a place I can learn the thrive.

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My experience of life in London has been very different to the one I knew before. It hasn’t always been easy or good by any stretch of well wishing, it has however taught me a lot and encouraged me to grow. I haven’t been suppressed, I haven’t been dismissed in the way I was at school or home growing up, I have been encouraged out of my dark cavern of self-hatred that I had grown to call my comfort zone. I left home more comfortable hating myself and actively acting on it. I am now in a place where that cavern is becoming a place of the past – and because I’ve managed to move forwards in my life, because i’ve made and had so many new experiences that i chose, because i made a home for myself with what I had even when that meant a back shed with slugs, mice and leaky rooftops it was home. It was the first home i had really experienced. All of this nurturing i have experienced from myself, my partner and friends through these years has shuffled me along to a place where I can go back to my home town when I’m unwell and find it a helpful respite from the chaotic surroundings I create for myself when I am unwell.

Life in London hasn’t been perfect but it has eventually gotten better than where I came from. This allows me to go home and appreciate the nature and beauty of the countryside with fresh untainted eyes. It allows for me to go home and sit in a pub with an old school friend and enjoy their company, fully present rather than drinking until I can barely stand any more.

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I have grown since then. I continue to grow and within that growth there is a strength to face those past memories in a less tangled, less curdling to sourness light. I can be. I can enjoy the place for what it is, a nice seaside town, then I can come home refreshed rather than stressed about my history with the place, and finally, my home town doesn’t haunt me, taunt me or internally destroy me ever so slightly more with each day that I spend there. I am also able to remember the good times from that period of my life.