On Not Feeling Festive.

On Not Feeling Festive.

This year I’m going to be travelling through the Christmas period with you. Each week, on Wednesday, I’ll tell you a little about how I’ve been feeling and try to give a little advice about how to cope with Christmas. 

Whether you have a mental illness or not, the festive period can be a difficult time. Missing loved ones, the financial pressures and the constant playing of that awful cheesy music is enough – we don’t need the added pressure to enjoy it all! So, as someone who personally isn’t too keen on this particular month, I’m going to offer you my hand and take you through. My other two blogs may have a bit of Christmas cheese injected, but for the most part, these Wednesday posts will be tacky tinsel free.

I’m going to be the first to admit it – because, let’s be honest, nobody else wants to – I am not feeling festive! When a Christmas song comes on the radio, I will immediately change the channel. When someone asks me what I want for Christmas, my first thought is that I’d really like it not to happen. When I think about my plans for the day, I panic. When I start buying presents, I also panic. Basically I’m a mushy mess of anti-festivity right now. (It probably doesn’t help that universities seem to be torturing their students, by piling an incessant stream of deadlines all around the season.)

Basically, what I’m saying, is that it’s ok not to feel festive right now… or ever for that matter! We do not all have to feel the same way, enjoy the same things or celebrate things in the same manner as others. I am me. You are you. That girl sat in the cheesy Christmas jumper with bells on it is… well, each to their own… either way we can feel however we want to feel. The first message I wanted to send this Christmas season is that you don’t have to have a happy Christmas. It’s ok not to enjoy it! Putting pressure on yourself to fully embrace the festivities and hiding your true emotions away is only going to make the period more difficult for you. Allow yourself to feel however you do.

Alternatively, if you enjoy Christmas, then I’m slightly jealous! I’d love to really look forward to this period, and I’m pleased that you’re able to enjoy it. You don’t have hide your emotions either, have fun! Embrace everything you love about it and make the most of this season. Oh… and if you wear cheesy Christmas jumpers, I guess enjoy that too..

 

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A Christmas Trick or Treat

A Christmas Trick or Treat

145 Pine Close is occupied by two witches. Marbella is the younger of the two, with fiery red hair that tends to literally set alight when she’s angry. Her eyes are a vivid blue which pierce the souls of those who look into them, making it impossible for them to lie to her. She’s a playful soul and uses her magic largely for her own entertainment (and sometimes to get revenge on those who irritate her). Her older sister Anabelle, works as a lawyer and wears half-moon spectacles to make her more intimidating, although her eyesight is perfect. Despite appearing to be in her early thirties she is, in fact, two-hundred and twenty one – with an emphasis on the twenty-one if you ask her.

Marbella came home from work in a mischievous mood. Her office arch-enemy had come into work that morning to find a confidential file floating above her desk. She’d snatched it out of the air and replaced it in a drawer, but when she poured her coffee later on, she found her mug had developed a tendency to pour its contents onto vital papers when she wasn’t looking. Of course nobody believed this, and to onlookers it seemed that she’d entirely lost the plot. That ended up as the official reasoning for her suspension. Time out for her health.

Marbella couldn’t contain her glee, but her sister hadn’t been quite so impressed with the trick.That night, while Marbella slept, Anabelle slunk downstairs and placed a locking spell on the front door. The next morning, the redhead found herself unable to leave the house, and set fire to the coat rack in her rage. After hours of boredom and anger she decided to leave a little trick for her older sister. A festive treat should do the trick: after all, who better to define a new kind of trick-or-treat than a witch?

Without moving from the armchair she heated the oven and stirred a batch of gingerbread. When the batch was mixed, she approached the bowl and blew into it. A witch’s’ breath meant life, everybody knew that. She used her hair, still smouldering, to light a cigarette and smoked it through the window as the biscuits baked.

When Anabelle arrived home, the smell of freshly baked goods still echoed through the flat. She smiled and closed her eyes, she knew Marbella would forgive her. Slowly, to savour the smell, Anabelle walked into the kitchen and picked up a little gingerbread boy. Her sister had iced denim trousers and a Christmas jumper onto him, completed with a grinning face. For a moment, Anabelle thought the biscuit winked at her, that the grin was a little unfriendly, but she disregarded it and closed her eyes as she pushed it into her mouth.

She screamed. As she’d gone to bite the biscuit, the biscuit had bitten back! Anabelle dropped her attacker as her sister appeared, laughing, in the doorway.

“Got you!” She sang, grinning cruelly at the woman who’d kept her on house arrest all day long. Anabelle healed her lip without moving and glared back at her sister.

The next day, Anabelle moved out, leaving an enchanted snowman melting on the living room carpet to say her farewells. Marbella stared at it in disbelief and wandered halfheartedly into the kitchen to make breakfast. She produced a sharp intake of breath when she opened the cupboard to find her cereal box torn open, dribbling its dwindling contents onto the shelf. Her first thought was ‘mouse!’ but after a speedy ‘reveal’ enchantment, that fear was disproved and she was back to square one.

She cleared the mess and made toast instead. A tiny twinkle of guilt, barely noticeable, began to burn in the back of Marbella’s brain. She enchanted a lamp stand to keep her company with chatter, but really she may as well have been talking to herself. That evening, Marbella opened the fridge and set about making herself dinner.It was a complicated meal and she’d chosen to cook it the human way, mixing with her hands rather than her brain. Part of the way through her culinary practice, Marbella went to scoop her onions into the frying pan, only to find that half had gone. Minutes later, her knife had moved across the surface to the other side of the room.

This continued while she cooked, and then into her meal. Every time she glanced away she found parts of her dinner had vanished. Then her wine glass tipped itself over. As red wine soaked into her white skirt she caught a glimpse of something in the corner of her eye. Something tiny and brown with iced denim trousers and a Christmas jumper. That Gingerbread beast!

Squealing in frustration she dived after her creation, but missed, colliding with the floor face first. She chased the outlawed biscuit around the room for forty-five minutes before she finally caught it. He dangled in the air, his foot pinched between her dainty fingers, begging for mercy.

“Lemme go you! Lemme go! I aint done nothing, only what I was told!” She scowled at the little man and her hair launched a few flames into the air.

“What you were told?”

“By the other lady. She made me do it, said I’d go back to sleep if I stopped!”

“Stopped what?”

“Annoying you… sorry… Told me to eat stuff, steal stuff, basically cause mischief… teach you a lesson.”

“Right. Well the thing is,  brought you to life you silly creature… only can put you back to sleep again. So you wanna stay awake? You don’t be causing any trouble, you hear?”

The little gingerbread man nodded enthusiastically and sighed as she stood him on the floor at her feet. She enchanted a new batch of gingerbread and crafted it into a house as it floated in the air, keeping a stern eye fixed on mischievous chap sat at her feet. She placed him the house and sent a thought to summon her sister.

When Anabelle arrived, she thought it might be a trick and took each step warily. Each bite of her dinner was consumed with an eye on the gingerbread house which stood on a coffee table in the corner of the room. When her sister’s distraction became too much, Marbella decided it was time to apologise, and she did so. She looked her sister in the eye and told the story of what her biscuit had done. She apologised for causing trouble and always bringing chaos into their lives. By the end of the meal they were friends again. Older sister, still slightly wary of the younger, but forgiving all the same.

They allowed the Gingerbread Man, now named Kermit, to live in his minuscule Gingerbread house in the corner of their flat for the rest of their lives there. Neither of them ate, or baked, gingerbread again.

 

Creative Mindfulness.

Creative Mindfulness.

In my opinion, I’ve saved the best for last. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of colouring or something practical when they’re learning a new skill… well technically I learn best by talking to myself (which sounds weird) but that’s beside the point, I just love colouring.

I found this kind of mindfulness through the book, I am here now which I bought on Amazon a while ago. It’s got some great ideas in there and they’re all really varied which is nice. Probably the best bit about it is that it doesn’t involve closing your eyes and breathing deeply, which can be a little uncomfortable in a public place. I’d definitely recommend at least having a look at it, I carry it everywhere with me in case I get a little stressed while I’m out.

The most obvious activity is one that I’ve already mentioned, and you may not have realised its uses as a tool for mindfulness. Colouring! It’s pretty simple, while you colour keep your mind on the picture in front of you and colour. Focus on the different shades, on keeping within the lines and on the pattern in front of you. If you’re focusing on this stuff rather than the muddle inside your head, that’s mindfulness! Simple.

One of my favourites from the book is an exercise where you draw a line with every breath to create a pattern. Make sure your pen follows the breath, rather than the other way round. When you’ve done you can even colour it in, double whammy! It explains it much better in the book, unfortunately words allude me on this one, but I used to draw these with my mum when I was little and the nostalgia adds an extra element of calm for me.

You can probably do anything creative mindfully – in fact you can do anything that you want to do in a mindful way. As I mentioned last week, I drive, walk and eat mindfully; if I can do that then mindful papier mache, collaging and painting are definitely legitimate options.

So if you’re a creative person, or just fancy giving this a try why not do it today! Let me know how it goes.

Accepting Yourself.

Accepting Yourself.

#EndTheStigma is a hashtag you’ll see quite frequently if you follow anyone who’s interested in mental health on Twitter. This is great, and I really believe people need to be able to speak about this without feeling judged, and those who aren’t experiencing problems with their mental health should be able to ask people how they’re doing without worrying about how to approach the subject.

While I think this is important, there’s another subject which I think is just as central to recovery. Ending the stigma we put on ourselves.

Sometimes our mental health can make it difficult for us to keep up with others in our lives: we may be unable to work full time, go into public places alone, or may even be unable to take care of ourselves at times. There is always potential for us to blame ourselves for this, to think that we’re useless. For us to believe that our mental illness defines us, and that we’re nothing more than our broken brains.

This isn’t true.

If someone had a broken leg, would you blame them for being unable to go jogging?

If someone had Asthma, would you think it was their own fault if they had an Asthma attack?

If someone else had a mental illness which prevented them from doing these things would you blame them? Would you think they were utterly useless?

Probably not, I certainly wouldn’t.

 

I have an illness which can sometimes affect my ability to do things which many people would find easy to do. It’s called Borderline Personality Disorder, but there’s nothing wrong with my personality. When I love, I love hard. I feel a huge amount of empathy for other people which means that I’m always willing to help those in need. I put my all into everything I do and work hard, resulting in the best possible standards in every project I take part in. Sometimes I’m a bit too impulsive and do silly things, but that can be fun – it’s good to be a little out of control sometimes.

Basically what I’m saying is that my mental health does not define me. Sure, it’s a part of me and I have to fight it every day, but it’s taught me some important things about myself too. I’m not useless because my mental illness makes things harder for me – and neither are you! Cut yourself some slack.

Sunrise.

Sunrise.

This is the last episode of the Underground series, if you need to catch up before reading click here.

My husband and I used to love watching the sun rise. It may sound strange to some people, but we’d get up at the crack of dawn and sit outside with a coffee watching the sun creep above the horizon. It was our moment. A moment where we could be alone together, enjoying a mutual love of our beautiful world. This sunrise was different. Rather than the usual pink-to-orange transition that we were accustomed to, this sun was moving from purple to blue. So by the time I reached my husband’s office, the sky was lit by an eerie turquoise glow.

I still hadn’t seen anyone, alive or dead. The world had become a wasteland, a dead expanse floating aimlessly in the galaxy. Probably still following the same orbit, unaware of the death it held.I’d traced the words on the knife sixty-three times, and could easily pinpoint the location of any of the letters, by the time I reached the office. I traced it one last time before approaching the building.

The glass was shattered, a constellation of crystals branching out onto what had been a flawless pane. Inside, a desk had toppled over, yanking wires from their sockets into a maze of veins and arteries, broken on the ground. I pushed open the door and walked into the deserted lobby. A half empty mug of coffee sat on the desk in Reception, ice cold, but not mouldy. It was as if someone had left it there only minutes ago. I shivered and traced the letters on my knife.

The floor was coated in a thick layer of slightly translucent dust. Green I thought, although it may have been the reflection from our distorted sunlight. My feet absorbed the dust, leaving little puddles of cleanliness in my footsteps. I followed the corridor I knew would lead me to my husband’s office, despite a heaviness in my heart which dragged down my every step and told me he wouldn’t be here. His office was empty. Part of the ceiling had crumbled onto the black plastic desk he’d bought to mimic glass. The computer had missed the blow by inches, but the water bottle he always kept to its left had not. Water sat stagnant on the table, not stopping short of the electronics which had fried long ago.

I sat in his chair. The smell of him was long gone, replaced by that of dust and burning. The colour of the chair hidden by the thick blanket of that other-worldly dust. It creaked when I sat down, unused to taking the weight of a human being. I took out the knife and turned it over and over in my hands. Examining every little mark, each tiny scratch. Replacing the knife in my pocket I gently pulled his desk drawer open and began scrambling through the contents.

Beneath the piles of drab paperwork was a tiny piece of notepaper that he’d torn from his diary. The date the bombs dropped was circled in green pen. Buried under that was a key. I picked it up and held it to reflect the light. I scoured the office for somewhere it might fit. Finding nowhere, I left and followed the lopsided sign towards Classified. This time I traced the shape of the key in my pocket. Each ridge and valley became a link to my husband. Something he’d touched, perhaps even more recently than he’d touched me.

The classified office was dark, door unlocked by the power shortage. I stepped warily inside, jumping as I collided with a misplaced filing cabinet. I reached my hands out and walked like I had as a child when I played Hide-and-Seek with my brother in the dark. My fingers caught on a door handle and I felt around it for a lock. Bingo. I slipped the key in and turned it, the door gave way with only the slightest resistance.

“What?”

A figure shouted and pinned me to the floor. Silhouetted by the light spilling from inside the room I could only see his size, and smell the rotting teeth carried on his breath as he pushed his face close to mine and whispered.

“What have we here.”

It wasn’t a question. He maintained his hold on my body with one hand while reaching the other up to deliver a slap that echoed through the building. My face burned. I’d survived these ten years, suddenly I lost sight of the point in any of it. The burning in my face and the pressure of the man’s fists on my shoulder consumed my thoughts. He moved his hands to my throat and began to squeeze. The corners of my vision blurred. Stars appeared in the centre, speckles of light peppered onto the canvas of the man’s shadow.

“Who is it Jonnie?”

John! The sound of my husband’s name jolted me to life as I realised who was holding me captive. Not that I’d be captive for long. I doubted I had long left. I had to signal to him that it was me – his wife! He’d saved me, he’d waited for me. He was here!

“She was my wife once. Just one more mouth to feed.”

He shouted over his shoulder to the other man. The pain in my heart was suddenly worse than that in my lungs. I gasped for breath but none came, it was getting harder to move or think every second. I felt for the knife in my pocket. Traced the letters. I closed my eyes.

Blood. People still bleed even after everything. Even though the sun is blue and the ground is brown and everything is dead. People still bleed to death. My husband did. I had no choice but to use the knife for protection, as he’d taught me to do all those years ago. I never predicted that I’d have to practice what he’d taught me, on the man I loved with every breath. I never thought I’d kill the man who owned my heart. I never thought I’d run from his body as blood spilled onto the floor in a river around him. I never knew the weird dust absorbed blood into itself.

The world wasn’t really over until then.

Mindfulness – Experiencing Life.

Mindfulness – Experiencing Life.

Every day we do things that we don’t truly experience. We shower, but spend it thinking about the day behind/ahead rather than noticing the water’s temperature or pressure, or the smell of the soap. We drive, but spend the time daydreaming rather than paying real attention to our surroundings or the sensations in our body. We eat, but we shove the food down our throats and move onto another activity without really taking the time to taste the flavours in our meals.

While we might not have time to box in Mindfulness practice, we can work on being mindful during these every day activities. I’ve been working on that during this week. Paying attention to my hands gripping the steering wheel, how I’m sat in the seat and the different colours of the cars around me. Blocking out my thoughts while I shower and focusing on the scent of the soap and shampoo, changing the temperature/pressure of the water and listening to the sound of the water crashing into the bathtub beneath my feet. Taking the time to savour every different hint of flavour in my food and seeing how many ingredients I can identify. All of these practises are being mindful – and it doesn’t take any extra time because I’m working them into my daily routine.

Our daily routine is another place where we can be mindful. Each of us follows subconscious routines without realising it: we put our trousers on a certain leg first, we brush our teeth with the same hand, we use the same mug in the mornings. These are routines which we’ve adopted without even noticing! By paying attention to these things and perhaps changing them around every so often, we can take control of our routines and thus better accustom ourselves to changes in our lives.

Why not give it a go this week? Wear your watch on the wrong arm, use a different shampoo, swap the order of your breakfast and shower around. How does it feel? If you are brave enough to give this a go please drop me a line, I’d love to hear about it.

Taking a hit.

Taking a hit.

I’ll start with a cheeky disclaimer – I’m not advocating drugs! Please don’t go and shoot up now! I’m talking about taking the hits life throws at you, and trust me it’ll throw a lot of them your way.
I got slapped around the face by life today and nearly didn’t write today’s post because of it. I’ve fought for years to be stable enough to return to university, and now that I’m there the problems are rolling in. They’re not even queueing, they’re pushing each other out of the way and jostling to the front.
Then (after I’d dealt with the typical mood swings) I decided that I wasn’t going to let life floor me. I can take a hit, literally as well as metaphorically; I used kickboxing to aid my recovery, but more about that another time. For now, the important thing is that when I got hit I made a conscious decision to drag myself back up.
Life will keep smacking you around, you don’t have to suffer with a mental illness to know that. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re climbing to your feet or getting knocked down more than you’re walking. Sometimes you’re a bit dazed and need some time to get your bearings before you can walk it off. That’s ok! We don’t have to be always moving or finding things easy – what matters is that you develop the determination to keep getting up off that floor.
So when life deals a tough blow, take a deep breath and get back on your feet. Stand up, face life, swear at it if you like. You don’t need to have solutions to problems right now. Nothing matters as long as you get up and keep fighting.