For your babies…

I’m sitting on the sofa trying to be still because my baby nephew is asleep on my shoulder. He just shifted a little, gave a big sigh & squeezed my arm with his chubby fingers. I can feel his breath on my neck & smell his milky breath. I’m in heaven. This is as close to complete contentment as I get.

I’m exhausted. My back hurts. My knee is throbbing. Yet, I feel happy & at peace. Soon he’ll wake. At first he’ll be confused. He always wakes up suspicious, checking all around him. I think he forgets where he was when he fell asleep. Once he has his bearings his face will break into a big smile. He’ll look at me like he is utterly delighted to discover I am here & I’ll melt for the millionth time.

I feel the same swell of love with all niblings. At the weekend I listened in wonder as my 2yr old nephew sang me the whole alphabet. My heart almost burst as these two beautiful boys played together. Bigger cousin being so gentle with his smaller counterpart. Baba giggling & crawling, so eager to play with his best friend. Every new skill he masters is wonder. I still relish every time he says Auntie Lynsey. The pride & excitement never wears off.

Earlier I FaceTimed his big cousin. She’s 8 yrs old & nearly as tall as her Mum. I remember her being this size like it was yesterday. I’ve watched her grow & learn, loving every single stage. Gone is our baby girl. My Muffin now wants to share her thoughts on cubism & send me animated gifs representing how her day went. Her report card not only applauded her academic achievements, but noted how she goes out of her way to be kind. She’s incredible. They all are. My siblings make good babies.

I am so honoured to have the to opportunity to help mould these precious little lives. They bring me a joy that cannot be replicated. Every smile & giggle & kiss & ‘I love you’ make all my struggles seem void. It is easy to be overwhelmed by what I don’t have. Life is bloody hard, but it feels ridiculously easy when I cause a smile to light up their faces.

Perhaps the next best thing can be enough. You have to take your wins wherever you can find them.

Advertisements

Don’t tell me what to do…

In this world of self care & mindfulness it seems like everyone thinks they’re a therapist. Don’t get me wrong, sharing what works for you & talking about our mental health is great. It’s just that, to put it bluntly, some people talk crap. Others just regurgitate tired old advice that ain’t helping anyone. Man alive, I’m sick of it.

I want to talk specifically about the useless chatter surrounding self harm. I’ve been hearing & seeing the same patronising advice for YEARS. The most frustrating part is it often comes from people who really should know better. So, allow me to take you through why so much of the standard advice is just plain bad.

1/ Draw on your skin instead of cutting/burning etc.

This one usually takes two forms. The first opines that whatever relief/release a person may find in hurting themselves they can also attain by simply drawing on their skin. Now, let me ask you this, if drawing lines on yourself would make you feel better would you be causing physical trauma in the first place? The answer is of course, no. The components of self harm that serve a purpose vary, it may be pain, blood, disfiguring the skin or even a need to punish oneself. None of which needs are met by drawing.

The second part of the draw on your skin nonsense is the idea that you draw something pretty (often a butterfly) where you would normally self harm. The desire to preserve the ‘body art’ is then supposed to dissuade a person from ‘spoiling’ their skin. The stupidity of this idea is obvious. If actually scarring oneself will not prevent a person from harming themselves it seems very unlikely that spoiling a temporary drawing will. Even if by some miracle a biro butterfly were enough to assuage overwhelming distress, the body has a lot of flesh. Are people to cover every inch of themselves in rainbows & roses?

Butterfly drawn on skin

2/ Have a hot bath, cup of tea, blah, blah, blah…

Imagine the kind of agony you would have to be in to take a scalpel to yourself & cut for hours. Do you think a nice bath would magic that away? The answer is no. A bath helps you feel better at the end of tiring day. It does not release you from excruciating emotional pain.

3/ Distract yourself.

The need to self harm is powerful & persistent. For some reason lots of people (both professional & laymen) believe the urge is fleeting. I often see those struggling told to distract themselves until the urge passes. This advice betrays an ignorance regarding the workings of self harm. The need to hurt oneself does not easily wane. In fact, the longer a person self harms the stronger the compulsion becomes. Often it is impossible to focus on anything else. No sleeping or eating or thinking until the hunger to hurt is sated. It isn’t possible to distract oneself from that level of intrusion. When you cannot function on the most basic of levels watching a film or phoning friend are not options.

4/ Throw away your self harm tools.

The rationale here being that if one does not have the apparatus used to self harm, then self harm is impossible. WRONG.

As already discussed the compulsion to injure oneself is incredibly strong. Desperate people become ingenious. Trust me, when you really need to, you can hurt yourself with anything. Believe me again when I say those fraught & frenzied moments are when people make mistakes. As incomprehensible as it sounds self harm can be the very thing keeping someone alive. Asking or obligating an ill person to give up their lifeline is dangerous. It is also cruel.

5/ Ping your wrist with an elastic band/hols an ice cube in your hand etc.

My objections to this one are again two fold. To begin with it’s just ineffective. Self harm is both a habit firming & escalating problem. A person almost always experiences a need to increase the severity of their injurious behaviour. This takes us right back to the start. If the nip of an elastic band were sufficient, no one would be putting themselves in hospital via self harm.

A more serious objection, though, is the message this sends. Telling a vulnerable person that hurting themselves is ok, is a head fuck of massive proportions. Self harm is never the real problem, it is a symptom. In order to tackle self harm one must deal with the underlying issues. That is hard work, time consuming work. It’s much easier just to counsel harm minimisation. In doing so, you validate a sick person’s maladaptive thought process. That mental health professionals routinely tell patients that hurting themselves is ok is a disgrace. The basic premise of the hold an ice cube/ping an elastic band technique is that hurting yourself is a reasonable response to emotional turmoil. Just don’t do it badly enough to bother other people. By suggesting someone harm themselves in a small way you have shifted the conversation from, ‘let’s help you not hurt yourself’ to ‘hurt yourself in ways that do not draw attention to the act’. It is ignoring the root of the problem & allowing a person to believe that they are deserving of pain. It’s lazy, it counter productive & it is bullshit.

Hand holding ice

If you are struggling with self harm or you know someone who is, don’t feel helpless. When you are searching for help & find only these sort of suggestions it can feel like there are no answers. Whilst there are no quick fixes, there is hope.

See your Gp. If they don’t listen or offer help, see another Gp. I know this is exhausting at a time when you can least afford a fight, but please, don’t give up. If you have a friend or family member who can be your advocate, take them with you. You deserve treatment. You deserve care.

If you have badly injured yourself please seek medical advice. Again, if you have a friend or family member who can support you, take them along. If you do not & are worried about how you will be treated taking a copy of NHS NICE GUIDELINES can be helpful. You are entitled to be treated with the same compassion & respect as any other patient. Most emergency personnel will do this, but a few may need reminding of their duty. Being able to quote these guidelines helps in such situations. As scary as this may sound, do not put yourself at risk by avoiding treatment. You are worthy of diligent medical care.

If you are not yet ready or able to see a Dr, you can contact The Samaritans 24/7.

Call – 116 123 (uk)

Email – jo@samaritans.org

Fat Slut, you said…

So, hello, brand new year. Unfortunately it’s also hello to diet talk overload. Yup, it’s everywhere. The diet industry goes crazy in January. Over the years  I have managed to switch off from most of the weight watcher ads & gym discount flyers. I basically make it my business to mute the diet industry; I don’t buy magazines that tell me I’m not good enough, I don’t follow social media accounts that constantly talk about weight loss & I shun brands that use body shaming in their advertising. Of course, I also actively participate the body posi community. This works well for me. However, more and more I am realising that I simply cannot escape the notion that fat is just awful. The problem is that lots of the people I really like & choose to have in my life are, to be frank, fat phobic. 

I understand that everyone will not share my views on body positivity. I also accept that other people are free to do whatever the choose with their own bodies. In fact I am delighted when people find a way to love themselves. However they do it, finding genuine peace with yourself is a wonderful thing & I applaud anyone who gets there. What I don’t appreciate is having to listen to all the fat phobic crap that others believe in. I will never understand why people think it is ok to express their revulsion of fat people to me, a fat person. If you had brown hair & I repeatedly made negative comments about brown hair, you’d probably feel hurt, or pissed off. Well, surprise, surprise, fat people have feelings too. 

You can feel however you like about your own or other people’s bodies. If you want to do slimming world or Atkins or eat raw, knock yourself out. Run & lift & body pump until your heart’s content. If your internal voice mocks & degrades others based on their physical appearance that probably needs investigation, but it’s still entirely your affair. Once you voice those insults out loud, they become my business too & the truth is, I don’t want to hear it. 

I do not want to hear how terrible you think celebs looks when they gain weight. I don’t want to listen to your jibes about naked fat bodies in movies. When you talk in disgusted tones about your own fat, you are telling me what you think of me. Your talk of how your own much thinner body is not fit to carry a child or how being fat makes a person a terrible parent, you are commenting on my abilities. Every time you comment ‘I’m a fat bitch’ on picture of food you ate or tell me what is ‘bad’ about every item on a menu you are pushing your issues on me. 

And here’s the thing, I can’t stop you. You are free to say & feel whatever you please. You can hate your body & my body & Rebel Wilson’s body & Cameron Diaz’s body too. You can laugh & be rude. You can continue to say right to my face that you find people like me to be entirely undeserving of respect. I presume that often you are oblivious. I get it. Sometimes we are blinded by our own internal struggle. Everyone has moments of complete, but unintentional insensitivity. Sometimes, though, you know. You know that you are degrading fat people in front of a fat person. Mostly, we’ll let you get away with it. I know I do. I excuse & ignore. I tell myself you did not mean to be cruel. Well, no more. This is me giving notice. In the future I intend to point out that the body you’re mocking is just like mine. I will tell you that I don’t want to hear about your diet. I will mute you on social media if your timeline is toxic because I can do as I please too. I choose not to engage in anymore bullshit. I wish you well with your own self love journey, but I will no longer be party to my own debasement. You do you. I am going to do me.

You can’t change the way she feels, but you could put your arms around her…

I dreamt about an old friend last night. A friend who is no longer living. It was a lovely dream that I was sad to wake from. As I tried to commit the dream to memory I realised that whilst I thought of her often, I hadn’t spoken out loud about my dear friend in a long time. Too long a time, which is something I need to rectify. I need to talk about her. Tell her story. Share how she changed me. And that is exactly what I am going to do.

Let’s start by saying I met J because we were both ill. I was in my early twenties & struggling to deal with undiagnosed PTSD. I was trying to hold together a life that was increasingly unsatisfying with a self harm habit that was spiralling out control. J was dealing with similarly unhappy circumstances and a self harm problem that becoming, frankly terrifying. We both found some comfort in a community of sick people who didn’t know where else to turn. We were people who couldn’t ask for help or had asked without receiving the sort of assistance the we needed. No one talked about self harm then. Except maybe in the odd film where it was usually portrayed as something a trouble teen might do or a suicide attempt. Even the mental health professionals treated us like shit (sadly, some still so). If our attempts to hide the problem had failed, our families & friends were frightened ( & in some cases cruel). We were dealing with real problems; rape, abusive relationships, miscarriage, escaping from cults, drug dealing parents & a multitude of other big, scary problems. We were of course also living with mental illness. Some of us had a laundry list of labels and others had not a single clue what the fuck was wrong. But there was absolutely something going very wrong for all of us. This is where I met J. Amongst this this group of desperate people I also found a salvation of sorts. These broken people offered each other a kind of support that we couldn’t find anywhere else. We dragged each other through the kind of darkness that most will never understand. And J was kind of our leader.
J was living with pain beyond what would be considered durable. Her mental anguish was compounded by the physical horror she was compelled to inflict upon herself. J was not ok. Every solitary moment of life was a battle hard fought. And, yet, she always had time for us. She had love and support and encouragement for her damaged flock. J lived in a different time zone, but she still called day & night to remind me to keep breathing. She wrote letters and sent care parcels. She compiled lists of all the things that just might offer one us a couple minutes respite from our own fucked up heads. She replied to every ‘ I can’t do this anymore’ with such kind & convincing entreaties to keep trying, that we did. Her words worked because we knew, that she knew. We were all able to help each other because we shared a world that most people didn’t know existed. For me, j was the ultimate inspiration. If she could do this with such grace, I owed it to her and all the others who loved me to at least not give up.

Kelvingrove park

It’s such a cliché, but this goodness expanded beyond our group. She was studying to be a nurse because she wanted to help people. Everyone in her life adored her. J was that person who offered succour, but she wasn’t a martyr or a goody goody. She was fun. Her sense of humour could be wicked. Most of all she was strong. J fought to live. She engaged with mental health services that let her down over and over and over. She was still working and studying at the peak of her illness. She endured the brutality of her self harm and the callousness of those supposed to treat them. She did it all with dignity. Life beat J black and blue. This world committed an almost constant vicious assault on her. She fought back hard. She battled with and blood and heart and care and tears and wonder. She did not win.
J succeeded in taking her own life in a sad and awful way that left no doubt that she meant it. I wish with everything in my being that I could have changed how her story ended. Both the circumstances & the prematurity of her passing, but I don’t blame her. I understand that life was no longer a viable prospect for J. I hate that, but I do not begrudge her some peace. I am still angry at the professionals who failed her and the people who’s actions caused her so much pain. I will never be angry at J. She gave life her very best shot. Her suicide was neither selfish nor weak. It was just the only option she had left. It kills me that someone so beautiful was left with a choice so ugly. I understand it, though. Whilst I know it may be an unpopular opinion I can accept it. I can respect that it was her decision to make.


So, why I am writing this? What am I left with? Actually what remains is so much more positive than I could have ever imagined. Losing J was soul destroying, but life does go on. I go on and so do those other sad people that she cared for. I don’t want to disrespect those wonderful people by not acknowledging that they too saved me. We all helped save each other. In hundreds of big and small ways. After J’s death we continued to care for each other. We laughed and cried and screamed and swore together. We stayed up nights and called ambulances. We sent Xmas cards and made hospital visits.
From that group I maintain friendships with some incredible people. Some of us are entirely recovered, some still walk the tight rope; we are all still alive. We have partners, careers, babies, hobbies & passions. We all do our bit for mental health awareness. Whether that’s through writing, organising, working in the field, donating to MH charities or just supporting loved ones with their difficulties. I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to prevent others falling through the cracks. I will fight for everyone to have more choices than J. I know I am not alone. That is her legacy. She lives on through the people she touched. We endured. We succeeded. We survived.
WE LIVE

1 in 4 adult in UK will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. It is incredibly likely that you or someone you love will have to fight this battle. You can help improve the lives of suffering in a number of ways. Please do what you can to make sure more people survive.

Add mental health education to the national curriculum

Donate to Samaritans

Donate to SAMH

You an also make a massive difference by writing to your elected representatives an telling them mental health is major issue for you. Let them know that how they vote on mental health related issues matters to you. You can find your representatives here.
Find my MP
Find my MSP