I got issues, you do too…

Staying home is getting hard. My reasons for struggling may be different to yours. No doubt there will always be someone in worse situation than all of us. It’s still ok to feel whatever you feel. We’re living through a crisis that no one was prepared for. It’s perfectly normal to have no idea how to deal with such an unprecedented set of events.

A badly managed pandemic is going to mess with our heads. There’s no getting away from that. Aspects of this catastrophe might compound existing mental health issues. Such large scale uncertainty & fear may trigger symptoms in those who have never experienced them before. Please be gentle with yourself. It is totally normal to struggle with mood in extreme circumstances. It is not your fault that you find this overwhelming. It is scary to feel so powerless. Even more so to be dealing with such acute emotions in completely alien circumstances. You are allowed to be a mess. This shit is tricky, but it’s not forever.

Whilst we’re in the thick of it, it’s important to look after ourselves. Bin all the shoulds. Whatever gets you through the night really is alright. If you need routine, create it. If video calls & comfort food are your heart’s desire, do it. There are no rules. Complete your magnum opus or have a lot of long lies. Both are reasonable reactions. As long as you’re not endangering yourself or others, it’s all good.

Pale legs with green tattoo lying in bed

If you’re starting to find that you don’t know how to handle the ‘new normal’, I have a few pointers. I’ve had years of wrangling a crazy brain and unruly body. It’s left me quite well equipped for societal disaster.

It’s my experience that taking care of everyday practicalities can relieve some stress.

  • Make a budget. If you know exactly what’s coming in it is easier to juggle what’s going out. If there are bills you will have difficulty with contact companies ASAP. Most big organisations are offering payment breaks, reduced payment plans etc at the moment. It feels so much better to not have the worry hanging over you. Check what financial aid is available to you during this crisis. There are various government schemes that might help make ends meet.
  • Plan in advance. Check each day for shopping delivery slots. You can usually have two booked at a time. Some supermarkets offer priority to people most vulnerable to covid 19, it’s worth checking if you qualify. I always buy some food that needs little preparation in case I don’t feel up to cooking. Speak to your GP about how to best request & collect prescriptions. Don’t wait until you need your medication, running out is incredibly stressful. There are delivery services available for people who cannot leave their house.
  • Make lists. I love a list. When everything is swimming around in my head it feels hectic. Order resumes when I can see what I need to do on paper. Plus ticking things off is very satisfying. I make a list for each day. I spread housework, life admin & work throughout the week. Leave time to rest & between hated tasks. Prioritise what’s most important for each day. Do not freak out if you can’t get everything done. Focus on the essentials for that day. Dishes in the sink won’t hurt you. I usually make separate lists for things I need to buy, calls I need to make & appointments I need to keep. Our current situation limits those things somewhat.
  • Permission to deviate. Let yourself scrap it all if you really need to. Just don’t ditch it forever.

Most of all, be kind. Indulge in whatever makes you feel good. Eat the treats. Send yourself flowers. Drink the tequila. Keep talking about how you feel. Ask for help if you need it. Everyone is dealing with their own variant of yuck; let’s try to take care of ourselves & each other.

Margarita in cocktail glass with lime wedge

Wake me up inside…

Today I saw another one of those social media that purports to offer alternatives to self harm. This time the post also claimed that sharing this information would save lives.

I’m just going to be completely honest, this bull isn’t saving any lives. These are not credible alternatives to self harm. They will not stop an ill person from hurting themselves. They don’t solve the problem of why a person might feel the need to hurt themselves; they don’t even address it. In fact, in some cases they reaffirm the idea that hurting yourself is a good coping mechanism (just so long as you do it in a socially acceptable manner).

I’ve talked & written about why these suggestions are insulting until i’m blue in the face. I see others giving excellent arguments against such advice & yet this sort of thing is still the only information disseminated in the mainstream. So, I thought I’d try to talk about what actually can help one refrain from hurting oneself.

My suggestions are more complicated & time consuming & bloody hard. They don’t lend themselves to becoming a jaunty list to share in Twitter. The grim reality is that self harm is a grind and so is quitting.

Blood stained foot

For me the first step in getting anywhere close to stopping was understanding why I started in the first place. I truly believe understanding why a person self harms is crucial to recovery. Self harm isn’t the illness, it’s a symptom of it. From the outside identifying what is distressing you might seem simple, but trust me, it isn’t. There can be layers of trauma & hurt. A person may have a lifetime of issues woven into a complex fabric of pathologies. Picking that apart is intensely painful. Having pulled on that dangerous thread, you’re going to have to find ways address those underlying problems. They don’t simply disappear under a bright light. It takes time, professional guidance & huge bravery.

And that’s just the beginning. Next you have discern what you get from self harm; how is it helping you cope. What function is inflicting pain serving. Again, this is no simple puzzle to solve. My self harm had many roles. I was punishing myself, I hated the body that had failed me, I was avoiding emotions I couldn’t cope with, the blood was cathartic, I became addicted & a multitude of other reasons. Predictably totting up all the pay offs doesn’t negate them. There is more work to be done. One must weigh how healthy each function is and decide if it enhances ones life. For instance, probably not a great idea to be continually forcing myself to do penance, however it is a good idea to not be completely overwhelmed by sadness. You must find away to live without the unhealthy whilst also establishing new mechanisms to maintain essential uses. Of course all the time you are working away at your inner self you are dealing with addiction. Self harm is habit forming. So, your journey of self discovery/healing/madness has a background of overwhelming urges & powerful compulsions. To begin with you have to fight the full force of addiction every single moment of every single day. Plus, of course, everyone has their own additional problems to throw into the mix. Maybe you have co morbidities or financial problems or a family you’re trying not mess up with your illness. Life doesn’t stop when crazy calls.

None of this easy. It does not and cannot happen over night. It involves breaking down long held beliefs & opening yourself up to being scared and vulnerable. This post is just a simplified version of a process that takes years. It involves psychiatric professionals, medical intervention, medication, therapy, a support network, a&e visits & most of all trying to be honest. I understand why it’s easier to pretend you can draw on your skin or scream at a wall until you’re better. It is terrifying to a/ begin trying access the kind of intensive help needed & b/ expose yourself to pain you’ve been desperately trying to suppress. Believe me, selling yourself & others a lie is not the answer.

The truth is there are no tips & tricks for beating self harm. There is no magic fix or complete cure. I look at it like any other addiction. I will probably always want to cut, I have to do whatever I can not to. No amount of extremely cold water will ever change that harsh fact. When it comes right down to it, for me, the driving force in abstaining is knowing that I want other things more than I want to pick up that scalpel. Oh & sheer will power. I couldn’t have come to that realisation without more than a decade of therapy. I absolutely could never have exercised this level of control over the voice in my own head without putting in all that work.

I’m not going to say everyone’s story is the same as mine. I can’t guarantee that you can ever get completely better. I’m not. I can only offer you the hard truth of my experience & my certainty that there aren’t any shortcuts. Don’t share false hope. Let’s be honest with people who really need it. Trying to quit self harm is a nightmare, but there is hope that you’ll wake up.

Something to talk about…

A couple of weeks ago I got in a taxi (not an unusual occurrence) & engaged in the usual polite conversation with the driver. The weather, had I had a nice day & so on. Then he went quiet for a minute & said ‘can I ask your advice on something?’

This is the kind of question that usually rings alarms bells, but for some reason I decided to give this guy a chance. He had talked about his children in our short conversation & came across as a decent person. I’m glad I trusted my gut. He wanted advice on how to help his son, who had been self harming.

The taxi driver never alluded to my scars, but I presume that’s why he thought I might have advice to offer. He explained a bit about his son. How he had changed schools after a move, found it hard to make new friends, become more insular. Then how his wife had discovered their son had been injuring himself & how they were both lost. They’re son didn’t want to speak to anyone about it, they didn’t know if they should force the issue. He was increasingly unhappy, so far their attempts to help had been unsuccessful. It broke my heart. This man clearly loved his child. It was just as clear that he was utterly out of his depth.

So, I told him I had experience with self harm. Explained that it could serve a few functions. That is was habit forming & yes, it was a sign that his son was really struggling. I stressed that I wasn’t a professional mental health worker & that everyone was different, but in my experience it was best to get help as soon as possible. It was also important not to make his son feel forced into anything. Research some options & present them to his son, try to let him make choices. I suggested he make it clear that he & his wife were always available to talk about anything & offered some organisations he could contact for more advice. That was about as much as I felt able to say to a stranger during a taxi ride. I didn’t know any details of what was going on for his son, so I didn’t know what would be best for him. It felt insufficient, but when we arrived at my destination he refused to take payment. He said my words had lifted a load because now he felt like there was help for his son & he had an idea of how to find it. I got emotional, wished him the very best & thanked him for my free lift home. We parted & are unlikely to meet again.

So, why am I telling you this? I’m sharing because the more I think about it the surer I am that this kind of thing should happen more often. I think the reason it doesn’t is stigma. That taxi driver took a chance; he shared sensitive information & asked me to do the same. He dared to break a taboo & admit that he needed help. The result, hopefully is that his family will find that help. How many people struggle with mental health problems and never find the courage to ask for help? How many people just never know who they can turn to?

I’d love to live in a world where it didn’t even take courage to tell someone you’re hurting. It shouldn’t be so hard or so hidden.

If you are experiencing mental health difficulties it is imperative that you seek help right away. Mental Illness almost always get worse & harder to treat when left to fester. There is no shame in not being ok. You deserve any & all hell to feel as good as you can.

Your GP is always a good first step. Take someone you trust to advocate for you if you can.

MIND offer a variety of local services. You can find the in your area here.

SANE offer specialised mental health support. You can contact them on 0300 304 7000.

You can also call The Samaritans 24/7, 365 days a year on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

Don’t worry, my arse…

I worry. Quite a lot actually. I stress over things great, small & possibly non existent. I probably worry much more than is either necessary or prudent. That’s the nature of worrying, though.

So, I while I confess to sometimes wishing I could turn off the worrying I find it incredibly frustrating when people suggest that is possible. There are of course strategies to deal with disquieting situations, merely deciding not to worry about it is not one of them.

I keep seeing this sort of thing offered as some kind of wisdom. This isn’t wise, it isn’t even sensible. It just displays an inability to understand what worry is. If it were possible for a person to decide no to worry, worry wouldn’t be a thing.

Obviously this is abelist. Anxiety is not always rational. Many people struggling with mental illness have spiralling worries. Ranging from the practical (money, employment, relationships) to the irrational & far reaching concerns that mental illness can bring. When you tell someone they can choose to stop, you’re kind of saying their anguish is their own fault. Advising a person to just stop worrying is as pointless as telling them to just not be ill.

Setting aside the ableism it’s still infuriatingly useless advice. Let me break it down,

Do you have a problem?

If I didn’t consider the issue a problem, I wouldn’t be concerned about it. So, yes, regardless of what an outsider might think, I clearly think it’s a problem.

Can you do something about it?

If I can, the solution must still be troubling or uncertain otherwise I wouldn’t be worrying.

If there is nothing I can do ignoring or pretending the issue doesn’t exist will not help me. Plus, lets me face it, if you are facing a problem that you cannot solve it’s unlikely that you can just magically forget it.

Saying this to someone in distress is unkind. It basically translates to I don’t care. Telling someone not to worry is not a suggestion of self care. It’s dismissive. Instead, perhaps try listening. Sometimes just saying it out loud can be helpful. If you can offer practical help, do. If you don’t know what someone needs, ask. A simple ‘what can I do’ can be so valuable. A little bit of time goes a long way.

A time for giving…

According to Cliff Richards, king of the xmas tune, this is a time for giving. Whilst Cliff is wrong about most things, I think he’s right about this. I love Christmas. I am fortunate enough to have wonderful people to share it with. We always have more than enough food to fill our tums & plenty presents under our tree. If like me, your festive cup runeth over, please consider making a donation to one of these excellent organisations.


Simon Community helps homeless people in Scotland. They provide a number of wonderful services. From teaching life skills to providing accommodation to help people get on their feet, they support homeless people in a multitude of ways. This year they also launched a new initiative to provide both period products & education for people experiencing homelessness. You can help Simon Community by donating your time, money and a number of essentials items. You can find more information here.

Luisa Omielan is my favourite stand up comedian. Her material is not only hilarious, but covers incredibly important issues. She talks about mental illness, body positivity & female empowerment in her hysterical routines. This year she lost her Mum suddenly & horribly to cancer. She has now not only incorporated the difficult topics of palliative care, NHS under funding & death into her routines, but has also started a foundation, in her mum’s name, to raise money to provide comfort items to hospices. My own family was also touched by cancer this year & I became aware of just how important good hospice care is. Until now I was not aware that hospices are charities that do not receive government funding. People at the end of their lives, often suffering, should have access to the best possible care. Luisa is trying to make that happen. Please give whatever you can to Helena’s Hospice Foundation.

Save the Children work around world with children in desperate need. Their mission is to keep children safe and healthy, whether that means battling poverty or exploitation. They fight to create and enforce legal rights for children as well as providing food, clothing and other essentials for those in need. There are too many frightened children in too many places tonight. If you can help give them a better tomorrow, please do.

Tribe is a Scottish animal sanctuary providing a loving home for animals who have been victims of abuse, neglect or who have been saved from slaughter. Their aim is to keep animals safe, but also to encourage compassion for animals not normally considered pets. The sanctuary was founded by John and Morag, animal advocates who wanted to truly live their beliefs. They currently house cats, dogs, cows and chickens. You can get to know their growing family & find out how to donate here.

Please dig as deep as you can and have a very Merry Christmas and a fun filled Hogmanay.

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

 

A dignified period…

Simon Community Scotland are a wonderful organisation who provide support & services for people experiencing homelessness. Every year they help over 500 women dealing with being homeless, offering gendering specfic services through their street teams. 

The traumatic histories of homeless women create a need for multiple branches of support. Often issues beginning in childhood can lead a woman to the streets. Childhood abuse or neglect can be replayed through domestic violence & exploitation, which can result in substance abuse, mental & physical health problems. All of which add up to a shocking low life expectancy of 43. The Simon Community aim to help women rebuild their lives by providing emergency accommodation & a variety of tailored services. This month they add to their excellent support portfolio with a Period Friendly programme. 

The programme will be comprised of education, communication & making sanitary itemsessily available. Simon Community have found that homeless women often lack basic knowledge about their menstrual cycle. Growing up in care or a troubled home can mean that they never had a chance to learn about periods. homeless women can feel particularly embarrassed or ashamed about their periods. As a result they may struggle to talk about their periods and lack opportunities to seek advice. On top of this the hardships of living on the street can lead to irregular cycles, infections & other problems. 

The Simon Community hope to tackle these issues with the launch of Period Friendly Points (PFP). Intially the points will be located at places specifically catering to homeless people, with they hope they may spread to include other sites. PFPs will provide free access to products required for a period; wipes, tampons, towels, pants, disposable bags along with information on how to use the sanitary products. Pregnancy & infection tests will also be available. These offer reassurance for women who experience irregular periods. They are also essential for women who have been victims of sexual violence. The Simon Community street teams will also be giving out Period Paxs comprising Period essentials, which can be refilled st PFPs


The PFPs will also give homeless women the chance the speak to staff about any queries or problems they are having. A study of homeless women undertaken by Simon Community discovered that,

78% didn’t know how long a tampon should be kept in.

61% had to go without sanitary products on multiple occasions – instead using rags or newspapers. 

70% had never spoken to anyone about their period & didn’t even know what a period is. 

These fact underline how important Period Friendly Points are. There is a desperate need for not only access to necessary products, but also a someone to listen & offer reliable advice. 

No women should ever have to make her own tampons or wear the same pants for a week. This goes beyond personal hygien, it is about dignity & respect. 

As a charitable organisation The Simon Community is always on need of donations & support. You can help grow this new intiative in a number of ways. If you have some time to volunteer you can become a Period Friendly Pal. 

P.F.Pals will :

Restock PFPs.

Collect & sort donations into Pax at SC warehouse in Glasgow.

Help raise funds & products to maintain PFPs.

Support, promote & raise awareness of issues that homeless women experience. 

Be a listening ear to the women SC reach out to. 

You can also donate by texting PFPR28 to 70070 staying your donation amount – £5 or £10.