You say yes, I say no…

I’ve been living in t shirt dresses so the outfit posts are on hold (if mirror selfies are your bag head to Instagram). Instead I shall share more polished aspect of my person. The nails.

Even when the rest of me looks like I fell out of a flitting, the nails are good. The last few weeks I’ve been lacking in energy & keeping it simple with a twist.

Starting with a citrus French manicure.

ly h Kerr citrus French manicure

Followed by candy stripes in a similar palette.

ly h Kerr candy stripes manicure

Then all black & indecisive to reflect my mood.

ly h Kerr yes no manicure

Finally landing on my current baby pink with a dash of red.

ly h Kerr baby pink manicure

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Please don’t wake me…

Today kicks off Sleep Awareness Week, which aims to highlight the importance of good sleep. As a chronic insomniac I am of course acutely aware of how important sleep is. I’m writing this at 4am, so I haven’t found the cure for sleepless nights. I do though have some semi successful strategies.

My relationship with sleep has flipped from one extreme to the other. In my youth I could drop off anytime, anyplace. I loved to snooze and had zero issues dropping off. I was the queen of the long lie. Sleep became a problem when I first experienced mental health problems aged 19. Unfortunately, I have never managed to regain my easy breezy relationship with slumber. Almost twenty years on I have become accustomed to functioning on a few hours a night. Chronic pain has done little to aid a peaceful night, but an inability to calmly shut down is still a major obstacle in my quest for rest.

A decent night’s repose can affect everything from heart health to sex drive. It goes without saying that exhaustion also has a massive impact on mental health. The NHS advises that most of us need around 8hrs sleep to function properly. In fact, lack of sleep can so massively impair cognitive faculties that experts suggest driving after only 5 hours sleep is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Everyone should be mightily relieved that I cannot drive.

The long-term effect of insufficient sleep is grim. The anxiety of going to bed each night knowing achieving sleep will be a battle is wearing. The more you worry about not sleeping the less likely it becomes. Constant fatigue makes getting through daily tasks difficult, which adds to one’s stress levels. This in turn pushes that magical 8 hours even further out of reach. Long sleepless nights are lonely. There’s rarely anyone else awake leaving a busy mind way too much room to mull over worries. Throw pain into mix and you have a recipe for despair. Moving through the world in a worn-out shuffle will grind you down, which is why I offer my extensively tested tips on getting some god damned sleep.
I’m not going to waste your time with milky drinks and lavender under your pillow. Everyone knows the basics and they aren’t going to cure hardcore insomnia. I don’t have a failsafe solution, if I did, I’d snoring now. However, these are the things that I have had some success with over years.

Bedroom Tips

Keep your bedroom cool. Lowering your body temperature helps the body prepare for sleep.

In theory that’s why a hot bath should aid sleep, but I find any sleepiness gained from the temp drop is lost during the process of getting dry and organised for bed. If you do less faffing post bathing it might work better for you.

No tv in the bedroom. This is a definite for me. I find a television to be the opposite of relaxing. I need my bed and bedroom to be a completely chilled out zone. Which sits nicely with my next point.

Try to make your bedroom as pleasant as possible to be in. Obviously, that means different things for different people. For me it’s nice sheets, subtle scents, comfortable mattress.

Black out blinds are your friend. I could not live without mine.

Invest in one of those huge maternity pillows. They give so much support if you have back or joint pain. Plus they’re just super comfortable.

Sound Effects

Rain on window

I use sounds machine apps. I like heavy rain/ thunderstorm type sounds, but experiment and see what works for you. Something about being safe & protected from the elements I’m hearing sometimes helps me drift off.

Soothing music (whatever that means to you) at a low volume can also help. I like to mouth the lyrics and focus on words I enjoy rather than my own thoughts. Getting the volume just right is key for me, so again, you might need to experiment. Select specific songs and make a playlist beforehand. You don’t want anything that unexpectedly bring unpleasant or stimulating associations to mind.

Preparation

I should probably have started here, but lack of sleep melts your brain. So, you’ll have deal with my disjointed thinking.

These are all evident. I’m going over them because sometimes you miss the obvious when you’re knackered.

Don’t eat too close to bedtime.

Don’t watch, read or listen to anything that will bring up stimulating emotions (nothing scary, disturbing, sad, triggering etc).

Avoid arguing or deep conversations right before you hit the hay.

Smoking, caffeine, some meds (check with gp/pharmacist) are no goes before you attempt sleep.

Against Accepted Wisdoms

Sleeping cat

I’ve consulted many Drs, Psych’s and other practitioners over the years and some of the oft repeated advice they’ve given me has turned out to be just plain wrong for me. If you find something that really does or doesn’t help, even if everyone is telling you the opposite, do you. For me this includes:

Looking at my phone in bed. Putting it on night shift mode to alter the light tone to yellowish rather than blue is a must. Otherwise I find aimlessly scrolling can be very helpful in getting me sleepy.

Reading in bed also works for me. I can’t fall asleep without reading. I find that if I just keep going until I literally can’t keep my eyes open, I have a good chance of getting into a proper sleep. I think it’s because my mind is occupied with the content of the book rather than whatever mess is in my head. Clearly, it’s important to choose the reading material with reference to my previous points.

Sharing the bed with pets. So many people have cautioned me against this. I find my petting my cat and hearing his purrs excessively relaxing. Thus, I ignore such warnings.

Hippie Dippie

Constellation lamp

I hate to be that person, but occasionally the esoteric route gets you there.

A constellation lamp in a dark room can offer something uncomplicated to focus your attention on long enough to get to sleep.

Gentle yoga – clears the mind & stretches everything in a pleasing manner.

Desperate Measures

When you’ve been attempting shut eye for hours and are reaching the point of hopelessness; get up. By that point you aren’t going to sleep. Every toss & turn just raises anxiety levels. I find it much more productive to get out of bed and stop forcing it. Do whatever you can manage and if you get drowsy try again.

Medication – You need sleep to operate. There comes a point when discussing medication options with your Gp is the sensible thing to do. I have tried several sleeping pills over the years. Most didn’t work for me. Most are not a suitable for prolonged use due to addictive and/or tolerance building properties. There are some drugs that can be used for longer periods. I have been prescribed one such medication. It doesn’t have a 100% strike rate, but when it does work it knocks me out all night.

Sleep when you can in extreme cases. Often napping is counterproductive when fighting insomnia. However, when you haven’t had more than a couple of consecutive hours sleep in weeks that goes out the window. When my sleeplessness is at its worst, I will get so completely exhausted that my body will crash. That doesn’t always happen at bed time. Take that sleep. You need it. Sleep all day if you must.

Last but Not Least

Oxytocin

Sex and orgasms in general are brilliant for sleep. Sex works on so many fronts. You can tire yourself out, all those feel good hormones chill you out and of course it’s the perfect distraction from any negative bullshit you have going on. Flying solo releases all that lovely oxytocin and melatonin too, so don’t be shy about giving it a try.

You’re gonna carry that weight a long time…

I had my bloods done this week. I have blood taken most weeks. This time I had a new nurse. She asked about my scars (nicely). I replied self harm. She exhaled sympathetically and said ‘it certainly left its mark’. Ain’t that the truth.

There’s the obvious scars all over my skin. The toll on my body that you can read about in my medical records and the indelible marks on my mind. Then the more I thought about it the clearer I saw that self harm has permeated throughout my life. I have so many habits, rules & thoughts that all loop back to a time when I was routinely hurting myself. The depth of it is both a revelation and strikingly obvious. Which is confusing, so I’m just going to unpack it here. Someone once told me they read my writing because it’s the best way to work out what I’m actually thinking. That’s often why I write it. So, excuse me if I explore my insides with an audience.

There are seemingly trivial things that at first glance appear to be just casual preferences. I only buy dark bedsheets. All my bedding is black or red or purple. Sure, I like those colours, but really I switched to exclusively dark tones because you can’t get blood stains out of the lighter ones. You also can’t see the stains between washing. I realise how gross that sounds, but when you always have open wounds, your sheets are continuously bloody. You get used to it. Ditto all of the above for dark coloured jammies. Along similar lines is my constant manicure. I’ve always liked to paint my nails. However, I didn’t need to keep my nails painted at all times until cutting came along. If you didn’t know, it can be really hard to get blood out from under finger nails. You can scrub for hours and still see red. Covering the tell tale crimson tinge became routine. My love of shiny black polish on my toes has the same origins. My toes don’t see a lot of blood these days, but necessity has grown into habit. My cardigan collection also has secrets origins. I have a million cardigans, shrugs etc. Whenever I buy any outfit I immediately run through what cover up I could match with it. I don’t even keep my scars covered anymore, but I still find myself buying items to hide under. Again, precaution has become ingrained.

Bed

The tentacles extend further. Years of self harm has skewed my perspective on a number of things. For instance, if you accidentally injure yourself I am the best and worst person to ask for help. I’ll definitely give top notch wound care advice. I know what dressing you need and how to clean every gash. I’ll also almost always think you’re making a fuss of nothing. I’ll probably think you can manage without medical assistance unless your leg is hanging off. When you cry or complain about the pain, I will be outwardly kind, but inside, I think you should cowboy up. Your call an ambulance is my stick a plaster on it. I know I’m wrong, but that’s how my mind works. Furthermore any accidental injury that anyone ever tells me about will arouse my suspicion. Same deal for most scars. I spent years lying about cuts and breaks and burns. I have concocted excuses of every kind. No matter how plausible your story I will have a moments doubt. It’s no reflection on you. I know you didn’t do it to yourself. It’s just that I also know that people lie. I lied. To everyone. Repeatedly. Habitually. For a very long time. It warped my thought process. Oh and if I have an accident I spend a lot of time carefully crafting how I will explain it. My head’s first assumption is that everyone shares my doubts. I’m always scared that someone will think I’ve fallen off the recovery wagon. Logic kicks in and throws the crazy out, but there’s a delay.

Black toe nails & tattoos

I never answer the door in short sleeves. Everyone knows they can’t just drop by my house. In the past I didn’t know if myself or my home would be fit for visitors. The anxiety of unexpected guests lives on even if the pools of blood do not. My first aid tin is always extensively stocked. I still can’t go anywhere without a cover up. My days of hiding every scar are gone, but my brain needs to know I have the option.

Blood transfusion

Watching cinematic portrayals of gore annoys the hell out me. I know that slash wouldn’t produce so much blood. Blood doesn’t stay wet that long. Cutting your wrists is nowhere as easy as films would have you believe. Cold water and salt is how you remove a blood stain. Rotting blood smells a bit fishy. A troponin test will determine if you’re having an actual heart attack. Stitches in the stomach don’t really hurt, don’t bother with local. The body takes 4-6 weeks to replace the red cells when blood is lost. Drs will usually insist on an transfusion when haemoglobin drops below 7 g/dl. Learning the topology of Langer’s lines allows for cuts to be made in the correct direction to reduce scarring. Inadine patches will prevent infection. Anti bacterial gel stops scars from itching. Scalpel blades can be bought in art stores. Ice can burn. Arterial blood pulses. My brain clings to all of this and more. Information, dictums & routines that no longer serve purpose, but retain a hold. That nurse was more right than she could ever imagine. Yup, self harm leaves one hell of a mark.

Lonely hearts club band…

Miscarriage is lonely. When it happens you’re on your own. No matter how much support you have it’s still just your body failing. Your dream dying. Even if you have a loving partner who shared that dream, they’re not bleeding. Their body isn’t an empty husk. Yes, I know this isn’t necessarily true, but believe me, it’s how it feels.

That sensation continues. The loss is isolating. For all the reasons we’re starting to talk about and for others that will surprise you when you thought you were ok. It is an uncomfortable topic. No one really wants to talk about your unsuccessful pregnancies. Often most people in your life don’t even know about them. Those that do will forget the dates & details. That’s not a complaint, just fact. Your baby wasn’t real to them. It’s hard to feel anything about a life that never tangibly existed; your baby only really lived in your world. That’s not to say your people don’t care, they do. Perhaps they just don’t want to upset you. Or they genuinely don’t have the words. Time goes by. Life is lived. The only evidence of your loss is an absence. But the missing party was never there to anyone other than you. It’s a crime without a witness, but it isn’t victimless.

To a certain extent you adapt. You carry that lonelines. It’s occasionally acknowledged that once upon a time your life was almost something else. You quietly carry your grief and you carry on. Along the way you find new challenges. You discover that there are a bunch of seminal moments & experiences that you have to put away. You aren’t really allowed to tell those stories like other mothers do. You aren’t even allowed to call yourself a Mum out loud. The title doesn’t make sense to the world when you have no flesh & blood children to show.

So, you learn to smile & say nothing. Just nod and ask questions when others share the tale of how they discovered they were pregnant. You can’t join in with a silly story about peeing on a dozen sticks. You can never say how you somehow knew before it was ever possible to do any test at all. Your stories aren’t cute. That’s someone else’s lot. You won’t be thanked for ruining the mood. Likewise you mustn’t share pregnancy tales. No friendly bonding over how tired you were or sick you felt. Cravings & aversions will remain unknown because, again, you have no happy endings. The tone of your reminiscing isn’t light. You can never empathise with a pregnant friend. To do so would be to draw attention to tragic realities. There isn’t a guilty party. You aren’t being maliciously excluded. It’s just life. Your child didn’t make it. Reminding everyone of that turns warm-hearted conversations into sad, awkward exchanges. You can’t broach the subject because you don’t want to spoil other people’s nice time. They won’t include you because they don’t want to hurt you or because they forget (or never knew) that you are part of that gang. You’re missing the vital component required for membership.

That hurts. The silence is painful. Biting your tongue & standing on the perimeter takes effort. Not letting any of it show can be torture. Not fatal though. You’ll find yourself in these situations repeatedly. You’ll realise you can survive them. You will nod along & take your sadness home. Unpack it when you’re alone. Go over your own pregnancy chronicles in the privacy of your head. Then you’ll have to take a deep breath & face the new hush.

You have nothing to add to the next part. The trimester you didn’t reach. The birth. The nights the baby didn’t sleep. The trials & triumphs of breastfeeding. Words and steps and sobs and kisses. You’ll have nothing to share. All you have is second hand information. When you help your experience isn’t really yours. Just borrowed. Never actually a mother’s wisdom. It’s still no one’s fault. You don’t wish they wouldn’t share. Don’t want to stop being a part of the whole wonderful process.

It’s lonely.

To feel like a mother & never have anyone call you mummy.

To shake your head no when you mean yes.

I know other people understand, but I’m still on my own.

Mean Mr Mustard…

I’m calling it, autumn is here. I’m not sure when the calendar says it’s officially autumn & I don’t care either. I have worn mustard twice this past week & the copper nail polish is out. There is no doubt in my mind. Summer is over.

I’m quite pleased about it to be honest. Autumn is my favourite season. I love the colours, the chill in the air (a bit less rain would be nice) & the opportunity to buy cosy new items. Scarfs & jumpers are upon us. Yeah!

So far I have my eye on an awesome tartan coat & fluffy yellow jumper. In my mind’s eye I have slouchy jumper dresses that are yet to appear in reality, but I know I will find them. In the mean time I’ve been layering up & scoping out all my favourite websites. I’m ready to pounce on dreamy autumnal items.

ly h Kerr
Leopard & Mustard for the win.
ly h Kerr
Same idea, slightly different items.

Oh & here’s those nails I was talking about.

ly h Kerr, nail art
First coppery design of the season.

You say you want a revolution…

If you are even fractionally sentient you will be aware the Donald Trump visited the UK last week. He did so with all his usual grace & charm. Yup, that’s right, none. Instead he gave us his standard fare; lies, ill manners & fuckwittery.

I’m delighted to confirm that we weren’t standing for it. A reported 250,000 people took the streets of London to protest Trump’s arrival on our shores. In Glasgow the crowd was smaller, but no less passionate.

I’ll happily take every opportunity to denounce the U.S. President & his vile administration. For me it boils down to one really simple fact; if you don’t loudly condemn their actions, you’re condoning them.

I don’t consider it hyperbole to describe the current GOP as fascists. Trump’s government displays every single facist warning sign. Rampant racism leading to dehumanisation comes straight from the nazi playbook. Language such a infestation combined with policies like family separation & Muslim travel bans are undeniably examples of this. Extreme sexism is unavoidable when the commander in chief is a sexual predator. When you combine his misogyny with the increased power of the religious right you create a dangerous situation. Reproductive rights, access to health care & basic human rights for LGBTQ+ people are at serious risk. Assaults on the free press. An inability to conduct himself in reasonable & decent manner add to his horrors. When mocking disabled people is fair game, but denouncing white supremacy is not, you have a society in serious trouble.

It isn’t possible to recount all of Trump’s bad conduct in one blog post. He represents all that I find repulsive. His Presidency puts vulnerable people within & without America at severe risk. I think all decent people have a duty to resist. I’m proud of my city for making our revulsion clear.

I spent the first half of the protest sharing a bench with some elderly Americans who thanked me for our support. They also asked me to explain some of the signs, which proved a little awkward. ‘Fud’ is not a word that lends itself to polite translation. It was, however uplifting to share a laugh and all that we had in common.

Protest is important & powerful. Please join in whatever capacity you can. Be that matches, rallies, direct action or even donations. Be safe, but be strong.

You can put your money to good by donating to these organisations.

RAICES provide free & low cost legal services to immigrants & refugees in Texas.

The ACLU fight through the courts to defend the civil liberties of all Americans.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence does exactly what it says on the tin. The campaign for & work on legislation that will introduce gun restriction laws which will reduce gun violence.

Planned Parenthood provide sexual health services, screening, abortions & much more. They are essential for many Americans who cannot otherwise access affordable healthcare.

A day in the life…

This morning I was rudely awakened at about 3am. The ill mannered culprit was pain. This time it was intense & centred in my stomach. So, i got up, took my stomach meds, some painkillers & hoped for relief.

Relief was not to come. I lay in the dark for half an hour waiting for the medication to work it’s magic. My body was having none of it, a wave of nausea washed over me & I knew I was going to be sick. I ‘rushed’ to the bathroom where I proceeded to vomit repeatedly. Each violent wretch sent pain shooting down my back. An hour later I’m sweating, dizzy, sore & unable to get off the bathroom floor.

All the throwing up had triggered some hefty heartburn & reflux, but meds weren’t  an option for fear of kicking off more vomiting. I slowly picked myself off the floor & retreated to the living room. Once situated on the sofa, I turned out the lights & put Joni Mitchell on low.  Over the next several hours,

I tried breathing exercises,

put on my tens, 

paced, 

drank mint tea,

curled into ball,

took more medication, 

vommed more medication 

watched the sun come up

& resigned myself to having a rough day. 

That’s exactly what happened. Today was a riot of pain. My stomach continued to be a nightmare. My back ache progressed into agony. I was intermittently sick throughout the day. Thus I had to cancel appointments. Most of the writing scheduled for today wasn’t even attempted. More housework piled up as I struggled to control my pain & rising panic. An acute flare like is this stressful because I never have any idea how long it might last. I could be in better shape tomorrow or I could be in hospital. I live alone & I work freelance; if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. I worry. A lot. I grow concerned about 

staying solvent, 

my professional reputation,

keeping my home presentable,

keeping myself presentable,

how I will keep important appointments,

letting my loved ones down, 

losing control of my mental health, 

Basically, I worry about everything, from the state of my kitchen floor to the state of my relationship. Of course all this stress is detrimental to my health. Especially with regards my to stomach problems, stress is the enemy. Likewise, stress is an anathema to sleep. Lack of sleep makes illness more difficult to cope with, but of course pain & illness also make it harder to sleep. If I can’t manage my anxiety it will spiral into panic attacks & depression. Any decline in my mental health reduces my productivity, my ability to leave the house & my chances at engaging with the world positively. Around & around I go. Symptoms exacerbate symptoms all adding up to an almost permanantly exhausted, scared, sick & sore me. 

And this is my life. This level of illness is not rare. My good days are not pain free. I don’t know when the bad times will hit. I wake up every morning with no idea if I’ll be able to get out of bed. Chronic illness is fucking nightmare. It forces you let people down, to miss huge chunks of your own life & to live that life always walking on broken glass.