Forgive me but I have to go now

A dismal knowledge has settled on my chest

A dismal knowledge has settled on my chest;
My heart will have to break,
In order for me to be able to breathe,
I will have to force myself through pain –
A period of ripping myself from the cocoon –
And shrugging off the shell I have been living in.

To grow into my dream of authenticity,
People will have to fall by the wayside,
Things I hold dear will be prised from my fingers,
Safety and security will be thrown to the wolves
Whilst I make my break for the goal on the horizon;
The promise I have waited for all my life.

I Grew-Up, Opened My Eyes and Did Not Recognise Myself

To be honest or to be vague?
For the record;
I have always felt this way.

Life’s blows did mould me into a statue –
A grey imitation of the veins within,
Yet standing and posing clotted my blood,
And cracks started to begin.

Time does not hand-out sticky plasters,
It only offers an opportunity;
To remould the plinth you stand in
And write yourself a new beginning.

 

CONTACT ME:

Twitter: @IssieLouH

Instagram: @awalkwithnature00

5 Things You Need To Know Before Moving Into Uni Halls

There are some universal features of University halls which, for some reason, nobody ever tells you or prepares you for before you move-in. Taking the leap into University managed accommodation is a culture shock for everyone and the surprising initiation ritual of finding out all of the weird quirks about halls only adds to the weird novelty of the situation. So, without further ado, here are five things you need to know before moving into uni halls in order to prepare you for the sublimely ridiculous experience of actually inhabiting these weird micro-cultures of society:

1. Dorm-room showers are the tiniest spaces you could ever possibly squeeze into

Fair enough, space is at a premium in University rooms but whoever designs the dorms has mastered the art of creating the smallest space possible for the showers. They are the most geometrically efficient they can possibly be whilst also giving the minimum manoeuvring room so you can just about shuffle around and slip your way out again. The amount of times I have hit my elbow on the handle of the shower door because of the minuscule room in my shower cubicle is ridiculous.

2. University bedroom carpets will never ever be made to look clean

They must use some strange type of material for the flooring of uni bedrooms because no matter how ferociously you attempt to hoover your floor, there will always be dirt and debris ingrained in the very fibre of the carpet. It’s almost like the flooring has the unique ability to just hold onto any amount of dirt it comes across for the sole purpose of frustrating the Henry the Hoover (which is standard issue in every University flat) and making you look bad in front of your parents when they accuse you of never vacuuming because they do not believe the effort you went to in vein for their arrival.

3. University kitchen floors are forever destined to feel a little bit sticky

Again, this is a mystery to me. The first day when I moved into my Uni flat and the cleaners had just finished wiping and mopping the whole place, the kitchen floor already felt slightly sticky. To be fair, I didn’t go into my kitchen very frequently because the sight of the state my flatmates left it in sent my anxiety through the roof. However, when I did use the kitchen, it was noticeable that none of us would go in there without shoes on to try and keep the sticky floor at the largest distance from our feet as possible.

4. The block fire alarm will go off at a crazy hour

It is inevitable that someone in your block of flats will return home drunk from a night out and try to cook themselves sausages or some other random meal with all the ineptitude of a toddler maxed-out on smarties. They will, no doubt, rev their oven up to some ridiculous temperature in their bleary-eyed state and forego the simple act of opening a kitchen window. Therefore, the fire alarm will pierce through your sleeping state at 3am in the morning at least a few times during the year (usually when you have a 9am lecture in the morning) and you will have the pleasure of standing outside in the cold feeling extremely awkward in your pyjamas and seeing other strangers from your block of flats in all their bunny-slippers and bed-headed glory!

5. Internet at Universities is notoriously bad for some inexplicable reason

Considering that Universities are supposed to be hubs of education and learning, their wifi networks are atrocious and will continually frustrate you throughout your time there. I have visited multiple University campuses (for reasons less to do with my own interest and more to do with trailing after my brothers on endless open days and picking them up at the end of semesters) and every campus has the same tedious wifi problem where the buffering circle of death attempts to load and re-load whilst you waste your life staring at the screen, hoping against hope that you might connect to the internet within the next hour.

 

If you have any questions about uni life (which are probably a bit more serious than what I have outlined above!) feel free to talk to me on twitter and I will try to offer whatever wisdom I can as a current Uni student myself. My twitter: IssieLouH

 

Six of the Most Harmful Mental Health Narratives

TRIGGER WARNING: IN THIS POST I DO DISCUSS TOPICS SUCH AS SUICIDAL IDEATION AND DEPRESSIVE THOUGHTS

Recently, I have seen a lot of dangerous ideas regarding mental health being circulated on social media. I have seen posts which have blamed sufferers for having mental health issues and statuses which have suggested that people with depression are ‘choosing’ not to be happy. People have been insulting anxiety sufferers for being ‘self-centred’ amongst other things. Essentially disrespectful people who lack any understanding of mental health have chosen to spread their harmful narratives of what they believe mental illness to be. I am here to call BS on their idiocy and share why I believe these narratives to be completely false and hopefully spread some education about mental health.

1. ‘Choose happiness’

I appreciate the significance of shifting your perspective and adopting a mental outlook which emphasises gratitude and acknowledgement of positive things in life. However, the phrase ‘choose happiness’ seems to me to be a kick in the teeth for anyone suffering with a mental illness. This phrases is slung around without a care by people who preach that they want to help people achieve better mental health when really all they are doing is invalidating the experience of people who are struggling. If it was so easy as ‘choosing’ happiness then nobody would be depressed! If there was a switch which could be flicked which would allow people to not feel sadness or experience dark thoughts, then people who are suffering with depression or any other mental illness would flick that switch immediately. It as if the people who tell others to ‘choose happiness’ think that people who are suffering are simply wallowing and that recovery from mental illness is as easy making the decision to not be ill anymore. Either way, I have always found the ‘choose happiness’ slogan to be both condescending and insulting whether the people who use the phrase intend it to be or not.

2. Exercise is the ‘cure’

Again, I understand the sentiment and the intention behind this claim when people say it but I maintain that people who think that if someone does exercise then they will never suffer from mental health issues have a fundamental misunderstanding about what mental illnesses are. Exercise can be used as one part of a larger recovery programme or adopted as one element of a healthier lifestyle which can help people with mental health issues but that does not mean that going for a jog everyday will suddenly cure someone. I cannot deny the existence of endorphins but mental illnesses are deeply ingrained in sufferers’ psyches. So, harmful thought patterns, intrusive thoughts and other symptoms of mental illness will not disappear after a zumba class. Also, just because exercise worked wonders for one person, that does not necessarily mean that it will have the same positive effect for someone else; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. 

3. Choosing medication is a weakness

Every time I see someone pushing this narrative, it makes me so disheartened. I take medication for my mental health issues and let me tell you that the medication people are given are not magical ‘happy pills’. I do not take my medication then suddenly feel on top of the world or cured. Medication is not simply for people who do not try enough on their own to get better. Trust me, I tried every option available to me before I chose to go on medication and the stigma surrounding antidepressants (amongst other drugs) is part of the reason I suffered for so long before accepting medication. Accepting that you need medication in order to help put yourself on a more even keel before then working hard to improve your mental health is actually a strong thing to do. For me, medication serves to give me a basis from which I can work from, it allows me to function at a certain level which then facilitates any other therapy I chose to pursue as well. Medication is not the ‘easy way out’ or a sign of failure.

4. Mental health is an excuse for being lazy

Increasingly, I am seeing people accuse mental health sufferers of simply being lazy and using a medical label to disguise the fact that they cannot be bothered to do certain things. For example, when someone struggling from depression confides that they struggle to get out of bed in the morning or gather the energy to do domestic tasks, people respond saying that this behaviour stems from laziness and that no-one wants to get out of bed in the morning. However, these accusing people miss the point that if they do not get out of bed when they are supposed to, they are doing so because they want to, whereas someone who is depressed is not getting out of bed because they cannot force themselves to however much they wish they could. An inability to do certain things is not a choice for people with mental health issues; their illness dictates to them what they are able to do whilst they desperately fight against it. Some days the illness wins and they have to cancel plans but this does not make them lazy. Try to show some understanding and compassion rather than anger and disrespect.

5. Your case is not serious enough unless you are suicidal

This narrative has stopped so many people from seeking help until their mental health has deteriorated to a drastic point. People fear that doctors will turn them away for wasting their time because the case they present them with is not ‘serious’ enough. Saying that only suicidal people are worth treating makes people doubt the validity of their own feelings and wonder whether they are over-dramaticizing their condition. This self-doubt and shame can in turn have a negative effect on a person’s mental health, leading to a toxic situation where people keep their problems to themselves which can only be detrimental.

6. Mental illness sufferers are selfish

The misconception that people suffering with mental health issues are self-centred has been circulating a lot at the moment. People have been arguing that they are entitled to ditch friends who are suffering because they find them ‘boring’ due to their illness or a ‘drag’ to be around because they are not bubbly and happy all of the time. Again, to me this screams of people who do not exercise enough compassion and who do not make an effort to understand what their friends are going through (which is what a real friend would do). People with mental health issues are not ‘bringing the mood down’ on purpose. To be honest they are showing how strong they are by making the effort to socialise anyway which can be an incredibly draining exercise for people who are struggling.

 

I would love it if we could show some solidarity as a blogging community down in the comments or continue the conversation on twitter. You can find my twitter here and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have been effected by any of these harmful narratives and want some support.

Unexpected Ways Poetry Made My Life Better

TRIGGER WARNING: I DO BRIEFLY TOUCH ON EXPERIENCING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

The word ‘prom’ conjures images of a glamorous night of celebration shared between a peer group who have shared the stress of schoolwork, teen drama and exams together. Long dresses which glide along the floor, folds of expensive material and dates’ arms slung around each other come to mind. Perhaps this is simply the rose-tinted image I have gathered from endless cliched American high school movies where the bullied girl turns-up to prom looking every inch the movie star whilst the ‘mean girls’ suffer the worst night of their lives. I wouldn’t know what a real-life prom looks like because I have never been to one. Not even my own one. Anxiety made sure that I stayed away. I could not bare the thought of going and having to endure an evening with my bullies.

Secondary school and especially the last year of GCSEs was really difficult for me. By year 11, I was depressed and plagued by suicidal thoughts. School felt like a prison where every negative thought I had was heightened to unbearable levels and my fear of failure was magnified, even encouraged, by teachers who wanted good grades on their record. I was swamped with self-doubt and tortured myself with imagined scenarios with my disappointed parents which I was convinced would occur if I did not get the results which were expected of me.

Alongside the pain of academic expectation was my growing sense of anxiety. My mum had to drop me off directly outside the door to my school and pick me up from the same location at the same time everyday because I was so anxious about being outside rather than within the safe confines of my own home. The voices of my bullies ricocheted around my head all day everyday whilst I was at school and snide looks in the locker-room was all it took for my self-confidence to take another battering.

Regular meetings with the school therapist were my only saving grace. Whilst talking out loud to her was a struggle (as I explained in my previous post ‘What Is Wrong With My Voice?’) she encouraged me to express my feelings in the form of poetry. The words began to pour out of me and became a significant source of communication between me, my counsellor and my head of house. Whilst my peers teased me for how quiet I was and how little I spoke, this very fact became my strength in regards to my creativity. Though I have never been loud or outspoken, this has never meant that I have had nothing to say. In fact, it almost felt like I saved-up all of my thoughts and insight for my poetry which allowed me to explore the depths of my mind like nothing else could.

Poetry slowly allowed me to gain some confidence. Writing poetry gave me a sense of achievement and the encouragement of my counsellor and head of house made me believe in the words I was writing. Poetry restored within me a sense of identity which had been dwindling away from me for years. I found my own unique voice which I was not frightened to use, unlike my verbal, spoken voice.

In many ways, I see poetry as both my therapy and my passion. This may seem unusual because therapy is frequently portrayed as something which is impossible to enjoy, a chore or a source of heartache. However, whilst poetry can bring many hurtful feelings to the fore of my mind, the creativity which is intertwined with the act of writing makes it not only bearable but beautiful.

What Is Wrong With My Voice?

People who spend any time with me will most likely notice that my voice is, in many ways, unusual. My voice is very soft. When I talk outside my words can get blown away by the wind and no mater how much I believe that I am elevating my volume people will continue to have to go through the futile effort of straining to hear what I am saying. Also, my voice tires after a short amount of time. Speaking a few sentences out-loud leads to my throat becoming sore and tightening-up, then my voice disintegrates and it is an effort to produce words.

Over the years this has become a problem when I have met with counsellors or therapists. The whole point of attending such therapies is to talk through your problems, which is a struggle when your voice gives out and your words become dry husks which only distantly relate to the sounds you are trying to make! More recently, I have started driving lessons which are two hours long. My instructor remarked that I am very quiet, little did she know that I would have no voice left if I attempted speaking regularly throughout a two hour period.

The question of what is wrong with my voice is actually quite a simple one to answer. Essentially, my voice is very weak. This stems from the fact that, throughout my life, I have not used my voice enough to make it strong or able to withstand substantial conversations. Even as far back as nursery, I was so painfully shy that talking to the other children was a very rare occurrence for me. Therefore, I rendered myself almost wholly silent for the hours of the day whilst I was there. When I was young, I was most relaxed when nobody was requiring me to speak. If people left me alone for an afternoon, I was very happy to remain quiet and retreat into my own imaginary worlds. Again, this meant that I would not use my voice for stretches of time.

Whilst I could form words as a child if I wanted to, for the most part I decided that I would rather not. My primary school was very small and I was rigidly polite but would often not branch-out into the same socialisation that the other kids did with ease. I had a very small circle of friends and I saved my words up for conversations with them. Beyond that, speaking out-loud seemed to just be a way of drawing attention to myself and this was something I wished to avoid at all costs.

At my second primary school, I became even quieter, speaking less and less until it became a standing joke amongst my year group. I withdrew into myself and so my words were very few and far between. I did not know anyone at my new school and found it impossible to make friends. Therefore, there was no need to converse with others and I certainly did not volunteer any contributions in class. Again, my voice shrivelled inside of me, growing weaker with disuse.

At secondary school, I made a very small group of friends and I would largely hang-out with only two people at a time. We would find very quiet rooms away from the hustle and bustle of the over-crowded school hallways and chat to each other there. There was rarely ever a need for me to raise my voice within such situations. I did not have to elevate my voice to be heard because there was no other noise to compete with and again I resolutely refused to offer contributions in class.

Then, when I moved to college, I would spend my days being almost completely silent. Friends were very few and far between and I mostly spent my lunch breaks lost in my own thoughts rather than mixing with others. Back into the present day and I am still sensitive to noise and do not talk at length. At Uni, I can go days without uttering a word and whilst to others this may appear to be a sad admission, for me this is just me being my authentic self.

I prefer articulating my thoughts through writing rather than expressing myself verbally and personally I do not see why this should be viewed as sad or shameful. The world is made-up of a extremely vast range of people, it has to be because social progress requires variety. Some people are very extroverted and use their voice with great authority and they are valid in themselves. Other people, like me, chose other avenues which do not require so much verbal communication and we too are valid. There is whole host of different characters and personalities which fill the void in between these two extremes and guess what? All of those people are valid as well.

Things Anxiety Has Made Me Do

Anxiety is an often misunderstood mental illness. People think that those who suffer from anxiety are really just shy or timid. As a result, the majority of people do not appreciate the potentially debilitating effects of anxiety and how it can impact so many areas of someone’s life. To try and give an insight into the ways in which anxiety has distorted and manipulated my life experiences, I have compiled a short list of things which my anxiety has made me do:

  1. Violently vomit during an exam.
  2. Forget my own address whilst having to fill-in a form in front of a receptionist.
  3. Run out of shops before retail staff could approach me.
  4. Pretend I haven’t heard someone when really I just could not find the words to respond to their statement or question.
  5. Feign illness to get out of doing class presentations.
  6. Persuade my mum to order for me at cafes so that I do not have to speak out loud myself.
  7. Scream involuntarily when someone has spoken to me unexpectedly due to being so on-edge.
  8. Arrive 30 minutes early for everything in order to avoid the worry and stress of being late.
  9. Avoid going to events due to never having been to that specific location before and not being able to handle the ‘unknown’.
  10. Jump out of a dental x-ray because I felt trapped in the room (much to the anger of the orthodontist).
  11. Forget people’s names no matter how well I know them because of my mind being so scrambled.
  12. Wash my hands repetitively until they are red raw.
  13. Decline invitations to hang-out with my friends until I let them down so regularly that they give-up on me in the end.
  14. Lock myself inside my University room and not speak to anyone for days on end.
  15. Refuse to go to restaurants due to paranoia about the food and whether it will make me feel unwell.

 

Resources which give information about anxiety:

Anxiety and Panic Attacks – Mind, the mental health charity

Generalised anxiety disorder – NHS UK

Learning To Drive

It’s about time. I have been avoiding this process for the over two years since I turned 17 when I became legally able to start driving lessons. My anxiety kept telling me that it would inevitably be a big disaster, I would be the worst learner ever, my instructor would shout at me, that I would fail at every hurdle and that I wouldn’t have the perseverance to keep going when things got difficult.

So, for these past two years, I have let anxiety dictate my life. I have limited myself in regards to the places I can and can’t go since I have not had the ability to drive anywhere and the public transport I have access to is unreliable at best. I have felt frustrated whilst I yearned for the freedom of being able to take off and go where I want to at a moment’s notice when in reality I have to pester my mum for days if I ever wanted to get driven somewhere.

So, my anxiety has facilitated my staying safely inside my comfort zone rather than challenging myself or testing my limits.

Today though, I have just had my second ever driving lesson. I stalled a few times, slammed on the brakes like a maniac often and had the steering control of an erratic toddler but I did it. I survived. I am making progress.

Nothing and nobody can take what I did today away from me. I am expanding my horizons and I will not be ashamed that I am doing so at a slower rate than most others. It will take me a good while to gain any sort of confidence or self-belief in my driving ability but I don’t care. I will no longer be trapped by the anxious voice inside my head telling me that I am incapable or too stupid to achieve this dream of mine. I want to give myself the freedom which driving allows and I know the confidence boost I will receive when I finally gain my licence will do me the world of good and will be a big middle finger towards the vicious voices which tell tales to me all day, everyday inside my head.

Some articles which can help tackle driving anxiety:

How to Overcome a Driving Phobia: 13 Steps

‘How My Daughter with ADHD and Anxiety Learned to Drive’

Living In A Make-Believe World

Though my heart may long for the ocean
And my soul may pull towards cleansing,
The lush green grass outside my car window
Will always dance around my mind, echoing.

An imagined reality, surpassing that of romance;
I am heartily enthralled by the impossibility,
The fantastical chance for a happy ending.

My mind’s eye sees in a variation of coloured pens,
Fat, vast, greedy lines pass my sight,
Eventually fulfilling the outline of a child’s fantasy.

Insomnia – The Peace Which Never Arrives

I do not dream,
Sleep is a heavy, suffocating, blanket
Which smothers my anxious head as I wake.

Whilst fraying edges unravel my days,
I eventually settle for tantalising sleep,
However, the comfort of darkness never arrives;
The night air adopts a new weight over me,
So I am betrayed by the smug winking stars
Which fade in and out in apparitions,
Depending on flight, fancy and teasing glances.