Friday, 24 June 2016

Divided.

I didn't stay up all night watching the votes roll in, I went to bed after a day of hope and democracy, quietly optimistic that rational thought and common decency would win out in the end. Because it always does, doesn't it?

Today, though, has felt a bit like a dream. Wrapped in a blanket on my sofa this morning, watching David Cameron resign outside number 10 live on BBC 1, I stared into - what currently feels like - a pretty bleak future on our lonely little island.

We're a country divided. England and Wales want out, Scotland and Northern Ireland want in. The pensioners want out, the graduates want in. Boris wants out, Cameron wants in. It's a chasm that is going to take a fuck-load to fill in, and we have a right to be heartbroken.

As a 20-something, I can't help but resent my future being chosen for me by a generation that will not be around to feel the full effect. A future I did not want or ask for. But I also feel frustrated with my peers. It has been predicted that turnout among young people was low.

My Facebook timeline is littered with status' from people I went to school with or have met once, telling the gutted remain campaigners to cheer up, have a drink and move on, because nothing's really going to change?!?!! *beer emoji*. It's this apathy and lack of political engagement that could very well have lost us the referendum result we wanted. Politics is personal, and assuming that you're not going to be affected - or that that's the only thing that matters (!) - is ignorant and depressing.

We're struggling to get jobs, drowning in debt, and we're still too passive to brave a bit of rain to go and exercise our democratic right. There's been endless speculation and opinion in the media, from the Left and the Right, but have we taken the time to read about it? Find out exactly what we're voting for? I doubt it.

Already the Leave camp has come out and said they were slightly bending the truth on a few things. Things they based their entire campaign on. Things the British people voted for. 350 million for the NHS? LOL JK. They told us immigration was evil and that in a few short years we'd be a muslim country. Our majority reaction was to run for the hills and tell the world we don't like its "otherness".

Aside from anything else, this decision should not have been left to the voting public. It is far too complex and nuanced. We have elected leaders for this very reason, but that could be a whole other post.

I don't know what the future holds - I realise that, social media shamers - but I think it's safe to say, with the pound plummeting to a 31-year-low*, its not looking great. I'm pissed off, and I think I have a right to be.


*The Guardian, 24.6.16

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

What if your mental illness is not part of your USP?

~~oggy morning coffee:

Mental illness has become more glamorous. What with the Tumblr age in full swing and society opening up, we’re suddenly witnessing strong, ambitious individuals standing up and saying “I’m mentally ill and I’m still fucking fabulous”.

This is wonderful, strides ahead of where we have been and only through talking about it do we have any hope of helping those inflicted with these hideous invisible illnesses. But - and this is a big but – what if your mental illness is not your USP? What if you don’t write books about it, or campaign about it? What if you don’t have a witty and irreverent Twitter presence through which you inspire other ill people with your sassy but candid anecdotes? What if your mental illness is only a burden – because you’re a teacher or a nurse or a publicist who needs to plaster a winning grin on your face eight hours a day?

Well your mental illness becomes a lot less palatable, then. And a whole lot harder to accept. Rather than a voice to boost others, you're a weight to carry. You’ve got shit to do. And your brain is a big, fat nuisance.

I sometimes feel like I have a Jekyl and Hyde thing going on. By day I manage the PR for a list of brilliant books – I go for meetings with journalists and authors and I’m outgoing and confident – and by night I curl up on my sofa with a cup of tea and write about what’s going on in my head or read about what’s going on in other people’s heads. Mostly, I’m able to put on a front when I’m with other people, and sometimes I even feel how I outwardly appear. But sometimes I can’t force that smile or witty retort. Sometimes I wake up and I can’t cope with the journey to work – I physically cannot make myself open the front door, my body feels so heavy – or the constant worrying about the next thing to worry about. It gets so exhausting I find I can’t even cry about it.  I just stare into the middle distance.

I read a lot of mental health memoirs – Mad Girl, Reasons to Stay Alive, So Sad Today, and Furiously Happy to name but an excellent few – and I love them. They make me feel empowered because their authors are empowered. They’re saying fuck you to the stigma around anxiety and depression and inviting others to accept their weaknesses and their strengths alike. That’s amazing, but I sometimes wonder where I fit into that. If I can’t make a living from talking about mental illness but I still have to live with it in some kind of functional way, how do I embrace it in the way these writers do? It’s all well and good having society say “wow, yeah that’s really cool, we should all totally be more accepting of mental illness because people with mental illnesses are totally just as valuable”, while also being like “but you still need to be able to get to work every day to teach a classroom full of students, and if you can’t we should probably part ways – no hard feelings?”

This isn’t exclusive to mental health. This happens with physical illness too, particularly invisible illnesses like ME and Chronic Fatigue. But my personal story relates to that of the crazy brain, so I’m only really in a position to comment on that.

Work, as a rule, needs to be more flexible I think. You know when you were a kid and you heard a rumour that a friend’s mum or dad had to leave work because of “burn-out” or a “breakdown”; well that’s just a clichéd way of saying that their environment or biological disposition led to them developing a mental illness and their employer was not willing or did not have the means to deal with it.

I’m lucky that my employer is flexible and that the job I do I can pretty much do from anywhere. Lots of people aren’t that lucky though, and they end up having to give up a big part of their identity.

That’s not good enough.

In my working life I want to see flexible working, when and wherever you want – so long as you do a bloody good job, obviously – made the norm. We’re not all authors who get £20,000 advances for their latest bestselling memoir – PLUS ROYALTIES. We need to adjust the way we think about work across the board – encouraging trust and self-motivation amongst employers and employees respectively. I truly believe that this, not at all unimaginable idea, could have a huge part to play in fixing the monstrous problem that is our broken brains.

And to those people that coined the term Digital Nomad: it does sound kind of wanky but I think you might be onto something. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

MAY - BOOKS I'VE RECEIVED AND PLAN TO READ

I keep meaning to write more about books. It makes sense. I read a lot, I work with them, I spend a lot of money on them, and sometimes my lovely fellow publicists send me them.

Because I'm surrounded by books and follow a probably unnecessary amount of publishing folk on Twitter, I tend to be reasonably clued up on the HOT NEW RELEASES. Think of me as your Buzzfeed TOP 10 PLACES TO GET AVOCADO ON TOAST IN LONDON article but for books. 

These ones are sitting on my desk looking pretty and guilt-tripping me about the 6 BILLION page novel I'm currently reading (which, by the way, is called Life after Life and is fabulous). There's a mixture of non-fiction and fiction in there, and I can't wait to get my greedy little face into every single one of them. I think they have a slightly summery vibe, and as I'm off to Devon in two weeks for a few days of reading on the beach (or next to a cosy log fire, weather depending), I'm going to try to save them till then. 

Tell me what you're planning to read this summer and then maybe let's swap.


The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood is published by Pan Macmillan

Animal by Sara Pascoe is published by Faber & Faber

So Sad Today by Melissa Broder is published by Scribe

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus is published by Serpents Tail

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (author of the AMAZING The Vacationers) is published by Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Saturday, 7 May 2016

I need to talk about #MadGirl

It's 22.48 on Saturday evening and the time I'd normally be retiring to bed. Instead of washing the day off, popping my sleeping pill and watching Gilmore Girls till my mind stops racing and I drift off, I'm tapping away at my laptop trying to get all these FEELINGS into a few vaguely coherent sentences.

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced proof copy of Mad Girl a couple of weeks ago, and I finished it tonight. The author, Bryony Gordon, has been one of my favourite journalists for many years, way before I found out that she too suffered from the delightfully unique method of torture that is OCD. She is funny and smart and when she first wrote about suffering from mental illness in her Telegraph column I wanted to punch the air. Because if this sassy lady that I so admire has it, perhaps I'm in pretty good company.

Mad Girl, which comes out in June, has - perhaps unsurprisingly - affected me like no book ever has. Bryony slits herself open and bleeds onto the page. She writes with her trademark warmth and wit, but with a dark honesty that will not fail to move you. She first saw signs of OCD when she was 12, but it wasn't until she was in her early thirties, having just had a baby and witnessing the OCD take over in a way it never had before, that she managed to get proper help.

OCD is often described as the "sane person's mental illness", and I think that's what makes it so dangerous. From my experience, the hardest obstacle to scramble over is the idea that we're the ones doing things right - the sensible way. When I obsessively scrub my hands until they *feel* clean I reason that I'm reducing my chances of catching a bug. When I buy three bottles of antibacterial gel in one week I picture all the germs and poo-particles (sorry) on the tube and reason that everyone else will be ingesting said germs (pretty gross, right?). Even right now, writing this, I can't get my head around the idea that I'm doing something wrong. Of course when I run out of hand-gel and have to touch a surface on the bus, the panic that ensues and ruins my entire day might be something to think about, but you see what I mean - it's hard to recognise the crazy when the OCD is screaming at me that everyone else is lying and tricking me into getting a disease.

I sobbed through the last 20 pages of the book. When Bryony's daughter is 20 months old she has her worse bout of OCD yet and in the midst of her breakdown she is in no fit state to seek help herself. Her mother and husband get a private doctor's appointment and from there she is given a course of CBT with the help of health-insurance through her work. I recognise every step of her pain. The haze through which you watch life happen around you. The torture of allowing a therapist to help not just for your sake but for those you love who are hurting too.

I'm terrified for the people who don't have the support of friends or family and can't afford private health care themselves.

When I first got ill I was 16 and living at home, and my family got me through the most terrifyingly awful time in my life so far. Now I'm 23 and going through it again, albeit to a lesser degree thanks to the lasting effects of CBT, and my mum regularly travels to London to attend doctors appointments with me because I can't explain to them coherently how hard it is. The OCD tells me I'm being  ridiculous and making her travel all this way for me is selfish, but she does it anyway because I suppose she can't hear those voices in my head. When I went to the GP last week and was made to feel like a small child who had needlessly wasted two minutes of their otherwise very important day, my boyfriend hugged me and told me they were horrible and my grandpa offered to pay for a private appointment for me.

Many, many people who are in a depths of mental illness do not have the luxury of support and I was partly - a lot - crying for them tonight. Something needs to change, and I think Bryony writing Mad Girl and starting #mentalhealthmates is a good step forward.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Browned butter banana bread.


I buy bananas almost entirely with the intention of letting them go brown and making a loaf of warm, sweet banana bread out of them. It's best about an hour after it comes out of the oven; when it's at its optimum level of moistness inside and satisfyingly crisp on top. An accompanying cup of tea is non-negotiable. 

As I've said about a billion times before, I get pretty anxious. When it all gets a bit much and I've spent too much time on my own at home thinking about the never ending pit of misery that is my life (hyperbole), I like to bake something comforting. It gives those few hours a bit of purpose, my brain some distraction, and my tummy some DELICIOUS BAKED GOODS. 

Banana bread is a staple. It's very easy - I never mess around with silly things like sieving - and it makes your home smell like angels have flown in and brought a french bakery with them. That doesn't make a huge amount of logistical sense but let's go with it.



I made this banana bread with browned butter (butter that's been left in the pan for longer than your mother told you to) and soft brown sugar, for optimum sticky comforting pleasure.

I'll pop the recipe below so that if you too are suffering from a bout of the blues - or simply enjoy a cake or seven - you too can make your day that bit better with some old, manky bananas.



Browned butter banana bread:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup browned butter
1 cup soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 bananas
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Method:

Brown the butter by heating it in a saucepan until it goes a medium brown colour (simples)
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and MIX
Cook for 1 hour at 175 C

Monday, 21 March 2016

How to cope with London when you’re RIDDLED WITH ANXIETY

 :

Crippling anxiety and big, busy, dirty cities can make for some particularly sweaty panic attacks. A disastrous combination. When I feel as I do now, I want to run for the hills. Preferably the beautiful snow-capped mountains of Switzerland where they are rich in quiet and tranquillity. But alas.

When someone is already prone to 3am-panic attacks, one does not take kindly to being woken in the night by a deafening siren or a women, quite possibly, being physically abused outside their window. It's just not a life I want to live.

The tube is so packed I’ve managed to have worryingly regular intimate but short-term relationships with some strangers, and the streets are dirty and full of lost but enthusiastic tourists. You have to queue for 45 minutes to get into most restaurants, and then, when you finally manage to enter the hot, industrial-style eatery, you sit shoulder to shoulder with the person beside you, trying desperately not to flick bits of ramen onto them. Which is hard when you’re as expressive a person as I am.

I live and work in London so there’s not much chance of escape for me, bar the odd trip up the Metropolitan line to rural old Hertfordshire, or as I like to call it: home-home. So I’ve had to come up with some coping mechanisms, and I thought I’d share them here, in case they are any help or comfort to others with anxiety, or just others with an aversion to the sweaty armpits of strangers.

Claire's top tips for living with anxiety in smelly old London:

Cycling – boy do I feel good about myself when I’m cruising down the canal with the wind in my hair, gleefully picturing what parallel me is up to on the Bakerloo Line.

Saying no to going out – I’m really good at this. My sofa, a takeaway, and some kind of cheesy action film/romance novel gives me that little bit of solitude I so crave in London.

Embracing the urban greenery – we’ve got a couple of lovely parks nearby our flat and I love to take a stroll through them on a Saturday afternoon, to maybe say hello to a local dog or two.

Go out with friends at OFF-PEAK times – Thursday evening meals out FTW.

Find little coffee shops not many people seem to know about – Flat Planet in Oxford Circus for instance – it’s a little haven of quiet in the busiest, most panic-inducing area of London (and they do great hot chocolate).

Podcasts – when I do have to get the tube I often listen to a particularly gripping podcast to take my mind off the fact that I’m underground. It sometimes works, it sometimes does not. Being underground is scary, yo.

Headspace app – I KNOW EVERYONE LOVES THIS BUT I LIKE IT TOO, OKAY?


Hygge – that Danish word I love so dearly, which sort of translates as “cosiness and the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming”. I try to make my flat as hygge has possible with candles, blankets and hot drinks a-plenty.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Not doing it anyway.


I woke up at 3am this morning and found I'd forgotten how to breathe.

That sounds ridiculous I know, and I'm still here, so obviously somehow I worked it out.

But it keeps happening. Sheer panic in the middle of the night, when everything is dark and you're convinced that you're going to need to be rushed to hospital but also incredibly embarrassed by the idea of people having to go to such trouble on your account when they should really be cosy in their beds.

I struggle with that internal monologue - wanting to be heard and understood, and simultaneously wanting to be swallowed whole by my duvet. Never a burden to anyone. Never a burden to anyone.

When I was a kid my mum would always tell me that things would feel better in the morning. And they did, normally. Last night I sat up awake, waiting for the sun to come up so that my fear would fade. As I watched the light swell and start to stream through the blinds I could feel my eyes getting heavy, my body and my mind were ready to rest and prepare for the next attack.

I'm trying to find a way to manage, as so many of us are, with this companion I did not invite into my life. Quietly, often silently, going about our days, sometimes hiding, sometimes sucking it up and acting "normal" for an hour or two, a day or two, and then retreating to heal. I'm reading a book at the moment called Furiously Happy. The author, Jenny Lawson, has near enough every mental ailment under the sun, and sometimes at dinner parties she hides under the table because she can feel a panic attack coming on and that's just what her particular brand of misery needs her to do. She tells her friends about her problems, just like they'd tell her if they had a cold or had been diagnosed with cancer. She talks and she understands what she needs to do to be able to cope with life. What to do and what not to do.

I think it's important to acknowledge that mental illness is, in its essence, pretty selfish, but also not to become consumed by that. We're not our mental health, our mental health is just a very real part of us.

I was walking home from the cinema with my boyfriend the other night and a panic attack came on. He was talking to me about the film - debriefing - as we always do after a trip to the movies. But I couldn't listen. I found the sound of someone being normal and upbeat infuriating. I acted like a bitch. Anxiety can do that.

There's plenty that I want to do and I'm not in the market for a month-long stint in my bed. However, just like when you're recovering from any  illness, you have to know your limits and find your own personal coping mechanisms. They may not always be understood by those around you, but they are wholly necessary to survive.

Anxiety and depression are serious, life-threatening illnesses and they need to be taken seriously. We need to talk more, and we - the people who experience this special kind of torture - need to find a way to be okay with our limits. Sometimes I need to wrap myself in a blanket and listen to sad music and cry, and sometimes I need to watch true-crime shows on Netflix for 12 hours straight before I feel able to face life again. I'd go crazy if I didn't have a job to do or kind friends to see, but I'm also struggling, and it's important to accept that too.

#timetotalk