Thursday, 14 May 2015

Defined by my mental health.

I’ve spent the last six years trying not to be defined by my mental health. I try hard to appear strong and confident and I’ve retreated slightly from my old ways of bearing all online.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week though, so I’m going to write some words, because while deeply detrimental to a sufferer’s quality of life, poor mental health often goes undiagnosed or simply dismissed, and that’s not good enough.

When I was 16 I was diagnosed with OCD and a severe anxiety disorder, triggered by a prolonged period of illness. I left school, left any possibility of a conventional method of higher education behind, and embarked upon an eye-opening, turbulent and fucking terrifying journey to some kind of normality. Whatever normality is.

I try to steer clear of words like “battle” and “struggle” because, while it was and is those things, I am not a victim.  

There were times when my hands and arms were raw and scabbed from endless washing, I hadn’t eaten a thing all day because all food, cutlery and crockery were contaminated, I couldn’t walk 100 metres down the road without having an almighty panic attack, and I’d lost over two stone in weight and my body was no longer functioning how it should be. Naturally, I was pretty angry. I felt like the life I should have had was being swiped from under my feet, but ultimately, I knew that the only person that could save that was me. It was my responsibility and it was within my power to do so.

I’m not a victim. I have always had a wonderful life, incredible support and access to the NHS. I tried counselling, medication, homeopathic remedies, CBT and a really weird holistic therapy where I had to walk around the room with my eyes closed and shout random words. Some worked better than others, and along with the support of my family and friends, an ambitious sensibility and sheer determination, I’m doing okay now.

It turned out that A Levels and university weren’t the be all and end all and when I left school at 16 I wasn’t throwing my life away like I was led to believe.

It’s fine to feel sad and to wallow for a while, but at some point you have to decide that the state of your mental health is not going to define who you are.

I think that can start with being unashamedly open. Telling your story and listening to others’. Not being afraid to be who you are at your most ugly and weak self.

I’m not ashamed of the problems I’ve faced, whether people understand them or not, and I am not a victim. This Mental Health Awareness Week I want more people to open up, enlist the help that is available to them (the CBT I received under the NHS was far better than my experience of private therapy), and understand that it’s okay not to be the finished product. Don’t judge people for what they’re going through and don’t judge yourself similarly.

I will continue to work through my issues, knowing that while I’m weak in some ways and wash my hands far too much, I’m also strong and determined and really fucking great. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Doing London.

London is the only place I've ever wanted to live. 

It is overwhelming and thrilling I'm not sure I'll ever fall out of love with it.

People call it smelly, rude, dirty and crowded, and it is all those things... but it's also dynamic, exciting, beautiful and alive. And let's be honest, there is no better place to eat sourdough pizza. (Apart from Italy, obviously, I was being antagonising on purpose). 

Summer is (kind of) upon us, in short, sharp bursts of blue skies and frozen yoghurt in Regents Park, and I'm so grateful to be here. It's worth the extortionate renting costs, I promise.

I want to eat bread and cheese in one London's many parks or drink coffee on a bench on the bank of the Regent's Canal. I want to submerge myself in the vibrancy of Soho: watch plays in the West End and walk the cobbled streets after a bottle, or six, of wine. I want to eat on a terrace in Covent Garden and watch street performers entertain the tourists. I want to visit museums and galleries and pretend to be clever, and I want to watch my fellow Londoners go by, while I sit in the window of a cosy coffee shop, appreciating every minute I get to spend in this wonderful city.

I know that one day I might want to retreat to the quiet of say, Hampstead or Richmond (winning the lottery permitting), but I'll just have to make damn sure I'm still within tube distance of a bar that serves cocktails in mason jars. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Exercise your right to vote.

Happy election day. A day to exercise our right to vote and celebrate democracy. 

I've been shocked by the number of people saying they're not going to vote because they "don't like" any of the main parties (read: they don't know anything about any of the policies but they've noticed people don't like David Cameron's face or the way Ed Milliband eats).

These are more often than not young people who believe themselves "above" politics, deem all politicians "idiots" and think Russell Brand was onto a winner. Even Russell brand has come out and said that everyone should vote, so stop preening your man-buns, adjusting your false eyelashes and do it.

Politics should be compulsory in schools - forcing young people to form opinions and gain knowledge before they're allowed to vote, so that when the time does come, they are well-equipped to make an informed decision. Passive, ignorant non-voters and voters who haven't read up = a government no one wants.

So I implore you, spend half an hour reading the main party policies, decide what kind of Britain you want, what your personal ideologies are and which party will best reflect that (whilst remembering that not one of them will be perfect), and go and vote. 

Especially you, women, 100 years ago we wouldn't have been able to.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Well done everyone. Especially you, Paula.

Great weekend chaps.

Well done, London, for putting on a fabulous marathon day. Everyone came out in their droves, shaking flags and shouting "run Jon, RUN!", and the streets were laden with sweaty colourful people doing more exercise than I'll do all year.

We literally hung out of Tim's window screaming about how proud we were of everyone and trying to get on television.


He couldn't.

At one point we went to Waitrose for snacks before quickly retreating back to bed. I felt a bit bad cheering people on at the sidelines with a baguette in hand, but I did offer it around.

I love anything celebratory. When the whole city comes together to cheer and rub shoulders and be quietly very pleased about being British. The cheer Paula Radcliffe got was deafening and lovely but I couldn't help feeling sorry for the runners beside her, with cameras shoved in their anguished faces the entire 26 miles. Well done to all those who took part - you exhausted and impressed me in equal measure.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Some friendly cows.

Sometimes I get too bogged down in what upsets me. I can't see through my own indignation and hurt. I get mean and say things I regret and then I get scared. Finally, I realise all of that, which could last from anywhere between 5 minutes and 6 hours, doesn't matter as much as I thought it did. The fear of losing something precious can cloud our vision, but it can also make us see how important life and the people we love are.

It's a never-ending battle of wills for me. Between myself and myself. We're terribly stubborn. But if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, when you've forgotten what you're angry about but you still feel like nothing will ever be okay again, go for a walk, kiss your loved one on the forehead and say hello to some friendly cows. It's good for the soul.

Monday, 20 April 2015

That's some big thinking for a Monday morning

I guess there's no better time to start living purposefully and fearlessly. Let's start now.

Everyone has a different way of doing things... doing life. For me, it's about making the most of ourselves, our opportunities, trying new things without fear and knowing that we're going to fuck it up because we're human and sometimes that's actually a good thing.

I've spent a lot of time being scared. For me it was a very specific fear of germs and illness and what terrible things might happen if I were to go anywhere that wasn't my very-clean-bed. For some people it's a fear of the unknown, of change, or of failure. Whatever it is, it holds us back. It stops us being the fabulous, feisty women (and men) that we are and shrinks us down to a mere speck of our potential.

I don't think we have the ability to do anything. We all need to work within the parameters of our own skills and you have to try really bloody hard to be successful in whatever you choose to do. But once you do know what you want to do and you've decided you're willing to put the effort in, be unashamedly ballsy.

It was about 10 years ago that I decided to become a journalist. I did become a journalist - it was fun and high-pressure and then it wasn't any more. Then, because I needed an out, I became a publicist and it turned out I loved it more and it loved me more. Sometimes it's hard and stressful, but I try hard and I have a plan and that makes me feel good. I'm not the finished product by any stretch, but I'm pretty good at rinsing every opportunity that comes my way. And I'm going to carry on doing that until I've got my terrace house in Notting Hill (or at least out of my overdraft).

Of course it's not always about success, or specifically professional success. Living purposefully is about appreciation and not being afraid to experience life in its purest form. I guess what I mean by that (because I hate that kind of ambiguity) is that I will try to live as my truest, sassiest, most vulnerable self and embrace the soaring highs and miserable lows that come with that.

That means making mistakes because I'm not perfect, learning and growing from and through them, and not being afraid to say "I'm good at this".

ps. I chose that picture because I got my legs out on Tuesday at London Book Fair because I wanted to feel sassy and in-control and it worked. I felt good.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


I think it’s called the sun, that bright orange ball in the sky that’s making everyone so warm and happy, but because January, February and March lasted for so many long grey years no one can be quite sure.

Not only am I happy because London looks beautiful and joyful, but I’ve recently discovered something of a new lease of life. It was hiding for a while. The last few months were difficult. I came off my anxiety medication, my dad got really ill, my brain freaked out, and I had a scary few moments of feeling like everything was plummeting back to the likes of 2010, when things were really shit.

Now though, I’m medicated again, my dad is out of hospital, and I just want to do some proper living. In all its wonderful, complicated glory.

I have mixed feelings about medication, which I might write about in more detail at a later date. But for now, those little cylindrical pills are my armbands, and I’m going to ignore the heartburn they give me and enjoy barbeques and picnics and wine in pretty pub gardens.

I felt more relaxed and content last weekend than I have in a long time. I went for drinks in St Katherine’s Docks, visited the wonderful underground Everyman Cinema in Baker Street, had a really weird but half price lunch out, and lazed around on Hampstead Heath all afternoon with gin and tonics and an antipasti platter from M&S. More of that, please.