You can’t facetune your way to someone’s heart

Shakespeare wrote sonnets about love, people sacrifice life and limb for their other halves – whereas I’m from the generation who made PicNik collages to celebrate their 2 week anniversary with their year 8 boyfriend.

I never had a boyfriend in high school, and I thought this was some sort of deeply routed defect; I genuinely thought I was the only 16 year old to have never got beyond the fancying stage. Of course, I had no idea that all the relationships around me were absolutely shambolic, lasting on average 2 months.

5 years on, and I’ve still never had a proper long term serious relationship. However, I now know that this is actually more of a blessing than a curse. Through dating, “seeing”, “talking-to” and eventually ending it with people, I have learned a lot about myself and others. (NB; I absolutely hate the “seeing” and “talking-to” stage. When does it end? Why does it exist? Can we not just go back to 1952 and court each other? “We are courting” sounds much more romantic than “yeah we’re talking to each other”. I talk to the postman, does that mean we are dating?)

I could write for hours about the absolute idiots I’ve dated, the people I wish I’d have carried on with, the ghosting, the stress, the trip to Greece (if you know, you know – literally cannot wait for the day I can articulate myself enough to tell this story properly…). However, I will consolidate everything I’ve learned into one key principle: Don’t force anything. You just know when someone is right for you. There are no games, no attention seeking, you don’t have to put on an act to “win” them over.

When you’re with someone who you’re meant to be with, you don’t have to compromise parts of your personality to be around them. You won’t feel insecure about how you look, or whether you’re good enough for them.

Thirst traps, reading & ignoring, catfishing, right swiping, DM sliding and snap streak analyzing are all petty little behaviors developed as our technology develops. I can’t count the number of people who I’ve seen post on Instagram at a specific time to get the attention of someone, time their message replies, edit their photos and play mind games to win the attention of someone – who ultimately doesn’t give a shit about this person.

I know all the above to be true because I’ve been there myself. I would compromise my personality to fit how someone else wanted me to be. I pretended to like and dislike the same things as them, behaved how I thought I should do, and devoted so much of my time and energy into people who weren’t right for me.

Think of your closest friends. The people who you can be your absolute unapologetic self around. The people who you may not have anything in common with; yet you love each other. These friendships aren’t forced, they aren’t created through strategic timing of reading and ignoring messages, or cultivating the perfect selfie to win over attention. These friendships happen because two people are suited for each other, whether one of them likes Techno music and the other likes ABBA.

And that’s how I think your relationships should be. You shouldn’t have to force someone to fit with you. You’ve got to ask yourself, how much behind the scenes work are you putting into making someone else compatible with you? I’m a firm believer that the people who are meant to be in your life and WANT to be in your life, will do so without involving tonnes of pre-planning and groundwork from yourself.

Your relationships and friendships are not created in the same way that Simon Cowell scientifically syncronizes the perfect boyband (RIP One Direction). People who are meant to be together will want to be together.

Ultimately, 90% of this comes from understanding yourself and liking yourself. Having a firm sense of who you are, and not compromising your quirks and individuality for the sake of being able to take cute couples pictures with some really fit 6″3 rugby lad. It’s easy to hide bits of yourself for a while, to pretend you’re the cool girl/boy and turn yourself into a caricature of what you think your partner wants, but neither of you will be happy in the long run.

Be yourself, all of yourself. Know yourself, and the people who want to be with you – will be with you, without you having to force it, or break your back for an Instagram mirror selfie.

This blog post was somewhat inspired by 3 days straight of reading Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton; which I encourage absolutely everyone to read. I already have 3 people lined up to read my copy…

Why does it feel like the only option?

At 5pm today, I decided to get a three shot latte. At 11:55pm today, the caffeine decided to stay in my system and now I can’t sleep. I regret the £3 coffee, and tomorrow I will regret a 6am alarm clock. But I’ve been laid in bed trying to sleep, and there something I keep thinking about. 

The topic of this blog post is a lot more sensitive than what I usually write about. If you’re particularly vulnerable to talk about suicide, depression or anxiety – maybe don’t read.

I write this from a very healthy and stable mental health space. In the last 9 months I’ve probably been in the best mental health space I’ve been, give or take a few crap days. I’ve had a lot of time to work on myself and reach such a good and accepting place in my mind.

The things I talk about in this post no longer affect my life, however the experiences are still somewhat difficult to talk about. But I’m a firm believer that revealing difficult stories like this is key to lowering the stigma and lack of education surrounding mental health. It’s hard to talk about, but it’s harder if nobody talks about it.

Whilst trying to fall asleep, I found myself thinking about something which has been on my mind a lot recently, and without sounding abrupt – I can’t stop thinking about why people chose to end their own lives.

I think it’s because of the high profile death of Mike Thalassitis, and the media/tabloid coverage of “why would someone like Mike take his own life?” A man with plenty of opportunities, a seemingly perfect life and an abundance of friends and family around him.

When I saw the first news story about his death, it hit me more than I would have expected – not just because he was a ridiculously attractive celebrity – but because I understand what it’s like to feel as though suicide is the only option.

I’m not at all claiming to understand his personal circumstances, but I understand what it feels like to think that death is the only way to fix things.

It’s not a conscious decision. It’s not something that can be swayed by counting how many friends you have, or thinking about how bright your future could be. Your mind is in bits, and like an incorrectly calculated maths question, you work out that taking your own life is the only plausible solution to your problems.

I write this, as someone who attempted to take their own life a year ago. Whilst it’s not a lighthearted topic to read, write, or even think about; it’s something real, and it’s happened to me. 

I can’t write on behalf of everyone who has made the attempt to end their lives – I can only write on behalf of myself and the stories I have heard from others.

By sharing this, I want to be able to potentially offer an insight into the decisions of someone when they’re at this incredibly low point. There are so many lost lives, who tragically can’t express their reasonings. 

They will never have a chance to explain to loved ones why and how they hit such a painful point in their lives. I think by surviving what I went through, it’s important that I can shed some light on how or why death seems like the only way out.

For me, it wasn’t a case of wanting to die. I am terrified of needles, pass out in a blood tests and cry over fictional deaths in films. For me, it was a case of wanting to put an end to everything that I was feeling.

When you’re in the depths of the worst depression and anxiety, it’s an insufferable experience. Every single negative thought is exasperated by the relentless speed of anxiety. 

My brain felt like a broken washing machine on the fastest cycle, spinning around none stop with worries, fears, stress, nerves, faster and faster and faster and faster and faster.

All I wanted to do was make it stop. 

This wasn’t just one bad day, or a bad few hours. This was months and months of listening to the same clatter and wreckage running through my mind, infiltrating every thought and every moment of my life.

I constantly tried to think of the other positive things I had in my life: good friends, good education, money, loving family, good sense of humour. 

On a sunny day, I’d make an effort to appreciate the heat and good weather. I’d turn my phone on airplane mode and go for a walk, trying to be in the moment.

I read self help books, took anti-depressants and followed all the motions of a healthy life.

I’d laugh with friends, attend classes at the gym and turn up for placement everyday.

Yet the heaviness and sound of self critical thoughts took over everything.

I couldn’t focus for a single minute without having to fight off a swarm of criticism, irrational abuse and anger from my own mind. 

The sheer weight and pressure caused by depression is indescribable. 

It’s relentless and seemingly never ending. I tried to live a normal life, whilst pushing it aside and trying to pretend it wasn’t there – which made things worse.

But each time I tried to think of one of the positive aspects of my life, the cycle of depression and anxiety in the broken washing machine spun faster and faster and louder and louder and clattered around, hitting everything and invading all my rational thinking.

All that I could hear, all that I could focus on and think about was the sound of everything I feared. I was a shit friend, a shit student, I was shit at relationships, shit at everything. Everything was bad, in-comprehensively bad. All I wanted to do was make it stop.

I couldn’t wait for the metaphorical cycle on a broken washing machine to finish, I feared it would never stop. 

It got louder and louder and louder, and the thoughts infiltrated my vision – I’d be driving my car and unsure if I was even on the correct side of the road, as my mind was rattling over the intense and irrational fears I had. 

All I wanted to do was make it stop instantly. Put an end to the constant noise in my head. I no longer had the energy or the focus to spend time meditating, reading self help books or talking to a counsellor. Everything was so loud that I couldn’t even focus on cleaning my teeth. I wanted it all to stop.

And I tried to make it stop. And I thought I’d successfully made it stop. And I thought I’d actually done it. I thought I was actually going to die. 

And right there, in a state where myself and doctors truly thought I was going to die, I realised what I’d done. I realised that none of the thoughts were true. 

I survived, and everyday I am grateful. And I want to stress that there’s nothing anyone could have done. I had support from every single direction in my life. I was too consumed in my mental illness to think rationally. 

The only way I got better was through learning and accepting myself, and taking things slowly.

I’m not saying everyone experiences the same thing as me, and this is a ridiculously sensitive and lengthy topic to consolidate into one blogpost – people have written entire books on the thoughts that lead someone to suicide. But it’s not as rare as people think. It’s a long term solution to temporary problems.

———————-

If you have, or are experiencing anything that I’ve written about in this post – just know that it does get better. And I mean better, not perfect. The thoughts don’t go away forever, there’s no such thing as a life of only positive thinking. You will learn to dismiss and live alongside the negative thoughts, and they won’t consume you. The cycle spins slower, and sometimes stops spinning all together.

The human mind is a complex and messy thing, but you’re not broken or defective. You’ve got your own unique mind, and in time it will grow to be something you can embrace and live alongside.

Anxiety, depression, and any other mental illnesses are just parasites which thrive when they’re fed. 

You’re going to be okay. I promise 

Only a Human – Don’t be Hard on Yourself

One of my favorite albums in recent years is Staying at Tamara’s by George Ezra. I know that’s not a very edgy choice, as tracks such as Shotgun and Paradise are probably played on the radio 5 times every single day.

I listened to this album a lot during very difficult times in my life. I wouldn’t say any of the lyrics are particularly profound or life-changing – however, that may be the reason I like the album so much. Pretty Shining People is a track which I listened to a lot during spring, and I identified quite a lot with the opening verse of change.

Only a Human is a song which I’m playing a lot at the minute and serves as the inspiration for this blog post. I’m no music journalist, so this isn’t a critical reception of George Ezra’s music. This post is centered around putting too much pressure on ourselves and ultimately cracking.

The last week has been quite difficult for me. In true Heather fashion, I’ve racked up quite an extensive list of things to ruminate over, get worked up about and put pressure on myself. Yet I’ve forced myself to push past it and keep going – because I “should be”.

I’m someone who deals with difficult situations quite well in the initial stages. Yet I don’t take time to process my feelings, and ultimately spend a lot of time overthinking and eventually crack under the pressure.

Although I can be quite a sensitive and emotional person, I am paradoxically quite thick skinned and I very rarely cry. However, today I had the first proper cry of 2019.

At the moment there is a lot of rhetoric focused on being self-disciplined, always “on the grind”, working hard every day and having your life figured out. Whilst I am a firm believer that self-discipline is an important part of life, it’s also not necessary in every aspect of living.

I take a lot of inspiration from others, and I’m always striving to be a better version of me – yet this can come with its downsides. I have put pressure on myself to excel in almost every aspect of my life; whether that’s in terms of university, mental health, social life, money management, eating, fitness etc.

Rather than having a relaxed and consistent approach towards these different areas, I have a “110% effort” mentality, which can be draining and exhausting; leading me to burn out and feel like a failure for having to throw the towel in. I’m not a machine, and I just need to relax with some things and let myself be human.

Ironically, I know that functioning at 80% effort and having consistency is much more effective than running at 110% effort and burning out instantly.

Stress and anxiety have manifest itself into all areas of my life, and I recently deleted Instagram and Snapchat for a few days, as I felt like I needed to remove the added and unnecessary pressure from the two apps (I’ll do another post later about how I feel about Instagram and snapchat).

There are a couple other problems I’ve recently encountered, and I think I need to take a few days to just recharge and allow myself to feel a bit crap. It’s so easy for me to forget to take care of myself and to recognize that I have had such a stressful past, that I can’t always be as perfect and on-point as everyone else appears to be.

Additionally, this strict/discipline has to lead me to start thinking very negatively on myself. Rather than recognizing the positives, I’ve developed a very critical method of thinking, which can be very overwhelming and hard to push away. This is probably because I’ve not done any meditating for a while, which is something I’m going to get straight back in to.

Take time out, take a few days off and recognize that your well-meaning behaviors can ultimately be quite destructive.

Key pointers that I’ve realized (and will probably forget about in 5 weeks)

  • Working just below maximum effort is more effective than pushing yourself too far
  • Meditating and having non-judgemental thoughts is the key to being more content and happier with yourself
  • Your inner critic is a bully, which gets worse the more you engage with it
  • I have had a past of mental health problems; which aren’t going to go away. I need to accept that and work with them rather than pretending they aren’t there
  • I’m a human, with limits to my capabilities
  • Nobody else is judging me as hard as I am judging me
  • Deleting Instagram/Snapchat made me scroll through cat videos on Facebook quite a lot
  • It’s good to cry and talk things through
  • Everything and everyone cracks under pressure

How and why I followed my gut instinct

I started this blog back in June 2018, about 9 months ago now.

The reason for creating the blog was so that I could express myself in a way which explained why I had had a “breakdown” and rather than writing a huge Facebook status, a blog seemed appropriate.

June 2018 was the start of a massive shift in my life. I was daunting and terrifying, yet here I am 9 months later and I am so thankful that I made the changes I made.

This blog post will be focused on following your gut instinct and taking a change in life

Following your gut instinct can be hard. It’s hard to tell what is your gut instinct, what is anxiety, what is rational and what is irrational. The way I would define it is that your gut instinct is the thing with the drive. Your gut instinct is the place where your passions lie, and your real desire and motivations are. When you know something is wrong, you know it.

I spent a lot of time researching the law of attraction. At first, I thought it was all hippy concepts, yet I’ve attracted absolutely everything in my life that I have right now. I made the terrifying and scary choices which put me on the path that’s right for me.

Comparing where I am right now to where I was last year is unbelievable. I am more or less living the exact life that I desperately wished I could have had last year.

Last year I felt extremely trapped in a lifestyle and mindset which didn’t fit with my aspirations or motivations in life. I knew that I was studying a degree which wasn’t right for me. I forced myself to blend in with everyone around me, and I felt completely lost in my identity or what I stood for.

I had my entire life mapped out for me, the career I needed to go into and the life I was “supposed to live”. I was somewhat torn between feeling like I had to fit the norms of a student life ie sleeping until midday, drinking myself into a week-long headache and forming questionable relationships.

Furthermore, I had no desire or passion to do any of the university work. Once I’d realized that I wasn’t right for the degree I was studying, it was impossible to sit in front of a laptop screen and bosh out a 3000-word essay – on concepts and theories which I was entirely clueless towards.

My gut feeling was that I wanted to be studying something that I was passionate about. I’m a creative person, I love being around people and I love learning about different aspects of life. Yet I’d put myself down a clinical and demanding route. Studying Nursing was something which tapped into my love for people, yet stripped me of any creativity and put me in a very negative environment.

I was kidding myself by studying something which I didn’t want to learn about, aiming for a career which I wouldn’t fit into, and living a lifestyle which neglected my basic needs.

I felt like my University experience was dull and anything but inspiring. Everything seemed greyscale and bleak.

Making the change, dropping out of university and changing to study the course I’ve wanted to do since age 16 was a mixture of terrifying and liberating.

I can remember sitting in a hotel room at 4am in Germany, endlessly scrolling through the different degrees that I could study. It felt like mental torture because I knew that I was trapped in the nursing route. I would have given anything to have reversed the clocks back 4 years and changed all of my decisions. Yet that’s not possible.

The only possible thing for me was to take action and to put myself first.

I could have so easily struggled through 3 years of undergraduate nursing, and compromised all my dreams and aspirations. I could have continued to wish I could do things, yet never actually do them. It would have been easy because I was so used to ignoring my gut feeling, and doing what I thought I should be doing.

I sit here now, having just received two really good grades on my first assessments. I’m excited about my future and the freedom that it has. I am really happy with my life, the people in it and the things I am able to do. I absolutely love my university and all the opportunities it has given me.

I used to feel like I had to go out multiple times a week, just to make me feel like I had something interesting going on in my life. I hated my own company and I felt so confused and lost around others. I now don’t care either way about nights out. I can enjoy them and have a really good time, yet I don’t feel like I’m missing out if I don’t go. I really enjoy my own company, and I bounce off the energy of others too. It’s sometimes a little bit strange to see how content I am in comparison to last year.

Last year I didn’t even have the motivation to walk to the shops – now I can easily run 24km every week. Last year I was desperate for a relationship, whereas now I’m very confident and happy being single. There are so many things that have changed for the better, and 90% of them have been through mindset and changes that I’ve actively made.

I feel like I’m finally able to be myself and express myself in a way I enjoy. Mental health nursing felt like the thing I “should” be doing. Yet distancing myself from the mental health world has been the best thing that I’ve ever done for my own mental health.

Additionally, I wouldn’t want to reverse the clocks back 4 years and change all of my choices. I’m glad that I’ve had all the ups and downs over the past because it’s helped me to get to this really peaceful and stable level.

The real stickler for the changes in my life is that on paper – I’m worse off. I’ve got more student debt, less money at my disposal, no guaranteed employment post-graduation and history of about 4 years milling around not knowing what to do with myself. I’ve experienced horrible mental health, damaging relationships and serious fears about my future.

Yet I am grateful for it all. At 21 years old, I’ve experienced more challenges and obstacles than most people 5 years older than me. I’ve essentially fast-tracked all the stress and decision making, meaning that I’ve got it all out of the way.

I would much rather be in the position that I am now, which is true to myself and inline with who I am. Verses following what I think I should be doing, who I should be associating myself with and how I feel I’ve been pushed. I firmly believe that there’s the right path for everyone, and you know when you’re on it.

Sometimes the best thing is to expose yourself to the things that scare you. Hit rock bottom and show yourself just how easily you can pick yourself back up again.

 

P.s

This post wasn’t to slate Nursing, the university I studied at, or anyone who has been remotely involved in my life during the rough patch. I have so much respect to student nurses, and it’s the right path for a lot of people! Like I said, there’s the right path for everyone, and it’s different for everyone.

Compete with yourself

When asked whether I am a competitive person – I automatically say no. But I am wrong; here’s why:

I frankly don’t care for measuring my success and ability against someone else. This was clearly reflected in my effort and grades in PE – shoutout to me for getting my highest grade of a 5C in PE in year nine. A real sportswoman in the making.

I never cared for getting better grades than other people, being more attractive or funnier.

However, I was competitive. Very competitive – and I still am. I am competitive with myself.

I want to be better than my own past achievements. I want to see progress in my own successes – not against someone else.

Every single person has completely different variables which make up their lives. Even identical twins have factors in their lives which will slightly differ from the other.

This means that being competitive with other people isn’t always productive. You can only measure yourself against someone else, based on the slightly similar metrics you both share. Yet you may not be able to compete with their training, genetics, tutoring, wealth, upbringing or mindset; as these factors are completely unique.

Whilst competitiveness against others can be a healthy way to motivate yourself, push your boundaries and set goals – it’s not always an accurate measure of your own success

I feel the best when I compare myself now to myself a few months ago. What problems have I overcome? How have I improved, where have I changed?

I personally find this a much more productive measurement; as a comparison against others is often unfairly biased against ourselves.

We very rarely compare ourselves to someone who is worse than us – why would we? It’s in our human nature to spot the things that we lack, or we perceive ourselves to be lacking in, and source out individuals who are better than us.

We compare ourselves against people who are faster, smarter, richer, more attractive, funnier. We very rarely stop and recognise how far we have come within ourselves.

One way of being competitive with yourself is to look at where you were exactly this day one year ago, two years ago and five years ago. Social media makes this easy, as we can track a timeline of what things we were tweeting, posting and sharing.

However keeping a diary or a journal is a great way to see how your problems change over time, and how much success you’ve made in overcoming these issues.

Compete with yourself

Sincerely, a tall girl

This post is going to be quite different from what I usually write about, but it’s a topic I’m equally as passionate about.

Something that I will never have control over in my life is my height (unless I decide to chop my feet off). I never had a growth spurt, I’ve always just been a bit above average in the height department.

I write this, and I’m only 5″11 – I say only, as I know that there are millions of girls over six foot, who make me look pint-sized. Therefore, some people probably don’t even think I’m tall, and maybe this post is meaningless.

With great height comes minor responsibilities, like helping the elderly get their pasta off the top shelf at Tesco. But great height also comes with a bundle of other comments, remarks, struggles and frustrations that are seemingly harmless but can be fairly annoying over time.

You can never buy clothes in your size

By measurements, I’m a UK  size 8 or 10. Therefore, I should be able to confidently buy clothes in either an 8 or 10 and know that they will fit me – just like any other size 8/10 female.

However, sleeves usually finish 4 inches above my wrists. Trouser legs have taught my ankles how to survive any climate, and bodysuits/leotards fit as though they were designed to never fasten.

I know many shops now have tall departments, Topshop and ASOS are some of my favourites – however many retailers are yet to acknowledge anyone above 5″8.

The worst is Pretty Little Thing. It probably makes sense that a shop with “little” in the title makes me feel like I’m trying on a 12 year old’s tshirt.

Clumsiness

This could just be me, but I don’t think I ever grew into my limbs. I will knock everything over, trip over stairs and hit my knees on the underside of any table.

How to stand in photos

Do I squat down? Do I stand at the back like the boys in the school leavers photo? Do I sit on the floor? (I often do), or do I just tell everyone else to stand on their tiptoes? Is my head going to be cropped out?

Relationships and Dating

Where do I start? When you’re tall and you’re single, it’s a weird world.

I don’t really have a problem with the height of the opposite sex, however, it often feels like my height has to be a big disclaimer. By the way, my height may offend your ego! 

Extra points if you’re told not to wear heels on the first date, followed by a monkey emoji (hint, don’t go on a date with someone who says that… or uses a monkey emoji)

Or, if the guy is taller than you, chances are he only dates girls who are 5″3 – sorry, it’s a cruel world.

Shoes

Following on from the above – Heels!!!

I own 1 pair of actual heels, which I only wear in situations where my trainers would be a sin.

I have a pair of heeled boots which I used to love, but that was when I had barely any friends and didn’t realise that I was actually 6″2 in them – I started to realise I was seeing a lot of scalps.

Aside from being about 6 inches taller than everyone when I’m wearing heels, there’s also the coordination issues of trying to move extra elongated limbs around; without losing balance and doing a bambi. (see; clumsiness).

Eating a lot

Again, this could definitely just be me. But it makes sense that someone who is 5″11 will need to eat more food than someone who is 9 inches shorter.

However, diet culture and unhealthy rhetoric surrounding women and food have often made me feel guilty for a big appetite.

Despite being someone who is very active and eats healthily, it can sometimes feel embarrassing to hear my stomach grumble after eating a massive meal 90 minutes ago.

Uncalled for comments on your body

This is a vague heading, as nobody really calls for comments on their body. However, being tall means that you’re subject to certain body related small talk – usually with middle-aged people who haven’t seen you in years.

“You’re so tall!” – shit, really? I wondered why the door frames were so low!

“You should be a model!” – let’s be honest, as kind as your comment is, I’m awkward in posture and have absolutely no features that warrant modelling – unless it’s for a company selling ladders.

“You’re not fat, you’re just big boned/broad!” – this is something I heard almost weekly when I was younger. The irony is, telling someone that they’re big boned makes them feel worse than telling them that they’re fat. You diet away fat; you can’t diet your bone structure!

You are your own type of beauty

I thought I’d end on a positive note. Despite the drawbacks of being a mini BFG, there are many things to be grateful for.

We can get places faster, short people really appreciate our presence in supermarkets, and you can stand anywhere in a gig with a perfect view. Also, I’m pretty sure we have a higher alcohol tolerance than others.

You can control many things in your life, but your height is something that only your parents could dictate – and they’ve already done that for you.

Learning to love yourself isn’t easy, regardless of the length of your limbs. But accepting who and what you are is the first step.

 

The Timeline of Your Lifetime – Getting Your Sh*t Together

Two weeks ago I turned 21.

I feel as though most people would agree that age 21 is the official age of “being an adult”. Some may argue that turning 18 is the start of being an adult; and in legal terms, it is.

However, there seems to be a greater looming pressure and a universal assumption that a 21-year-old should have their life together, in some way or another.

Having your life together is a term which I hear a lot. Ironically, I have had many people say to me that I appear to have my life together, yet I often worry that I am the opposite.

I’m currently in a situation where I feel very out of sync with my life timeline. It’s the norm that by age 21, you should either be finishing or finished your education – with a career plan and some degree of maturity about you.

Yet I’m 21, in my first (or second) year of university, having changed my career goals drastically last year – I’m 2 or 3 years behind my peers academically.

On paper, this doesn’t really seem like a problem. There are many people who start university later and so many people who don’t even finish their A-levels.

The reason I feel so strongly about being 2-3 years behind, is that I am someone who strives for growth. I like to progress forward in many aspects of my life, and the knowledge that I have receded in my education makes feel uncomfortable.

The way I’d describe it is like learning to swim without arm bands, and then being told that you’re going to have to put the arm bands back on, and learn how to swim without them again.

It just feels like I’m being stunted, and it’s a difficult trap to get myself out of, as this then makes me feel as though I shouldn’t bother getting through the next 2 years.

However, I think the problem is the comparison to the way things “should” be. I don’t know the official statistics for how many 21-year-olds there are in England, but I can assume there’s a lot of us. There will be people like me, who are a few years behind academically.

There will be people who have worked full time for 6 years, there will be people who have been in and out of prison for the last few years. Then there are the people who followed the education system through nicely and are now figuring out what do postgraduate.

The similarity between the majority of people under the age of 25 is that we don’t have it all figured out. There’s nobody out there who has completely got their life together at this age.

There are people who are financially better off than you, there are 21-year-olds with the emotional intelligence of someone twice their age, there are people who have better grades than you, bought their own house, or have 5 years industry experience under their belt. Everyone is on a completely independent, unique timeline, and there’s not a 365-day interval on how often you should reach certain checkpoints.

The thing I have to remind myself is that a step backwards is not always a bad thing. This is extra time to set good habits in, learn more about myself and how I react to stressors, learn my strengths and pick up skills to move me forward.

There’s no rush to grow up (besides, all the adults wish they were young again)

 

Why I’m glad I had terrible mental health as a teenager

Today I logged back into my old Twitter account. This is the Twitter account that I made at age 13 (@heatherls_, if you want to give us a cheeky follow..).

As a teenager, Twitter was the place that I would rant, vent and express all my feelings – much to the dismay of my followers. I eventually stopped using this account in 2016, meaning that the content on this account is almost like a time capsule of me throughout my entire teenage life. From the age of 13 to 18, I used my Twitter account almost like a diary, and it’s crazy to see just how much I’ve progressed and developed as a person.

Reading back on the tweets, and looking at the photos on this account gave me a mixed sense of pity and pride.

This has to lead me to realise that my poor mental health has actually enhanced my life in ways that I never thought it would.

During my teenage years, whilst (unknowingly) fighting anxiety and depression every day, I never for a second thought “This is really going to benefit me in later years! I really appreciate these horrible feelings!!!” – rather, all I could think was “I hate my life” “I want to die” “This is shit” “Where do I get a normal brain from” Therefore, I hope the content of this blog post doesn’t deter from the fact that my teenage years were often excruciating, embarrassing and extremely isolating. I can confidently say that I spent at least three-quarters of adolescence feeling the lowest of low, and doubting that I’d ever feel contentment.

However, I’ve always been someone who likes a challenge. I like to get to the bottom of things, I like to achieve something and recovering from mental illness was something that I absolutely wanted to do. Therefore, I’ve always accepted treatment, I’ve always tried to force hopefulness into my life – whether this was successful or not.

Based on the content on my Twitter account, and my strangely detailed memory, I’m going to write a mini timeline of how my mental health declined and progressed, and how this has lead me to the point where I am now – which is the best I have ever been.

Age 13 – 14

There’s probably not anything overly remarkable to report on here. I was very awkward, but not in the shy sense – more in the sense that I never shut up and I thought I was absolutely hilarious. I was very insecure, and I would literally cry my eyes out at school if my hair didn’t look perfect. I would obsess over trying to fit in, and I guess this is common in many girls at this age.

Age 15

This is the age where I started to properly develop depression. Obviously, at the time I had no idea, but I just used to be very very very sad, comparing myself to other girls around me and feeling extremely inferior in comparison. This is also the point where I reached the highest weight I’ve ever been. December 2012 is the month when I can first remember being fully determined to do something about how shit I’d been feeling – and I figured that a diet/weight loss would help me to stop feeling so low.

Age 16

Ironically enough, a combination of low self-esteem, depression, weight loss and burning determination lead me to develop anorexia. This was the first time I was formally diagnosed with a mental illness, and the first time I realised that there was actually something wrong with me and that I needed to start working on myself, rather than treating myself like shit all the time. I received extensive treatment and a sort of half-arsed recovery. Being pulled out of high school also meant that I had to take a year off education, which forced me to grow up a bit quicker than others, and find a job.

Age 17

This is probably just the most awkward and weird year for me. I was convinced that I had recovered from my eating disorder, which I hadn’t. I was also just really depressed and hopeless, spending a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and moping around. I was still insecure, more so than before, and I thought that I was doomed to be at this shitty level for the rest of my life. I was in and out of therapy, but I was convinced that I didn’t need the help, and discharged myself from mental health services.

Age 18

I struggle to really differentiate between age 17 and 18. I remained in a limbo stage for such a long time. I felt trapped in my mental health, and I was unaware that my actions were feeding into my depression and anxiety. However, at this point, I was at college and I’d begun to expose myself to changes in routine, different people and different challenges. This caused me to change how I behaved in some ways, and see things from a perspective that challenged my own. My grades were terrible, which was a reflection of the minimal effort that I put into my life.

Age 19

I think age 19 is when things really changed for me. At 19, I’d passed my driving test, completed my A-levels with really good grades and been accepted into a well ranked University. I also managed to save up quite a good amount of money, through working.

Although these are standard events for an 18/19-year-old, I felt like this gave me the confirmation that I am worthy of achieving the same as everyone else, and that I can actually do things if I try. I started to do a lot more self-development, reading self-help books and unfollowing people online who were unhelpful for me, as well as disconnecting myself from relationships which held me back.

I really focused on learning the ins and outs of my mental health, and this was actually encouraged by studying Psychology at A Level, and developing a basic understanding of why and how mental health works. I would listen to podcasts and take part in more things that challenged my mind’s limitations. The big part of this was moving to University, which turned out to really force my anxiety and depression out of their comfortable little box

Age 20

At age 20, having “completed” teenager years, I think this was the year where the slow bubbling of poor mental health finally burst. I’ve spoken quite extensively about what happened last year so I won’t go into detail here. I challenged myself every single day, because I was determined to fully recover from my mental health.

I guess the stickler here is that I never realised that it’s impossible to fully recover, and I was too hard on myself too soon. I forced myself into situations which were out of my depth and made myself carry on without allowing feelings/emotions to be fully embraced. This lead me to hit rock bottom, and the problems I’d been trying to mask finally reared their head.

By holding my hands up and giving up, I managed to set myself free and allow my mental health to make me a better person.

Now

Over the last 7 months, I’ve accepted where I am. I try to improve where I can, but I am also really confident and understanding of where my mind and mental health currently stands. I don’t force myself to be a certain way. I don’t try to fit in with everyone, and I respect my limits.

I still have goals and ambitions, but I am a lot more flexible now.

My journey with mental health has to lead me to accept myself for who I am. I believe this has to lead me to become more understanding of other people, I know how to challenge myself in a healthy way, and disregard any negative input from others. I’m learning to treat myself with the same respect that I’d give others, and I believe that’s the most valuable part of life.

More importantly, I’m open about mental health in a positive way. I used to rely heavily on self-deprecating humour (Which is still true, to some extent), or completely denying that I ever had mental illnesses. Right now, I am confident and open in my experiences, as I know that they are not who I am, merely a part of my experiences in life.

Find your flow

Disclaimer: I wrote this at the end of a panic attack. I spent about an hour in a full panic, and I calmed down. I wanted to go on a run – but I have to wait for a delivery to my house (First world problems), so instead, I wrote about running. Hence why this post is basically just me talking about how much I love running, and writing. It doesn’t really make much sense, but it helped me to chill out. 

The very moment you recognise your own poor mental health or even the poor mental health of others; the first suggestion is to get help. This help can be defined as medication, talking therapy, self-care, distractions, support from loved ones etc.

There are many elements of “help” for mental health which are designed to assist you in coping with your illness. The most frustrating aspect about recovering from, or coping with a mental illness is that it never truly goes away. The symptoms can change, the impact on your life can become better or worse, and the outlook can become considerably more positive.

I’ve been receiving help for my mental health since 2013. I’ve been given countless worksheets, constructive advice, medication,  interventions and treatments. However I never really found that any of this helped – purely because I didn’t invest any belief into them, and I found it hard to actually utilise any of these techniques when the time came to it.

Think of it this way – whilst I was in the middle of a panic attack or feeling highly depressed; the last thing I wanted to do was to fill out a worksheet. Often I would seek distraction from my thoughts – whether this be from TV,  food, friends, exercise, cleaning the house, running errands or drinking. I refused to do anything which meant that I’d have to actually address my feelings and emotions. It was easier to mask the feelings or run off the adrenaline.

Meditation is recommended as one of the best ways to cope with your mental health. Interestingly enough, many people find meditation boring, difficult, hard to stick to, stressful etc. The most common complaint of meditating is that it’s hard to concentrate and stay focused. For some reason, people are lead to believe that meditating involves sitting cross-legged on the floor, thinking about absolutely nothing other than their breathing.

Running is one of the best meditation processes for me; particularly because it allows me to burn off the adrenaline that builds up with anxiety. I used to hate hate hate any form of running, and throughout 5 years of high school, I only competed in one sports day event – which was the 100m run, and I bottled it.

Treadmills seemed like the most torturous device possible – probably a thought which was conjured up from watching too many ITV shows about middle aged women on a treadmill to burn off the calories in a Muller Corner. I would rather watch paint dry than walk or run on a treadmill.

Running outdoors was an absolute comedy in itself. Why on earth would I go outside, and do something which I am terrible at? Do you know how many people would see me out of breath, tomato-faced, tangled up in my headphones and hiking my leggins up every 4 minutes? No way.

Spring/Summer 2018 was particularly stressful for me – as well as trying to recover from a very difficult dip in my mental health, I also had a lot of financial difficulties and potentially life-changing decisions to make. My head was constantly ticking over and I tried very hard to ignore any thoughts and feelings. I was also trying to shake off the extra weight that my anti-depressants had kindly donated to me, so I had started going to the gym – purely doing weights training rather than any cardio.

However, there was one day where I decided to warm up on the treadmill for 10 minutes. A song came on my phone, I think it was something by Calvin Harris, and it just put me in a really good mood. I also realised that the pace was quite fast, and it made me want to move faster. I decided to kick the speed up a bit on the treadmill and I was soon in a fast jog/slow run.

When I stepped onto the treadmill, my thoughts were along the lines of “how am I going to afford to do XYZ when I have no money?” “Will I ever get anywhere in life” “I’m a failure” “I can’t do anything” “I literally can’t do anything right” -which were all genuine thoughts, constantly rattling around in my head, 24/7 all the time.

As soon as I started to pick up the pace on the treadmill, my thoughts quickly shifted to “oh my god, this is horrible” “I can’t breath” “I am going to die” “I can’t breath” “my heart is exploding” – horrible thoughts, but these quickly shifted to “Wait, I’m actually running?” “I am actually running???” “I think I can keep going” “I could probably go faster” “I still can’t breath though”

At the time, it was an amazing feeling. I probably ran for a grand total of 8 minutes before my legs handed in their notice. But for 8 minutes, I wasn’t worrying my life. I wasn’t picking apart every minor detail about myself. I didn’t give a shit what I looked like. I forgot about my bank balance. I forgot about my massive to-do list, I forgot about what certain people think about me. I just focused on what was happening right now.

I don’t have twitter anymore, but I can remember when I got home, I tweeted something along the lines of “I never used to understand why people love running so much, but then I realised – it’s impossible to be anxious and depressed, when all you can think about is the fact that your body feels like its exploding”.

Over time, I started to make a beeline for the treadmill straight away. I made myself a playlist full of dance music (which I never used to listen to, as I didn’t understand how people could listen to *happy music*), I would run for as long as I could and listen to the most upbeat music possible. I started to develop a good pace, and eventually, I stopped feeling like I was exploding or dying. With regulated breathing, I started to chill out. I could allow my thoughts to come and go, and because I was running, I couldn’t become immobilized or actively distracted by thoughts. I was truly running away from my problems.

Thankfully, this happened over summer, and I started to build up the courage to run outside. I downloaded the Nike Run app, and could see my progress building up over time. More importantly, I shifted my focus from losing weight that I’d gained due to depression and started to focus more on being strong enough or fit enough to actually run properly.

I’m absolutely not a pro, I’ve been running for about 6 months – I think I’ve had food in my cupboard for twice as long as that. I don’t think I could ever run competitively, and I don’t even think my technique is that good. But it’s an escape for me, and it allows me to be in a flow.

The second form of “flow” which takes me out of my own head – is writing for my blog. This is another thing which I discovered over summer, and I found it to be greatly beneficial for my mental health.

I used to write in my diary, however, the problem with this is that I was the only one who read my diary (I assume so anyway…). Therefore, I’d write about two lines, and then think, fuck it – who am I actually writing to here? I couldn’t be bothered to continue, because the odds on me reading it back were as likely as me completing that 100m run in the 2010 Sports Day.

However, blogging is different – because I know that at least one other person is going to read this. It gives a sort of purpose to how I am feeling, and I like to help others, so I guess by writing and being honest with how I am feeling, someone else can feel a bit less alone.

I guess the take-home message from this post is to find your flow, find the thing that allows you to be in your thoughts, rather than running away from them.

All the best,

Heather x

 

What I Have Learned in 2018

Hello and welcome back to my blog!

If you’re reading this at the time of posting – I hope you’ve had an enjoyable December; whether that’s been heavily celebrating Christmas, or just taking time to chill out and enjoy the excessive amounts of bank holidays over the festive period.

I’ve taken a few weeks off creating any content for my blog or Instagram – as I found that I needed a month or so to just reflect on where I am currently, and place less focus on every feeling/emotion that I go through.

However, with it being the end of 2018, I thought that it would be quite fitting to come back to my blog with a post reflecting on the past 365 days.

When it all goes wrong

2018 has been the year where everything went catastrophically wrong for me – in my eyes that is. To the eyes of an outsider; it probably wasn’t that bad. However, I feel like 2018 was the year where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Yet this also proved that I can get through a heck of a lot of failures.

And whilst this was highly frustrating, demoralizing and traumatic at the time – on reflection, I’m actually glad that everything went wrong. I’m glad that my life took the wrong route on the sat-nav and ended up in a muddy ditch, because it proved to me that I can get over, and through, just about anything.

Pretty much everything that I feared failing, failed. Everything that I thought would go wrong, went wrong – yet here I am, still standing, having gotten through the events which I once thought were the worst things that could ever happen.

I’m only 20 years old

I feel like I’ve been alive for much longer than 20 years, yet when I really think about it – I’ve only just finished being a teenager. Being a teenager is one of the hardest times of anyone’s life. There’s so much physical and mental development – you can’t really be expected to wake up on your 20th birthday and go from being a 19-year-old hormonal mess to being a fully fledged adult-in-training-20-year-old.

As soon as I turned 20  last January, I put so much pressure on myself to be an adult. With a 2 in front of my age, I assumed that I was now a fully developed adult. Thus, I should now be able to rationalise, and behave sensibly and make every decision with the same meticulousness and level-headedness of a Cath Kidston wearing 45 year old woman – because we’re both adults right? However, at age 20, I was exposed to a lot of new emotions, situations and experiences that I had not yet tackled as a teenager, so my reactions to these events mirrored that of 16 year old me, rather than the Trademark Adult I thought that I should be.

In other words, I put too much pressure on myself to behave like an adult, and do everything in an admin, rational way – yet the confused and still not-quite-gone teenager within me overpowered this.

Not everyone wants to hear about it

A big realisation for me this year was that not everyone wants to hear everything.

This can be disheartening at first, but it’s actually refreshing to understand that some people just want a simple life, and they don’t want to be bombarded with your stresses and your worries.

This is a positive thing, as it means that you can have people in your life who are there for the good times, the good memories and light-hearted things – and you can also have the people who are down to talk about the nitty-gritty details of life.

And that’s okay. Provided that those who are important to you, and close to you are the ones who truly care about you, then you don’t need approval from everyone. It’s okay to be accepted by a strong small circle, rather than be loosely welcomed by a mass group.

Anxiety and Depression

I can’t do a blog post without mentioning the two words which almost became my tagline for a short period.

I’ve suffered from the two aforementioned mental illnesses since roughly 2013. But my ability to talk about and open up about them was very limited.

I spoke of anxiety and depression almost as though they were the mental health Salt and Pepper, Ant and Dec (Anxiety  and Depression?? ant n dec?? – no?? no). I only really spoke about the two illnesses when I really really needed to, and even then it was in hushed tones. I assumed that if I explained that I had anxiety and depression and left it at that, then people would just leave me alone.

In 2018, I first realised that I don’t have depression. I experienced depression. Depression happened to me, and it was awful. But it’s not something I own, I don’t have it in my possession and I don’t carry it around in my bag or in my coat pocket. It’s an illness which happens to me when I let anxiety take over my life.

In 2018, I realised that I was controlled by anxious thoughts and behaviours. Anxiety controlled the vast majority of my thoughts and decisions, and it has done so, without question, for over 5 years. Therefore, by realising this, I started to challenge the basis of my thoughts and feelings, and understand that anxiety was actually nothing but a scared part of me, fearing the worse.

In 2018, I separated anxiety and depression. I realised that they weren’t this dual grey cloud which continuously followed me. They are two separate conditions, both of which are different consequences to different situations. I could live my life freely without the two if I paid attention to how and why I was letting them into my life.

Emotions, Thoughts, Feelings and Reactions – they’re all different things

By far the biggest “ooooh that makes sense now!” moment for me in 2018 was understanding the difference between my feelings, emotions, thoughts and my reactions.

After completing CBT therapy between September and December, I finally understood the different processes that go on inside my brain.

For the longest time, I thought that a single bad mood meant that I was doomed to be depressed forever. I assumed that all of my thoughts were true – no matter how far fetched or irrational they were.

My emotions controlled my thoughts, which controlled my feelings and thus controlled my reactions. I lived very much as a constant ball of stress and anxiety, never knowing how to behave – as my reactions to everything were governed by thoughts and feelings – of which both changed depending on my emotions. This may not necessarily have been a bad thing, however, I had no idea what my emotions were. I tried to hide all of my emotions except for happiness – and even then I was cautious that I was being “too happy” sometimes.

With CBT therapy, I’ve learned to accept and embrace the different aspects of my thoughts, behaviours, feelings and emotions. It’s often quite interesting to see how simple it is to just let feelings pass, and how easy it is to remind yourself that your thoughts are very rarely true.

Accepting that I’m never going to be perfect – I don’t even know what perfect is

When I talk about wanting to be perfect or being competitive, I very rarely mean in comparison to others. The idea of “striving for perfection” often conjures up the image of a barbie type girl, with perfect grades and a perfect life and blah blah – nothing of which interests me.

At the start of 2018, and leading on up until about September time, I just wanted to be the perfect version of me. I have no idea what or who the perfect version of me is, but I was adamant that my present self was rubbish, and that I must work as hard as I can to reach this level of a perfect me.

I think I’ll always have an element of wanting to be a better person because of I know that I still have minor flaws, but I know for sure that the strive for perfection only leads you to become more imperfect – as the hyper-self-focus causes you to just become an all-around shitty person – someone who nobody wants to spend time around.

I was competitive within myself, wanting to have oneupmanship over my previous attempts at various things – which can be useful in very small doses, but it got to the point where I’d be disappointed at myself for the most minor things.

I’m a creative person

For the longest time, I’ve scoffed at the idea of me being a creative person. I’ve always liked art and drama at school, I enjoy putting outfits together and doing my makeup – but I considered that to be the extent of my creativity.

I’d put myself down a career path which was very much the opposite of the creative industry, and I convinced myself that any attempts at creative expression are embarrassing and pointless. I bottled my feelings up, and my only way of expressing how I felt was through destructive means.

I was only until I started writing blog posts and changing my degree to the media industry, that I realised that I am a highly creative person. Whilst I definitely cannot draw pictures for the life in me, I don’t understand contemporary art, and my drama abilities extend to playing the role of a grandma or a chav – my creativity lies within spoken and written words. I’m not Shakespeare. I doubt my writing abilities are even anything beyond average, but the fact is that I enjoy it.

This year, I’ve learned that I really can express my thoughts and feelings through words, whether that’s written or spoken. I enjoy comedy, I like to make others laugh, and I like to put humourous and unique spins on situations which are often seen as bleak or boring. I think this has been the real turning point for me because I’m finally doing something for the sake of doing it.

The little money making, whats-the-point-of-this, you’re-rubbish portion of my brain resents the fact that I’m putting time and effort into doing things on the creative spectrum, rather than doing manual work and being hyperproductive – but I know for a fact what I’d rather be doing, and I know what is going to make me more successful long term.

In short

2018 has been a mess. A terrible mess by all accounts.

But I got through it. I learned an awful lot about myself.

The only fitting analogy here is that I threw all my toys out of the pram – didn’t like them all over the floor – so I put them back and realised I prefer things where they’re meant to be.

They say everything will be okay in the end. I know this isn’ the end, and I know not everything is okay. But day by day, more little things are becoming more okay. And that’s reassurance enough for me.