The last time I wrote a blogpost, the world felt like a very different place. I haven’t been online as much as usual or being as proactive as I’d have liked because I’ve been struggling to process it all. Saying/supporting everything feels so important that I’ve ended up saying nothing at all.
Being away from people you love, particularly if they’re at risk, is hard and the world feels like such an uncertain and scary place right now. Not knowing when I’ll next be able to see some of the people I care about the most has left me feeling lost and scared and defeated and I can’t wait to be able to share the little moments in life with them again. It’s been particularly tough having this come at a time when I was slowly getting my bearings again after a really difficult patch with my mental health and had lots of lovely plans for the coming months that now won’t go ahead.
But I’m also incredibly lucky to be able to work from home and that home for the time being is my boyfriend’s parents house with plenty of space to work and the loveliest garden in the world. I’ve been constantly reciting lists in my head of everything that’s good in an attempt to keep sane and I’m hopeful that we can come out of this situation with a renewed sense of importance for community, for public health, for valuing workers and treating each other well. For slowing down and for meaningful connection. For being grateful for the smallest of things.
I’m hoping to write a weekly post of what I’m feeling grateful for in such a surreal time, including celebrating the creatives that will make all of our lives in self-isolation richer. So the first one of those will come soon – until then I hope that everyone has the support networks in place to get through what will be a difficult time – if you’re losing work or left lonely or just in need of a pick me up, I’m always around for a chat.
The Featured Image for this post is by the wonderful Morgan Harper Nichols who can be found on Instagram at @morganharpernichols or via Garden24 whose work always feels like a gentle nudge to keep going and a reassurance that we’re enough, wherever we are and whatever is happening around us.
I didn’t get around to blogging yesterday, but I did have a post published on one of my favourite websites (!!!!) – it’s talking about something I’d originally written about on this blog – hair loss. I was so proud of myself for opening up about something that’s really impacted my self esteem over the years (you can read the piece here), particularly because when I last tried to talk about on this blog I’d really struggled to fully be open about my experience/feelings – it’s hard to open up about the most vulnerable parts of yourself and put them out there for the world to see.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer – I’ve just always written for as long as I can remember and I struggle to express things properly in conversation, am pretty introverted and just can’t quite see myself doing anything else and being truly content. And I’ve always been as open and honest as possible in my writing, whether that made the writing seem lazy or overdramatic or angsty as hell. But when I started sharing stuff online I suddenly became self conscious of that. In some ways, this is definitely something I need to work on – it comes with wanting to be a writer to put yourself out there, expose yourself and your insecurities and your emotions to others. But I also think there’s this sense on the internet that you must bear your soul when expressing opinions and I struggle with it – it can be so emotionally draining and I don’t always have the energy to share my perspective on issues because the place that that perspective comes from is so deeply personal. It’s something I’m trying to get more comfortable with and figure out my boundaries surrounding and I hope I’ll get there in the end. But until then, I’ll try and keep reminding myself that I don’t have to expose the rawest, most vulnerable moments in a quick tweet responding to the news of the day. I don’t have to share anything I’m not comfortable with. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not honest or that I’m less of a writer.
Today I braved the cold and sat outside on a bench in the winter sunshine whilst I ate my lunch. I watched the steam rise up from my chamomile tea, rifled through a book bathed in natural light, forced myself to tune out the traffic a street away and listened to the birds flitting around in the branches above. I also received a lovely message from a friend, a message that reminded me how far I’ve come and how much I’ve achieved that my younger self would be proud of, a message that also reassured me that there’s other people out there in the world treasuring these glimpses of the end of winter, these snatches of sunlight. Later on in the day the sunset felt longer, the sky more molten and then more pink and I felt so much relief at the visible signs of the days elongating.
It’s been a strange day. A strange day with some beautiful moments.
Around four months ago Louis and I moved into a little flat together in one of my favourite parts of the city.
The way golden winter morning light lands on bookshelves and blue-tacked prints, the way we have this space that’s just ours, the way I don’t have to anxiously worry if someone else is in the kitchen or the bathroom or using the washing machine – everything about it feels like magic. Hot showers and hot cups of tea and candle light and having space that’s not just a bedroom in a student house, but somewhere that I love – I’m still unable to fully comprehend that these things are actually here to enjoy, that I survived enough to experience them.
Communal living at University and difficult circumstances with my family meant I’ve often felt dislodged, not at home anywhere over the last few years. It left me scrambling, unable to ever feel like I was fully recharging or able to stay afloat. Now, all of our books sit together and we can listen to whatever music we want whilst we cook dinner and it just feels like a dream. Friends come over and we fill the place with pink balloons and confetti and laugh and I find myself unable to quite believe that I’ve managed to get this far – sharing what feels like a perfect little flat with my favourite person, looking out over the city. That despite all of the trips to hospital and doctors appointments and days when I couldn’t leave the house or my room or my bed or stop crying or remember how to breathe – I am here and I am making progress and I’m not just surviving. And I feel so endlessly grateful for that.
I’ve included two pieces with this post – one written a couple of years ago, when even going to the kitchen to make pasta felt impossible and one from recently – sitting on the sofa on a Sunday not unlike today, finally feeling at home again.
It’s Sunday evening and I’ve had the whole day to relax and read and write and relish in the quiet of January. And yet, as often happens whenever I have no plans or obligations for the day, the day has stretched on in a fog of not feeling able to think clearly, of restlessness and a constantly overwhelming sense of anxiety. I think it’s felt worse recently – the new year and decade stretches ahead, lacking shape and certainty. I try to see this unknowingness as some kind of magic space – a future I can go ahead and create and do anything with. But with my mental health and with the constant onslaught of news stories that make me ache for the state of the world, it can be hard to not just feel scared at the thought of the future.
It’s not that things are bad right now – there’s so much to be grateful for at the moment, so much of my life which leaves me overwhelmed with surprise and love. I’m still learning that I can have space in my heart for all of that and still be scared, still struggle. Still learning that it doesn’t make me ungrateful or unappreciative or incapable of seizing all that life has to offer. I think it’s important to recognise these feelings and try and work my way through them, make space for them and treat myself with kindness when they’re heavy in my chest.
I’ve been thinking on ways that I can feel better – planning for days in the future so I have plenty to look forward to, savouring a good cup of tea or the view from my living room window as traffic snakes into the city, rearranging my bookshelves and relishing in the fact that I have a space to call home and so many wonderful things to read. But sometimes even trying to pick out a book that won’t have content that makes me feel worse seems hard and sometimes I think I just need a healthy distraction. And so after a think about what I could do to try and combat these January blues, I’ve decided to give blogging every day for the rest of the month a go. One of my ongoing anxieties is whether I’m good enough to write, to create content, to share it with the world. To do this feels like a good way to try and combat that whilst giving me the soothing promise of time to reflect as each day passes. In the same way that my weekly therapy sessions used to be a time to breathe and let everything out (pls can the NHS hurry up and give me more therapy sometime soon), I’m hoping these posts can do something similar – recently I’ve been struggling to write poetry or even just the journal entries that I used to do so much of (scrawled in various notebooks that are now stacked up at the opposite side of the room) and so I’m hoping a slightly different format will do me some good. We’ll see.
As the year, and decade, draws to a close Instagram and Twitter is full of reflections, positivity and achievements as well as (if you follow the right people) reminders to be kind to yourself, to celebrate survival, to be at ease with anxiety about the future. I don’t remember writing a post that wraps up my year since 2009, when I was 12 years old and still trying to navigate growing up and grief and countless other things. Looking back at what I wrote then I find myself in the same position I’ve wrote about countless times recently – wishing I could give her a glimpse of where I’m at now, to help her through. But writing about the whole decade would probably just emotionally drain me and I’m already teary enough (in a good way) thinking about the last 12 months alone…
This year has been challenging and at times the weight of everything has felt so unbearably overwhelming that I wasn’t sure I could get through it. But it’s also brought so much positive change and so much of what I’ve been dreaming of for years. I get back to my flat and feel relief as I unlock the front door, feel at home as I have dinner or a cup of tea or curl up with a book or even have a therapeutic cry. I have seen so many golden mornings and so many pink, bleeding skies. I’ve climbed up blustery hillsides and wandered across Millennium Bridge and by St Pauls on a beautiful, silent morning before the rest of London woke up. I’ve bought lots of flowers and had nights out that felt a bit like magic with the best people, spent far too much money on brunch, graduated (though not with the grade that I wanted, and that’s ok!), fallen in love with the view from a train window, worn pretty dresses and read poetry and novels that make me feel a little more at home in the world, explored new parts of the cities that I love so much and learned to like myself a little more, to be kinder to myself even when it feels like I don’t deserve it. I’ve pushed myself and encouraged myself and surrounded myself with people who support and love me. I’ve reached out for help when I’ve needed it (even if sometimes it isn’t easy. Mental health waiting lists are forever the worst). I got my first graduate job (!!), which is a particularly big achievement given that I used to be petrified that I’d never be able to hold one down because of my mental health. I’ve tried to be open about mental health and I’ve been a little braver about sharing the things that I write/create in the world, including two poetry collections (one of which was published by the wonderful Horsfall Gallery and 42nd Street). And, though it terrifies me to say it, I’m genuinely feeling content and happy at the moment. Life has been full of the kind of moments that I never believed I would get to see or feel. And I am so, so grateful for that.
Grief is a funny thing. It’s something I thought I’d got to grips with when I was much smaller, but somewhere along the way I shoved and swallowed it down until it only manifested in quiet and subconscious ways within my life. I think I’d accepted that it’s intensity varied, coming back and surprising me every so often. But I hadn’t quite prepared for the fact that it can completely hit you in its entirety all over again.
My grandparents raised me, were the most wonderful and important people in my life and I lost them at 11 and 15. I think I was too young to even comprehend the significance of that when I was younger and I eventually found myself feeling disconnected from the grief that it makes sense to feel.
It wasn’t until years later, after around 9 months worth of therapy, that I began to feel that grief seeping back in to my life, quietly at first and then with a force I’d forgotten. It was as if a switch had been flicked and memories I’d somehow forgotten came flooding back – bacon buttys every morning and dinner ready when I dashed back across the road home from school, walks home from nursery and lifts home from high school, gifts and days out and snatches of memories from the home in which they all happened. I was devastated all over again. I think part of this came from a realisation of what I had lost – two of the most important people that would ever be in my life, a home where I felt safe and content and happy. And part of it was just the natural way in which grief lives within you once you’ve met.
But I also felt confused and guilty and like I wasn’t entitled to be feeling the loss so intensely – it had been years. I struggled to reach out, felt I couldn’t bring it up in conversation, worried I was just being over-dramatic or attention seeking.
Over the last year or so I’ve found myself feeling this grief more strongly than ever, when I’m homesick or lonely or something exciting happens and I wish they could know about it. But I’m beginning to accept it, to give myself permission to feel it. I still don’t know how to deal with it in some ways – wish I could visit places we used to go to or write to them or do something to celebrate their lives. But I’m allowing myself to miss them. And that’s a start.
Ten days and one three hour exam left and then I’ll be finished with my university education. There’s been lots of waves of nostalgia over the last few weeks as I’ve wandered campus and the city, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ways in which my experience has surprised me. And I think one of the most surprising elements of the last three years has been how I’ve thought about class and identity and how the conversations and ideas surrounding it have differed to what I anticipated when I left sixth form.
The first time I attempted to go to University, down in London, I didn’t really think much about class and identity past being shocked at how much money was in the world. But after three years of living in Manchester I’ve had experiences and encountered discussions and ideas surrounding class that I didn’t anticipate. Pretty much anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes wandering around Fallowfield can vouch for the way in which elements of working class culture are adapted by middle class students and made into ‘edgy’ instagram posts and art pieces. Friends from a similar background to me share my frustrations with the way in which these students seem to pick and choose the elements of working class culture which most helpfully fit whatever aesthetic they’re going for and then proceed to completely disengage from the complexity of working class issues. But it’s the way in which ‘the working classes’ are talked about by these students that really began to piss me off, as if we’re not people they’re likely coming across in lectures, seminars and smoking areas but some vague abstract concept. I’ve sat and listened to people from private schools ranting and explaining to me ‘working class issues’ at parties. But whenever I’d engage and actually acknowledge my own background, people often become uncomfortable and very rarely actually asked for my opinion or perspective, to see if it aligned with their expectations. Seeing middle class people talk about your lived experiences as some intangible ‘other’, but also as ‘one’ experience as opposed to massively varied and differing ones, gets real grating after a while. There’s an assumption at university as to what working class people look/sound/dress like and what they think/care about. And I think this has been one of the most stifling things for me. I began to feel like I couldn’t offer up my perspective as a working class person because it made people feel awkward/guilty, but trying to just ‘act middle class’ or switch off from how different my experiences have often been to those of people around me felt uncomfortable too. This all began to feel more complicated because as University has gone on I’ve felt myself identifying less and less with my hometown and elements of my childhood. Because my financial situation has slowly improved (from worrying about whether we’d lose our home and declined cards at asda to being able to afford trips to festivals and different cities, actual copies of the books I want to read, clothes I like to wear) I’ve also felt like I’ve lost authority on the subjects I’ve always thought I had a valuable perspective on – poverty, social mobility etc. And this is despite frequently nearly dropping out because of money issues and having my mental health problems constantly amplified by a lack of financial stability. I always saw the idea of not having to worry as much about money as something to hope and aim for, but in a university bubble where perspectives are limited and ‘poverty porn’ often seems to be a key part of ‘discussions’ surrounding class, I’ve found myself questioning my own voice/narrative. As my degree is coming to an end I’ve begun to realise that this isn’t a problem with me, or even (to an extent) with some of the students who make the problem worse – it’s an issue with the way in which the working classes and their varied experiences aren’t represented well enough, whether that’s politically or within literature and the arts. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about independent publishing and encouraging diversity and accessibility when it comes to books, poetry, theatre and all of the wonderful creative projects that often exclude a significant part of society. And it’s something I hadn’t been forced to consider in detail back home, where ‘working class’ didn’t just mean gritty film shots of a council estate or a pair of battered trainers.
Class problems at University are often portrayed as a simple conflict between ‘toffs’ and ‘poor people’. But the problem is much more complex than that. Narrowing it down just limits the dialogue and leaves working class students feeling even more alienated than they did before University.
Before I began to recover from around 10 yrs worth of trauma I experienced so much opposition to unpacking it all, opposition which I internalised and which left me feeling a ridiculous amount of guilt for having perfectly human feelings. And as it took so long to get help I began to see symptoms as just a part of my personality and my reality. I never really considered recovery, what it would look like, what it would feel like.
Recovery is hard. Recovery can feel like you’re getting worse. Recovery can feel brutal. Recovery can involve grief and anger and emotions that make you feel like a failure, make you feel weak and vulnerable. And there’s only so much positivity and hard work that can get you through before you have to acknowledge that sometimes you have to be vulnerable with your emotions and accept what you’re feeling. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not getting better – it’s sitting with the emotions that you’re most uncomfortable with and surviving them that proves you’re making progress.
These kind of things are so important to have an open dialogue about – because people don’t get better over night and mental health isn’t only worth acknowledging if someone can be “strong” all of the time. If you’re recovering from something it’s ok to feel pain and it’s okay to be vulnerable and open about it. Recovery isn’t just about slowly becoming a happier, more productive, more stable person. Recovery is about grieving and feeling and, as a result, making room to let the good things in.
It’s World Mental Health Day today and I feel both compelled to write something and also completely exhausted at the prospect of it – advice like some I shared on an insta story earlier seems cliche, a celebration of my achievements just falls flat when I try to encourage myself and trying to articulate all the ways in which the conversations we have surrounding mental health desperately need to change and improve just leaves me feeling angry and sad. But I guess these kind of acknowledgements are also important – it’s okay to feel like you can’t always talk about mental health in a productive way, it’s okay to feel like the dialogue surrounding it doesn’t help and it’s okay to feel like your own progress isn’t enough to soothe a bad hour, day, week.
I’ve been feeling so much more stable and capable over the last few weeks, far more than I have in years. But I’ve also left a seminar and cried because something in it resurfaced trauma that I’m still struggling to deal with. I’ve also felt completely exhausted, hopeless and defeated. And these things don’t negate from the progress I’ve made or from the fact that I’m getting better. But they’re still things I feel a sense of shame around, they’re still things people don’t ask about, they’re still things I’m working on expressing. I guess this ties into the idea of recovery not being linear. But sometimes accepting that and repeating it in your head isn’t enough. Sometimes we need more than that. And trying to reach out is scary. And sometimes I wish that people weren’t just encouraged to talk but to listen. I wish we acknowledged that sometimes it’s not okay to talk – it’s awkward and uncomfortable and painfully exposing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.
We all need to reach out and remind people they’re loved, we all need to make an effort to check in with each other and we all need to force ourselves to have that awkward “I’m here if you need me conversation” repeatedly because sometimes it’s impossibly hard to reach out and admit you need help. But when that’s not happening, when people aren’t there, we need to remember that it’s not weak to ask for help, it’s self preservation.
And if you know/suspect someone’s struggling w/ their mental health, this is the best article I’ve read on how you can help https://mybestself.blog/2018/06/25/being-there/