Books For Bad Days

Hello! With grey rainy days and the mixed feelings that come with lockdown easing, I’ve seen lots of people on my timelines feeling a bit down or struggling at the minute. With this in mind, I thought that I’d quickly share a few reads that I’d recommend for those days when you need a pick-me-up, some perspective or an escape from whatever is going on in your head. Whilst they’re three quite different books, they’re all ones you can dip in and out of and (along with a sugary cup of tea) help me to feel a lot calmer on those days when your mind feels like an overwhelming place to be.

First up is Liv Purvis’ The Insecure Girls Handbook. I truly can’t recommend this book enough for those days when you’re feeling a bit shit about yourself, whether it’s to do with your career, body image or the FOMO that comes from too much time scrolling on Instagram. Liv chats with women who are doing amazing things to empower women across the globe and these varied perspectives and insights mean we can all find a bit of ourselves within this book’s pages. With a relaxed and friendly tone that never veers towards preachy, this book is one you’ll be grateful to have on your shelf on those days when you need something other than your inner critic in your head.

Next is Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. You’ve probably seen Charlie’s beautiful illustrations over on Instagram and it’s not surprising at all that this book won Waterstones Book of the Year in 2019. I can’t quite convey how lovely this book is to own – its’ pages are filled with the most beautiful drawings and it’s just so soothing to flick through and to read. The messages inside are hopeful and keep a childlike feeling of curiosity. On a difficult day, it can be just the kind of thing you need to be reminded that there are gentle and wonderful things in the world.

Finally, I’m finishing up with Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy. Emma talks openly about her struggles with her mental health and beautifully conveys the ways in which nature helps to ground her and keep her going on the difficult days. Her drawings and photographs are the perfect antidote to city living, if you’re craving a bit of green space, and the little details of life on her daily walks or drives through the countryside always give me a brief but lovely escape from whatever’s going on in my own world.

If you end up picking up any/all of these books I really hope they make the rough days a little softer for you. And remember to support independent bookshops as much as possible with your purchases, as they need our support now more than ever.

The first week

It’s been just over a week since I made a terrible attempt at packing (forgetting all of my makeup and most of my clothes) and left our flat in Manchester. The evening of my last blogpost, where I decided I’d write weekly about what I’m grateful for, saw the U.K go into lockdown. In the days following we’ve seen case numbers and deaths due to Covid-19 continue to rise and so many have lost both financial security and key support systems. Being away from those I care about, particularly if they’re going through a rough time, has been difficult. But I also feel so lucky that there has been so much to be grateful for mixed in – it’s both strange and reassuring that those realities can sit side by side. I know everyone who is sharing on the internet is grappling with the uncertainty of what to post – the good can feel almost insensitive right now. But, as so many have pointed out, looking for and feeling that good is all the more important when everything feels so uncertain. The celebration of the small things by others has really helped me to feel less alone in the midst of everything that’s going on – glimpses of people’s afternoon walks or the cakes they’re baking or the books they’re curled up with…

Over the last week there’s been so much to savour – there’s the obvious things, like evenings filled with bird song and wood smoke and skies that drip gold. There’s the message notifications from friends, sharing a poem they think I’d like or checking in to see how I am. There’s the way people all over my timelines have opened up and showed kindness to each other and the reassuring ways in which working from home has kept an element of the familiar, even if it’s the relief of finishing up for the weekend and staying in bed for longer on a Saturday.

There’s still the pangs for friends I won’t see for a while, moments when my chest is tight with panic and I just want to be with the people I worry about the most. There’s sadness that I’m not going to see the blossom in Didsbury Park at all this year or have the birthday party I’d hoped for or explore Amsterdam with my favourite people… But there is still so much good.

How to support someone you care about with their mental health.

It’s far too frequently that we all feel that horrible, desperate sadness at the news that someone has died by suicide. If you’ve suffered with your mental health it can bring up difficult memories or emphasise feelings of frustration and isolation and if you haven’t it can leave you feeling helpless or unsure as to how to best be there for the people around you. Today I thought I’d write a post with some advice (based on personal experiences rather than any professional insight) for those who, given recent news, worry that they don’t know how best to be there for the people they care about, who worry about getting things right or who just don’t always have the mental energy to be checking in with the people they love as much as they feel they should do.

Ask people what they need – everyone’s needs are different and everyone needs support in different ways. You don’t have to go into a conversation prepared to bring up all sorts of uncomfortable or messy emotions, but asking people if there’s anything they need or that you can be doing for them can be a really good starter – whether it’s just arranging to go for a coffee to check in with them or acknowledging that you know a certain time of year is difficult for them etc. It reminds people that you’re there for them and care about them but it doesn’t force conversations.

Be Patient – mental health problems can seem irrational, illogical and incredibly frustrating. People’s behaviour might make you feel exasperated or like you can’t get through to them. Whilst it’s ok to feel this frustration, prioritise being patient with the person you’re supporting – they likely know their behaviour isn’t helpful/doesn’t make sense, but anger or shame won’t help them get out of the cycle. Be kind, empathetic and encouraging.

Take care of your own emotions too – it can be so easy to put pressure on yourself to be checking in with everyone you love and looking for signs that they’re struggling with their mental health, but it’s important to recognise that supporting someone takes a lot of mental energy and can leave you feeling hurt or sad or anxious. You can still be there for people whilst making sure that you remember to be there for yourself. If you’re having a stressful week but know someone else is going through a bit of a rough time, let them know you’re having a bit of a crap time but that you want to check in with them and arrange to meet up/have a catch up for the next week.

Don’t feel like you have to support someone in isolation – there are so many resources out there to help you understand a person’s mental illness and there’s also so many services you can suggest to people. You don’t and definitely shouldn’t have to be the sole person someone relies on and you don’t have to figure out how to be there for them on your own. Mind provide free, online resources explaining how different illnesses manifest themselves, as well as providing personal accounts and advice for self help/support.

Remember that mental illness and accountability shouldn’t be two mutually exclusive things – it can be difficult to support someone with their mental health if sometimes what they’re going through manifests itself in ways that leave you feeling hurt. Your feelings are just as important and you should be able to hold people to account and ensure they respect your boundaries without them feeling attacked or hurt. Having a mental illness doesn’t make someone hard to love but it can be tough for those supporting at times and that’s not a reflection on either person. Make sure you let people know your boundaries in a non confrontational way and try to prioritise being empathetic and understanding with each other.

It’s ok to get things wrong – communicating, especially over things that you might usually not speak about, can be difficult and everyone’s coming at life from different perspectives/with different experiences. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you think you maybe didn’t do the right thing or weren’t as supportive as you could’ve been. Just try your best to be there for the people you care about in the ways you can.

Wearing your vulnerabilities on your sleeve

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.

Blue Skies Are Calling

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.

Self-care for the sake of kindness.

Yesterday I found myself in a situation where my anxiety, which had been building up for a long time, became unmanageable at the worst possible moment. One of my initial reactions was to be frustrated with myself for not having taken time out during the day to mentally prep, for not having been able to focus much on self care over the past few days so that I could be in a positive state of mind for the evening. And as I wrote yesterday’s blogpost, it got me thinking about all the ways in which we see self care and whether we perceive it in a positive, helpful way.

Plenty of people have talked about how self care isn’t all face masks and bubble baths and it’s definitely true – self care isn’t always pretty. It can be tedious and exhausting and hard work. But last night I ended up thinking about how even when self care isn’t just about things like skin care and candles, there’s still some underlying issues in a lot of what I see online.

A lot of people talk about self care as doing what makes you happy and quitting things that no longer serve you. There’s the obvious limitations that crop up when confronted with these ideas – having to pay rent or bills or look after your family etc. But there’s also this idea that self care is always about maintaining “happiness” and “positive energy” which I think can be unhealthy – we can’t self care ourselves to happiness and constant happiness isn’t sustainable. This idea of using self care as a way to achieve a life devoid of negative people and thoughts and feelings is toxic in itself. Self care shouldn’t just be a fix for the bad stuff, it should be a tool to help you through it.

Sometimes that means self care works in more subtle ways – accepting that you didn’t have time to be mindful or go for a walk during the day and that maybe things didn’t go as planned, but learning from it and being kind to yourself rather than critical and frustrated. Taking the stairs rather than the lift because you don’t need to anxiously stare at the same ‘flaw’ that you’ve already checked several times that morning in your bedroom mirror. On a day to day basis, these aren’t necessarily ways in which I feel like I’m practicing self care. But they stack up and they’re important. And in many ways they’re more successful than the times that I go for a walk with the sole aim of feeling better – I’m looking out for myself without trying to self care away my feelings.

The ideas I’ve talked about are often expressed in lovely Instagram posts and quotes that we see on a daily basis. I get that, for the most part, they’re about making sure you prioritise your self and your wellbeing in a world that can be cruel and exhausting. But seeing these quotes day after day can slowly, in my experience, make you feel like the goal in taking care of yourself is to be constantly happy and in the past it’s left me feeling frustrated when I’ve not been able to fix my sadness with the right self care.

When it comes down to it, I think I’ve realised self care isn’t about happiness. It’s about kindness. It’s about making the world a little softer for yourself, especially on the days when you feel like crap. It’s not about doing what makes you happy, it’s about loving yourself enough so that when the happiness comes around, you’re able to let it in.

Making my mind a kinder place to be.

Today I had an interview, not for a job, but for something else that I really cared about. I also had a day where waves of anxiety made me feel lightheaded and nauseous. And those waves got worse and worse whilst I waited to enter the room, heart pounding and slightly shaking and wishing I could think a little clearer. It didn’t go well – I felt like I rambled aimlessly, struggled to answer questions and didn’t get my points across well or ask any of the questions I’d been hoping to ask. I left and felt embarrassed and frustrated with my anxiety and sad that it constantly impacts my life, even when the rational part of my brain is telling me that I’m safe. If I’d just been able to slow my brain down a little, things probably would’ve been okay.

I arrived back home and felt defeated and sad and very much done with the week. And I tried to accept that it’s not the only opportunity out there to do the things I care about, that I’m still capable and will get there eventually. But it can be really hard to struggle so much with a mental health issue that sometimes feels impossible to control. I think I find it particularly difficult because up until recently I didn’t realise how much of an impact anxiety had on my life, how much it’s snatched away from me and tainted. Whilst I’ve made so much progress with other areas of my mental health, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of how much anxiety is deeply rooted into how I approach and experience life…

Hopefully I’ll be starting more therapy soon – I’m nervous to have a different therapist and to begin to tackle some of the work that I so desperately need to do. But I’m hoping that it’ll feel good to start being more proactive with my mental health again. And until then I just need to learn to accept that I’m living with something that makes things harder but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure or wrong in any way – I just need to prepare for it, learn from it and continue to prioritise looking after myself and my mind as much as is possible. And I’m also going to try and balance every negative thought I have about myself with another, more positive one (or at least more neutral) in the hopes of making my mind a kinder place to be.

Tomorrow’s post will lead on from this one a little – it’s going to be about approaching self care in a realistic and healthy way, rather than adhering to mantras that don’t take into account the obligations, limitations and nuances of people’s lives.

Day Two

Day two of blogging every day for the rest of January and I find myself under the covers just after half eight, panicking a little that I haven’t bothered to think of a topic to write about tonight and that I’m far too tired to try and put together sentences with any level of coherency.

It’s been one of those days where my brain is all over the place and living with my own company feels relentlessly exhausting. But it’s also been a quiet day and getting to the end of it with time for a hot bath (the luxury of being in our own flat is still not fading, I can’t get over it), a cup of chamomile tea and a book in bed before 9pm feels wonderful and reassuring (elderly vibes, I know✨✨✨…).

I’m reading Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy at the moment, a book I like to dip in and out of occasionally, and it’s the loveliest – the drawings inside are beautiful and Emma’s reflections and openness about her own mental health leave me feeling a little less alone on short, dark winter days. It feels particularly like a bit of respite now that I’m no longer living on the edge of the city, with the luxury of having Fletcher Moss Gardens And Stenner Woods so close by. The moments and animals Mitchell spots and the accounts of her wanders through the countryside feel like a brief escape from life in the city centre, where reassuring signs of the changing seasons are harder to stumble upon.

This hasn’t been the most articulate of posts but whilst I doubt there’s much to gain from it from a reader’s perspective, I do feel a little better going to sleep knowing that I carved even a brief bit of time out of the day to write and reflect a little. Hopefully I’ll have more time to think of a topic and write about it, before I get cosy under my duvet, tomorrow.

January Blues

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.

musings about a book i can’t quite regret

It’s not been three months since the first few copies of a little pink book found their way into cardboard packaging, into postal vans, into different houses and different people’s hands. I let them out into the world with the knowledge of the fact that I’d outgrow the content – outgrow the desperate desire to quickly put something together that made the shit before it worth it, to make the fight to get past it all tangible. I’m not sure I anticipated that feeling coming around as quickly as it did. I haven’t dared glance through a copy. Can’t quite bring myself to want to edit everything with it, cut out most, fill the rest with new ideas and new pieces and new formats. But I’m working on accepting that that’s part of creation, that that’s a sign I’m doing things and working in the right direction – rather than floating through with a soothing idea of ‘one day’ getting around to something I’m relatively proud of. This blog has been stagnant, my willingness to try and create has been non-existent and the crippling insecurities have come back in full force. I’m trying to remember they’re likely always going to be present to some degree and that approval seeking is only worthwhile when it’s from myself.