I’m not broken, I’m just a little bent.

Its been a whole year today since I first published a post on The Mighty telling people about my mental illness (which you can read here) and in that time I’ve realised a number of things. One of those is how incredibly hard I have been, and still continue to be on myself and how little self esteem I have.

When I was initially diagnosed with my mental illness, I convinced myself that I was broken. It is a feeling that hasn’t quite gone away and it is a feeling that seems to fluctuate at various times, depending on my head space, what else is going on in my life and what kind of medication I’m on.

Most of the time, I’m still convinced that since my brain isn’t quite as functional everyone else, that makes me different.

Fractured. Fragmented. Not quite right.

And yet everyday I’m trying to come to the terms with the idea that I’m not broken, I’m just a little bent.

I may have scars from where I tried to cut out all the pain and sew myself back together but that doesn’t make me broken.

I may take medication daily to increase my levels of ‘happy hormones’ but that doesn’t make me broken.

There may be an intense and overwhelmingly constant battle in my head between the depression and the anxiety but that doesn’t make me broken.

There may be days where I am incredibly hard on myself because I’m so incredibly unhappy but that doesn’t make me broken.

There may be times where I lack control and feel numb and have panic attacks that I can’t stop but that doesn’t make me broken.

There may be times when it feels like the pressure I put on myself is breaking me but it won’t. It will never break me.

Thinking of myself as broken makes me feel like I’m a piece of china that can’t ever be put back together quite right or used in the same way again. That’s not true – I will eventually be okay. Eventually my brain won’t work against me everyday. This may mean taking medication everyday for the rest of my life or making a regular time to check in with myself but that’s alright.

Sometimes I just really need to remind myself to be gentle. I am ill. I am hurting. I may be a little bent, but I am in no way broken. And I am recovering. I may always be bent, but I will never be broken.

I may not bend back into the shape I once was but that’s also okay. I don’t want to be who I was. I want to be strong and brave and happy which are some of the things my mental illness took away from me. And yet, at the same time, it is all the things recovering forces me to be.

So if you’re suffering from a mental health issue, or heartbreak, or grief – this is a reminder you are not broken, you’re just a little bent. And this pressure is making you stronger than you have ever been before. After all, diamonds are made under the weight of mountains.

-M x

On the bookshelf: April.

Another month, another piles of books on my bookshelf. This month’s focus – young adult novels and a self help book.

Keep scrolling for more.

Saint Anything – Sarah Dessen.
I am a pretty big fan of Sarah Dessen’s work. I’ve actually only read one of her books before – The Truth About Forever. I honestly just really enjoy Dessen’s writing style and the ease in which she delivers the story line and characters. Saint Anything definitely reinforced the love that I have for Dessen’s novels. The book is about a girl called Sydney and how her life changes after her older brother Peyton goes to jail for a drink driving offence. In an effort to remove herself from the unwanted attention at her school caused by Peyton’s sentence, Sydney moves to a new school where she meets the Chatham family described as “a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis.”
And its here she meets Mac Chatham. Gorgeous, caring and protective Mac.

The novel really talks about a lot of things like forgiveness, feeling invisible, family, friendship, creepy weird men and how hard it might be to find your place in the world. Yeah sure, there is the focus on the love story, but doesn’t every YA have that focus? What is more important here is the beautiful friendship that Sydney forms with the Chatham family. Things like that were the reason I really enjoyed this book. Coming from a place where I do feel rather lost and rather invisible I definitely resonated with it. If you are in a similar space, or want a decent read, definitely pick up Saint Anything. 

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We’re All Mad Here: The No-Nonsense Guide to Living with Social Anxiety – Claire Eastham.
A little plug about a self help book here and I am not even for one second ashamed. As I mentioned in my last post, I am really focusing on my own recovery at the moment and reading books and articles about my conditions are really helping me accept my illnesses and start to develop my own methods to recover – such as writing. Anyway, this book is basically a guide to anxiety. It uses the authors own experience and coping mechanisms to create this amazingly relatable book that honestly sums up some of my own experiences so well. I loved this book so bloody much I dedicated an entire blog post to it, which you can read more here (do it!!!)

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What Happened to Goodbye – Sarah Dessen
So it’s pretty clear that this month I had a little bit of an obsession with Sarah Dessen. It is definitely not my fault and I’m checking myself into author rehab as you read this… (Lol just joking). But back on track now. This book is definitely not as good as Saint Anything, in fact I enjoyed it a lot less. I think it took a long time to actually get into the story line and then really, there wasn’t too much story line there at all. It follows the story of Mclean, a teenager who has jumped from town to town with her Dad since her parents divorce.

I definitely didn’t enjoy this one as much as much as Saint Anything. I think it seemed to drag on a little too much and just seemed quite… immature to me. I really seemed like a Young Adult novel to me, which Dessen’s books don’t really seem to do. There were a few good themes though in particular identity and family which I did enjoy a lot. Not a bad book but nothing to rave about. Dessen’s writing and the themes within the novel really where the saving grace.

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Vanishing Girls – Lauren Oliver
I didn’t love this book but I didn’t reallllly hate it either. I think the one saving grace is that I LOVE Oliver’s writing style. She tends to use other elements – in this case the blog posts, the newspaper articles and the ‘social media’ element – to create her story. This, combined with her genius writing style, generally make her books a good read. But this one… I just didn’t really love. I mean it hooked me in when I read the blurb – a story about two sisters who have an inseparable bond until an undisclosed accident occurs leaving the two girls estranged. Then Dara, one of the girls, goes missing on her birthday. Her sister Nick believes it is linked to the disappearance of another young girl, 9 year-old Madeleine Snow and Nick begins the mission to find her sister. But I think that the blurb was more enthralling than the actual story.. It set up the idea of a plot that wasn’t actually in the book which was really annoying!

I think this novel is an okay read, particularly if you enjoy Oliver’s writing, but I wouldn’t rush out to buy the book.

-M x

What books have you been reading lately? I’d love to hear your recommendations. 

Exhaustion.

There is one overwhelmingly negative aspect to having a mental illness. This is obviously aside from the whole other range of negative things such as the multitude of symptoms of a mental illness, side effects that come from medication and ridiculously emotional therapy sessions. But I digress…

The very worst thing about mental illness is that it is exhausting.

The energy that it takes every day. The energy it takes to survive. The feelings of sadness and worry and that feeling that’s worse than sadness that you can’t quite explain that physically drain you. That anxiety that keeps you on edge and then sends you crashing down from the most euphoric high. The racing heart. The sweaty palms. The brain that can’t stop overthinking everything. The need to control everything and plan and go over every detail again and again. It quite literally takes the life from you.

But the most exhausting part? 

Pretending.

Pretending that none of this is going on. Pretending that your heart isn’t beating a million miles an hour and that you aren’t sweating through another shirt. Pretending that you aren’t thinking about something you said three weeks ago. Pretending that being surrounded by strangers and acquaintances and friends doesn’t terrify you still.  Pretending that you didn’t break down again last night. Pretending that you weren’t on the edge of hurting yourself for the first time in months.

The most exhausting part of mental illness is the mask you put on every single fucking day to hide your real self from the world, and really, to hide from yourself.

It’s a mask made up of so many different elements. It’s the makeup that covers up the sleepless nights because of the nightmares and panic attacks. The smile permanently pasted on your face to hide the fear of not being liked or wanted or loved.

It’s the mask that makes playing pretends so much easier. And for a little while I can trick my own brain into thinking everything is okay.

Playing pretend used to be fun. And now it is a part of my life.

But why should it be? Why do I need to present a perfect, happy, smiling face day in and out? Is it because I’ve been convinced by society that I need to hide things I am ashamed of? But what should I be ashamed of?

I am sick. I have a condition that affects the way my brain works. It might always be there but it does not have to define me. I don’t want to feel ashamed. I don’t want to play pretend. I don’t want to hide behind a mask that has been there for as long as I can remember. I want to feel okay about my mental illness and realise how strong and resilient and fearless it has made me, because if I can get through the darkest moments what is stopping me from getting through everything else? I want everyone else to understand that is okay not to hide and not to pretend and most of all its okay not to be okay.

Most of all I don’t want to be exhausted anymore. Because honestly, I am sick and tired of it.

 

On the bookshelf: a book review.

Now I’m not generally one to want to write a whole blog post about just one book but when you find one that you love so much I think it is necessary to sing praise from the rooftops.

So what is this amazing book you may ask? It’s called We’re All Mad Here: The No-Nonsense Guide to Living with Social Anxiety by the OUTSTANDING Claire Eastham.

*For all of those who don’t want to read about me rave about a book all about social anxiety feel free to tune out now. Good, you’re gone? Back to my post*

Alright so I know this isn’t the kind of book that will appeal to everyone but since almost 11 per cent of Australians experience social anxiety in their lifetime, chances are you know someone going through it and therefore this book is relevant to you. In fact, the book has a whole section dedicated to loved ones so even if you don’t suffer from this mental illness you’ll still be able to get something out of it.

Basically We’re All Mad Here is a guide to dealing with social anxiety and is broken down into easy to read sections. The sections discuss a lot of things like: what social anxiety actually is, treatment options, how to deal with it at school/university, how to deal with it at work, how to deal with it in other triggering situations (like on social media, on dates and at parties) and a section for loved ones. It mixes Claire’s (the author) own experience through childhood, early adulthood, breakdown and subsequent diagnosis and coping mechanisms with a few great exercises and tips.

Claire is honestly hilarious. I read the first page and wanted to be her best friend. It also felt like someone was actually talking directly to me like I was their friend rather than a book filled with lots of boring science mumbo-jumbo. I really want to praise her for making the book incredibly relatable and easy to read with her humour.

As well as some excellent advice like, JUST ACCEPT YOU HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS, the book also contains some really great quotes, great research and great resources.

Now lets cover the two teeny tiny negative parts (that aren’t really all that negative). Basically, this book is a beginners guide to dealing with social anxiety. Inside Claire writes that when she was first diagnosed ALL she wanted was a book like this that offered up a simple explanation of social anxiety as well as achievable coping mechanisms. So yeah, it’s basic and if you’ve already gone through your own diagnosis then you probably know a lot of the details in the book.

BUT WHO REALLY CARES.

It isn’t necessarily a book for someone who knows all about their condition and has their own coping mechanisms. It is a great book for someone who thinks they may have social anxiety or who has just been diagnosed or even for a loved one of someone suffering. Also I’ve known about my social anxiety for a while and I still found it relevant, relatable, funny, interesting and helpful.

The other teeny negative is that it has coping mechanisms that work for Claire but may not work for every Tom, Dick and Harry. However this is something that Claire makes clear at the start of book so I believe it counteracts the negative aspect.

And honestly, those are the only negative parts and I actually explained why they aren’t negatives at all so really it is a book full of amazing and heartfelt advice. I could not praise this book anymore. I would literally marry this book if I could (maybe that’s a little far, but you get how much I love it).

So in summary… Buy this book!!

Get it for yourself, a friend, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a parent, a sibling, WHOEVER. I can guarantee it will help someone in your life and if it doesn’t they will just laugh along because Claire is a bloody fabulous and relatable author.

Seriously, I honestly cannot recommend this book more. The advice is so practical and easy to understand its like social anxiety for dummies. By including her own personal experiences, Claire makes you feel like you aren’t in a battle that is honestly pretty terrifying. She also talks a lot about acceptance which I think is one of the most important things about recovering from a mental illness. So anyway, enough ranting from me and just buy the damn book.

-M x

PS – I also HIGHLY recommend Claire’s blog, for which the link is below. It just kept my love for her and her writing going. There are so many excellent and personal posts and more advice about mental illness. For Claire’s website ‘We’re All Mad Here’ click here. 

Have you also read this book? Or do you just have a book recommendation for me? Comment below! 🙂 

Self care tips – the non cutesy kind.

When you go through a shitty time the first thing anyone will tell you is that you need to take care of yourself.

But what does self care really mean? I think people sometimes think that self care just means lighting some candles, having a long bath, drinking a glass of wine or going to a day spa (all of which are very nice) but for the people that are really struggling self care can mean so much more.

Sometimes I think we need to dig a little deeper than a Pinterest quote or a Lush bath bomb.

So if your feeling down, or if you’ve just had your heartbroken, or you are grieving here are some non cutesy self care tips. I hope they help.

Talk it out or write it down.
Tell someone about how you feel. Tell them you feel overwhelmed or depressed or anxious. Tell someone you trust. Call Lifeline or beyondblue. There is always someone to listen no matter how small or insignificant the issue seems.
Sometimes it is hard to talk about something going on in our lives. We may feel like there is no one to talk too, that no one will understand or maybe you just don’t want to talk about it right now. In this case it always helps to write down your thoughts. Get a blank piece of paper and just VENT. Write it all down. Who cares if it doesn’t make sense? As long as it is therapeutic for you.

Breathe.
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Slow. Deep. 4 breaths in, 4 breaths out. If you’re into meditation, meditate. Just do it. Taking a few deep breaths will calm your heartbeat and make you feel more calm overall.

Vitamin D.
Go outside and get some sunshine! If you can’t will yourself to go outside, even opening the curtains on a dark room will help improve your mood. Only 15 minutes of sunshine can increase our serotonin levels thus improving our mood.

Water.
Have a big class of water. Use it to regenerate yourself. It may seem like a small thing, but it always helps me feel so much better when I’m feeling crap. I also find having a mug of green or chamomile tea helpful. Both just make me feel so calm.
Your skin will also thank you for it!

Hygiene.
When was the last time you showered? Have you brushed your teeth today?  When was the last time you put on a fresh pair of underwear? The first thing that tends to slip when we’re feeling low is our hygiene. So have a shower. Brush your teeth. Get into a fresh pair of clothes. Then get back into bed.

Eat a healthy meal.
Put aside the family block of chocolate and prepare a healthy meal. You know the one, full of protein and greens and all the good things. I can guarantee you that junk food is not going to make you feel better. The action of preparing food will also make you feel more put together (it’s the act of achieving something!) You can always eat the chocolate later.

Say no.
I know, I know. This isn’t as easy as it sounds but sometimes the main reason that you are feeling so down and depressed is because you’re feeling overwhelmed. In this instance you really need to start saying no to things you really can’t deal with. Can’t bring yourself to go out with friends? Say no if you think it will help.

Do something you enjoy.
Take a day to do the things you love to do. It doesn’t matter if you do it alone or with someone just makes sure it’s things you love. Personally, I like to go for a long walk, read a book I’ve been putting off, visit a museum or art gallery and take myself out for a meal.

Switch off.
Take some time to log off social media. The constant comparisons, the light of the screen and the mindless scrolling is not good for your mental health. Don’t completely switch off from social media (unless you really want), just delete the app for a few hours or limit yourself to checking your phone a few times a day.

Get active.
This can come into the Vitamin D point or even in the Do something you enjoy point but I also think it deserves its own. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is go do some exercise. This might mean a walk, a run, yoga or a Kayla Itsines workout (whatever floats your boat!) Just 30 minutes of exercise can release so many good hormones and leave you feeling so much better.

De-clutter.
When I get stressed I clean, it helps calm me down and focus on something other than the anxiety rising in my chest. But when I’m feeling low, cleaning is the first thing I stop doing. For me, decluttering or cleaning an area in my house is one of the MOST therapeutic things I can do. So take a moment to tidy up a space. It could mean doing the dishes and wiping down the benches. It could mean putting away your floordrobe. It might just be sorting out the pile of mess gathering on the kitchen table.

Please remember these things may not work for everyone – they are what works for me. You may need to find your own ways of coping. You might be the kind of person who does find that watching netflix all day in bed is good for your self care (I am so jealous!) Self care is all about what works for you. 

-M xo

What things do you do when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed? Tell me in the comments below. 

So, what’s it like living with social anxiety?

Did you know that 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety throughout their lifetime? Specifically, anxiety will affect 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men.

There are a number of different types of anxiety – generalised anxiety, social phobia, specific phobias, OCD, panic disorders and post traumatic stress disorders. The reasons that people experience anxiety are endless – family history, personality, traumatic events, ongoing stressful situations.. The list goes on.

So, what is it like living with anxiety? Or more specifically, social anxiety? Well I can’t speak for everyone with an anxiety disorder but this is how it’s like for me.

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety in 2015. It wasn’t until I found a decent psychologist that it was actually found to be social anxiety – an anxiety disorder that specifically relates to a fear of most social situations. According to the psychologist I’ve had anxiety and depression for a number of years, dating back to when I started high school.

For me the anxiety developed as a result of a few things.

1. My personality and family history – I am a complete perfectionist. I always have been. I never really saw it as an issue until it was explained to me how closely linked it was with my anxiety.

2. Other mental health issues – my anxiety goes hand in hand with depression. Which, if you happen to experience either one or even both, is a bloody huge struggle.

3. Prolonged stressful environments – hello relationship breakdowns, being cheated on and simultaneous trust issues, having your parents move state. There is tonnes more things I could mention here, but that’d be a whole other blog post.

Back to the point of this post – what is it like living with social anxiety?

For me, this changes day to day. Sometimes my anxiety levels are so bad that I attempt to avoid every single social situation I can. This makes things like going to work, going to the supermarket or even talking to my housemate extremely difficult. And sometimes the anxiety is barely there.

My anxiety has definitely been tested at the moment. I’ve just moved to a new town, started a new job and had to learn what it’s like to be away from your main support network. It’s hard, especially when you are terrified of most social situations.

There can be bad days.

On the bad days I can have as many as 10 panic attacks in a day. This may not seem like a huge number, but for someone with anxiety it is pretty scary.

On the bad days my heart rate sits at an increased rate. I sweat a lot. I constantly fidget. I find it hard to concentrate on anything else except the negative thoughts going on in my head – things like: “don’t ask that question, they’ll think you are dumb,” or “why are people staring at me? Did I do something wrong?”

On the bad days I second guess everything. I worry about needing to get my work done but procrastinate because I can’t start anything as I’m terrified it will be wrong. I’m scared to ask questions to my managers or colleagues because I fear I’ll be judged.

On the bad days I can text love ones multiple times if they don’t reply. I need the constant reassurance from my boyfriend that he loves me and needs me. My mind races if the response to a text or an email is not instantaneous.

“Has something happened?”
“Why won’t they reply?”
“What did I do wrong?”

I essentially shut down and yet from the outside I seem fine. Unless you notice the fidgeting, the inability to sit still, the need to be doing something with my hands at all times. Despite the fear inside there is constantly a smile on the outside.

But then there can be good days.

The good days are managing to go have brunch with friends, go out for drinks. It is being able to socialise in general.

The good days are the days without panic attacks, sweaty hands, a heart that beats too quickly. It is the smile that I can believe. Being able to concentrate on work and not having an underlying fear that I am going to muck things up.

The good days are not second guessing everything or everyone. They are the days without the nagging voice inside my head, the questions going over and over again.

I definitely wouldn’t say that at the moment my weeks are an equal split between the good days and bad days – it is definitely more 70% bad, 30% good. But what I am trying to say is that it is possible to have both. People who have these debilitating mental illnesses can struggle to see out the other side (and I can say this honestly because I have been there). With the correct treatments and help there is the chance to get better and to somewhat function day to day.

The correct treatment for me may be different from someone else who deals with these challenges. I personally rely on both my amazing psychologist and antidepressants. I also have a strong support network, I journal, I exercise and I meditate. I have tried to find balance.

I think if you are someone who also experiences a mental illness it is important to remember it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it is a messy and scary storm. What helps is putting one foot in front of another and having tactics to deal with the bad day.

If you were troubled by this post or experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636 or visit lifeline.org.au or beyondblue.com.au

The Self Love Club.

Self love.
Noun.
Regard for ones own well-being and happiness.

For someone that has struggled with depression and anxiety for a number of years, the concept of ‘self love’ is something that is seemingly unknown to me. Self loathing on the other hand, I am well aware of the term. It is something I deal with every single day.

The negative thoughts. The negative self talk. Self harm.

Self loathing is something I am good at. Self love, not so much. But I’m trying.
Every single day I make such an effort to be positive. To talk positively to myself. To remind myself that I am worth it. To remind myself that tomorrow is another day and that things do get better.

But sometimes it isn’t that easy to drown out the self loathing. Sometimes it is easier to fall into that deep, dark black hole that is depression. Today was definitely one of those days. It was the kind of day where everything felt like too much of an effort. Everything hurt. Everything felt dark.

But even on the bad days I am still trying so hard to practice self love. Even when I don’t want to I make the effort to shower. I make the effort to drink water. I make the effort to try.

I think the purpose of this post was more of a vent than anything else. A reassurance to all the other people that are struggling that it is okay to struggle through the bad days as long as you keep trying. Just keep trying to love yourself and look after yourself, no matter how hard it may seem.