No More Heroes

We present as part of Time To Talk’s national day of discussion about mental health (Feb 7th) a week’s worth of posts about how this 52 year old finally made a difference and started listening to herself and others, before determining to improve life for the better…

These views are mine alone, and absolutely 100% do not mesh with anybody else’s opinion on anything. WELCOME TO HOW BLOGS WORK.


Day 1: That moment when it becomes apparent that if you want any job done properly, you have to do it yourself:

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Occasionally, we all need a little help. Even the smartest person in the World can’t solve all the issues they face, at least without the occasional supportive ‘you got this!’ or a motivational picture of a cat in their timeline. However, there is a point where all the support and understanding in existence is pointless if you decide you won’t. It might not be a won’t, as it happens. You could say you can’t, or mustn’t, or maybe even that’s just impossible. How does anything change in your life as a result, if it is easier to provide excuses than solutions.

Excuses are easy. Solutions are hard, and that’s where I keep finding myself.

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I realise just how lucky my life is, at this point, that opportunity even exists for improvement. It is incredibly easy to say ‘sort yourself out’ and there will be those who (quite rightly) in many cases might consider this as victim blaming or shaming. So, to be clear: I’m not a victim. My life, which is the only thing I can reasonably talk about with confidence, is not underpinned by any kind of issue where being told to get better is somehow making matters worse.

What my life has been ruled by is fear. This is something that’s only recently become apparent, as it happens: a complex combination of factors, which (with other mental shortcomings that will hopefully be better defined after I’ve spoken to some professionals about them) made for a potent cocktail of restriction. I can’t do that because used to precede far too many conversations. Lungs won’t work, can’t interface with people, unable to combine the mental processes required. All my shortcomings.

Nobody to blame but me.

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I had to hit rock bottom for my reset. Considering suicide, wondering what the point really was if nothing ever seemed to work in my favour, came the realisation that actually, I was the problem. This is still something to remind myself of in moments where life throws me a curve, that often brain is working against body in order to hamstring progress for no other reason than it’s easier than making the effort. Undoubtedly, that adage that you get what you give / you give what you get is spot on.

Everybody’s answer is different, too, and that’s the problem with finding a mentor of becoming enamoured with a guru/influencer/snake oil salesperson who’ll offer an easy answer in exchange for your cash/follow/first born. I’ve followed so many people via Social media who think that selling their salvation is the solution: it’s never true, and so I unfollow and move on. This is the woman who read a ton of self-help books and nothing ever stuck, until the day I was willing to forgive myself and move forward.

Excuses are Easy, Solutions are Hard. Never forget this.

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The trick, it appears, is to pick the right metaphors for your journey. I am never going to win a beauty pageant, nor would I ever enter one… however, I can be strong. Telling me I’m beautiful will be met with short shrift, but praise my ability to think through problems or write a decent blog post and you’re on the right track. Seriously, that whole ‘you’re so beautiful’ stuff is creepy, however well intentioned or based on actual perception it might be. Tell someone they’re inspiring, or dedicated. Intelligent or capable is great. Leave the surface stuff for people who won’t look past appearances.

You can be the most beautiful person in the world on the outside, and a mess inside. Given the choice, I’d rather look a mess but have my internal shit under control, but to do that you gotta work out what needs fixing.

That’s Day 2’s conundrum.

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Why are you here again, shouldn’t you have scheduled this for tomorrow?

Well, yes, a smart person would stretch their content out a bit but as must now be apparent to most of you, that’s not how this works. If summat needs saying then fuck it, that’s what happens. I’ve destroyed so much confidence and so many opportunities across decades because it was never said at the time. Not how this works any more. Never how things will be, going forward.

Oh yeah, this was important.

When this journey was begun, there was only one aim. Get out of the hole. Sure, there were lots of nebulous other things that would be great (become a successful writer, have friends, function properly like other human beings) but honestly, if truth be told, UP was the only command that mattered. Then, when the hole was not the restricting factor, other stuff mattered. Write better. Tell people what you are thinking with well-structured, thoughtful sentences. Get fit. Honestly, FIND SOME FRIENDS. Each time I tick off an objective from the list, it gets smaller.

Unfortunately, every new item on my list inevitably becomes harder to complete.

I filled in a survey this morning about Time and Writing: do I have enough time to do it, what prevents me from doing so and I found myself realising something monumentally significant: if anything matters enough for you to chase it and make it happen, you just find time to do it. You write on scraps of paper, you let the washing up slide for a day or two, it becomes one task, and one task only. Responsibility and belief have a fantastic, erotic tryst in your brain and the result is that nothing else matters except the words. Love, proper OMG THIS IS AWESOME DON’T EVER STOP Love ignores everything except the moment.

This is great, but when you know that your brain has the means and ability to destroy everything held dear, normally about ten minutes after that situation just became perfect, it is necessary to approach your dreams from differing angles, and accept that sometimes, perfect means lying on the floor, hugging your knees, just grateful the words came out at all. The two submissions I’ll be making approximately 24 hours after this is posted, represent possibly the biggest single difficult Thing To Do on my list, with a wobbly pencil line scored through it so many times, the page is split by graphite.

I can’t get proper help if I can’t adequately describe to people what the matter is. Now, I can. Slowly, almost too painfully slowly, the means to communicate what it is like when I shut down, when I can’t cope, is becoming possible to hand to total strangers. The irony of all this, of course, is that you have to learn someone else’s language well enough to be able to do that in the first place. There is talking, and telling, and finally there is a proper, accurate representation of WTAF BRAIN PLEASE HELP ME I’M TRAPPED.

Amazingly, of course, this was the UP that needed to happen before I stopped being whole in the first place.

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This week has become rather important for a lot of reasons. A number of these cannot be spoken about (as yet) but once the processes are complete, that will change. For today, however, I have daughter here after an extremely torrid week abroad and husband after a weekend where he couldn’t walk more than about six steps without someone admiring his bike. I’ve almost managed to clear the largest pile of washing that’s ever existed in the house, and (once my writing duties are done) the Gym is already calling.

Having comprehensively established there is no such thing as a body detox, my regime when starting a new exercise programme is lots of water and religious calorie counting. I’ll be taking the RideLondon46 training quite seriously too starting today, with at least five days a week involving some time on a bike.I am rather looking forward to a focus on exercise and not much else, with the free time dedicated to writing and preparing written stuff for awards, bursary’s and contests.

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It is going to be a bit me-focused this week as a result, for which I apologise in advance.

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You know I mentioned my e-mail address stopped working a while back? Well, yesterday I discovered a quite important e-mail that had gone astray.

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I made it into the Ride London 46 Ballot. Fortunately I’ve not missed anything vital and the participation’s confirmed, though not gonna lie, I’m terrified. It’s exactly seven weeks on Sunday, which is also the day before we go on holiday, and suddenly everything’s become a panicked, anxiety filled mess. This is not how it was hoped such a thing would initially be prepared for and so, as a result, it’s time to take a fucking huge step back at the weekend and quietly consider what is needed.

However, before anything else, it is time to start selling the reason why I initially signed up to do this.

I grow tired of the pontificating on Social media by people who talk a good ‘let’s all change the World’ speech but don’t ever push their own boundaries to do just that. So, I’ve set myself a £500 target, and have already contacted Mind, who will provide me with a jersey and encouragement along the way. This seems to me a far better means of making sure that the people who really need help are getting it, because I’m giving money to an organisation who’s sole task is to do just that. Rather than just sitting on my arse saying I care, this is a constructive means of making things better.

If the anxiety ridden depressive can do this, then maybe that will act as an incentive to others.

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Lots of people aren’t coping with modern life. You don’t need to be a genius to understand why. With Mental Health Awareness Week upon us, yet again a well-meaning organisation attempts to get a population to listen who are already struggling to cope with the pace of change around them. You only need to look at the rise in hate crime, the drop in high street sales and a distinct apathy amongst those people who don’t have issues coping but are getting mightily fed up of being told it’s not enough to see that possibly, maybe, all this information’s becoming an overload.

Although I applaud this charity (without whom I’d not be as together right now as is undoubtedly the case) and the efforts being made, there’s a feeling that a lot of people will only be caring this week for what this can do for their own social media reach. Conversely, a bunch of opportunists will use this as a way to highlight their own agendas, fall deeper into depression or simply stop listening. I’ve seen it myself, from horribly subjective personal experience. After a while, your mental health issues can become a joke. Taking the piss out of people you care about it might make you feel big and clever, but it is neither, and yet that’s what happens.

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So, how do we deal with issues which many of us just want to ignore to begin with? The answer is so subjective that any large-scale campaign can only hope that we, as human beings, take initiative for ourselves. That’s how anything works best: understand what it that is wrong, find a solution that works for you. The problem comes with how to define your problem. Stress, as it stands, is a good starting point. Learning how to eliminate it may seem daunting, but that’s simply not true. Thanks to the Mental Health Foundation’s Mindfulness course, my life has transformed over the last year. When taken with exercise and better self care, the difference to every aspect of my existence is without exception. This is really the best it has ever been, even during the days when I go backwards.

What Mindfulness has done for me is separate self from the anxiety and fear that has nothing to do with World news, Social media drama or peer group pressure. It allows a detachment from the fear only I can create, within my own mind. Once able to function separately from such restrictions, and control self in an effective fashion, so much else became easier not only to cope with but grasp with objectivity. This technique may not work for you, but for me it has markedly improved anxiety, anger and depressive episodes: control is no longer out of my hands, but can be managed and bolstered when added to exercise and other forms of relaxation.

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If you’re feeling stressed reading this, I’d argue the best thing to do is stop being on the Internet and go outside. That works on most days, but for those when it doesn’t, the answer might be finding someone to talk to, especially if its an issue that you know won’t be going away any time soon. Mindfulness is only part of my complex puzzle.

Finding pieces that fit yours can be a stressful task too, but is more than worthwhile in the end.

The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul

Bear with me on this one, it will be worth it.


Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SKYFALL.

This week, a video went viral of how badly James Bond has treated his women in five decades. It is, I suppose, like that moment in The Emperor’s New Clothes when the young boy says what he sees, and only then does everybody else grasp that they’ve been had. Bond has NEVER been above conventional outrage, even during the 1960’s. For a woman like me, who fell in love with Roger Moore and then came to understand that these movies were a fiction, the allure of Bond isn’t the casual means by which he deals with the emotional. It is the fact that he so beautifully typifies how I feel about the World. It always needs saving, the pleasure gained by doing so is ultimately short-lived and nobody really cares about your commitment as long as they’re happy in the end. It is escapism, pure and simple… except now, you can’t even do that in reality.

All that matters right now is truth and honesty, which is great… but to a point.

Bond doesn’t do emotional, or at least he didn’t until Daniel Craig came along and made 007 something more than the misogynist, sexist Dinosaur that Judi Dench accuses Piers Brosnan of being in Goldeneye. Bond since Casino Royale isn’t the same fellow as his predecessors, but that’s not what the evangelising liberators will see. All men are evil when they dominate and subjugate women, and although I agree 100% with this statement, there comes a point where you don’t need to be told. Please continue to hang spurious toerags who do this in reality out to dry, but be careful when you start impinging on other people’s fantasies because this is a dangerous game to even contemplate playing.

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Today is Time to Talk Day and instead of talking about my own mental health, I want to talk about Bond’s. Yup, if you can attack a fictional character in mainstream media for being too brutish, I’m going to ask how many people will have considered the long-term psychological effects of being a 00 agent. In my own fictional version of this world, I decided that Bond is probably encouraged to be bad boyfriend material for a reason: emotional attachments in his job, let’s face it, are hardly conducive, and the one time he did fall in love, the woman ends up dead in a canal in Venice. It is a simple and damning reminder that emotions have consequences, but more significantly it isn’t just the woman’s feelings that can be destroyed. Bond is damaged for a reason. If the plan now is to cast him aside as an outdated trope, what the hell will that do long term to stop this kind of behaviour from taking place?

How will we change this kind of thinking without treating the root causes of the problem?

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Learning to end discrimination also involves the understanding that people with mental health issues can often be violent and unpredictable. They can also be highly intelligent, controlling and flat out lie in order to maintain their notions of safety. In case you think I’m generalising here, I’m not, this is me speaking from extremely personal experience. In my life, I have been all of these things, and have had others do the same to me in order to deal with what they saw were my ‘issues.’ If you’ve never had a mental health problem, it can be impossible to understand the motivations behind actions. Talking to each other isn’t just about making your illness the discussion: it is only part of a complex equation that involves emotional support and understanding.

Many people are violent because of mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed for decades. It is not ‘brutish’ behaviour, and most certainly not unconsciously meted. The world we live in now seems happy to condemn everyone without nearly enough thought and consideration, and media right now is in danger of causing more harm than good with ill-conceived pronouncements. The real trick, ultimately, is to teach people how to deal with their version of reality (that which they experience and that which surrounds them) when it comes into contact with everybody else’s. If others are not capable of accurately understanding their behaviour, it must be up to us to not only be able to objectively do that for them, and ourselves.

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The key here is objectivity: being able not to tar everybody with the same brush, to step back from stereotyping, being able to accurately separate fiction from fact. Please don’t start condemning my entire life history, modern feminists. If you reacted badly to Friends and you think Bond’s had his day, most of my childhood’s now on time and you’ll be petitioning soon to pretend that most of the 1970’s never happened. History is there to teach us, not to condemn everything as bad, wrong, and worth ignoring. On this #TimeToTalk day, why not stop making posts as you somehow feel as if that’s the right thing to do. Why not start looking for answers: not other people’s, but your own.

Stop sitting and waiting for the answers to come to you, or be dictated by the latest media outrage. Go and find solutions for yourself.

Panic

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Yesterday was a hard one for me. I woke up ready to do a lot of important stuff with my son, who completely forgot we’d organised it. This makes me cross,  but I’m trying not to get angry about it, so there was lots of deep breathing and patience. Then my daughter insisted on rearranging my afternoon. I was about 82% cool about this. After all, until both of them are 18, I am still responsible for actions and that means… well, being flexible. There were days I’d really struggle with this when I (and more importantly they) were younger.

By teatime, I was mentally exhausted, and still hadn’t done a weights day at the Gym, so managed to get myself out of the house. Arriving at said establishment, it became apparent that they were holding a ‘Power Hour’: DJ, lots of free instruction, and no way I’d be able to do what I’d planned. If I’d been in private I’d have just gone and locked myself in my bedroom and cried over the change… however I was stuck in the lobby, waiting to get in.

I panicked.

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Except, this time I didn’t just turn and go home, which was normally how I’d deal with these situations in the past. I focussed on breathing and trying to make the feelings of anxiety and fear into something positive. After all, I’ve been practising all this mindfulness for exactly these occasions. This is the moment where I’m supposed to use the shit to good effect… and I was reasonably successful. There were no (major) tears and a surprisingly dispassionate response to all of it. However, my higher brain functions largely shut down, I forgot how to talk and so just ran and Octane-d. However, I did force myself to do the Negatives in front of about double the normal number of Friday night Gym goers.

I still feel sick this morning: however, once I’ve eaten and had a cuppa I’ll go and walk back there and do the weights I couldn’t do yesterday, so I have done at least two sessions this week. I can return to three next week as everyone is back at school. On reflection, I know now all the reasons why yesterday ended up as it did. I can work out how to make things better based on a whole day’s worth of data. I can also be reassured that the Mindfulness training has 100% improved my entire existence. Yesterday could have ended up as the first day when I truly went backwards on exercise, but instead, it will now be remembered as the first day I fought, beat and won against a panic attack.

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I ache a lot this morning, and very little of it is to do with last night’s exercise, I suspect: stress has begun to physically manifest in my body as I have gotten older. My sleep wasn’t stellar last night either as a result but I got a full 8 hours in total, so that’s enough. I wanted to write this down this morning after a night to reflect because I’m only just beginning to grasp how important yesterday was in making sure I’m mentally prepared for what is to come. Doing stuff on my own used to be a fraught experience, but not so much now.

I look forward to the day when I can breeze through everything and wonder what the fuss was about, to begin with.