Sunday, 31 July 2016

It's a goodbye from me....

I've spent the last few days looking back over my first ever posts on this very blog.

It begun in 2011, a time where after developing severe depression and consequently taking an overdose in late 2010 I was disallowed from attending Sixth Form and had to take 6 months out of education.

The girl writing those posts in 2011 feels so far away from the girl who is writing this post today.

I'm now 23 years old, and will soon be turning 24. I was 18 years old when I was writing these posts - still a teenager, lost, confused and trapped in a never ending cycle of depression.

Looking back on my schooling days feels like asking for trouble sometimes. As in reality, it was a horrible time. I'd spent each waking moment of those days hating myself. So much so, that I was self-harming and starving myself by the age of 12. I was bullied, constantly. I didn't have a friendship group that I could call my own. I turned to teachers as my concrete source of support. Prozac, citalopram and lorazepam had become items that I could be dependant on. I look back at my school days and just remember crying an awful lot and spending the majority of my time in teacher's offices and classrooms after hours, desperately seeking someone to understand what on earth was going on inside my head. I hated myself, despised myself, and thought I was worth nothing. That is just a small summary of everything but the reality feels quite traumatic now I look back on it all. It makes me feel ill and sends shivers down my spine.

The last time I self-harmed was last November. That's well over 10 years of fighting a war with myself. Last November feels so recent when you think about it but I'm determined to never get there again.

Many of you will know that I have spent the last three years at University, studying a BA Honours Degree in English Literature. And looking back on THOSE three years, so much has happened in that time - I met my biological father for the first time in my adult life, I lost my biological father for the first time in my adult life, one of my dear friends passed away, I'd taken a severe overdose, I'd moved house, I've switched jobs, and a lot of things happened in Nathan's life too.

I'm proud to announce that last Friday I graduated with a First Class Honours degree, standing with my boyfriend of 7 years by my side and all of my friends and family:





I guess I don't really have words for the feeling that I had on graduation day. Graduation is an exciting time for a lot of people but for me it felt like I was kicking my past to the kerb. I had actually achieved something where it was impossible to do any better. I've constantly never felt good enough, and still feel like that to a strong extent, but last Friday was an example of how hard work, determination, and pushing on through each and every dark cloud pays off.

Many of you will now know that I'm now working full-time for Macmillan Cancer Support as an Editorial Assistant. As astounded as I was to get the position, I was for the first time in many years met with an overwhelming surge of pride towards myself. That, together with my first class honours degree, felt unbelievably strange. I've overworked myself as a perfectionist my entire life with what felt like nothing to show for it. These two achievements were unarguably achievements that had been completed by no-one else but myself. I had faced them with passion, determination and a drive that I didn't know I had and they paid off. In almost 24 years, I had never been proud of myself fully until I got into the office at work to be greeted by cupcakes from my lovely colleagues to say congratulations on my degree result. I had never allowed myself to feel proud and I had forbidded myself from achievement because I was completely full of self-hatred.

That's not to say that life now is totally plain sailing. I sometimes feel that I'm not 'over' the situation with my father, and I'm not sure I will ever be. I still have a huge portion of me that is full of self-hatred, despite all of these amazing things happening to me. I have days where, after having achieved everything I ever wanted to at the time I wanted to, I want to retreat back into bed and cry. I, already after two months into my job, have had what I refer to as my 'bad days' to my colleagues - which to me are simply bad mental health days. I know when they're coming and they can creep up and feel as pressing as a thunderstorm on a gloomy day. Yet I belittle myself thinking 'but why? This is what you wanted' and then I slowly realise that my illnesses will still follow me around at each available opportunity attempting to diminish every good thing that happens.

It's my ability to cope with each up and each low that passes which can make this work. I'm going through a really exciting time, but one which is full of a lot of change and adaptation. I'm still at an age where I'm trying to figure out who I am. I'm trying to find an identity which I never really had in the first place. I'm still in many ways trying to accept the person that I am, in all its forms. I guess 'overwhelming' is the word you can use to describe those feelings.

But my goodness, let's not forget where I was 3, 4, 5 years ago and completely marvel at who I am now. It's pretty much unrecognisable. Yesterday I sat on a train to St Albans whereas I was housebound almost 6 years ago. The thought of hurting myself fills me with dread and not necessity and urgency, and I'm not as quite as dismissive of myself as I used to be.

I also left therapy a couple of weeks into my new job. Michael Appleton, who saw me for two and a half years, had been a godsend and I wasn't sure if there was any other ways that I could thank him for his guidance, support and care. I now enter life without therapy for the first time since I was 12 years old. Of course, I have had breaks from therapy before but I am determined that I want this to be the last time. I don't want to go back.

And where does this blog fit in with this journey? I've been rattling my brains for such a long time trying to think of ways that I could make my little section of the internet alive again. This blog has been a saviour in so many ways and has helped a lot of people, and I'll never forget that. But the words I used to have are not quite there anymore. I've exhausted the amount I can say and I worry that forcing it will make it worse. I'm also not quite sure I want my life to be quite as public as it was. I've never been one to hide my past issues, and never will - but I don't want to be known as a mental health blogger anymore. I want my identity to consist of things that are unrelated to my past and present experiences with mental health difficulties and I hope that you all can understand that.

So, without further ado, this is likely to be my final post here. I'm ready to move on and I'm ready to kick start my new life. I'm accepting that this life may never be truly free of the complexities of mental health difficulties, neither will it be smooth sailing. But I worry that this blog occasionally hindered more than helped me and I think it's time to take a step back.

I want to thank each and every one of you who I have met throughout this journey. Some of my bestest friends have been made through blogging and you know who you are. I want you all to know that my care for you all stills stands and that I love and appreciate you all dearly. Blogging is not where my heart lies at this moment in my life and I can't force what isn't quite there.

Thank you.

Amy-Louise

Friday, 27 May 2016

Exciting things!

Wow. Now I have a LOT to update you all on.

For the first time in my life, things seem to be falling into place. I may be asking for trouble when I openly admit things like this, but since my last post back in February (yeah, sorry about that), all of the negativity and ill health and crap that has gone on for the majority of my life has seemed to slowly but surely start shifting. A part of me has emerged which is unlike any part of me I have known before.

In the upcoming months, so much change will be taking place but it's change that I will be embracing. I've achieved things that I never thought possible because I assumed I would be dead. Everything is wonderfully overwhelming, so much so that I sit sometimes rather static not quite knowing how to think/what to make of this new life that I'm about to enter into.

Firstly, as of Tuesday I completed my undergraduate degree. Final grade pending of course, but until then, this is something of a huge achievement. Three years have quite simply flown by and yet so much has happened in those three years. Many of you will remember that battling with mental illness as a teenager resulted in me having to take a lot of time away from education to try and get better, and as such I begun studying at the University of Greenwich at the age of 21. I'd love to make a full post about this in due course, but what I'd love to say is that going to University at the age I did was one of the best decisions I could possibly have made.

This is a picture of me holding my 10,000 word dissertation just before submission in front of my beautiful University!

This is a picture of me and all of my friends with grins plastered across our faces when we had finished our final exam on the 17th of May!

The second thing that has happened to me is that I managed to land myself my dream full time job! Many of you will remember that last summer I interned for the charity Macmillan Cancer Support for three months in their Cancer Information Development Team, who work to produce high quality information for those affected by cancer. I loved the internship so much and it completely solidified my desire to work within the charity sector. All I ever wanted to do was to come back to Macmillan. A few months ago, I noticed a job advertisement for an Editorial Assistant for Macmillan Cancer Support (which involves essentially the same role I performed as an intern plus a few extra roles and responsibilities of course!). After working really hard, I managed to get the job and I start next Thursday! As you can imagine, I'm extremely elated to be returning to a department and a charity that I care so much about and one that is also related to my degree. I'm full of nerves and anticipation but I'm also so excited to be working for an organisation that I love so much.

Lastly, I'll also be leaving my current therapist after two and a half years of sessions. Michael has seen and supported me essentially throughout the highs and lows of my degree, not to mention the traumatic events that happened with my father. He's helped me so much, not only to come to an understanding of those events, but to monitor my moods and to regulate my behaviours and thoughts. So much so, that Michael wishes entirely to remove my label of BPD as he thinks it is no longer applicable to this stage of my life. I interestingly agree with Michael on this. Although my anxiety will always be a dominating force in my life, my erratic moods, violent outbursts and dependencies on others have lessened greatly. My life, and living that life, has become a driving force as opposed to my illness and it feels very freeing. I will, however, miss Michael and his support a lot and will be finding our final session incredibly difficult! He's an incredible man and I'm extremely lucky to have him.

So yes, the past few months have been eventful to use a term! I can honestly say that right now I feel the happiest that I've ever been. It's the most satisfying feeling watching hard work and determination and a refusal to give up on yourself, pay off. I feel like those years of depression, misery, and self-loathing are far behind me now and although I'll always be susceptible to those moods, I know what to do to ensure that they don't return again. Many people say that being an adult, most particularly in your early 20s, is terrifying but for me, being a child was the most terrifying thing of all. My childhood was full of hating and harming myself and my adult life has seen me flourish as I try to repair that damage. I'd never go back to school, it was for me a place of sadness besides the lovely staff and meeting Nathan in 2009. But being at the age I am (23, in fact) and in the position that I am feels so right, and fitting. Being so ill when I was all happened for a reason. Meeting my father and the pain that coincided that all happened for a reason. My decision to complete internships last summer happened for a reason. Everything really does happen for a reason.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Ways in which we cope

A therapy appointment I had recently got me thinking about the ways in which I cope and process different events mentally in relation to my BPD.

It seems to me that as I'm growing older and learning more about myself, I'm subconsciously developing problem solving strategies as I face crisis's rather than recognising everything in life as a crisis by which I need to stop living.

Like most individuals, I've gone through a lot of stress in my 23 years. More recently, mentally I've been feeling quite overwhelmed with trying to juggle living between two houses, the final year of my degree, a job, therapy, saving for a mortgage and attempting to have a social life. Of course, life events have too contributed to this especially in the last year, what with a lot of ongoing distressing situations in Nathan's family and my Dad blocking me out of his life for what looks to be forever.

On Friday, my Nan was diagnosed with cancer.

Those of you who know me will know that to me my Nan is like an extra limb. I lived with her as a kid for several years and she brought me up in the way my Dad should have done. I see her now at least twice a week and she is one of the most influential and most important people in my life.

My way of coping with this news has been to me, slightly bizarre. I cried before finding out, and I cried when I found out. But I didn't react in the way BPD Amy would have done. I didn't throw things across the room, isolate myself, and refuse to speak about it. Instead, I processed it rationally and naturally, cried when I needed to cry, spoke to my friends and Nathan about how I felt, and allowed myself to openly feel infront of others.

I'm devastated, of course, and I'm not sure I can ever be prepared for the upcoming months. But I'm noticing changes in my behaviour which can only prove positive for me as I face the next few months ahead. I'm not violently lashing out at those I love anywhere near as much as I used to, although I have a lot of work to do in regard to my moods still. I'm still trying to keep going and keep living and not hide away no matter how much I want to. I'm trying to attend events and University and keep my spirits high even when they feel at an all-time low. This is such a different behaviour from ones I exhibited back in the day and I'm not sure whether they are helping or being a hindrance but I guess only time will tell.

Even now, 7 months on, my Dad's refusal to speak to me feels so raw. So many events from my life feel so raw and painful, even events which relate to my 'Letter to C' post 5 years ago. Names people have called me, times where I've been abandoned and people who have walked away. But the way I'm coping with them is different now. Maybe I'm realising that sometimes I really do just have to keep going no matter what life throws at me. That to stop means that my illness wins. That the 90% of negative energy that possesses me is allowed to possess. That getting up, getting showered and dressed, packing my bag and going to work or University is an example of the 10% of me that is a fighter. I don't always have to be a superhero. There's no perfect way to cope with anything but sometimes just getting through each day with a smile on my face, even if it feels pretend, is one step in the right direction and less of a move backwards.

As I mentioned in my last post, last November I took a dangerous overdose which was triggered by no life event or no significant memory. It was impulsive and scary and felt necessary all at the same time. Interestingly, no part of my Nan's cancer diagnosis or my Dad's departure made me want to do those things but random days where my depression takes over are the days where I feel powerless to self-destruction. I wish I could work out how and why I cope with these events differently, and whilst I'll probably never be fully emotionally regulated, there seems to be a lot of change there and a lot more strength then there used to be.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Time to Talk Day 2016

Just a quick note that I apologise if this post seems a little rushed. Life is crazy busy right now trying to reach the end of my degree whilst juggling a multitude of other things and my blog has taken a backseat. I'm sorry! To the blog...

I'm very lucky that over the last four years or so, I've felt able to have open and honest discussions about my mental health.

Work colleagues, friends, customers, family and family friends, you name it, there's rarely a person I know these days who doesn't know at least a tiny bit of my mental health history.

I guess over time it became natural to me to want to show other people that I was more than a label. That I could work, socialise, study and do all of the things that 'normal' people do whilst still internally battling with intrusive thoughts and complex emotions. These days, when I tell people, they tell me that they'd 'never have guessed' or follow with a compliment on how smiley I am and how they wouldn't expect somebody like me to be suffering with a mental health problem.

But the reality is, the battle is all too true and exists every single day, whether it be in the forefront of my mind or not. I was twelve years old when I first began showing visible signs of mental health difficulties, self-harming, refusing to eat, being withdrawn and crying all the time. Almost twelve years on from that and so much has changed, but at the same time not much has changed at all.

Over the years I've gone from a child who couldn't cope with her day to day life to an adult who can cope on the forefront but can barely process the emotions internally. However, I've come SUCH a long way and that is recognised by so many people in my personal life, whether it be school teachers, university tutors, family, friends, and most importantly my boyfriend Nathan.

I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that my deepest, darkest most intrusive thoughts occur between the months of October-December and getting to know myself and my mind means that I try and prepare myself for what seems to be an inevitability of falling backwards. My moods fluctuate rapidly as a result of my BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and my anxiety worsens in certain situations where I feel out of my own control, but these months of pure depression are the most terrifying and I've learnt that no matter how much I try to prepare myself, sometimes my emotions like to swing right back round and bring me right back to a state so deep I often feel I've never felt it before.

Last November, in one of these periods, I took another overdose. That's the first time I've admitted that online.

Why didn't I feel able to talk about it at the time? I'm not quite sure. I've never been so unwell following an overdose before and I knew that I didn't want to die, but didn't quite want to live at the same time. Half of me thought myself stupid for making myself potentially critically ill, and the other half thought I deserved it.

I find it interesting that I'm so happy to talk about my past experience of mental health, something that feels so distant from reality, But when it's so real, so raw, so present, I can't admit I'm not okay at the time. Part of me in a way still lives with shame that this still dominates my life to an extent. How can I admit that I'm not okay when it's not SO obvious to everyone else that I'm not okay? I guess one of my tasks for this year is to be more open and honest with myself and how I'm feeling. Tell people when I'm not okay. Be in tune with myself. Stop trying to block the thoughts out and instead just let them be. The more I suppress, the more events like last November will happen again as a way of 'coping'. I would be able to 'cope' better if I just talked and used the support that's available to me.

I feel so lucky and privileged to have the support I do. My lovely boyfriend Nathan of over 6.5 years, my friends who haven't walked away, my family, my wonderful therapist Michael who has helped SO much especially in the last 6 months or so, and my incredible University tutors. But the more I try to pretend I'm perfect and able to cope with the world when I can't, the more I deny myself the opportunity to be in touch with myself and my emotion. I'm getting better at it, sure, but I need to let my guard down sometimes.

Talking about mental health is something I've learnt to not be ashamed of. I'm in therapy. I've been on medication multiple times before. Sometimes I get off the tube a stop early if I'm feeling a panic attack coming. Sometimes I lash out at those closest to me. Sometimes I want to self-harm. Sometimes I cry constantly over the stupidest things because my emotions are so intense. That's okay though. Everyone has their own way of being and this is my story. The more I talk about it, the more it's accepted and not seen as taboo. The more people don't view the term mental health as a avoidant word. The more we can all show a little more self-compassion and realise that not all of us can be perfect all of the time.

The more we talk, the more we can change preconceived values and stigma. The more we talk, the more we can reassure others that they're not alone. The more we talk, the more we can change.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Catching up...goodbye 2015!

I know, it's been a while.

This is my first official post of 2016 (not counting the multitudinous ones I've started and said I'd 'come back to later'), so I guess a 'happy new year!' is well overdue from me.

Getting back into blogging when you've had a long period away is a difficult one. As always, I feel like I owe you all an explanation for my absence, but there really isn't a reason valid enough other than the past few months have been largely stressful and it's probably going to remain that way for at least the first five months of this year.

However, at the end of 2015 I could at least look back and say that for the most part, it was a cracking year. I was lucky enough to be able to explore Italy and Budapest, I passed my second year at University, and got to finally work out what it was I wanted to do for a living. I got to complete two inspiring internships with YouthNet and Macmillan Cancer Support and had one of the best summers ever. I celebrated turning 23 with the perfect weekend with family and friends. I started a new job and handed in my notice to the retail job I've had for three and a half years. I got to see Mumford and Sons right at the end of the year which was just the cherry on top of some fantastic memories with friends, family friends, and family. Most importantly, I found the strength somewhere to cut ties with my biological father, and whilst still feeling incredibly raw, being forced to put my foot down in regards to our relationship was psychologically freeing, if anything.

Regardless of 2015 being the most fulfilling year of my life so far, it was full of steps forward and steps back in regards to my mental health. There were times when I couldn't cope with the intensity of my emotions and did self-destructive things, one particular time at severe risk to my health. This inability to retain and cope with emotion needs to be at the forefront of my list in 2016, but it seems as if life gets in the way to much and I push self-care to the back of my list of things to do.

So where am I now? What does 2016 have in store? I wish I knew myself but right now, I'm trying to keep my head afloat whilst still trying to manage the final year of my degree, working 19 hours a week, saving for a mortgage, living between two houses, my relationship of 6.5 years, having an actual life outside of the library and weekly therapy appointments. I feel as if I am good at anything, it's pretending that juggling all of that at the same time is an easy feat when you spend half your waking day hating yourself and the way you are.

I know that there are things to look forward to in 2016. Graduating, for one. Potentially getting a full time job, another. Travelling, for definite. Raising money for both the MS Society and CLASP charity in May (a 10k run and a 10 mile walk). Feeling like my life has a sense of purpose? Again, potentially.

I think it can be easy to forget that I bear a lot of similarity to a sponge. I soak up every inch of available emotion and neither one becomes easier to deal with. I either process thoughts too much or not at all. I either cling onto sadness subconsciously or I refuse to allow myself to be sad. Too often I tell myself that I'm not allowed to feel. The latter half of 2015 was a difficult one emotionally and whilst I find life a challenging feat in itself, I can't allow myself to fall to the brink of potential suicide attempts again. Therapy recently has got me thinking about how much I need to allow myself to feel. Allow the side of me that I hate so much seep through and stop blocking her out. Stop pretending to be happy and let my therapist and others who care see the truth. Get to the bare bones of what it really is I'm trying to work through as an individual. Stop seeing myself as so 'unlovable' and so 'unworthy' of anything and try and work through to who I actually am. I'm really trying to piece myself back together and I have such a long way to go, no matter how fixed I seem.

Here's to a stressful, and challenging, but exciting 2016. And as I do this every year, I'm going to do it again (13 days late) - a little montage of my highlights of 2015 (enjoy!)



Race for Life 2015!

Valentines Day 2015!

Myself and my darling Loren!

Dad's birthday meal.

Uni girls Christmas meal!

Mad Hatter's Tea Party :)

My lovely friend Emma and I <3

A very drunken night out in Romford!


The Shard!


Mum's 40th.

Ellis' Mum's Hen Party!

Ellis' 21st birthday in Canterbury :)

One of my favourite memories of this year - me and Emma in Whitstable :)

Nathan and I in Reading.

Mother's Day.

Cheryl's 21st.

Shoreditch's Cat Cafe.

Drinks with Uni girls after finishing 2nd year!

Lauren and I at Dad's birthday.

Comicon!

Andrea's birthday!

Walton-On-The-Naze with Mum and Nan :)

My best friends 23rd birthday!

Torbole, Italy.

Citidal Festival.

My first day at Macmillan Cancer Support, where I was greeted with a huge picnic with my colleagues for lunch!

Afternoon tea at Le Cordon Bleu :)

Gemma's birthday.

Lauren's 40th birthday.


My 23rd!

My 23rd (again!)

My 23rd.

Uni girls at my 23rd :)

The beginning of my 23rd!

Budapest with the best friend.

St. Stephens Basilica, Budapest

Charlotte's 21st!

Best friend's Christmas meal.

Mumford and Sons.

When Kat came to see me at Greenwich :)

Parissa's 21st :)

Venice.

Italy.

Italy.

Christmas Day 2015.