Saturday, 16 May 2015

Making and mending - a post about mental health.

 This is a line from a Leonard Cohen song - Anthem.  He says it better than I can but then he says most things better than most people and that's why he's Leonard Cohen (thanks to my friend, Aymi for introducing me).  Doesn't mean he's always happy.  That in itself is a good thing in my opinion.

Hello my loves,

Thank you so much for your kind words about my last post and your warm welcome back to the blogosphere.  I am super happy to be writing to you all again.  This post is text heavy and will contain a little bit more about sewing than my last  but mostly about how sewing helped me recover so I won't be offended if you don't read, as this is after all a sewing blog.  Though because I am both writer and editor of this here journal I get to make the rules *boss face*

It's Friday afternoon in Brighton and I'm looking out over the seaside and it looks more mid winter than late spring.  The sky is bullet grey and even the seagulls look a little bit more agro than usual.  I also didn't get a job I went for on Tuesday (the feedback on my interview was really good though so it's just a case of keep knocking on those doors).  However, I feel quite content and I know that means I'm well.  The reason I know this is because when I was a sick a day like today might have made my mind wander to the place where the crap thoughts are that make me feel really shit.  You know the kind of thing - Oh Rehanon you don't know what you're doing. You're kidding yourself.  You shouldn't have done this!  You should have done that! You're too old.  You'll never be happy, blah, blah, blah - bore off!  This still happens but it's normally just a quick cursory visit and I certainly don't set up camp there like I used to.

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on mindfulness and how it can help us.  Along with time, craft, exercise and therapy it helped me.

I've set out to write this post many times but other thoughts (mostly nice ones these days) came into my head or the time wasn't right or I didn't have enough time or I didn't have enough words or even too many :) but that's the thing with mental health there's no time like the present. It's only in the here and now we can do stuff about it.  As it is, in the UK it's Mental Health Awareness Week and I think that's a pretty appropriate time to share my story and raise some awareness.

Before I go any further I just want to highlight the fact that I'm no expert and neither do I claim to be.  I've got no professional training and I know people who had much more difficult experiences than me.  I'm just telling you my story because that's one of the things I think is really important in tackling the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.  I feel like it's so important to be open and to be aware when people are talking to you because that might be the day, that they say, "I just wanted to say I'm not actually fine and I'm struggling and I need a bit of help."  Life is really hard sometimes even when to all intense and purposes it seems like you're just sailing along.  Deep down I think most of us know that but by saying yeah it happened to me and I was able to do something about it and now I'm in much better place is good for all concerned.  So these days I when I see stuff in the media saying you should be this, that or the other I say fuck off the only thing I should be is me.  Counselling taught me that but more on that later.

I've no real idea how many people read my ponderings but I figure if even one person reads it and it encourages them to seek the help or at the very least make them realise that their mental health is nothing to be ashamed of then that's no bad thing.  Shame is in fact the one thing that didn't stop me from writing about my mental health issues.  I actually never felt ashamed, which when I look back makes me wonder why I did leave it so long to get help.  One thing I think it could have been was that for as long as I can remember people have come to me for advice and I guess I thought if people are asking for my help then surely I can't need it myself.  My ex partner though, who is a very good egg and a great friend to this day knew I needed help for a long time and he often told me so. I hasten to add it was in a really lovely non-judgemental way because he wanted what was best for me.  He also picked me up for a long time too and then he finally let me pick myself up and that just made me realise even more how much he cared.  Actually, I had several people very close to me who knew I wasn't well and they all helped me on the road to brighter days and I can never thank them enough.

Looking back on it all I guess I thought I would just get better over time as after all it is meant to be a great healer.   What mattered to me so much at 25 matters so little as I'm one month and two days from 35 but at the time I know I felt completely different.  The other side of the coin is that not all my days were sad.  In the midst of some times where I felt so sad  and everything was going wrong and I just felt so lost, I had moments that when I think about them now make me heady with joy.  That's one of the real shockers about mental illness, really "happy" people suffer.  It's another reason why I wanted to write this post because there were a lot of people that were really shocked when I admitted I'd had a breakdown because I'm considered to be a really positive person.  That's another part of why mental illness can be so tough to deal with.  You even end up arguing with yourself  and then you just try and block the feelings and it only magnifies the pain.  Happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive but when I finally admitted I was ill the sad times were far out weighing the happy times and in my mind I couldn't see that it was ever going to change.

Despite some really low points I managed to get through university and I got my degree and then I walked across Spain.  When I think about it now it was doing that, which kept me going much longer before asking for help.  I think it was then I realised exercise was really important to my mental wellbeing.  After this I pushed on through my late 20s drifting along and feeling less and less in control of the direction of my life.  I just kept going because I thought that's what you did and in hindsight I was clearly scared that if I stopped that's when it would all come tumbling down.  By the time my 30th birthday was coming around I was forced to stop and that's when I did fall all the way down.

The fear of coming apart was far worse than the actual reality.  The reality being that in May 2010 after a series of events that found me back in Brighton a place that makes me happy to this day I finally had the nervous breakdown I'd be running from.  After another night of disturbed sleep I was sitting on my own in a very ordinary office doing a temping job.  As I typed I started wondering whether I was ever going to be doing something I really I loved and telling myself I'd let life pass me by.  This thought pattern took over until I had made myself believe I was never going to be happy again and then I had a full on panic attack.  I was crying my eyes out and I could hardly breathe.  

I managed to get to the toilet and ring one of my close friends.  She was amazing and she told me really calmly I was going to be okay and I just needed to trust her.  Everyone was at a meeting so she told me to go on early lunch and she would meet me outside.  I did what she said because I just couldn't think straight.  I sat with her for an hour crying and apologising for being a state and that I just needed a bit of sleep and I'd be fine. She told me she'd been worried about me for a long time but you can't push people to admit things that they don't want to and you just have to be there when they're ready.  All things I would have said if I was talking to someone else.  She rang my GP and got me an appointment after work.  I went along and I was fortunate to speak with a really kind doctor who listened to me explain about how sad I was feeling and how scared it was making me.  He felt that although I was deeply anxious and really unwell that I didn't need medicine but counselling.

Following my appointment my GP referred me to a mental health clinic in Brighton who are also a charity and I was lucky enough to be seen within a week.  I am beyond grateful for this and another reason why I wanted to write about my experience as sadly this is not true for everyone and mental illness needs to be viewed as equally as any other illness.  I would describe my counsellor as the best kind of aunt you could wish for.  In my first session I said to her I think I'd probably just over reacted and I didn't want to take up her time as I had no idea what I'd speak to her about for an hour every week.  She smiled and said, "well let's just chat about your day and see how we go."  In the end it actually took 3 months for me to bring her to point where I collapsed in the office.  She made me realise  that I wasn't weak and my mind was just really tired of being strong and it just needed a rest.  

In the end I saw Babs on and off for 18 months.  In that time life marched on and I moved to London for work and my relationship with my ex finally finished after 10 years.  I was so scared that I would get sick again but my counsellor made me realise that wasn't going to happen and it was just another hurdle.  She was right and even though I was really sad about us I knew it was for the best and that we were returning to where we started, which was being great friends.  As my head got clearer and I started to realise that I wasn't my thoughts I had more space and in that space I began sewing, I started running again and I slowly started to see that I had a future.

It's now 5 years since my breakdown and I feel really well.  That is I'm happy more often than I'm not :) It may seem an odd thing to say but I wouldn't choose to forgo what happened to me. I just think the wonkiness in my head is as I call it is no different to my weak knee left leg.  Both just require a little extra care and attention to function properly.  I know that eating well, sleeping properly, asking for help when I need it and making time for the things that make me happy like sewing, running, knitting, lying in the hallway with my legs up the wall listening to Pulp and spending time with the people that love me for me. Basically, just being me. Equally, I learned we all just need to keep trying everyday and some days will be extraordinary and others not so much but that's what make life interesting.  Ultimately, though I found out good and bad, light and dark I like who Rehanon is and that seems as a good place as any to end up at nearly halfway to 70 :)

Here are some contact details in case you do want talk to someone.  You really aren't alone and I promise you people really do care.

This is Miss Demeanour signing off and saying no matter what you might think right now I know you're amazing.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Jam & Jersusalem and Beers & Burlesque aka Why I WI

Giving my widest WI smile to commuters on United Nations International Day of Happiness

Hey all,

It's been a while *face of putting it mildly*.  I have missed you and this blog but I'm back behind the keys and the sewing  machine.  I'm not sure whether it's the realisation it's been a year since I waddled into my first day in a new job (was only meant to be 2 weeks has been a year) because I'd run the Virgin London marathon.  Maybe it was the inspiring talk we had from Bikeit Ben from Sustran at my WI meeting a couple of weeks ago or maybe because I wrote "start blogging again" in my passion planner (my attempt to bring organisation into the House of Demeanour) or a possibly a mix of all three. I summise a mixture of all of the above coupled with seeing "write a post" languishing week after week on my ever increasing to do list has galvanised me into action.  It's funny isn't it that when life gets a little unwieldy the casualties are often the things we love doing. 

Wise words as always from Maya. I've got this stuck on my laptop to remind me how much I love writing.
The other nuts thing is that I've written hundreds of posts in my head in the last few months but they've just not managed to make it on screen.  That said I think a good few of them will over the next few weeks as I get back in the saddle so to speak.  For now though it's best to stick with the topic in hand, which is the WI.

It's my calling card!

As those who follow me throughout the social media sphere  and who know me in real life know I'm a member of my local WI, Brighton Belles.  The reason you will have wind of this is because I wax lyrical about it at every given opportunity.  There has been a great many things that have been ace about my 30s so far but joining such a positive, diverse, progressive, kind, community minded and humourous bunch of women is right up there.

A lovely bunch of Brighton Belles
This year the WI celebrates its centenary. There is much cause for celebration because since its beginnings in 1915 as a drive to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War it has been an incredible force for postive change. This alone is a huge part of the reason I'm so proud to say I'm a member.  Here's just a few of the things that this wonderful organisation has made happen:
  • Policewomen - In 1922 the WI passed a resolution to campaign for the reinstatement of women police officers following their disbanding after the war. They lobbied the goverment heavily and gained the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This led to the recruitment of greater numbers of women in the police during WWII and by 1944 over 335 policewomen were employed across Britain.  Women now make up over 25% of the total police force.
  • Equal Pay - The WI passed a resolution calling for 'equal pay for equal work’ in 1943 and campaigned tirelessly for this until 1970 when the Equal Pay Bill was passed.  From 1970 onwards it was illegal to pay men more than women for work of equal value.
  • Environment - In 1954 at the annual conference members were appalled by the state of rubbish and litter across the country and passed a resolution, which went on to form 'The Keep Britain Tidy' group.  This directly led to the passing of the 1958 Litter Act.
  • Family planning - 1974 saw the WI's lobbying of government and mobilising of its county federations lead to family planning services being offered as a normal part of the free NHS.  They continued to lobby for contraception to be made available to all no matter what their age or marital status.
These are just a few of thing things that the WI has made happen in its last 100 years.  Making life better for both women and  society as a whole.  How could I not want to be a part of such a fantastic organisation?  I don't really need other reasons but here are a few anyway:

The WI taught me you can use icecream to make cocktails.
They gave me the chance to make people dance whilst raising money for a great cause.
I get the chance to do ace things like help at a marathon whilst wearing a comedy moustache.
I've gained new interests.  I was told at school that I wasn't arty but the chance to try out a life drawing class with the WI suggested otherswise. I'm no Picasso but I really enjoyed it.
I get to indulge my love of making and eating cake at brilliant events like Pride.

I think what I love most about the WI though is the fact that I get to make friends with really amazing women who believe change is possible.
So there you have it folks in a nutshell that's why I WI.  If you're local to Brighton we meet the second Monday of every month at Donatello's in the Laines from 7pm - 9pm.  We are always looking out for new members and I can say whole heartedly we are all good eggs. Our next meeting is Monday 11th and we'll be raw chocolate tasting.  You'd be crazy not to!
If you're further a field but my ramblings have pricked your interest here is a link to find your nearest WI. I promise you won't regret it.
Well I think that's quite enough from me.  I'll leave you with a quote from one of my favourites, Margaret Mead.  She sums it up well.
Yours fabulously,
Miss D xxx