Things that’ve made me happy – May.

Recently I’ve been feeling more like myself than I have done in a long time. My mental health has improved to the point where not every day feels like I’m in survival mode. Instead, the sense of contentment that I used to long for appears more and more often throughout the days. Whether it’s excitement to sit with a hot drink and a slice of cake in one of my favourite coffee shops or the sound of wood pigeons outside as the evening skies bleed out into night, happiness has found its way in. And so I’ve decided to write a monthly blog post about what’s been making me happy, whether it’s a moment or a place or something I’ve bought or read. I used to write posts like this back in high school and I think that documenting some of the things that are good in my life, and particularly documenting them through writing, will be a wonderful way to both feel like I’m being more productive and to make sure that I have things to look back on during bad days.

‘Ordinary People’ by Diana Evans.

After handing in my dissertation I decided to squeeze in something non-academic before confronting the stack of books to be tackled for my last exam. I picked up a copy of Evans’ ‘Ordinary People’ on a whim in Blackwells (my new campus happy-place) and tumbled into the aches, longings and frustrations of its characters. I think the fact that I grew so frustrated with one of the main characters without getting sick of the book itself is testament to Evans’ writing style – lyrical and lovely and incredibly moving. It was also refreshing to pick up a novel that engaged with ideas of racial identity, family and how these issues impact relationships from a perspective I hadn’t read from before. Like with all good books, it’s characters and their lives have been lodged in my head as I’ve gone about my day ever since.

This cute pot from 19pinkvine.

Not only is it in my favourite colours and a perfect lil home for a plant or my keys (I haven’t yet decided which) but given how stressful the post-uni housing situation is for me at the moment, buying something cute to have in my future flat seemed like a pretty good way to say fuck you to all my anxieties about the future. These lovely homewares are available via Etsy or, if you live in/near the Withington area, you could have a lil browse whilst grabbing a ridiculously tasty brunch at Boho Utopia. 

The loveliest Heart Earrings by Olivia Annabelle.

I stumbled upon the Olivia Annabelle Instagram (filled with dreamy clothes, soft pastels and lots of beautiful photos) just before my university May Ball and, after a quick virtual wander, ended up ordering a pair of their beautiful Heart Earrings via Etsy. They arrived quickly in the post in lovely packaging, with a hand-written thank you note from OA founder, Olivia. They’re the prettiest colour and worked just as well going for a mocha-fuelled revision session in town as they did at the ball – every time I’ve worn them they’ve been complimented. This month was the first time in forever that I’ve gone out of my way on a normal day to wear a piece of jewellery just because I liked it and wanted to wear it and feel good, which makes these earrings even more exciting to have.

My University May Ball.

When I started at Manchester it was my second attempt at University. During my first term I’d walk to whatever building my lecture was in and freeze up, completely unable to go in. Whilst my mental health problems have far from disappeared since first year I’m so proud of the fact that by the end of third year I’d managed to integrate into University life in a way I feared I couldn’t and organising and speaking at my final ball was the best way to celebrate that.

 

A quiet train journey at sunset.

I always romanticise the idea of train journeys, though they often seem to just be overcrowded and stressful. But earlier this week I managed to grab a window seat and watched the sky in hues of blue and red across rolling hills and country lanes and had a whole two hours to just watch car headlights cut through the dark in the distance, to watch rivers and farms and eventually red lights of cranes against a purple sky as I arrived back in Manchester. It was one of the loveliest moments, filled with contentment and never as beautiful in a photograph as it actually was.

Why I’m donating to 42nd Street

When I first visited 42nd Street my expectations were low. After years of being dismissed by mental health professionals and having my feelings and experiences diminished, the idea of recovery wasn’t something that seemed attainable and therapy was something I was going to try without any kind of optimism. After completing a series of therapy sessions spanning much of 2018 it isn’t over exaggerating to say that 42nd Street saved and changed my life.

The therapy I received helped me feel heard, helped me understand my own thoughts and emotions and was the catalyst for a change in me that was acknowledged, not just in the sessions themselves, but by friends and family too. My therapist was everything you would hope for from someone you’re seeking help from and the rest of the staff were always kind and helpful too. 42nd Street do such vital work for young people in Manchester and I feel incredibly lucky to have benefited from their help. They offer individual and group therapy, run important and engaging groups like Make Our Rights Reality, have spent days creating poems with their poet in residence and are the kind of place I wish every young person had access to around the country. The varied types of support they offer combined with an emphasis upon creativity and a non clinical building tucked away in Ancoats, full of art and strings of bunting, makes it a truly special place.

Much of ‘The Trapped Mermaid’ was written whilst in therapy at 42nd Street and I’m positive I wouldn’t have ended up creating the collection at all had I not benefited so much from the support I received there – it is a place deeply intertwined with the period of my life that the collection covers. It seems fitting to share some of the money I make from the book with them, in the hopes that it can contribute towards their work in some small way.

‘The Trapped Mermaid’ can be purchased via Amazon.

42nd Street’s website can be found herehttp://www.42ndstreet.org.uk.

Recovery

Before I began to recover from around 10 yrs worth of trauma I experienced so much opposition to unpacking it all, opposition which I internalised and which left me feeling a ridiculous amount of guilt for having perfectly human feelings. And as it took so long to get help I began to see symptoms as just a part of my personality and my reality. I never really considered recovery, what it would look like, what it would feel like.

Recovery is hard. Recovery can feel like you’re getting worse. Recovery can feel brutal. Recovery can involve grief and anger and emotions that make you feel like a failure, make you feel weak and vulnerable. And there’s only so much positivity and hard work that can get you through before you have to acknowledge that sometimes you have to be vulnerable with your emotions and accept what you’re feeling. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not getting better – it’s sitting with the emotions that you’re most uncomfortable with and surviving them that proves you’re making progress.

These kind of things are so important to have an open dialogue about – because people don’t get better over night and mental health isn’t only worth acknowledging if someone can be “strong” all of the time. If you’re recovering from something it’s ok to feel pain and it’s okay to be vulnerable and open about it. Recovery isn’t just about slowly becoming a happier, more productive, more stable person. Recovery is about grieving and feeling and, as a result, making room to let the good things in.

Sometimes it’s not okay to talk…

It’s World Mental Health Day today and I feel both compelled to write something and also completely exhausted at the prospect of it – advice like some I shared on an insta story earlier seems cliche, a celebration of my achievements just falls flat when I try to encourage myself and trying to articulate all the ways in which the conversations we have surrounding mental health desperately need to change and improve just leaves me feeling angry and sad. But I guess these kind of acknowledgements are also important – it’s okay to feel like you can’t always talk about mental health in a productive way, it’s okay to feel like the dialogue surrounding it doesn’t help and it’s okay to feel like your own progress isn’t enough to soothe a bad hour, day, week.

I’ve been feeling so much more stable and capable over the last few weeks, far more than I have in years. But I’ve also left a seminar and cried because something in it resurfaced trauma that I’m still struggling to deal with. I’ve also felt completely exhausted, hopeless and defeated. And these things don’t negate from the progress I’ve made or from the fact that I’m getting better. But they’re still things I feel a sense of shame around, they’re still things people don’t ask about, they’re still things I’m working on expressing. I guess this ties into the idea of recovery not being linear. But sometimes accepting that and repeating it in your head isn’t enough. Sometimes we need more than that. And trying to reach out is scary. And sometimes I wish that people weren’t just encouraged to talk but to listen. I wish we acknowledged that sometimes it’s not okay to talk – it’s awkward and uncomfortable and painfully exposing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.

We all need to reach out and remind people they’re loved, we all need to make an effort to check in with each other and we all need to force ourselves to have that awkward “I’m here if you need me conversation” repeatedly because sometimes it’s impossibly hard to reach out and admit you need help. But when that’s not happening, when people aren’t there, we need to remember that it’s not weak to ask for help, it’s self preservation.

And if you know/suspect someone’s struggling w/ their mental health, this is the best article I’ve read on how you can help https://mybestself.blog/2018/06/25/being-there/