Shit I Have Enjoyed Recently

Worst blog owner ever. Shout out to my friend Dan for holding me accountable

ANYWAY here’s some stuff that’s been occupying my brain recently. A spoiler:

heart eyes

Downton Abbey movie

When I saw this announced I made A Noise. I think the tech guys I work with thought someone was slowly letting the air out of me, like a balloon.

brandpBrando doing an impression of my actual face.

I’m refusing to let myself get too excited until I hear that Brendan Coyle is going to be in it. Please lord above, don’t do this to me.

Barcelona

Sean and I have been together for three years and this is the first trip we’ve been on together to visit his brother. I had an absolute BLAST in Barcelona – I’ll write another post on it specifically, but it’s a great city and I already want to go back. Patatas Bravas, I miss you…

patatas bravasGet this shit right into my face.

Mental Health

Not poor mental health as such, more poor planning and an inability to get hold of my GP. I ran out of Sertraline for nearly a week. It’s not the worst situation (my entire life doesn’t fall apart immediately) but the physical side effects of sudden withdrawal are HARSH.

If you’ve ever had brain zaps, you’ll know where I’m coming from.

WRITING STUFF

I’ve still been writing. I started what has the potential to be a novel-length…something, and I’m about 7000 words in. I’ve been messing about with various other wee things when I need a distraction. Some of them will see the light of day. Many will not. I don’t really care, I enjoyed myself.

Gaming

I made the mistake of downloading Pokemon Go in Barcelona. Now I’m hooked again. It makes the morning bus journey through Edinburgh more exciting.

pokwmon goEvery day’s a Pika Party in my town.

I’ve been getting into legacy games as well – we started playing Pandemic: Legacy, but we’ve taken a break from it so we can crack into Gloomhaven. I’m REALLY enjoying it – Sean’s been obsessed with it for a while so he’s quite thrilled that he can play it with me as well as his dungeon crew.

Plus Magic: the Gathering continues to dictate my life from multiple angles. I played in my first competitive event for years at the weekend, I’m going to be on staff at a comp event for the first time next weekend, and in between I’m usually talking about it, organising it or playing it.

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Tell me what you’ve been up to recently. GO.

What I’ve Done in March

Working in an office that has minimal natural light is hard. It screws up the brainio and makes my emotions feel like they’ve done a half marathon with no training. A couple of weekends ago my brain hit the wall. I dragged the duvet onto the couch and slept for nearly 24 hours.

But it’s reminded me what anxiety feels like, and it’s reminded me why I’m so thankful for SSRIs.

edinburgh-carlton-hill-landscape-scotland-161863

On SSRIs anxiety is like that funny noise your car makes, enough for you to notice it but you can turn the music up and drown it out and continue driving without worrying that something’s going to snap and send you into oncoming traffic.

Anxiety is driving down the motorway in the rain with no brakes.

pexels-photo-414564

When it hits, I want to not feel guilty every time I speak to my friends, my family, because I’m annoying. I want to not have something open and sit with my thumb hovered over the keyboard before I interact, thinking do I need to? Do I REALLY need to say something? Don’t I think I should just be quiet and not remind people how irritating I am?

I want to be on top of my life without feeling the strain. I want to be able to come home from work after twelve hours out of the house and write and play games and sit on the couch with Sean and laugh at stupid videos without looking at a floor I haven’t hoovered and crashing into pieces, and I want to be able to stay on top of everything without burning myself out.

I want to make everything better. I want to make the world better. I want to open eyes and heal hearts.I want to reach out and touch people who are suffering. I want to sleep away days at a time because people are so awful to each other. I want to do something about it. I can’t.

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I’ve been AWOL recently while I unpicked the weirdness in my brain that the dark was doing. Normally when I feel like this it’s a sign that I need to go back to the doctor and get another round of medication. But surprise! It was just the lighting. Now I know about it I can stop every couple of hours and take a breather on the steps. It helps.

Take a breather. Go outside.

Time to Talk: about triggers.

Today is Time to Talk Day, a day for everyone – not just those who struggle – to talk about mental health. On the table: one of my personal bugbears, trigger warnings.

For a start, if you haven’t already, try this article from The Atlantic that circulated a few years ago. In relation to the increasing use of trigger warnings on content that might be uncomfortable, it claims that:

A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.

To this I say: bollocks.

student

Let’s get this out of the way first: there is a difference between something being a trigger and something making you uncomfortable. I have a Twitter account, I can’t help but see some amount of trash online every day that makes me very uncomfortable.

I’m not triggered.

Remember when you learned about the First World War in school? Shell shock? Reactions to loud noises? Yup. PTSD. Sexual assault. Violence. Accidents. Anxiety symptoms. Flashbacks. Panic attacks. Triggers.

When I was fourteen years old I had a mental breakdown. Around the same time I watched The Exorcist and my warped, malfunctioning brain led one into the other, crashing down around me, until any reference to the film was enough to give me a serious case of The Anxieties.

Tubular Bells? I’m leaving the room. GIF of creepy girl vomiting that weird green crap all over the priest? Probably going to cry. Even saying the title dried my mouth out faster than a nasty hangover.

imagesEven searching for that picture still makes me vaguely uneasy.

For me, it was relatively easy to avoid anything that was going to trigger this reaction, as it was unlikely I was going to bump into Linda Blair in Tesco shopping for crucifixes and pea soup. But things like sexual assault and violence that are becoming more of a talking point – the #MeToo movement, for example – and it’s becoming increasingly easy to stumble across something that can cause a similar reaction in people who’ve had a traumatic experience.

Trigger warnings are there to give people a warning, an opportunity to prepare themselves, a chance to make sure they’re going to be OK.

They’re not an easy way out, an excuse to coddle a bunch of millennials into avoiding things they think might be difficult, creating a society of easily-offended cotton wool fluffs.

lamb

You wouldn’t laugh at someone who served in active combat for suffering from anxiety and flashbacks if a car backfires in their street. If you agree with that but in the same breath accuse a sexual assault survivor of being soft because they want the option to avoid or be aware of something that might cause them distress then you have problems I’m not even sure I can be bothered to unpick.

Putting warnings on things isn’t a sign of a soft society, it’s a sign of an educated one. We know that some things have an adverse reaction on peoples’ physical health, we know that some things have an adverse reaction on peoples’ mental health. It’s like saying “well you shouldn’t have allergy warnings on food”.

I’d like to invite anyone who thinks that to come and look after me when I’ve accidentally eaten something with gluten in it.

You can, of course, argue that some allergies are fatal. Guess what? Bad mental health days are fatal too. Suicide kills more people every day than anaphylaxia. The fact that we aren’t treating them equally as seriously is a sign that that we still have miles to go.

robot

In conclusion, don’t laugh at trigger warnings. Don’t take the piss. Don’t slam your hands on the table and claim you’ve been triggered because you disagree with something. Don’t be an ass. Don’t do it.

Since it’s Time to Talk Day, DO: talk about mental health, ask your friends how they’re doing, share this post if you think I’m making a modicum of sense.

It’s mental health, my dudes. It’s a big deal.

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If you want to read an awesome YA book on PTSD and what triggers can actually do, let me point you in the direction of The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson.

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Stock images from Pexels.

Macs on tour: a weekend adventure.

I’m back! Did you miss me?

I’m writing this sitting in Gatwick with a double gin. It’s doing marvellous things.

gin

The past weekend has been spent in England with my sister. While talking to her work colleagues she accidentally made me sound like my granny’s Labrador, who frequently ambles off into the woods and gets lost. One of her colleagues even offered to come and pick me up from the town centre and take me to the office in case I struggled.

Really, it only took four people in three countries and two continents to help me find the train I needed to be on. I don’t see why everyone is so concerned. And in my defence, Reading station is horribly lacking in information.

rain

Anyway, once I’d FINALLY managed to navigate the travel infrastructure of Berkshire and meet Megan, here’s some fun stuff we did:

  • Played with Alexa the Amazon Echo. After a couple of beers I realised that Alexa would play songs on request, which is frankly delightful. Unfortunately every single song we asked for was also playing on Andrew’s phone…in South Korea. At 7am. We only found out when he asked us to stop playing dinner jazz. Thank you Andrew for not playing something horrifying into my ears at 5am in retort.
  • We went to Camden Market and I was allowed to be smug since I managed to navigate back to the awesome burger place I went to last time from memory. Honest Burger, everyone. They do gluten free AND cute cocktails in tiny cups.
  • Drank warm spiced cider. Because it’s warm, it’s spiced and it’s cider.

me and megan

  • Went on a great beret hunt.
  • Sat in Zizzi between two kiddie birthday parties and had two other random children chasing each other round our table. Didn’t harpy scream at any of them.
  • Carried out some wedding planning. By that I mean we watched a lot Say Yes to the Dress and bought two magazines in M&S to read while we went to the pub.

wedding planning

On top of all this, I managed to tick off something I called out in my 2018 Challenges blog. Flew from Gatwick to Edinburgh on my own for the first time ever, which was stressful due to a) my tendency to panic and b) the fact that I really don’t like flying. It went more smoothly than I thought it would. I didn’t get lost, didn’t get swabbed, scanned, flagged or felt up at security (as I frequently do) had enough time for a gin before the flight. Even when we hit a tiny bit of turbulence just before we landed I managed to refrain from having a nervous breakdown in the arms of the poor lassie next to me.

Thanks Mini Mac – see ya real soon!

see ya real soon

On Happy Pills, or “shut up Daily Mail”.

The Daily Mail are at it again.

Anyone see this headline emblazoned across their front page yesterday?

daily mail

Once I’d gotten over my disbelief (even now I continue to be surprised by trash, like finding a raccoon in my wheelie bin) I was infuriated. So this one’s for you, Daily Mail, and anyone else who believes this dangerous crap.

Let’s get this straight, first of all. They’re not “happy pills”. They’re not tablets your GP will hand out like Haribo on a wet Monday morning. Britain’s not hooked on a chemical shortcut to a good day.

What Ben Shepherd, Medical Correspondent is referring to is the group of medications known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs. Medication. Like you’d get for diabetes, or high blood pressure.

They’re prescribed for a number of mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, and they basically work by slightly increasing the amount of serotonin – the stuff that makes you feel happy – in the brain to counteract chronic low mood and anxiety. They’re not opioids. They don’t induce addiction or physical dependency.

They take the edge off. They gently relieve the unbearable struggle. They let you regain your footing when the world feels like it’s falling away beneath you. They lift the albatross. They stop the wild oscillation of anxiety that renders you incapable of function.

That’s what SSRIs do. They make being alive seem less like an ordeal. But that’s not going to sell papers. So let’s sensationalise an illness that kills more men under 50 than anything else in the UK.

Throwing around the idea that “Britain is hooked on happy pills” like they’re fidget spinners is vile. It’s not trendy to take antidepressants. The line “Experts last night said patients were demanding a quick fix to avoid feeling down” is staggering. Imagine reading the same headline about insulin for diabetics. Experts last night said patients were demanding a quick fix to avoid dying.

Mental illness kills. SSRIs save lives.

I was going to pose this as an open letter to the Mail but I thought, what’s the point? They’re hysterical and completely tone deaf. Instead, I’ve written it here in the hope that the perspective of someone who’s actually experienced both horrendous mental health problems and the way that medication for mental illness can pull you back over the precipice.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and make the decision to speak to your doctor about it, don’t balk at the idea of medication. Don’t listen to idiots like Ben Spencer, Medical Correspondent, who really should know better.

In fact, do youself a favour and just don’t read the Daily Mail.

The Black Hole

Last Thursday, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington was found dead in his home in California. Last Thursday would also have been the 53rd birthday of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, who died in May.  Last Friday would have been Robin Williams birthday, had he not passed away nearly three years ago.

All three of them committed suicide.

Mental illness is fatal if it’s left to fester. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Men ages 40-44 have the highest rate of suicide in the UK. Rates of suicide in women are the highest they’ve ever been on record.

But we only ever talk about it when somebody unites us in empathy, and it forces us to hold a mirror up to our own lives. The aftermath of Robin Williams’ death saw people all over my Facebook wall suddenly opening up in shared grief and a sort of mental health comradeship, and I remember feeling quite touched that the response to his death was so many people opening themselves up to say “I feel it too”, and offers to be there as we all reached out to grab hold of each other. Reaching out is easier to say than to do. I know this.

I was bullied so badly in high school that I used to hope – with a calmness that frightens me – looking back – that I’d die in my sleep and wake up as somebody normal.

I had a nervous breakdown when I was fourteen years old.

I spent all of my time at my second school failing to recover, and essentially lost four of the most important years of my life.

I destroyed all my friendships – and they were good friendships, and I have so many regrets – by the time I was in my early twenties, because I was paranoid and miserable and constantly anxious and it turned me into a horrible stranger.

I nearly failed my degree on multiple occasions and had to resit all of my second year exams and one of my modules because my brain was wracked with self-loathing and paranoia and have you ever tried writing essays on Shakespeare like that? It doesn’t work.

Had I not made the long, difficult walk to my GP when I was nineteen – a walk that I turned round on three times and nearly missed my appointment – I would have failed my undergrad degree, never sat my Masters. I wouldn’t have a job. I wouldn’t be engaged. I’m not sure I’d be a functioning human being. I’m not sure I’d be here

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I stopped myself five or six times writing this and considered making it a bit more palatable, because I thought ooh…that’s a bit uncomfortable to throw out into the internet.

And it IS uncomfortable. I don’t particularly want to tell my family that I hated myself so much as a very young teenager that wanted to cease existing.

I don’t want to tell the people who probably thought I was a bit of a loser or a weirdo or whatever during high school that I was failing to recover from a breakdown that wouldn’t heal until I was in my 20s.

I don’t want to tell my friends how hard it is to interact with them sometimes because even the slightest feeling that I’m “too much” sends me back into a hole I have to work really hard to get out of, even the slightest thing makes me stressed and my default reaction to stress is either to lose my temper or to burst into tears, neither of which are particularly appealing attributes to have in a friend.

It’s not nice. It makes me uncomfortable, especially as some of these are things I haven’t told anyone for a long time, if at all. But that’s the point, isn’t it? We only ever talk about these things when someone else’s experience triggers it. It’s not something you drop on a Tuesday afternoon out of nowhere. Maybe you don’t do what I’m doing and tell everyone you know, but maybe you tell someone.

I know it’s easy for me to sit here with 20/20 hindsight and tell everyone to talk to each other. When you’re in a bad place, the worst of the worst, it’s a black hole you can’t easily crawl out of. There’s an unwillingness to burden someone else, the creeping paranoia that nobody REALLY cares, despite posts and pleas and helpline numbers. Sometimes we might have told people, in passing maybe, and been shut down. It’s a big step, but believe me, when you take the next big step, and the next one, and the next one, having someone hold your hand as you crawl back into the sun makes a big difference.

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I’m mostly OK now. I don’t remember how I got out. Pouring my soul into things as a distraction, a combination of therapy and medication probably helped, and spending quite a lot of evenings in the basement of a comic book store gave me back the years I lost to my own head. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t come out of it unscathed, but I came out of it.

Reaching out when you’re in that pit is the hardest thing you can possibly do, but I promise it’s worth it. Find something to get you through the day, and the next, and the next. If it’s 3am and you’re sitting in the dark wondering how on earth you’re going to keep going, call a friend. Call your parents. Call Samaritans. Call me. Call someone.

Why I (Won’t) Suck At Blogging, vol. 1

Surprise! I bet you all thought I’d given up already. Well, you were NEARLY correct. I wrote that first blog post nearly two months ago and it’s with a great deal of disgust that I slink back in now with the second one, pissed off with myself and feeling like a bit of (read: a lot of) a failure.

At first, I simply thought I’d run out of subject matter. Happens all it at the time, I’m quite boring. I thought I’d made an enormous mistake investing time in a blog when I had nothing to write about. Except I started several posts. I even managed to nearly finish one. I’ve been to several places that I could have written about, and had a couple of really crap weeks that I probably SHOULD have written about.

As easy as it would have been use that as an excuse, it wasn’t hugely plausible.

Exhibit two was the problem I have that usually prohibits me from finishing anything: the moment I get slightly stuck I give it up for lost and throw it into some folder where it can’t prod at my conscience. Six months, a year, two years down the line I rediscover it and go “ha, that was actually quite good”, start again, hit the wall…the cycle continues.

But that doesn’t really work either, cause for a change I started…not caring. Putting a million “saids” into dialogue just to get it down on paper, describing what I want to happen rather than writing it if a wall gets thrown up. Don’t edit mid-paragraph, persevere through the grim times. Everyone’s first draft is awful. But the more I wrote, the more disheartened I was, because it was straight up garbage. And I knew it.

But I didn’t stop to think about WHY it was garbage.

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I don’t have a particularly good voice, whether I’m speaking or writing. I’m aggressively sarcastic more often than not, I stutter garbled nonsense when I’m put on the spot, and unless you’re one of the few people I’m happy to be my usual dickhead self around I’m probably going to struggle. There’s a reason I loathe phonecalls, with silences I feel compelled to break with some idiot sentence before I chew off my own fingers. I’d much rather send an email or a Facebook message, where I can sit and think about what I’m going to say before I say it.

But a blog is different. Knowing that what I was writing was going out into the public internet, where literally anybody could stumble across it, was drastically altering the way I was writing it. It wasn’t me anymore, it was my words in someone else’s voice and I hated it.

I was stuck in a painful limbo for a while, running up the trade-off between writing something crap and impersonal and comfortable that made me grind my teeth, and writing something authentic, something with a bit of heart and feeling desperately sweaty about it.

So I took the gamble. I stopped writing inoffensive generic nonsense, or trying too hard to be amusing. Was it uncomfortable? Deeply. Did I manage to get it done without having to squeeze each individual word out? Eventually. But, all things considered, I think I’d rather make myself uncomfortable every now and again rather than trying to be funny or clever (and I’m pretty sure my friends will quite happily tell you that I’m frequently neither) if it means that I’ll actually be able to get things done, because I know – from years of experience – that doing nothing is worse.

It’s a start, right? Maybe in future I’ll be able to write quality blog posts with cool photos between the paragraphs, but aside from the expression I get when my brain is about to dribble out of my ears I’m not sure how I’d illustrate the predicament I’ve had for the past two months…

Good day friends!

I had a blog once, back in the day, but it kind of fell apart due to a) my crippling anxiety with regards to writing things and then showing them to other people (fun fact: I’ve suffered from a generalised anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember) and b) feeling like my life was shockingly boring and I had nothing to write about. I plan on fixing the latter by roping my friends in to give me random prompts every once in a while (fun fact: I nearly called the page “Smells Like Team Spirit”). The former I’ll attempt to get over by ripping the plaster off, firing nonsense into the internet and trying to resist the urge to set myself on fire afterwards.

Since I’ve already dropped a couple of facts in, here’s ten of the most interesting facts about me. Some of these will probably come up in the future. Some, like my awful jokes, will probably not.

1.       Most of my friends call me Sticky. I made a throwaway comment once about how nicknames never stuck. Unfortunately, this one has.

2.       I’ve got a big floppy cat called Stella. She hardly ever moves, chews my hair when she’s hungry and fall over when you pay attention to her. I love her.

3.       I have mild megalophobia. Nobody’s ever heard of it but it turns me into a jumpy bag of nerves any time I’m near an airport.

4.       I run (with my friends) our local Magic: the Gathering community. It’s simultaneously the most stressful and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

5.       I got engaged two weeks ago. I accidentally found out my fiancé had bought a ring so he got on one knee with a photo of it on his phone in its absence.

6.       R.E.M. have been my favourite band since I was nine. I never saw them live before they called it a day and it haunts me.

7.       My parents found out I could read when my dad had the newspaper sports pages open and I asked him who Colin Montgomery was.

8.       My jokes are so bad that I’ve been removed from buildings for punning.

9.       I’ve seen far too many episodes of Air Crash Investigation for someone who was already a nervous flier.

10.   I learned “London” by William Blake for my Higher English exam and I could still recite it and then sit down and write a pretty hot critical analysis of it nearly a decade later.

Thanks for reading!