You are made for more than darkness

the mighty.png

This really got me thinking. What would I say to keep someone from going over the edge? I shared the following on Tumblr but I wanted to share it with you guys too. Because when you’ve survived something and find yourself on the other side looking back, you want to help people come through it like you have. If you’re thinking things that you know could lead down a path towards suicide, don’t think them alone. Talk to someone, talk to me. Don’t be alone. 

back paint
Art by Miriam Kendrick

Your body is made for more than darkness.

This photo was taken about ten years ago, during a really difficult stage of my mental health. An artist friend of mine was working on some skin projects for our Art class and I let her test on me and take a photograph.

I had been fighting depression since I was a child and it had given me a strange, nihilistic attitude towards my own life. I honestly did not think I would grow up into a real person. I didn’t have a plan for the future. I didn’t dream about a wedding with an imaginary husband. I didn’t really believe I would get there. I thought I was going to kill myself before I got that far. In the truest part of my soul, I knew it was only a matter of time. If you had asked me where I wanted to be in my late 20’s, I would have thought I would be gone by then. I wasn’t active about it, I wasn’t seeking death, but I just knew. Every day I felt like I decided to stay on the planet rather than leave it, and sometimes it was a really hard choice to make. It felt inevitable that the hatred I felt for myself and my body would eventually get me. One day I would just stop fighting.

This photo first gave me hope that maybe I didn’t have to hate so much. Maybe my body was made for more than self-harm scars. Maybe it was made for more than starvation, more than pain, more than hate and self-loathing. It was the first time I looked at my body and thought there might be a way out – maybe there was a way I could make art out of my body. Maybe there was a way I could learn to live peacefully in it, this house that I hated. Maybe this whole life thing didn’t have to end with total self-destruction. Maybe I could live.

There have been dark times since then, really low moments, but since this photo I have always held onto that feeling that maybe things could be made beautiful, no matter how broken they were. That maybe surrendering to the darkness is not inevitable. Maybe there’s hope.

Because now I’m in my late twenties. I’m in my late twenties and now I plan for the future. I’m in my late twenties and I’m still here, choosing each day to live.

Your story is not over. Something beautiful could still be made.

Don’t give up.

 

The women I write with

38b9b7d24eba923e3827ac25f74594d8

It’s International Women’s Day. In honour of this special day I’ve put together this list of Women writers who I would like to celebrate, and the works that have inspired me. It’s so hard to pick and choose and so I hesitate to use the words “favourite,” but what I would say is that these are some of the women who have inspired me the most in their writing. Through their lives they have encouraged me to be stronger than I am and to write fearlessly.

51oxfod2bbil-_sy344_bo1204203200_Arundhati Roy, Novelist, Journalist and Activist. 

The God of Small Things is one of the books I always say is my favourite books of all time. I read it when I was seventeen years old and I instantly felt like someone had written the book I had always wanted to write. It was spiritual, visual, sensual, and had a gripping plot that has sat inside my spirit since then. In all my writing I know that I am secretly striving towards that strange, beautiful transcendence that she achieves when she brings words together. She also continues to inspire me through her political writing – She is an activist full of bravery and grace, doing amazing things like interviewing Edward Snowden and returning awards. You can read her articles for the guardian, including the Snowden interview, here. But if you only read one thing by her, read The God of Small Things. It is a song worth hearing.

night_watch_318x500Sarah Waters, Novelist.

I put The Night Watch on this list because it was the first Sarah Waters novel that I read, but I have devoured every single one of her books. She is a supreme historical fiction writer. When stepping into the world she has recreated on the page you can taste and smell the air, you can see the sky, that is the vivid intensity of what she creates. She is also a writer who has embraced ‘The Lesbian writer’ label without fear. She brings the history of Queer love to the mainstream, and is an advocate for the advancement of women in writing. She has made me feel that it is okay to be whoever you are and to expect literature to reflect your desires and experiences of love. There is an interview with her here, but the best way to really hear her voice is to read her novels.

img072smAngela Carter, Novelist

My god, could I even consider writing this list without including Angela Carter, the Queen of feminist fiction? I don’t think so. Reading The Bloody Chamber in my school days was a revelation. Reading her stories was like eating words and tasting fruit –  her writing is luscious and vivacious and unforgettable. No sense is left un-tingled. I covered my class folder in Bloody Chamber quotes, choosing the richest and most haunting ones to linger on. When I write now her delicious waltz with words is what I have in my mind. Angela Carter was the first woman writer who tested my boundaries – making me question how women had been represented in all the books I had ever read up until that point. She changed my expectations of writers, and myself.

author-bryony-gordon-with-her-new-book-the-wrong-knickers
photo credit Matt Sprake

Bryony Gordon, Journalist and Writer

Bryony holds a special place in my heart. I have read her columns and articles in the Telegraph since I was a young teenager, and she was a huge contributor the the reason I started blogging. Bryony writes honestly about everything in her life; her relationships, her family, and most importantly for me, her mental health. She has become even more open as the years have progressed, sharing the highs and lows of her mental health battles with her readers. Bryony is the kind of writer who feels like a friend, and when I read an article where she confided that she had been really struggling, I didn’t hesitate before emailing her to let her know I was on her side. The great thing about Bryony is she won’t shut up – not about mental health, not about the struggles of being a mum, not about eating disorder and healthy body image, not about anything! And Thank God for that! She encourages me not be ashamed on my voice and my story. Every battle she fights and wins with her eating disorder or her depression feels like a battle I have won too. Read her work here. 

635824250928546082-shonda-rhimes-credit-james-white
photo credit – James White

Shonda Rhimes, Screenwriter

I had to put Shonda on here, especially since she is basically the goddess of broadcasting. It’s not just because I like Grey’s Anatomy (even though by ‘like’ I really mean ‘am totally obsessed by’) but it’s because of everything Shonda does when she writes. Thrilling plots, captivating characters, and cliffhangers that make you want to kill everyone who lives on your street are standard when Shonda puts pen to paper. But most importantly, she writes life as she finds it. She doesn’t white-wash it or make it straighter so it will be more acceptable to TV, and she doesn’t “diversify” it by shoving a token person of colour or a queer relationship in as an after-thought. She creates characters, whole characters, who have the breadth and strength to be all kinds of things and certainly more than just a symbol. Also, that woman is prolific. She is a dynasty of TV writing, and proves that women not only can do it, but they can do it as much as they want! Here is a great article about the legacy she is building.

caitlinmoran-2Caitlin Moran Journalist, Writer, Screenwriter 

Caitlin Moran is the funniest person I know. I don’t really even know her, I just read her writing. But if anyone asked, I would still say that Caitlin Moran is the funniest person I know. How to be Woman not only relieved me of a lot of my social anxieties by showing me there was someone out there who had done it all before (with possibly more embarrassing results), but it finally shut up that nagging little voice in my head that kept saying, ‘Well… maybe men just are funnier than women.’ Caitlin and her doc martins stamped on the balls of that one. She also wrote one my favourite TV shows, Raised by Wolves, which after reading How to be Woman sort of felt like I was watching certain parts of Caitlin’s childhood played out on channel 4. She’s the writer equivalent of a Bob Fosse’s Cabaret – Bawdy, delightful, endearing and hilarious. Here’s her website to keep up with her continued romp through life.

nts-wheel-lst086955
The Wheel, Edinburgh festival list

Zinnie Harris, playwright, screenwriter and all-round role model 

It would have been wrong for me to finish this list without including Zinnie. She taught me at the University of St Andrews and apart from scaring me shitless with her no nonsense approach, she reawakened my dormant love of playwriting. I’m two plays down, which is two more than I ever thought possible, and still writing and it is partly due to her. She wowed me at first with her impressive resume (she wrote for Spooks!) but then won me over with her off-centre thinking. Her response to a standard scenario was always more profound and more bizarre that what I had ever considered. When I read Zinnie’s plays I feel like I am learning a new way that to write a play that I hadn’t known about before. She showed me an imagination that saw the stage as much more than a space to be filled, but a whole universe to be explored. You can watch her discussing some of her work here.

So now go! Read and watch things written by amazing women.

Happy International Women’s Day!

 

Why so SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder

20140111-175511

Things have been a bit quiet on here this week. This is partly due to the fact that all last week I was making a lot of noise for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and partly because I have started my new job this week. Things have been hectic as I battle my usual anxiety in a heightened circumstance, but there are some real positives to this new position. For starters, I am mostly in charge of my own work and can choose where I do it. Having the freedom to work from home really allows me to access spaces that make me feel safe an comfortable, and because of this I find myself managing new responsibilities and challenges a lot better than I had thought I would. 

But I don’t actually want to talk about jobs and things this evening, though I did feel an update was due, instead I was hoping to talk a little bit about SAD. 

*****

The clocks change in Autumn and I know it’s coming. No, not Christmas. No, not snow. The creeping feeling of exhaustion, depression, and fear that comes with extra every second of darkness. I want to batten down the hatches, to barricade myself inside, or fall asleep until March. I have SAD.

I am one of many people I know who struggles with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) to some degree. Since I was about eleven years old I began to notice that I was happier in summer than I was in winter. In the summertime I felt like I opened up and was truly more myself as I became more optimistic, I felt I could work harder for longer, I had more physical energy, and I was more body confident too. When I was eleven though, there didn’t seem to be a word for becoming a better version of yourself in the summer. People said it was natural to be happier when the days were longer, because that was when fun things happened. You could eat outside, play tennis with your friends late into the evening, you could go out without a jacket. People said it was normal.

I started to realise it maybe wasn’t so normal when the winter things that people looked forward to didn’t lift my spirits the way they did other people. I didn’t look forward to cosy evenings by the fire. I didn’t feel happy when I thought about those short, dark days spent inside over the Christmas break with the twinkly lights and presents. It was strange, because I knew that I had loved these things as a young infant, though I had loved our summer holidays more. I started to realise it wasn’t normal when it felt like nothing to revitalise me or lift my spirits in the face of the oppressive darkness. Others were enlivened by festive Christmas events, delightful meals, hot chocolate and the anticipation of snow, the first frost. I felt like all these things would have been better if the sun would only shine. I didn’t know the terminology for what I was feeling, so I just started to say that I hated winter. That I hated the darkness. I didn’t realise that the darkness itself was making me hate it.

Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t fully understood but it is widely accepted that lack of sunlight may stop the hypothalamus working properly, affecting the body’s production of melatonin and serotonin, as well as the body’s internal body clock. SAD affects 1 in 3 people in the UK, but over 50% of all UK adults say their mood is worse in the winter than in the summer. I think this is part of the reason that we tend to take SAD quite lightly, ranking it as one of the “lesser” mental illnesses, perhaps because we think it can’t be that bad it goes away for half of the year. We think “Well, everyone gets down in winter – its not that big a deal.”

Except it is.

SAD isn’t gloomy thoughts. SAD isn’t just a melancholy feeling when you wake up to another grey day.

At it’s worst SAD can be the inability to get out of bed. SAD can be a nightmare that you can’t wake up from or fall asleep in, as it sends your sleeping pattern into torturous haywire. SAD can be fucking awful, the thing that stops you being able to live your life on a day to day basis. Because SAD may be Affected by the Seasons, but it is still Depression and carries with it all the possible implications.  For the 8% of the UK population who are acute sufferers this could mean sleep problems, panic attacks, disordered eating, and numerous other inhibiting symptoms that are much more than simply wishing for some sunshine. Most of the time you don’t long for sunshine, because many people don’t know how sunshine could possibly help. They just want to feel better. I didn’t consciously wish for sunshine  – for a long time I didn’t know that it might be what I needed.

“You’re always so tired,” my Mum said to me once, “I think there’s something wrong with you.”

There was.

I had SAD. I was overloaded with melatonin.

Melatonin is the hormone in your brain that makes you sleepy, and one of the affects of SAD is that the brain’s melatonin levels become affected by the decreased exposure to sunlight. Apart from being more depressed than usual in winter, in peak winter I can sleep up to fourteen hours a night and still need a nap in the afternoon. My husband jokes that I basically hibernate in winter, and whilst it may seem a bit funny, I do have an overwhelming sensation of constant exhaustion from mid November to February.

This tiredness makes it incredibly difficult to be motivated and to concentrate, and when I was at University with hours of study to do in a unnaturally lit library it was a terrible combination. Not to mention the fact I was living in Scotland, where daylight hours in winter decreased by a massive four hours in winter compared to the South of England where I had grown up. I knew I was struggling, but to be honest, I thought I might just be going mad. Until somebody loaned me a daylight lamp, and something clicked into place.

I didn’t think it would actually work, but I was amazed. Studying by the daylight lamp gave me more energy rather than less, and even enough energy to get out and exercise which raised my serotonin levels. I had sort of never really thought that these treatments might work on me because whilst I felt worse in winter, my depression and anxiety plagued me year round. But there is a reason going on holiday to the sunshine can make me feel like someone has opened the shuttered windows of my mind for the first time in months. Using a daylight lamp gave me some answers, and also some new solutions. Whilst sunshine is not going to cure my depression, I do now know that some time outside in natural light will help things seem better. Whilst sunshine is not going to stop my disordered eating, I know that not letting myself sleep for fourteen hours so I can make the most of my daylight hours is going to actually help in the long run. Whilst sunshine can’t cure my anxiety, a daylight lamp can help me work longer and harder in the winter.

The knowledge of what SAD is, it’s symptoms, and how they can be alleviated has greatly impacted how I change my every day. My husband refers to me sometimes as a lizard, because I am known to bask in sunlight, or seek the sunniest spots in a room, coffee shop, or restaurant to occupy. It might seem funny but it is true. I have adopted the habit in my life of always looking for sunshine. Not just because I like it or it feels warm on my face, but because I know it can help me get through the day better. It can help me sleep better. It can help me eat better. It can help me feel better. It might be able to help you feel better too.

*****

If you have really struggled for the last few winters, and find that you exhibit many of the symptoms shown on Mind’s SAD webpage, you might want to consider evaluating ways you can potentially treat these symptoms through lifestyle changes or use of a daylight lamp. They can be expensive, but I can attest to their value. If you have any questions feel free to ask me, or you can call your local GP or Mind for advice.

Helpful websites:

Antonia Molloy’s article about SAD for the Indie : Incredibly informative with statistics

SAD page on NHS website : Basic medical information and treatment options

The Seasonal Affective Disorder website : Great resource for advice on how to cope, and SAD lights that you can purchase.

Kat Brown’s great article at The Pool about exercise and SAD : Amazing to have such a strong voice on the inside, and great advice from how one person is coping with their SAD. Kat is so funny and relatable – you’ll definitely feel like you can get through it too.

Norman E Rosenthal’s article about how to beat SAD at the Guardian: Norman has his own website, is an MD and author of “Winter Blues: Everything you need to know to beat SAD.” I haven’t read the book but if this article is anything to go by then I know it is helpful and practical.