Doing the hardest thing – Relaxing


I put it off for weeks, but I am finally sitting in the waiting room of the clinic, filling out one of those forms. In go the details, the medical history, the current medication. Then we get to the pain area. Head, Neck, shoulders, back, I circle them all. I tilt my head to the side and feel the heavy dragging ache that I’ve been carrying for a couple of days. It’s definitely time for a massage.

I have been in somewhat of a slump.

I am tired, I am filled with lethargy, I am struggling to enjoy things that I usually get pleasure from. I want to be in bed, or asleep, all of the time. It’s not as bad as it has been, or could be. It’s just a general feeling of being slow, of having weights attached to your brain that make everything heavy. And that’s not just an expression, which is how I end up sitting in the waiting room at the clinic. The crushing headaches. I get into the massage room and I don’t even have to take off my clothes before the masseuse puts one hand on my clavicle and said “Hmmmm, yes. Your clavicle is a little higher, and your shoulder…it’s uneven.” My inner tension had misaligned my physical body! She then spent the next 45 minutes tugging and manipulating my reluctant muscles in order to correct it. She sent me home with some exercises to do, and the awareness that bending over a computer might be turning me into Quasimodo.

But I don’t just blame my computer – whilst it might account for some of the back tension, the other symptoms are partly my fault. I haven’t been feeling well because I haven’t been doing the thing that I find the hardest – relaxing. And it’s not just me! Apparently, we are all suffering an exhaustion epidemic. As Louise Carpenter says in her enlightening piece for the Guardian, “The Exhaustion Epidemic”**:

“Only recently, a survey commissioned by Legal & General found that 42 per cent of the 5,000 people asked said that lack of sleep was their biggest health concern, followed by 34 per cent worrying about low-level, general fatigue. More than a quarter said they were stressed and another quarter admitted to depression. It was concluded that working long hours combined with not seeing enough of friends and family is about to threaten our health. These statistics confirmed those produced less than three weeks earlier by the Chartered Management Institute, whose ‘Quality of Working Life’ report showed that more than half of us experience feelings of constant tiredness at work and even more of us suffer from insomnia.”

It’s all down to our inability to relax. Studies have shown that even though we know we need to change our pace of life, we don’t, and are only prompted to change by a break-down. I know from my own experience and the experience of others around me that have suffered mental or physical problems as a result of constant stress. I’m part of a group of twenty-somethings who have been brought up to constantly push forward: we pushed ourselves at school, we pushed ourselves at university or into a job,  we push ourselves to pursue careers, and we push ourselves to maintain a lively social circle that we think is appropriate. We are constantly pushing towards the social security achieved by the generation before us, but also pushing towards the individual, passion-lead ideal life that we are encouraged to pursue. It’s a lot to achieve, and when we don’t achieve these things, we feel we are failing. When we strive for them relentlessly, we burn out. Or, in my case, my mental health problems get worse.

So how can you build relaxation into your life whilst living in a society that fetishizes workaholics? I’m no expert, but here are some ideas:

Know your limits

My limits are a lot lower than most other peoples. This is partly due to my mental health, partly due to my personality, but whatever it is the limit of time before I need to recharge and relax is lower. But just because I need it more often, doesn’t mean I need it more than anyone else. I have friends who work incredibly high powered jobs where they leave the house a six and don’t get home until ten in the evening. I have friends with small children who keep them awake all hours of the day and night. Their limits are higher, they can go longer without relaxing, but if they don’t then they will still feel consequences, just like everyone else. So work out what your limit is. I work full time and that takes a big chunk of my energy. Consequently, I have to be very protective of my outside of work hours. I have to be strict about socialising; I generally only socialise with a larger group of people once a week. I can’t do more than that, because whilst I find it enjoyable, I don’t find it relaxing. Which sort of leads me to my next point.

Know where you get your energy from

I have a job that involves me standing in front of large groups of often rowdy school children and entertaining them, and I love that. I love the adrenalin that comes from performance. I love to hang out with friends and organise parties and events. I love all of these things, but I am still an introvert. What does that mean? It means that whilst I love these things, they don’t give me energy – they take energy from me. This means that at the end of a working day, a day talking to people and presenting to children, going out with my friends will not relax me. I might enjoy it, but it won’t give me energy. I need to go home and not talk to anyone for a couple of hours. Extroverts are often the opposite. For some extroverts, the best thing after a long day at work is a drink out with some friends. They unwind and relax and are re-energised by social situations. Being an extrovert and an introvert is not binary or static. My husband is an extrovert, but he also draws energy from time alone. I’m an introvert, but a dance class with lots of people will recharge me. It’s just about working out what recharges you. Which leads me to…

Work out what recharges you and when

Different things relax us at different times. It is helpful not just to know what relaxes you, but at what times those things will be most relaxing to you. I often find writing this blog relaxing, but there are sometimes when I don’t even have the energy to do that. Rather than forcing myself to write and maybe draining more of my energy, it’s better for me if I do the things that I know will relax me according to my energy levels. For instance, earlier today I got back into bed. I had incredibly low-energy, stressed, and felt basically awful. After 45 minutes, I felt better – more relaxed. Well enough to get out of bed and start to work on my blog. Now I feel even more relaxed. I suggest working from the bottom up: What relaxes you when you are at the lowest ebb of your energy and so frazzled you can barely think? For me, it’s time with my partner, a neck massage, and a long shower. What is it for you?

When we don’t give time to our relaxation, then other areas of our lives suffer. I have seen this happen in the last few weeks in my life. I have been so worried about work and I haven’t been relaxing, but rather than making productive at work, my work has suffered. I’ve been too tired for things, I’ve found concentrating hard, and activities more draining than they usually are. Turns out, constantly worrying about things doesn’t make them better, it just makes you less effective. So I have been focusing on making a sustained effort to do the things that relax me. Reading books. (Not just buying them and taking photos of them on Instagram!) Watching TV shows with my partner. Making pom poms. Bullet journalling. Face masks. Cooking. Hanging out with friends. Getting a massage, even if it is delivered by a woman whose unflinching claws make me wince and give me bruises. (Actual. Blue. Bruises).

Lastly, I need to allow myself to do these things without feeling bad or feeling like a failure. Sometimes, by relaxing I feel like I am somehow not taking my work or my responsibilities or my worries seriously. That I am somehow betraying the people who rely on me by relaxing and letting those things fly from my mind. But I am not, and neither are you. We all have a duty to the people we love to stay healthy, and true health is only achieved by balance. Because I’ve seen the pointy end of a lifestyle without relaxation, and I’m here to tell you, it is not worth the price.

So let’s do the hard thing and take a deep breath… and relax.






How to beat blue Monday (and blue January too!)



Blue Monday feelings 


So after last week and my feelings about the inappropriate use of the phrase “The Blues,” it’s actually “Blue Monday” today. This is a day assigned by Dr Cliff Arnall formerly of Cardiff University when statistically the most amount of people are likely to be depressed, and apparently, this year it might be even worse than usual!   Thank you, world politics. Sigh.

So how to deal with it? One option is to curl up and hibernate the day away. Very tempting. A big duvet, a Netflix account, and unlimited Oreos are all I need. Bliss. However, this is not an option for all of us, and I often find that Blue Monday falls within a month when everyone is likely to be experiencing low mood. As much as I would like to hibernate January away, alas, it cannot be so. So here are some of my tips to take on Blue Monday and what I would like to rename as Jarring January because it came out of nowhere and I feel like I have whiplash from 2016. I can’t be the only one.

1. Give yourself structure 

When life seems a bit crappy and the horizons of your life seem bleak, having structure can be a real saving grace. Having structure is what allows you to get from the beginning of the day to the end of the day without having a crisis. When those invasive, gloomy thoughts emerge, having structure is what helps you put them aside, at least for the moment. No judgement on what that structure is, either. For some people it will be getting a 5 am run in before your full-time job, for others, it will be making sure that they get up out of bed and make themselves a cup of tea at least once a day. We are all at different points in our lives and structure can mean many different things. For me, it means a bullet journal and small routines around the house that help me feel in control. For me, it is trying to blog once a week, and keeping on top of my work. For me, it is trying to get out of the house every day. Don’t use this tip as a stick to beat yourself with – I don’t know where you are and what your structure looks like, only you can know that. You do you.

2. Put happy things in your diary 

For a short month, January sure seems to drag! It seems long, poor, and grey. (Especially if you live in the UK. Especially if you live in the north of England. ESPECIALLY if you live in Manchester.) There’s a reason that you can’t flick a channel or click a link without seeing a holiday advert in January. Who doesn’t want to escape the drained bank accounts, walking to work in the rain, and the general malaise that seems to fall across the nation? Some people are economically placed so that they can head off on holiday in January, and if I ever can then I will too, but I can’t right now. So I compensate by putting happy things in the diary. Family coming to visit. Dinners out with friends. Seeing a movie I’m looking forward to, and yes, even a teeny tiny holiday. In April we are heading to Dorset for a weekend break with our best friends. Just knowing that is the diary really brightened up the first few days of January. Going to see “La La Land” last night, a movie I have been waiting for since November, was another thing that really put a spring in my step going into this week. Basically, give yourself things to look forward to, things that turn the year from a terrifying abyss of unknowns into a place where good things are planned to happen. Plan those good things.

3. Allow yourself to have the things you need.

This is the most important one for me. Allow yourself to have the things that bring you joy. Give yourself permission to do the things that make your smile. Don’t beat yourself up for needing a boost. I know I am guilty of comparing myself to others around me and being angry with myself for needing support. How can other people find it so easy to get through things whilst I find it so hard, and need so much help? It’s a question I still fight against, but it’s redundant. I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s minds. I might sit across from them in a coffee shop and think “How are they keeping themselves together so easily?” but I don’t know what happens behind closed doors, and neither do you. So do the things that help you and don’t feel guilty that you need the help. Which leads me to….

4. Treat yo’self

What do you love? What’s indulgent to you? Find what it is and treat yourself, without guilt or condemnation. Now, I’m not condoning foolish decisions. If you are piss-poor after Christmas but shopping makes you feel better, don’t go shopping every weekend in January and put yourself in immense debt. This is not a wise decision. But maybe you can have a wish list, a saved items bag on Asos, or a date at the end of the month where you’ve planned a little spree. The same goes for food –  I don’t want to encourage anyone’s unhealthy eating habits. A treat is only a treat if it’s something you look forward to, that you don’t have every day, so binge eating through January doesn’t count. What does count are the things you wouldn’t usually do for yourself. For example, I love candles. Love ’em. But I’m always saving them for a special occasion, not wanting to “waste” them on myself, and even buying cheap tealights makes me feel like I am being indulgent. So this January I have lit a lot of candles and let me tell you, it’s been lovely. Just those little candles lit on these dark evenings brightens my mood. So what’s your treat? Maybe it’s booking yourself in for that extra class at the gym, maybe it’s giving yourself time to read your book, maybe it’s giving your space to get back into hobbies you have loved, but pushed aside. Dancing. Painting. Having coffee with friends. Treat yourself, because you deserve to feel happy, and if these things help then why not?

For me, it always boils down to this one fact: Self-care isn’t selfish. In my experience, you can try to push through and get angry at the fact you need help at all, or you can learn what helps you make it through and then do that. January is a hard month, and no one wants to feel like they are starting the year on the back foot. So do the things that make you feel like you’re getting back onto a level playing field, and do them without feeling guilty. Because you deserve joy.

And if, after all of that, things aren’t getting better, don’t beat yourself up.  I say all of this from a place of medication, therapy, and a strong understanding of why my brain makes me feel certain ways. Some blue Mondays can’t be beaten with these things, and they are the blue Mondays that you need to get help about. See a doctor. Talk to somebody. Talk to me. You are not alone and you are not a failure for struggling.

I believe in you, and I believe blue Monday can be beaten.

If you are struggling, don’t stay silent. Comment here and we can chat, or see the below websites. 



Dancing with the blue devils



Feeling blue 


I like the colour blue. A lot. My partner thinks I am trying to “blue up” his wardrobe. All of our bed linen is blue. It usually makes me happy.

Except when “the blues” show up.

I hate it when people use the phrase “The Blues.” Nowadays, it has connotations of rainy days and the kind of soft sadness that bubbles up when one is lonely or has a hangover. People can be blue when their favourite contestant doesn’t win a television talent show. But that’s not what being blue means. Not by a long way.

The phrase “The blues” (apart from being the name of the great American music movement) comes from the 17th Century English expression “the blue devils.” It was a description of the intense visual hallucinations accompanying severe alcohol withdrawal. Over time, it became the term for a state of deep depression or agitation.

I’m dancing with the blues today.

These days when I dance with the blues are the days I feel most “in recovery” for something. I feel shaky and painful and headachey. I feel hungover with no cause, mournful with no reason, terrified with no trigger. The blues are not a tender dance partner, and they appear, like the devil in the red shoes, demanding you dance until you drop. Even 150 mg of a new medication cannot stop the blues spinning you out on the dance floor. I wonder if even a lobotomy could.

So where do the blues come from? What crack in the surface of the mind springs forth the blue devils?

It might have been putting away the Christmas decorations. (Yes, I know, many days late.) It could be. There is something about putting the Christmas decorations away that renders me a little morose. Apart from the fact that the flat looks a little drearier, a little more tattered, there is the clench in my stomach as I put duct tape the Christmas box closed and the same thought recurs: I don’t know where I will be when I open this box next year. Both physically and mentally. We don’t know if we will still be in the city, or be moving on to the next location, the next job. Also, I don’t know how I will be. Will I be well enough to open up this box and decorate whichever flat in whatever place we call home at the time? Will I be better or worse than I am now? Will I still be staring down the long, bleak, path of recovery?

It might have been the call to the Doctor to confirm my picking up of my new medication tomorrow. I am well into my first month of the new 150 mg, but talking about it does put a lump in my throat and a tug in my gut. It might have been the coffee I drank at Starbucks – maybe the barista forgot to make it decaf, and my sensitive system is overloaded with one of the many chemicals that can unhelpfully trip the balance in my brain. It might have been the several difficult tasks I was dealing with today at work. The burden of responsibility has felt heavy in the last 72 hours, and I have found work worries sneaking out of my inbox and into the back of my mind. It might have been going to bed late last night. It might have been waking up late. It might have been something negative I read on the Internet or an interaction at a shop that didn’t go well. It might have been, it might have been, it might have been.

Or perhaps, like the shingles my partner has been battling for the last two weeks, the blue devils are like a virus buried deep in my cells. No one knows exactly what prompts them to emerge, only what situations can make them thrive. Shingles like stress and a low immune system. The blue devils like unstructured environments and an opportunity to make you dance until you drop.

My partner has been in bed for twelve days. He’s been resting, drinking lots of OJ, and enjoying daily naps. It’s what he needs to do to help his immune system beat that back that virus into its slumberous state inside his cells. I need to sleep too, I need to watch my triggers carefully, I need to keep up with my meds and try to be kind to myself and then maybe, the blue devils will recede back into their dark lair as well.

Then maybe I will feel better about blue.


Kazuya Akimoto – “Blue Bust” 



New year, new you? Don’t give up on the old you just yet.

What are your hopes for the new year?

Do you hope for a better job, a chance to prove yourself in a career that you enjoy and that makes you proud?

Do you hope for a partner, someone to come into your life and provide you with the love and support you have been craving?

Do you hope for political change, for systems of oppression to be broken and for a change in your national discussion?

Do you hope for a different body, one that doesn’t give your embarrassment and humiliation, one that you can try to love?

Or do you hope to just make through alive?

I don’t know what your hopes are, but I do know that the New year is that strange time of year when we allot two weeks or so to reflection on self-improvement. I have always thought it’s a weird time in the seasonal calendar to drop everything and start again. I’ve always believed that this time of self-evaluation should really come in March or April: as the flowers begin to bloom and animals begin to breed seems like the most natural time to turn my thoughts to change. Not in the middle of a cold, grey, British winter when everyone is sluggish from too much food and woolly headed from the obligatory Christmas cold.

But here it is, with still two or three months of grey skies and bare trees ahead. New Year. With nothing new about it, except those new bits and bobs we picked up in the January sales and those resolutions, those damned resolutions we all pick up. January is the time for a new you.

Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s like oxygen or water, we need it to survive and we especially need it to survive the winter. From that perspective, new years resolutions almost make sense. They can be that hopeful kick that pushes you, five pounds heavier and sleep deprived, back to work to survive yet more winter with no Christmas on the horizon. Some people are like that, springing up on January first to start that running schedule to train for that marathon in July. Some people. Other people, people more like me, use new years resolutions as the whip to beat themselves into the ground.

New year, new you. New shoes, new you. New running schedule, new you. New diet, new you. New skill, new you. New haircut, new partner, new job, new baby, new anything and everything… New you.

How many times new years eve’s and subsequent days will I endure before I finally, truly, understand what I know to be true? That whatever you do, the one thing you are always stuck with is you.

In the past, this has been nothing but depressing to me. As someone with depression, I’m not using that word lightly. In the past, the fact that I am always running into my own failings and flaws and mental illness has been a contributing factor to my depression. It has made me isolated and anxious and frankly, suicidal. Wherever I go, there I am. Still depressed. Still mentally ill. Still angry.

But now, I’m embracing it. Something has changed. I don’t want a new me this year. Don’t misunderstand me, if someone presented me with a worrisome drug and said “this will ensure you never ever experience depression again,” I would probably knock it back before they finished the sentence. I wish I was better. I want to be cured. But I don’t want a new me. I no longer yearn for a head to toe transformation that I will hunt for and scurry after with different exercise regimes, classes, and lists of self-improvement. It turns out, I’m not done with the old one yet.

Because two weeks ago a doctor gave me a new diagnosis for an old disease. It has been squatting in my brain like an unwelcome house guest for nearly two decades. I’m happy to get rid of it if I possibly can, and maybe this medication and CBT will make 2017 the year I do get rid of it. But my mind has been changed by my squatter, and rather than wishing I could tear down the whole house and build it anew, just to get rid of that squatter and the pain it brings, I have now begun to think that I might like this house.

This mind that I have previously loathed, detested because I have thought it weak, treachorous, and liable to cause me only more pain and humiliation, this body that I have despised for being the wrong shape and size and uncooperative and damaged, this flesh house of mine that I have often thought of sacking in, this “me” that I have so often wished to trade in for something new. I am not quite done with it yet.

If 2016 has taught me anything it is that our damage is often our witness. The places I am suffering in are also the places where I can be most empathetic. I have never been able to subscribe to the oft-toted idea that I should be grateful for my mental illness because it makes me stronger, but this year I have been reminded that there is hope growing in this broken space. There’s no brain transplant for my condition, there’s no diet or course or dry January that is going to change me, and I don’t need them. I am the child, watching at the window for the first snow drops. Maybe they died under the earth, maybe I could slap some potted plants in there and cut my losses, but then I would never know. I would never know what could have possibly grown out of the dark, unexpected places.

Something good might happen here if I hold out long enough. I’ll wait and see.

So I am not looking for a new me this year. I’m sticking with old me; battered, bruised, depressed old me. New medication. New therapy. A new year. But I’m still the same. And for once, I’m going to let that be okay.

It’s midnight. The first minute of 2016 has passed and nothing has changed. My old self is still with me, and we seem to be doing okay. Let’s see if we can make it through 2017.

Happy New Year.