Posted in Blog, Mental Health

It’s the Most Wonderfully Difficult Time of the Year

Christmas has been extremely difficult for me.

Filled with sadness, anger, violence, disappointment, and desperation.

This year I spent it with my girlfriend, just the two of us in our flat.

My fourth Xmas without my mother and sister. I tried really hard to get into the spirit of it all, wrapping presents, spending more than I could afford on food to cook a great (vegan) Xmas dinner, decorating the tree, obsessively buying more and more “little things” to make the flat more Xmas-sy. 

This year, I’ve also been volunteering with the recovery centre of a local mental health charity. I started a couple of months ago and it’s been an amazing experience. However, talking to the service users about their feelings towards Xmas is difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, a tweet by Sonaska a writer and designer fell into my timeline, retweeted by someone I follow:

You can also follow her on Instagram.

It was retweeted in relation to mental health at Xmas.

It’s tough being without family, watching everybody else excited to spend the holidays with family, eagerly buying loads of presents for everybody. It’s also tough when people send you messages hoping you have a great xmas with your family, unintentionally sending you back into that black hole of loneliness. 

Considering Xmas with my family was always so unbearable, if you think about it really, I’ve had a lucky escape. There’s no pressure for me to be anything other than myself, I’m spending it with somebody who genuinely cares about me and I don’t have to anticipate having a breakdown.

I also have to consider that I am blessed to have at least somebody to spend it with. Although the charity will be hosting a Xmas dinner at the day centre for the service users (and also arranging transport to the centre and back home), so that they won’t have to spend the day alone, it is still a reminder that there is no alternative for them (other than spending it alone), which is heartbreaking.

Therefore, although I spent most of Xmas eve sobbing into my pillow with multiple glasses of Bailey’s (yes I know you shouldn’t drink while on medication!), I worked to be thankful for what I do have: A home, a partner, friends, a career-plan and my sense of self. 


If you are still finding it difficult to cope, please reach out. The Samaritans are great listeners. With 1 in 3 people contacting them on Xmas Day alone you’ll be in good hands.

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Friendships: Scared to Get Close

Hiiiiiiii!

I’m extremely happy; yesterday I met up with a friend for coffee and each time we see each other, it’s just fun and chilled and time just flies. I can be myself; I can struggle to get out of bed because I haven’t had a good night’s sleep, or my joints and muscles are aching, I’m feeling lethargic from the side-effects of my medication, but it feels worth the struggle; I don’t have to pretend that I’m feeling superb but still have a great time because I with a friend I can open up to.

We’ve known each other for about six or seven years now and up until this year we would only see each other when I went to one of his gigs (he’s the lead singer in a band. It wasn’t until summer of this year I realised that not only was he now my oldest friend, but we hadn’t really hung out 1:1. So since then, we’ve been meeting up to have coffee and a catch up regularly and I feel like I’m ending the year on a positive.

I may not have any family, but I have an amazing girlfriend who I’m madly in love with and a friend that I can rely on and be myself with.

It is petrifying though…

Each time I get close to somebody, they hurt me.

They want me to be somebody I’m not, they want to be able to forget my blackness so that they can say shitty things about black people and people of colour, they want to forget about my disability, they want me to give my life and everything I am to accommodate them to the detriment of myself.

In the past four years I’ve lost an entire family (both immediate and extended), best friends from school and early adulthood, and people I formed intense bonds with only to realise that our friendship had been built on sand (I still know my bible references!).

So, I am frightened of getting close to people. I’ve been rejected by both of my parents, of course I have abandonment issues!

It’s only natural right?

I’m also incredibly impulsive which leads me to make intense relationships with people I realise I hardly even know (which is actually a symptom of personality disorders). For instance: My BFF from Bumble, I had no idea where she even lived yet I truly believed I’d made a best friend for life! And I told this gal eeeeeeverything like we’d known each other for years. Which she then used against me because that was the kind of person she was and I’d failed to see it.

I guess I wear my heart on my sleeve.

So I’m scared.

But at the same time, I’m not one for standing still. I’m one for trying to pick myself up and move forwards. Therapy has taught me that not everybody is going to hurt and abandon me. Human beings are not a monolith. I’m also becoming really good at checking my judgments with others, particularly my girlfriend, just to check that I’m reading situations right and not being too impulsive with my relationships with other people. Sometimes it’s just good to check in with people you trust to protect your heart and mental health.

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Why Doesn’t Anyone Check In? Pt. 2

As I was sobbing to my girlfriend on Wednesday night, it became unclear what I was most upset about: my ailing health, or my loneliness.

As I mentioned in my previous post, people perceive me as somebody who can look after themselves so they forget to check in on me. In fact, I think that my girlfriend is now the only person who has seen me ugly cry, and at my lowest points. But that’s probably because we live together. Even then, sometimes she forgets that I’m not always good at taking care of myself and need a little help.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m the kind of person who checks in on people without needing to be asked. I just fucking care so hard about the people I love.

As a blogger, I am aware that I’m very adept at creating the allusion that I can look after myself, that I’m strong and determined and I think that I’m also probably good at throwing this perception of myself into real life settings. Upon reflection, at times, I can be incredibly dishonest when people ask if I’m ok. Only a very small handful of my friends can instantly tell when I’m lying. This is not because I expect people to be psychic, or play “guess how I’m really feeling”; I think a lot of it comes from pride and not wanting to be the sick girl. There is so much stigma around being sick, particularly within communities and although I’m an advocate for mental health issues and epilepsy awareness, sometimes I’m just sick of battling the stigma especially from people I know. I see the eye rolls and the awkward checking-of-the-time to get out of a conversation with me. And it’s not like I’m constantly going on about my health; if I’m bringing it up, it’s because I’m feeling particularly shitty and am desperately reaching out, but I rarely find a hand to grasp while I’m reaching leaving me waving into empty air.

I can also be surrounded by people but feel incredibly lonely. When I’m around able-bodied people, I feel like I can’t really open up about my disabilities without bringing a black cloud to the gathering; when I’m around white people, I’m forced to reserve my true feelings of discomfort as they ignore incidents of racism, because I don’t want to be accused of steering the conversation “back to me” or playing the all-allusive “race card”. In fact, around particular people, I’m starting to feel like the minstrel again, where I’m only tolerated when I perform the role of the joker or happy girl. I was talking this through to my therapist, who responded that she felt like I was in bondage like a slave, who wasn’t allowed to open her mouth unless given permission, which I completely agree with.

I recently quoted this on Twitter and I’ll say it again here: last week on Celebs Go Dating (we all know that I’m a slut for reality TV), Chloe Simms said:

I’m too tired to give a shit about anybody else right now.

For me, this was such a MOOD!

Around certain people, I do feel that I care too much about what they think, how they might react; basically I’m not myself around these people. Fortunately these are not people I invest a lot of time in, but it’s still time which is energy. And now I’m too tired to give a shit.

This has given me a lot to think about! And I hope it resonates with some of you too about looking after yourself when the people around you might be failing in some aspects. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Why Doesn’t Anyone Check In? Pt. 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been really struggling with my mental health recently, as well as battling an increase in seizures.

I found a draft post that I starting writing weeks ago and never finished, about sometimes feeling like a “Billy No Mates”. Some people put this down to age: once you start reaching your late-twenties/early thirties, existing friendships dwindle and it becomes more difficult to ignite new friendships (don’t we miss the days when you could just walk up to somebody and ask them to be your best friend? LOL). When you have a chronic health condition too, nobody really wants to be friends with you, when you’re the one who’s always cancelling plans at the last minute and aren’t really that much fun anymore.

However, although I can relate to both of these, I also think that I give off an impression that I can look after myself, so people don’t think to check in on me. I was discussing this in my most recent therapy session: I’m the kind of person who, if I know you’re going through a shit time, I’m going to check in on you. You need to know that you’re loved and I need to know that you’re still alive. But I rarely, if ever if I’m honest, receive the same back. Don’t get it twisted, I don’t give to receive, but when I’m hanging off the edge of cliff, I can’t be expected to save my bloody self really, can I?

In yesterday’s session I brought up my mother and my anger that she fails to check in on me, even though we’re not talking and this is something she actually failed to do, even when we were apparently close and was something I desperately needed particularly after my epilepsy diagnosis but I never got. At least my sister would check in to make sure I’d eaten, but my mother… nothing. If she heard from me, then that would be her confirmation that I was still alive.

Whenever I confronted her about this, her argument was that she knew that God was taking care of me, to which my response was, so does God relinquish your responsibilities as a mother? Sometimes, my therapist and I do role-playing in our sessions, where she will play the role of the person I have the conflict with, while I – as myself – take this opportunity to not only confront that person but simultaneously hear their point-of-view of the conflict between us. It’s also a great way of bringing past conflicts into the present and I always find this technique extremely enlightening. It went as follows:

Me: why don’t check in on me? It’s like you don’t seem to care about me.

Mother: Well,  you’ve always been really good at looking after yourself… and I just don’t want to look after anymore you because I’m tired of having to do it. I’ve done enough.

I often think that my mother was never prepared for motherhood and then being thrown into single-parenthood was just too much for her.

I often think that she never wanted to be a mother – particularly to me; it was a role forced upon her by her environment.

I often think that she resented and blamed me for putting her into those situations.

I often think that while I was the practice child, my sister who followed me was the one who received everything my mother could never give me.

Although my mother thinks that she took care of me, our perceptions of my childhood are complete polar opposites: I was consistently lonely and emotionally, psychologically and physically (denial of treatment for my epilepsy) neglected, forcing me into extreme survival mode, taking on the role of the parent for myself.

I’ve been reading a lot recently too, which I’ll get into more in a future post, but I just wanted to reference Halsey Street by Naima Coster, because without wanting to give too much away, like me the female protagonist is often perceived as this tough young woman who can look after herself, when inside she’s still the broken child crying out to be loved and like her mother who made sure that she was one to walk out on her family, mine always wanted to be the one who walked out on us instead of our father.

(Header image source) 

Have you been forced into looking after yourself and often find it difficult to balance that kind of self care with showing a side that people can reach out to when you need it? If so, I’d love to know how you deal with it in the comments.

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Medication Update: Epilepsy AND Mental Health

A lot my fellow bloggers are taking part in the Epilepsy #BlogRelay this month and as always I’m late to the party! I did intend to participate every day, however I’ve been extremely unwell and even now I’m not feeling any better. Better late than never right!

I was also supposed to take part in #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but obviously that’s been put on the back-burner too.

Seizure control has taken a turn for the worse lately. I actually had two seizures this morning and I’ve been having multiple everyday since Sunday. I saw my epilepsy team today and we’ve agreed to increase my Lacosamide doses to see if that has any effect. As we know, seizures can also be affected by seasons; I just think that it’s a combination of the season change and being so under-the-weather, so I am hoping that the dose change will be effective over the winter and then if it works, perhaps I can decrease over the summer.

Speaking of season changes, I always used to laugh off my dip in mood during the winter months. I have dips over the course of the year, however over recent years I’ve definitely noticed my mental health becoming quite unbearable during the winter and in retrospect it’s been a recurring issue for a number of years which I’ve failed to address. I do recall a friend once mentioning SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), suggesting that I might be affected by that however I laughed it off. Then last month, my girlfriend and I went away on holiday to Mallorca and I literally felt rejuvenated by the sunshine, warmth and sense of happiness and freedom the sun brings. When we returned to the UK, I immediately felt overcome with a heavy sadness and oppression, which I initially brushed off as post-holiday blues. Until I began to find it more and more difficult to get out of bed. Then I was suddenly crying for hours for no apparent reason.

I was due for a GP visit anyway, as I’d been asked to book a medication review for my AEDs, however I decided to use the opportunity to hijack the spotlight from my epilepsy and shine it on my mental health. Come to think of it, I’ve never been called in for a review of anti-depressants yet I’ve been on-and-off them since I was 19 years old. Unless I go and visit a GP to discuss them using my own initiative, concern for my wellbeing on anti-depressants has always been a big fat zero. The annoying thing is that GPs know very little to nothing about AEDs, therefore these medication reviews are more of a tick box exercise than actual care and concern for my wellbeing in my opinion.

So, once I’d gone through the formalities of review questions, I swiftly steered the attention to my mental health. The GP was reluctant to discuss it, was actually visibly uncomfortable with talking about it (???) and when I asked if I could increase my dose of anti-depressants just for over the winter months, I was immediately dismissed. At first she advised that she was always hesitant to increase anti-depressants until we’d seen the full affect and particularly if nothing else has been tried. Fair enough. However, doesn’t relate to my situation because…

  • Firstly, I’ve been on Fluoxetine for a fucking year.
  • Secondly, I’m already in therapy (which is on my file), therefore am also relying on alternative therapies as well as pharmacotherapy (medication).
  • Thirdly, she then asked if I’d ever tried Talking Therapies – because it’s on my file that I’m seeing a private therapist, but nothing on the NHS has been offered – I said yes but not recently. She then moved on from the subject of therapy instead of asking any further questions! To me, this is an obscene disregard for duty of care and something I have experienced regularly when it comes to my mental health.

She then expressed her concerns about what effect the increase in Fluoxetine will do to my seizure-threshold. Thankfully, I know that this is nonsense, (which was confirmed by my consultant in today’s appointment!) but can you imagine if I wasn’t as clued up as I am. And this is the fundamental problem with co-morbidity: clinicians tend to focus on only one condition and tend to prefer to ignore the others. As my consultant rightly pointed out, many patients with epilepsy also battle mental health issues which then affects their epilepsy. If I can’t get out of bed in the morning because of mental health issues, I’m skipping meals which then guess what? Triggers seizures, so why wouldn’t you want to treat the mental health issues? It is so bizarre.

So after arguing my case with the GP, I won the battle. I’m increasing my Fluoxetine. With the recent increase in Lacosamide, this means I might be a bit zombie-like during the winter months, but if I’m a happy seizure-free zombie, then I ain’t going to complain!

It’s also amazing to have such an awesome specialist team by my side and I am forever thankful. My GP actually gave me a letter to pass onto them about the increase in Fluoxetine, with her concerns about seizure-threshold and my consultant refused to take it, after throwing a fit at how frustrating GPs are for constantly believing in AEDs myths and congratulating me for arguing my case.

Welcome to my world mate.

Do you have epilepsy or another chronic illness and find that your mental health and wellbeing is often ignored? I’d really love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Like A Phoenix

On 1st September 2018, I got my fifth tattoo.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 18.45.25

Like a phoenix, I rise from the ashes.

2018 has been an incredible year of ups, downs, struggles, celebrations, births and deaths.

Like owls, phoenixes have been a symbolic bird to me because of their ability to rebirth; they burst into flames after living for centuries and then from the ashes, they rebirth into renewed youth, to live for another cycle of life.

I feel like in 2017, I finally succumbed to  everything that had aged me and died a metaphorical death. Then in 2018, I used those ashes to recreate a new me, more youthful, wiser and with renewed energy, to begin life anew.

I’m laughing more, I’m dancing more, I’m flying and soaring. And when things have weighed me down such as family, relationship problems, falling under the pressures of academia and battling with the DWP, I’ve carried on fighting. Hence the tattoo.

Each time I look at it, I feel like a mother gazing down at her new baby (LOL); I forget all of the pain I’ve gone through, because now all I see whenever I look at this tattoo is beauty and love.

2018 has also been a symbolic year for me, because I’ve been published (again)!! This time in an anthology raising awareness for Black and minority mental health in the UK. The anthology is called “The Colour of Madness” featuring artwork, poetry and short stories, including mine called “Matriarchal Dreams“, a story birthed from my mental breakdown last year and recurring nightmares about my mother and the member of staff who tormented me during my teacher training year. It’s now available to buy on Amazon so make sure you grab a copy ASAP!!!

Peace and love.

XOXO

XOXO

 

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Focus

It’s been a minute since I’ve been able to update you! As I mentioned in Friday’s post, I was intending for this to be my first post since my hiatus, but of course shit happened which I had to talk about! Anyhoo, many apologies for my lack of writing! I’ve been caught up with assignments and trying to get healthy around that.

So where do I start??

I’ve had a hair cut!

New Profile Pic 2

And I fuckin’ LOVE IT! I’ve wanted to do it for years, but I’ve always been too scared. This is when I realised that I attached waaaay too much of my beauty and confidence to my hair, so I finally decided to have it cut before my birthday in July.

 

My yoga classes took a break over summer, so in the interim I’ve been going to the gym; I’ve found a great one local to me, part of the Energie Fitness chain. Membership is really cheap and you’re not bound to a contract either so you can cancel any time. I’ve always been a little bit petrified of gyms; full of super fit people, I often felt like as soon as I walked in, people would be staring in shock at how unfit I am (not caring that I haven’t always been like this), especially when I get on the crosstrainer LOL. But of course it’s not like that; everybody’’s in the zone, doing their own thaaang and I’ve actually become quite addicted to it! It’s not only great for physiology, it’s also great for mental well-being. Plus it gets me out of the house so I’m winning on all fronts.

 

My body is also getting to used to my new AEDs (anti-epileptic drugs), Lacosamide. So I’m only on 100mg twice a day at the moment, finally off Keppra (wooooooo). But, when I first started on Lacosaminde, I developed a strange side-effect of urinary incontinence. Imagine my horror at the age of 32, suddenly leaking and having to purchase incontinence pads! I’m not ashamed to admit that I did cry a little and the only advice my Epilepsy Nurse could give was go to the internet, while my GP advised me to go to the toilet more. The latter only helped with the fact that as well as leaking, I was always bursting to go. It didn’t help with the leaking in between go’s. However, it seems to have finally settled down… until my next dose increase I guess….

Other than that, my epilepsy seems to be responding to the medication. I’ve had four seizures in almost two months which is INCREDIBLE!

 

Don’t get stressed

Another piece of advice my GP gave me was “to not get stressed” in order to reduce the seizures; people do not seem to realise who fucking annoying it is to hear that, as if we look for stress. For fuck sake.

 

However the GP did give me some good advice in terms of what I focus my energy on. At first what she actually said was that I didn’t have a focus and when I challenged her on that considering it was only the first time we’d ever met, she then rephrased: be careful what you focus your energy on. With this in mind, on Tuesday I saw my therapist and she said something very similar. She noticed that I tend to focus a lot of my energy on what other people are thinking about me and what they’re doing, very futile things. Instead of doing this, what I should be doing is focusing on myself: my journey of self-discovery, and what I’m doing now, in the present (Gestalt therapy is great for this, focusing on the present, being in the present).

Guilt and shame

I also don’t give myself enough credit for what I’m doing or who I’ve become: I’m a highly intelligent and incredibly creative woman. When I put my mind to something, I do whatever it takes to get there and I think that sometimes I give the people around me more credit for that than myself. My therapist told me that she’s observed that I carry a lot of guilt and shame, which is why I don’t like admitting the positive things that I’ve accomplished. And I think she’s bang in with that observation considering the psychological abuse I was subjected to all of my life. As a child and adolescent, although I was ambitious I was also very submissive and scared to rock the boat because I would be second-guessed and put down, so I would bend and sway to the music of others. A lot of this was also in seeking approval and validation from the people around me, whether they be on social media or real life, be they white, black and my family in particular.

 

Furthermore, guilt and shame is generational: many Black women before me have been prohibited from speaking out, speaking up and drawing attention to themselves, for fear of being shamed or bringing shame to the people around them. They’ve been forced to retreat into themselves which is a behaviour they’ve passed onto us, their daughters and granddaughters.

 

Now I’m going out on my own, drawing a lot of attention to myself and although at times I’m soaring high, I also doubt myself and look down at the ground beneath me, looking for reassurance but also scaring myself shitless. When what I should be doing is focusing on what I am doing, not what is happening around me.

 

I felt like I needed to share this epiphany with you all, because I’ve been trialling this new mindset since my therapy session and although at times it’s incredibly difficult, it is also incredibly liberating. In a way, I had already started the process when I stopped making YouTube videos a few months ago; I was responding to every single negative comment especially and with all the negative I get on Twitter sometimes, I was really taking the opinions to heart, allowing them to beat myself up. When I first decided to stop, it was to protect my mental health, but now I realise it’s about me focusing on what’s important: me and what I’m doing. My videos were not only a critique on the institution and society; they were a celebration of the person that I’ve finally learnt to embrace. I’ve also learnt not to respond to everything on Twitter, because it’s not only taking the focus away from what I do on social media, it’s also taking my focus away from myself.

XOXO