Recent work: Womb trouble, breastfeeding, sexual assault, and bereavement by suicide

It’s been a while since my last work update – I’ve spent a lot of the last few months with my head down, immersed in a slightly all-consuming project that I’m excited to be able to share with you soon.

In the meantime though, I’ve also been quietly cracking on with work on my usual subjects of women’s health, mental health, and sexual/reproductive health. I’ve written on several tough but vital subjects for online health magazine Patient, spoken on an International Women’s Day panel about period poverty, and been featured in the Daily Mail’s You magazine as part of their goal-getters guide to acing it.

Articles

How Endometriosis Symptoms Affect The Lives Of Those Who Suffer With The Condition Every Day – for The Debrief:

Endometriosis is a gynaecological disease that affects one in ten women of reproductive age. That’s 1.5 million in the UK, and a staggering 176 million worldwide – yet relatively little is known about it. What we know from those women is that endometriosis pain affects them every single day. On average, women wait seven and a half years from first experiencing the symptoms of endometriosis to actually, finally getting an endometriosis diagnosis.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Are fertility apps a reliable form of contraception? – for Patient:

Hormonal contraception has had a bad press in recent years, with studies linking it to breast cancer and mental health side effects such as depression and anxiety. All that, combined with the rise of so-called ‘fem tech’, and the burgeoning trend for all things natural – from organic beauty products to ‘clean’ and plant-based diets – has led to an increased interest in more natural family planning options. But do any of them really work?

Continue reading at Patient…

How to support someone bereaved by suicide – for Patient:

Amy* was just 21 years old when her close childhood friend Lydia* took her own life two years ago. “I went through so many different feelings and emotions – complete grief and sadness, mixed with anger and guilt,” she explains.

“Obviously you feel that grief, loss and sadness when you lose anybody, but it was worse as she was so young, with her whole life ahead of her. I was constantly asking myself ‘what if …?’ and I was angry that she’d made this choice, and left her family and friends in this situation,” she adds.

“It felt wrong to be angry, but it was an overwhelming feeling, and it was reassuring to know others felt like this too. Rightly or wrongly though, I also felt angry towards her family and her university friends because they all knew what was going on and how vulnerable she was, yet she was left by herself. I wish I had known and could have done something,” Amy says.

Continue reading at Patient…

What to do after rape or sexual assault – for Patient:

Nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted every year in England and Wales, and roughly 11 an hour are raped – the majority of them women.

Recent activism, like #MeToo and the Time’s Up campaign, has shone a light on the prevalence of sexual violence globally. But, if you’ve suffered this kind of attack, dealing with the aftermath can still be an incredibly lonely and frightening time.

Continue reading at Patient…

How to overcome breastfeeding stigma – for Patient:

Breastfeeding can be an emotionally fraught subject. Many new mums feel unable to feed in public because of embarrassment, according to surveys. While others, pressured by ‘breast is best’ advice, feel shame if they cannot provide nourishment for their child in this way.

“The first time I took my newborn son out to a café, he cried to be fed, and I walked home to feed him,” says mum-of-two, Eleanor. “I was so scared of latching this tiny baby on in public. I hadn’t really seen anyone do it before, and it’s hard with a newborn as they need a bit of help,” she adds. “Right after birth, your boobs are huge, so it’s hard to do discreetly!”

Eleanor is far from alone in her experience. A recent survey by The Baby Show found that nearly 9 out of 10 new mums feel unable to breastfeed in public because of embarrassment and stigma.

Continue reading at Patient…

My words elsewhere

The goal-getter’s guide to aceing it – You magazine

For Daily Mail’s You magazine, I spoke to journalist Helen Booth about how having an accountability buddy helps me set and achieve goals for my freelance business.

However, you don’t necessarily need to have a pre-assigned mentor or a paid-for coach to discover your own sense of accountability. Enlisting an ‘accountability partner’ could be the answer – which could be as simple as teaming up with a friend. Sarah Graham, a freelance writer, found success by pairing up with a friend who was at a similar stage in her career. ‘It started off as an informal arrangement where we’d have a weekly Skype call to talk about our goals,’ says Sarah. ‘But now we also have an “accountability day” each week. We’ll check in around 9am and agree, for example, to complete a certain task by 11am. Then we’ll check back at the deadline and update each other, and set a new goal for the next couple of hours. It’s my most productive day of the week.’

Read more.

Events

I’ve also attended some fascinating and inspiring events since my last update – including The Femedic’s panel discussion on how austerity affects women’s health; a talk by Helen Pankhurst on her new book Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now; a private view of the Museum of London’s Votes for Women exhibition, which is on all year; and a press reception on women’s health, hosted by the Women’s Health Clinic.

In March I was also very privileged to speak on a panel about period poverty, as part of Doughty St. Chambers’ International Women’s Day celebrations.

These kind of events always remind me why I’m a writer, not a speaker, but it was a real honour to speak about my work alongside such eloquent and impressive speakers – Stella Creasy MP, PeriodPositive activist Chella Quint, and barristers Angela Patrick and Katie O’Byrne.

Recent writing: support for transgender children, student mental health, and accessible housing

In January I wrote about a number of challenging but important subjects. For Patient, I looked at how parents can best support their transgender child. For The Student Room, I explored what mental health support students can (or should be able to!) expect at university. And, for Inside Housing, I investigated how a lack of accessible housing leaves so many disabled millennials stuck living with their parents. They’re all such vital issues, which I hope I’ve treated with the care and sensitivity they deserve.

Many thanks to everyone who spoke to me for these features – particularly Susie at Mermaids UK; Joe (not his real name) at Growing Up Transgender; Nina, Shona and Fi for sharing their experiences of the struggle to find accessible housing; as well as the disabled millennials who spoke to me off the record and helped to inform my research. I hope that each of these pieces, in some small way, helps young people to access the support they need.

How to support your transgender child – for Patient:

“Some years ago, at a young age, our daughter Sophie* first told us they were a girl. This was quite a shock at the time, as we’d thought they were born male. It turned out we were mistaken,” says Joe*, who tweets as @DadTrans and blogs at Growing Up Transgender with his partner @FierceMum.

“Our acceptance of her identity did not happen overnight. At first we didn’t take it seriously. We tried to tell her she could be whatever type of boy she wanted to be, wear what she wanted, play with what she wanted. This was totally missing the point, and simply made her even sadder,” he adds.

“Eventually, it got to a point where we had a very depressed child, who felt rejected by her parents. We realised that we were letting her down.”

Recent years have seen a steadily growing awareness of issues around gender identity and trans people like Sophie. Sadly though, gender diverse children and young people have also become an increasingly popular topic of controversy and tabloid hand wringing – particularly around the use of hormone blockers to treat trans children.

As a parent, all that noise can just add to the worry and confusion you’re probably feeling if your child has recently told you they’re questioning their gender identity. You’ll no doubt want to support them in the best way possible, but it’s also totally normal and understandable to have questions and concerns about the impact it will have on their life.

Continue reading at Patient…

What mental health support can you expect at university? – for The Student Room:

For all the excitement and fantastic opportunities on offer, going to university can be a hugely stressful time. If you already struggle with your mental health, it’s understandable that you might be worried about how you’ll cope with student life. But don’t let that put you off.

One in four students in the UK suffer from some kind of mental health problem, and 95% of universities have seen an increased demand for counselling in the last five years. While this can mean that mental health services are overstretched, whichever uni you choose should have support available to get you through those more challenging moments.

Continue reading at The Student Room…

Access denied: the disabled millennials who can’t find adapted affordable housing – for Inside Housing:

“I’m living with my dad at 32, and he’d really like his flat back,” says Nina Grant (pictured). We’re sat in the far corner of artisan coffee shop Harris & Hoole in Southgate, north London, a short bus journey away from Mx Grant’s father’s home.

Mx Grant (who uses gender-neutral pronouns) has an effervescent personality, which shines through in everything from their expressive speech to their quirky plaid trousers and bright red Dr Martens. But the seemingly endless process of finding somewhere to live has clearly taken its toll.

“I understand that, in the economy we’re in now, being a graduate doesn’t guarantee you’re going to have a career straight off, but I think I just assumed everything would fall into place,” they say.

Mx Grant’s situation is far from unique. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in November show that more than a quarter of 20 to 34-year-olds in the UK are still living in their parents’ home.

Housing charity Shelter has warned that, without radical action to tackle the UK’s housing shortage, the figures could pass 50% within a generation. But for Mx Grant, there’s an added layer of difficulty: being disabled.

Continue reading at Inside Housing…

Recent writing: Christmas and New Year

Unsurprisingly, the weeks around Christmas and the New Year were a busy time for writing about health. Throughout December and January I’ve written a lot about alcohol, food, diet, fitness, body image, and how to stave off the post-holiday blues.

The festive period now feels like a distant memory, and January seems to be going on forever! But somehow I’ve only just caught up with myself enough to share some of that recent work…

Drink Spiking: Why Horror Story Drug Devil’s Breath Is The Least Of Our Worries – for The Debrief:

Two weeks into December and the festive party season is now well and truly upon us. I can barely go 48 hours at a time without someone twisting my arm into a mulled wine and mince pie, a gratuitous glass of bubbly ‘just because it’s Christmas,’ or a festive spiced gin. It’s the most wonderful time of the year – but, for me at least, it also always comes with just a twinge of anxiety.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Alcohol and health: The mythbusting article – for LV=:

Is there a way to cure a hangover? Can some alcoholic drinks help improve our heart health? In what order should we drink wine, water and beer? We tell ourselves many things to feel better about our alcohol intake, but what truth is there in them? We asked the experts to find out.

Continue reading at LV=…

How to stop binge eating – for Patient:

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But if you struggle with your weight, eating, and body image, the weeks around Christmas and the New Year can be an absolute minefield.

Continue reading at Patient…

Surviving the New Year body image minefield – for Betty Collective:

If you struggle with body image and eating issues (and honestly, who doesn’t, from time to time?) January can be really rough. After a month of festive parties, cosy evenings in with Christmas movies and hot chocolate, and stuffing our faces at almost every opportunity, suddenly it’s all over and the dreary reality of the New Year hits.

Continue reading at Betty Collective…

How to embrace fitness after 50 – for Patient:

You already know it’s worth making exercise a priority. But, if you’re over 50 and haven’t laced up your trainers since secondary school PE class, it can be a real struggle to get going. We spoke to the experts about the health benefits of taking up exercise after 50, and how to make sure your shiny new gym membership doesn’t go to waste.

10 ways to avoid the post-holiday blues – for LV=:

After the joys of late December, January can feel a bit gloomy. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. We spoke to experts about how you can tackle the January blues, and get your year off to a flying start.

Continue reading at LV=…

Is online counselling actually any good? – for Betty Collective:

There’s an app for everything these days, even your mental health. You’re probably already tracking your fitness, sleep, and periods, so why not also track your moods? And, when it comes to more formal mental health support, online counselling services are just a click away – whether you’re not sure where else to turn right now, or need something to bridge the gap while you’re on an NHS waiting list for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

Continue reading at Betty Collective…

R.E.D January: Running away from the blues

It is a truth universally acknowledged that January is, well, always a bit shit. Grey and austere, after a month of twinkling lights and festive indulgence. A dark, cold, gloomy return to work and reality, after a week spent drinking hot chocolate and watching Christmas films in your pyjamas, unsure of which day of the week it is, and totally oblivious to any kind of real-life responsibility.

It’s usually around this time of year that I find myself casually daydreaming about running away. Last year it was a week on my own by the sea (albeit in Suffolk, not Sri Lanka) and we all know how well that worked out. This year I’ve been browsing Skyscanner for flights to visit my friend in New Zealand, but in reality I know I’m not going much further than sunny Stevenage any time soon.

R.E.D January

Back in December though, I signed up for R.E.D (Run Every Day) January, for an alternative kind of running away. R.E.D’s a New Year fitness challenge, in association with mental health charity Mind, that harnesses the mental health benefits of running to help participants beat the January blues, while also fundraising to support Mind’s work around the UK.

Despite the on-off, love-hate relationship I’ve had with running over the years, I know it’s always made a massive difference to my mental health. I really resented not being able to put my trainers on and get out when both my back and my mind were at their worst last year. Plus, it felt like a good way to up my recovery training in the New Year, now that I’m actually starting to notice a difference from my weekly yoga and Pilates sessions.

Running as self-care

Then, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I had a bit of an epiphany about where I’ve always gone wrong with running in the past. I was interviewing the always-inspiring behavioural change specialist Shahroo Izadi for an article on binge eating and she said something that – although it didn’t make it into the article in its entirety – really stuck with me:

Usually Sunday evening was my hardest time not to overeat because I lived by myself and, especially in the winter, I’d get bored – but I didn’t want to go out and spend money. So one day I just decided to go to a karaoke booth by myself in Brick Lane. It was really cheap, like a fiver, they gave me a microphone, I got myself a coffee, and I sat and sang for one or two hours.

Since then, whenever I have a desire to binge, or I’m triggered by something – because it does still happen – what I tend to do is try and book a karaoke booth. I’ll tell myself: “Shahroo, you can do whatever you like, you can eat whatever you like, just first go and have a sing, and see if you still want to afterwards”, and to this day I’ve never wanted to afterwards. The craving passes, singing’s a really mindful activity in general. For me, mindfulness just means when I’m so engrossed in one thing that nothing else is coming in, and I’ve found that through singing.

By the way, I’m not a good singer – I’m not training for anything, it’s not to any end, and I think that’s the other really important point around self-care. It’s about reinforcing that you like yourself, and that’s why you’re doing this. The more I do things that are just purely for joy, with no outcome – I’m not recording an album, it’s just purely because I feel good about it – the more I’m reinforcing my self-worth. Tiny things I do each day just to acknowledge that I have a body worth taking care of, I have a brain worth taking care of, and that leaks into all your little habits.

So that’s the approach that I’ve taken into R.E.D January: not worrying about my time, or my distance, or how much of each run was actually spent walking and wheezing; just enjoying how it makes me feel.

Best laid plans

Of course, as often seems to happen with all of my best laid plans, my body had other ideas. I was struck down by that brutal Christmas cold that everyone’s had, just in time for New Year’s Ever. Thanks, crappy immune system! It’s meant missing a couple of days, which were spent in bed feeling totally wiped out and miserable, but otherwise I’ve quite impressed myself (so far!) with my ability to stick with it, and even to compensate for missed days by adding in extra activities  and then actually enjoying them!!

It doesn’t make the reality of January any less grim, but it does give me 10-60 minutes a day away from my racing thoughts and chaotic feelings, just to focus on my breathing, the thudding rhythm of my feet against the pavement, and the beauty of our new town – and that’s absolutely invaluable. If you’d like to help raise money for Mind by sponsoring me, you can do so at my JustGiving page: justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-graham-red

Balance: November/December 2017

Happy New Year! This time last year I wrote the first in this ill-fated blog series on balance, my theme (or, at least, my goal!) for 2017:

It sounds painfully obvious typing it out, but I now know that I’m happier, more creative, and more productive when I make time for the things I love, as well as the things that pay my bills. Running, swimming, reading, writing for the pure love of writing – all these things feed my creativity, my productivity, my physical and mental health, and yet I’m not fitting them in as much as I need to.

In 2017 I want to find that balance. I want to devour books and magazines like I did as a child – which I currently only manage on holiday. I want to make time each day for exercise, self-care, learning, and screen-free time alone with a notebook, pen and my thoughts. And I want to rediscover the joy of writing for the sake of writing – in my journal, on this blog, and *gulp* finally working on that novel.

Well, for a start, I’ve not touched (or even looked at) the novel since 26 January 2017. Nothing about last year turned out the way I’d planned or expected, and it’s fair to say that I’ve spent most of the last 12 months feeling about as far from balanced as it’s possible to get. More like totally out of control!

2017 was life-changing. It’s been devastating, stressful, physically and emotionally agonising – but it’s also brought so many aspects of my life into really sharp perspective. I know I’ll never be the same person I was this time last year. She’s gone, and I’ve spent so long grieving for her that I’ve pretty regularly lost sight of all the joy, wonder and opportunities that life still has to offer.

November and December

Regular readers might have noticed that I missed November’s blog post. As I predicted in October, the return to reality and a more normal routine hit me really hard after the “fairytale” of a month spent basking in the glow of my much-needed fresh start. By the end of November, I was ready to give up on blogging, on balance, and just ride out 2017 through gritted teeth.

So yeah, the last couple of months were a real rollercoaster – a frenetic blur of festive busyness, work stress, self-destructive drinking, and quality time with the people I love most. The highs have been so high, the lows have been so low, and I haven’t really wanted to put any of it into words.

The closer we sped towards Christmas, the more time I spent torturing myself over what a total failure of a year 2017 was: all the things that might have been; all the lost opportunities, money, and experiences; all the things I should have, but didn’t, achieve; everything I did worse in 2017 than in 2016, because so much of the year was spent just scrabbling to survive; how much time I’d wasted focusing on my mental and physical recovery from the crash. And how utterly never-ending it all still feels.

I couldn’t even muster any of my usual optimism about the prospect of a new year; not beyond: “surely it can’t get any worse”. But Christmas has a funny old way of shifting your focus! It’s been a magical fortnight, full of precious moments with my family, godson, husband, and friends. So while 2017 was definitely not my year, somehow I still ended it with pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted: in my dream home, surrounded by amazing people, with a fulfilling job, and a heart full of love. And honestly, what can 2018 throw at me that’s bigger or more powerful than that?

Recent writing: Periods in Yarl’s Wood, and teenage feminist activism

I’ve been a little quiet on social media this month – largely because I’ve had my head down in various commercial and personal projects that I can’t post very much about. I spent a lot of November working on a ghostwriting project for a client who’s one of the most inspiring feminists I’ve ever met. She’s a woman with real strength, courage, and such a fiercely independent spirit, and it’s an honour to play a part in telling her harrowing story.

Meanwhile, my recent journalism work has followed some similarly feminist themes. In my first article for women’s health website The Femedic, I wrote about asylum seeking women’s experiences of having their period while detained in Yarl’s Wood. As I’ve written a million times before, detention is traumatic and unnecessary as it is. For already vulnerable women, painful periods, cheap sanitary towels, and a lack of suitable pain relief can add another layer of misery each month. Many thanks to my friends and sisters at Women for Refugee Women for their support in putting this article together.

25 November was the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. I remember as a young feminist (and still, often, as a slightly older feminist!) feeling utterly helpless in the face of such enormous global problems: domestic violence, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault, trafficking, and forced marriage. But I’ve also learned that little steps can mean a lot more than you might think. With that in mind, I wrote for Betty Collective about 16 ways that teenage feminists can get involved during the 16 days of activism – from signing petitions to fundraising, and attending Reclaim The Night marches.

This is the trauma of getting your period at Yarl’s Wood – for The Femedic:

“When you’re on your period, at the very least you want a clean environment, you want pads that are comfortable, and you want the freedom to eat what makes you feel better,” says Grace*, a 43-year-old refugee from Uganda.

Grace sought asylum in the UK after facing persecution and sexual violence in her own country because of her sexuality. She now has refugee status and the right to remain in this country, but in 2015 she was detained in the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre for seven months.

Described by the chief prisons inspector as “a place of national concern”, Yarl’s Wood is a Home Office detention centre run by private firm Serco. It houses up to 400 women, including refugees and asylum seekers, at any one time – ostensibly in order to deport them, but statistics show that three quarters of detainees, like Grace, are released back into the community to continue with their immigration cases.

Continue reading at The Femedic…

16 ways you can help end violence against women and girls – for Betty Collective:

Violence against women has never been more in the public eye, with what feels like a constant stream of allegations against everyone from Hollywood superstars to government ministers hitting the headlines. But, beyond high profile cases of sexual harassment and assault, violence against women is a much bigger, global issue, believed to affect around 1 in 3 women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

As a teenage feminist, it’s easy to feel totally helpless in the face of such massive problems – from female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, to rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. But remember that every big change starts with lots of tiny steps.

Each year from the 25th November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until 10 December (World Human Rights Day), UN Women organises 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Here are 16 ways you can get involved…

Continue reading at Betty…

Recent writing: Fertility, how to be friends with a boy, and is a ‘relationship gap year’ ever ok?

Relationships were a pretty big theme of my work in October – from looking at the minefield of boy-girl friendships when you’re a teenager, to picking apart the complexities of dating, monogamy, and family planning in the modern world.

“What I wish I knew about fertility in my twenties” – for Cosmopolitan UK (online)

Nothing makes you feel old quite like reaching that point in your late 20s when, all around you, friends start to have babies. Gorgeous, gurgling, smiling babies, with soft skin and big, curious eyes you could drown in. But as much as I go gooey over the tiny outfits and the baby powder scent, the fact that my friends – people my age – are producing children also fills me with panic and dread.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of being a mum – one day – but right now I’m still so focussed on everything else in my life: building my career, travelling, getting a bit more life experience behind me. I’ve been happily married for more than three years, which for some people is enough to make me “ready”, but it just doesn’t feel like the right time.

Continue reading at Cosmo online…

Do You Need A Relationship Gap Year? – for Grazia Daily

Most of us know someone who’s had a dramatically transformative breakup experience: left their partner, quit their job, travelled the world, started their own business, taken up an outrageous hobby, got a tattoo, found religion, or some other life-changing new pursuit. There’s something about coming out of a long-term relationship – once you’ve passed the moping with ice cream phase – that really seems to ignite a spark and fuel people’s passions.

But what if you could find that energy for self-discovery without a breakup? What if we took inspiration from the student backpackers and career sabbatical takers, and just had a ‘relationship gap year’ every now and then? That’s just one of the questions posed by comedian and author Rosie Wilby in her new book Is Monogamy Dead?: Rethinking Relationships in the 21st Century. We sat down with Rosie to talk about love, sex, fidelity, and how to fix our troubled modern relationship with monogamy.

Rosie’s book is the end result of her trilogy of comedy shows exploring just how complicated dating and relationships have become. ‘I think monogamy is harder these days,’ she says. ‘Dating, monogamy, marriage, even the labels people give themselves in terms of gender or sexual orientation – it’s all so complex now. There are so many different ideas about who we are, and I think ultimately we’re in quite complex times for settling down.’

Continue reading at Grazia Daily…

How to actually be just good friends with a boy – for Betty

Let’s talk about boys. Honestly, sometimes it can feel like they’re on a totally different planet but, the older I get, the more I appreciate the loyal, funny, caring (and occasionally totally stupid) guys in my life.

My first ever best friends were both boys, so I guess I had a bit of a head start. As soon as you start school though, the gender stereotypes kick in hard. You’re told “girls do this”, “boys do that”, and so neat little same-sex friendship circles form around netball vs. football, dance vs. cricket (what a load of BS, we know).

By the time you’re a teenager, those separate groups are pretty well established – and then being just good friends with a boy gets reeeeally complicated by silly gossip, hormones, and unfortunate crushes.

But the thing about boys is they’re not actually as different from us as they might sometimes seem. Forget pretty much all rom-coms, and the rubbish you’ve been told about how boys and girls can never really be “just good friends”. They totally can, and why the hell shouldn’t they?

Continue reading at Betty…

Balance: October 2017

Another month, another belated update. But I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, because frankly October’s been too good to ruin by trying to put into words.

My plan for the month was to finally reconnect with the real world, after nine months preoccupied by my own little bubble of stuff. In reality though, October passed by in a fairytale of DIY, gym classes, and cosy evenings in. Okay, perhaps not your classic fairytale – but it really has felt like a whole new world.

October was a month of family and friends; fresh air and green spaces; spa days and DIY days; making the most of our new local leisure centre; and enjoying the peace and quiet of our new life. Outside of all that, the real world has felt too grim, too overwhelming, and too traumatic to engage with – and so I haven’t, really.

Shutting out everything from Weinstein to Westminster, I’ve quite happily sunk into the warmth and comfort of suburban grown-up life: cooking and yoga classes with my 17-year-old sister, tea and cake with our lovely new neighbours, and a long weekend at Center Parcs Woburn Forest with the family.

I’ve crunched my way happily and aimlessly through the autumn leaves, I’ve loved finally having a workspace all of my own, and I’ve relished watching my cats eagerly explore the freedom beyond our back door.

After months of attempting (and miserably failing) to run before I could walk, my body is finally strong enough to get back into the exercise regime that I’ve so badly needed. There’s been swimming, badminton, yoga, Pilates, Body Balance, aqua yoga, spinning, so much walking, and it’s made the most enormous difference to both my mental and physical health.

I’m more energised, more motivated, and everything just feels easier. Who knew that a life of herbal tea, gentle strolls, and lunchtime Pilates classes would suit me so much better than the gin, takeaways and self-pity that dominated the first half of this year? Sure, reality probably beckons again in November, but October was absolute perfection.

 

Recent writing: My Mad Fat Interview With Rae Earl

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

I recently had the opportunity to interview one of my heroes: author, feminist, and badass mental health advocate Rae Earl.

Rae’s iconic memoir My Mad Fat Diary, and the TV series it inspired (both brilliant – do check them out if you haven’t already!) have been so influential in shaping pop culture discussions around teenage life with mental illness.

Her latest book for teenagers,  was published in August. It’s an absolute bible of teenage mental health issues, covering depression, self-harm, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol, relationships, and absolutely everything a young woman might need to know about keeping her mind well.

I interviewed Rae for teen magazine Betty, and we had such a giggle together. You can read an extract below, or click to read our interview in full.

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

Now, ten years after letting us all read her teenage diaries, Rae’s latest book is part memoir, part guide to all things mental health. It’s packed full of everything she wishes she’d known when she was your age, with medical expertise thrown in by Radio 1’s Dr Radha.

We sat down with Rae to get the lowdown on It’s All In Your Head: A Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together, the book she describes as “a brain beanbag, to have as a reference by your bed, and flop into whenever you want”.

So what are the top seven things that she hopes you’ll take away from It’s All In Your Head?

Everything can be survived

“Basically everything can be survived, and you can get through it. Just give yourself time,” Rae says – and she’s living proof. “As a teenager I was very embarrassed about being on a psychiatric ward, and mental health issues don’t usually get better over night. Most conditions have to be managed throughout our lives, but I’ve reached this age now where I’m fine to talk about those things.”

Everyone is struggling, and you don’t have to do it alone

“Everybody thinks they’re a freak, everybody’s struggling, even the people who seem to be swimming through all cocky; everybody’s having a crisis. Nobody’s perfect or got it all together. I was going to say it’s that age, but actually it’s just life – I’m 46 and I’m still winging it!” Rae laughs. “When I was at school, we never had that conversation. But if we’d had that chat, that feeling of intense alienation and loneliness could have been alleviated,” she adds.

“I think if I’d felt able to have those chats with my friends, I would have felt far less lonely, and far more able to make change, because I wouldn’t have felt so disabled by the fact I was on my own. I denied myself so much, and absolutely invalidated myself from life – it was all such a waste. Having that chat would have been so important to me, I think I would have said yes to a lot more.”

Be careful about over-sharing online

“It’s a cliché, but the biggest thing that’s changed since I was a teenager is social media,” Rae says. “If I imagine putting social media into my life at that point, I don’t think I would have managed that well at all. I would have over-shared and that would have left me vulnerable. I think it would have exacerbated my problems with my body more. But then, on the flip side, perhaps seeing other people share their experiences would have helped me accept it,” she adds.

“My diary was private, it was a place to vent everything I felt in a perfectly safe space – so I think I had more freedom to make enormous mistakes without it going viral. Now we share so much, but you do still need to have somewhere private and safe.”

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