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.”

Continue reading at Betty…

Recent writing: Egg freezing, and periods on the pill

A couple more sexual/reproductive health pieces from last month. My latest for Grazia Daily looked at everything you need to know about egg freezing – from the cost and success rates, to the risks involved. September also saw my first three commissions for online teen girls’ mag betty.me, including an article on everything you need to know about how going on the pill affects your periods.

What Is Egg Freezing? – for Grazia Daily:

Egg freezing, or cryopreservation, is a fertility treatment used to collect, preserve and store a woman’s eggs, so they can be used to make a baby later on in her life. It was originally developed for women with certain medical conditions, or who are undergoing particular treatments (such as chemotherapy), which can damage your natural fertility. By freezing their eggs before treatment, patients have the opportunity to try for a family once they’ve fully recovered from their condition.

These days, ‘elective’ or ‘social’ egg freezing is also increasingly used for lifestyle reasons, if a woman isn’t ready to have children straight away but wants to keep her fertility options open for the future. Fertility naturally begins to decline around the age of 35, so having your eggs frozen while you’re young means they’re better quality and could help prolong your fertility if you plan on starting your family at a slightly older age.

6 things you need to know about periods on the pill – for Betty:

Gone on the pill because your skin is playing up, or your periods are reaaaaally heavy? It can be a bit of a lifesaver, tbh. But if you’ve still got a load of questions about how it affects your body, or what happens to your monthly flow when you’re taking it, look no further. Here’s everything you NTK…

The pill stops you ovulating

The most common way the pill works is by stopping your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation). You’ll probably remember from biology that periods happen each month if an egg is released but not fertilised, so when the pill stops your ovaries from releasing an egg each month, it technically means you don’t get periods at all.

There’s usually still a bleed though (sorry!)

Even though you don’t get a real period, you’ll still experience monthly bleeding that’s similar to having your period.

Continue reading at Betty…

Balance: September 2017

New chapters

I’ve always loved September. There’s something a little magical about that back-to-school feeling: new pens, fresh notebooks, new opportunities to explore, and the chance to start over. The new academic year has always felt ripe with possibilities for reinvention and discovery – and, as my birthday falls in September, it also marks a new year in my life.

So, it’s always very much been a month of new chapters for me, and this year was no exception. Instead of a new school or university year, what September 2017 had in store was my biggest new chapter to date: moving from our little east London flat – our first home together – to a proper grown-up house with stairs, a garage, a downstairs loo, and a garden, and settling into our brand new life in the suburbs.

Of course, in keeping with the theme of MY YEAR SO FAR, not much about that new chapter actually worked out according to my plans. But we got there in the end!

Moving and leaving

September was stressful, beyond all the usual stress of moving house, and probably also my least balanced month of the year to date. I worked like a Trojan, and I spent virtually every spare minute packing up the flat, or chasing the solicitor, or crying in frustration. I did very little else. There was no reading, except Sue Perkins’ delightful memoir Spectacles, which was wonderful company once I finally managed to relax. There was no exercise, except anxious and irritable pacing. And I stress-ate approximately seven million calories over the course of the month.

I think this must be the latest of all the monthly updates I’ve posted this year and, for all the same reasons, I’m also going to keep it the shortest. We ended up completing on the purchase of our house at 5pm on my birthday, after roughly three weeks of stress and delays. We had just enough time for celebratory pizza, prosecco, and negligible sleep before – less than 12 hours after moving in – we had to leave for Gatwick at 4.30am.

In all fairness, we had a lovely week in Italy with my in-laws, staying not far from Venice and enjoying plenty of wonderful Italian wine, pasta, pizza, and gelato. But the timing really could not have been less ideal. For the first two days I found it completely impossible to relax. I sat on the beach, registering for council tax and ordering appliances on my iPhone; I text my brother, who was house sitting, requesting updates on the house and the cats roughly every ten minutes (neurotic, me?); and I continued my pattern of not really sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Coming home

Then I crashed. On our third night, I slept for ten blissful hours and, having caught up on sleep, I did manage to chill out a bit and enjoy myself for the rest of the week. We had a beautiful day exploring Venice, several days doing as little as possible, and then got back to our new house, ready to start our new chapter, with just five hours left of September. It was exactly as we’d left it – full of boxes and chaos – but I’ve never been so pleased to come home. Bring on the next chapter…

World Mental Health Day: Perfectionism, financial anxiety, and what it’s really like to be sectioned

Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. This year’s WMHD has a theme of workplace wellbeing, and also sees the launch of Natasha Devon’s latest campaign, The Mental Health Media Charter, which I’m proud to support.

Here are a few of my recent articles on mental health – exploring perfectionism, the anxieties around financial uncertainty, and what it’s really like to be sectioned…

Following on from my MHT article on the Mental Health Act, in September I wrote for NetDoctor about what it’s really like to be sectioned as a psychiatric patient under the Act. Many thanks to Andrea, Kate and Alika for speaking to me so candidly about their experiences, and to Rethink Mental Illness for connecting us.

For The Debrief, I wrote about a recent study into perfectionism as a risk factor for suicide. Perfectionism is particularly associated with young, high achieving women, so I looked into the impact it can have on mental health – from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and OCD. Thank you to self-confessed perfectionists Lizzie and Sam (not her real name) for chatting to me, and to psychologist Dr Nihara Krause, who shared her expertise in clinical perfectionism.

Finally, I wrote for Nationwide Building Society about the links between money trouble and mental health problems, and what customers can do to tackle financial anxiety.

This is what it’s really like to be sectioned – for NetDoctor:

Mental Health Act

Mental health is on the agenda more than ever before. While there’s still plenty of work to be done, many of us now feel increasingly comfortable talking about common issues like mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and their impact on our everyday lives. But more complex and severe mental health conditions remain heavily stigmatised, particularly when they involve patients being detained and forcibly treated under the Mental Health Act – known as sectioning.

47-year-old Canadian Andrea has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and has been sectioned several times since moving to the UK when she was 23. The first time, she recalls: “I had been given antidepressants, ignoring the fact that a proportion of us with bipolar cannot take antidepressants. I became psychotic within 48 hours.”

Continue reading at NetDoctor…

Is Your Perfectionism Affecting Your Mental Health? – for The Debrief:

‘Perfectionism affects every aspect of my life in some way or another. I have to be perfect in every way, shape or form,’ says 23-year-old Sam*. ‘I set very high standards for myself, and if I don’t reach them – which 99 percent of the time I don’t because they’re impossible – I then attack and belittle myself over it.’

Sound familiar? Perfectionism can affect anyone, but it’s particularly associated with young, high-achieving women – whether it’s a constant need to look flawless, or staying hours late at the office to tinker with that one piece of work that’s not quite spot-on.

We might think of it as a fairly harmless personality quirk – just ‘being a bit anal’ – but perfectionism can actually have a pretty sinister impact on your long-term mental health. The Journal of Personality recently published the most comprehensive study of its kind into perfectionism as a risk factor for suicide, concluding that ‘self-generated and socially based pressures to be perfect’ make people more susceptible to suicidal thoughts.

How to cope with financial anxiety – for Nationwide Building Society:

For a long time, mental health has been associated with serious, long-term mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But we all have mental health, and it’s affected constantly by the pleasures and stresses of everyday life, from money and work, to family and relationships.

Financial uncertainty – whether it’s the threat of redundancy, or an out of control debt – can take a huge toll on your mental health, leading to common issues like stress, depression and anxiety.

The impact of this can be huge, not only on your personal and family life, but also on your career. Work-related stress accounts for 45% of all working days lost to illness (This link will open in a new window) in the UK – and struggling at work is a sure-fire way to sink into the vicious cycle of financial anxiety.

But there are simple, practical steps you can take to cope with financial anxiety and regain a sense of control.

Continue reading at Nationwide…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Pay rises, travel visas, and women’s jobs in the Army

In August and September I worked on a project with Closer magazine’s online team, sponsored by the Army, exploring the experiences of four women with jobs in the forces. Opportunities to travel and the lack of a gender pay gap stood out as big career perks for all the women I spoke to, as well as an impressive range of sports and adventure training.

Sticking with the themes of jobs and travelling, I also wrote a couple of ‘how to’ pieces for The Debrief – one looking at how to get a visa for various popular travel destinations, and the other asking: ‘how the hell do you negotiate a payrise?’

Ask An Adult: How The Hell Do I Ask For A Payrise? – for The Debrief:

Talking about salaries is an absolute minefield – whether it’s sussing out if the guys in your office are earning more than you and your female colleagues, or trying to plan a holiday with friends who are all on totally different incomes. And when it comes to negotiating a pay rise, many of us feel completely clueless about the etiquette. Is there a right or wrong time to ask? How do you even start that conversation? And how the hell do you persuade your boss to say yes?

Young women in particular typically lack confidence when it comes to this kind of negotiation – and the odds may even be stacked against us. Research published last year found that while men and women are equally likely to ask for a pay rise, women are less likely to be successful than their male peers. So just what is making it so difficult for us to get what we’re worth at work?

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Visa – for The Debrief:

If you’re anything like me, the absolute best bit about travelling outside of Europe is collecting passport stamps from each new country you visit. Sadly though, the flip side of that is remembering to check entry requirements and sort out visas before you fly – and who hasn’t had that last minute, ‘shit, visa!’ panic three hours before leaving for the airport? To make sure you’re organised and prepared well in advance of your travels, here’s our guide to getting a visa for some of the most popular holiday destinations.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Being a woman in the Army – for Closer online (sponsored by the Army):

Being a woman in the Army: From joining the Reserves to travelling the world

Just finished school and don’t fancy uni? Well a job in the ARMY could be for you! Here’s why…

Being a woman in the Army: 10 years of adventure and opportunity

Being a woman in the Army: Raising a young family


Recent writing: the London floristry project helping refugee women

Bread and Roses: supporting refugee women

I’ve had lots of work published in September, including writing on sexual health, mental health, work, and lots more. But I wanted to share this article separately, as it’s one I’m especially proud of. After writing for The Guardian about my godson and his refugee mother back in July, I went on to write a feature for them about an incredible project, Bread and Roses, which I also discovered through my work with Women for Refugee Women (WRW).

Bread and Roses is a social enterprise that teaches refugee women floristry and employability skills, helping to boost their confidence and get them back into work. I’ve seen firsthand the difference it’s made to the lives of women from WRW’s network, so it was a real privilege to chat to them and some of their newly trained florists. There’s a snippet below, and you can read the article in full at The Guardian.

One of Bread and Roses' refugee florists

I’ve never had the chance to build a career. I was a student when my traffickers brought me here and then, as an asylum seeker, I wasn’t allowed to work,” explains 37-year-old Monica from Ghana. “Now I’ve got leave to remain, I’ve felt anxious about throwing myself straight into full-time employment,” she adds.

It’s a challenge facing many refugees in the UK who, regardless of their professional backgrounds, often find themselves up against language barriers, loss of confidence, CV gaps, and a lack of UK work experience.

But one all-female social enterprise is aiming to overcome all that, providing refugee women with the practical and emotional skills to blossom in the workplace. Hackney-based Bread and Roses offers a seven-week floristry programme, teaching trainees how to create everything from floral bouquets to Christmas wreaths.

It is inspired by the principle of Rose Schneiderman’s 1912 feminist speech of the same name, which argued that low-paid women need more than just practical necessities to survive, but also dignity, respect and the opportunity to flourish.

For women such as Monica, its benefits go far beyond the practical skills: “I loved working with the plants, particularly calming lavender and stimulating eucalyptus. But I also learned social skills like networking, working as a team and not being afraid to ask for help,” she says.

“I was already interested in floristry, but I’ve never been green-fingered so I didn’t think I’d have the skills. Building my knowledge, and being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, has made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right support network around you,” she adds.

Continue reading at The Guardian…

Recent writing: Womb cancer, sexual health, and anxiety during pregnancy

It’s been a busy month for my two favourite (and frequently overlapping) subjects, mental health and sexual health. September is Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, but it’s also packed full of other great awareness weeks. Most notably for me, Pre and Post Natal Depression Awareness Week (PNDAW) fell from 4th-10th, and this year focused on antenatal mental health, while Sexual Health Week ran from 11th-17th.

So, I’ve been writing lots about vaginas, wombs, hormones, fertility, periods, pregnancy, abortion, and mental health – from antenatal anxiety to womb cancer, and why straight men find it so difficult to talk about their partners’ vaginas.

Over Half Of Men Are Uncomfortable Talking About Their Partners’ Vagina – for Broadly:

Straight couples are uncomfortable talking about sexual health

hen was the last time you and your boyfriend talked about sexual health? Can he say “vagina” out loud without giggling? And would you trust him to notice if something was wrong down there? Unless you do lot of yoga, most of us physically can’t get a good look at our own vulvas all that often. So you’d hope that our sexual partners are at least keeping an eye on things.

However, despite their ideal vantage point, only one in five men feels confident enough to mention a change in their partner’s vagina, and more than half of them aren’t comfortable discussing gynecological health at all. That’s according to a survey of 2,000 people, published by UK gynecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal.

Continue reading at Broadly…

What it’s like to have anxiety when you’re pregnant – for NetDoctor:

Antenatal anxiety is often overlooked when it comes to perinatal mental health

“I had such mixed feelings when I found out I was pregnant – lots of emotions and excitement, but then also this feeling that my life was over, as awful as that sounds,” says 25-year-old Jade, who was 23 when she had her son. “I was about five months pregnant when the anxiety really hit me. I’d been having panic attacks, struggling to leave the house, and then one day I just broke down. It was completely overwhelming.”

Antenatal anxiety affects around 13 per cent of pregnant women, while 12 per cent suffer from antenatal depression, and many experience both. Like at any other time in your life, some amount of anxiety and worry is totally normal and understandable during pregnancy, but it becomes a problem when that anxiety begins to affect your everyday life.

Continue reading at NetDoctor, or continue reading at Cosmo UK…

What It’s Like To Lose Your Fertility To Uterine Cancer In Your 20s – for Broadly:

Lydia would often bleed through her clothes

Lydia Brain has had heavy periods since she was a teenager. In her early 20s, they got so heavy that she would regularly bleed through her clothes in public—but Lydia never imagined it was a sign of endometrial cancer.

“I can’t remember ever not having to use a tampon and a sanitary towel. For years my periods got heavier and heavier,” Lydia says. “Sometimes I’d get stuck on the toilet for hours. I couldn’t go on holiday or out for a day if I was on my period, because I had to make sure I could always get to a toilet.”

Continue reading at Broadly…

What Happens to Your Body in the Hours and Days After an Abortion – for Vice UK:

One in three women in Britain will have an abortion at some point in their lives, but if it hasn’t happened to you, you might not know much about the actual process. Outdated horror stories involving iron forceps still loom large in the public consciousness, when the majority of abortions today begin with taking a pill.

There are two main types of abortion: medical (using pills to induce a miscarriage) and surgical (where the pregnancy is removed during a minor operation). Exactly what happens and how long it takes varies from woman to woman, and, obviously, depends on how far into the pregnancy you are. But if you’re going for a medical abortion, here’s a rough idea of what you can expect to happen during the 72 hours afterwards.

Continue reading at Vice… 

And Still I Rise: a psychological portrait by Diogo Duarte

Sometimes words fail me. It’s a difficult thing to admit as a writer, but it’s true. So, for the last few months I’ve been working on a secret visual project with photographer and artist Diogo Duarte. I thought maybe I’d pitch and write an article about it, but I can’t – at least not yet. The circumstances are all wrong, I’m not emotionally ready, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever have quite the right vocabulary to put something so huge and so raw out into the world in quite such a public way. And so, I’m largely going to let the picture speak for itself.

Psychological portraits

Diogo’s work is stunning. His fine art portraits are high-concept, striking, psychological, and often dark, drawing inspiration from mythology and fairy tales, and tackling themes like gender, sexuality, and mental health. I love the creativity and vulnerability of his self-portraits, and I was so intrigued when he first told me about his plans for a psychological portrait service.

That was almost two years ago. In February of this year, I found myself physically, mentally and emotionally broken by a traumatic car crash that I still can’t put into words or really make sense of. With hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have even been thinking about work so soon afterwards but, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook one day, one of Diogo’s posts sparked an idea. That idea resulted in me writing about his work for Broadly – and then chatting to him about a portrait of my own!

Celebration of Self, Diogo Duarte

There’s something about Diogo, which I felt from the first moment I met him, that just makes him so easy to talk to. He’s one of those people who exudes warmth, empathy and sincerity – and, having already asked him to get pretty vulnerable when I interviewed him, I felt totally at ease opening myself up in return. Diogo’s background in mental health is really invaluable here too – he both works and volunteers for the Samaritans, so he’s absolutely nailed his probing but supportive approach that really delves into your psyche.

The emotional and creative process

It was April when we had our first proper conversation about the portrait. I was still in a neck brace, still too anxious to use public transport on my own, and still on a seemingly endless waiting list for NHS talking therapy. Diogo came over, sat on the bed with me and the cats, and we talked about everything. And I mean ev-er-y-thing: Memories, and blanks. Nightmares, fears, hopes, and dreams. Shame, guilt, anxiety, despair, confusion, grief, pain. The past, present and future. Things that are public knowledge, and things that I’ll probably take to my grave. It felt like the therapy that I so desperately needed at that point.

And then, for several months, I continued on my journey while he let his imagination get to work on creating the concept for my photo. A lot happened in the time that passed between April and August. We continued talking, sharing thoughts, feelings, symbols and ideas, while Diogo sketched, researched, and gradually pulled together his vision.

By August I was most of the way through therapy, and starting to really feel like I was getting somewhere with it. Everyday life felt less of a struggle, and I’d resigned myself to maybe never having all the answers, instead of endlessly fighting myself and everyone else. We shot the photo in Bourne Wood, near Farnham in Surrey, and Recom Farmhouse created the CGI concrete monolith – Diogo’s symbol of that hard, brutal intrusion into the landscape of my life, that I’ve had to learn to live with rather than futilely punching at with my fists.

And Still I Rise, by Diogo Duarte

Finding meaning

There’s a dark weariness and isolation in the photo. I’m exhausted, despairing, and covered in mud, but I’m hopeful. I’m learning to let go, to comfort myself, and to let the moss take root. And I’m held by the starry universe of the ground below me, seeking for a place of safety and comfort. I can’t look towards the future just yet, but it’s out there, beyond the wall.

There are so many elements of the photo that mean really personal things to me, but what I love too is how those around me see it – and particularly what Diogo has to say:

For Sarah’s portrait, I was interested in capturing a state of mind rather than a specific point in time. It’s not about the past, the present, or the future. In a way it encapsulates all three, depending on the way you look at it, but to me it became important to create a photo that referenced various points in time of her journey. When I look at it, I see an incredibly beautiful woman who is learning to trust that the ground underneath her will hold her, despite changes to her personal landscape. It’s so easy for all of us to forget about trust; trust in ourselves, trust in other people and the environment that surrounds us. The first time I saw Sarah, I really felt her pain and could see doubt was very much present in her mind, so I knew I wanted to incorporate this in the portrait.

One of my best friends said the photo feels dark and lonely, and I guess I’ve felt a lot like that in recent months – though not for a lack of loving people around me. My husband says it has a Stranger Things feel for him, as if I’m in my own personal Upside Down – disconnected, parallel to the real world but not currently quite part of it.

To me it feels like a kind of acceptance of everything that has happened. It is what it is. For better or worse, I survived – albeit with plenty of metaphorical dirt under my fingernails and twigs in my hair. In many ways, it’s an emotional snapshot of everything that’s slowly begun falling into place for me recently. That it’s okay to grieve and to struggle. That it’s not weak to need to rest, heal and recover before embarking on the dark, wild forest of whatever lays ahead. That I am who I am, regardless of the changes to my landscape.

Self-indulgence

Maybe it’s all just been ridiculously self-indulgent, I panicked as we made our way back towards London. But then maybe all therapy, and self-care, and transformative journeys of self-compassion and self-acceptance are self-indulgent. Maybe, when it comes to our own mental health and personal growth, we’re not nearly self-indulgent enough. Maybe we all need to take a step back and reframe our own situations. To take them out of our own heads, where they drive us slowly mad, and quite literally see them through someone else’s lens.

I see new things every time I look at Diogo’s portrait of me. I know its meaning and significance will change and grow as I change and grow. It will always be a reminder of deep, deep darkness, as well as strength, resilience and hope. But I can’t thank Diogo enough for stepping in when words failed me.

Find out more about Diogo Duarte’s fine art photography, including his psychological portrait service, PhotoBard, at: www.diogo-duarte.com

Balance: August 2017

Yesterday, after six consecutive weeks of finally making some breakthroughs, I was discharged from therapy a week early. It feels like such a small thing now, but 15 weeks ago this entire journey felt totally insurmountable. 31 weeks ago today, an A&E nurse told me I was lucky not to be dead or paralysed. And they’re the kind of words that make you reassess absolutely everything.

For about the first 25 weeks, I was pretty harsh in my assessments. I let myself be totally consumed by grief, guilt and shame – that I didn’t deserve to have survived, that I’d let everyone down, that I might as well have died because I’d never, ever be the same again. I imagined spending the rest of my life as a miserable bundle of panic and anxiety; that I’d never feel able to drive again; that all my plans – long-term and short-term – had been put indefinitely on hold.

Then, it was like a switch was flicked in my brain. I realised how counterproductive it is to beat yourself up for not recovering quickly enough. You can’t bully yourself into feeling better, any more than you can bomb a country into peace and stability. And so, on a disgustingly hungover Sunday morning in July, I had this epiphany that the more I hated myself, the more I was hurting and pushing away those I love.

Or, in the inimitable words of Mama Ru, who I can never resist quoting: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

As I wrote in last month’s post, those first few weeks afterwards were a big, creative, emotional process of figuring it all out; learning to swap resentment and self-loathing for gratitude and self-compassion. I realised I needed to carpe diem; to make my life extraordinary; to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life; basically to  Dead Poets Society  (yes, that’s a verb now) the hell out of my existence. So August, for the most part, has been utterly joyful – and, my god, has it raced by after seven months of time dragging its heels!

Living deep

This month I’ve immersed myself in work that I’m passionate about. I’ve witnessed the most breathtaking evening of athletics, at London 2017. I’ve enjoyed quality time with so many of my favourite people – not least the world’s most wonderful and beloved grandparents. And my back has hugely benefitted from one-on-one Pilates classes in the sunshine with Han. Seriously, is there any greater Pilates studio than the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park? I don’t think so.

I’m still not sure how it’s ended so soon, but I finished August with a wonderfully enjoyable and refreshing long weekend walking, eating and drinking in the Derbyshire Dales, with my two favourite uncles, my husband, my brother, his girlfriend, and my newly-rediscovered camera. Plus their dog and a lot of sheep, of course. It really is such a beautiful retreat from reality.

Reading has been a bit sparse this month, focused on quality over quantity, with  Beta: Quiet Girls Can Run The World by Rebecca Holman, editor of The Debrief, and Odd Man Out  by Nige and Elloa Atkinson.

Rebecca is one of my favourite editors to work with and Beta  was such a refreshing, reassuring insight into her experience as an introverted beta boss in a working world that’s  largely set up for alphas and extraverts. It made me realise a lot about how neatly freelancing fits with my own personality, why I’d rather be my own boss than anyone else’s, and the areas where I can really channel my strengths and stretch my comfort zone.

Odd Man Out  has been tougher going, but in a good way. It’s an incredibly raw, challenging account of male mental health, anger, violence, and vulnerability. I actually only got about halfway through before lending it to a (male) friend who I realised needed it more than I did – but I’m looking forward to finishing it once he’s done!

Back to school…

It might just be all the vitamin D talking (check back in November!) but between all of that, therapy, and a secret photography project I’ve been working on*, I finally feel like myself again. In lots of ways I’ve got a real ‘back to school’ feeling about September – the anticipation of a fresh start with new possibilities, and just a tiny bit of stress and anxiety.

*More on this next week…