Recent writing: A more mindful recovery

For June’s issue of Planet Mindful magazine – Time Inc’s new mindfulness publication, launched January 2018 – I wrote two features, both exploring different aspects of how mindfulness has been an important part of my recovery from last year’s car accident.

Mindfulness is well and truly having its moment in the sun right now – no longer the preserve of hippies and Buddhist monks, mindfulness has grown increasingly mainstream over the last few years, backed up by scientific research proving its effectiveness.

As someone who’s fairly well immersed in the field of mental health and wellbeing, I’ve always really liked the idea of mindfulness – of existing in the moment, of compassionate acceptance of your circumstances, of taking time out of your day to simply ‘be’. But I’ve always really struggled with it in practice. Over the last 18 months I’ve made some small steps towards harnessing its power to aid in my recovery, and it’s those tentative, wobbly baby steps that I explored for Planet Mindful.

The first of the two features was about my love-hate relationship with running, the difficulty I had with returning to training after multiple fractures, and how mindfulness helped me rediscover my stride.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with running. After 20 years spent avoiding any form of exercise at all costs, I first laced up my trainers as a bet when I was a student. After several months spent forcing my petite, puny legs up and down the Leamington Spa stretch of the Grand Union Canal tow path, and a 5K race around Hyde Park, I’d pretty much decided that running wasn’t really for me. Frustrated by my weakness, lack of speed or stamina, and all-round slow progress, I concluded that I just wasn’t built for athleticism.

Several years later, after two weeks spent doing as little as possible on an all-inclusive honeymoon, my husband and I decided we needed to do something to shift those newly-wed extra pounds. My trainers were dusted off again and, taking full advantage of our proximity to the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, we got into a fairly relaxed routine of jogging together two or three times a week.

Life at the time was complicated. Besides settling into married life, I’d just quit a job that was making me physically and mentally unwell. I’d been on antidepressants for just over 12 months, and I was on the cusp of making the simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating decision to go freelance. Running, I then discovered, was an amazing release – an outlet for my anxieties and frustrations; a potent mood booster; and, as I (very) slowly but surely began to see improvements, a great way of building up my confidence.

Together we started running first 5Ks, then 10Ks and, while I was still one of the slowest in the pack, just the achievement of making it all the way round felt amazing. But then the whole world gave way underneath my feet. In a split second, an accident left me totally devastated, with two fractured vertebrae, a broken wrist, and grappling with the intense depression, stress and anxiety of PTSD. Running was well and truly off the table: it was 24 hours before I could even sit up; four days before I could walk; and much longer before I could leave the house without a heady cocktail of diazepam, fluoxetine, and codeine.

It also referred to two books on running and mindfulness that inspired me throughout my R.E.D. January journey. The first written by a runner who’s into mindfulness; the second by a psychotherapist who’s into running. I’d really highly recommend reading both perspectives, to help shift your focus and learn to run in a way that benefits both your body and mind:

  • Mindful Running: How Meditative Running can Improve Performance and Make you a Happier, More Fulfilled Person by Mackenzie L. Havey
  • Run for Your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life by William Pullen

In my second feature I wrote about my experience of craniosacral therapy – described by therapist Rosie Owen as “psychotherapy for your body”.

Craniosacral therapy is an incredibly gentle body therapy, rooted in the work of osteopath William Garner Sutherland. In the early 1900s, Dr Sutherland “observed that the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes our brains and nervous systems has its own pulse, and is essential to maintaining our health,” explains Beatrice Doubble from the Craniosacral Therapy Association (CSTA).

Today it’s used to release stored tension, stresses and traumas from the body. I’ve always carried stress in my neck and shoulders – and working at a laptop all day doesn’t help – but those issues have taken on a new dimension since fracturing vertebrae in my neck and lower back last year. Having already focused a lot of my energies on dealing with the emotional trauma of my accident, I was intrigued by what craniosacral therapy could offer my tense and achy spine.

During my first session with accredited craniosacral therapist Rosie Owen, in her peaceful, intimate studio near London Bridge, she likened the treatment to “psychotherapy for the body”. After giving Rosie a history of my injuries, medications, aches and pains, I slipped my shoes off and lay myself face up on her massage table, fully clothed, and covered with a cosy blanket. Starting at my feet, then my lower back, and then my head, she placed her hands on my body with the lightest, gentlest of touches – barely there, like being softly caressed with a feather – chatting to me all the while about what sensations were going on in my body.

It’s difficult to describe how the effects of craniosacral therapy really feel. For me, the first session felt like a very deep relaxation combined with an intensely mindful awareness of all my body’s physical sensations. It’s not uncommon for clients to fall asleep, Rosie tells me, and to be honest I was surprised that I didn’t doze off. As Rosie slowly worked around my body, I experienced a pleasant, subtle tingling sensation up my legs and spine – as far as my ever-rigid neck, at least!

In the couple of weeks between my first and second session, I felt hyperaware of every little twinge and niggle in my body. Nothing felt noticeably improved as such, but I certainly noticed what was going on a lot more that I had before. I went into my second session with a mind and body that felt more open and receptive to the therapy, and I noticed the difference in depth that Rosie and I achieved together. We talked about the feelings – frustration, anger, resentment – that I felt I was holding in the tensest parts of my spine, and Rosie asked me to visualise this pain as a shape or symbol while she worked, shrinking it or moving it around the body as I saw fit.

Continue reading both articles in the June edition of Planet Mindful, published by Time Inc., available in W.H. Smith, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.


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 work: Road to Equality pt.2, with Google Arts & Culture

Another month, another (very) belated work update! Back in May I wrote about the first phase of my work on Road to Equality, a suffrage centenary project I’d been working on in partnership with Google Arts & Culture and The Mayor of London.

On 11 June, the second, much broader, part of that project launched, along with a Google Doodle celebrating Millicent Fawcett’s birthday. For me, it was the culmination of four months work as a freelance project manager and content editor – working with 22 cultural partners, and commissioning expert writers and curators, to create 80 brilliant pieces of content that explore the huge depth and breadth of women’s feminist activism and achievements over the last 100 years and beyond.

It’s now, somehow, August and I’m finally catching up with myself enough to share my favourite bits here! There’s so much I love about this project that it’s been really difficult to pick out particular highlights, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top five – or, alternatively, you can browse the project in full at g.co/RoadtoEquality.

1. Mary Lowndes’ suffrage banners

I worked closely with the team at LSE Women’s Library throughout the project, and their digital collection really is something very special to behold.

They produced 8 stories for Road to Equality, but by far my favourite looks at their collection of stunning suffrage banners, designed and created by artist Mary Lowndes.

You can read all about these banners – from the early design sketches through to their use in suffrage demonstrations – in LSE Library’s digital exhibit The suffrage banners of Mary Lowndes.

2. The Women’s Liberation Movement

I felt very strongly that this project should not begin and end with the suffrage movement, but should use the Votes for Women centenary as a jumping off point to explore the last 100 years of progress on women’s rights.

It was therefore a great privilege to work with the Feminist Library on digitising and creating narratives from both their Women’s Liberation Movement and contemporary feminist archives.

My favourite of these explores the various core campaigns of second wave feminism – from rape and violence against women, to the women’s peace movement against nuclear weapons.

It’s a truly inspiring piece of content, and recognises a lot of the ways in which feminist campaigners of the 60s-90s continued the legacy of their suffrage sisters. But it’s also more than a little dispiriting to realise how many of the issues – like equal pay and abortion rights – we’re still fighting for so many decades later.

3. Keeping alive the suffragette spirit

The Museum of London was another core partner on the project, and their collection of suffragette (Women’s Social and Political Union/WSPU) artefacts and photographs is really amazing.

As well as producing 10 digital exhibits – exploring everything from behind the scenes at WSPU headquarters to life as a hunger striking prisoner – Museum of London curator Beverley Cook also wrote an editorial feature, exploring the importance of their archive for keeping the suffragette spirit alive.

I was particularly moved by the story of the 1910 Holloway prisoners’ banner, and how it inspired a similar craft project with prisoners at Holloway women’s prison in 2012.

4. Queer women of England

Historic England put together some really fascinating content for Road to Equality – exploring women’s influence on science, architecture, and horticulture, as well as celebrating the key sites of suffragette protests.

As part of their Pride of Place campaign, they also produced a digital exhibit on significant queer women from England’s history, and the places they occupied.

This exhibit, like all those created by Historic England, combines striking archive photography with modern day Google Street View imagery.

5. Intersectional suffrage

My fifth project highlight was an editorial feature I commissioned from Fahmida Rahman of WebRoots Democracy.

Although 2018 has been celebrated as the centenary of the first women in the UK winning the right to vote, only 40% of women actually achieved this in 1918. It was another ten years by the time women were granted suffrage on the same terms as men, in 1928.

Fahmida wrote for us about the 60% of women who didn’t win the vote in 1918, why it matters, and how similar inequalities continue to be reflected in voting patterns today.

Her feature gives an intersectional feminist perspective on the suffrage story, and on modern day democracy, which felt like such an important part of the centenary story. There’s still work to be done!

Check out Road to Equality on Google Arts & Culture

Recent writing on women’s health – and an award!

MHP Award Ceremony

Over the last few weeks I’ve covered pretty much all my specialist health topics: the brain, the mind, the uterus, the vagina, and the cervix, with articles on women’s experiences of trauma, planning a pregnancy when you have epilepsy, cervical cancer screening in the LGBT community, and – simultaneously fascinating and horrifying – vaginal ageing.

I was also thrilled and honoured to win an award, in the brand new Health Writer category, at the MHP 30 to Watch young journalist award ceremony.

With health award judge Jo Willey, at the MHP 30 to Watch award ceremonyIt was completely surreal to see an example of my work hung on the wall like an artwork in a gallery, and for my writing to be recognised alongside so many incredibly talented journalists – many of them far more visibly ‘successful’ than I see myself!

Anyway, here I am looking chuffed with Health category judge Jo Willey, former Health Editor of The Daily Express.

Thank you to Jo and MHP, and congratulations to the other 29 award winners.

Recent writing

We need to talk about how PTSD affects women too – for The Femedic:

“I lived in constant fear, but could never articulate what I was afraid of. My memories, the pain attached to the past, my current loneliness and fears for the future were so tightly entwined it seemed impossible to unravel. I didn’t trust anyone, and I pushed everyone around me away.”

Andrea* is one of an estimated 310% of people who will be affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lifetime. The condition involves recurrent distressing memories, flashbacks and nightmares of a traumatic experience, and was first diagnosed in soldiers returning from war.

During World War One it was known as ‘shell shock’ and, although psychiatrists’ understanding of the condition has come a long way since then, the association with the armed forces means that many people continue to think of PTSD as a largely male condition, inflicted on servicemen by the horrors of war.

But Andrea has never fought in armed conflict, and the only war zone she’s survived was inside her own home. Indeed, the prevalence of PTSD is estimated to be roughly equal across genders, while women aged 16-25 are the highest risk group, with a prevalence of 12.6 per cent.

Continue reading at The Femedic…

Is it safe to take epilepsy medication during pregnancy? – for Patient:

Hannah* was first prescribed sodium valproate to control her epilepsy when she was 13 years old. “At the time, I wasn’t told about any of the risks and then I fell pregnant at 16,” she says. “The pregnancy miscarried at four months, due to severe abnormalities with the baby, which were caused by my medication.”

More than 20 years later, UK drug regulator the MHRA last month announced a ban on prescribing sodium valproate to women and girls of childbearing age, unless they sign a form to say they understand the risks.

How life events and ageing can change your vagina – for Patient:

When it comes to ageing, few body parts go through quite so much over the course of an average lifetime as the humble vagina. Changes to collagen production and hormone levels bring about natural changes from puberty through to the menopause, which can, of course, be exacerbated by sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and even certain cancer treatments.

So what kind of changes can you expect, and what can you do to keep your vagina healthy throughout your life?

Do lesbian and bisexual women still need smear tests? – for Patient:

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under, with around 3,000 women diagnosed each year in the UK. Despite this, just 72 per cent of eligible women in England attend cervical screening (or smear) tests, which can help to detect abnormal cells early, and prevent around 75 per centof cervical cancers from developing.

In the LGBT+ community however, the figures are much lower still. According to Lawrie Roberts, Macmillan LGBT and Cancer Programme Co-ordinator at the LGBT Foundation, around half (51 per cent) of eligible women who have sex with women have never attended a smear test.

Continue reading at Patient…


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 work: Road to Equality, with Google Arts & Culture and the Mayor of London

Photo: GLA/Caroline Teo

“What draws men and women together is stronger than the brutality and tyranny which drive them apart.” – Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Since February I’ve been working with Google Arts & Culture (GA&C), in partnership with the Mayor of London, on Road to Equality, a project celebrating 100 years since the first women in the UK got the right to vote.

GA&C is a non-profit branch of Google that works with thousands of cultural institutions around the world, using digital collections and storytelling to democratise access to the world’s cultural archives.

On 24 April 2018, London celebrated the historic unveiling of a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett – the first statue in Parliament Square to commemorate, and to be created by, a woman. We worked with the Mayor of London, and Turner prize winning artist Gillian Wearing, to celebrate the occasion.

Phase one

Launched to coincide with the statue’s unveiling, Road to Equality is a digital project that tells the story behind Gillian Wearing’s creation. But it also explores Millicent Fawcett’s significance in the much wider context of the last 100+ years of the women’s movement – from the groundwork that was laid in the decades before (some) women got the vote in 1918, to the century of progress that has followed.

The Mayor of London’s content, together with launch film Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere, forms phase one of the project. It is divided into eight themed exhibits, and two editorial features, which:

  • Give a behind-the-scenes insight into the making of the statue
  • Tell the inspirational life story of Millicent Fawcett herself
  • Shine a light on 59 other women and men of the suffrage movement, who are also memorialised on the statue’s plinth
  • Explore the current state of feminism and women’s rights in 2018
  • Explain how the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign is driving gender equality in the capital

You can read these pieces here:

Road to Equality phase one was officially launched after the statue unveiling, at a reception in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and can be found at g.co/roadtoequality.

Phase two

Phase two of the project will launch in June, and provides a broader look at the past, present and future of the women’s movement. I’ve been busy pulling together content from more than 20 cultural partners – including LSE Library and the Museum of London – as well as editorial features from some really impressive and inspiring women, and I’m looking forward to sharing all that with you soon.

Work-wise, my role as freelance content editor on the project has consisted of a bit of everything. There’s been writing, researching, commissioning, editing, project managing, and meeting some really fascinating people along the way. It’s been such an inspiring project to work on, and it couldn’t have come at a more serendipitous time.

I’m VERY excited about some of the content we’re going to be launching in June, so watch this space!

Recent writing: 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.


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: 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…


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: 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…


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.

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?