Recent writing: Early menopause, cancer and fertility, and pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder

The more I write about women’s health – and particularly hormonal issues – the more I see the same patterns repeated over and over again. Lack of understanding, lack of choice, lack of support. And medical professionals consistently failing to trust women with choices about their own bodies. Choice and autonomy aren’t just about abortion and reproductive rights; there’s a broader culture of sexism and ignorance around women’s health – but women are starting to speak out.

I was really privileged in May and June to interview a few of those women, all aged between 17 and 41, about early menopause, infertility, and hormonal depression. Many thanks to all of them for their openness and willingness to share their experiences.

This is what it’s like to go through the menopause at just 17 – for NetDoctor:

Also republished by Hearst Magazines’ sister sites Good Housekeeping and Cosmo.

The menopause is one of those huge life changes that all women know is coming, but no one ever feels fully prepared for when it does. But when it strikes before you’ve even turned 40, the shock is all the more distressing.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the menopause typically occurs between the ages of 47 and 53, but premature menopause affects around 1 per cent of women before the age of 40, and 5 per cent of women under 45. So what is it like to be hit by menopausal symptoms so early, and what support is available?

Continue reading at NetDoctor…
Continue reading at Good Housekeeping…
Continue reading at Cosmopolitan…

What It’s Like To Go Through The Menopause In Your 20s – for The Debrief:

How often does the menopause cross your mind? It’s something far off, in the distant future, to worry about once you’ve finished building your career, your family, and whatever else you’ve got planned, right? For most of us, the menopause will strike at some point roughly between the ages of 47 and 53, but premature menopause affects one per cent of women before the age of 40. And, for the one in a thousand women under 30 who are affected, it can be especially devastating.

Emily is 17 years old and was recently diagnosed as going through an early menopause. As someone who’s always wanted to have children, she says, it’s been heartbreaking. She feels like she’s lost a fundamental part of who she is. She says it’s isolating, ‘there isn’t anyone to talk to about it, because it’s not a common problem, so it’s always this little thing I’m hiding.’

Throughout puberty, Emily says she’s always felt different from her friends. ‘I was the last of my friends to get my period. It was something I longed for so I was excited when, in year 9, I started,’ she says. ‘I was irregular for the next 9 months, but my mum reassured me that was normal – and then they just stopped. My physical appearance has taken a long time to develop too, so I have very small boobs and no hips.’

Continue reading at The Debrief…

PMDD: Imagine Having To Choose Between Your Mental Health And Your Fertility – for The Debrief:

Naomi* was just 14 when, in the fortnight before each period, she started seeing and hearing disturbing images and voices. ‘I thought there were sexual images everywhere – like I’d be watching TV and see sex toys and stuff, or I’d be looking at books and they appeared to have changed, or I thought they were talking to me in some way,’ she says. ‘It was really frightening. Then, when I had my period, the symptoms would stop and go away.’

Now 23, Naomi has been diagnosed with conditions known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and pre-menstrual psychosis (PMP) – and is facing a stark, life-changing choice between her sanity and her fertility.

A severe form of PMS, PMDD is thought to affect an estimated 2-5 percent of women which equates to around a million women in the UK alone and, at its most extreme, symptoms can include acute depression and anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. While it can be managed with hormonal treatments, currently the only sure-fire way of putting an end to PMDD is with a hysterectomy, bringing on an early menopause and leaving you infertile.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

What it’s like to be left infertile by cancer at the age of 23 – for Cosmopolitan:

Becki McGuinness was left infertile by aggressive cancer treatment when she was just 23-years-old. Now 30, she’s launching a national campaign to ensure women facing cancer are given all the fertility options she should have had. This is her story

“I was 21 when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer – in my sacrum and spine. Because the cancer was so aggressive, and located around my pelvis, I knew there was a chance my fertility could be affected by treatment. But doctors explained to my mum and I what treatment I’d be having and told us there were no other options for my condition. We took them at their word.

Continue reading at Cosmopolitan…

Recent writing: Bowel disease, and good mood food

I’ve been a little quiet on work updates since Mental Health Awareness Week. Not because there hasn’t been any recent writing, but because there’s been so much of it! I’m going to share May and June’s articles over the next few weeks, grouped together (vaguely) thematically. First up: a couple of my recent pieces for NetDoctor.

The first, my interview with Crohn’s sufferer Ed Corrie, was a real pleasure to work on. Some people are so much fun to interview that it doesn’t feel like work, and Ed was definitely one of those interviewees! Not only that, he’s also incredibly inspiring in his efforts to break the push-up world record and start some difficult but important conversations.

The second, on food and depression, was more personally significant. Many thanks to Lucy, Kirsten and Bexx, who spoke to me about the benefits – and the limitations – of changing your diet to improve your mood.

Bums Out Guns Out: The man using push-ups to get men talking about bowel disease – for NetDoctor

“Being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a 14-year-old boy was crippling,” recalls Ed Corrie, the fundraiser behind the cheekily named Bums Out, Guns Out campaign.

“When you’re rushing off to the toilet for 45 minutes at a time, you can’t really disguise it – and the worst was on school trips, where you’re sharing a bedroom with two other guys. I used to pretend I had a vomiting problem, because it seemed more manly somehow.”

Twenty years on from his diagnosis, 34-year-old Glaswegian Ed is on a mission to break the Guinness World Record for most press-ups in an hour. As well as raising thousands of pounds for Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Ed wants his “fun and irreverent” campaign to get more men talking about inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Continue reading at NetDoctor…

The complicated truth about food and depression – for NetDoctor

“It’s your diet that’s the problem, you just need to eat better.” I’ll never forget those words, said by a university counsellor when – faced with friendship dramas in my shared house, and all the usual student stresses of exams and essay deadlines – I went to her suffering from depression and anxiety.

For most people affected by depression, it’s a familiar story: all those well-meaning people who so regularly dismiss very real distress with advice to simply “eat better” or “exercise more”.

Of course, there is some truth in it – rationally, we all know that we feel better when we’re eating well and getting plenty of exercise – but changing your diet isn’t a quick and failsafe fix for depression, and it’s often the last thing you want to hear, or do, when depression takes hold.

Continue reading at NetDoctor…

Balance: May 2017

Balance: May 2017

I’ve found May inexplicably difficult to write about – despite the fact that, on the face of it, it’s easily been my best month of the year so far. Both work and life finally feel like they’re getting back towards some semblance of balance. On 9 May I was finally discharged from neurosurgery, free from the neck brace that had kept me so restricted for 15 weeks. May has been full of sunshine, joy, love, and wonderful opportunities to catch up with some really special friends. And, of course, it’s been my first month as a full-time freelancer since August 2015. Obviously though, I’m still a long way from what I set out to achieve in January. So I guess it’s been bittersweet. As well as providing the year’s highest highs, May’s also seen some of my lowest lows – from duvet days of depressive apathy, to full-blown existential crises about the future.

Work-life

I’ve loved the return to freelancing, as different as it’s been from what I’d originally envisaged. I feel like May has been the first month since the accident that I’ve got the balance of work (almost) exactly right – a comfortable, steady stream, with enough exciting projects in the pipeline to feel busy, but without totally overwhelming myself.

At some points during February and March, while supposedly signed off sick, I was over-working in a way that – like my gin and pizza habit – looked pretty positive on the outside, but was (with hindsight) rooted in self-loathing and avoidance. I’d convinced myself that keeping busy was a form of self-care, but honestly there were moments when it felt more like self-harm. Insidious, even sometimes well-meaning, but self-destructive nonetheless. It’s no coincidence that April, as well as my most profitable month ever, was also one of the periods when I’ve felt most miserable.

Life-life

Like my work, everything else in life has felt much more balanced in May than it has done lately. My renewed flexibility, both physically and temporally, has definitely helped – providing both the time and mobility to put into practice all those tried and tested coping mechanisms that have eluded me since February. I’ve finally been able to really relax into quality time with friends and family, with some really wonderful catch-ups in Manchester, Sheffield, London and Hertfordshire. I’ve been for a very long overdue hair cut! And I’ve enjoyed making the most of some of the beautifully sunny days we’ve had this month.

May’s also seen the start of some big, exciting changes in both my personal and professional lives, which I’m looking forward to sharing soon. It feels, to quote RuPaul (who’s never not relevant to any given situation), like the beginning of the rest of my life. I’m exercising more, comfort eating and drinking less, getting more fresh air, spending more time with cats (my own and other people’s), reading more, and – excepting a few wobbles – generally looking after myself better and more compassionately.

May reading

This month I finally read The Princess Diarist , which I ordered the day of Carrie Fisher’s death. I love her self-deprecating sense of humour, and her raw honesty about life, love, and mental illness. I’m also a huge Star Wars fan – episodes 4, 5 and 6 were amongst the most well-watched and well-loved VHS tapes of my childhood, and Princess Leia helped shape the woman I am today, as she did for so many others.

The Princess Diarist, naturally, ticks both boxes – providing an insight into the making of that first, groundbreaking film, as described in Carrie Fisher’s wonderfully unique voice. From the Carrison affair to the shock of being thrust into the limelight – and featuring extracts from the diaries she kept at the time – The Princess Diarist is such a compelling read on the life of a witty, brave, and complex woman whose entire career has been defined by that iconic character.

I’ve spent the rest of the month reading The Story of a New Name , the second of Elena Ferrante’s much hyped Neopolitan novels. Unlike the first, My Brilliant Friend , which took me a long time to fall in love with, The Story of a New Name has had me captivated from the first page.

Its depiction of young, female experiences of love, friendship, education and growing up are so breathtakingly authentic and imbued with a passion that – particularly following on from The Princess Diarist – made it feel unnervingly like reading someone’s private diary. If only, of course, all adolescent women wrote their diaries with the same stunning literary qualities achieved by both Elena Ferrante and Carrie Fisher!

Writing as therapy

Between the two of them, I’ve been inspired to start writing my own diary again. Journaling and I have had a troubled, on-off relationship for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t tell you how many crisp, fresh notebooks I’ve started jotting down my daily thoughts and reflections in, only to lose interest within a month. My sporadic diaries will never be published as literary memoirs, but finally feeling able to express some of my trauma and anxiety in ink has definitely helped me start coming to terms with things this month.

There’s something very cathartic about giving voice to thoughts and feelings that you don’t dare express out loud, or in your blog. In my typical style, I’ve so far only really remembered to write in it while feeling extremes of emotion – so it swings alarmingly from joyful relief and elation to utter despair and despondency without any real effort at balance or a coherent narrative. But that’s the beauty of a diary, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to.

Getting to grips with trauma

Late May also saw the start of my NHS therapy, after three and a half months on a waiting list. I’ve been as anxious waiting for it as I’ve been frustrated, to be honest. How many thousands of words have I written on CBT – my own experiences and other people’s – over the years? Shouldn’t I be able to write the book on the theory of how CBT works, so why aren’t I managing to apply it to my own life?

Fortunately, I’m feeling more positive after the first session. I’ll get 12 weekly hours of Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT), which so far feels far more helpful than I’d feared, and I really like my therapist for the first time ever. Again, I’ve written so much in the past about the importance of a strong therapeutic relationship, and of finding a therapist you connect with – all the while knowing that, on the NHS, beggars can’t be choosers – but I feel like I’ve struck gold this time.

As ‘back to normal’ as so much of my life feels now, trauma is a funny old thing. It strikes at unexpected (and usually inconvenient) moments, in the form of physical panic, or total despondency, or an overwhelming sense of grief. It’s been rough, but I feel like I’m hopefully through the worst of it. I really hope TF-CBT can help me keep moving in the right direction.

This Girl Can

Speaking of moving in the right direction, the penultimate day in May was a biggie for me. Four months and three days after fracturing my spine, Jorge the spinal nurse gave me the all-clear to start running again. I’ve never been a brilliant or speedy runner – I run very much for the fitness and mental health benefits, rather than the gold medals – but it’s been one loss that I’ve really felt during the past 18 weeks.

On Tuesday morning I put my trainers on, walked to the nearest grassy area (I’m not allowed to run on concrete again just yet!) and ran the slowest but most satisfying mile of my entire life. I felt amazing afterwards. May has been full of small but significant steps and, frustrated as I’ve been by their smallness at times, it’s wonderful to have so many of my old, faithful coping strategies at my disposal again.

Herbalife and Immediate PR very kindly sent me a big parcel full of goodies to support my return to training – including a five-week training plan, electrolyte drinks, and protein bars – and I’m looking forward to putting those to good use as I get properly stuck into my running routine in June. Inspired by last month’s incredible Mind Over Marathon, I feel like I need a mental and physical challenge to work towards – it won’t be a marathon!! – so watch this space for that next chapter in my recovery journey. Any (realistic) suggestions very gratefully received.

Client profile: Less-Stress London

For the third in my series of posts about my small business clients, I’m profiling Less-Stress London, a digital wellbeing hub for the capital, founded and edited by James Langton.

James first approached me in 2015, after reading my article for Vice on the declining effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It took a while before we managed to sit down together and talk about his project (thanks for your patience, James!) but I instantly loved the idea of Less-Stress London. James is really passionate about promoting holistic health and wellbeing solutions to Londoners, and exploring the many and varied stresses of urban life. Less-Stress London combines a directory of practitioners, events, services, and green spaces, with an online magazine full of news, features and reviews.

So far, for Less-Stress London, I’ve covered a fantastic range of issues – the health impacts of working night shifts, anti-pollution skincare solutions, the impact of urban stress on babies, road rage and anxiety on public transport, and lots more. I’ve also had the privilege of working on LSL’s behalf with some fantastic wellbeing charities, including the Mental Health Foundation, Freedom from Torture, and the Phoenix Prison Trust.

I sat down with James for a chat about how Less-Stress London came to be, and how my writing services are helping to create his editorial vision for the site.

SG: What’s Less-Stress London all about, and where did the idea come from?

JL: Less-Stress London takes a holistic approach to keeping healthy in the city. A directory of mind-body services, weekend workshops and events, all wrapped up with London news and a genuine sense of the city’s local landscape. Is London a more stressful place to live than other parts of the UK and beyond? Quite the opposite. Because, however lonely we are in the big city, there are choices, neighbourhoods, communities and, crucially, other Londoners to bond with over an evening or a weekend activity and shared interest.

 

SG: Who and what are your personal inspirations and motivations?

JL: As a native Londoner, I feel proud and grateful to live in one of the safest and most tolerant cities in the world. The changes I’ve seen since growing up in the north-west suburbs as a child have been vast – not only the buildings and infrastructure, but also the incredible diversity of people who have made London their home over the years. The pace of life in the city means that most of us are so time poor it’s difficult to slow down and look around, to find the beauty that’s everywhere in the city, especially in the scruffier corners.

 

SG: What do you look for in the practitioners and services you feature?

JL: At different times, when I’ve received counselling or psychotherapy, I’ve instinctively felt that my body very much needed the same levels of attention that I was giving to my mind. I could process insights and reflection mentally, but my body often felt like it needed its own catharsis, or at the very least direction toward self-care. I think that whether therapist or practitioner, teacher or coach, it’s absolutely critical to encourage clients to explore complementary ways of working with different therapeutic ideas and techniques in between sessions.

 

SG: What do you see as the biggest issues impacting on Londoners’ everyday mental and physical wellbeing?

 

JL: Expectation – whether that comes from others or, more likely, ourselves. A fear that we may fall behind socially and economically unless we drive ourselves, and often our loved ones, to the absolute limit Cramped housing that often means it’s a struggle to find private space to unwind. Loneliness and lack of connection.

 

SG: What do you ultimately hope Less-Stress London can achieve?

JL: If our Less-Stress websites could have half as much influence as Mumsnet in the heads of politicians I’d be very happy. A better understanding that a holistic health agenda is not just an airy fairy ideal but a realistic solution to so many of society’s social and economic problems. Not just mind-body practicesm but also spreading the word about educational initiatives from organisations such as Young Happy Minds, who understand that a holistic education system is just as important as holistic health.

 

SG: How does the editorial content, contributed by myself and others, help you to stand out?

JL: There’s a huge amount of health advice available online right now, but it can get a bit shouty: ‘I’ve got a wonderful life, how can I make it better?’ That’s ok, but the wellness movement would do well to remember to build from the bottom-up as well as top-down.

Information about back care and posture is a bit lacking generally. A healthy spine is a critical component of wellness and we’re particularly interested in articles about the crossover point between therapeutic movement and therapeutic bodywork. Also clarity and understanding regarding the many different therapeutic techniques available.

London’s a big city and advances in technology are going to leave more of us struggling to find meaning and purpose from our lives, as the things we take for granted slowly become more and more automated. I hope the articles we commission at least nod in that direction once in a while.

We are a commercial organisation but I hope that the advertising partners we are able to attract complement the articles and features rather than detract.

 

You can find out more about Less-Stress London and the range of holistic health services available across the city at: less-stress.london

Could my writing services also benefit your business? Click here for information about working with me, check out some examples of my work for Less-Stress London, or click here to see what other clients have said about my writing.

Recent writing: Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event organised by the Mental Health Foundation. It’s a great week for getting friends, family, celebrities and politicians talking more about mental health – particularly in the run-up to a General Election! But it can also feel a bit tokenistic, because we desperately need to get better at having these conversations, and actually converting them into actions, all year round.

The theme for this year’s MHAW was ‘surviving or thriving’. I’ve written articles for NetDoctor, Sebastian & Millicent, The Debrief, and Mental Health Today, exploring what it means to thrive with mental health problems.

Is anxiety sabotaging your career? – for NetDoctor:

Mental health problems affect one in six employees in the UK, and work-related stress is the number one health and safety concern for 70 per cent of businesses. Yet, for employees suffering from anxiety, a lack of support at work too often means lowering their ambitions to fit in with their emotional needs.

35-year-old Unite representative Tom* works as a telesales advisor for an energy company, and believes that his long-term anxiety has “held me back from applying for higher roles in the business, as management don’t really understand mental health.” More recently, he adds, “I have been off work due to the severity of my anxiety, and instead of being supportive they are over-riding my fit notes and taking me through disciplinary procedures to sack me.”

Continue reading at NetDoctor…

Is There Life After SSRIs? – for The Debrief:

More of us than ever are on antidepressants. Doctors in England wrote out more than 64 million prescriptions for them last year, and use of antidepressants is now seven times higher than 25 years ago, in 1991. The most widely used antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (aka Prozac), sertraline and citalopram, which act on your levels of mood stabilising neurotransmitter serotonin.

Some people need antidepressants and anyone who has a problem with that should get over it, stat. There is no shame in taking antidepressants and for many people, they are life-changing. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ treatment when it comes to depression. But, with so many of us taking these pills as part of our normal daily routine, it’s worth asking whether there can be life after SSRIs, in which it’s possible not just to survive, but to actually thrive? We spoke to three women who’ve been there, plus Dr Mark Salter from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and mindset coach Ebonie Allard, to find out.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

The troubled mind of fashion – for Sebastian and Millicent:

How much does what you wear say about you? Anecdotally, we all know there’s some kind of link between how we feel and what we wear. Who hasn’t spent whole days in their pyjamas, or a tracksuit, while feeling stressed, burnt out, or depressed? Not to mention the burst of confidence and self-esteem that comes from pulling on your best outfit and leaving the house looking a million dollars. In recent years, scientific research has confirmed what many of us already knew: how we feel affects what we choose to wear, and what we wear affects how we feel.

Continue reading at Sebastian and Millicent…

Using art therapy to thrive – for Mental Health Today:

“Writing and performing gives me the freedom to speak clearly, and the power to make my audiences listen,” says 45-year-old Ugandan refugee Jade.

Jade is involved with writing and drama groups run by the charities Freedom from Torture and Women for Refugee Women. For her, creativity, humour, and community have been crucial elements of her journey towards healing from the traumas she suffered back home.

“It’s very therapeutic to have that time with friends, writing together, listening and supporting each other,” Jade says. “I write a lot of poems and short stories now, but I always try and write something that will make people laugh. If I dwell on what happened to me, those people will have won.”

Continue reading at Mental Health Today…

The dark side of meditation – for Sebastian and Millicent:

The ancient eastern practice of meditation and mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, but far more recently exploded into prominence in the western world. It’s now rare to go a week without hearing or reading about the much-celebrated wellbeing benefits of taking time each day to focus on your breath and the sensations of your body, and enjoy simply ‘being’ in the moment. A key component of mindful meditation is the idea of noticing the small pleasures in life, and habitually bringing your wandering thoughts back to focus on your present situation.

Continue reading at Sebastian and Millicent…

Priority: Low

Priority: Low

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, on and off, in varying degrees, for most of my adolescent and all of my adult life. In May 2014, while working at Feminist Times, I edited their Mental Health Week – a week of content focused on why mental health is a feminist issue. Sadly the Feminist Times archive is no longer available, but I remain immensely proud of the content I wrote, commissioned and edited during that week.

When I went freelance, not long afterwards, I made mental health a much greater focus of my work. However, I’ve continued not to write much about my own issues. Like most things, mental health is much easier to write about in the third person.

Then, at the start of this year, I set myself a monthly blogging challenge, one of the aims of which was to be more open, authentic and vulnerable about my own mental health problems. Little did I know then that they were about to explode quite so catastrophically, or I might not have thought it was such a good idea!

Mood altered

When I was discharged from hospital on 1 February, one of the sections of my discharge notes really bothered me:

Cervical spine fracture – C7. Priority: High

L Radius fracture. Priority: Medium

L1 vertebral fracture. Priority: Medium

Mood alterted. Priority: Low

Insomnia. Priority: Low

Of course, my body was pretty badly smashed up in the car crash. But when you’ve treated someone’s physical injuries as “trauma”, clinical phrases like “mood altered” seem grossly inadequate to describe the psychological repercussions. An altered mood is what happens when I get out of bed feeling chirpy and then burn my toast. Admittedly, I’ve not yet found the right words to suitably describe how I do feel, but “emotional trauma” would probably seem like the most accurate choice to anyone other than an actual robot.

And then there’s the priority: low. The better I get physically, the more painfully true this feels. The talking therapies waiting list I’m on feels endless, and my GP can’t do much more than chasing them and prescribing more pills. I feel totally isolated.

Low priority

In the three years since Feminist Times’ Mental Health Week, I’ve seen enormous changes in the public conversation around mental health. As Hannah Ewen pointed out in a recent Vice article, it’s become as trendy a topic for online content as feminism. But while I firmly believe that tackling stigma is hugely, urgently important in the fight for better mental health, what is all that worth when its level of priority, in healthcare and in our own lives, remains so low?

I love the NHS, and it breaks my heart to see it so hideously and chronically underfunded by the current government, but mental healthcare services are in a devastating position. And while it’s amazing to see everyone from Ruby Wax to Prince Harry speaking out about their struggles, sometimes a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart isn’t enough. Especially when you can’t afford to pay for expensive private therapists. Getting effective, professional and affordable support, when you need it, remains a constant struggle for too many people living with mental health problems. Talking about mental health is great, but we need to prioritise treatment too.

Recovery

I’m not the first person to make the point that greater investment in mental healthcare is urgent, and I won’t be the last. But I’m also conscious that it’s not just in healthcare settings that mental health remains a low priority. I’ve been writing about mental health regularly for three years, but I know that I struggle to make mental health a priority in my own life.

In the last 14 weeks, I’ve based my ability to return to ‘normality’ almost solely on my physical recovery. I’ve put totally unnecessary pressure on myself to keep working for the sake of “keeping busy” and “taking my mind off things” even though I know, personally and professionally, that’s not how it works. Self-care, though wonderful in principle, is so hard to prioritise when you just don’t feel worthy of being cared for.

Surviving

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week and, as I wrote in last week’s post, the theme this year is “surviving or thriving?” I’m writing a couple of lovely pieces, for various different outlets, on all the positive and wonderful ways that people with mental health problems have learned to thrive with their conditions. But I also know that surviving a day at a time is the reality for many more people, and that’s ok too.

It’s not ok how hard we have to struggle to get help. But it’s ok to not be ok. Plenty of people have told me that since I left hospital, and it’s finally starting to sink in. So my pledge for MHAW this year is simple: to make mental health a much higher priority in my own life, and let thriving follow in its own sweet time.

Balance: April 2017

Balance: April 2017

It’s been a beautiful month, all sunshine and blue skies carried over from March. But, in my head, it’s felt more like endless, drizzly April showers. As of today, I’m 13 weeks into recovery. I’m sure there’s no typical pattern with this kind of thing, but I’ve started noticing distinct phases in my own recovery journey, and April has very much been one of resentment and frustration.

While March’s sunshine had me feeling optimistic and hopeful, in April it’s simply made me despise anyone who’s enjoying life more than me. And, particularly on social media, it’s hard not to feel like that’s everyone. I even weighed up whether to bother writing about this month. Imagine starting a 12-month blog challenge, your entire year falling apart within the first 30 days, but still being stubborn enough to feel like you have to keep it up!

And honestly, despite being my most physically well month since the accident, it’s also been my least balanced month of 2017. I haven’t finished a single book in April. I’ve had terrifying panic attacks in the middle of the street, and on public transport. I’ve had duvet days of wrapping myself up in self-pity and sleeping for 15 hours at a time. I’ve cancelled so many plans. (Sorry.) I’ve had sudden outbursts of frustration and rage, but mostly I’ve felt nothing much. Work has plodded steadily on, but writing at the moment feels like I’m just about keeping my head above water, not relishing it in the way I did when my cast first came off.

Darkness

What people who’ve never had depression don’t realise is that, at really bleak times, it can feel like less than ‘sadness’. You spend a long time feeling overwhelmed by all the emotions, only to reach a point of total emotional paralysis. It’s nothing. It’s numbness and apathy, a big, dark empty pit inside yourself, where nothing matters and you’re not worthy of feeling anything at all. Not even sad. Not angry, or frustrated, or lonely, or anxious.

The moments when you do feel those things – when the hospital cancels your much-anticipated appointment, and your body actually allows you to burst into tears – come as a relief. The tightness of panic in your chest, however hideous and nauseating, feels like a pleasant reminder that you’re still alive enough to care about your own preservation. That an irrational fear of suffocating to death on the tube, surrounded by strangers, with 15 panicked messages to your husband forever remaining unsent, is better than weeks on end of simply not caring if you live or die.

April has been a month of not caring, punctuated by moments of caring deeply and overwhelmingly. Recently I’ve started working on content for next month’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year has a theme of “surviving or thriving?” For me, simply surviving each day is enough right now. Thriving still feels such a long way off. We’re now a third of the way through the year, and I’ve not even come close to completing my goals – personal or professional – for Q1. My goals for Q2 have all been replaced by “make it through to June”.

Even self-care becomes a struggle when you can’t shake the feeling that every attempt to do something nice for yourself (like a retreat, for example) backfires spectacularly. I ordered myself a dozen beautiful pastel roses to mark the 12 week anniversary of the accident. When the courier (no prizes for guessing) forgot to collect them from the depot, so they didn’t show up until 24 hours later, I felt distraught.

Light

Of course, there are always glimmers of light, and I’d be remiss not to mention them. The day my roses didn’t arrive, my husband came home with ten cheap and crappy red ones from the local shop, which brightened my day immeasurably.

Over the Easter weekend, I removed my email account from my iPhone for four whole days – so good for the soul – and spent my days walking, eating, and enjoying the sunshine in east London, Cambridge, and Welwyn Garden City, with some of the people I love most in the world.

On Sunday 23rd, my not-so-little brother ran the London Marathon in aid of Toybox, and I’ve rarely felt so proud as I did watching him reach that finish line. Speaking of which, this month has also seen me weep my way through the BBC’s Mind Over Marathon, which is a must-watch. I can’t wait to get my running shoes back on once the spinal nurse okays it.

And finally, we’re spending the upcoming bank holiday weekend in one of our favourite cities, Bristol, visiting the world’s greatest little boy (our godson) and his mum. There’s no better excuse to run away from reality.

Work-wise I’ve written more than has actually been published this month, but below is the small selection I have to show for it so far. Perhaps this month’s biggest work news though is that I’ve taken on a freelance ghostwriting contract with LifeBook UK, working on a project that I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into over the coming months…

The Motivation for Moderation – for Less-Stress London

Shahroo Izadi is a modern behaviour change specialist, supporting clients to change their habits around food, drugs, or alcohol. Having previously worked in addiction support services for the NHS and Turning Point, her work combines the well-established techniques of motivational interviewing (MI) and mind mapping.

Commonly used in drug and alcohol services, these techniques are very effective in stopping ‘all or nothing’ thinking and allowing clients to take back control of their lives. “Motivational interviewing is like dancing with your client,” Shahroo explains. “You know where you want the dance to end, but you allow them to lead, you don’t push, and you get there in their own time.”

This works, she adds, by reflecting back what the client has said, gently guiding them to reach their own conclusions, before reflecting those outcomes visually in a mind map, which the client can refer back to. “There’s no judgement, you’re not putting words in people’s mouths, so it makes them less defensive,” she explains.

Continue reading at Less-Stress.London…

6 of London’s Best Modern-day Gin Palaces – for Hotel Indigo

For gin lovers, there’s simply no better city on earth than London. From the Gin Craze of the 18th century, to the grand Victorian gin palaces, London’s love affair with “Mother’s Ruin” is well established, and still going strong today. The city’s first gin palaces began popping up in the East End, around Holborn and Old Street, during the 1830s, before spreading to more central locations. From the Hotel Indigo London – Tower Hill, you’ll find yourself ideally placed to explore the London’s gin-loving heritage. From traditional offerings in nearby Holborn to trendier variations in Shoreditch, here are a few modern-day gin palaces to try:

Continue reading at Hotel Indigo…

Client profile: Ayesha Giselle Life Coach

Last month I profiled Rachael Cunningham, founder of Sebastian & Millicent, as the first in a series of posts about my small business clients.

Today I want to share some of the work I’ve been doing with Ayesha Giselle, a success and accountability coach based in Hackney.

Ayesha and I met through a networking group for east London freelancers and entrepreneurs, and I knew she was exactly the kind of person I love working with. Ayesha is a driven, ambitious woman, with a passion for supporting and empowering other women. She’s also a fellow east Londoner, so that was a big tick in my ‘supporting local small business owners’ box. And her work is all about self-development, and helping people – particularly young women – get the best out of their lives and careers.

When Ayesha and I got chatting, we realised that our skills complemented each other perfectly. She had the courage and self-confidence to put herself out there, but lacked the writing skills to really make an impact; while I had those writing skills but felt certain that I regularly held myself back from being as successful as I could be. Well, working together has been really quite special for both of us! Since last summer I’ve been writing blog posts, PR pitches and e-books for Ayesha. I’ve learnt so much from her, both through the briefs that she sends me for her content, and from the coaching I’ve received through our brilliant skill sharing agreement.

I sat down with Ayesha for a chat about what coaching means to her and her clients, and how my writing services are helping her to get her messages out there.

 

SG: What does being a coach mean to you, and how did you get started?

AG: Being a coach means being a source of inspiration, guidance, support and wisdom. Leading by example to inspire and encourage my clients. Using my wisdom and insight to help guide my clients to making the best choices for where they are at on their journey. And to be a support system who is completely in their corner. My client’s success is my success; we win together.

Being a coach allows me to be the person I needed when I was going up, starting my business, and finding myself and my way through life. I always wished I had someone I could talk to who was a bit wiser than me, had more insight into life than me, who would support and encourage me 100% when I found it hard to do so myself. Someone who could push me out of my comfort zone, provide a safe place to explore ideas, and believe in me. Not really having that kind of support growing up made realise what was missing, and who I could be to help others. Funnily enough, I think I decide to become a coach when I was a teenager, after reading one of my mum’s self-help books and thinking to myself ‘this is what I want to become’. At the time I was studying performing arts, which I loved. I initially planned to pursue a performing arts career until I was 30-35, and then I thought I’d have enough life experience to become a coach.

Later I was in university studying Arts Management, which I didn’t really enjoy, and I decided to drop out in year 3. By that stage, I was living life thinking ‘time is too precious to spend it being miserable and doing what you don’t enjoy’. So I made my decision with no plan, just knowing that I no longer enjoyed my course at all, and that it wasn’t for me. However, there was still this strong desire to become a coach as I felt it fit perfectly with who I am – a bold action taker who loves to learn about herself, and always looking forward to growing, teaching, and supporting others. The only thing stopping me was the fact I thought I was way too young to be a coach; I thought I need to be an older person with lots of life experience. In spite of my fears, I took a leap of faith and enrolled myself on a life coaching course, invested in some of the best coaches and mentors, and have never looked back since.

 

SG: Who and what are your personal inspirations and motivations?

AG: My inspiration to become a coach was Fiona Harold, who I had the pleasure to be coached and mentored by, and Iyanla Vanzant. Both women inspired me through their work and love for what they do.

My main motivation for coaching is making a difference in individual people’s lives, and knowing that I’m having a massive positive impact on them and their future. Nothing can beat the feeling of your client’s success. My clients’ success is my happiness. It brings me pure joy knowing that I played a part in their amazing journey.

 

SG: What unique experience and perspectives do you bring to your work with clients?

AG: I am able to pass on my resilience to my clients – helping them to keep their eye on the goal, remain consistent, enjoy the process and be willing to challenge themselves, whether that challenge is a self-limiting belief or a fear. I see opportunities within the problems. I help my clients to track, track and track some more, so that they can see the progress they have made. If they want certain results then they need become that person who can get the results they want. Lastly, I know that your thoughts create your reality, and by changing the way you think about yourself or a situation, you can change your reality or an outcome.

 

SG: Like me, you’re obviously passionate about working with ambitious and driven women – what issues do you see coming up again and again?

AG: I see clients using excuses to hide behind their fears which literally holds them back from becoming their full potential. I see women not believing that they are good enough, and lacking confidence in their ability, which stops them from going after what they really want. And then being scared to ask for what they want. Another thing I  have noticed is that many women know, and deep down really want, what it is they desire; they just don’t how to get it – which is where I come in.

 

SG: How has hiring me as a writer helped you as a small business owner?

AG: It has helped me a lot. Writing is not my strength, however I have so much wisdom and expertise in my area that I want and need to share with the world. Sometimes it can be so hard to explain what is in my head in a clear succinct way. Hiring you to help write my blogs and pitches has helped me to articulate my thoughts and message in a coherent way. You always deliver on time, with material that surpasses my expectations. You really get exactly what I am trying to convey. It has also saved me a lot of time. Instead of wasting time stressing over trying to produce content, I am now able to focus that time on the things I enjoy and am good at, which is coaching and teaching.

 

SG: What do you feel the blog and e-book content I’ve written add to your brand?

AG: It has allowed my message to be clear, and really show my expertise and wisdom in my area. It allows my brand to be more polished and professional. It’s a really good investment as what you put out is what you get back in return. If you put out quality work, you attract the right clients and the business that you want. The content you put out represents you, and you always want to put your best foot forward, and the blogs and e-book have allowed me to do just that.

 

You can find out more about Ayesha Giselle’s range of coaching programmes and services at: ayeshagiselle.com.

Could my writing services also benefit your business? Click here for information about working with me, check out some examples of my work for Ayesha Giselle, or click here to see what other clients have said about my writing.

Being ManKind: The crowdfunding campaign exploring modern masculinity

Masculinity is in crisis. As a feminist, and as a journalist covering mental health, it’s impossible not to notice. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems. They’re significantly more prone to substance abuse than women. They both commit and suffer from more violent crimes.

And, while men benefit from many privileges under patriarchy, they also suffer from limiting and sexist gender roles just like women do.

The more work I do in this area, the more convinced I am that men’s mental health is a feminist issue. And tackling it has to start with some frank and honest conversations about what masculinity really means for mankind today.

Being ManKind

I was thrilled, back in December, to meet the team behind Being ManKind – a collaborative, educational project, aimed at challenging stereotypes and getting men and boys talking about what masculinity really means in the modern world.

Being ManKind is the brainchild of Darshan, Priya and Jenny from social enterprise Super Being Labs. I knew I loved this organisation as soon as they explained that the child in their logo represents their company ethos: “be curious, be creative, and don’t be a dick”.

The initiative aims to use men’s own stories and experiences to challenge traditional stereotypes of masculinity and provide positive role models. It all started with their gorgeous coffee table book, Being ManKind Vol. 1, a collection of inspiring stories told by men from all walks of life – from a paratrooper living with the loss of his legs, to a comedian grappling with anorexia, and a foreword by boxer Anthony Joshua.

The book is a fascinating read, and beautifully put together with photos capturing the whole diversity of men and masculinity. According to the Being ManKind team, their aim with the book is to “offer an opportunity for boys to draw on a diversity of experiences, to decide for themselves what it means to be a man. The book wants to show that once you get past polarised gender expectations, you find that the only unbreakable code in humanity is kindness. The idea is that through the stories told, boys and men will be inspired to forge forward as kind and confident individuals, both for themselves and those around them, allowing everybody to succeed together.”

Gender education

For every copy of the book they sell, another copy is donated to a school or youth organisation – along with educational resources and lesson plans – in a bid to spark conversations amongst young people from across the gender spectrum. “Unfortunately, the world still defines people by their gender, rather than their humanity. These gender stereotypes create expectations that not only damage those who are burdened by them, but they also cause harm to the people around them too,” explains Being ManKind co-founder Darshan Sanghrajka.

“After all, you can be powerful but compassionate, strong but weak, competitive but giving, courageous but scared… the list goes on. Gender has nothing to do with it. We need to help the next generation understand their roles as individuals, and only then can they start to positively understand their relationships with those around them. Without this, we can’t ever have an equal and just society; fear and greed will rule, rather than kindness and unlimited potential. It’s why the team and I have embarked on this project – it’s important to a just world and now, more than ever before.”

Crowdfunding

With volume 1 already under their belts, Being ManKind this week launched a Kickstarter campaign to take the project to the next level. With a £75,000 target, and more than £8,500 raised on day one, their goal is to take the Being ManKind conversation to a bigger audience, by extending their work with schools, youth organisations and charities, creating an outreach programme, and continuing to tell more men’s stories through their digital platform and future book volumes.

Please do support them if you can – I’ve pledged £35 to secure my copy of volume 2!

Being ManKind – The Mission from Super Being Labs on Vimeo.