Tuesday, 19 May 2015

What I have learnt over the last year

Tomorrow I'll be seeing my father for the first time since November.

Those who are regular readers of my blog will be aware that after never having a relationship with him throughout my life, I traced his whereabouts last year and met him in person in June.

Since then, things got complicated, and I mean extremely complicated, and I wasn't treated as kindly as I could have hoped. Things were rosy, and then they weren't, and without going into specifics the summer of last year were some of the best and some of the worst months of my life.

My father, at around the same age as myself now (22), attempted suicide to a severe degree. He was a self-harmer, a big drinker, an even bigger smoker, and a man who was bent on a life of hard work as a pub manager, alongside a life of self-destruction.

I remember self-harming for the first time at the age of twelve, and as my Mum discovered my cuts and scars, she told me that that was what my biological father used to do. Strange, how I'd never known that before and already I had this connection between myself and my father that I assumed later on in life would strengthen us.

I'm not entirely sure why I decided to trace him last year. It was partly due to a stroke of luck and some excellent hearing skills as to his location, but the drive to actually trace him all on my own was fuelled by something which I can't quite work out. The understanding that I had hoped for between us regarding my long-term struggles with mental illnesses was never truly there. As the months wore on and what seemed to be a good relationship begun to decease, I begun to attribute my life to him. I begun to see myself as not an individual, but a person in relation to her father. I begun to assume that I'd end up like him, and drove myself into the same self-destructive mentality I'd lived with my whole life.

Over time, I have learnt to separate us both as individuals and I can't describe how freeing it has been. I've learnt to accept that I am not the one in the wrong, and I've learned to appreciate and accept my achievements over the last few months. I've actually let this experience strengthen me rather than belittle me which is something I can most definitely be proud of, even if it took a little while.

All I can say is that, don't attribute your life or progresses to anyone other than yourself. See yourself as an individual as opposed to the product of another person's mistakes. I think that's where I was going wrong and this outlook led to emotions and behaviours which I believe that to an extent, I will struggle with forever. I'm seeing him tomorrow and I'm absolutely terrified but I'm far more self-aware than I was a year ago and although I'll never cut him out of my life like he did to me, I'll never attach myself so closely with him again and I'm strong enough now to say that I won't let him ruin me like he did last year.

Am I glad that I tracked him down? Sure. Knowing is better than not knowing and although the past year has been emotionally challenging, it's strengthened me more than I had previously realised.

I have secured myself a two week work experience placement working for a top charity organisation (with hopefully more to come), my blog gained an extra 3000 views just this weekend through it being promoted by the incredible Denise Welch, I reached the end of the second year of my degree and I'm properly beginning to travel for the first time in my life (I'll be in Italy in two weeks and there's a high chance I'm going to Budapest in October). For the first time in my life, I feel as if I know what I want to do once I graduate, that I have options, which I've never felt before. I'm going out more than ever before, and going out on nights out without Nathan and managing to travel to therapy and back on my own. Maybe silly things to be proud of, but if I consider my periods of agoraphobia which have dominated my life for a long time, hell yes I should be proud. Last year I allowed my father to determine the way I felt about myself and this year, although I do still love him dearly, I've learned to take a huge step back and focus on those around me who care far more than he does.

I never realise how much I'm constantly growing until I take a step back on days like today and look at my progress and it's a lovely feeling.

Even if one never feels as if they're progressing, they always are, each and every single day.
I feel like I'm living properly for the first time in years and it's lovely.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

My open letter to Katie Hopkins

To Katie,

I've remained pretty tight lipped over your newly found internet stardom over the course of the past few months. Mainly because I'm one not to get infused in debates and/or become argumentative. I've refrained myself until now, so there are a few things I just need to get off my chest.

Why am I writing this you ask? Why am I bothering? If I just keep quiet you'll just leave us alone, right? To be honest, I'm not writing because I want you to stop. I'm writing to let you know that your attempts as a journalist, albeit a successful journalist, have achieved nothing except perhaps maybe some extreme self ego boosting and self-satisfaction on your own shallow part. I'm not entirely sure where that arises from as I'm pleased to know nobody who agrees with the trash that you communicate as 'journalism', but yet here we are. I'm also writing this for those who have been offended by your views, most particularly those which were discriminatory towards mental health illnesses. Offence has been taken but it shouldn't be and I'll tell you why.

Your 'opinions', your judgements, your one-sided nasty views are views characterised into tiny little boxes that can only allocate up to 140 characters at one time (oh, and let's not forget a minute section in a right-wing national newspaper) Let's just all remind ourselves that that is the space where some listen to your views, and most abhor them. We are all entitled to our views and opinions, sure, but before I launch into the main bulk of my discussion can I just remind you that you have no immediate power over anybody else by using language and words as a means of belittling the minorities in the world. Unfortunately, people have been doing that for years. The difference is with you, of course, is that your entire living is fuelled by nastiness. You use language and words to be nasty and awful and horrid because that is your job. People have grown to know you as that person. People now know you not as a journalist, but as a producer. A producer of degrading, useless, drivel. It rings bells with me for sure - in a similar way that the school bully will at first find it fun to pick on those smaller than them until it becomes something of personal gain. The bully enters into a vicious cycle, spurred on by a minority of supporters and constant talk and attention, thus finding it mentally unable to stop their behaviour. The bully is awarded for their efforts, through wealth and prosperity, through the promise of television shows and further expansions on their career. Let's remember however that there always reaches a point where the bully backs down. Where it becomes exhausting to be a role-model for the tormenting of discriminated groups, when eventually one realises that it just isn't worth it.

What startles me is that one in four of your mass market Twitter followers, including yourselves and your family will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Whether you are simply too deluded to believe this very true statistic is one thing, whether you will let your children grow up in a household where it is unacceptable to be depressed or anxious or have emotions at all, whether you simply push those closest to you to the side God forbid they ever decided to confide in you about an issue which every single day kills innocent men and women across the country. I am aware that you yourself have a diagnosis of epilepsy. I have known a few people growing up with epilepsy and it is a condition I am aware of. I wouldn't however argue that this mild knowledge provides me with the right to label epileptics as behaving in a certain way, and it certainly wouldn't give me the right to categorise epileptics as separate from any other member of society. The two people I know or have known (and possibly more) who suffer from epilepsy are people that I have viewed as separate from their illnesses. Why? Because their illnesses do not define them. Your illness doesn't define you and my illness does not define me. So why all of the hate? Why mentally place every single person who has ever suffered from a mental illness into one box? Your assumptions are the reason why stereotypes that campaigners have fought so hard to abolish, live on.

This is the 21st century. No individual is the same as the next. I have no right to form assumptions of marginalised groups in society based on individual cases. I have no right to tell somebody they are a certain way or should behave a certain way just because they happen to have a particular diagnosis. I have no right to tell a group of individuals to 'get a grip', even if I wanted to because I don't have the access to anybody elses mindset but my own and thus have no right to lecture them on their actions, thoughts and behaviours. Katie, you accused those with a diagnosis of depression (or any other mental illness for that matter) of being self-obsessed but you forget the huge majority of those with undiagnosed mental health illnesses. Ones that are either too ashamed to seek help, ones who are high-functioning individuals like you and I, or those who simply do not have the access to services that would help administer a diagnosis. Perhaps one of the thousands who go through life undiagnosed is sitting in your house right this second. Is a member of your family. Is a friend of yours. I hope to God they're not but the possibility in this day and age is increasing.

You seem to have this pre-supposed idea that situations just solve themselves. You're fat? Stop eating. You're depressed? Cheer up. For you there is an idyllic life out there which seems to only exist in black and white, simple solutions for not so simple problems. If life were all really that easy we'd be taking your shoddy advice and attributing it to ourselves, but sometimes we just can't. We evidently can't all be as perfect as you and quite honestly I like my imperfections. They make me who I am and not as an example of this perfect society that you dictate we should be.

About a month or so ago, I allowed myself to become offended by your opinions. I realise now that by doing so I allowed myself to be pushed back in time ten years to a time where I let bullies determine the way that I view myself. Many years on from that time and I've learnt not to be that person. I've learnt to be proud of the person I am, mental illness and all, and have enough confidence in my abilities to feel nothing but sympathy for yourself and your actions. I respect the right to an opinion, but when one's 'opinion' is a million miles from the truth, it has to be questioned. When one's 'opinion' is based on nothing but pure judgement and satisfaction of stereotypes, this also much be questioned.  When such an opinion equals to a proportion of fame and power it marvels me. It constantly reminds me that fame and money are two things I'd never want to consume side by side, or even individually. It reminds me of people like you.

However, there is one thing that I will say. The only thing I can argue that you've done correctly is remind me each and everyday of the person I and many others never want to be. So, thank you.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

The end of second year

I officially finished my second year of University on Friday. I remember this time last year feeling completely ecstatic that I had reached the end of my first year as I felt like it was such an achievement in comparison to the last few years of failure. This year I didn't feel like celebrating.

The revision period for my two end of year exams had been a toughie to begin with. I'd been experiencing severe anxiety, breathlessness and violent outbursts for the whole three weeks triggered by this overwhelming self-doubt. This week, the week of said exams, I came down with a nasty vomiting and nausea virus midweek, and that, alongside the severe anxiety, resulted in the what I believe to be failure of said exams. I walked into the exam hall, constantly wanting to be sick, and forgot everything.

I walked out of my final exam in particular and if it wasn't for my beautiful friends standing right infront of me, I would have burst into tears there and then. I kept telling myself and I try to keep telling myself that the way my body reacts to stress is not my fault, my stupid immune system is not my fault. But all I keep thinking about is the day my lecturers read the exam answers that I wrote and lose their faith in me and lose their faith in the girl who mostly achieved firsts in her essays all year.

Today is Sunday, and I have felt so physically exhausted that for the first time in possibly years, I lied in bed all day, slept, watched the occasional Netflix, slept some more, and every now and again panicked that I needed to revise whilst remembering that I didn't need to anymore. It felt strange just to let myself be for the day and whilst I'm still feeling a little sick and extremely tired, I think I needed it.

I should be proud of finishing my second year because I worked bloody hard to get here but it didn't seem enough. It didn't seem like I worked quite hard enough. I emailed my lecturers to apologise for being a failure because that's what I feel like. Despite the fact I did have a virus I also let my mental illness overtake my studies for the first time in ages and that's what makes me hate myself.

The summer is here and despite my reluctance to celebrate the end of second year I have lots of lovely events coming up in the next month or so. There will be plenty of birthday celebrations, including my Mum's 40th, my cousin's birthday (which includes a Thorpe Park trip with the family) and my best friends 23rd, there will be a much needed seaside getaway with the family, London Comicon, and preparing for my holiday to Italy to celebrate mine and Nathan's 6th anniversary next month. I'll no doubt be working more, not just in my retail job but reading and prepping for next year's dissertation. It's should be an amazing few months full of exciting things but only if I don't let myself keep falling at the first hurdle.

The day that I allow myself to be myself and stop wanting to be someone else will the day that I will be free.

To my girls, thanks for getting me through the past two years. I love you and you're wonderful and this degree wouldn't be possible without you.