Monday, 12 December 2016

Oh Christmas Tree...




Christmas is always a time of year where a variety of mixed emotions are running high.
Trying to save money to buy presents for all your loved ones and trying to keep on top of bills can cause stress to creep in, including remembering our loved ones who have passed, not to mention the effect of the dark nights upon us. Christmas in fact can be quite a stressful, depressing and lonely time for some of us.

Whilst I’ve always dealt with a touch of SAD Syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a very common condition that causes the individual to have symptoms of depression due to the lack of sunlight, I’ve always enjoyed Christmas.
If I’m feeling the symptoms of S.A.D syndrome I know what to do to control it and to counter-act the effects because I’ve always experienced it, even as a child.  

“We’re not at a place where mental health is discussed as openly as the weather...”


As winter has progressed I’ve been hearing about more and more people feeling ‘low’, or feeling ‘panicky’ and likely dealing with S.A.D syndrome. However, these are people who have never really experienced mental health issues before, and now don’t know what to do about how they’re feeling. They feel different, trapped and afraid. It can feel like you’re losing your identity, and that’s terrifying. This is why the stigma attached to mental health acts as a barricade to those who need help. 
If mental health was discussed as much as the common cold, then it wouldn’t be such a struggle to deal with.
Unfortunately, we’re not at a place where mental health is discussed as openly as the weather whilst waiting for a bus, or casually brought up as a reason why you’ve been absent from work. We always give a different excuse for why we are not being ‘ourselves’, “I’m tired” or “I’m not feeling well’’ is usually the excuse for what we really want to say.
We’re actually quite like the Christmas tree.
We are like the tree with different branches of personality. 
However, we decorate our branches with a fa├žade of false emotions, and we pretend to be happier and more cheerful than we really are.
We create a delightful image of joy and what we think it means to be happy. But a lot of us are decorating ourselves to conceal the rough bark of our minds, and the painful jab of our pine needle thoughts.
Why do we weigh ourselves down with these false decorations? Why can’t we talk about how heavy we feel with these false pretences?
We see other people who are ‘happy’ and fear that if we do come forward to speak up that we would be the only ones to do so. Coming forward to speak up about mental health can have more positive effect than you can imagine. You can encourage and help others with their own mental health by becoming an advocate for your own well-being.
By doing so you’re contributing to removing the stigma attached to mental health.
Mental health doesn’t discriminate. We’re all Christmas trees from the same forest, we can all experience the same thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is up to us to let others



“We’re all Christmas trees from the same forest, we can all experience the same thoughts, feelings and emotions.”


I’ve come to realise that when I speak openly about my mental health I find that others come forward too to speak about theirs, and there’s such liberation in that.
Isn’t it time to put our real selves forward this Christmas? It’s okay to admit that we may not want to drink alcohol because it makes us feel worse, and it’s okay to say you need time to yourself to rejuvenate. 
Give yourself the present of honesty and self-care as this New Year begins.

It is important to not blind those around us with our twinkling lights - and realise that we can be all vulnerable and scared, but by coming together we can create a forest of strength that doesn’t allow the mental health stigma to cause damage like an invisible wild fire. We can look out for each other by empowering ourselves to look after our own mental health and stand forward and challenge the social stigma.




















Monday, 5 December 2016

A Trail of Glittering Experience

I have been recently discovering a lot of snails about my garden...

And, I, in my tendency to succumb to the seduction of a silent reverie, found myself wondering about snails, their purpose, and why they are the way they are. Why a shell? Why have they their houses on their back?
Then I thought ‘Snails are independent in a weird way’.
They rely on themselves for their shelter, their security; unattached 
to anything but themselves. 
They travel leaving only a trail of glittering experience of the path they’ve taken, despite how long it has taken them.

A snail didn’t choose to be a snail, it didn’t choose to be slow and burdened with its shell, but despite its wavering purpose in nature, it still carries itself and travels to a new place, independent of all that surrounds it, and irrespective of what humanity thinks of it.
With its beautifully grotesque shell, intricately designed by the hand of nature, the snail climbs up walls, unaware of what is before it, never questioning.
It goes on, until a bird comes and ends its insignificant life, fulfilling its purpose as a meal for its avian predecessor on the food-chain... and the world goes on.

And I think, perhaps I’m too like this snail. I, too, am burdened by an unreckonable force upon my back, that is, my Mental Health. With such a heavy burden I’m tempted to wait in hope of a winged figure to pluck me from the perils of my physical encasement on this Earth.
But, despite the weight, and the fear of an ominous shadow, I have become accustomed to it.


“despite its wavering purpose
in nature, it still carries itself
and travels to a new place, independent of all that surrounds it, and irrespective of what humanity thinks of it”
I, too, can keep going despite what humanity thinks of me. It’s only with my beautifully grotesque mind, my perseverance and struggle that I can leave my glittering trail of experience. 
Perhaps my purpose is to show that despite the weight of my mental illness, I can still travel to new places, explore new grounds and live, unattached to the stigma and social ‘impressions’ of what it means to have a Mental Health problem. To show, that despite all the odds, I can still live.
I have come out of my shell and accepted who I am.
My Mental Health disorder has conditioned me to be strong, to persevere through everything that life offers. I chose to turn something negative into something positive, so going to therapy, taking medication and working on myself holistically has taught me to realise that I can have control over how I feel.
I consider what I thought was a curse, as a blessing. I feel blessed because what was once a burden is now a monument that signifies my success through the toughest struggle that I’ve ever endured, and I’m leaving my glittering trail of experience.

Living with a Mental Health disorder doesn’t define who I am as a person. Having a Mental Health disorder does not make me any less a dreamer, any less a daughter, sister or girlfriend. Being a snail doesn’t mean it’s any less an insect. Having a Mental Health disorder means I just have something extra to deal with in my daily life.
There was a time when I considered myself ‘cursed’, questioning why I was inflicted with such mental torment, convincing myself that I was being punished.
How I perceived my Mental Health disorder is indicative of how society can penalise and ostracizes anything that is ‘abnormal’ or ‘taboo’. In the daylight hours society doesn’t blatantly outlaw those who have Mental Health issues; in fact, it encourages inclusion and well- being of everyone. It’s only in the dark corners of quiet moments, when the day has yawned and the tie is pulled off, that the other face of society looks warily from the corner of its eye upon us and wonders are we actually monsters, psychopaths and murderers like the people in those horror movies.

Society paints a sloppy picture using only limited colours to portray those with Mental Health issues. 
We deserve to be painted by our own experienced hands, we who have experienced the inner turmoil that Mental Health can cause. If each of us could choose to contribute to what Mental Health is like using our own artistic technique, our own stroke of the brush, our own unique colour upon the canvas of society, then perhaps the art depicting Mental Health wouldn’t be abstract art, but simply naturalism, a reflection of our minds, our struggles, beautiful dashes of colour with trails of glittering experience. 
We owe it to ourselves to keep going and to make our own purpose despite what nature has given us. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Green Sofa


At the age of 8 I moved house. I moved three miles up the road to another estate.
I was leaving my world as I knew it.
I was leaving my best friend and my routine of ‘calling in’ for her so we could go out in our roller blades or go on our bikes.
This was all being diminished because I was moving house. It may not seem very dramatic to an adult, but for me, at 8 years old, it was traumatic.

My casual walking down to school with my best friend was now going to be replaced with having to
sit carefully, on the clankity old Ulster bus seats, in hope that the movement of the bus wouldn’t disrupt my position and cause my legs to shift onto the freezing cold chrome edges of the seats.
This is when I started to feel strange. 


My best friend Carla (Left) and I



"I too, felt like I was covered, wrapped and stitched in complete unfamiliarity."


I remember opening the door into the living room of our new house. The only familiarity that I saw was our green sofa that had made the journey some hours before.
I stood in the doorway, and I stared at the green sofa.
That sofa had been a different colour once, but my mama had got it covered in a new material earlier that year.
I looked at the sofa. What was once a brown, familiar and molded with routine sitting sofa, was now covered in a new fabric.
I too, felt like I was covered, wrapped and stitched in complete unfamiliarity.
At 8 years old, I remember the overwhelming feeling of fear. I was consumed, by what I know now, was acute Anxiety. I was for the first time, experiencing Mental Distress.
Little did I know that this was the start of what would be a very long journey spent in complete mental wilderness.

"I was losing my childhood
 to the ‘bad feeling’ that 
my young innocent 
self labelled it."

I didn’t know how to explain how I felt. I was a child, and my vocabulary was limited.
I began saying that I “didn’t feel well” and when I was asked where I was sore, or how I felt, I just replied, in hopelessness “I don’t know”.
After many a trip to the Doctors I was told “It’s all in your head, stop worrying”, but it was in my head, and it was festering. That was it, I had to deal with this feeling because the Doctor and nobody else  could understand me.  My mum was always trying to distract me from the silent torment of my mind by saying “let’s bake buns” or “let’s go up into town to get new shoes”.

Nothing worked.  

I was losing my childhood to the ‘bad feeling’ that my young innocent self labelled it.
I wasn’t young anymore, I wasn’t carefree anymore, and we all knew it.
I, who was completely in awe of Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ and sang every song during every second of every day, had stopped singing. The house was quiet now. My voice was silenced by the turmoil in my young mind. Before I was 10, I wanted to die, I couldn’t cope with it. 
At that age I had believed I wouldn’t live long, because I felt that it was not normal to feel so bad without dying soon.

Let’s fast forward to 2013. I’m still alive. I’m 24 now.
Since becoming mentally unwell from that young age of 8 I’ve been on three different types of anti-depressants not to mention the multitude of anti-anxiety medication and sedatives.

But I’m so happy!
Never did I think that feeling this good was possible for me.
Looking back, I know today that those feelings that I had when I was 8 was the beginning of the Depression and Anxiety, and ultimately a clinical diagnosis of O.C.D.
It has been over two years since I’ve been diagnosed with O.C.D. I was diagnosed due to a crisis, and I couldn’t cope and I had a major breakdown.
The coping strategies that I had developed since I was 8 had crashed and burned in face of this crisis where a family member had become unwell.
It came to a point where I refused to let the Doctor tell me that “exercise would lift your moods”.    

I swallowed my pride and demanded professional help.

My pride, my awareness of the stigma attached to mental health that came from society and even myself didn’t stop me. I didn’t care anymore. I needed help because the other option was Suicide and I refused to let Suicide be an option any more, even though I had Suicidal ideation.
And so, I was given an appointment for a psychiatric assessment. On the day of the assessment I was petrified about what would happen to me once I started to talk about how I was thinking and feeling.
I have no idea what I said that day in that room, but I remember I felt like there was a black cloud that had just burst open with rain and was now relieved.
A couple of days later I graduated with a degree in Drama. I was proud of myself and I was happy to have my photograph mounted on the wall between my brother and sister’s graduation photos.

The day following my graduation I had received a letter from the place where I had gone for my psychiatric assessment. I had sat down on our new black leather sofa and read the letter. The letter described my disorder; the letter deemed my disorder ‘common’ and contained a treatment plan of new medication specific for my disorder and C.B.T.

That letter meant more to me than my degree, because even though my degree proved that I studied drama for 3 years, my letter from the psychiatrist meant that I could now get better after 15 years of mental struggle.
I sat on our new black leather sofa and I cried with relief, liberation and catharsis from the unknown shadow that I could now name, and now control.

Celebrating my birthday in Melbourne, Australia

I wasn’t like the green sofa anymore. I was becoming more like our new black leather sofa, I had aged with struggle, but I was tougher now, I was durable and I was now more resilient, despite who or what impacted on me. 


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Let it Go

The animated movie ‘Frozen’ craze has lasted longer than any typical Irish winter. This is primarily because it breaks the conventional Disney plot of ‘Princess meets Prince, Prince saves Princess from evil Villain, and Princess and Prince live happily ever after’.






Frozen actually empowers females, both young and old, by showing that two sisters can save each other without the need for a Prince.
The breakthrough of the advocacy of female independence in the Disney plot has seen ‘Frozen’ become one of the highest grossing animated films ever.
After watching it a few times I realised there was another reason why I loved it, and then I was hit with a whole different emotional avalanche when I discovered what it was.
I could relate my personal experience of my mental health struggles with this Disney movie.


Let me tell you why...
In Arendelle, young Princess Elsa has strong powers that enable
her to turn anything to Ice. Anna, Elsa’s younger sister adores her, and they play together until Elsa accidentally hits Anna on the head with her power and almost kills her. Their parents bring them to magic trolls in order to save Anna’s life and make her forget that her sister has any such powers. Elsa returns to the castle and shuts herself up in her room for fear of hurting Anna with her increasing power. Later, their parents die and on her coronation as Queen, Elsa is forced to open the gates of her castle to celebrate with the people. Anna meets Prince Hans at the party and wants to marry him. Elsa does not accept the marriage and loses control of her powers freezing the town of Arendelle. Elsa flees to the mountain and Anna teams up with the peasant Kristoff and his reindeer Sven and the snowman Olaf to seek out Elsa and plead with her to stop winter in July.

They find Elsa in her icy castle who tells Anna to leave due to the fear of hurting her again but she accidentally hits Anna in the heart. Only true love can save her sister from death. At the end of the movie it shows that the true love comes not from a Prince, but from the love and protection of her sister. Anna is saved as an‘act of true love that can thaw a frozen heart’ and realises that Elsa can save Arendelle.





After watching ‘Frozen’ I sat and I reflected on how remarkably well I could empathise with Elsa, an animated character with magical powers. Not that I have magical powers like Elsa, but because I too have a burden that I find hard to control.
I never thought I would be able to say that Disney, whether intentionally or not, has shed light on what it’s like to live with a mental health issue.
Elsa’s power is like our own mental health issues. We hear her power being called a “curse’’ and “sorcery’’. But it scares her, like the way we are frightened ourselves by what goes on in our minds.
Like Elsa, we don’t want to burden others and so can inadvertently hurt those closest to us. Elsa’s sister was made to forget and this brought more fear onto Elsa. As our fear grows, the negative power of our minds grow, and like Elsa, we isolate ourselves.
Similar to Elsa’s power there is a certain beauty of the mind. It’s like a snowflake, intricate but hard to understand, and can be painfully cold on us, just like ice.  
Society, like the trolls to Elsa, tells us “You must learn to control it. Fear will be your enemy.’’
Her Father tells Elsa “Conceal, don’t feel it, don’t let it show’’ which actually reinforces the belief of ‘I am different’, and causes more fear for Elsa.
There is a stigma placed on Elsa, just as there is one attached to ‘having a mental health difficulty’, which causes us to retreat from being ourselves due to fear and the belief that we are ‘different’. 
We create a prison for ourselves. Like Elsa who sits in cold ice, we sit in pain, not talking, becoming worse; sacrificing ourselves for the emotional safety of others and to bring no shame or fear.



As Elsa is expected to fulfil her duties and roles as Queen, we too, are expected to live normally. Since her parents have died we are also reminded that sometimes we are on our own to deal with our mental ill health, and that sometimes we have to rely on ourselves because others won’t understand.
During her coronation Elsa doesn’t want to take off her gloves because it will reveal what she wants to hide. Similarly, sometimes we fear having to take off our smiling masks as it may reveal our mind and our pain.
As Elsa’s power is revealed she is called a ‘monster’ by someone who doesn’t understand. She’s afraid of herself and she runs from others shouting “stay away from me’’, which reminds us that sometimes we don’t have to be told anything, we just have to see the fear and shock on other people’s faces. This causes Elsa to run away up into the mountain where she can be herself.
Elsa becomes isolated once again, she’s Queen of the kingdom of isolation but she’s happy because she is “alone and free” because society now knows and she decides to ‘let it go’. However, can we really be alone? Does the isolation not remind us of the sometimes cold and barren plain of mental illness?
We, like Elsa, feel the freedom and relief when we can be ourselves and when people know who we really are without having to hide anymore. Yet, we can become defensive and continue to push people away, but what we don’t realise is that friends and family are the ones who will actually save us. Anna’s love for Elsa makes her go up into the mountain and face obstacles to get to Elsa, and Anna tells Elsa “We’ll make the sun shine bright, we can face this thing together and everything will be alright.’’ But we don’t realise that pushing our loved ones away can actually hurt them, like Elsa hurts Anna. Over time, when things are at their worst, we realise that family and friends and people who won’t let us go are the people with the magic that saves us, and their “act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.”



We can be strong like Queen Elsa, but we’re stronger with our loved ones around us. We shouldn’t let society and its ideals of personality and pretences of sanity scare us from being who we truly are. We shouldn’t hide and we shouldn’t think we’re different, because we’re unique.

We soon realise that the support of those around us is actually stronger than the power of our mental illness, and that kind of support is magical. Just ‘Let it go... and rise like the break of dawn’’





Friday, 11 November 2016

Styling with Boudoir


Today in 'Boudoir Derry' I decided to take a few of the pieces and style them in a multitude of ways to suit any age, occasion and personality.
You will see that I show how one item, like the neon orange shirt, can be worn with many different colours and styles, thus proving how versatile these pieces, all available at 'Boudoir Derry' can be.

I hope you enjoy the outfits that I've styled and do know that there are many more pieces in the boutique!

Have a look on the FB page- Facebook.com/boudoirderry










                 











                             































       
    

    




    
    

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