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To my 18 year old self

Dear 18 year old Cherry,

I’m writing this letter to you after reading about a project led by @TheEmpWomanProj on Twitter about writing a letter to your 18 year old self.

I’m approaching the age of 36 and I’m imagining that I’m writing this on your 18th birthday. At this time you won’t know a lot of stuff that will happen. You won’t know that you will actually pass your A Levels including that AS Level you didn’t actually mean to take as you assumed it was an option within your existing module.

You will also be under the mistaken assumption that you are dealing quite well with the death of your mum and you won’t be anticipating that you will, at some stage, need some support which will be completely okay.

You are also thinking about going travelling before starting your career as a lawyer (more about that later!). You will do that mainly because your mum, unlike you, was a planner and left you an amount of money to do what you wanted to do. Like travelling across the US for 5 weeks in a camper van.

At this stage you’re uncertain and shy about everything. Don’t worry so much, you’ll get there. You are worrying about meeting someone. Unbeknown to you, that person will dance themselves into your life in 4 years time and never leave. You won’t have achieved the 2.4 children ‘norm’ but you will be with someone who loves you.

You won’t be perfect during the next few years and that will hurt. You will constantly be worrying about whether you’re ‘good enough’ but you will be able to have some days where you won’t care about being good enough and that will be enough.

You will lose both your nan and grandma and auntie to cancer and you will learn that grief is constant and expected.

You will learn that building a family of trusted friends is important. Friends who are so different but so worthwhile and genuine. You will learn that marriage is hard and difficult but ultimately worth it. You will find friends who get you and who will always be there.

Don’t avoid anything in the next few years. Don’t avoid the career change (twice) because work is something that you need to be happy in. You can only control your own feelings and behaviours. Everything else shapes the person you have become and, even if some days it is really hard to believe, you’re okay. Not brilliant, not perfect but definitely okay.

Contentment

Contentment is an emotion that comes and goes for me. Contentment indicates good mental health and that is something that sometimes eludes me.

This week there has been moments of contentment. I am a fully fledged staff member after passing my probation and I had some good moments this week at work.

Last night I spoke to my dad and stepmum, again provoking contentment. My relationship with my husband is good, we have acknowledge we need to get back to being silly and that has happened, culminating in a tic tac catching contest earlier tonight.

Volunteering today helped as well. I can’t go into it because of confidentiality but the moment when I said something which provoked a different way of thinking for a young person in a bad place made me truly content. I hope that young person knows they have helped me as much as I have helped them.

Good mental health isn’t easy to maintain when you have had periods of bad mental health. I look back to a month again and I can barely recognise that person. It’s hard to maintain the consistency but the difference is I know consistency and good mental health can be achieved and that is the main thing.

It’s not as simple as talking

It’s good to talk. I know that. Yet sometimes it’s genuinely not as simple as talking.

Two weeks ago my mental health took a significant nosedive for reasons that some may know and it’s not important for those that don’t. This week my mental health has been on the up. The sun is shining, husband is back this weekend and a number of things are falling into place.

A friend asked how things have been and I was honest saying the first couple of weeks my husband was away I was a mess. I deactivated social media accounts and withdrew. Her immediate response because she is an amazing friend was “why didn’t you call me, come over etc”.

Sometimes help can be remote. In my case I was well aware of the support that was around but I needed that space. I needed time to come to terms with everything in my head and could then access the right support for me.

I read an amazing blog post by a fellow Twitterer. Silence and just the ability to actively listen is so underrated, Just be there for people who cannot ask for help or don’t need help. That is so powerful.

Sometimes I talk to myself and just say I need to get over things. I mean I need to cope. So, if I go silent, it’s not because I don’t know people are around, it’s because I know people are around but I don’t need or want help at that time. I’ll let you know. Because I can.

Sometimes, life is really that rubbish…

I recently went to a theatre show (probably the subject of another blog post) but it made me really think.

Mental health is in the spotlight at the moment and it absolutely should be. Yet sometimes certain topics can be associated with poor mental health when actually I feel (and this is a personal account) it’s part of life.

My mum died when I was 9. It was unexpected and, quite frankly, it was the worst most painful moment of my entire life. It still affects me now, when I tell people I see ‘the look’. The ‘look’ is of pity, not of empathy. It comes from people who don’t understand and to be honest you can’t possibly understand if you haven’t lost a parent. It’s okay that you don’t understand. It’s okay because I know that losing a parent is the circle of life. As a child the likelihood of your parents dying first is likely. They’re older. This sounds harsh typing this but it’s logical.

It doesn’t mean it hurts any less. If I lost my dad at age 35, would it hurt less than losing my mum at age 9? I don’t know because thankfully my dad is still alive. Yet the feelings of losing someone who I love, will that be different whatever age?

I have days with poor mental health. Sometimes I have days where I feel sad. Feeling sad at a parent’s death is not poor mental health where I need some extra support. It’s okay to be angry and upset and all the other feelings. Losing my mum is rubbish. I am angry a lot because my mum should be alive. Yet that is nothing to do with the support that I need for my mental health. I am rambling but I want to let the words flow.

Sometimes, I say it best when I say nothing at all

The title is a bit misleading but it is meant to highlight that sometimes it’s about the amplification of those that can say what I would like to say.

Last Friday I saw Jonny Benjamin. I won’t tell his story because you should read the book or at least follow him on Twitter.

I don’t quite know what it is about Jonny that made me want to venture out on my own on a Friday night to a part of town that I rarely visit but I did. I watched his story play out in the media and at the heart of it all, I just saw a vulnerable brave (the two are not mutually exclusive) man sharing his story and wanting to help people.

I can’t even tell you the content of the talk. I did freeze when it came to the book signing and said “Thanks for letting me come see you” (like he had a choice…). What I wanted to say in my coherent mind, is thank you. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. Thank you for your ambition and desire to raise awareness about mental health.

I came home after the talk and finally submitted my application to do my counselling course. It’s difficult as I like to talk but I love to listen. I can’t wait to read Jonny’s book and I love that Twitter helped me to find so many other amazing people who talk about mental health, good and bad. Thank you because it’s not easy.

Mental Health and Me

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, thought it would be rather apt to write a blog post about mental health.

The past few weeks have been a period of time for me where my mental health has been good and bad. A couple of weeks ago I was meant to finally go to Tunisia to meet my in laws and the holiday was cancelled at the last minute due to family illness. I won’t go into the detail but I will say it led to lots of paranoia (as it has happened before) and uncertainty about my marriage, my life and my future.

One little thing that, with good mental health, I could cope with. That week was a busy week at work and I also had other conversations floating around in my head. The cancellation was just an added bonus.

The past few days has seen my mood fluctuate massively. Only a couple of people are aware of what happen. I don’t want to build this into something it’s not but I feel it’s important to be honest during this mental health awareness week.

I’ve never been suicidal although I’ve experienced suicidal feelings. A couple of years ago I actually wrote a note to my husband saying sorry but I couldn’t go on. No other plans. Just words. I never showed my husband the note or told him about it until this weekend.

Some days I feel like I want to hide away. I feel like people don’t understand and I’m selective with who I message.

Other days I feel like I want to surround myself with people. I hear my voice high pitched and excited. It’s like nothing can affect my mood. Those happy days are just as scary because I don’t feel in control.

Other days I’m content. I’m happy. I have significantly more of those days than others which I’m thankful for.

On this Mental Health awareness day, I’m more aware than ever that people should feel empowered to talk as much about good mental health as ill mental health.

This week I have good mental health. That’s why I can write this. It’s why I can listen. It’s why I applied for my counselling course. It’s why I’m happy.

Two more sleeps

The last couple of weeks has been tough. This isn’t a blog post to encourage pity. It’s more about getting out the mass of whirling word in my head.

Two weeks ago my husband had to go back to his home country as his parents were in a car accident. Thankfully they are okay. During the 2 hours between my husband telling me about his parents to deciding to go to Libya, my heart was telling me to say to my husband he shouldn’t go. My slightly more unemotional brain which was the main driving force behind my words encouraged him to go. As he should.

It’s his parents. I can’t imagine what it is like for him to be away from his parents. I don’t live 2 minutes down the road from my family but the reality is that if anything happened I could hop in a car and be home within 2 hours.

The slightly selfish emotional part of me wanted him to stay. The truth is that however independent I am, my mental health and emotional state is better when he is with me.

It has made me appreciate more those around me. I’ve messaged some more than I would have done. I’m just very relieved he will be back on Sunday. It’s made me feel slightly scared of the impact my husband has on keeping my mental health on an even keel and it’s something I need to think about.

Death and dying

Slightly morbid title I admit but it came about as a result of the recent news that Parliament has passed a bill today where organ donation will be assessed unless someone opts out.

I’ve carried an organ donation card for a while. As a Christian I believe that my body is a vessel and my soul will live on in the afterlife therefore I don’t see a need for my organs to remain intact. I know some Christians believe otherwise but that’s my personal view.

It made me think, I don’t know what my husband wants. So I asked him. He’d like to be buried in Libya. I think it’s important to ask those questions because if anything is certain in this life, people live and people die. Everything that happens in between is chance.

I’m not fussed about cremation or burial. I’d prefer cremation now because I’d like to be scattered in various parts of the world. I’d like some of my ashes to be scattered in Libya, in Yorkshire and Egypt. I don’t know where I would be buried so cremation looks like the option at the moment.

My husband hates talking about death. I don’t know if it’s because I lost my mum relatively young but death doesn’t scare me and neither does talking about it. It’s part of the circle of life after all but I know it can be difficult to talk about it.

Happiness

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write since last Saturday. I volunteer every Saturday and whilst I can’t share the exact content of the conversation I had during my counselling shift, I really wanted to share some of my thoughts after that shift.

As a society, I feel that there is a lot of emphasis on people to be ‘happy’. How many times have you heard the phrase ‘cheer up’ from strangers, never mind people you know. What is happiness though and should we always strive to be happy?

As a result of a conversation with someone on shift it made me really think. If we don’t have sad times, how do we ‘feel’ happiness? Is it possible to be happy all the time? More importantly if we felt happy all the time, how would we know? We would have nothing to compare it to so it would feel mundane and everyday.

Reaching out to Twitter folk, here is a snapshot of happiness.

‘A place to rest, a hug, loosened and relaxed shoulders, a smile dawning over a face to a full beam of a grim, knowing you’re in someone’s heart and held there, the love I fee for my family and friends’ (@EloquentParrot)

‘Wellness of soul, felt as an experience of emotional warmth, about a creature, person or situation’ (@RevPLane)

‘A feeling of contentment and safety’ (@rachcolours)

‘Inner peace’ (@jooliscious)

‘Being at peace with yourself and knowing it’ (HFCouture)

Everybody has their own individual perspectives but happiness is a feeling and you know it when you feel it. Like you know sadness and pain. It’s made me think about asking about what makes people happy. It’s made me think about asking people more about what makes them sad and what can change that feeling into a happy feeling.

For completeness, happiness for me is feeling like I make a difference everyday in a small way and feeling loved.

The actions of a few

I received an email from Oxfam yesterday. It talked about the Haiti story and basically apologised for what had happened. I read it thinking how many versions, how many people must that email have gone through before it was sent out?

I’ve supported Oxfam intermittently throughout the years. It does some good work and today I saw Simon Pegg speaking on Twitter about not abandoning Oxfam as an ambassador.

Working in the not for profit and also the charity sector has made me realise a few things over the years. Charities are businesses. They have charitable aims but they have people who they need to pay to function. Charities cannot run on volunteers alone. I support charities who are transparent about how many pence in every £ goes to admin/salaries etc.

Charities also have people who don’t share their views and aims. Sometimes charities are fortunate enough to find out earlier enough who those people are and sometimes they don’t.

Charities need to know when to admit they are responsible and something went wrong. What happened in Haiti was wrong. I don’t see Oxfam trying to hide away, divert blame and that is right.

Will the story stop me supporting Oxfam? No. Should you continue to support Oxfam? That’s your choice.