Sunday, 12 June 2016

Zayn, thank you.

I'm not a popstar. I don't know how it really feels to be a popstar. I wouldn't want to even begin to imagine.

I do know what it's like to live with anxiety. To never know when your brain might suddenly freak out and stop you carrying out the most basic of tasks. The things others take for granted, the thing I might just have completed the day before without any struggle.

It's unpredictable. It's debilitating. It's frightening. You aren't in control of your own emotions. You're a puppet, with that big black cloud taking over whenever it wants.

Reading Zayn's statement was heartbreaking. Sure, he's been the butt of a few 'normal guy' jokes since calling it a day with One Direction and jumping into a solo career (complete with high profile relationship, but this was no laughing matter. He was about to make a solo appearance in front of tens of thousands of people inside Wembley Stadium. That's gotta be overwhelming for the most seasoned performer.

He spoke of how anxiety has "haunted" him for the last few months, and as anyone familiar knows, that's exactly how it feels.

I know there are thousands of disappointed fans, people who probably paid out for tickets specifically to see their favourite up on that stage. They'll be gutted, angry and probably not give a toss about the reasons for such a late cancellation. But I really hope that once those initial feelings subside they can read that statement and understand the situation just a small bit.

Then there are those who so fleetingly dismiss it. It's his job. He's used to performing. He looked fine yesterday... Oh dear, where does one even begin with that?

"You don't look depressed!" - one of my favourite lines from a psychiatrist saw last year. Yes, an actual clinical psychiatrist. It doesn't give me much hope for everyone else's understanding and grasp of mental health. But if the media are going to judge Zayn Malik for it, they need to be aware of the millions of others they are judging just as carelessly.

I might not have needed to delight thousands of teenage girls, but there where plenty of mornings where I found myself rooted to the spot at my flat door, unable to walk down the steps onto the busy London street. Days where I would get to a tube station, freak out and have to call a taxi to get me to where I needed to be. Days where I would be at an event and suddenly find myself crying in the bathroom out of sheer stress at not knowing what to do because I was alone.  I might have happily walked into the office the next day. I wasn't deciding when and where to become a victim of anxiety. I was always just waiting, on alert for the next meltdown. It could be 8am or 8pm, at home alone or out with a friend. We don't get to decide. Sorry about that.

The waiting hasn't changed. Eventually it all drove me out of my job, out of London, away from people I loved being around. It would have been absolutely lovely to sort my shit out and save the career I love, but that wasn't me to be. Beaten? Maybe. Giving up? No chance.

I am full of nothing but admiration for Zayn in admitting his battle. He should not be ashamed of it. He is living his dream and will hopefully, with his fans support, find a way to keep achieving his goals.

I find that absolutely inspiring right now, and I hope anyone else who understands, who experiences such things or who knows someone who does, will do as well. It's another step in the right direction with this mental health conversation - don't let anyone destroy that.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Writing to one of those famous people.

It's ten years since I read a blog from JK Rowling that made me finally sit down and write her a letter.

At that point, her Harry Potter books had been a substantial part of my life for eight years. They'd seen me through some truly awful, dark and terrible moments. 

Yesterday I read a few quotes from Sia on body image and the passionate words reminded me of JKR's blog on the very topic. I remember being instantly annoyed by the same piece of writing because JKR titled it "For Girls Only, Probably". There was no probably about it. It was everything I needed to read at that time. There she was talking so furiously about something that mean a lot to me. So much so, I decided that it was time to say 'thank you'.

I've often wondered how 'weird' that might have been, especially when you know some people look at you like you've got two heads for having bothered. I know plenty of people are touched by music, books, actors performances etc but how often do you get the chance to potentially scare them off with an essay about your life? I'm so glad I didn't keep a copy of my first letter because I don't think I could read it back now - the scared, vulnerable 16 year old me, who had never written down the deep, dark, scary thoughts before. 

Taking the chance paid off though, and as I shared on Twitter, the reply couldn't have been more genuine or inspiring. The paragraph on body image remains one of my favourites - you can feel Jo's passion on the subject even then. No doubt her kids continue to grow up  being everything she hoped for with such fine example. 

 But on the subject of 'writing to celebrities', I was wondering how often people do take the chance to really just say how something made them feel or help them? Nowadays, Twitter feels to have made people feel closer. You can tweet JK a message and hopefully you might get that 140 character reply. I know that means a lot as well to the person getting a reply (someone has still taken time to acknowledge you exist!), but I don't think I'd ever substitute being able to go back my letters, some handwritten, that are there to actually hold a decade later. I still go back to them when I need to remind myself to buck up or to keep going. They've travelled with me as I moved to London, around London and back to Ireland. 

People can be very dismissive of the whole exchange with celebrities; why should their words mean so much to you!? But when that person gives you something that you know in your heart has helped you, what's the harm in sharing that, what's the harm in telling them? None whatsoever. I'd still tell anyone to go write a letter to someone like that. People often say things like, 'Never meet your heroes!' and for a long time I believed that. However, I then did have the opportunities to meet people who had unknowingly helped or inspired me - and it's lovely when you can (in a non terrifying way) explain why that may be the case. Through work, I was also lucky enough to see people meet their idols, chat them and hand over letters that were no doubt as personal as my own had been - I just hope they each got the feeling a reply can bring. 

Still, these days I can just shout Mom or Queen at JK and hope she'll know how grateful I am.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


Forgiveness is not something we are taught. 

No one sits you down and guides you through the process. It just exists. 

Raised as a Christian, attending catholic primary and grammar school, it was just a ~value we are all apparently meant to have. Whether it's a product of good parenting, teaching or something we figure out ourselves, the ability to forgive isn't one I'd really questioned until recently. 

There's no doubt that being able to forgive is an extremely hard act. I'm in awe of people who can find the strength to genuinely overcome feelings of resentment, even hatred towards someone or something that has wronged them. 

I've been thinking a lot about it recently. Did I ever really move on from the people who made me dread waking up every morning? Did I want to? Is my lack of forgiveness now actually hampering my ability to move on? 

I think I know the answer to that last question. But it's just passed 12 years since I took an overdose and I still don't think I'm ready to. Deep down, I'm not sure if I even want to.

Along the way I thought maybe I had somehow managed to 'forgive and forget'. I was doing things I loved, getting on with life - and dealing with the hurdles and pitfalls along the way. It's now, after ~celebrating my 27th birthday, and really thinking on something I read recently, that I wonder if I do need to "get over" the past - for my own sake.

Even having typed that though, I find myself resenting it. I do know that I am responsible for my own life; I enjoy the good moments, I suffer the bad moments. Maybe as I get older I'm slowly realising that this forgiveness business is as much for me as it is for them. The people of the past aren't losing sleep over me, they're not plagued by my sense of failure, of regret, of self-hatred for having been defeated by own mental health so often. They're probably not still afraid to once again live in the town they were born in for fear of seeing faces that remind you of downing pills at 1am on a Monday morning.

I don't think I'll ever be the kind of person who could receive a message from one of those people and offer my genuine forgiveness. I'm well aware that that might not be a good thing, but I can't imagine what one of them could say that could make up for the situations I've found and continue to find myself in. I have no qualms in saying outright that I absolutely hate them for how they derailed me. I hate that they made me weak. I hate that they still make me weak. They probably don't even remember my name, but be it weight jibes, comments on sexuality or a simple surname joke, I know exactly how every word of theirs added to the trauma. 

I take responsibility too of course. I know plenty of people have overcome their bad experiences, and can share inspiring stories of sticking two fingers up at the bullies with their later successes. I've still managed to achieve things which I am incredibly proud of. There are plenty of other factors at play which have led me to where I am right now - things out of my control, not influenced or otherwise by apologies. Looking back, Autistic tendencies made me an easy target when I and they didn't know exactly who 'Ryan' was. I'm just glad that I understand me a bit more now.

Thankfully I've never been on the receiving end of one of these ~apologies where the once-victim is expected to hear how their bully was a product of circumstances at the time, how he didn't know any better, how he might have been in the closet himself and lashed out. Sure, maybe I'll feel different if I was to find myself in that situation, but right now, I just cannot imagine allowing any of them to explain away their behaviour. Some victims don't survive their desperate attempt to escape. Will the apology and excuses cut it for their families? If it does, fair enough, they have my utmost respect.

Would an apology from a teacher, who for no apparent reason despised everything about me, help me fix whatever it might be that causes me to stumble when things are going well? I doubt it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not plagued by a need to hear 'sorry' from these people. I very rarely think about them on a day-to-day basis. Through the process of CBT and counselling last year, I wondered if I needed to forgive them or myself. Perhaps both? I'm not sure if I could (or want to) do either. Am I hurting myself because of that? Possibly. I don't know how to change it though. The sessions reached an end. Once a week for three months, you've had your shot kid, there's a long waiting list.

Victim blaming, victim shaming. The culture of forgiveness. Along with Stephen Fry's indefensible comments on self-pity recently, I thought more about how the two sit alongside each other. Is forgiveness really necessary to stop his bemoaned culture self-pity and allow people to move on? I'm not a victim of sexual abuse either as a child or an adult, so I hesitate to even begin trying to imagine how someone who is felt reading his comments. I was angered even by the suggestion that this is some kind of self-indulgence that I or any others take pleasure from.

Perhaps it's because of my own experiences that I feel we are so surrounded by this attitude these days. The victim must be strong. He or she must forgive and forget. "Be the bigger person," we are told. Sure thing, let me just put the last 12 years of medication, counselling, fear, anxiety, depression and struggling to survive aside and make sure that those poor bullies can sleep well tonight.  And then maybe we can all live happily ever after... just because I was the bigger person and did what society expects of it's victims.