How to survive university, your social life and your hospitality job in the company of your mental breakdown

 It’s March now, and after battling through the worst part of Winter I know that those of us out there that struggle with our mental health will be feeling worn down after months of dark mornings and nights, bone-cold weather and a severe lack of Vitamin D.

It is usually around this time of year that my mental health starts to repair the damage done, but it seems that this time round I am making a gradual descent into territory I’ve not been in for at least seven years.

It’s always a concern when the grip on your own mental wellness starts to slip, but what is even more of a worry is when it’s happening as an adult while you have a job and responsibilities. The balanced and busy life that I worked hard to create in order to cushion my mental health has heaved itself into a nightmare dream scope instead. I am used to warding off the advances of depression and anxiety, but the hallucinations and invasive thoughts of a teenage me have returned to stir trouble in my life.

I’m used to throwing things up in the air and seeing where they land, it’s actually how I prefer to get by in life, but finding myself with a constant monologue of Shakespeare’s Hamlet running through my mind and a new hallucination that I am forming attachments to, it has become a dangerous way to live. Everybody has their way of coping when their mental health takes a bad turn, but how do you survive when your coping mechanisms are making things worse? University, my work, my friends and my various creative projects have always been my saviour, they keep me busy and distracted and have kept me focused enough to maintain control over my mental health, now that I am unwell the thought of a day at work or a large social gathering puts me on edge, and I know I’ll be recovering for days afterwards. Recently it has become bad enough that after a busy day I’ll sit in my room and speak to my hallucination, George – it has not been easy to accept that this comforting coping technique is making me worse.

For me the most difficult thing in the world is talking about it and admitting things have gotten out of control. Even when I do tell somebody, my reaction is to instantly shut down and act as if everything is now fine because I brought it up once. Friends and family are one of the best resources we have, and for me it took my friends telling me that they had serious concern for me to decide to do something about it.

I have my first adult therapy session next week, and while for me this feels like the furthest thing from getting better, I recognise that it’s because I’m uneasy – the systems I put in place have let me down for the first time. The first step to surviving while in the throes of a mental breakdown is to admit to yourself that you don’t always know best, and sometimes you have to trust the words of those closest to you over what you think you know.  It is scary to walk onto uncharted territory, but it doesn’t make you any less strong just because your mind needs something different this time.

Trust yourself, trust your friends, trust your family, but most of all, be brave and do whatever it takes to help yourself heal.

Mentality Matters Podcast

By now, 2020 is well underway, and what better way to start the year than with yet another creative project? That’s right, my good friend Vikki and I have been busy over the first few weeks of the year, conceptualising and creating our new mental health podcast ‘Mentality Matters’.

Mentality Matters started as a hungover idea on the Friday morning after the most recent general election. Upon waking up fully clothed on Vikki’s sofa with my face covered in cakey make up, I was unsurprised to discover that I felt quite sorry for myself. After twenty minutes of wallowing I was joined by Vikki; she looked exactly as I felt, and I knew from her face that we were both feeling anxious about the result of the evening before. We didn’t know the outcome for certain yet, but the exit polls that were released twelve hours prior had encouraged the night’s excessive drinking.

Vikki went to make the tea as I sat in a tomb of blankets with the silently assigned job of checking social media. Conservatives. Landslide. I was unable to process the result, and so I put down my phone and accepted steamy chamomile into my shaking palms. We were both quiet for a minute, but finally I broke the silence with a “what are we going to do?” – perhaps, to you, the question may seem dramatic, but to somebody who suffers from extreme mental illness, another five years of Conservative government is terrifying.

It dawned on us both at the same time just how much we may struggle in the coming years, and then we recalled how much we have already been struggling. We spent 45 minutes speaking about ourselves and our friends who have all been battling with the current healthcare system. Friends that have been denied disability living allowance, finding themselves being publicly humiliated by official ‘panels’ instead. Family who aren’t physically able to speak up and are already on limited resources – what will happen to them when the Autism budget is cut to zero? We mourned the loss of the NHS and felt scared for the people who aren’t as lucky as us, the ones with no privilege that have been doomed to suffer.

Slowly, and not without consequence, the alcohol haze started to lift, and instead of obsessing over the obstacles that were to come, we began to talk instead about all the things we could do to help. We spoke for a while and ran over many ideas, until Vikki offhandedly mentioned creating a mental health podcast. Just like that, my curiosity was piqued – the dynamic of mine and Vikki’s friendship has always been one that involved in depth discussions of mental illness, past trauma and the coping mechanisms we use to get through the day to day; the idea of expressing these thoughts to the public and inviting a discussion about the stigma of mental illness was one I wanted to develop. Unfortunately, at the time I did not believe it would manifest.

As weeks passed more discussions about the podcast took place, and eventually, in more stable and sober conditions, Vikki and I came together to create Mentality Matters. As I write this up the first episode has been released, and already I have received comments positively reinforcing our decision to create the show. We are still in our very first moments of conception, and this world is new to us, but we hope that the more we talk the more people will come to us and tell us about their experience with mental illness, whether it be professional, personal or other, and that in time we can create a cohesive family environment where people feel safe to come to us about anything. But, for now all I ask is that you head over to the link below and give us a listen.

Mentality Matters – Pilot

Creative Team instagram handles

@vikkipask (content creator)
@corin_schenks (recording, production, music)
@f1nn_yates (artwork)

Wiltshire Wonderland, 2

When I started my Ma in Travel and Nature writing in October 2019, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve always been one of those ‘writers’ that never actually writes anything, and while I’d known I wanted to do a writing themed Ma for a long time, I had no intention of doing actually pushing myself to do it.
I found the Bath Spa Travel and Nature writing degree by searching for distance learning courses as I couldn’t afford to move out of Milton Keynes. I was reluctant to apply at first, expecting rejection, but I forced myself to do it anyway; I figured that if I was ever going to explore a writing career I would need something more directed than just ‘creative writing’, and this degree seemed perfect.
The pieces that I title ‘Wiltshire Wonderland’ are taken from my ‘Wiltshire diaries’ collection, a series of works that I wrote in Corsham during my first residential stay for university. These are special to me because when I started at Bath Spa it had been so long since I’d completed any writing and I doubted my own ability. But as it happens, being able to share your voice and have some guidance from other writers can inspire some seriously dormant creativity.
This piece, ‘Pleased to meet Yew’, is the first thing I was asked to write at the residential.I was scared to read it aloud and my voice shook so much that I was barely comprehensible, but somehow despite this I received praise and good feedback, and from that moment on I have found the focus I needed to get my words out there.

 

I have fallen into a peculiar habit of introducing myself to trees that I find particularly striking. This afternoon, I met with an English yew just inside the grounds of Corsham Court. It was situated in a small clearing with three or four others (which I ashamedly admit I ignored) but marching towards the object of my affections I refused to blame myself for being interested in only one. Hurried footsteps could be heard bolting away from me and back over the park, and I felt the flap of wings that followed suit: Evidently, I had scared off any resting wildlife, and was thankfully alone.

The air was cold, and it rattled me. It smelled of nothing, just the way I have always remembered fresh air to smell. But when my shoes crushed the dead, sodden leaves underneath me, I kicked up an acrid scent of pine-needles when they rot after Christmas. Wicked roots peeped out of the mush that was the ground, the detachment between them and the tree was eerie and I felt as if I were in a fairytale. Before I reached the tree, it presented me with luminous red berries that hung from waxy, thin leaves. I took one of the Arils in my fingers and plucked it. It was fleshy and felt just like holding an over-ripe, miniature Nectarine. I crushed it and felt instant regret as it bled a clear slime that clung to my fingers. The seed was translucent and caved under the pressure of my nail.

 Wet bark peeled from the trunk due to the recent rain. At the front of the tree, no larger than a piece of A4 paper, a section of it was rippled like corrugated cardboard. It felt the same too, not dissimilar to a piece of paper left in a damp room overnight. The texture made my skin twitch. I did not have time to admire it, as I was disturbed by a wasp crawling in and out of a deep, black welt in the bark. It moved with intent, working on something important, all while a violent humming exuded from its body. It was me that was the intruder here. Close to the wasp I spotted a slug’s trail, still glittering and wet to the touch. It occurred to me that this Yew is a shared house for many creatures.

  Above me hundreds of branches knotted together, ascending infinitely into the sky. Looking up at them made me dizzy. The wind had shifted from a light breeze to instead sounding like somebody was blowing air through a metal pipe right into my ear. As it grew in volume it brought movement back to the area. The place was thick, again with the swishing of leaves and a bird that had returned for a vocal argument with a lawnmower. Turning my back on the tree, my soles sank into the earth; it was so soft that I thought it would swallow me. For a brief second I was tempted to stay, but hearing the wildlife reconvening behind me I kept walking. It had grown colder, and it felt too bitter to be outside, but I left smiling, thinking to myself that for a first meeting it couldn’t have gone better.

A friendly Christmas

Two days until Christmas – the time where all the festive guilt accumulated over December comes to a peak. Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, always seems to be more joyous, and if that isn’t the case, the last minute preparations keep the mind too occupied to cause trouble. The day before today, the eve of the eve of Christmas eve, is too inconsequential for any heightened emotions.

For some reason the 23rd of December is the day that always does it for me, probably because it’s the day that I do my wrapping. As I tape my stash of pressies up in garish, glittering squares of paper, I find myself reminded of last minute online purchases with non-human next day deliveries; of secret supermarket buys that take place like drug deals five minutes away from the local high street. Eventually the guilt becomes too much and my wrapping abilities are affected – for one more year my family and friends will find themselves with the most obscenely wrapped gifts they could hope for.

This year, though, is different. It’s different because from every angle there has been pressure to be kinder to our planet – unfortunately it is a pressure that has come too late as we now find ourselves in the midst of a climate crisis. In 2019 we have been allowed to hear all of the small voices that have been calling for change for years, the voices that have known of the planetary struggles for as long as they’ve been happening. If only we had heard these people sooner, it might make a blog about waste-free wrapping somewhat useful.

Scarves and ribbon are more forgiving than wrapping paper

Cutting out plastic, living waste free and becoming vegan are small, easy things that can be done to make a difference. I have listened to many people tell me that on an individual basis these changes do nothing, and that it is the big companies and factories that need to alter their attitudes to Global Warming. Yes, this is true, but how can we expect the companies to even consider it if they aren’t seeing the demand for change from the people that they are manufacturing for? Capitalism is a tricky one to deal with, but ultimately the consumers need to show that there is a necessity for an overhaul.

So, with all this in mind I chose to conduct my Christmas differently this year. Instead of Turkey my plate will be featuring a vegan mushroom lattice, and while I am struggling with the last part of transitioning into full veganism I believe that ultimately it makes a considerable difference to our environment. I have swapped out plastic filled wrapping paper with scarves and ribbon from the charity shop and I’ve made name tags from some old clothes of mine that I chopped (this was my favourite swap purely because it eliminated the need for tape and I have always detested the very creation of it). And finally, I have reduced the amount of consumerism I took part in. I wasn’t able to buy all gifts locally but for the most part I avoided supermarkets and the heaving city centre. My friends and I even had a potluck Christmas party with a secret santa where the only rule was that the gift must be handmade; small things like this that encourage whole friendship groups to make changes can only be positive.

So with less than 48 hours until the big day and many people still rushing around with last minute jobs – I make a bold suggestion that there is still time to factor some alternative ideas into your celebrations. But even if there really isn’t, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year; may 2020 treat you with kindness.

An amusingly brief introduction

Having my own blog has always been a distant dream. I figured it to be something that grown ups do, organised people with neat and scrupulously tidy lives. But, after some gentle nudging from my friends I have decided to commit to one at last. I’m certainly not organised or very grown up and shall be winging this entire process.

In October I started studying an MA in Travel & Nature writing at Bath Spa university which made me think I should get some of my writing out into the world at some point. Prior to starting this course I was one of those writers that never actually wrote anything; this journey into my creative talents has been as petrifying as it is fulfilling. But, all things being said, there’s no point in being a writer if you can’t mess around with it, and that’s what we’re going to do here.

Time for a little context?

“Congrats, it’s a black sheep.” I have spent a lot of time being a black sheep in my life: in school, in my family, in workplaces and social situations too. Being obviously different from others around you is not an easy thing to come to terms with, especially in a society that encourages you to follow. And as you read this you may think “but Billie, society pushes us to be ourselves and be different.”, and while you’re not wrong, you’re definitely not right either.

A small portion of what we see on social media and out in the real world encourages people to be unique – but behind the scenes is a barrage of humans hiding behind outdated societal ideals that remind us that there is a limit to individual expression, and if you are to practice it then it must fall within the guidelines.

I was quiet for a long time and frightened of taking up space. During school I focused on being silent and agreeable to avoid the attention of rowdy bullyboys in my year. At university I went out of my way to fit in with people I didn’t understand. After graduation I lived in Scotland for two years and went about my life by letting my (now ex) girlfriend make all my choices and shape me as a person. It sounds worse than it is; when she met me I had no personality and she taught me the foundations of how to be myself.

There’s nothing that does the trick for self-acceptance and identity that finding yourself suddenly in the centre of the most loving, empowering and supportive friendship group ever known. Each one of us are real people and we are loud and strange and wild. They have shown me what it means to embrace the black sheep and to accept everything weird that comes with it. I work at a speciality coffee house in my hometown of Milton Keynes which seems to act as an alternate reality created to bring certain people together. It’s where I met almost all of my friends and where, I hope, I will meet many more.

Not all of my posts will be about being different, but the introduction is relevant because so much of my life has been affected by my shift in perspective, and my new way of looking at things has made life unpredictable and exciting. As of now there isn’t any structure to what I intend to do here – but know that I’m not shy and even when I am inevitably opinionated all I want is for everyone to have a little fun with it, just like I do.

Wiltshire Wonderland

 “Be careful on those steps.” Well, sorry to let you down, Damien, but your stone country steps are sodding wet, covered with moss, and exist in this moment purely for my demise. “Yeah, yeah I will, thank you.” He looks at me, clearly intending to wait this out and observe my city-style descent. I take a moment to regard him. He’s got knotted, thick black hair and round glasses that are older than I am – he’s as kind as they come, though.

 I am incredulous. Just piss off. Let me fall down these stairs in peace. I’m not angry at him, really. I’m angry at my lack of suitable footwear. I knew I was staying in a tiny village; I knew I was going to “immerse myself in nature”, and yet here I am in Chuck Taylor double platformed Converse that cost more than two nights at the BnB. I’m overly aware that I haven’t yet moved as a group of three older men approach us and gesture familiarly toward Damien. He nods at me and retreats to the pub, presumably to man the bar. I hear them laughing inside and at once there seems to be hundreds of voices, all engaged in a conversation where they won’t run out of things to say.

The yellowing stone pub walls look warm and inviting, and the baskets of Japanese Spindle at the windows make me want to go inside. I’m a sucker for a good plant. Instead I choose to stay where I am. I look through the window. The room is barely lit by vintage, moth-eaten lamps. The people inside have merry faces that are pink with hops and I could convince myself that in this moment they’re all in love. Truly, I want to go in, but it’s not mine in there. I turn, reluctantly, to face the next part of my evening.