Home, Lifestyle, Mental Health

World Mental Health Day: Living the (anxiety) dream.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This week I have had approximately seven anxiety dreams. And it’s only Wednesday. The irony has not escaped me.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This week I’m running a half marathon for probably the country’s most well-known mental health charity, MIND, and I’m currently the most anxious I’ve been in months. The irony has not only not escaped me but is enveloping me, like an invisibility cloak, but the cloak has a face, with a raised eyebrow, and its own personality, laughing contentedly at my misfortune. Basically it’s not an invisibility cloak, it’s the Sorting Hat. Thanks for bearing with me on that one.

In the first dream tarantulas appeared on my body; some kind of torturous manifestation of stress. They felt like dish scourers and were the size of side plates and before you ask, no, I have no idea why the tarantulas are all kitchen-themed. I could feel them under my feet, my back, beneath my hair line and the more I grabbed them by my hands and chucked them out the window the more they attached themselves to me, like Velcro, or a bad reputation.

Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream happened in September, aka spider season? No. Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream happened the night I washed my hair and left it in a scrunchy so that loose strands kept sticking to my back, my arms, my neck in an uncannily spider-like way? No. Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream – and the others, if only I had time to tell you about the scotch egg one – is happening at a time I’m busy, run-down and at risk of imploding? To quote the chef in The Little Mermaid, Non, non, non, mes poissons.

The problem with anxiety is just because I’ve got better at controlling it doesn’t mean it’s gone away. Actually, the older I get (at the wizened age of 28) the more I’m becoming convinced it’s just changed form.

I used to experience random, generalised, unpredictable bouts of fear and dread – sat in a hairdresser’s chair convinced they’d find some kind of cancer when giving me the special leave-in shampoo treatment (as if I’ve ever been able to afford the special leave-in shampoo treatment, they were just brushing it). Panic attacks working front of house for no reason (not even the time there was a terror threat and I was the one on cloakroom looking for potential bombs in suitcases and Harrods bags – that would be far too understandable). Filling up the car at the petrol station, sitting in the cinema, answering anonymous phone calls, walking to work, in the shower, in the supermarket – all-consuming, impossibly hard to recognise and even harder to solve.

I am in a position now where a lot of the time I can recognise the symptoms and solve them before it’s an issue. Go me. I spent the money I saved on special leave-in shampoo on some special leave-in psychoanalysis and counselling and worked out why my brain is the way it is. I can drive by myself now, I don’t freak out at the hairdressers anymore, I can even feel up my boobs in the shower without giving myself a death sentence. I understand the way my brain works and know when it’s misbehaving. I know when it’s a bad time for me to think about googling symptoms, I know when I need to get some fresh air and go on a run, I know when I need to sleep or eat or cry. I’m more honest with myself about when I’m struggling and spend more time saying no, looking after myself, and talking out loud.

I’m a way happier, calmer person for like 80% of the time. Now triggers for me are more circumstantial and less frequent but when they do happen they’re equally debilitating. I get anxious if I’m bored or unsatisfied or in limbo and I get anxious if I’m too busy and over-worked and burning out. What a conundrum. Working in the creative industries is a path I’ve chosen, not one I’ve been thrown into, and it’s an industry of extremes, so it’s my responsibility to get the balance right and most of the time I do. I might be working on a million projects alongside a full-time job but I still find time to eat carbs and watch Killing Eve and exercise and step on crunchy leaves so I stay sane. I’m happiest when I’m in control – whether that’s bulk-cooking vegetarian chilli or planning my week meticulously in my diary, mapping out evenings to exercise or to just lie down and contemplate the universe.

That other 20% though. That’s the mind number. It just seeps out, sometimes, seemingly, as a tarantula dream, and sometimes as disrupted sleep, butterflies, chewing the inside of my mouth, IBS, getting a cold, losing my voice, feeling exhausted, not being able to make decisions, procrastinating, crying or wanting to cry for no reason, nerves, nausea and general blues. All the shades of blue – the colour of the sea in Cornwall that one day of the year it isn’t grey, Daniel Craig’s eyes, the sky, the Microsoft word logo. You get where I’m at. And that’s what today is like. Ye olde Mental Health Awareness Day.

It’s no wonder, really, because after a summer of waiting for things to materialise now, on top of my actual job, I’ve got to finish one play in the next month, another by the end of the year, am performing every week, rehearsing every other, doing a live podcast in ten days and I can feel myself getting ill and it’s supposed to rain on Sunday and I have to run 13.1 miles. WHAT. At this point it’s highly likely I’m going to forget I’m getting married next year too. Someone remind me nearer the time.

However. I’m very much living the dream, not the nightmare. I’m going to be fine. I am alive. I am lucky. I have people around me who I can talk to. I have a job. I have really comfy pillows. I have time. Time to run. Time to chase a dream. Time to eat. Time to laugh. Time to make mistakes. Time to crash and burn. Time to heal. Time to work out what I’m doing and who I want to be.

Here are the little things I’ve done today and last week and the week before when I felt myself tearing up and feeling breathless, just in case it helps: I told someone. A problem shared and so on. I treated myself (to an over-priced, bad-for-the-planet, orange and cayenne pepper shot from Pret – don’t shoot me). I trod on some leaves in the park in the sun. I made a gratefulness list. I did some stretches in my bedroom (where I realised my carpet will never be free of my hair). I helped someone out. I gave myself a break.

Every day is mental health day – this one just gets special attention because we all love a hash tag. I didn’t write this blog to plug my FUNDRAISING PAGE – I wrote it because I felt like I had to. But if you’ve made it to the end then can forgive me for shoving it in your face. I’ve spent the last however many weeks and months training to run my first ever half marathon and it’s all for MIND. I’m about sixty quid away from doubling my target and raising £1000. Even a fiver means the world. Thank you – take care, talk to someone, check up on your friends and family, and get out on those leaves before they go soggy.

 

 

Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, Mental Health

This Valentine’s Day, I choose me.   

As I write this, it’s Sunday and I’m in a strange place. It feels familiar – but like I might not have been there for a long time. It’s warm. I’m under a blanket. I have a mug of Gingerbread Green Tea next to me which makes me a wanker but a happy one because it’s delicious. I’m watching Julie and Julia and wishing with all my heart that Nora Ephron was still alive to write parts for women like this. I’m looking at Airbnbs and one of them has a pet pig and I might have to move in there. It’s cosy. It’s dark outside. I’m alone.

I’m on the sofa.

Guys, seriously. I’m on the actual sofa. Chilling the fuck out. What happened to me?

Is this… is this self-care?

Let’s rewind.

2018 has not got off to the start I was hoping for. Nothing terrible has happened. There are a lot of things to be happy about. I have a job. I have two sharks. I can afford to buy Eat Natural bars. But I’ve not been that happy.

If we can take a moment to remember Anastasia and her famous words, I’m sick and tired, of always being sick and tired. Where are you now girl?

If we want to be specific, lyrically and contextually Anastasia is talking about how sick and tired she is of her boyfriend being a dickhead. Not a great Valentine theme. Eduardo – “my man” – if I dare to claim him, is pretty much my only constant source of inner peace at the moment and that’s not even an innuendo.

Nevertheless, I’ve spent most of this year feeling sick and tired. And I’ve decided enough’s enough. That shit’s gotta change. Which is why it’s pretty monumental that I’m chilling my beans on a corner sofa right now.

There are a lot of great things about working in the arts. You can wear what you like. (Most) people have great personalities. Every now and then you meet Sharon Horgan (yeah I had to bring that up again.) But there’s also a lot of stress. It might be stress about your bank balance. The late nights. The competition. (The sexual harassment and abuses of power.) Or the fact that everyone in the industry seems to have the most perfectly white teeth and by comparison you think your teeth look like you’ve been smoking 40 a day even though the only thing you’ve ever smoked is a sherbet dip dap by accident.

To give you an idea of where I’m at, in the last six days, on top of a job that takes me out the house from 8.30am – 7.30pm, I did a live podcast recording, finished a draft of my new play, rehearsed my current play, started to read a book to report on for a film company because I need the extra £££, sent off a bunch of press and industry emails every day to try and get them to see my show AND had to maintain appearances of sanity and fun and energy and coolness on all social media channels so, you know, people still like me and come to my play. It’s lucky Ed was working away because seeing my boyfriend on top of that, as well as my friends, speaking to my family, cooking meals with vegetables in, not spending too much money and doing the occasional bit of exercise, was IMPOSSIBLE.

Split photo
I mean, don’t get me wrong, seeing our faces and names on a wall makes it ALL worth it.

It’s no surprise, really, despite eating a lot of tomatoes and Berocca and walking to work every day and trying to avoid the underground if possible, that this January I got the flu. And I got sad. And I felt guilty. And it took some wise words from my friend, that I don’t live in a war zone and I have all my limbs, to give me some perspective.

Because I’ve been doing it all wrong. I need to stop saying “I’m really busy, or ill, or tired” out loud or I’ll just let it happen and do nothing about it. My life does not have to be this way but I have made a decision to want it all – all by myself like a grown up (although to be honest – I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a grown-up until I can use the word smorgasbord in a sentence). If I just stuck to having a day job and a social life I would have – in many respects – an absolutely banging life. It could be enough. I could buy WAY MORE than just Eat Natural bars. Everything would continue just fine without me.

So I’ve decided it’s time for me to start having fun again. Because if I’m eternally miserable chasing a dream I should just go and get a well-paid job in the city and start spending lots of dollar in Cos, or something, whatever those people do.

Two weeks ago I went down to four days at work. It’s a horizontal step. My bank balance is frowning, but my soul is happier. I have time… time to dedicate to my own projects without it eking into my weekend so much. Time and breathing space. A little bit of risk and a little bit of pressure to keep me inspired.

I’ve changed my commute – I leave five minutes earlier so I can avoid going underground in the mornings, stay sane, look at the sky and get some work done on one train with a seat without having to get off at Victoria station which I have to say I find more traumatic than the end of The Notebook.

IMG_3118
Anyone else think King’s Cross is a total megababe?

And I have a new resolution. FAKE IT UNTIL I MAKE IT: to be positive, to work hard and to chill the feck out in equal measure.

I will no longer be that person who says “I’m busy, or tired, or stressed, or down” when someone asks how I am. From now on I will say “I’m good, I’m working hard, I’m hungry” (because, sadly, that I always am.) So this Valentine’s Day I’m making an online promise to love myself (not that way) that little bit more. To stop comparing myself to others, or beating myself up for not making it yet, or overdoing it. I’m going to drink more tea, sit on the sofa more, get outside for some fresh air, and floss. Because no matter what, we should always floss.

If you’d like to come and see my show SPLIT, co-written and performed with the brilliant comedian Tamar Broadbent, you can do so HERE. Use the code BESTFRIEND for £5 tickets – it runs from 28 Feb – 04 March 6.15pm as part of Vault Festival.