The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

So I’m having a bit of a slog of a week, but cannot face the thought of marking another essay tonight. So instead, I thought I’d try and write as it’s often a way to be cathartic about things. I can’t really talk about everything that I’d like to, as to be honest, I don’t really understand where I’m at with a lot of it. But one of the things that I think I can put into words is something that always crops up at this time of year. How to deal with grief at Christmas.


It’s been nearly 6 years since my mum passed away – as a lot of you know. I’ve said it before, and I will almost certainly say it again: I miss her. Every single day I think about her and every single day I feel the acute pang of missing this person who was so central to my life. Mum and I were best friends. We went on girls’ holidays (to the coast a couple of times, to Cyprus and Egypt, to Paris). She came to visit me multiple times when I was at university – staying with me in halls and sleeping in my grubby little flat in second year. We had film nights every Friday, and there was very little I didn’t share with her.

There are three days every year that I avoid people because I’m not a hugely pleasant person to be around – the anniversary of the day we lost her (3rd February), Mother’s day (last Sunday in March) and her birthday (25th September). But the holiday season is one of those times where I seem to feel it constantly, but don’t usually talk about. It could also be because my own birthday is in December, so it’s often a bit of a double-whammy.


Mum made Christmas. She was the glue of the family. She chose the Christmas decoration theme (so to speak) for the year, she bought every single one of the Christmas presents apart from the ones my brother and I bought for the family, and the ones my dad bought for her. She did the full Christmas food-shop (and my goodness me did we SO not go hungry!). She made the Christmas cake we all got drunk from. She did all of the wrapping (and got annoyed with the dog one year when he kept thinking the rustling was for him so she stuck a wee piece of sellotape just above his nose and then watched as he spent the next five minutes swimming across the hall carpet to try and get it off). She always gave people both wonderful and slightly dodgy presents, like the year my brother and I got a weird wrapping-paper bag full of individually wrapped toiletries like toothbrushes and razor blades because they’d “come in useful”. She often went a bit OTT, and yet still hated asking for things from us, so we’d keep findings gifts under the tree labelled “to Sue, from Sue”. She made Christmas, and it has never been the same since.


Trying to navigate the holiday season when it’s advertised as a festive time when families get together, and the core of your family isn’t there anymore, can feel excruciating. I can’t put into words how it feels to see others surrounded by theirs when there’s this huge gaping hole for you. Of course I’m amazingly happy that my friends are with their loved ones, and I’d never, ever want anyone to experience a year when they’re not, but I won’t lie. It’s also incredibly hard to watch.

The first year after we lost her – 2012 – my brother and sister-in-law spent Christmas with me and dad. We tried, but it wasn’t the same – though it was the best we could have done with the day. The second year, I had just been admitted to the unit and the last thing I wanted was a day when people ate and drank all day and gave zero shits. I, coincidentally, gave many shits – topped off by the fake Christmas dinner we had on the unit a couple of days before Christmas day where I absolutely lost it because I went for “seconds” (a piece of broccoli and two sprouts), had a meltdown and had to be calmed down by about four staff members. That year, my aunt and uncle came over, and my brother and sister-in-law spent Christmas with her family abroad. The following year, my dad and I spent Christmas again with my brother and sister-in-law, and the year after that, they were in Germany, my dad was in Lanzarote and I was in Washington (not State or DC). Last year, dad and I went up to Scotland to spend the day again with my brother and sister-in-law. It’s all felt a bit disjointed because before 2012, every Christmas was us, at home, with mum. Every one since – despite everyone trying their upmost to make it a special day – has been a day navigating around the missing presence of this central person.


It’s incredibly difficult, but the only thing you can do is to try and make the most out of the day with what you have, and that’s exactly what we’ve tried to do. We’ve tried to plug the hole and celebrate it as she would have wanted. We’ve always raised a wee toast to her and gone on smiling, but for me the day has always felt incredibly sad because the pang of wanting to see her again is palpable.

In a way, I’ve always thought I’d deserved this. I wasn’t there for my mum when she needed me, and I deserve to feel like shit for that. No daughter should ever have decided it would be a good idea to go to Edinburgh for the night while their mother was in a hospice, but I stupidly did and I wasn’t there for her. She didn’t get to hear me tell her it was okay and that she didn’t need to be scared and that we’d always love her, so maybe it’s the universe having a good sense of karma that I always feel blue this time of year. Maybe it’s my just reward. I also know fine well that if she saw this last paragraph, she’d have a bloody field day and I would be well and truly Told. But I have never been able to shake this unbearable guilt and I honestly don’t believe I ever should be. It is all on me that I wasn’t there and I should feel guilty for it – nothing anyone says will ever change my mind on this.


Navigating this time of year when there’s a cornerstone of your family missing (whether they’re blood-related or not) is exceptionally hard. By the end of next week, I’m hoping to be able to let go of a lot of this guilt, live in the moment and have the holiday season she’d want me to have. So for the people reading who this blog post rings true for – you’re not alone in dealing with this. Your loved one is always with you. Raise a glass in their honour and live for the day. Let yourself miss them, but try not to let it consume you. You owe it to them, and you owe it to yourself. Make the best of the season that you can and know that wherever they are, they’d want you to be happy.



Gotta Catch ‘Em All

Yes, you read that correctly. Today I want to talk about Pokémon Go. Specifically, I want to talk about my summer, my sort-of hobby, and why I think that it is one of the best things to ever come to smartphones since Shazam. Because despite its many, many flaws, Pokémon Go is still my most used, most abused app. And along with forcing me to spend far too much money on portable battery chargers, it has also brought with it a community, a reason to get out and about and a whole set of memories and life experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world.


For those of you who don’t know (who were maybe living under a rock last year?), Pokémon Go is an app currently available for smart phone which enables you to literally go out into the world and hunt pokémon.


As someone who grew up with the anime and the Gameboy game (on my old Gameboy colour… those were the days!), when this first came out I was EXCITE. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me in the beginning to realise a flaw with my excitement in that at the time I was living in Washington (and I cannot stress how much I do not mean Washington DC). Washington town (kind of sandwiched between Newcastle and Sunderland) is more of an oversized housing estate than a town. There’s the odd park, a few nice walks, and a town centre that comprises a 70s-style shopping centre with an Asda on one side, and a Sainsbury’s on the other. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful of the time I lived there and Washington houses some amazing people, but on the pokémon front it was a bit of a disaster.


One key thing about Pokémon Go means that Washington is one of the worst places to play this game. In order to collect supplies (and experience points – or XP) you need to visit pokéstops. These are local landmarks, places of historical significance, or otherwise local landmarks. What you tend to see is that big cities or historical towns have a load of pokéstops (and with pokéstops, usually come pokémon), but for smaller places, a bench in a park might end up being a pokéstop because there is literally nothing else that could otherwise be one. Washington suffered from a severe lack of pokéstops. There were about 5 within walking distance of me (and when I say walking distance, I mean within about a 4-mile radius of where I used to live). So it didn’t take too long for me to lose interest (hunting was great in Newcastle or Sunderland and other such places, but you had to make the special trip), and delete the app.

However! As most of you also know, I moved to Durham in January this year. Durham is a very historical city, and is therefore teaming full of pokéstops (especially compared to Washington). There’s even a café in town in range of three of them at once (a Saturday pick-me-up with three lures on the go – bliss!). If I’m being honest, I’d kind of forgotten about the app until my housemate mentioned playing it herself. Eventually, I re-downloaded it in about March time and got back to playing, but it was more of a solo affair at the time. I’d go for a walk, but I’d have my app running to hatch some eggs (eggs with pokémon in them can be collected and incubated, but you need to walk either 2km, 5km or 10km to hatch them), get some points, catch some ‘mon and otherwise get out and about.


The solo-affair actually worked wonders for me at the time because I was in a pretty low place at the time – I’d had to give up my puppy but was still getting updates from his new family, I didn’t really know anyone in Durham, work was getting busy and I just had no energy or drive to do anything other than go to work. So this app forcing me to leave the house and go for a walk and explore parts of Durham I didn’t know were there was absolutely brilliant. It helped me so, so much – purely on the basis of stopping me stagnate in the house. Health agencies have been searching for *years* to get people to do this, and this app seems to have cracked it.


This all changed in the summer when the game ~finally~ released the legendary pokémon that people had been waiting for, for some time. For those of you who don’t know, there are three birds in the first generation of the game/anime that are super special (and other birds/dogs/things in later generations). You can’t catch them in the wild, so they’re not like super rare pokémon you might be lucky enough to hatch or see on Northumberland St in Newcastle. These are the legendary ones! An ice-type bird called Articuno, an electric-type bird called Zapdos and a fire-type bird named Moltres (I love the ending of these as well – uno, dos, tres). Along with that, was one of the legendary birds from the second generation of pokémon – Lugia. To find a way to make these birds special, Niantic (the company behind Pokémon Go) came up with something called raiding.


In the mobile game, as well as pokéstops being around your local area which you can visit to stock up, there are also pokémon gyms. In the Gameboy game, gyms were kind of special places where you’d go to battle and earn badges. In the app, they are places where members of the same team (when you get to a certain level in the game, you get recruited to join one of three teams – Mystic (blue), Instinct (yellow), and the super best one, Valor (red)) take down other teams and assert their awesomeness in the area.


What Niantic did was add something to the gyms called raids. These were instances where often (but not always) a special or rarer than normal pokémon was attached to a gym for a short period of time (1-2 hours depending on the system Niantic had going on at the time) and you could either try to take down the gym boss by yourself, or team up with other pokémon go players to take it down, but at the end of the raid you were given a limited chance to try and catch the pokémon you’d just defeated.


For a 1* or 2* raid, a solo player is likely okay, but anything more than that and you need people to help you. The legendary birds went in as raid bosses and were 5* bosses. I was at a Lugia raid in Newcastle just as they came out, and a team of 11 of us (okay, we were mostly level 20-something) failed. So what the legendary raids did was force you to not only get out and about if you wanted the chance to get one of these super rare and pretty awesome pokémon, but you HAD to team up with a group of other people as well. And this is where we get to my summer.

In Newcastle, if you rocked up to a legendary raid as they started, there were usually people already there and you could hop in on the raid. Fine! But in Durham that wasn’t the case. It is a much smaller town with a much, much smaller population. For the first couple of days, I kept having to go into Newcastle with some friends to try and catch the first two birds (who were released at once – Lugia and Articuno), but I was unsuccessful in actually catching the things and thus needed to keep on trying. So one night, after another failed Lugia raid (that bloody bird…. -_- ) I went onto facebook and had a hunt around for any groups that might be based in the Durham area that would allow me to go on raids and try to catch a bird without having to travel to Newcastle. And voila! The Durham Pokémon Group was there! So I joined and was added to the group-chat, and the very next day went out on my first raid.


It’s a system that works remarkably well (helped by FB messenger having a planning function (though only being able to set up one plan at a time is a bit of a pain). Someone sees a raid coming up, they put a plan up, people say if they can or can’t go, and if enough people can make it you go along, take down a bird and try and catch it! Some nights (this was especially so in the summer) you can have a few raids one after another with a group of people congregating at one gym, walking to another, and potentially even hitting a third before the raids dry up for the night. It’s such a great system.


Before this, I really didn’t know that many people in Durham, but thanks to the group chat and going along to many raids, taking down some gyms, chatting to people there and walking around Durham with them, I’ve gone and met an absolutely cracking group of people who I’m really, really privileged to be able to call my friends. I’ve become really close to some, I chat to others on a very regular basis and I know that having these people in my life has made my life a better place – and this wouldn’t have happened without this game and without the raiding.

I’ve met people I may well have never have even spoken to before. We have such a huge, huge range of personalities, ages, races, gender identities, sexual orientations, skill levels, occupations, pokémon knowledge and more in the group. You can be at a raid with Senior (an absolute legend of a gentleman who I’m so happy I’ve met), a parent with two kids, some students, some locals and some people who’ve just travelled in for the day. We all have a chat before we get started (followed by a few minutes of people standing in silence madly tapping their phone screens), we celebrate people’s catches, commiserate with the one person who just cannot seem to catch a particular pokémon (that was me and Lugia – a friend in the group ended up having to catch my first one for me!). We chat, and get to know each other, and it’s just such a nice atmosphere with some amazing people.


My time this year has seen me take day trips to various places in the local area, then a day trip to Glasgow (such a long day and I may or may not have been caught for speeding on the way back…), and even spend a weekend in Amsterdam – all with people I’ve met through playing the game and all because of this bloody app with its virtual creatures. And do you know what? I have loved every second of it and wouldn’t change it for the world.

I cannot express how thankful I am for this pain in the arse of an app with all of its problems (and there are a lot, from GPS glitches, to the app crashing every two seconds, to suddenly and for no reason losing all local pokémon, stops and gyms from your map, to a giant pair of legs following you around). The app drains your phone’s battery like I’ve never known, and you spend days stood in the cold and the rain, and there’s problems with how certain events are organised, but it doesn’t seem to matter.


I actually can’t think of any apps as glitchy and buggy and unorganised and sometimes frankly as terrible as this one which still doesn’t seem to deter people from playing and from going to extraordinary lengths to play. How many phone apps get a group of 8 people to travel to another country for the day? (And I tell you what – that day was phenomenal). It says something about the community it has built and the relationships it has fostered that any other app would have been abandoned by now and yet this is still going.


So there we go. Thank you Pokémon Go. Thank you for being the hobby that I didn’t know I needed, for bringing me some truly amazing people I will always be thankful for, for growing my friendship circle, for getting me out of the house, for making me learn my local area, for encouraging me to travel to places I’ve always wanted to go (or have wanted to go back to), for making me fitter and healthier. Thank you for the last many months, and here’s to a load more like it.


Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go charge my phone and my battery pack ready for tomorrow. There’s some ‘mon to catch.

Man holding cellphone playing Pokemon Go.

Challenge this!

I’ve been meaning to do a blog post on this for a while, but I’ve always seemed to shy away from it. Possibly because while I am an AWFUL lot better than I have been in a while just now, there is still the odd hang-up and in the back of my mind, I can’t help but feel like maybe I almost don’t want to let go of it? Maybe fully letting go is moving past this chapter of my life.


Don’t get me wrong – in the vast, vast majority of ways, this is a Very Good Thing. Living with any kind of eating disorder is hell. I cannot explain to anyone who has not suffered the hell you live in all day, every day. It is something I would never wish on my worst enemy. Being threatened by a nasogastric tube just to please, please, please eat something, dammit and even then STILL being so terrified by what is in front of you that a single kiwi fruit makes you feel like your chest is caving in and you struggle to relax enough to swallow each pitiful teaspoon. I cannot express that hell, and moving past from that? Of course I want it! Bring it on!

But on the other hand, it has taught me a lot. It is something that I do wish I will be able to one day live completely without (more on that later), but it has made me – I think and hope – a better person. A more empathetic person, a more patient person, and ultimately a much stronger and more determined person than I was before. I feel like I’m a person who has learned not to hide when there is uncertainty on the horizon, but to find out how to move past that and work for what I ultimately want. The problem is, moving past my illness also feels a bit like I might have to let these lessons go, and I don’t want to forget the lessons it gave me.


Anyway, today I want to write about living with the aftermath of an eating disorder. I want to talk about the challenges I still face, the ridiculous things I still have to congratulate myself for, the times when I can feel myself slipping back and how to combat it, and the emotional rollercoaster that the last four years has brought. And really I want to talk about the fact that even though by most clinical standards, I’m fine, in reality it is a lot more complex.


So. Point one. Challenges. There is still some stuff I do, still some stuff I avoid and many things I wish I either did (or did not do) that I need to bloody well work on. Though I also have to say that the last couple of months have seen me break through so many of these challenges and I’m immensely grateful for the circumstances around that. The first big thing for me is eating out. Eating out was such a terrifying thing for such a long time, because I had become such a ridiculous control freak around food. I had to know how things were made, down to the exactly quantity of olive oil used for cooking, the brand of food being used, the breakdown of each ingredient and how it could be added to a fitness tracker. When I made my own food, I knew it all and so it was all okay! I knew it fit into whatever arbitrary ~plan~ I had sorted for the day. But eating out??? And eating out at a) a restaurant I don’t know; b) ordering food I’d never tried, heard of nor seen before; and c) eating in front of other people?! Are you having a laugh????

I’d managed to get to a place where there were about 3 places I’d eat out at (plus one takeaway), but I wasn’t willing to push that any further and had a good bank of excuses saved up. This changed this summer when I was able to eat back at Wagamama (my favourite eat-out place) twice (!!), two different burger places, get a cooked breakfast out, a McDonalds (?!?!?!) and even eat take out pizza (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). These were all Very Unheard Of Things, and have all happened in the last couple of months, and for that alone, I am immensely proud of myself. Yes, I absolutely did have a total war going on inside my head for every single one of these occurrences, and yes I felt guilty as heck for many of them before, during and after the fact, but I did it. And do you know what? The world hasn’t ended. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see myself at an all-you-can-eat pie and cake day any time soon, but this is still the most progress I’ve made in recovery in the last two and a half years by a long shot.


One of the main things I’ve been trying SO HARD at the last few months that has helped is to stop reading the sodding nutritional information labels of everything! Just stop it! There is no need! Seeing how many grams of protein or carbohydrate (or heaven forbid – fat) that something has in it is not going to change the world. It will provide a complex so that you cut things you enjoy out of your diet and will start to limit your social life, but that’s about all it can achieve. So I’ve been working extremely hard on not doing this (as much) anymore. I used to be so terrible with it that my brother put sticky labels over things in his kitchen to prevent me from going on the prowl when I visited.

It was horrific at the time, but I totally saw where he and his fiancé (now wife) were coming from. Reading that information gave me nothing but fear foods, and I am still living with the aftermath of having a vast quantity of nutritional facts in my head about a load of stuff in the supermarket. I wish I didn’t know the labels off by heart for most fruit and veg, quorn stuff, cereals, fancy coffees and the snack isles, but I do. It means I can calculate the calorie content of a meal with a scary amount of accuracy and I really don’t want that knowledge! The day I can buy something without having the urge to turn it over and read the label, and then have a meal where I don’t do some mental arithmetic beforehand, I will have a party.


Another set of challenges for me is choosing what I want to eat, not what is “better” to eat (what my mind tells me is “better” to eat). I still struggle with this – ordering not what I want because it’s not as “good” as something else. If I’m at a restaurant and it looks like it’s taking me forever and a day to decide, it’s because I want to have one thing, but I’m having an internal war with myself over that and another option that I see as being ~good~ (or better) and these two voices are going at it – the “just for god’s sake eat what you bloody well want!” and the “don’t you dare – you’re going to roll home”.


This is what I call enjoying food for food. There’s still stuff I avoid (cheesecake, anything with cream on/in it, coffee made with milk, most take-outs), but this list is also getting smaller. Before my recent trip to Amsterdam, doughnuts would have been on there, as would chai lattes (one of the ridiculous things I’ve had to congratulate myself on recently), but there is definitely still work to be done here to enjoy stuff for what it is. It’s not like I do this all the time – I was on holiday enjoying a wonderful few days before heading back to the UK and throwing myself into work. But I do wish I could have allowed myself to be more free with what I wanted. And I wish I could have enjoyed what I did have without checking the step-counter on my phone…

Which brings us to the next bit. Times when I can feel myself slipping, and what to do. One of the tell-tale signs that I’m slipping is that my activity and exercise goes through the roof. If it is far more sensible to get a bus or train or subway somewhere and I’m insisting that I walk, it is because I’ve eaten something I feel awful for, my skin is trying to crawl off of me and I Need To Walk It Off Now.


So yes; the big first sign for me is exercise (followed by filling myself up with caffeine but not a whole lot else). I need to feel active – I get quite low when I don’t – but I’m also terrible for using it as both a distraction method and a method for punishment. If I’m feeling Not Great, I will go to the gym or go walking as a way to think about something else. Not only can it focus your mind and force you to tune out and not think about what you were thinking about, it also gives you a lovely little boost of serotonin, adrenaline and some endorphins. And that is wonderful therapy – it’s the best therapy I’ve ever sought.

However, for me I can tell I’m slipping when I start to not only rely on it, but feel terrible if I don’t do it, and continue to go to the gym and walk miles and miles even when I’m still very much feeling a past workout or set of activity. This is something I still have to work on a LOT because this is the easiest thing for me to abuse and it often leads to a trickle-down effect onto other behaviours like logging my day and pairing the two and only allowing one thing if I’ve done (or will do) another thing.


So, what can I do about this? Well the first is that I’m getting a lot better at recognising this happening. I used to go to the gym 6 times a week and walk 5-10 miles a day (every day) on top of that. I’m tying to limit myself these days to 4-5 times a week, with a very much rest day thrown in and no stupid walking after having already been to the gym. This past week I know I’ve not really done this (yes, I have only been to the gym 4 times, but I’ve done far, far too much walking on top of that and both of my knees are… twinging just now). There are a few reasons for this (my mood being the main one), but I have at least recognised this and will take it easy this coming week.

The next thing I can do about it is tell someone when I can feel it happening, and not be so secretive about it! One of the worst things about anorexia is that it’s so bloody secretive! So just letting people in can be a huge help. And being honest with yourself – stop the bull, stop trying to justify and ‘logic’ yourself out of illogical thinking. If you know something is not okay, recognise it, be honest and talk to someone to sort out what to do. It is amazing how much this can help.


Really, the more I think about it, the more I see that before these last few months where I really have come on in leaps and bounds (the amount of times I’ve said “you know, it’s been well over 5 years since I’ve had this!” is in equal parts awesome and heart-breaking), I wasn’t really living as much as I could have been. So much of life is focused on food. It’s one of our hierarchy of needs. It is essential to life, and maybe that is why so much of our social lives – between friends, acquaintances, colleagues, partners – is focused in on food. You share a breakfast, meet for lunch, chat over a coffee, go out for dinner. And when I had as many hang-ups as I did, I wasn’t taking what I could have been taking out of life. Goodness knows, there’s still huge chunks of my life where I am still existing and not quite living, but the hope is that come the day that this aspect of my life is finally tackled once and for all, I’ll have more mental energy to focus in on those other aspects as well.


It’s the old adage – life is for living, so live it. It’s a cliché, but it isn’t half also true. So get on out there and do it.



2017 will be a year of change.

I’m not saying this metaphorically. Lots of people (myself included) make statements or claims when a new year rolls around, and the vast majority of these times these changes never come into fruition (or they do for a month or so before life goes on as it did before the claims were made). But I can say with a large degree of certainty, that 2017 will be a year of change – for me at least.


I’ve decided to take 2017 as a ‘mental health year’. This might sound a bit strange as every year should be a mental health year, but I have learned an awful lot – both about myself, and my situation – this year. In all honesty, I’ve been kidding myself.


I claim to be doing better then something happens and then I’m not – I’m closing in on myself and pushing people away and hiding from the world and only rearing my head out of necessity. Next year, I cannot do this. There’s a few reasons for this.


  • I’ve found my crew

Everybody needs a crew. They need a team of cheerleaders (so to speak) who will be there for them no matter what. Who will not judge them. Who will never, ever make their feelings and thoughts out to be irrational or exaggerated (see: gaslighting). Who will listen to what they say and actually process it before saying something in return. Who will always have their back. I’ve had this to certain extents in the past, but have been missing it since I was ill.


I’ve said before that my illness took an awful lot of things away from me, and it did. Yes, it took my physical health, but it also took my mind and with that, went my friendships. Unless you have been though it, you have absolutely no idea what so ever what anorexia can do to a person’s thought processes. Food becomes, quite literally, the only thing you ever think of. Ever. You watch food-related shows (hello Masterchef, GBBO, Cake Lord, Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, food documentaries). You read cookery books for fun/to torture yourself. You can’t settle on anything unless it is related to food. This makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary perspective – we need food to survive, and if you deprive yourself of that, your body will prioritise this over every singe other thing possible – not to be a dick to people, but to try and somehow keep you alive.


The photos of me and the many notebooks I kept at the time show that between June and late November, I lost 4 stone (I went from 10st 4 to 6st 4). That is an average of around 2-2.5lb every week. If you think of this in terms of calorie intake needed, I was under-eating by over 1000 calories every single day. Towards the end, this was even more difficult because at the same time you have to keep in mind that I had an untreated under-performing thyroid (which slows down metabolism), that sustained undereating also slows down your metabolism, and your daily needed energy decreases a massive amount as you lose weight because you’re not keeping as much tissue alive. I wasn’t functioning. If you then add this onto the disorder, then not only was food the only thing that was ever on my mind, but the fear that went alongside it was as well. This left absolutely no room at all to even think about another thing ever. I physically couldn’t.

This isn’t an excuse though, as the crew I had at the time were also going through an awful lot and I wasn’t there for them, and I lost them. I don’t know where we are now, in all honesty, but we are all very different people from back then and I’m slowly trying to allow myself to get past the guilt of this and accept the situation for what it was.


My new crew, on the other hand, don’t give a flying do-dah if I fall off the face of the earth or if my disorder creeps back for a bit and it starts looking like I’m ignoring them. They call me out on my BS and make it clear that no matter what is going on, they’ll always be there. We have a group chat and pretty much every day we will also have some random conversation in it – and none of us are ever excluded from this. So even when I’m in my own head and can’t think straight, I know I’ve not been forgotten about and that they have my back. They have never once told me to get over any problems and even at my very worst this year, all I had from them was their love and support and not a single ounce of anything else. This is such a massively positive way to start the new year.

  • I’m moving!

In about two weeks, actually! There we go – I said I couldn’t BS some parts of 2017 being a year for change. You cannot completely upheave your living situation without it being a huge change. For me, this is moving from living by myself to moving in with a dear old friend (who I have lived with in the past) back in a city that I have a huge soft spot for – Durham.


I think I needed to live by myself – at least for a while. It has really helped me to find myself and learn what I need and what I don’t – how I can function and what is important. It turns out that, yes, I’m a HUGE introvert, but also that I do need some human company. I can say one thing for certain – if I’m at work all week and then have commitments all weekend with no day off and then I work again, I can’t function. The world gets too noisy and I can become incredibly unwell. I need ‘introvert days’ where I don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what I am.

This has actually got a biological base – I’m a biological introvert (as opposed to a biological extrovert). The theory behind this is that – as we all know – we process the world around us by our senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell etc.). This information is sent to the brain where it is processed and we make sense out of it. At the same time, the brain needs a certain level of activity (this is one of the reasons why solitary confinement is a cruel punishment – the brain needs to be active). In some people, the brain’s ‘volume control’ (for lack of a better term) can dull down this information, so we naturally go and seek more of it to keep our brains at a happy level. These individuals are biological extroverts – they seek out extra stimulation to top up the levels of activity in their brains’ caused by the brain turning the volume down on it all. For other people, the brain turns the volume up on this incoming information, meaning a little bit of outside stimulation has a marked effect. These people will often shy away from too much stimulation to keep from over-stimulating themselves. These people are biological introverts – they avoid too much stuff in the outside world because their brains’ turn the volume up on it all. I’m one of the latter.


The friend I’m moving in with is very well aware of this and has never once judged me for needing introvert time and is so amazing with it all. She knows some days I need to be left alone or have a quiet text and little else and she never once nags me or makes me feel like a social outcast for needing this. This is the kind of environment I need and I’m really looking forward to this. Big changes!

  • I’m. Getting. A. Dog. !!!!!!

Stop press, this is not a drill! I’m getting a dog. Likely in January. My new house mate (I say this… it is her house (she’s just become a homeowner!!) and I’m just along for the ride) have discussed this in depth and there are a number of reasons why the time is ideal just now. Yes, I’ll be utterly broke for a few months, but my monthly bills are getting so slashed that come March (I think) I’ll be pretty comfortable. But yes. I’m getting a dog.


Why now? Well, my teaching load at work is pretty kind this coming semester. This has been caused in part by a multitude of clashes that have been brought on by moving campuses and fitting in our stuff with the stuff already being taught there. I have a LOT of marking, and a LOT of lectures and module bits to write, but not a huge amount of face-to-face teaching (and what I have is often confined to certain days). Now, I had a strong feeling even before this that on the days I wasn’t teaching or seeing my students, I was more likely than not to work from home (unless I’m needed to cover a class) because we’ve just moved into a large shared office and – as I’ve said above – incoming information is amplified for me meaning that I find it difficult to work or concentrate with lots of background noise. If I’m writing new lectures I need a very quiet place and a shared office with 15+ other staff there is not an environment I can concentrate in effectively. So I’ll be working from home a few days a week (schedule permitting).

My house mate has study days on one of the days I’m needed at work, and while she much prefers working in libraries etc., she has said that for the first couple of weeks while we’re puppy training and while the dog’s vaccines are getting sorted, she is happy to work at home. She also knows lots of people around where we’re living who have somewhat flexible work schedules and can come and let the dog out over lunch/take it for a small lunchtime walk if we’re both out. So for the first few weeks when we’re needed around a LOT, we are there, and after that we have a really good plan.


Also, the place we’re moving into is unfurnished so I’m taking all of my furniture along. Most of this we’re wanting to replace, so if a small, new dog decides to use an old kitchen chair leg as a chew toy before we’ve trained the dog that furniture isn’t for eating, it doesn’t matter as much because we’ll be replacing it. We’d rather this not happen to a brand new dining set! Oh, and two of my besties are getting married (!!) in the Summer/Autumn and I think the dog will be old enough by then for it to be looked after by people it might not be 100% used to. Also, on top of that, by September, the dog will be trained and hopefully settled enough that if doggy day care is needed when classes start for the 2017/18 academic year, this should all be fine! So lots of ticks in the YES box – it’s the right time.

As I said in a previous post, I need a dog. They have been found on many occasions to be better for mental health than drugs (which I’m all for). My head can be a horrible place and I HATE being on medication because the side effects are just horrendous. At the moment, I use exercise as a form on self-medication but it can get to unhealthy levels (see today: I cannot go on my cross trainer because I’ve overused it for the past four days and my knees are really quite painful right now). Dogs offer a companion who doesn’t judge. They are always happy to see you. They force you to leave the house even when you otherwise wouldn’t. They force you to take care of yourself because you need to in order to take care of them. Plus, I love them. A lot.

  • I’m going to try and stop apologising for doing things that I need to do

This might sound strange, but my squad will tell you – I’M SO BAD FOR CONSTANTLY APOLOGISING FOR THINGS! Oh my word. I know I have to stop, but I think this goes in line with having really bad self confidence and always believing myself to be a burden. I’m just so bad for it. When I need their help or their advice, I apologise. If I can’t make something, I apologise. If something is genuinely making me unhappy, I apologise to people involved for feeling sad or unhappy about it. I constantly apologise for my feelings, belittle myself and invalidate my own experiences and I’m going to tttrrrrryyyy and somewhat tackle this.


This might not work out, but I’m going to at least try. I’m 30 years old and I need to focus on things that make me happy and – IMPORTANTLY – do NOT stress me out or pressure me. Someone with a history of really crappy mental health has to put their health as a top priority and needs to excuse themselves from situations where stress and pressure are present. It is a one-way ticket to falling back down a rabbit hole I simply cannot return to. Yes, it might disappoint people. I might let people down or make them angry or irritated, but I need to stop apologising for feeling the way I feel and just do the things that are good for me. I have this one shot at life and I’ve already wasted so much of it on crappy mental health – I cannot waste another decade.

So there we go! Four ways that 2017 will be a year of change and better mental health.

Fingers crossed it’s a good one.

Dear Mum,

Happy birthday. I’m sorry I’ve only been to see you once this year. I always promised that I would never not visit, and yet I’ve found it so hard to come since you’ve been gone. Please don’t take this as a sign that I’ve forgotten you. I haven’t. I never have. I never will. I never could.

It’s been five years since I last gave you a birthday card. They seemed such a small gift back then, and yet now, every time I find myself in the birthday card sections in the supermarket, I just stop and stare and wish with all my heart that I could buy one and give it to you and see you smile. It makes me ashamed that I ever thought them as small. Right now, they’re omnipresent. Everywhere and all-powerful. Never letting me forget.

As I can’t get you a physical card, I wanted to write you a letter instead. I hope you don’t mind. There is just so much I want to say to you and I can’t think of any other way to get it down.

I guess the main thing I want to say is thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for putting my (and David’s) happiness above your own. Thank you for sacrificing your evenings and weekends for your kids to give them the best of life. Thank you for never showing your boredom or irritation at something that we loved. Thank you for never mentioning the cost of our hobbies or holding it over us. Thank you for teaching us right and wrong, selfishness and selflessness, enjoyment and passiveness, love and compassion.

Thank you for the immense amount of time, money and effort you put into my swimming lessons. You always told us the story of the first time you stepped foot inside a swimming pool, aged 11, and an older boy pushed you in. How scared you were, how you never wanted your children to feel like that. You were there to help us learn the basics and if we wanted to take it further, you supported us every step of the way. I was never very good, but I loved it and you never gave up on me. Thank you for the 6am mornings three times a week, taking me to my lessons before school. Thank you for the weekends you lost at swimming galas, despite being horrifically busy at work and knowing full well that I was never even remotely in contention for a medal. Thank you for the evenings spent cheering me in club races. And thank you as well for supporting my wish to stop swimming when I no longer wanted to pursue it as a serious hobby, trying to balance it with all of the other extra-curricular activities I had going on. Thank you for not pushing me into something my heart just wasn’t into any more.

Thank you for the gift of music. You used to tell me and David how you wished you could play, and so when we were asked if we’d like to learn from school, the money (nor the noises coming out of my bedroom) was never an issue. You signed us both up – brass and string – and you encouraged us to practice and grow as musicians. Then keyboard cropped up, and we were signed up to that, too. Thank you for noticing when my awful sight-reading became an issue and pushing me to use different books than David that I’d never heard before to force me to learn. Thank you for coming to every concert with the youth band, for the keyboard competitions, for ferrying us to practices and picking us up afterwards. And never once complaining about it or holding it over our heads.

Thank you so much for my tenor horn. When you saw that brass was something that I loved, and you branched out and bought me my first ever horn; I will never forget it. It was such a terrible instrument and the case was falling apart, but it was mine and I loved it. And then my Sovereign? Good lord. Back then, it took a lot to make me lose the ability to speak, but you managed it with that one. Making me think you’d bought a new case for my rather tired old instrument and actually exchanging it for an almost brand new top-of-the-range one instead, just because you’d seen it in the shop and knew how much I’d love it? I will never, ever forget the moment I opened that case. I know dad gave you some grief over it (the floors in our old house were never very sound-proof) because it wasn’t cheap, and money was tight at the time, but mum. Thank you so, so much. It is still my baby (and is sat in my flat with me just now), and I still love it so, so, so much. You gave me that. You saw what it would mean and didn’t worry about the money struggles for the moment – you fulfilled the dream of your daughter and I can never thank you enough.

Thank you for the hours spent taking me to drama club on a Saturday morning (and paying for it). You coming to the productions they put on meant more to me than you’ll ever know. Just the knowledge that my mum was sat somewhere in the front rows feeling proud of her daughter, watching me grow and come out of my shell – it was the biggest confidence boost in the world and I owe you so much for that. I’m sorry that I’ve left that confidence behind somewhere. It’s become a bit lost lately. Thank you for never once showing your boredom with it – because I know theatre wasn’t your thing. But you didn’t care. You came along and cheered and supported and I felt so safe and so loved.

Thank you for never once trying to get me to change my A-Level options. They caused such a huge argument at home when I wanted to study psychology and biology over maths and physics, but you were never once against this. You never told me that I’d be broke and never find a job, or that it was a soft subject and I wasn’t academic like my brother. It was really hard to hear that stuff, but you never once agreed. Thank you for just being the rock that I needed, giving me the confidence to push through.

I cannot thank you enough for everything you did for me while I was at university. You were so wonderful when I said that I wanted to live away – always acting as a mediator between me and dad. Thank you for the financial support you gave while I was away. I never did tell dad that you’d been helping out, but I never forgot it. This helped me not have to work so much and in part, you were responsible for my First. Thank you for the phone-calls and emails and text messages. They always brightened up my world, no matter how stressed I was feeling. Thank you for the good luck cards you’d post to me every time I had a test or exam. I don’t know if you realise how much they meant. I’ve never had much confidence academically, but for these short moments, you made me feel like I was enough.

When you came to visit me in October, a few weeks after I had started, and told me that you had been given your diagnosis, I broke. What would I do without you? I had a feeling it was coming, though I’m not sure why. I just remember talking to my friends and saying that I thought you had cancer, and yet the confirmation made my floor give way. How could I go on without you? How could I do it – do anything – without my mum? You were my parent. My support. But I soldiered on, because that is what you taught us to do.

Thank you for coming to my graduation, so ill on your treatment that you couldn’t stay standing for too long because the chemotherapy had destroyed your nerve endings. Thank you for never giving up, even though you were sitting in the audience with your chemo bottle attached. You gave me such a huge cheer when my name was read out. I just wanted to make you proud, and you made me believe that you were. I missed you so much when I graduated two years ago from my PhD. The day was never the same without you. Did you read the dedication in my thesis? Every word was true.

I’ll never forget our girls’ holidays – Cyprus, Paris – day trips away when I came home from university. It didn’t matter how awful you were feeling, you were there. Cyprus when we got so sunburned that we couldn’t sit still that night. Paris when you were in so much pain from your chemotherapy that we took bus tours around the city instead of walking. You even came to Bridlington when you were so poorly you were just skin and bones, and yet you still stopped to buy us all ice creams on the pier even though you couldn’t eat one yourself.

Mum, I just also want to tell you how sorry I am. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get to tell you how much I love you, just one more time. I wasn’t there to hold your hand, to ease your pain and say that it was okay not to hurt any more. I wasn’t there. And I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. Please believe me that if I had known even in the slightest that I would be too late, I never would have gone away. Please believe me. I am so sorry that I was not a daughter to you when you needed me to be. Please don’t ever think this is because I didn’t care and I didn’t love you. I did, I do and I always will. I’m so sorry. This guilt has been crushing me for years, and I’m not sure it will ever really go. That phone-call is forever etched into my memory and I know that there is nothing anyone can say that will help me forgive myself for this, because I was not there when you needed me. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t tell you, one last time, at the end, how much I love you. I’m so sorry.

Please let this be my message to you. Not a single day has gone by since we lost you that I have not thought about you. Not a single day has passed by that I have not missed you. The words do not exist for how much I miss you. It’s impossible, because it is such a physical knife-in-the-heart pain and no words can even come close to touching it.

There is a quote I once read by Edna St. Vincent Millay that sums it up closer than anything else I’ve read, and even this is off the mark:

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling into at night. I miss you like hell.”

I know that since you’ve been gone, I have not really been myself. I know that I’ve let people down and that there is no excuse for that. I know that I get so jealous of people when I see them with their parents because the longing is so acute, but I can’t say anything (who could possibly voice something like that and for it to be okay?) so I hide away. I know that I’ve been scared to love or let anyone come close to me because how can I lose anyone else? But I also know how you would tell me I was being ridiculous at this and that I need to live. I need to go on and live with the honour and passion that you lived with, because living in fear is no way to live. And I will try, mum. I promise you I will try. If nothing else, to honour you.

For now, though, I’ll just have one last thing to say.

I love you so much. Thank you for everything. I miss you. Every day, I miss you. With every fibre of my being, I miss you.

With all my love,




The Bradshaw Guide to Life

This is a hard blog post to write. But it feels somewhat fitting, so I shall do it anyway. Don’t expect much in the way of images, though.

As you all know, I lost my mother several years ago. Since then, there has not been a single day where I have not thought about and missed her terribly. However, there are three days in the year where the pangs of missing her become that much more acute. One is Mother’s day. The second is her birthday. The third is today – the 3rd February. The day we lost her. Today marks four years since I received the worst phonecall of my life. Four years since I was last able to tell her that I love her. Four years since my closest ally and biggest supporter was taken away.


My mum was everything to me growing up. She came to every band performance and keyboard competition. Every swimming practice and gala. Every drama rehearsal and play. She sent me good luck cards for exams, and a “well done for trying as hard as you can” soft toy when I thought I’d failed everything.

She came to my first graduation from university with her chemotherapy drip in and sat in the stands feeling as sick as a dog, but still cheering when my name was read out. We went on girls holidays together and had weekly film nights. She came to every Harry Potter film with me. She supported every attempt I had to ~find myself~, helping me buy my wardrobe and shoes for my goth phase, dying my hair black and pink, trying to find me a boyfriend or a girlfriend or supporting my desire for neither. She was everything a confused, lost girl needed growing up, and I owe her everything.

For her funeral, I had written a document that I wanted the officiator to read out, however I didn’t get the email to her in time, so it went unannounced. Today, I wanted to share with everyone this writing. It’s called The Bradshaw Guide to Life (mum’s maiden name was Bradshaw). Basically, these are the rules that my mum lived by. They encapsulate her and describe her to the T. These are the rules I wish I was good enough to live by, and which I will try to incorporate into my life – if only to make it a little more meaningful.

  • Play Monopoly so many times that you get bored with the Community Chest and Chance cards, giving you the opportunity to replace them all with new, ‘original’ and predominantly horse-related ones.
  • Be so indecisive that you never buy yourself anything, because you “couldn’t choose”, but buy everyone else two slightly different versions of everything, for the same reason.
  • Similarly, go to the supermarket for a couple of essentials, arriving home 3 hours later with £150 of shopping, then find out you’ve forgotten one of the main items that you’d originally gone for
  • Change the rules to all normal card games so that they are unidentifiable to the layperson, and you therefore have to rename them. Like Hundred’s Up (a convoluted version of Rummy) which has rules such as “if the person to your left has a Queen, and the person on your right has two Jacks, you can take two cards and need to only discard one in this hand, but another two in the next hand…”
  • Cook so many different types of veg for dinner that you’re in danger of hitting double figures. The excuse being “Well, it needed eating”.
  • Make sure food eaten from the fridge is eaten at precisely the right time. One day after it has been bought results in “I’ve only just bought that!”. A four day delay, however results in “Can someone please eat this, it’s been in here ages!!”.
  • List every single possible item in the house for desert, even if everybody insists that they’re full, until eventually someone has something just to shut you up. For example, “There’s cheese and biscuits”, “We’re full”. “Ice cream?”, “We’re full!”. “There’s some rice pudding”, “WE’RE FULL!!”… “There’s some yoghurts in the fridge”, “Oh all right, I’ll try one!”.
  • Forget how to rename files on your computer, so that every file name is about 20 thousand characters long (usually named after the first sentence in the file), and you can never find anything.
  • Be incapable of working out the diagrams on the cooker, so that you accidently turn the ring on where you’ve put some plates and don’t realise it until one of them shatters. Eventually, get into the habit of holding up a pan, switching on a random ring, then putting the pan down onto whichever ring fires up.
  • Feel bad about asking for things for Christmas, so that your family find presents labelled “to Sue, from Sue” under the tree.
  • Under no circumstances what so ever double-barrel your surname! Ever. Ever, ever, ever. Any attempts to do so will be met with shock and outrage.
  • Forever buy your grown children – who have left home – random presents whenever you feel they might be short on cash. This may also include sneaking into their house to deposit deep fat fryers, assortments of garden plants, or fridges of cheese, when your children are at work.
  • Basically, be the most wonderfully generous, thoughtful and helpful person you could ever imagine. And be so desperately missed by anyone lucky enough to have crossed your path.


I have the day off work just now, so I’m going to get into my car, drive somewhere alone, go for a nice long walk, and think. Walk, think and remember this amazing person who was the very embodiment of goodness, who was taken too soon. Wherever you are mum, know that I love you. I miss you. I hope you’re showing them all how it’s done, and I will do wherever I can to try and make you proud. I just wish you were here to see it.