The atmosphere has felt thick and heavy all week, almost like Scotland has forgotten where it sits on the map and has moved to a more tropical latitude. The weather has been sunny and warm, and lots of people seem to be happier, more positive and feeling a little more invincible; that’s why it’s surprised me that I’ve spent the week feeling just a little “uneasy”. I suppose there are periods in life when it swings like a pendulum and I’ve read that the moveable, changing state is probably the most comfortable place to be, but I can’t help but think that periods of real highs can often lead to those dippy “tummy churning lows”.
I’ve not blogged for a while, I think over the winter when I was convalescing from “stroke-gate” there didn’t seem like much to write about; and as a matter of fact, I took the time to read and learn. I suffered from anxiety so severe I would have horrific tummy pain and only being sick would settle me. My MO when I’m stressed would be to walk away, to hide in my bedroom on the “third floor” and to try and avoid people. I wouldn’t just avoid strangers, my loved ones would also be pushed aside and only the brave one or two would be able to pull me out of my dark mental place. Stress and anxiety didn’t just rob me of happiness it left a physical imprint on me so severe I couldn’t eat, speak or walk. It feels comfortable to stay with what you know, and hiding in darkness is almost as cosy as working at being something new; but I no longer had a choice. I either pulled myself out of the mire or I sank completely.
As many of you will know from my dating and comedic blogs, I took myself off on a little trip to Italy and I spent hours alone. I prayed, I walked and most of all I was silent in my own company. I took several books including one entitled “how to be a badass?” and I also took my bible. Quite the combo and shockingly both had a profound and deep impact on me. So why had I become so unwell? Was it sexual harassment at the council or Holyrood? Was it the incessant need to fit in with who I thought politics, and the media, wanted me to be? Was it the stress and strain of having two children with profound and definite needs? Was it having poorly parents? Was it that feeling of constant rejection from men who said they loved me? Was it being alone? Was it being lonely? The shocking reality was that it was all and none of these things. While these issues had caused deep and damaging stress in my life, I still hadn’t fully learned to manage the impact; but more than that I hadn’t learned to accept that none of these things were my fault. Then one day I was standing on a mountain in Tuscany, I had driven there using an old school map, in a fiat 500 in one of the scariest roads in the world and I did it on my own, I was enough. There were no loud noises, no bright lights and no one there to hear it; but I knew then and there that if I loved myself so hard, and loved others the same amount everything would be better, and eventually they would be brilliant. I came home from that trip and I was truly a new person. Yes, I had opinions and yes I still wanted to change the world somewhat but I gave a hundred less shits about what people thought, unless those people were the ones willing to come to the “third floor” in my darkest moments and pull me back into the light.
Mental health and its manifestation can be different for everyone. I’m not suddenly some sort of genius who is happy all the time (see opening paragraph). I’m just a person who decided that life would be easier with a little more joy, a lot more love and a massive amount of tools which help when the lows get low. So what actually does work? I go to the gym and eat better, not all the time, but enough that my body is well. I yoga a lot and read books which in the past I would have thrown scorn on. I spend a lot of time in silence and in prayer, and with people who are like me, people who really love me. I’ve confronted a situation which caused not just me, but several other women, hurt and harm, and I would do it again; because allowing someone to hurt me without consequence was destroying my peace. However, I also have a deep forgiveness for that man; I will never speak to him or be in his company but I do wish him no ill or harm. I hope his life is happier. Forgiveness frees your heart. I continued to be me with my strong opinions on fairness, social justice and equality, only now I recognised that when I anger people with my opinions, that’s not me, it’s only my opinions. I will never ever change or be silenced on these subjects; ever. I write down lists of gratitude constantly, especially for my amazing girls. I “be” with family as often as possible and spend a huge amount of time with my sister who makes me laugh. I also spend a massive amount of time with my friends who are some of the fiercest and funny women you will ever meet, especially my big Karen. Karen is a woman who has taught me more about not “giving a shit” than any other human being I know, while at the same time also showing me deep and unwavering kindness. I’ve also allowed myself to fall in love, and while I still question what he sees in me, learning to love myself means I manage to be thankful for this beautiful man who loves me so ferociously. He is truly the man I will spend my forever with. Finally, I have deepened my faith to the point where I understand that if God is for me then nothing can be against me. Faith, however, makes things possible not easy.
So you’re probably reading my ramblings and wondering why if “she has all these tools” is she so down this week? The answer is that I don’t know, busy week ahead, a tough week past and maybe just feeling a little bit out of sorts because there are lots of new things happening; to be honest I just don’t know. What I do know is that instead of hiding on the third floor and avoiding the world. I got out of bed, put on some music, drove to Starbucks and decided to write this piece.
Last week I was in the car with my friends and we saw a man by the side of the road. He had taken 32 paracetamols; he wanted to die because both his parents were also dead and he “had no one to love him”. Suicide is so prevalent at the moment, and it doesn’t matter who you are it can steal the rich to the young men across our industrial towns; we have to do more. You can go into a shop and buy something shiny and new, but psychologists say you will feel low again within hours; however, if you hug someone you strengthen your immune system, treat stress and anxiety, release dopamine (the feel good hormone) and so many other amazing things. So the moral of the story is that loving harder is the greatest of all the tools.
My sister Caroline has suffered from poor mental health in recent years, and often at times I have blamed her for this because she gives so much of herself to loving others. I thought that was the cause, but it wasn’t, but allowing and supporting her to do that was the cure. To this day she still suffers and more often than not it’s when her emotional resources have been all used up; but my job is simply to love her harder to allow her to be the best version of herself. That version is a woman with a servants heart and a wise mind. A woman who has never let me completely drown. A woman who is simply made up of love. For these reasons, I dedicate this blog to sweet Caroline and all those who need to know it’s ok not to be ok. We are only here to be one thing and that is the best version of ourselves, the version which is more than good enough, love yourself first and everything else will get better. I promise.