A month ago I turned 21, and in my first year free from the suffocating pressures of ‘being a teenager’, I may have changed more than any other year of my life.
Read more here.
A month ago I turned 21, and in my first year free from the suffocating pressures of ‘being a teenager’, I may have changed more than any other year of my life.
Read more here.
One of my favourite developments in the main stream media over the past few years, aside from feminism and a continued obsession with cats falling over, has been the opening up of a new conversation about mental health. Especially mental health in young women.
There’s been a subtle but powerful loosening of the screws on that box we call ‘THINGS YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT EVER, EVER, EVER’. A shift in the boundaries of what we share and what we keep hidden, a slow diminishing of shame and fear around something that should never have been shameful, and was only made fearful because it was kept hidden. From Lena Dunham’s beautiful writing on her fight with OCD to Emma Stone talking about her experiences with panic attacks, the oppressive and universally accepted rule that feeling sad or crazy was just something you kept to yourself is being beautifully overthrown.
In my own experience suffering with any kind of mental illness or oddity, I was given too much advice, and not enough stories. I had a whole closet full of advice. I had to build a storage centre in my bedroom to try and house all my newly gifted advice. But as well-meaning and hopeful as all my advice givers were, the trouble with most advice is that what works for one person is almost definitely not guaranteed to work for another. ‘Exercise will save your life!’ – ‘You just need to push through it’ – ‘I promise you, drink this tea, and everything will be cured!’ – I tried it all, I drank the tea, and nothing changed.
Finding advice that works for you is like finding a pair of jeans that miraculously fit four best friends, it happens a lot in movies and rarely in real life.
But what did help me, more than the tea, more than any therapist, more than any pill – was hearing other people’s stories. I spent a long time thinking I was the only person in the world who could possibly be going through the kinds of things I was going through. Convinced I was the only person so weak that they couldn’t even manage a trip to the grocery store, the only girl so odd that she couldn’t hang out with people her own age. I was surrounded by people who were ‘doing it’, who were cracking life, while I was slowly unravelling and falling further and further apart. It’s not that there weren’t stories out there, it was just that none of them really seemed to apply to me. They were the stories of older women and older men, people who’d fought their way through the forest of mental illness and emerged, years later, victorious on the other side. They talked about rehabs and years spent in recovery and none of it seemed to apply to my methods of coping, which mostly included watching The Good Wife and painting my nails five times a day.
For me, hearing people like Lena, people like Zoella, talking openly and honestly about going through experiences so similar to mine they could have been taken from my diary, felt like the biggest gift on earth. Not only were these stories comforting in being so relatable, they also created a tiny door in my brain titled ‘it’s not just you’. They led to conversations with my family, conversations with my friends, conversations online, that would never have been possible without these seemingly small stories acting as a catalyst.
If you’re someone that fears anxiety has become a ‘trend’, that this new conversation is trivialising a deeply serious issue, I have one thing and one thing only to say – perhaps anxiety has become trendy because anxiety is a trend. Because it’s something that more people that we would ever like to admit suffer with every day, something that tears apart more lives than you can imagine.
I WANT anxiety to become a trend. I want it to become more trendy than avocados. I want it to become so trendy that it gets it’s own clothing line and homeware range. If we can make anxiety trendy. If we can talk about it, yell about it, shout about it from the rooftops – we can take away some of it’s power, and hundreds of thousands of people who would have been suffering in silence can feel the full warm hug of knowing they aren’t alone.
Talking about these issues publicly doesn’t diminish their seriousness. It doesn’t stop the fact that anxiety and depression are diseases that are probably only going to be properly healed by a doctor or a therapist. But it does diminish the shame and loneliness. It does diminish the isolation. It does diminish a little bit of the fear.
We were told the fight was over, and we were told that we had won. I was born into my ridiculously comfortable life and told this was a new world, that all were equal, that I could do anything. At school I learned that the Suffragettes won it for us, that some women in the 60’s burned their bra’s to finish the job and that Madonna put the cherry on top. We were told it was a new world, barely even told there was an old world.
I grew up, or began growing up, and began to feel things I would never have defined as gender issues, never even defined as issues worthy of anyone else’s worry except my own. I watched boys in their bodies and watched myself in mine. The way I began to hate every inch of the skin that I was in, the way that I began to compare, to contrast, to judge and to hurt myself in a way that just didn’t occur to them.
My parents told all four of us we could be anything, grow up to be anyone, do it all, have it all. I was the only one asking myself if I wanted it all or if I wanted a family. I was the only one who questioned whether my ambition was attractive. I was the only one embarrassed for being bossy. My three younger brothers watched my dad go to work every morning and come home every night. I watched my mother feel guilty for every meeting, every day spent away from home, every meal she didn’t cook.
We all went shopping on the weekend and bought posters to pin to our walls. They loved their heroes for their strength, for their wit, for their comedy. I loved my heroes for their hair, for their breasts, for their legs. We set
out trying to emulate what we saw. I tried to fit myself into a box. I tried to define myself by what I saw around me. I called myself ‘the stupid one’ because I didn’t ace every test. I called myself ‘the funny one’ because I wasn’t quite as pretty as the rest.
These seeds that had been planted were watered with full force sprinkler systems. They were fertilised by everything around me, every TV show, every rap song, every magazine. It wasn’t political, because at fourteen nothing is political, it was purely emotional. I began to hate myself, detest my body, fear my ambition, my will power. I began to be oppressed by systems I wasn’t even aware were formed to put me down. Told by doctors that was I was lying. Told by teachers that I was weak. Told by the world that I didn’t quite fit it’s model of what a human girl should be.
And then, very slowly, like a rumour of a surprise math test spreading round a school cafeteria that no one quite wants to believe, I started to hear stories. Stories far worse than mine. Stories about women of colour. Stories about women living in poverty. Stories about women being hurt, about women being killed. Stories about women who’s lives were determined before they were even born, who’s fates were decided by what lay between their legs, by the colour of their skin.
And I began to put the pieces into place. That maybe this feeling, the one I had turned inward, used to hurt myself, to punish myself, to slowly start to kill myself, maybe this feeling wasn’t one that I created, maybe it wasn’t my fault. Maybe this was the last battle of this war I’d heard of in a classroom a long time ago, a battle now silent, now hidden, a war that had convinced it’s soldiers it was long gone and tricked them into turning against each other and against themselves.
And then, like the child at the beginning of every superhero movie, looking up at the sky in desperation only to see superman’s red cape glint against a skyscraper, I heard of a group of people who called themselves feminists.
A group of people who had realised, as I was starting to, that no one is victorious until equality wins. That as long as there are women who are hurting, who are in pain, who are suffering because of the box they check when they fill out a form, that we must keep on fighting.
We were told the battle was over. But we grew up feeling the war with every breathe we took. We are fighting now because we know there is something to fight for. For many of us what we’re fighting for may seem small – a slightly higher pay check, being allowed to play football instead of play dress up, not feeling ashamed of the size of our thighs – but it’s part of something bigger, it’s part of something far more serious than any of us had ever imagined.
If I make the choice that I once felt so conflicted about having to make and decide to have a daughter one day, I want to tell her, like I was told, that the fight is over, that the war is won. But I want her to believe me. And I want it to be true.
All beautiful images via the incredible AMBIVALENTLY YOURS.
For a very long time, clothes were pretty much the last thing in the world I could think about. The wardrobe of someone who is ill, sad, or doesn’t tend to leave the house very much can be a sorry affair. For years I would change, every morning, out of my nighttime pyjamas into my daytime pyjamas to ready myself for yet another day of being bed-bound and in pain, resulting in a nightwear collection that outgrew the bottom drawer and required an entire wardrobe for itself.
I decided to take a break from this blog because over the last few months I haven’t been feeling great. Between going home for Christmas, leaving again, the stress of starting a new term and the New York winter things all started to get quite dark. But for the last three weeks I’ve been feeling better. And there are a few ways I know this. I smile more, I watch less TV and I don’t cry every time I see a picture of my cat. But the main reason I know I’ve been feeling better is I suddenly have a lot of free time. I have all this free time because I’ve had the last two weeks off, on holiday, finally taking a break from my unrelenting, full time, 24/7 job of being a person with depression.
Before coming to NYU I spent about a year and a half off school pretty much doing nothing except trying to get better and trying to watch as much Grey’s Anatomy as possible. Around this time a lot of my friends started to take gap years and every time I talked to them about how bored they were suddenly having all this free time off of school I would feel incredibly guilty and full of shame. I had been out of school for years, barely ever leaving my bedroom, and yet I never felt ‘bored’. I felt like I’d spent the last year of my life working harder and doing more than I had ever done and yet my actual, tangible achievements added up to baking a few cakes and a lot of therapy. I couldn’t figure out why I never had any time, why I was always ‘busy’, and yet why I never actually ended up doing anything. I would spend days just wishing I could ‘take a week off’ and have some time to focus and yet taking a week off was pretty much all I had been doing for 52 consecutive weeks.
I was the laziest person I knew, the least achieving one of all my siblings, there were sloth’s who had busier schedules than I did – and yet for an entire year I felt like I barely had a minute to catch my breath.
And I think it’s only now, now that I am feeling a lot better, now that I do have things to do, a (farely) busy life to lead, a schedule, plans, friends and classes, that I’ve finally been able to look back and realise that living with depression, fighting with anxiety, spending every day battling any kind of mental illness is a hellish, agonising, debilitating, full time, around the clock job.
When I was depressed I never got bored because I never had time to be bored. I never had time to do anything. I often talk about how un-motivated I am when I’m in a bad place but I think the reality of my lack of motivation was that I just didn’t have the time. My schedule was full; between panicking and self hating, trying to figure out a new recovery plan and trying to figure out how to avoid my therapists calls, painting my nails (because that was obviously the answer to all my problems) and ignoring my emails, I barely even had time to watch all the TV I needed to get through the day.
At the beginning of this term (I still refuse to call it a semester) I began to fall behind on my work. I would spend my days lying in bed or lying on the floor or just pretty much lying anywhere and then get to class and realise I just hadn’t had time to do my homework. But the last few weeks have been better, a lot better, better than the ‘better’ bits have ever been before. I think when you’ve been struggling with something for a long time you begin to get so tired and angry at the up and down cycle of it all that you just want to give up. But the truth is (and I never believe it until it’s actually happened) that every time I have another dark patch, the bit after it is brighter than any bit before it ever was.
I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. Except that I’m back. To blogging and writing and baking. And that if you are going through something like this, anything like this, or if you know anyone who is – remember that it’s not just a struggle – it’s work, really hard, gruelling work, but work that you need to focus on, and excuse yourself for. Depression and anxiety take time to heal and they take time to go through and they take up more of your time than you would ever wish something this horrible could. I never believed anyone when they told me things would get better. So I don’t know why anyone would believe me. But I think things will, and do, get better, for all of us. And if not, let’s all just be particularly grateful that Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t been cancelled and that Friends is on Netflix.
Love Scarlett. x
Stock image photo of woman at work from here.
When they asked me to write for them I was incredibly happy and also incredibly scared when I realised they were asking me to write about my experiences making friends at university. Making friends isn’t something I find immensely easy (unless those friends are cats, I’m super good at feline bonding) and it felt like an intimidating subject to write about.
However despite my fears I wrote the article and you can read it here. I talk about trying to make friends, Lost, and calling my mum crying so all in all it’s a pretty fun read. But more importantly it’s an incredible website with inspiring and awesome pieces written by inspiring and awesome women. So check out the website even if you don’t check out my piece. They once put me on a list of their most inspirational tweeters which was one of the best bits of my year even if entirely untrue (unless you’re inspired by crazy tweets about Lost, in which case yes, yes I am very inspiring).
Hope you’re having a good Monday (if such a thing exists).
1. It’s okay that to wake up every morning feeling like the worlds about to end. Like you want to cancel every single plan that’s ever been made for any of the future and crawl back into bed.
2. It’s okay to never think this feeling is going to end.
3. It’s okay that it’s almost always gone half an hour later.
4. It’s okay that sometimes it doesn’t go.
5. It’s okay that some days are still very dark. That some weeks are still dark. That not everything in your brain is quite as perfect yet as I’d hope it to be.
6. It’s okay to have ice lollies for breakfast.
7. It’s okay to feel you need to wear make up if you want to feel confident.
8. It’s okay to suck at applying foundation.
9. It’s okay to walk around with suckilly applied foundation.
10. It’s okay to need half an hour to mentally get ready for any social interaction.
11. It’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to cancel plans. It’s okay to be a bit quiet. People normally don’t mind.
12. If they do mind it’s okay not to care. It’s okay if some people don’t like you. You don’t have to please everyone. Only you and maybe your cat.
13. It’s okay to feel scared.
14. It’s okay to hate that you feel scared.
15. It’s okay to worry no one will like you.
16. It’s okay to feel insanely happy when it turns out they do like you.
17. It’s okay to eat the same thing every day for a week.
18. It’s okay if all you have on your iPod is audiobooks.
19. It’s okay to not like the same things as everyone else.
20. It’s okay to need time to calm down. To need time on your own. To need to take your time.
21. It’s okay to take pride in the little things, to smile for an hour every time you manage to have a real conversation. To celebrate a day without panic.
22. It’s okay to think you’re never going to get better.
23. It’s okay to get better.
24. It’s okay to like watching The Kardashians. It’s okay to really care about their problems. It’s okay to care when celebrities get hair cuts.
25. It’s okay to have conversations with your dog.
26. It’s okay to have conversations with your dog even if your dog isn’t there.
27. It’s okay to try.
28. It’s okay to fail.
29. It’s okay to succeed, and to tell people when you succeed. It’s okay to brag.
30. It’s okay to hate art galleries. It’s okay to hate foreign movies. It’s okay to have not read a novel since Harry Potter.
31. It’s okay if your parents are your best friends.
32. It’s okay to procrastinate, it’s okay to not finish. It’s okay to give up.
33. It’s okay to feel like none of it’s okay. To feel like it’s over every time you fail, every time you stumble. To not understand why it’s not better than okay by now.
34. It’s okay to keep trying.
35. It’s all okay.