To go from having mental health professionals predict that you won’t make it to your nineteenth Birthday; to turning twenty-nine, is a bit of a shock to the system, so excuse me while I take a deep breath before I start this post!
This is one particular time of the year where I’m really thankful for I’m NOT Disordered because it’s meant that I’ve got a record of each of my Birthdays for the last seven years:
When I turned Twenty-Eight last year, I talked about the 28 things I was looking forward to. For turning Twenty-Seven, I blogged 27 things I was thankful for. For my Twenty-Sixth, I wrote about the things my Birthday had made me think about. When I turned Twenty-Five, I talked about the 25 reasons why I was glad I had made it to that age. On turning Twenty-Four, I blogged about the 24 lessons I had learnt over the years. Turning Twenty-Three in 2014 I wrote about what I’d done to celebrate the day. Then, for my first Birthday on I’m NOT Disordered, when I turned Twenty-Two, I talked about how it felt spending my Birthday in a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home.
This year, for me, is a lot about reflection and appreciating how far I’ve come in my life and particularly with my mental health. So, I thought I’d go through each post and pick out 4 highlights from each and talk about them a bit more below (and number 29 will be something special)…
So, I’ll start at the beginning; turning 22 in 2013; less than a month after founding I’m NOT Disordered…
1. Learning to appreciate the time spent in hospital
By my 22nd Birthday I’d been in a psychiatric hospital for almost a year and was finally starting to realize that there were positives to being an inpatient. This might sound controversial and that I enjoyed being in hospital, but it was more about desperately trying to find a positive in such a negative situation.
2. Realizing just how important home comforts are to me
Missing my own bed, my Blackberry phone (we weren’t allowed our phones in hospital), my foundation (it was in a glass tub, so I also wasn’t allowed it!), and simpler things like my own cup; initially worried me. I feared that maybe I was materialistic and shallow but soon realized it was reasonable to miss these things when I was so far away from home and in the hospital against my will (I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act).
3. Respecting what I have because I’ve learnt what it’s like when it’s gone
I guess that this is linked to the previous point in that now I was without my home comforts and the simple things, I really noticed just how lucky I was to have had those things in the first place.
4. Regaining my confidence in Art
I talked about this in my Birthday blog post because one of the Occupational Therapists had offered to buy some fashion drawing books for me to try and find the confidence I’d lost when my GCSE Art teacher had constantly criticized my work.
My 23rd Birthday in 2014
5. Appreciating my Mum more
This is one of those things that I wish it hadn’t taken me being admitted to a psychiatric hospital for it to happen, but it did… I guess that before hospital, I was so caught up in the hallucinations and suicidal thoughts that I couldn’t think of anyone but myself. Being on medication and having 24/7 support that physically stopped me from self-harming/attempting suicide, allowed me the time to think of others – and my Mum especially.
6. Learning to speak up and be honest if I know something isn’t going to help
I blogged about this in my Birthday post because I’d been on leave from hospital with my Mum and had told her that I felt so tired we needed to change our plans of going to a fancy hotel for drinks. It was the first time in a long time that I’d found the courage to admit that I was struggling and to suggest changing things in order to stay safe and well.
7. Rediscovering the definition of ‘home’
It’s that thing about ‘home is where the heart is.’ By February 2014, I’d been living in a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from ‘home’ for over two years and once my mental health began to improve, I started experiencing some intense homesickness and felt incredibly lonely being so far from my Mum. I guess that in order to cope with this sadness, I was sort of forced to develop a better understanding of the concept of ‘home.’
8. Finding out that I’m no longer materialistic
I talked about this in 2014’s post because one of the Hospital staff brought cream cakes onto the ward and one of the inpatients gave me a gift card and I realized that as grateful as I was for the card, I was more thankful for the gesture and thought that went into bringing in the cakes!
My 24th Birthday in 2015
9. As long as you learn from an experience, it shouldn’t be labelled a regret
I wrote in my blog post that you ‘can’t die with regrets from living’ and I can’t remember ever being so philosophical as to come out with something like that off the top of my head! It’s something that I still stand by though.
10. Acknowledging your strengths doesn’t make you big-headed
Both my Mum and I aren’t the type of people who easily acknowledge our skills and assets, but I’ve learnt that there’s nothing wrong with doing so. If anything, it’s a strength – especially in the blogging industry where if you want to make a name for your blog then you have to be able to ‘sell yourself’ for the collaborations and partnerships you might want.
I couldn’t write about 2015 without including the fact I got my first kitten; Dolly, just two months before my Birthday! Dolly had been my recovery goal for the majority of my psychiatric hospital admission – to the point where I’d bought a kitten collar to remind me of why I was working so hard in therapy sessions.
12. Finding inspiration in ‘Zoella’
Finding an inspiration in the blogging industry was a huge step in developing I’m NOT Disordered into what it is today, and my first inspiration was Zoe Sugg of the blog/empire ‘Zoella.’ I used Zoella’s journey of going from filming YouTube videos in her bedroom to having millions of followers, a book, a beauty range, and a huge home; to encourage me to work as hard as I do.
My 25th Birthday in 2016
13. Experiencing unconditional love
In my blog post for this Birthday, I wrote; ‘I have learnt unconditional love. As I got older, and especially through my poorly years, I knew that my Mum loved me unconditionally. She proved it every single day. Every single time she saved my life. Every time she had hope for me when no one else did. Every time she fought for me. I always felt that I didn't deserve it; I was such a selfish person when I was poorly and thought so badly of myself that I was convinced that someone like me, could never feel such love. But I do. Finally, I do. I experience it towards and my Mum, and more crucially, for Dolly.’
14. Having the ability to fully appreciate my Godchildren
I talked – in 2016’s blog post – about how I hadn’t seen my first Godchild; Jonas, growing up because he and his mum (my bestfriend) moved away and then when they were back, I was in a psychiatric hospital of over two years! When she gave birth to my goddaughter; Emmy, I was lucky enough to be living in my own home and have been honoured to watch her grow into the cheeky little four-year-old that she is now! AND since the 2016 blog post; I’ve gained a new godson; Kasper! YAY!
15. Having The Best Night of My Life (My 100,000 Readers Party)
How could I not write about this incredible event?! In November 2015, I celebrated reaching over 100,000 readers by hosting a huge party and I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I was dancing with my best friends at the very end of the event, to the song Mr Brightside!
16. Finding respect and appreciation for the Emergency Services
In the years that I was suicidal and having hallucinations commanding me to self-harm, the Police and Paramedics were my enemy! I hated all of the professionals who stood in the way of me hurting myself. Now that I enjoy life and I’m much happier, I can’t thank them enough for basically saving my life… numerous times. And for believing that I had a future even when I didn’t want one.
My 26th Birthday in 2017
17. Losing my conviction that I have no future
In my blog post, I wrote ‘I think that a huge factor in making this (my Birthday) such a shock, was the amount of time - years; I've spent, being convinced that I had no future because there were so many times when I'd do something that could, potentially, make it impossible.’ I lost this conviction through psychology sessions in which we went through the belief and picked it apart to show me that I could control whether it came true.
18. Redefining long-term and short-term goals
When my suicidal thoughts were intense and very much a part of my daily life; ‘long term’ meant twenty-four hours! When the thoughts and hallucinations started to reduce and then disappear, long term came to mean five or ten years in the future; and this change, meant that my goals changed. I mean, for some time my long-term goal was to stay safe. Now, of course I still want that, but I also want to aim to be able to work fulltime and buy a house and have children!
19. Reminiscing over my previous career aspirations
On this Birthday, I thought about how my dream jobs have changed over the years because of my mental health. The first job I can remember wanting was after the abuse had physically ended, and I wanted to be a Lawyer with the thought that I’d be able to help ensure that someone who’d done something wrong would actually pay the consequences… unlike my abuser. Now that my thoughts and feelings around the abuse have changed, I’m passionate to work in comms and marketing!
20. Stopping the self-blame
This was huge progress in my mental health recovery because for so long, I had thought I was in some way responsible for the abuse. Then professionals continued to pursue the whole ‘take-responsibility-for-your-actions’ when it came to my self-harm and I misunderstood it and began hating myself for putting everyone I know and love through the upset of seeing me hurt myself. Eventually, I learnt that there’s a difference between taking responsibility for something and being blamed for it.
My 27th Birthday in 2018
Of course, my little one came up in this blog post having just got her a few months beforehand! That having a house rabbit helped me to differentiate between reality and the visual hallucinations I used to experience, made her that little bit more special than any pet I’d ever had before her!
22. Starting work with LEAPS
I remember having my interview to be an Advertising Assistant for the support group for the unemployed; Listening Ear And Positive Support (LEAPS) and I didn’t think for one second that I’d still be with the group almost three years later; never mind thinking that I’d be the Chair of the entire organization too!
23. Discovering my safe place (Scarborough)
Scarborough was one of the places I ran away too when I was self-harming really regularly and so, in recovery, it became a place I wanted to revisit so as to replace the memories of the destination with happier, more positive ones. I didn’t realize that in travelling back with my Mum, I would find that the seaside town had actually become to feel like my safe place.
24. Being grateful for my blogging collaborations
The collaborations I talked about in this blog post were with ITV Fixers, Northumbria Police, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Time To Change, Oliver Bonas, and Richmond Fellowship. And I still stand by each one!
My 28th Birthday in 2019
25. Releasing When All Is Said & Typed
Finally putting together a book built of my blog posts in chronological order and in chapters of relevance, was very rewarding so to see it actually sell was even more thrilling! I don’t talk a lot about it because I’d still prefer to be known as a Blogger than an Author but of course it’s a huge achievement and something I’m very proud of!
26. Finding inspiration in InTheFrow
I’m sort of embarrassed to say but when I actually got to meet the Blogger behind ‘InTheFrow’ - Victoria, I was so overwhelmed that I had a little cry! She’s such a huge inspiration and influence for me and my Blogging work/collaborations and I’m really in awe of her drive and the hard work that she puts into every single project she takes on!
27. Expanding my knowledge with Future Learn
I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t found Future Learn sooner and when they sent me some discount codes to complete some of their courses for free, I jumped at the chance! I’m a great believer in education being the answer to a lot of stigma and discrimination so for me, learning more is an honour and a privilege.
28. Looking forward to reaching half a million readers
Well, I was looking forward to it! We’re well and truly beyond it now! And I’m proud as punch to be able to say to people that I have over half a million readers on my blog. You’ve all given me good reasoning to start blowing the I’m NOT Disordered trumpet more often!
29. Sometimes it’s hard to have to admit that those years of abuse and my poorly mental health were a part of my life, but I have to remind myself that if it weren’t for those years, I wouldn’t have the better ones. I wouldn’t have my blog. I wouldn’t have the friends that I have. I wouldn’t have this amazing relationship with my Mum. I wouldn’t have my home, and I wouldn’t have my pets. So, I choose instead, to be grateful for it, to respect it, and to thank those years for making me into the person I am today.