Friday, 31 December 2021

22 THOUGHTS FOR 2022 | HAPPY NEW YEAR!! | PART ONE

So, I’ve spent quite a while thinking up a title and format for this blog post; because I think there’s a lot of pressure for the first piece of content of a New Year. It’s like you’re setting the tone for the rest of the year. Like, this one post is giving readers an idea of the quality of the content they can expect for the rest of the year. As though a reader will take one look and decide – based on that one post – whether or not to continue reading. So, with that in mind (and hoping that this isn’t a the wrong decision and a complete disappointment!) , I finally settled on ’22 thoughts’ so that I could include all the bits and pieces that have come to my mind when I considered what I wanted to write about in this post...

1.   BLOGMAS WENT KINDA WELL, DIDN’T IT?!

It’s taken me a long time to learn how important it is to have insight into some of the biggest things in my life. I mean first it was with my mental health… A year or so after my mental health first started to deteriorate, professionals had started labelling me as an attention seeker and deemed me a waste of their time and resources. I really struggled with feeling so misunderstood, but I also had a sense of appreciation for their opinions on me. I mean, I recognised that if I didn’t have even a remote sense of insight into my own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, then how could I expect anyone else to have the ability to make sense of them?! I get that, as mental health professionals, a lot of those who treat me with disdain and a lack of respect shouldn’t have done that; regardless of whether there was insight or not! But the point is, I can appreciate their struggle.

So having the motivation to put more effort into my insight into my mental health, I almost immediately saw how beneficial it was after finding that having the ability to put my thoughts and feelings into words resulted in professionals being more empathetic and understanding. It made me feel better supported and as though I was receiving better – more effective – help that left me to feel more willing and eager to cooperate and engage in recommended treatments and therapies etc. 

My new-found insight has also definitely contributed to I’m NOT Disordered’s content and my ability to produce and create posts that can raise an awareness and increase an understanding of some aspects of mental health that are more difficult and challenging to appreciate. And in experiencing the benefits of having this more easily expressed understanding, I’ve almost naturally found myself able to use this as an influence upon my knowing that insight into my blog’s content too is actually crucial to its progress/success/growth! I mean, how could I hope to attract new readers and increase my audience if I didn’t recognise the popularity of particular types of content? If I didn’t evaluate my posts and appreciate which were the most popular, then I couldn’t shape I’m NOT Disordered into being the host of more attractive content than the other huge number of mental health blogs.

Using this ability, I’ve done a great amount of analysis into the blog’s stats over Blogmas and having seen which posts had the most interest, I’m able to consider not just future Christmas content, but also I’m NOT Disordered’s content in general. And aside from aiding the growth of my blog, I’ve found that evaluating and proving insight into my content as extremely rewarding and validating because it’s helped me to see the impact my posts have on their readers. And the reality of making readers happy – or at the very least them benefiting from my content in some way – makes all the time and effort I put into Blogmas in particular, completely worthwhile. 

2.   WHAT NEW YEAR MEANS TO ME

I think that New Year is kind of like Christmas in that a person either loves it or hates it. You either want to throw a party every year, or you just go to bed before midnight! And, to be honest, I was actually one of those ‘not-too-bothered’ people! 

I think that it was because of my mental health. I spent pretty much over a decade hating New Years because it meant that another horrible year was about to begin! I literally had no hope. I couldn’t imagine an entire year going ‘well’ or me being able to enjoy it. Me staying out of hospital for it. Me not wanting to die through its entirety.

Through those years, I actually spent three New Years (2009, 2012, and 2013) in a psychiatric hospital and so I had very little cause to really alter my mindset on the occasion. Like, there were no drunken parties with best friends that I wanted to attend and, with my loss of hope, no real reason to celebrate. I felt like the only thing I could anticipate for a New Year was more hospital admissions! I just couldn’t imagine that once a clock struck midnight everything would suddenly be better – that the memories of abuse would vanish, the thoughts of self-harm would dissolve, and the suicidal thoughts would disappear! That just wasn’t practical. And yes, maybe me knowing that was actually a good sign because it meant I recognised the effort that I was going to need to put in to recover from all of those things… However, it also made for a depressing, debilitating attitude to an occasion that many people celebrated. 

Now though, I’m most definitely in recovery with my mental health and so I seem to have a new-found love of New Years! I now see the occasion as something positive and as an opportunity to make things even better. But I’m very aware of not putting too much pressure on it… I mean if I recognise that things wouldn’t magically improve when I was poorly, how could I consider New Years an immediate further boost to my mood and the things I do? It’s still unrealistic. It idolises New Years and if you do see it like that, it makes for a huge amount of disappointment when it doesn’t work out that way. 

3.   THE UPCOMING PARTY

So, because it’s invite only, I won’t be going into the details of the party, but it’s so special and important that I couldn’t leave it out completely! 

In 2015, when I’m NOT Disordered reached 100,000 readers, I hosted a huge party with 100 attendees at a very expensive and extravagant hotel function suite. Even years later, it has remained the greatest night of my entire life. I had so much fun for the entire party, but I remember being on the dance floor with two of my best friends, and everyone else was leaving and we were dancing to Mr Brightside. I remember saying to myself ‘take this in!’ And it’s a feeling of extremely lucky pride that I’ve never forgotten or lost all these years later!

Whilst that party was so amazing and special, I wanted to do something a bit different to celebrate I’m NOT Disordered reaching over one million readers… Firstly, at the 2015 party, having so many guests meant that a few people brought +1’s who I’d never met! Whilst it was lovely to include so many people, I wanted to have a lot less people this time. Reaching this incredible milestone in my blogging career has taught me so much – particularly about gratitude. Which has meant that I can see the importance of celebrating it with those who have supported me for so long that the majority of them were actually at my 100,000 party too!

I feel like with the guests meaning so much to me, has meant that I’ve also put a lot more thought into their experience of the party. As I did with the 2015 party, I’ve created ‘gift bags’ but these ones feel so much more special and personal. And whilst having less guests will have contributed to my ability to do this, I think a bigger influence has been my new-found attention to detail and creativity. 

Whilst I’m so grateful to have at least 40 amazing people in my life, I’m also a bit sorry that I couldn’t invite every single one of you! Because without its readers, where would I’m NOT Disordered be? Where would I be? So thank you, without you my dreams wouldn’t be coming true. 

4.   TURNING 31 

As if I’ll have made it to thirty-one! I mean, considering my first suicide attempt was when I was eighteen and the way my mental health continued to decline, so many professionals thought I wouldn’t see my nineteenth Birthday! And in all honesty, I didn’t want to make it to then! I didn’t want another day – never mind another year – of feeling the way I did and experiencing the hallucinations and flashbacks the way I was. So the notion of turning thirty-one is more than a celebration; it’s an achievement!  

When my mental health was poorly, one of the most influential thoughts on my suicidal feelings and attempts, was that I couldn’t imagine myself getting any older. I thought that meant I was destined to die young and that I had been put on this earth just to do that. I couldn’t see any other purpose or reason to my life. No motivation to be happy. I couldn’t find a reason not to kill myself… Until I’m NOT Disordered!

Blogging has been so rewarding and beneficial to my mental health; and it has literally saved my life! It’s left me feeling like I have a real reason to wake up in the morning and a reason to fight any thoughts and feelings that even remotely align with suicide. The notion that in writing out all the things that clogged up my brain and that led me to self-harm, wasn’t just beneficial to me; it could help others too? Well it almost felt too good to be true!

After discovering this purpose though, I knew that the next step would be learning how to have a motivation to stay alive whether I was blogging or not. And I recognised this was important for two reasons: the first was the reality of technology these days and that there might be more than a few occasions where I’m struggling with practical elements to blog. In those situations, I need to be able to have a reason to get out of bed. Secondly, there’s bound to become a day where I finally have to put I’m NOT Disordered to bed (I don’t see that happening any time soon though!) and I need to feel capable of doing that when the time is right. 

Now that I’ve developed a more safe and stable outlook on life, I feel able to celebrate Birthdays because I’m now not only proud to have made it to another year, but also excited at the thought of another year to make up for all those years I was angry and resentful. Another chance to make the most of life in a way which I hadn’t done for years. So, bring on thirty-one!

5.   BLOGMAS 2022?!

Am I totally strange and stupid for already considering another Blogmas within a week of the last one ending?! 

Thing is though, I started working on Budget Blogmas in the Summer of 2021 so I’m pretty confident and experienced in the fact that creating a Blogmas I’m happy with, demands a lot of time! 

My first previous Christmassy series’ have been a combination of either completely last-minute or two or three months worth of planning and creating. And whilst I’ve loved and enjoyed every single one, I’ve always had the ‘next-year-has-to-be-even-better’ kind of ethos around them. It’s something which I think stems from the fact that the blogging industry is becoming completely saturated by vast numbers of blogs. Having started I’m NOT Disordered when there were really only three well-known mental health blogs, meant that I had found a niche and a comfortable space on the internet for my blog to grow. There was no real urge to compete in any way; however, my general work ethics were always there with an eagerness to always better my content. But there was no actual, real need to do so.

Some people might see my constant determination to better my content as tiring and will wonder why I do this if it takes such a huge amount of time and effort. But to me, the hard work is so worth it! I enjoy and pretty much thrive off putting so much concentration and focus into something – in the past, that ‘something’ was self-harm or a suicide attempt. So, to finally have ‘something’ which ends up being so completely rewarding, worthwhile, and that gives the notion of an incredible achievement...? Well, it’s a very welcome change. And it’s a change which probably makes me so much more grateful for my blog than I’d be if I hadn’t had that terrible experience to compare it to!

Whilst enjoying the notion of focusing on something positive, thinking about Blogmas 2022 also brings a sense of magic, I think! I mean, I’m at an age where I totally recognise that Christmas Day isn’t any longer than any other day. Like, it’s there and it’s over! So, I find the most magic, fascination, and excitement in the build-up to Christmas. And that seems to really begin when I start planning Blogmas! 

6.   CAREER HOPES & PLANS – MY NEW JOB! 

A little while after Blogmas started, I had the realisation that if anything happened during December, I wouldn’t be able to write a blog post about it because surely that would be far too much content?! So, when I was offered a contract with St Oswald’s Hospice Communications and Marketing department, all I could do was tweet about it! 

I started volunteering with the Comms team in December 2019 and when another position came up with a different department I was recommended for it, and took on the Kickstart Coordinator role for six months. During that time, I very obviously missed the Comms team and the tasks I was doing for them; so, when the Kickstart contract ended, I went straight back to my voluntary role with them.

When the Head of Comms talked to me about the contract for the role of Communications and Marketing Assistant, she said that when they found someone they like to keep hold of them, and I reassured her that it goes both ways… I’ve worked for and with a lot of charities and organisations, but I’ve never felt so ‘at home’ as I do with St Oswald’s. That feeling is so comforting that it didn’t even feel like a decision to go back to being a volunteer. It didn’t feel like a ‘step down’ or a step ‘backwards.’ To the contrary, in fact, it felt like a step completely in the right direction! 

For what feels like a long time now, I’ve felt that my future lay in communications, marketing, publicity… and just everything digital! I’ve had a strong sense of purpose since creating I’m NOT Disordered. And after feeling like there was no hope for so long, having this reason to be alive has definitely been one of the greatest drives in my mental health recovery. So, to go back to the Comms team after the Kickstart role – and as much as I did enjoy and learn from that role – it was just like I was coming home. Like I was getting back on the career path I felt I was made to be on. And when the Assistant contract came up and I was told all of my new responsibilities, I felt so validated that I had done the right thing. 

So, the future… this contract is currently set to end/be reviewed March 31st and it feels like a perfect length of time to consider the crossroads I might find myself in at that point. I mean, either the job will continue as is, or change, or be completely dissolved. And that will mean either I continue with the role, go back to being a volunteer, or start looking into something else. I think that it’ll be a big turning point in my career (saying ‘career’ still sounds surreal after years thinking I had no future!) and something which I’ll be taking very seriously. 

7.   THE TENDON DRAMA IS FINALLY OVER!

On Boxing Day 2019, I was attempting to open a bottle of Prosecco by wiggling the cork loose with my thumbs, when all of a sudden my thumb went limp and I was completely incapable of lifting it. So my Mum and I went to the local Minor Injuries Unit where I had an x-ray and was told by a Nurse Practitioner that nothing was wrong with it. She asked a Doctor who glanced at the x-ray on the computer screen and said “yeah, that’s not broken!” The Nurse told my Mum to encourage me to put my thumb in warm water and slowly try to move it. She didn’t seem concerned with my assurances that I literally just couldn’t lift it! 

So, a few days later, when it was still just hanging there, I went to an A&E and was so relieved when the Nurses immediate response was literally “something’s not right there!” He explained I needed another x-ray because the two hospitals weren’t interlinked and once it also confirmed there was no break or dislocation, he called the Plastic Surgeon who barely examined it before concluding I had either torn a tendon which would need surgery, or damaged some ligaments which would take a long time to heal. They asked me to come back in and see the more senior Surgeon who confirmed a torn EPL tendon (Extensor Pollicis Longus) and told me needed surgery that day otherwise I could lose the function of my thumb. And with it being my right thumb and me being right-handed, that was an incredibly terrifying thought!

Not long after the surgery (which involved them stitching the two torn ends of the tendon together), it became apparent that the repair hadn’t actually held. Unfortunately – or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I guess – the pandemic and lockdown were beginning and really taking off; which meant that my injury was suddenly a lot less serious and important. Something which I completely understood – but which was still pretty hard to swallow. So, my second surgery (a tendon transfer) was postponed numerous times until finally, early on in 2021, part of the two tendons in my index finger was used to mend the broken one in my thumb.

You know when you sometimes have some sort of injury – even if it’s just banging your leg on a coffee table – or pain, and it almost never 100% feels as though someone else can completely identify with it. Like, how could another person possibly understand? Well, the description of my second surgery made a lot of people imagine how painful it was… I was one of those! You know? On hearing how it would work, I winced and predicted how much it might hurt. And I was surprised to find that I was totally off-base! I mean, it’s months later and I’m still taking painkillers!

That it’s taking quite a while to recover from the surgery has meant that I’ve only just (within December) been discharged from physiotherapy and the plastic surgery department. And that feels so good. I mean, it feels like I’m free. Like, I’ve finished reading a book and can finally resume with everything else I want to do with my life! And kind of like finishing a book, it’s still there in the background, it’ll still be in my home and I’ll still have memories of it and – if it was a really good book – still have the emotions it had influenced when I do remember it.  

8.   THINKING ABOUT A HOLIDAY

With a lot of the more serious, full-time Bloggers seeming to have the tradition of taking time out of creating content during Christmas and for a little while after New Years, and considering I definitely never do that; this point was a kind of predictable one to have in mind. I mean, you can only not have a holiday for so long before it’s something you start to favour or even crave.

I’m a bit weird around one element of holidays though… I really enjoy travelling but only in the UK! Like, I literally have no passion or excitement at the thought of holidaying abroad and flying to another continent! I’d much rather take a three-hour train ride to London for a few days! So, when I talk about taking a holiday I’m actually mostly considering another trip to my safe place; Scarborough.

Also, unlike those Bloggers I mentioned, my definition of a ‘holiday’ doesn’t really involve me not blogging and avoiding social media. If anything, it’s the opposite! For me, it would be a treat to take a break from my home and doing bits and pieces around the house and leaving behind other commitments to go somewhere I can totally focus on my content. Told you; I’m weird with this stuff! 

9.   FUTURE COLLABORATION EXCITEMENT

So, earlier in December, I met with the lovely Director of Quality, Patient Safety, Innovation and Improvement of North East Ambulance Service (NEAS). And I’m so excited to say that we’ll be doing a series of collaboration pieces exclusive to I’m NOT Disordered!

I realise I’m extremely fortunate to be able to say that whilst I’ve had many NEAS ambulances attend to me when I’ve been in a mental health crisis, I’ve not had a single bad experience. I’ve never felt judged or thought the Paramedics were lacking in compassion. But, being in the digital mental health world means that I do hear about and see a lot of people have experiences where they have felt that way. Where they’ve felt that because of their mental health, they’ve felt that they have been discriminated against and shown very little empathy or kindness. 

I’d like to think that I’m a pretty fair person in that I completely believe that there should be credit where credit is due and where it’s the complete opposite, that should be heard too. I’ve found this happen a lot when I was working with Northumbria Police and I was helping to train their new recruits and was singing their praises for prioritising mental health, but I was then going on to personally have bad experiences with Officers. I found that I wanted to keep a fair and even narrative on I’m NOT Disordered and so I talked about the training and the poor behaviours in equal amounts.

So, where NEAS is concerned, I want to recognise that I’m maybe in the minority for never having a poor experience, but also highlight what it was that they did that helped. Then, maybe, they know what to repeat for others to have more helpful experiences. 

The collaboration won’t all be about my experiences and advice though; we want to also include some means of shedding light on the fact that Ambulance staff are battling their own difficult experiences with callouts and are also requiring mental health support. I really want the series to highlight that these type of ‘professionals’ are people too! Like, yes they do their shift, but do they really just ‘switch off’ when they get home? Can they just forget what they’ve seen? And to be honest, I’m so proud that I’ve created a blog that can be a platform for messages like this. A space on the internet where organisations like NEAS feel confident in trusting me and I’m NOT Disordered with their name and reputation. It’s an honour to be granted such a privilege.

10. NORTHUMBRIA POLICE COMPLAINT RESOLUTION

A good few months ago now, I had a very terrible experience – probably the worst one I think – with an Officer of Northumbria Police. And to say it was the ‘worst one’ is definitely saying a lot. I mean I’ve had instances where I’ve been called an attention-seeker and told that they don’t care if I kill myself as long as they don’t get the blame for it! So… it really is saying a lot!

After the Crisis Team reported their concerns about me to the Police, two Officers (one male and one female) came to my door. From the first second we spoke, the make Officer was nasty, spiteful, and rude. He labelled suicide as doing ‘something silly’ and when I told him that comments like that were exactly what I had trained the recruits not to say, I was told to ‘shut up.’ And when I told them what I had done, he said “well done! You’re going to hospital, aren’t you?!”

In the car, on the way to the hospital, he demanded I call my Mum and told me to put her on speaker. When my Mum said what I had already told him (that it was in my care plan for her not to sit with me in hospital) and finished the call, he said “like Mother, like Daughter!”

At the hospital, he said that I was full of myself, and that he wasn’t going to ‘pander’ to me. When we were waiting for the Nurse, the Officer started talking to a Paramedic about how he was dating one of their colleagues. And this was when I made the only comment during the interaction that I’m actually ashamed of. The only comment I think ‘where the hell did that come from?’ And where I feel that if the comment did anything, it was prove just how horrible he’d been because it’d led me to say something I never normally would have. I shouted across the hallway “does his girlfriend know he thinks suicide is stupid? Does she know the kind of person he really is?!” To which he almost predictably shouted back “alright! You’ve had your say! Shut up now!”

And whilst the Nurse and Healthcare Assistant were speaking to me and trying to do my observations with the various machines, the Officer and I literally continued screaming at each other. It got to the point where the female Officer actually told him to go outside and ‘take a breath.’  Now to me, if your colleague is getting so irate that you have to say that, something is very wrong. But she failed to speak up and stand up for me. 

After going outside, the Officer came in and told me that he’d just spoken to his ‘boss’ and they agreed with everything he’d said to me. Even at the time, I realised this was him attempting to be sneaky and underhand in trying to deter me from putting in a complaint against him. As though I would think ‘oh well if the boss agrees, what’s the point?’ But when two Officers came to take over and he left, they told me that he wasn’t a nice person in general and that my complaint wouldn’t be the first one against him.

I was really impressed with how quickly the response was to the complaint, but it is still ongoing and so I’m going into 2022 with the incident kind of hanging over me. But, because I feel able to cope should I get the worst possible response e.g. if he denies everything, then it doesn’t really feel like a huge weight to bare or like a dark cloud hovering. 

11. ALL THE BOOKS I WANT TO READ:

The Magpie Society: One For Sorrow by Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch: £8.99

Broken Things by Lauren Oliver: £2.99

The Prison Doctor: Women Inside by Dr Amanda Brown: £2.99

Wonderland by Juno Dawson: £2.49

The Birthday by Carol Wyer: £1.99

The Playground Murders by Lesley Thomson: £2.59

After Anna by Alex Lake: £2.99

The Woman Inside by E. G. Scott: £2.99


PART TWO COMING TOMORROW AT 11AM!!