“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
So, the other week was a bit hectic, wasn’t it?! I don’t know if it showed – I really hope it did – but I put a lot of effort into creating the content that was published every day for Mental Health Awareness Week (if you missed it, the re-cap about each day is here: RE-CAP | MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK: DAY SEVEN | I'm NOT Disordered (imnotdisordered.co.uk)). With the amount of time and effort in mind, I had the brilliant idea of treating myself after it and having visited – and loved – Leeds before, I began trawling through booking.com for hotels and then National Rail for train price; and the trip kind of snowballed from there…
My first consideration in travelling:
The first thing I really considered as the plans and arrangements and bookings were starting to take shape, was my mental health. You know when you’re in the habit of doing something to the point where even when you don’t need to do it anymore, you continue to? This was like that. I mean, my mental health has been so stable for what feels like forever now, and that stability feels pretty concrete; but I still feel the need to think about how a certain plan or event etc will impact it.
I think a huge reason for this is because I’ve now seen what it looks like when I don’t think about my mental health. When I don’t carefully consider what decisions would be best for it. It’s kind of like with my medication too… I’ve seen how terrible the hallucinations get without it and that makes me really reluctant to ever have the dose decreased or for it to completely stop. Of course, this is mostly a good, positive thing and is a huge reason I’m safe.
The one drawback, however, is the notion that those hard, challenging, unsafe days, months, and years(!), are having an impact on my life no matter how ‘far away’ I am from them. That no matter how stable and happy I am, I make decisions based on fear. Perfect example: I was on a high dose of painkillers and the GP was eager to reduce it because there’s a risk of addiction. So, she gradually lowered the dose and I found that rather than the pain not being as bad as I thought it was, the reason I’m coping on the reduced dose, is that my mental health is able to cope with a higher amount of pain than I thought it could.
So, for this trip, I used that consideration of my mental health to determine the train times – I chose to travel early afternoon so that I didn’t have to get up too early to get the train station, and I chose to come home early afternoon so that I still had the rest of the day to unpack and spend time with my pets (I have a bunny called Luna and a cat called Emmy). Then, I used it when choosing a hotel because I knew that if I booked one a little distance from the city centre, I’d have to get taxis to and from the shops and the train station and that’d be an extra stress. I also wanted to stay at the Radisson because of the fact the ensuites had baths and my bathroom at home is a wet room so there’s only a shower, which means that having a bath feels like a treat and a luxury!
Tip for finding a hotel on booking.com: make use of the ‘filter’ feature to select more specific qualities you’re looking for and narrow down the search results
Tip for booking your train: when considering the times of departure and arrival; always factor in the amount of time it’ll take you to travel to the train station and the time it’ll take at the other end so that an ‘early’ start doesn’t turn out to be a ‘very early start’
The importance of budgeting:
One of the many symptoms of my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that I’ve struggled with, has been impulsivity, particularly around my spending… It’s something I don’t mention a lot online because I’m with the large group of people who believe that talking about money can be awkward, inappropriate, and sometimes just downright rude. But it kind of feels necessary here because budgeting for this trip was also connected with me making considerations around my mental health.
For quite a while, I tolerated being labelled superficial because my happiness is often enhanced by material objects and money. Since doing Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) though, I learnt about the power of self-soothing and distraction, and to do those things, you tend to need an object of some kind – whether it’s a crossword in the free newspaper or a massage in an expensive spa! So, I saw it as a bit of ammunition in explaining that what my happiness depended on shouldn’t be the most important thing. The most important thing should be that I’m happy.
So, like most people, there are particular days when money goes into my bank, and since I decided that I’d go shopping when I got to Leeds, I decided on a date for my trip according to those occurrences of the payments and the dates of my bills. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought so reasonably and sensibly and probably would have ended up having to borrow money to go away. It meant that I felt really relaxed and not at all stressed about money while I was away – I wasn’t worrying that if I needed a taxi, I’d not be able to afford it, or if I found lots at the shops, I might not be able to buy everything. And that comfort and reassurance was a really good feeling.
Tip for budgeting: Always try to factor in an extra £10 - £50 for emergencies, but I believe that you really can’t put a price on peace of mind
Tips for packing:
ü Don’t leave it until the last minute!
ü Think through what you need on a day-by-day basis
ü Pack more toiletries than you think you need
ü Take an extra charging cable for your phone
ü Pack an extra pair of trousers/jeans/leggings for drink or food spillages!
ü Don’t feel stressed about decanting products – just take mini toiletries where possible
ü When thinking about the size of your luggage, consider if you’ll have things to bring home
DK Luggage: £42.95
American Tourister: £397.30
Kono with Charging Port: £51.84
Ted Baker: £168.00
DKNY: £69.99 - £99.99
London Fog: £39.99
Beverley Hills Polo Club: £49.99
Power Bank: £19.99
Multiple Port Plug: £13.59
Wireless Headphones: £349.00
3 Pack Charger Cables: £15.99
iPad Keyboard Case: £32.99
Flash Drive: £21.24
Laptop Sleeve: £11.04
3 in 1 tripod: £9.59
Electronics Organizer: £7.64
Travel Toiletries Wash Bag: £9.99
Travel Journal: £20.36
Laundry Travel Bag: £15.99
Puzzle Book: £4.99
Luggage Tags: £8.99
Travel Jewellery Box: £10.99
Sleep Mask: £8.99
Talking about mental health on the train and why I’m used to it…
Not long after I got on the train to Leeds, an older guy got on and sat on the seat opposite mine (I was at one of those four-person tables) and somehow, we got talking. He asked why I was going to Leeds and so I told him about my blog and after the usual questions (“do you make a lot of money from that?” and “how can I see it?”) he began telling me about his own experiences of ill mental health.
When I’m NOT Disordered’s popularity first began to grow, I found myself drowning in emails and comments from people telling me their life stories with details of their own trauma, their self-harm, or their suicide attempts. And it was so overwhelming that I did question whether I could cope with it and considered taking my email off the ‘contact’ page. In the end though, I realised that if I was going to be so honest and open about my experiences of all of those things, a reader then getting in touch to talk about their own, could be considered a completely understandable response. It’s like when you get ‘celebrities’ who moan about losing their privacy and people say, “what did you expect?” Now, on the one hand I can understand that thought process but having started to blog with my friends and family as my only target audience, I genuinely didn’t think I was signing up for those difficult and upsetting emails from complete strangers all over the world!
To finally recognise that these emails were going to naturally come with what I was going, I made the startling realisation that I needed to practice what I preach. I mean, if I’m going to advise people reach out for help and that they talk more about mental health in general, how can I send someone away when they turn to me to do those things?
That thought process was also really helpful in encouraging me to find the importance of balance with this. I began to see that whilst all the people emailing were so important and so deserving of a response, I couldn’t offer every single person an efficient, effective, helpful reply. And I couldn’t read every email without absorbing some of the sadness spilling out of them. And if I did that – if I let all of the emails affect me to the degree, they had the potential to – it could change me. It could harden me and leave me reluctant to continue blogging. So, I’ve developed a little system for the issue and it seems to be working well – I mean, I haven’t been floored by anything I’ve read and no one has complained about their response – so I must be doing something right!
Tip for coping with a difficult conversation: Use some grounding techniques to remind yourself of your reality so as not to get lost in any flashbacks and memories that might be triggered by the conversation
Tips on talking about mental health in public:
§ Be mindful of the language others are using e.g. does anyone steer clear of ‘rape’ or ‘suicide’?
§ If you’re uncertain of whether someone will feel comfortable answering a question, don’t ask!
§ Regulate how much you tell people about your own mental health to avoid feeling vulnerable
§ Consider how what you say will affect others – will it be upsetting or inspirational?
§ Be aware of your surroundings and whether others can overhear
Reflecting on the first five things I did in Leeds:
1. Walked straight past the entrance to my hotel!
When my mental health was at its most poorly, I started running away and when I was planning my little ‘trips’ I used to use Google Street View to have some sort of expectations for what I’d see when I got there. Going to Leeds though, well, I’ve already been there a few times so I thought I had a fairly decent idea of where I would need to go from the train station… But things had changed a little – there was new shops and roadworks etc. – and my hotel wasn’t in a part of the city centre where I’d really been to before. Fortunately, about a two-minute walk from the station, you could see the sign for my hotel, and it was only another five minutes down a straight road to get there so I didn’t really get lost. It was just that the hotel was kind of built into a bit of a centre with restaurants, so I carried my very heavy suitcase up these stairs and walked straight past the hotel’s entrance! Turned out I hadn’t needed to go up the stairs at all! So, I think that if I was to go somewhere else by myself, I would have a better look at Google maps first to avoid the stress of going the wrong way!
2. Managed to get early check-in
The realisation that no matter what time you get to a destination, you may not be able to check in to your accommodation for quite some time. Of course, there’s always the chance of asking your hotel if they will hold your luggage so that you can go about your day and go back – a lot of hotels do this for a really small charge. My hotel actually also had the option of paying £25 to select a time you wanted to check in because it wasn’t until 3pm (and they offered a charge to have a later checkout too). So, this is all just something to keep in mind when you’re booking transport and making plans for Day One of your trip.
Isn’t weird when some of the most basic and, perhaps, boring things can become really debateable? Like whether to fully unpack as soon as you get to your hotel room or whether you should just pick stuff out of your suitcase as you go! Personally, I like to unpack so that I feel a bit more organised and settled in (no matter how short my stay!). One thing I’ll say though; if you do fully unpack, before you check out, go through the entire room (don’t forget the bathroom!) before you close your suitcase!
4. Video chat/room tour with Mum
From before I left, my Mum had said to have fun and not to worry about keeping in touch (we usually talk a few times a day) other than to let her know I’d got there safe. Thing is, after being in the psychiatric hospital for over two years and over 100 miles away from her, I feel like I appreciate being close to my Mum so much more. I mean, having had visits to and from her limited, and only being allowed to talk on the ward’s communal phone at certain times, has really given me so much more gratitude for doing the smallest of things with my Mum. And so, showing her my hotel room on a video chat was an important thing to do when I got there.
5. Changed clothes
After once leaving my hometown with it being sunny and warm, and then arriving somewhere to find that it was snowing; I try to check the weather forecast of wherever I’m travelling to (not just for what I wear the day I travel, but also in terms of packing outfits for my time away). Unfortunately, I forgot to do that for this trip and so when I got to Leeds in leggings and a cardigan, I was absolutely boiling and ended up changing into shorts once I was in my room before going back out.
My two most sensible decisions:
1. To stop shopping after TK Maxx
I had decided that I wanted to go to three shops in Leeds (Boots, Primark, and TK Maxx) and checked on Google Maps to see which was nearest. Turned out my favourite – TK Maxx – was only a three-minute walk from my hotel! So, I headed there first, but as I walked around my favourite departments (handbags, tops, and makeup!) I found myself feeling more and more tired and became unable to imagine walking further to the other shops.
Also, I spotted this bag with like a body of hessian and a lilac leather on either end, at the back of a line of other bags and when I brought it forward and saw the ‘Valentino’ badge on the front I think I actually gasped with joy (Valentino’s my absolute favourite brand for handbags!)! To be honest, ‘dream bag’ came to mind! And even though it was well within my budget for my spending money, I kind of thought that there was no chance I would find a more amazing purchase! And so, after adding a highlighter and bronzer to the basket, I headed back to the hotel.
2. To have a nap
In my hotel room, I realised I had a good few hours until I needed to go to dinner and I thought that I’d spend the time in the comfortable, huge bed doing some blogging. I also decided that after how hot I’d got, I really wanted to totally re-do my make up for going out, so I took that off and put some Greys Anatomy on while I blogged.
When I realised I really needed a nap, I was a bit reluctant because I wanted to enjoy every minute of my trip, but I recognised that I wouldn’t enjoy things if I didn’t get some sleep! So, I set an alarm, had a nap, and when I woke up, I felt so fresh and energised that I knew it had been the right decision.
So, after booking my trip, I began to wonder whether it would be quite saddening to just be sat in my hotel room all evening, so I sent a message to Debbie, the amazing lady who had been my Key Nurse whilst I was an inpatient for two and a half years. The psychiatric hospital had been in Bradford, so I knew Debbie still lived that way and we’ve kept in touch since my discharge but hadn’t seen each other since 2015, so I thought we were well over-due a catch-up! And when I discovered my hotel had a really nice bar/restaurant, I booked a table.
Things talked about at dinner:
Obviously, I’m not going to talk about Debbie’s side of the conversation around relationships, but let’s just say ‘congratulations’ are in order! And it led me to talk about my ex (who I’d had an on/off relationship with for nine years; including whilst in the psychiatric hospital) and how the thing that I miss most, wasn’t him as a person. It’s just that the idea of not having someone to come home to or a person who you feel knows you better than anyone else in the world, is something I really wish I had again.
Whilst I miss that side of a relationship, I also really enjoy being single! I love that my home is mine again and there’s no notion of influence to change it into something that suits someone else too. I also love the absence of pressure to look good at all times – like, it feels nice to take off my makeup in the middle of the afternoon and put my pjs back on because I’m not going out for the rest of the day! Something else I really love is that my pets completely rely on me – they’re truly mine and they have no other favourite person!
I’m NOT Disordered
Debbie told me something I actually hadn’t known before… Apparently there was a bit of a big meeting with staff of the hospital to discuss the fact I had started blogging about my experiences whilst an inpatient. Whilst I didn’t know that had happened, it didn’t surprise me because there were two instances where my blog was brought up by staff and they weren’t in a positive light – one was because I’d forgetfully not anonymised a member of staff in a blog post, and the second was when someone asked the Ward Manager a question and he said “I won’t answer that because it’ll end up on Aimee’s blog!”
In the first instance, I was sorry and used it as a learning curve to put more effort into keeping the lives and details of others out of I’m NOT Disordered and render them unavailable to all of its readers. But the second instance made me kind of angry. It left me feeling like my blog was completely misunderstood. That this Ward Manager thought it similar to a trashy tabloid and not a therapeutic aid to my mental health recovery and a helpful resource for others to develop a better understanding and knowledge of mental illness (which is what I like to think it actually is!).
Remembering those early days of my blog, enhanced the surrealness I regularly experience (mostly when thinking about the number of readers I’m NOT Disordered has) by giving me the opportunity to really recognise the growth of it. And I honestly believe that in doing that, I’m able to stay so much more grateful and appreciative of the new, exciting, and honourable opportunities I’m offered off the back of my blog’s success and popularity.
Memories of my admission
The most helpful thing Debbie did for me when I was an inpatient was after I went AWOL. She had signed me out and in doing so, had testified that I was safe and would be ok to leave the hospital for a particular amount of time. I wasn’t though. Back then, only my Mum could see through my lies of “I’m ok,” so it felt kind of easy and almost natural to pull the wool over the eyes of professionals.
After running off and making a suicide attempt that left me in a medical hospital needing life-saving treatment, I got back to the psychiatric ward and found Debbie to be really… cold? Like, we would always have a laugh and some banter and then also serious and deep and meaningful chats too; but after going AWOL, she seemed to be really reluctant to speak to me let alone spend any time with me.
So, I can’t remember how but somehow(!) we ended up talking and she finally told me that she was hurt that I’d lied to her and that I really needed to consider the consequences my actions could have had on her too. That she was asked why she’d signed me out and that if I’d actually died, she would have held that with her for the rest of her life. And that was the first time I really recognised how my actions were affecting others. And realising that is sometimes hard because I think ‘how could I not have seen that with my Mum?’ but sometimes, in mental health recovery, you’re just not in the right place (mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically) for something to work/help.
Finally taking responsibility for my actions, was probably one of the biggest contributors to my recovery because it meant that I began thinking of others and developed a healthier view of the behaviours of others. I mean, for one, I stopped blaming myself for the abuse and realised it was more about the fact that my abuser wasn’t taking responsibility for his actions.
A quick thanks: to our waitress Briony, and for the 20% discount on our food thanks to our dazzling personalities, banter, and job roles!
“I slept like a baby”:
At home, my bedtime routine usually consists of putting something on Amazon Prime Video that I’ve seen a ton of times and falling asleep with that on. Then, if Emmy comes onto the bed, I have to move into a position where my arm is outstretched so that she can curl into my armpit. So, in sleeping in the hotel, I wasn’t sure if I’d get to sleep at all because I’d not have my cat snuggling in! Turns out though, I sleep a ton better without my cat constantly moving into different positions and without her unpredictable, random purring and meows! So yes, I had a lovely, solid sleep that night!
The teamwork it took to get me home:
So, I got to the train station the following day a bit early (checkout was at noon and my train wasn’t until 12:45) but when I looked at the departures board, I saw that my train was cancelled. I remember feeling my mouth drop open and then I said “what?! What am I supposed to do now?!” as though I was with someone who would respond! Turns out, I’ve been lucky in a way because I’ve only ever had trains be delayed and never cancelled, but then unlucky because it meant that I had no idea what to do! Then I spotted a guy in uniform and asked him. He told me to just jump on any train that was going to my destination, but I realised that would mean that I didn’t have a reserved seat and with my history of seizures, sitting tends to help! He said that was special circumstances and to go talk to the LNER information desk. The lady on there then sent me to a Train Manager from Cross Country who was helping board the train, but when he checked my ticket, he realised it was for a TransPennine Express train! Finally, he spoke to someone else, and they let me get on their train and use a seat in the last carriage that was labelled as ‘unreserved seating.’
Why everyone should go on a solo trip:
ü You develop a better appreciation for your home and the people or pets who you’ve been away from
ü It helps you to learn to love your own company and to not be terrified if you go through a period of having fewer commitments with others
ü Being solo helps to build your confidence in social settings and going out in public alone can become less challenging for anyone who feels anxious with that notion
ü The chance to explore somewhere you haven’t been before without the pressure or stress of going where others want to go
ü The chance to have some quality ‘me time’ where you can really do all that you want, to benefit your own wellbeing without worrying about whether anyone else is happy too!