For the third time in my blogging career, I hosted another party to celebrate a milestone I’m NOT Disordered and I have reached (the previous two were for reaching 100,000 readers and then reaching 1,000,000), and I have to admit, I think it was actually my favourite one of them all! With the previous two events being quite large and formal, I wanted to do something more informal and intimate. I mean, at the 100k party, I had 100 guests and a few were merely plus one’s for the people who I did know! And then not many people were able to come to my one million party because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. So, keeping in mind that nothing ever goes perfectly, I decided to host this party at a local café (Dolly Dimples) for nine of the most important people in my life and it’s that which has inspired this post about how much all of the party attendees, and you (as my readers) mean to me…
Having been a mental health service user and psychiatric hospital inpatient on so many occasions and for so long, has meant that I’ve almost inevitably heard some massively upsetting experiences others have been through. And one in particular has been around bullying. Hearing the gravity of trauma that others have gone through in being bullied, has – understandably – left me comparing my own experiences to them and being left feeling so stupidly insignificant. However, I recognise the importance of not making comparisons in mental health because it can so easily lead to difficult and challenging thoughts and feelings. So, I feel confident and comfortable in stating that I was bullied in School – the worst being at High School where girls who I had considered friends began bullying me at School and online (back when MSN messenger was the only way to chat!).
At the time, it was obviously really upsetting because I had no other friends so when they would be condescending and sarcastic at school and deny the online messages, I tried to stick with the group. Now that I’ve heard other people’s experiences with bullying, I recognise how lucky I was to not have had any of it be violent and physical in any way. But I think the largest reason why it had such a big affect on my mood and began to jeopardise my safety was because the sexual abuse I went through was actually happening at the exact same time. In fact, my abuser was one of the relevant people to speak to the girls and end their nasty comments and name-calling. And that in itself was hard too – to feel both grateful and have hatred towards one person.
think that whilst my experience of bullying wasn’t horrendous on the grand scale of things, it has definitely stuck with me; but I’ve turned it into something positive. I now see it as an extra reason to really appreciate my friends now because I know how it feels to have none, or to be betrayed by the ones you thought you had. Initially though, I was still kind of wary with new people so when two friends introduced me to a younger girl called Sophie, I was dubious and sceptical. It’s kind of one of the few things in my life where I say, “if you’d told me that we’d be best friends for over sixteen years; I’d have laughed in your face!”
I mean, going through the abuse when I met Sophie meant that I had this thought in the back of my head that my life was never going to be straightforward. I knew that the poop would hit the fan eventually because deep down I recognised that despite my many reasons to stay quiet and not report it, the truth always comes out in the end. I mean, I had already had an instance of suicidal thoughts and feelings when I was in my abuser’s first story office and found myself considering whether I could break out of his grip, leap across his desk, and jump out the window! And having that experience left me very sceptical that anyone would even want to be my friend, but Sophie is one of those people who lights up a room simply by walking into it – like her smile is infectious! And, in meeting someone so positive, bubbly, and funny, I became more eager to build friendships just like mine with her when I had to go to a totally different school to study my A Levels.
At the new school (in 2007)l, I ended up ignoring the rumours about a girl I had started talking to and she ignored the ones about me, and I became friends with Lauren. After almost two years in school together, we had made some great memories, but the only memories that seemed to completely take charge of my entire head, were those of the abuse. So, ten days after I started experiencing hallucinations, I made a suicide attempt where – in the middle of it – Lauren (who I was trying to keep oblivious to the entire thing!) picked up on something and asked if I was ok. And I’ll never forget that lie I told her – telling her I was fine; and then continue with my attempt has stayed with me since it happened in over ten years ago. I like to think that Lauren really understands why I did that and that I should feel no regret; but I think it shows the depth of our friendship for me to remember this one, terrible, moment in it.
For the following three years, I spent the majority of the time in and out of medical and psychiatric hospitals for various reasons (but mostly because of self-harm or psychotic episodes), and with that taking up the majority of my life, there was no real opportunity to make any new friends. And even though I seemed to become a whole different person when my mental health declined, Lauren and Sophie stood by me, and when I was well, we continued to spend a lot of time together on walks, drives, shopping, food, and nights out (a lot of nights out!).
During those three years, the only new connections (because I wouldn’t deem them to be friendships) I made were with other psychiatric service users. The one inpatient who had the largest impact on my life was… Well, let’s call her T. I met her in 2009 when I was transferred to a PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) for the first time. I had been on a normal ward and had managed to run away numerous times and so they made the decision to take me to the secure Unit. I remember being given a tour of the Unit by a member of staff and walking down a corridor when T was coming towards us. She was older than me and had white bandages up and down both arms and I was terrified. I mean, it was only my second admission, so I had very little experience of being around people who very openly self-harm or show other symptoms of a mental illness.
I spent the following few days keeping to myself in my room on the Unit and then one evening I wanted fresh air, so I went into the little courtyard, which was walled and fenced, and whilst I was out there, T came out. She sat down next to me on the bench and for no real reason, all of a sudden, we were telling each other our life stories! She talked about the abuse she had experienced and as I talked about mine, she realised that I hadn’t reported my trauma and began reassuring me that I should. And it’s strange that when my Mum – who I’ve obviously known my whole life and I’m so close to – asked me if something had happened when I first attempted suicide, I didn’t feel at all able to tell her. Yet, there was this complete stranger who I had a few (but hugely important) things in common with and I was pouring my heart out to her.
After an hour or so, T had bolstered my confidence and I found myself telling the staff what had been done to me. Now, whilst the whole legal process with the Police (who the staff were obliged to inform) was so incredibly… Well, almost destroying; I don’t regret reporting it at all. And whilst I recognise that it took a lot for me to go through that process of giving my statements in various methods and discussing the Police’s support of my report, I also recognise how thankful I am to T for encouraging me all the way. In the end, this was an essential step in my mental health journey; because even though the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him (he pled not guilty) it helped me so much to know that I had still done all that I could to protect and prevent this from happening to someone else. And – in my eyes – that wouldn’t have happened without T.
I’d like to think that I’m a very honest person, so even though I would never tell someone not to report their own experiences of abuse, I had to still talk about the difficulties I experienced in reporting mine. And I’ll continue to be honest in saying that completing the report and it coming to a bit of a close with the Police reassuring me that they completely believed and that they were actually frustrated they couldn’t do any more after the decision of CPS; didn’t mean that some kind of magic wand had been waved and now I’d talked about it, things would never get worse. Because they did. Much worse. But it was so incredibly helpful to be confident that the report was in no way responsible for that deterioration of my mental health that left me on life support after making a suicide attempt in 2012.
When I was woken from the coma, I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital specialising in my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and whose ‘average length of admission’ was stated to be ’12 – 18 months’ because the Therapy programme they ran took at least that long to complete. I had agreed to go to the hospital, but when I got there, I tried to run off the ward and I remember one of the other inpatients shouting at me saying “we’ve all had our leave stopped because every time we try to use it and go out, you try and escape!” And a realisation hit me – if I was going to have to stay there for that long, I really needed to not make enemies on my first day!
Being as mentally unwell as I was when I was admitted, I didn’t really recognise how hard it would be to be over 100 miles away (I had lived in Northumberland and the hospital was in Bradford) from my Mum and my friends. But I quickly realised that I needed to still have some sort of friendships, and so – despite being the second youngest on the ward – I began bonding with the other girls (it was an all-female ward). And almost inevitably, I became really close with the girl who was the youngest/closest to my age. Together, we reached a point where, when one of us was struggling; the other knew how to help in a much better way than the actual staff did!
But, when I became well enough to be granted leave home every so often, I began struggling with the thought of classing the girl in hospital (we’ll call her C) as my best friend when Lauren and Sophie were still there. I mean, Sophie even drove down to visit me – she brought me a pink Christmas tree for my room but I wasn’t allowed it because it had built-in lights that were glass! And always thinking about how much longer I’d known them compared to C? Well, it felt almost disrespectful to even debate considering C to be a better friend when I’d known her for – by the end of my admission – two and a half years. But the thing was, you go into a psychiatric hospital with lots of feelings of isolation and loneliness that it becomes almost natural for you to latch onto another person. Especially when that hospital is so far away from home and you’re in it for so long. It’s like; how could I not make friends?!
In the psychiatric hospital, having created I’m NOT Disordered after almost one year as an inpatient, I ended up receiving two horrible comments on my content. One wishing me ‘luck’ with my next suicide attempt, and I can’t even remember what the other one said because it’s become so unimportant. But at the time, it gave me a push towards ending my blogging career and deleting my blog. I think that this showed just how highly I hold the views of my readers. That if they were to say something spiteful then that would take precedent over how I felt about things. And after three months without my blog, I recognised that I needed to find a balance – that my readers comments needed to mean something, but that they shouldn’t overshadow my own thoughts and feelings.
A prime example of that, is that when I was finally discharged in 2014, C was living even further away from me, and she actually contacted me and said that she found it difficult to be friends with someone who was ok talking about mental health so openly when she just wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened. And this, was a bit of a lesson… It taught me just how passionate and dedicated I am to I’m NOT Disordered; in that there are some people who have been and some who are still in my life where I wouldn’t change what I do for their sake. If I’d done something wrong then yes, but if it’s purely about how honest I am, then no. I’d feel like an absolute fraud to change my content in a way that might benefit someone else over helping myself. I mean, it just made me think about how all of this started – that it was intended to help my friends and family’s understanding but had become so incredibly therapeutic for me along the way.
So, after moving into my own home, ending my friendship with C, being closer than ever to Lauren and Sophie, I recognised the importance of my blog and how committed I was to it. And that passion and determination led me to begin attending mental health events, meetings, and conferences; as well as starting to seek out collaborations with organisations, charities, brands, and important (to myself or/and the general public) individuals. In throwing myself more into this industry and submerging myself in the content I was producing, I almost inevitably met new people and two of these people were two others who attended my party; Marty (from gumonmyshoe.com) and Jack (who now works for our local NHS mental health trust: CNTW).
People might find it surprising to know that when Marty and I first met, we did get on with each other but didn’t become immediate friends! That happened over time. Over time, I found myself absolutely in awe of his kindness and compassion for everyone – even complete strangers! And one of the most amazing facts about him is his mental health blog! To be honest, until we were best friends, I didn’t realise just how much I would benefit from having someone who engaged in the same activity that was seeming to define my entire life and encouraging my mental health recovery in some massive ways. It’s been so comforting to know that I have a best friend who can really properly understand when I have a blog themed meltdown!
Then, Jack; I actually met years ago and he did a guest post in 2015 on I’m NOT Disordered (you can read it here). We kind of lost touch for quite a while until the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) Staff Excellence Awards in September last year (you can read my post about that event here) when we were seated together. Now, whilst I can go without seeing Lauren, Sophie, and Marty for a while and us still have the same friendship when we get together, seeing Jack was kind of the same and kind of different! We hadn’t talked for ages but then as soon as we were together at the Awards it was as though we’d been best friends the entire time! To be fair though, there was a lot of alcohol involved and so I worried that this, and our excitement from the event was the main cause for the amount of fun we had! So, we got together for Newcastle Christmas Market in December and oh my goodness did we have fun?! With hardly any alcohol!
Jack and I actually ended up working together again when he completed a Christmas Q&A for Blogmas 2022 (you can read it here) and so, when his Mum followed me on social media and Jack told me she’d seen I’m NOT Disordered and liked my content, I invited them both to the 10th Birthday Party! You see, for me, I’m really eager to meet the family of my best friends, because I feel that it really strengthens our friendship. And I really really really love when this means not only meeting Sophie and Lauren’s other halves (Sophie’s husband is Craig and Lauren’s partner; Darren) but most importantly and lovely; their children (Sophie has a little girl called Freya, and Lauren has a son named Greylan) too! And regardless of the fact that they all came to the party, I’ve met them all a bunch of times, and both children are almost two years old, I still find it hard to believe that the best friends I spent so many drunken nights with, are actually mums now! It’s like another scary and unbelievable illustration of the fact that we’re all growing up!
Another guest at the 10th Birthday Party was Rachel who I had also attended some schools with – Middle School, and then College for our A Levels. I think we’ve always had each other on social media and have liked each other’s posts and things but never really got together to do anything. However, her support in recent years of I’m NOT Disordered has been hugely helpful. It’s so nice to have someone who has known me for so long be able to see just how much I’ve grown and to have her acknowledge and congratulate me on all of my achievements has been such an incredible notion. It’s almost like a reminder of how far I have come. And this is something which – I have found – is a fairly challenging notion in the blogging industry. You can really easily lose sight of how much you and your blog had developed and grown. And I think as a Blogger, you don’t always see this because you’re seeing your blog and creating your content so regularly… It’s kind of like when you see someone daily and don’t notice a change in their appearance, unless you only see them every now and then, then the change becomes more obvious because you haven’t watched it closely, steadily change.
Last but not least, probably the most important guest… my Mum! I’m not sure if there’s too much say here because I feel like I’ve talked about our amazing relationship so many times on I’m NOT Disordered that even the newer readers will know how special it is and how much she means to me – and, in particular, to my mental health. I mean, I literally wouldn’t be here without her – when I was woken from that coma in 2012, the hospital psychiatric staff were just going to send me home (where I would very obviously make another suicide attempt) and it was my Mum and my community staff’s efforts that got me sent to the specialist hospital. At first, I was definitely not grateful for that at all! But obviously now that I’m in recovery, I can 100% appreciate and be thankful for their hard work and conviction that if I had a future, I would do well in it.
In some respects, my Mum is actually the complete opposite to me – especially in terms of social media and blogging. My Mum is a very private person and would likely openly say that there are things in her life that she wouldn’t put out there for public consumption. Firstly, with this, I want to make it clear that there is a lot about my life that you (as my readers) don’t know and that it’s like my Mum says that people choose what to show you so don’t assume that’s all there is – especially when that leads to the mistaken belief that someone’s life is ‘perfect.’ Now, the amazing aspect in this absolute difference in our behaviour and opinion, is that my Mum still continues to completely support me and my blogging career. I mean, in terms of privacy; she’s never read a post and said, “are you sure you want everyone to know that?” She’s recognised that I’ve very obviously made that decision for myself (which is what I should be doing in these situations) and appreciates that in making the decision I have, meant that I have clearly thought of gains and benefits to being so honest and open.
One of the largest gains, is I’m NOT Disordered’s readers! I completely recognise that without you all, my blog wouldn’t be where it is today. I wouldn’t be where I am – and who I am – today. I mean, in the beginning of blogging, when I would pitch collaborations to organisations and people I would usually do so by explaining the story behind my mental health and why I created my blog; and whilst it very often was enough to secure the collaboration, it wasn’t totally shy of receiving negative replies. As the audience has built though, and more and more of you have come along for the ride; I’ve discovered that telling prospective partners my blog’s ‘statistics’ is more compelling. Initially, I didn’t like that; I thought it made it look as though I wasn’t enough for these people. But in the end, I recognise that if it weren’t for me/the content that I create, there would be no readers. But still, I could not be more grateful for you all being the greatest influence on the amazing opportunities I get to experience.
Thank you all for ten incredible years!