No, that title is no joke; I really have started producing content for Blogmas 2020! I actually did a poll on my Twitter too to see if anyone else was, and I got a unanimous ‘no!’

I was in two minds about writing this post because part of me was worried that people would think I was trying to ‘justify’ my decision and would believe I should be more confident and not worry what others think. But the other part of me – the part which has won! – wanted to do this post to maintain the usual ethos of I’m NOT Disordered; and that is to help others understand someone else’s decision, experiences, behaviour, thoughts, feelings, and attitude, in a bid to encourage them not to hold any sort of stigma or discrimination  against those they feel that they can’t identify with. I also hoped that this post might be an opportunity to encourage others to have confidence and courage in talking about any decisions they’ve made that they worry might be deemed ‘unpopular.’

A few reasons led to my decision to start planning for Blogmas…

I recognize how much time and effort will go into it

When I first started, I’m NOT Disordered in 2013, I had never intended it to become what it is today! I wanted to blog as a way to vent about all the daily dramas on the psychiatric ward I was an inpatient on, as a way to process my thoughts, and to document my mental health recovery journey. When it came to others reading it, my only hope and intention with that, was for it to reach my friends and family to provide them with insight into my life in the psychiatric hospital which was over 100 miles away from them. To this day – seven years later – I still can’t put my finger on exactly when and why the blog’s popularity grew to what it is today (over three quarters of a million readers) but as it did, I was almost forced to grow too so as not to be left behind!

In my growth, I watched other Bloggers who I admired (Zoe Sugg from Zoella, and Victoria Magrath from InTheFrow) produce blog posts/vlogs every day from December 1st to Christmas, and in 2017, I finally decided to do my own twist on it. I was unsure around what I was capable of in terms of producing so much content and I was also uncertain that my readers would even be willing to read that many posts! So, as a happy medium, I decided on a twelve-day series: Twelve Days of Christmas with I’m NOT Disordered (you can read the round-up of all the content produced in that series, here). In the series, I produced a Christmassy Q&A and had a huge variety of people answer the questions then on each day, I posted the answers of someone different. The people who took part varied from Police Inspectors, staff from Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, and other Bloggers. I thought it was a good opportunity to illustrate how everyone’s experience of the same event (Christmas) can differ so much!

The following year, 2018, I felt more confident producing another 12 Days series and chose to create a cat-themed Q&A, which a number of different cat owners were given, and each day for the twelve days, a different person’s answers were posted (you can read each post here). Evidence of my confidence in doing this series was really illustrated by the fact that I managed to get a collaboration charity for the entire series: Cats Protection!

This confidence really snow-balled and in 2019, I decided to do actual Blogmas AND go one step further – I also ran my first competition for I’m NOT Disordered! I spent alternate days (you can read the round-up to it here) in December reviewing products I’d been gifted by various companies on Etsy, and on the other days I wrote about the Christmas activities and events I did/attended. At on December 23rd I launched the competition to win every single item I’d reviewed (you can see all of the items and find links to buy them here). By Christmas Day, I was absolutely exhausted! And that was even though I’d halved the work because I had managed to write my reviews to the products when I received them all in November, so the only posts I had to write at the actual time, were the ones about the events etc.

It had still been a lot of work though and that fact left me really debating whether to do it all again this year! Last year, I’d also been left wondering whether having so much blogging to do, had meant that I couldn’t properly enjoy all of the Christmas activities I’d done. So, this year, I’ve started creating the content in September because I’ve learnt now just how much time and effort go into producing a ‘successful’ Blogmas – or at least, a Blogmas where I’m proud of the quality of it.

I like to plan ahead

Since I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2012, I’ve learnt that I really benefit from structure, organization, order, and predictability. When I had my assessment appointment with two of the staff from the hospital which specialised in Personality Disorders and was over 100 miles away from home, I was reluctant to be an inpatient there (at that point, I still had a say in whether I went there or not!). The thing that really put me off the idea was when they told me just how regimented life on the ward would be. It would mean early mornings, morning ward meetings, therapeutic groups all day, a ward reflection meeting in the evening, and a bedtime! Having already been sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act, I knew how it felt to lose your freedom and to have to ask permission to do anything. And having been in School, I knew how it felt to have every minute of your day scheduled and allotted to something that others had deemed worth your time.

So, I told the hospital – and the mental health professionals who had referred me to it – that it was a ‘no’ and carried on with my life of self-harm and made one more suicide attempt. One that left me on life support in Intensive Care. When I was woken from the coma, I was told that I’d be going to the specialist hospital whether I liked it or not! Losing control and having the psychiatric hospital staff tell me what to do with every minute of my day, initially made me frustrated and hateful, but after a few months (maybe even a year!) I began to see the positives and the benefits it was having. Like, it meant that I literally didn’t have time to sit down by myself and think of all the horrible things in my life and plan a suicide attempt! That didn’t mean I wasn’t still suicidal (in fact, I made two escapes and attempted suicide on each) or that I wasn’t struggling.

It also started to feel good to have my week planned out and to know what I would be doing the next day. And I guess it probably all stems back to the abuse and how it completely caught me off-guard. I mean, my abuser was someone who I – and everyone else – trusted and respected. And for my entire childhood I hadn’t been aware that what happened to me even existed for other people. Then, every time I thought he couldn’t possibly do any worse to me – couldn’t possibly make me feel any worse about myself – he did. Losing that reliability – not just on him as the person I had once known, but also on my misguided belief that these things didn’t happen in life, really knocked me back. I felt surprised and as though I’d been living a lie – that everything I’d ever known had fallen from beneath me and I had no idea why or how.

In the five years between the abuse ‘ending’ and me being admitted to that specialist hospital, I guess I lived life with uncertainty around everything, anything, and everyone. I was unsure who I could trust when it came to seeing mental health professionals, and I felt on edge knowing that at any moment things could get even worse. And even though self-harming became a ‘habit’ in that it was my automatic response to anything upsetting or difficult, it felt like at no point in life could it be predicted. And even after making a suicide attempt, I was reluctant to believe ‘the only way is up.’ I developed – and still abide by – the motto: ‘prepare for the worst, hope for the best.’

So, living a regimented life for – what ended up being – two and a half years in hospital, meant that I really discovered the benefits it could bring to my mental health and ever since being discharged from the hospital, I’ve enjoyed planning ahead. To the point where, if I were to do something at the spur of the moment, people might question whether I was feeling ok!


I needed a cheer-up

I recently injured my shoulder in separating my AC Joint and because it wasn’t a ‘dislocation’ it didn’t really need to be popped back in; but I have to wear a special sling which is slowly pulling it back into position. The Doctor in A&E said I’d have been better off properly dislocating it because even though it hurts like hell putting it back in, at least then it’s done. My separation though, is going to take 4-6 weeks to pull back into position, fortunately, the pain is easing since it happened but not massively. What made the injury a bit worse was that I did it in Edinburgh on my trip to see my God-Children (which/who you can read about here). Fortunately, it was at the very end of the trip, so I’d seen the children and we’d done everything we’d wanted to do.

Also, fortunately, my anti-psychotic medication is completely back in my system and working at its high level, so I’ve had no hallucinations and therefore no self-harm in over 30 days. I connect this to the shoulder injury because my mental health – like it is for so many others – is affected by pain and general physical illness. So, I’m massively grateful that this medication had been working when I’ve gotten the injury because it’s meant that I’m able to cope with it without it affecting my mental health too much. Of course, I still get upset and cry from the pain and sometimes from the inability to do my usual activities. I that having been in a psychiatric hospital for so long and it meaning that I was unable to do some regular things like putting on my make-up (some of my products were in glass packaging) and having a Christmas tree in my room (the lights/bulbs were glass), has meant that anything preventing me from doing daily activities reminds me of that time in my life.

So, I’ve had that going on, as well as having to make a hugely important, long-term decision around the pharmacy’s mistake in issuing the anti-psychotic (you can read about their mistake here) and the need to put more thought into an upcoming phone call with my Plastic Surgeon. When the pharmacy hadn’t been issuing my medication, I ended up self-harming and severed the nerves in my hand – the same hand I’d tore a tendon on, and the individual surgeries for both injuries haven’t worked (for different reasons). So the Plastic Surgery team gave my hand a few months to heal and booked an appointment in for October when they’ll reassess it for the possibility of doing both a tendon transfer and a nerve graft.

Growing up, Christmastime was always a very happy, positive, cheerful time and that didn’t stop until my mental health deteriorated when I was 18. Then, Christmas became something that just happened once a year, a time when I felt even more alone and distant from everyone else because everyone becomes so excitable and passionate and they have fun 24/7 at Christmastime. And that wasn’t me. But I felt like I had to make myself into that person in order to ‘blend in’ and avoid seeming to be even more ‘different.’ I thought that having a mental illness already made me stand out like a sore thumb and believed that hating Christmas – or at the very least, not finding joy in it – wouldn’t help matters!

I think things really turned around though when I spent a Christmas in the specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home and everyone I loved. It was like that saying about not knowing what you have until it’s gone. Like you don’t appreciate something until you lose it and then when you do, you realise how much you’d taken it for granted. Losing the ability to spend Christmas with my Mum was probably one of the hardest losses I sustained because of – and during – my two and a half years in the hospital. And I’m not being superficial – I don’t mean that it’s because I missed out on presents or chocolate; just that I missed out on all of the bits of Christmas which I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed. Like the exciting and fun activities leading up to the Day, seeing children’s ecstatic faces, and watching how magical even the most mundane places and things become!

So, since being discharged from the hospital on December 1st 2014, I feel like I’ve made the absolute most of Christmases (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) and why not stretch this one out by starting to celebrate and get excited for it in September?!

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