Tuesday, 9 October 2018


Every day someone asks me the same question: "How are you?". My answer is always "I'm good, thanks"

Sometimes this is true.

Sometimes this is a lie.

I've been open and honest about my mental health for the past 2 years, but even now I find many situations where I don't feel it is appropriate to blurt my feelings out to a co-worker or an acquaintance.

I often worry that oversharing will make me sound repetitive or boring. This can make the day difficult to navigate, especially when I'm feeling down. On many occasions, I will claim that I'm tired (which I usually am) or I'll appear to fixate on a minor issue that the people around me will understand without too much explanation. It's a fine line to walk though, as I don't want to look like I'm making a big deal out of nothing.

Sometimes the truth is just difficult to share. Not because its private (although this can be the case), but because its hard to explain. How do you describe feelings of emptiness or escapism in a one-sentence response to "How are you?"

A big reason for not sharing is simply that I don't believe that the person asking the question actually wants to know the real answer. Nobody wants to hear somebody's life story whenever they ask a simple "how are you?". Plenty of people tell me that they are here for me if I want to talk, and in that moment I believe that they are sincere. But when the time comes, not everyone really wants to listen. Realistically, people do not always have the time.

Wednesday 10th October is World Mental Health Day and the Time to Change movement is pushing their #asktwice campaign, a campaign which, in principle, is a fantastic idea.

Time to Change are trying to encourage people to ask how someone is multiple times as most people, like me, will claim that they are fine when they aren't. If you're concerned about someone, asking how they are more than once may show them that you are actually interested in their response and you're willing to listen. It's a way of giving that person an opportunity to talk, which is incredibly important.

I can't say for certain that this will always work but it has worked with me very recently and one success is better than the nothing you get when you don't try.

For more information on the #AskTwice campaign, please visit time-to-change.org.uk

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Focus on the Right Opinion

I remember the day that this photo was taken.

It was February 2018. I was on maternity leave from work and was struggling to get out of the house most days. Mike suggested that we take Ethan for a walk around the snow-covered park followed by a hot drink and lunch in the café. It was a cold but beautiful day.

On this day I was anxious. I was worried about slipping in the snow. I was worried about whether Ethan had enough layers on. I was worried about whether I had packed enough baby milk. I was worried about the fact that, at some point, I might make a complete fool out of myself in front of strangers.
I was worried that I wouldn’t like the soup on offer in the café. I was worried that the small group of mothers across the room were judging every my every action and choice. I was worried that they thought I’d overdressed Ethan. I was worried that they thought I’d underdressed Ethan. I was worried that they thought I looked tired. I was worried that they thought I was a rubbish mum.

Looking back on this day I realise that none of these worries were important. I didn’t slip in the snow. Ethan didn’t get sick from cold or hunger. I didn't make a fool of myself. I enjoyed the soup that the Café had in. Those mums weren’t thinking anything negative about me. They probably weren’t thinking about me at all.

One day, Ethan will see this photo. All he will see is that his mum took him out and we were happy.

Sometimes you need to see your life through the eyes of your child to understand what actually matters.

That’s the only opinion that matters.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Panic Attack

It's dark and I can't breathe. There are voices nearby but I can't make them out. I'm trapped and the world is closing in on me. There is nothing that I can do to stop it.

I am having a panic attack.

After what feels like an eternity, I hear a voice.

"Are you alright, love?"

Am I alright? There is no air in my lungs. I am shaking more vigorously than a bowl of jelly in an earthquake and I don't know where I am. I am sure I'm going to die today.

"I'm sorry!" I say, through the tears and smudged makeup.

I don't know what I'm sorry for, but I know that what is happening to me must be my fault.

"Just breathe," the voice says. "You're ok."

How could I be ok? I am going to die of oxygen deficiency in the next 60 seconds.

"Everything is going to be fine" the voice continued. "I'm going to help you"

This time, I believe the mysterious voice. I concentrate on each breath and feel the oxygen rushing back into my lungs. Slowly, my eyes begin to open.

I am in my car and the owner of the voice is at my window.

"I can't breathe," I tell him.

"Yes, you can." He says. "You're doing it right now"

Actually, he's right. I am.

I focus again on my airflow and start to straighten out my thoughts. Maybe the world isn't going to close in on me. Maybe I'm not going to die today.

"You're fine and you're safe." He says. "I'll be back in a minute to help you." He wanders up the road.

I look around and see no danger. There is no emergency. There is no peril.

I am suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling of embarrassment and guilt. Not only have I made myself look like a complete idiot, I've also made a stranger take time out of his life to help me with a non-issue.

I feel sick and full of shame. I break down into tears, feeling useless and pathetic.

The man starts heading back and I manage to calm myself long enough for him to help me. I can't stand the idea of making him put up with more of my pointless crying.

He helps me out and as we part ways I apologise once more.

I manage to make it all the way around the corner before I collapse into tears again. What kind of person can't do these simple things?

So what caused this mini mental break down which made me fear for my life?

I took a wrong turn down a tiny one-way street and got stuck trying to turn around.

Panic attacks lie to you.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Sometimes, Failure is an Option

My most recent gaming challenge was to play Assassin's Creed Rogue in order to test myself with games that have a small amount of stealth and see how I dealt with it.

The result of this challenge is simple. I failed.

I didn't manage to play much of the game at all, purely because I wasn't enjoying it. The beginning of the game is mostly focused on sailing, a mechanic that I was not only rubbish at, but one in which I had no interest.

I didn't complete the challenge, but that's ok. Failure can often be hard for people with anxiety and depression. The feeling that you're not good enough can be ovewhelming, no matter how big or small the defeat, but it's important to remember that you can't always be successful with everything. Sometimes, you just move on and face the next challange.

Whilst I was avoiding Assassins Creed, I found a game on the opposite side of the gaming (and stress) spectrum: Stardew Valley.

Stardew Valley is a game that I decided very early on that I wasn't going to play. Why would I play a pixelated game about farming? It turns out that the reason to play this game is that it is just so relaxing.

I finally decided to play this game after hearing a games reviewer, who speaks openly about their own mental health, talk about how it's a good game to turn to when you're feeling down and anti-social. He was completely right.

The beauty of Stardew Valley is the simplicity of the game. You plant seeds to grow crops, you mine for resources, and you raise cows for milk. You are pulled into a world where there are no big decisions, no negative impacts for your actions and no threats to your health.

It's safe to say that I've been addicted to this game over the last couple of weeks, but that's because it feels like an escape from the real world. If I'm feeling sad or anxious then I can focus on my crops to distract myself and sometimes, in that stress-filled moment, that's all you need to feel calm and safe again.

In the Eurogamer Youtube series Low Bateries, Johnny Chiodini perfectly describes how video games can help with the understanding and management of mental health.

You can find episode 1 of this series below.

The full playlist can be found here

Next Challenge: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

With Stardew Valley now at the top of my safe list, I need to set myself a new challenge. Lucky for me, this recently came through the post:

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

My Depression

I sometimes find myself sitting at the table, listening to the radio while the sun is glaring in through the window, and I'm crying.

For the most part, my life is good. I have a great family, a fantastic husband, and an exhausting but amazing little boy. I have a good job that I enjoy and don't have any money troubles.

So why am I crying? The answer is simple; I have depression.

Depression is seen by many as the act of just being sad. But its so much more than that. It's feeling alone when surrounded by people. It's feeling like a failure whilst you're achieving your goals. It's feeling sad while your laughing.

I was officially diagnosed with depression in 2010. At the time it felt temporary and situational, but eight years later my life has changed dramatically and the depression is still there.

Over the years I have learnt to deal with my illness and I know the warning signs. I know when I need help and I know when I'm just 'having a bad day'.

I am one of the unlucky people who have both depression and anxiety, two illnesses which work together in an attempt to make your life hell. For example, if I miss a friends party because I'm having a panic attack, depression will swoop in with feelings of guilt and stupidity. I hear these words in my head:

"Everyone else can go, why can't you?"
"What's wrong with you?"
"Your friend is going to hate you now"
"You've spoilt her party"
"You're not good enough to even deserve friends"

This can send me into a horrible spiral of self-loathing and hatred and it can often take a little time for logic to kick in and remind me that none of this is true.

Sometimes I even have bad days of depression simply because I feel guilty for not feeling sad enough. On these days I think that maybe I don't really have depression because I've been happy this week. I proceed to think about all the people that have it worse than me and that here I am, pretending to have an illness.

Once again I head down that horrible spiral.
(Note: This is called 'imposter syndrome' and it's a whole other discussion!).

I'm lucky that, after years of practice, I can pull myself out off these spirals, but I could never have done this alone. I've had so much help and support from both family and professionals that I can now manage my illnesses and talk about it to help raise awareness.

I am not ashamed of my mental health. I am not ashamed that I have had therapy and I am not ashamed that I've taken medication. I have an illness just like any other, and I'll use what's available to get better. There is nothing to hide and there is nothing to admit.

Thanks to the raised awareness over the last few years, suicide rates have dropped significantly. I have never been in a position where I felt self-harm or suicide were the answer, but I know how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole.

If you are suffering from depression or any mental illness, please talk to someone. It could be a friend, family member, or even a stranger. There is a huge support network available to everyone and it is incredibly important that it's used. It can save lives.

If you think someone may be suffering in silence, talk to them. You'll be amazed at how much of a difference you can make in someone's life by purely listening to them.

Most importantly, take care of yourself.

For support, please see the below.
MIND:  0300 123 3393
Samaritans: 116 123

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Challenge - The Sexy Brutale

I recently challenged myself to play games that make me feel uncomfortable and anxious. (See previous post here). The first game on the list is The Sexy Brutale.

The Sexy Brutale is a great puzzle game where you have to discover and prevent various murders around the mansion using time travel.

[Minor spoilers below]

I first played this game a couple of months ago but immediately gave up during the tutorial. Within the game, you must move around the mansion without anyone seeing you. If they do, the scene goes dark and both yours and the other characters mask light on fire. You then have a certain amount of time to get out of the room.

When I first saw this scene I, without even waiting to see what happened, immediately gave up. I hated the idea of having to sneak around without being seen and didn't want to know what the consequences would be if I stuck around. The thought of simply being chased out of the room whilst everything went black was too much. My heart was pounding and I had to get away. I threw the controller towards my husband and said "Nope. Cant do it. You'll have to play it". So once again, I was sat watching someone else enjoy the game.

The second time, for this challenge, was very different. The game hadn't changed, but my perspective on the game had. Having seen the first hour of gameplay already, I was prepared for what was coming which completely changed how I approached it. I now knew that nothing bad was going to happen if I was in the room with someone. I knew that I had plenty of time to leave the room and that there was nothing at all to be concerned about. I had seen it all before, so I had mentally prepared myself for the game.

Although planning and being prepared for a situation can be a good way of dealing with anxiety, it is not a realistic way to try to get through each day. Unfortunately, you cannot plan for everything that will happen that day and, more often than not, you start to overthink it.

Later in the game, my anxious mind took over again. There was a cutscene that I wasn't prepared for. My character was thrown from a window into a creepy dark auditorium. A stranger appears, telling me that I'm not safe and that he'll be back for me. This made me panic.

I'd gone through the game this far thinking that I was safe and thinking that nothing bad can actually happen, yet here I am with a stranger telling me that this is not true.
After the cutscene, I am placed in a room and appear to be ready to continue the game as normal. But I feel uneasy as if something bad is going to happen. At one point in the game, the room I'm in went dark and I immediately assume that something is going to get me. Even when that doesn't happen, I'm still anxious.

It was time to take a break and calm down. After half an hour of Splatoon 2, I go back to the game. 

This is something that I do a lot of in real life. Finding a way to get away and take a break is a great way to calm yourself down and tell your anxious mind to quiet down. It's a way to step back and analyse the current situation and convince yourself that everything is ok. 

The Sexy Brutale is a great game. It's clever, interesting, and fun to play. Each minor character is interesting and has their own story. The time travel mechanic is nice, although I'm not sure I used it to its full potential.
With regards to anxiety, this game is on the lower end of the stress scale. The only obstacle was the unknown, which I got through using planning and pausing when required. 

Next Challenge: Assassin's Creed Rogue.

Having seen a lot of Assassin's Creed games in the past, I know that there are often missions which required stealth to complete them. Whether it's following an enemy or infiltrating a hostile base, there are, for your character, consequences for failing in these objectives. 

Come back later to see how I get on.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Overcoming My Gaming Anxiety - The Challenge

My recent trip to EGX Rezzed reminded me of one thing; I really like video games.

There is something special about following one character and not only feeling invested in the story but also feeling like you have control over what happens to them, even if you don't.
This sense of oneness with the protagonist increases your connection to the story and, ultimately, their fate, in a way that TV or film cannot.

Of course, there are some games that are just fun and that's great too.

Unfortunately for me, I can only experience the majority of games that I like, second hand.

In the last few years, I have been very open about my struggle with anxiety and depression as I believe it is very important to talk about mental health wherever possible. My anxiety hinders my ability to play the games that I love so much. Where most feel excitement and curiosity whilst playing, I feel stress and panic. I cannot hide in the forest with Lara Croft. I can't stealth kill alongside Solid Snake. I cannot explore a frightening new world with Joel and Ellie.

Thinking back, this has always been a problem for me. Back in the mid-nineties, I would always 'visit the bathroom' whenever my parents got to the evil scarecrow scene in Toonstruck.

The fight or flight response is something that everyone will come across and some point in their life, but for anxiety sufferers, there is a third option; freeze. The impulse to cease all movement in a distressing situation can become extremely overwhelming, even during video games. For me, the ranking of actions that I can take when nervous are: 

1. Freeze
2. Run away from the situation (flight) 
3. Fight (rarely!)

Of course, I don't avoid all games. Give me a platformer with no consequences for my actions or a team-based shooter based on paintballing and I'm there. The Nintendo Switch has really helped quench my gaming thirst this year, but I want to experience more.

I realised that the reaction my body was having to these games is the same reaction it has in the real world, the only difference being that in the virtual world I am 100% safe.  This made think; what if I can use video games to help me control my anxiety?

So that's exactly what I'm going to do. Starting with something simple, I will play the games that make me feel scared. That make me feel panicked. That make me feel anxious.
I will use the coping methods I have learnt over the last few years and apply them to these artificial worlds with the hope that this can then be transferred into the real world.

First Stop: The Sexy Brutale.

This is an adventure puzzle game that requires sneaking around rooms to solve mysteries whilst avoiding murderers. It may not seem like a challenge for most, but for me the idea of creeping around in the dark and hoping not to get caught makes me freeze up, despite the fact that you get ample time to make your escape when seen.

I'll let you know how I get on!