THE LIFE LINE

Relationships

FullSizeRender-1The umbilical chord is often seen as the ultimate connection between mother and baby. For me, it’s nature’s helping hand; a necessity rather than a matter of choice. A survival tool for the child within.

And although carrying something as wriggly and heavy as me for nine months is testament to how strong we are as women, it’s the connection that is made after that time is up, the invisible one, that is what makes a mother, a mother.

My brother was a nightmare, much like most teenage boys growing up in the big city. He had an attitude, loved women a little too much and hated school. I, on the other hand, was glued to your hip, aiming to please you at every turn. I felt bad I didn’t want to wear that money belt you insisted on me wearing at secondary school and was wracked with guilt when I snuck off to see boys instead of revising. Your children were polar opposites, but you seemed to balance our characters and fulfil our needs so seamlessly from day one that I’m sure you’re some sort of super human. And for that, we both thank you.

I had always thought that you were the only one capable of such magic, but of course I was wrong. Naturally, I still think you’re number one, but after asking for people to share the love they had for their mothers, I realised: you’re one part of a very big, very strong and very beautiful tribe. And so, the Dear Mum, Project was born.

So many of you had lots to say about the women who brought you into the world, proving how strong maternal bonds really are. I personally think something must happen to a woman when she gives birth that is never spoken about except for with fellow mothers because I sure don’t possess the stoicism, the strength or the resilience that you and I describe about the women who gave birth to us.

Today is a chance for mothers everywhere to take a break from the hardest job in the world. So as you put your feet up with a cup of tea and a chocolate hob knob, we say thank you, we love you and we appreciate you, for one day of the year (which really isn’t enough but there’s no real way to repay you, so it will have to do for now).

Happy Mother’s Day, to all of you wonderful creatures.

(As for you mum, I will never be able to show you how grateful I am for the last twenty five years, but I can do my best, as you always tell me to. So, dearest mother, the unquestionable love of my entire life, thank you for absolutely everything you’ve ever done for me- from telling me daily that everything will be okay, to gently letting me know that I should never, ever wear red lipstick – you’re an angel, and life without you is unimaginable.

Happy Mother’s Day, my life line.)

A IS FOR ANXIETY – A GUEST POST

Health

largeLast October, I fell in love. With a woman. The relationship lasted six hours long and was entirely sexless. However, the lasting effect it had on me was far from forsaken or frustrated. It did what all good relationships do- it taught me about who I am. More specifically, it created a safe and supportive environment for me to learn more about my mental health.

In my mid-teens I experienced bouts of clinical depression that have left me with the delightful legacy of an anxiety disorder. This disorder has been the bane of my admittedly sheltered life.

The woman I fell in love with was my NHS appointed psychologist and I hold her solely responsible for my calmer, braver and ultimately happier 2.0 self. My therapist tryst turned my angst-ridden stress story into a real life rom-com, if you will.

A lot is made in the press of the need to remove the stigma from mental health problems and the 1 in 4 of us in Britain who are affected by one over the course of the year. Undoubtedly, as with countless other issues, understanding how crucial it is for society to ditch discrimination is key to progression. But I have an alternate message.

What many people don’t realise is that mental health disorders can have a detrimental effect on surprising aspects of a sufferer’s life, such as their capacity to complete routine tasks or even sit still for 15 minutes. Personally, I knew it was time to check myself in for a mental once-over when I became so riddled with paranoia, self-doubt and a futile habit of taking every circumstance to worst-case scenario in my head, that I could not sleep. I couldn’t actually do anything. I couldn’t work (leading to relentless aspersions about my laziness), I couldn’t relax (even when plied with my favourite gin), and I couldn’t keep on top of my bills (the council get seriously ratty when you don’t pay tax on time). I also could not stem the bizarre Virginia Woolf style stream of overwrought consciousness my friends were becoming so frequently privy to. I was frenzied and unfocused. It had to stop.

All it took was talking to someone. A professional who could give me some perspective and clear a path toward self-acceptance. An entire specialised gardening and landscaping unit, armed to the teeth with pruning shears and when occasion called for it, chainsaws, was dispatched for that task. No mean feat.

My own issues aside, over the past couple of years I have seen several friends suppress symptoms and signs of an underlying mental health issue. These range from short attention span and lethargy to finding escapism in drink or drugs. As with physical symptoms, left untreated, these only lead to something worse. On the other side, in more extreme circumstances, I’ve witnessed the consequences of not taking prescribed medications for a diagnosed case of bipolar disorder in a bid to be ‘normal’- not for the faint hearted. This is where acceptance must come in. Acceptance coupled with awareness.

So what I’m saying is, absolutely try to be less afraid and uneasy of mental health disorders, definitely wade in to rid society of the archaic notion of freakiness it attaches to mental health problems, which subvert the origins of said problems. Because in this way, we are free to be aware of and undaunted by the state of our own – and our loved ones – mental health.

I’m not trying to scaremonger here. I’m not telling you you’re all as mad as a box of frogs but if you notice that someone close to you is not themselves and might be suffering, or if you recognise something in yourself, do something. We owe it to ourselves to check up on our minds as well as those pesky STIs, even if just to get the all clear.

In the meantime, my top tips for sanity balm would be as follows:

1 – Leave that obsession with the social media platform that so torments you to just once a week. No, checking 73 times a day if he has updated his Facebook to ‘in a relationship’ with the girl in all of his photos won’t stop it from happening. Get on with your own stuff. Oh, and if you’re wondering, all those city slickers who are posting photos at pricey watering holes with unlimited champagne and statuses about bonuses? They won’t be able to afford a mortgage before you because they’re spending all that cash on extortionate booze and questionable ties.

2 – Meditate. Sitting in an upright position and clearing your mind, counting 1 as you breathe in and 2 as you breathe out for a whole minute does not make you a tired, old hippy. It keeps you grounded; away from the sheer drop over the ledge into Frantic Panic Valley, a terrible place rife with insomnia and unappealing sweating. Nobody needs that.

3 – Take charge. Remember that everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. Don’t be afraid of yourself.

And check out Mind.org’s mental health selfies to learn more from real people.

Written by the gorgeous (and ever surprising) Joanna Mackay

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My most recent guest blogger and newest recruit in the quest to understand – and help out – humankind. Find her on Twitter here.

THE CITY

Culture

42e595bc8aa84fd82e38df3d1cb4c45a“The man who can dominate a London dinner table, can dominate the world.” – Oscar Wilde

When people think of their happy place, it’s normally a vision of white sands, blue skies and Caipirinhas on tap, right? Well my happy place – even after 25 years – is right here in this big city, and I will tell you why.

By day, we only notice the grumpy faces, the brisk walks and the litter on the pavement. It’s hard to see past the endless rows of chicken shops and aggy kids on the bus on the way to work. You seem to always need an umbrella, even in springtime, and you pay a fortune for pretty much everything- not to mention your bag getting knicked from right under your nose.

On a good day, however, the city comes alive.

And although I love my shabby home town and was oh-so-territorial when every man and his dog moved here after university (only to realise that they had all moved to Clapham and then I didn’t mind as much), it isn’t all about this little place that I call home; it’s just urban life that I love. And I love it for the things it has taught me.

Paris, for example, is where I learnt that (unfortunately) racism does in fact still exist in the 21st century. I also learnt here that it was okay to wear black everyday. Barcelona was where I, as a twelve year old, discovered the art world. It was also where I learnt – the hard way – to keep my belongings close to my chest in public places. Bucharest is where I learnt how to survive a coach full of people en route to a festival (you stock up on water and more booze and hope for the best). It’s also where I realised that it’s possible to buy beer for a pound. London is where I learnt to fall in love. And New York? Well, that’s where I learnt how to live.

I was so excited on arrival – having known I belonged in the Big Apple since birth – that I spent over an hour at passport control; discussing teaching opportunities in the city and the best place for cocktails. It wasn’t until I noticed that my passport was busted that I realised he was just trying to suss me out- being Irish and a trainee teacher at the time did me a lot of favours, let me tell you.

But going from London to New York felt like flying home, rather than heading into the unknown. I padded those streets like an extra in Home Alone and pretended it was no biggie that I found myself in Brooklyn. Forget jungle exploration or bumming about on a beach, this was my Nirvana. The concrete, the smell of food, even the smell of “trash”, the greyness, the bustle, the paranoia, the anonymity. It felt so comforting and familiar, so akin to something else I’d known before: my first love, London.

They say the world is your Oyster, but I say there’s only one city where there’s an Oyster Card, and it’s right on my doorstep. So if you’re unable to travel the world, then find yourself a place smack bang in the middle of the capital. Yes, it’s expensive, but each borough, district or quarter is like flying to a foreign land and is therefore worth every single penny. With an array of delicacies, cultures and occupants, a tube ride from home can give you a completely different experience from anything you’ve seen before. And I mean that.

This Ode to My Hometown is nothing you haven’t heard spouted from the mouths of Londoners a million times before me, but in the depths of winter, when the Christmas lights have gone and summers spent in Hyde Park seem too far away to even think about, it’s very easy to forget how magical this place really is.

If you’re still not buying into it, head to Kings Cross Station, to platform 9 3/4 and see where THAT train takes you…