Saturday, 16 May 2015

Making and mending - a post about mental health.

 This is a line from a Leonard Cohen song - Anthem.  He says it better than I can but then he says most things better than most people and that's why he's Leonard Cohen (thanks to my friend, Aymi for introducing me).  Doesn't mean he's always happy.  That in itself is a good thing in my opinion.

Hello my loves,

Thank you so much for your kind words about my last post and your warm welcome back to the blogosphere.  I am super happy to be writing to you all again.  This post is text heavy and will contain a little bit more about sewing than my last  but mostly about how sewing helped me recover so I won't be offended if you don't read, as this is after all a sewing blog.  Though because I am both writer and editor of this here journal I get to make the rules *boss face*

It's Friday afternoon in Brighton and I'm looking out over the seaside and it looks more mid winter than late spring.  The sky is bullet grey and even the seagulls look a little bit more agro than usual.  I also didn't get a job I went for on Tuesday (the feedback on my interview was really good though so it's just a case of keep knocking on those doors).  However, I feel quite content and I know that means I'm well.  The reason I know this is because when I was a sick a day like today might have made my mind wander to the place where the crap thoughts are that make me feel really shit.  You know the kind of thing - Oh Rehanon you don't know what you're doing. You're kidding yourself.  You shouldn't have done this!  You should have done that! You're too old.  You'll never be happy, blah, blah, blah - bore off!  This still happens but it's normally just a quick cursory visit and I certainly don't set up camp there like I used to.

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on mindfulness and how it can help us.  Along with time, craft, exercise and therapy it helped me.

I've set out to write this post many times but other thoughts (mostly nice ones these days) came into my head or the time wasn't right or I didn't have enough time or I didn't have enough words or even too many :) but that's the thing with mental health there's no time like the present. It's only in the here and now we can do stuff about it.  As it is, in the UK it's Mental Health Awareness Week and I think that's a pretty appropriate time to share my story and raise some awareness.

Before I go any further I just want to highlight the fact that I'm no expert and neither do I claim to be.  I've got no professional training and I know people who had much more difficult experiences than me.  I'm just telling you my story because that's one of the things I think is really important in tackling the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.  I feel like it's so important to be open and to be aware when people are talking to you because that might be the day, that they say, "I just wanted to say I'm not actually fine and I'm struggling and I need a bit of help."  Life is really hard sometimes even when to all intense and purposes it seems like you're just sailing along.  Deep down I think most of us know that but by saying yeah it happened to me and I was able to do something about it and now I'm in much better place is good for all concerned.  So these days I when I see stuff in the media saying you should be this, that or the other I say fuck off the only thing I should be is me.  Counselling taught me that but more on that later.

I've no real idea how many people read my ponderings but I figure if even one person reads it and it encourages them to seek the help or at the very least make them realise that their mental health is nothing to be ashamed of then that's no bad thing.  Shame is in fact the one thing that didn't stop me from writing about my mental health issues.  I actually never felt ashamed, which when I look back makes me wonder why I did leave it so long to get help.  One thing I think it could have been was that for as long as I can remember people have come to me for advice and I guess I thought if people are asking for my help then surely I can't need it myself.  My ex partner though, who is a very good egg and a great friend to this day knew I needed help for a long time and he often told me so. I hasten to add it was in a really lovely non-judgemental way because he wanted what was best for me.  He also picked me up for a long time too and then he finally let me pick myself up and that just made me realise even more how much he cared.  Actually, I had several people very close to me who knew I wasn't well and they all helped me on the road to brighter days and I can never thank them enough.

Looking back on it all I guess I thought I would just get better over time as after all it is meant to be a great healer.   What mattered to me so much at 25 matters so little as I'm one month and two days from 35 but at the time I know I felt completely different.  The other side of the coin is that not all my days were sad.  In the midst of some times where I felt so sad  and everything was going wrong and I just felt so lost, I had moments that when I think about them now make me heady with joy.  That's one of the real shockers about mental illness, really "happy" people suffer.  It's another reason why I wanted to write this post because there were a lot of people that were really shocked when I admitted I'd had a breakdown because I'm considered to be a really positive person.  That's another part of why mental illness can be so tough to deal with.  You even end up arguing with yourself  and then you just try and block the feelings and it only magnifies the pain.  Happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive but when I finally admitted I was ill the sad times were far out weighing the happy times and in my mind I couldn't see that it was ever going to change.

Despite some really low points I managed to get through university and I got my degree and then I walked across Spain.  When I think about it now it was doing that, which kept me going much longer before asking for help.  I think it was then I realised exercise was really important to my mental wellbeing.  After this I pushed on through my late 20s drifting along and feeling less and less in control of the direction of my life.  I just kept going because I thought that's what you did and in hindsight I was clearly scared that if I stopped that's when it would all come tumbling down.  By the time my 30th birthday was coming around I was forced to stop and that's when I did fall all the way down.

The fear of coming apart was far worse than the actual reality.  The reality being that in May 2010 after a series of events that found me back in Brighton a place that makes me happy to this day I finally had the nervous breakdown I'd be running from.  After another night of disturbed sleep I was sitting on my own in a very ordinary office doing a temping job.  As I typed I started wondering whether I was ever going to be doing something I really I loved and telling myself I'd let life pass me by.  This thought pattern took over until I had made myself believe I was never going to be happy again and then I had a full on panic attack.  I was crying my eyes out and I could hardly breathe.  

I managed to get to the toilet and ring one of my close friends.  She was amazing and she told me really calmly I was going to be okay and I just needed to trust her.  Everyone was at a meeting so she told me to go on early lunch and she would meet me outside.  I did what she said because I just couldn't think straight.  I sat with her for an hour crying and apologising for being a state and that I just needed a bit of sleep and I'd be fine. She told me she'd been worried about me for a long time but you can't push people to admit things that they don't want to and you just have to be there when they're ready.  All things I would have said if I was talking to someone else.  She rang my GP and got me an appointment after work.  I went along and I was fortunate to speak with a really kind doctor who listened to me explain about how sad I was feeling and how scared it was making me.  He felt that although I was deeply anxious and really unwell that I didn't need medicine but counselling.

Following my appointment my GP referred me to a mental health clinic in Brighton who are also a charity and I was lucky enough to be seen within a week.  I am beyond grateful for this and another reason why I wanted to write about my experience as sadly this is not true for everyone and mental illness needs to be viewed as equally as any other illness.  I would describe my counsellor as the best kind of aunt you could wish for.  In my first session I said to her I think I'd probably just over reacted and I didn't want to take up her time as I had no idea what I'd speak to her about for an hour every week.  She smiled and said, "well let's just chat about your day and see how we go."  In the end it actually took 3 months for me to bring her to point where I collapsed in the office.  She made me realise  that I wasn't weak and my mind was just really tired of being strong and it just needed a rest.  

In the end I saw Babs on and off for 18 months.  In that time life marched on and I moved to London for work and my relationship with my ex finally finished after 10 years.  I was so scared that I would get sick again but my counsellor made me realise that wasn't going to happen and it was just another hurdle.  She was right and even though I was really sad about us I knew it was for the best and that we were returning to where we started, which was being great friends.  As my head got clearer and I started to realise that I wasn't my thoughts I had more space and in that space I began sewing, I started running again and I slowly started to see that I had a future.

It's now 5 years since my breakdown and I feel really well.  That is I'm happy more often than I'm not :) It may seem an odd thing to say but I wouldn't choose to forgo what happened to me. I just think the wonkiness in my head is as I call it is no different to my weak knee left leg.  Both just require a little extra care and attention to function properly.  I know that eating well, sleeping properly, asking for help when I need it and making time for the things that make me happy like sewing, running, knitting, lying in the hallway with my legs up the wall listening to Pulp and spending time with the people that love me for me. Basically, just being me. Equally, I learned we all just need to keep trying everyday and some days will be extraordinary and others not so much but that's what make life interesting.  Ultimately, though I found out good and bad, light and dark I like who Rehanon is and that seems as a good place as any to end up at nearly halfway to 70 :)

Here are some contact details in case you do want talk to someone.  You really aren't alone and I promise you people really do care.

This is Miss Demeanour signing off and saying no matter what you might think right now I know you're amazing.



  1. I've never commented on your blog before, (but I follow you on Instagram and Twitter) and always meant to do so because you seem like such a lovely person and after reading this post, I had to finally do it! I am just so impressed by how brave you are and I love that you are sharing your experience to help others. I also struggle with mental health issues (I'm bipolar) & sewing & exercising (I love rowing!) have played a really big part in my recovery - I think they both force you to take a good look at yourself and, for me at least, help you learn that things get better the more you practice them. I love that you described your counsellor as an aunt! This is exactly how I thought of mine! They truly are awesome people! Thank you for sharing your experience & being so courageous in your openess. The world needs more people as awesome as you!

  2. Thankyou for posting this. I've had issues in the past with depression and I'm currently supporting my mum through a difficult period in her schizophrenia. We need people to talk about their experiences so when someone feels like they're in the loneliest place in the world they know that others have been there too and come out the other side. So many people try and ignore mental health issues because they don't know what to do, either for themselves or those they care about. It can be very hard to acknowledge a problem but once you do there is help out there and as you say people really do care.

  3. Like Nisha I have never commented before but I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this

  4. An important post. It is so important that we speak out about mental health to let others know they aren't alone and to reduce the stigma. I've recently been through another bad phase of depression and can relate to a lot this. I will be starting a mindfulness course next week as the stage of developing tools to help me get back on track - I'm really looking forward to it. Thank you for sharing your experience and reminding us that there are people out there who care.

  5. Thank you for such an honest post. It is very easy to think that everyone else's lives are wonderful and it's just you that is struggling - truth is all of us struggle at some point (s) in our lives. We've never met (apart from on Twitter!) but I wish I could give you a big hug & eat cake & gossip & laugh with you - take care of yourself. Sara M, Cardiff

  6. hi sweetie thanks for your honesty and great blog. I've been there too, and I know its not much fun. I lost many of my friends at the time (or that's how it seemed...). The ones who stuck around are still good friends today and will always be
    really precious to me.

  7. I'd just like to say I love you MD! xxxxxxxx

  8. Thank you for you honesty, Rhiannon. We need more of it in this part of the blogging world. I love and relate to what you said about you knee too - we are a whole thing are we not, with wonky bits and awesome bits and some of those show on the , some are on the inside.

  9. Emma Craftyandcake16 May 2015 at 22:32

    Hi, thanks for sharing your story. So many parts of it ring true with my own. Emma

  10. …and I know you're amazing too! Keep happy my friend. xxx

  11. Amazing post. You've got such a wonderful way with words and have such a positive influence on everyone around you. Loads of love! xx

  12. Sew Little Time17 May 2015 at 23:08

    You are an awesome lady and so strong. To be going through all of that and still doing everything you do for other people is incredible. You have lot of good friends and no wonder.

  13. Awww, lady, you are the best. XOXOXO

  14. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 07:52

    Back at you gal. I'm hoping we will get to say it IRL in the not too dim and distant future. Big love to the hairy kids too xxx

  15. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 08:12

    Bless you that's very sweet to say. I just believe I came here to have a really good go and come rain or shine that's what I try to do :) xxx

  16. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 08:43

    I'd like to say right back at ya you little firecracker xxx

  17. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 08:47

    hey lover that's lovely of you to say. Thanks for sharing as well and I'm glad you found out what really matters. In some weird way it gives you the privilege of fresh eyes. My life now is really real and really bloody great. Here's to continued brighter days mwah xxx

  18. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 08:48

    Thank you so much for your compliment. Me mam always says you've got more words than sense lol. I'm just lucky to have so many good eggs to enjoy life with xxx

  19. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 08:49

    To you too - threefold my dear xxx

  20. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 08:52

    Jane with you it goes without saying. May we wax lyrical about Lovejoy all the days xxx

  21. rehanonmackenzie18 May 2015 at 08:53

    You're welcome and you too Emma. Sending a big fat virtual squeeze xxx

  22. I found your blog two weeks ago. Perfect timing. Your words ring true with me. Your eloquence will move mental health mountains. Thank you, thank you.

  23. rehanonmackenzie19 May 2015 at 16:32

    Hi Lauren your words have got me all dewy eyed bless you . That's a very sweet thing to say. I'm glad it helped. Sending a virtual hug xxx

  24. rehanonmackenzie19 May 2015 at 16:47

    Hey lovely lady :) Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Your words are super kind. I wasn't nervous as I hit publish but I did think I hope I come across okay. So to wake up the next morning to this comment I was so happy and thought I've come across okay. Thank you as well for sharing your own story. We really all aren't so different no matter what the media and governments try and tell us. That's great about rowing and I can really imagine bashing through the water gets all the body flowing as it should do. You're so right about practice too. One of the things I said to my counsellor was that I live a life of leaping and hell I love a rollercoaster but a few stepping stone would be good. I've learned to break stuff down and the feeling of continuous growth and progression over time makes me really happy. Having just read the happiness project by Gretchen Rubin, which I highly recommend that is one of the facets for human happiness - an environment of continous growth. Have a great week xxx

  25. rehanonmackenzie19 May 2015 at 16:50

    Thank you pet for kindness. Ah well never say never my dear. I think you would be lovely to do all of the above with. Also that second sentence is an absolute truth in my book. It's why I strive to hit everyone with as much kindness as I can. If I leave the world a little happier than when I arrived then I'll think I used my days well :) xxx

  26. rehanonmackenzie19 May 2015 at 16:51

    Hey my dear thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It really means a lot xxx

  27. rehanonmackenzie20 May 2015 at 11:11

    Hi Bridget thank you for getting in touch and sharing your story too. Yes, being open and out there is the way things will change. During the last few years I've read a lot about care and causes and I also found out a lot about my paternal grandmother. I knew she'd had some issues but I hadn't realised how far reaching. She was in and out of institutions all her adult life. I can't imagine how hard it must have have been for her especially with 3 boys to look after. My grandad was I'm told very supportive but this would have have been the 50s and 60s when things were still very draconian both in terms of care and understanding. She was a really creative lady too and a writer like me so I think maybe there is something in the genes so i can take the wonkiness for the way it makes me see the world and and the creativity it breeds in me. I'll always strive to be open and compassionate as I know how fortunate I've been. Sending lots of good wishes to you and your mam xxxx

  28. rehanonmackenzie20 May 2015 at 12:17

    Hey Claire – Thank you so much for getting in touch :) and for sharing your story. It was lovely to meet you last year in Oxford and I’m so glad to hear that despite the difficult time you’re going through it’s not stopped you making so many wonderful things and working towards a brighter day for yourself. I really do think you will benefit from mindfulness. I don’t take being able to bring my mind to rest for granted at all. I remember when my counsellor first said we are not our thoughts and it really chimed with me. Life really is tough enough without giving ourselves an extra hard time on top. I really hope it helps you and I send a big virtual hug. I hope our paths cross again soon xxx

  29. rehanonmackenzie21 May 2015 at 16:16

    Hey Mrs C thank you for getting in touch and saying such lovely things. My v wise old nan that sadly I never knew for long enough was a big fan of the truth. She was always remarking that no matter how hard it might be to take that there was nowhere to go from the truth. I know for me once I was honest with myself that I was struggling things became clearer and I had a jumping off point. I also agree we are indeed a whole. The way I look at it is I’m not really sure where the wonkiness in my head and the me that I am begins. A lot of people tell me I have a very big heart and I think that’s a fair trade for a brain that is a little different to most plus I think it gives me a wonky view on life, which is wonderful and life affirming :) xxx

  30. Lalage Wordsworth22 May 2015 at 15:51

    Beautifully and very bravely said, my love. I do think as a society we're on our way to demystifying mental illness in a way that's helpful to everyone, and you're one of those vital voices helping us towards that. There's still work to be done, but thanks for sharing. Big hugs xxxx