8 Things That Help Me Get Through The Blue Days

A while ago I wrote that I’d share a bit more of the not-so-picture-perfect/real side of my life with mental illness… I think that everyone will be affected by mental illness in their lifetimes, be it their own personal suffering, or the suffering of someone they know. It seems to be so much more prevalent these days than generations before; I don’t think it’s because more people are getting sick now, I think it’s just because more people are getting help, which is awesome  : )

But, there are some days that you’re not so keen on talking about your crap to other people and you’d rather help yourself. Everyone has things that work for them; these are the things that work for me when I’m having a bit of a blue day…

 

1. Marley cuddles
Most people who struggle with depression generally know when they wake up if it’s a good day or not; I do, anyway. If it’s a good day, I’m usually out of bed and going for a walk or doing some weight training. If it’s not such a good day, Marley usually knows and makes himself very available for a cuddle. Studies have also shown that hugging a pet can help with depression, so grab your fur baby and snuggle it first thing in the morning before you even try to deal with the day!
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2. Braided hair
I’ve always loved braiding my hair; I think maybe because it takes some time and forces me to slow down for a few minutes. On those days where I feel particularly crap and revolting, even a little side braid pretties up an otherwise boring ponytail exponentially and makes you feel a little better, especially when people comment on how nice your hair looks. It’s like my own little self-love ritual  : )
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3. Security-blanket clothes
I know it’s not a real term, but it’s one that I use a lot. My security blanket clothes are the clothes that I feel good in. They’re the ones that don’t make me feel self-conscious because they’re tight fitting or brightly coloured or too over the top. They’re pieces like my old, torn, blue jeans, my hooded red flannelette shirt, my over-sized white striped t-shirt, my denim shorts, my Hogwarts cardigan from London, my black and white long-sleeved floral printed swing dress, my brown leather lace up boots or my chucks. Crap day = wear a security-blanket piece.
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4. Walk
Exercise is always recommended for people struggling with depression, but it doesn’t always have to be intense exercise; walking will do just fine, and I walk every day. Some days it’s a 5km walk before work with the husband and the fur baby. Some days it’s an after dinner stroll. Some days it’s getting off the train a few stations early and walking to the office the long way. Some days it’s all of the above. Even when you feel like absolute shit, fresh air is so, so important.
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5. Lunch break cuppa & read
Pretty much every day. I cannot be stuck in an office all day, every day; I don’t know how other people do it. I eat my lunch at my desk while I’m working, and spend my lunch break most days drinking tea and reading a book at a cafe. I know it’s a bit of a waste to pay for tea when it’s just boiled water, a splash of milk and a tea bag, but I look at it more as investing a few dollars rent each day into my well being. If a $4 cup of tea and time to read is what’s gonna get me through the day, that’s not a waste of money. At the same time, that’s also why I always BYO lunch!
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6. Music
There are a few things I never leave the house without having in my handbag; a notepad and pen, a book to read, and my iPod. Music has always been incredibly important to me and has always played a big part in my life. I listen to my iPod on the way to and from work, and all day at work – on a bad day, the silence is too painful, especially in a big office. My go-to playlist is a compilation of a few Trombone Shorty albums, a few Rebirth Brass Band albums, the Treme soundtracks, and a few other random New Orleans jazz tunes. Works every. Single. Time.
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7. Easy dinner
I love cooking; it relaxes me. But on the days where the disordered eating and food-related anxiety is at a horrible high, having food prepared and ready to go after dinner is so important. For that reason, I have a freezer full of frozen meals – once a week, I make a meal that is cheap and easy to cook in bulk and freeze, like my 6 ingredient fried rice. That way, if I wake up and know it’s gonna be a hard one, I just have to take dinner our of the freezer to defrost while I’m at work and it’s ready to be re-heated when I get home.
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8. Write
Always. Every single day. I have since the day I learnt to write, I will until my old fingers can no longer hold a pen.
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Tea time: Rustica, Melbourne – and overcoming disordered eating

Rustica Sourdough Bakery
402 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
http://rusticasourdough.com.au/

I was sitting at Rustica last Sunday with a pot of tea and my husband’s coffee and a Milo cronut in front of me, thinking about how much things have changed over the past year.

While I’m pretty open about my depression & anxiety issues, the disordered eating side of the dice isn’t something I speak about much. I think maybe because of my background (I studied exercise science at uni, worked as a personal trainer for a decade and was a half decent martial artist who represented her state in competition) I feel like I should have been stronger or more immune to it. Like I should have known better than to buy into the self hatred and dysmorphia and media-induced insecurities. Fool; if anything, I think it just made me even more susceptible. I guess it’s those same reasons that have me referring to it as “disordered eating” rather than a straight up “eating disorder;” there are other big reasons for this as well, but nothing I can go into without pissing certain people off..

Anyway, without getting into it all too much, because honestly, it’s not particularly easy to talk about just yet, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most is exercise. If I don’t work out every day to balance out what I eat, that’s failure. If I’m going out for dinner after work (a very rare occurance these days), I need to be up early to fit in a good hour workout before work. If we’re doing weekend brunch, there’s no time to sleep in – even a 10am brunch date means a 7.30am alarm to get in a good workout first. Needless to say, it’s exhausting. Part of the recovery plan was to cut myself a bit of slack around the workouts and not see them as punishment for eating… That’s been WAY harder than it should be!

Anyway, this particular Sunday, the challenge was placed before me; go out for breakfast, THEN have a cup of tea & a nibble a few hours later, without getting up early to workout and also without a meltdown/freak out. Challenge accepted. Infinitely easier with the husband by my side.

You saw the breakfast portion of the morning last week, at Sir Charles, which was absolutely spectacular. Because we were in my favourite part of Melbourne, we took a nice, long walk around the streets of Brunswick & Collingwood so I could check out my favourite vintage shops, stock up on tea at Aunt Maggie’s. Then, a visit to Rustica. My suggestion because I love this place & still hadn’t taken the husband there to try a cronut!

The breads and pastries are actually picture perfect (as demonstrated by the never ending iPhone-wielding crowds by the front door), and taste every bit as good as they look. We noticed one last Milo cronut sitting in the display case and snapped that up, much to the disappointment of the couple behind us (sorry… not sorry, it was amazing), along with a pot of tea and a coffee.  Tea, coffee and cronut all magnificent – that cronut in particular! So big and rich and creamy, you’d most likely be a little unwell if you have a dodgy stomach like me and still ate the lot, so it was good to share! It’s also a beautiful space to spend a bit of time in if you want to just chill out alone and maybe read or write, or draw in a sketch book, day dream, or reflect on where you’re at in life at the moment… Plenty of natural light, a great spot for people watching, smells amazing because it’s a bakery, that comforting Fitzroy vibe (just the right mix of hipster and boho and real), friendly staff who give you your space to do your thing, and amazing cronuts. Have you got a good egg in your life that has your back no matter what? Take them out for a cronut this week to say thank you  : )

How my dog saved my life… Cook this: coconut matcha porridge

Summer might almost be here, but we’re still getting some cooler mornings in Melbourne, which means there are still a few chances left for warm breakfasts. But to get to that, let me first rewind a moment…

This weekend hasn’t been amazing. We were meant to stay in Geelong last night and take part in Run Geelong this morning, a 6km fun run husband and I entered together. It was not to be.

After 48 hours of vomiting, I took my fur baby to the vet on Friday morning. There had been a big fat storm the night before which meant the little guy didn’t sleep, I’d only had 3 hours myself, and was exhausted… I expected (hoped for) a check up and maybe some antibiotics for a tummy bug; he ended up staying overnight. After a physical examination found him to be in a fair bit of tummy pain, the vet said it could be anything from having eaten something he shouldn’t have (being part beagle, this was highly likely) to something more serious.


She couldn’t have been more kind and understanding as she gently explained that he would be sedated for his ultrasound, a drip inserted into his little paw to keep his fluids up, and through-the-night monitoring. I cried. Bless her, she gave me a box of tissues, a pat on the arm and the assurance he’d be ok. I just cried harder as she led him out of the consulting room with his tail between his legs, leaving me there with a hand full of tissues and a face full of snot and tears. I proceeded to bawl my eyes out for the next four hours until I had nothing left.

This may seem like a bit of an overreaction to a sick dog, so let me explain. He’s not just a pet, he’s not just family. Depression entered my life in my late teens; by the time I moved out of home straight out of uni, I was in a pretty shitty state. Having never been allowed a dog growing up because my mum doesn’t like them, the first thing husband and I did when we got our own place was to go puppy shopping. Enter little tiny Marley…


He was the best thing possible for my depression; he dragged me out of my bad states because I had to look after him. I couldn’t just sit in a corner and cry, because this little fur blob needed me to look after him. He was totally dependent on me, and I, in turn, became totally dependent on him. He saved my life. When I’m at home, he’s never more than a few steps away from me. When I’m sitting down, he’s sitting on my lap. When I’m depressed or anxious, he senses it and sits with me silently. When I cry, he nuzzles my neck with his nose to wipe away my tears. When I get home from work, the yelping is deafening. He’s my best friend and my shadow and my constant, loyal companion in every sense of the word.


So having to bring him to the vet and leave him there and imagining him waking up from his anesthetic scared and alone was more than I could handle. So I reacted the same way any rational, fully grown woman after dropping her dog off at the vet for an ultrasound; I cried my eyes out. And texted my dad, who called me immediately, and cried to him even harder. It wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, back on the recipe track, we were told we could collect him yesterday morning. It was cooler than it had been in a while and I wanted comfort food for breakfast, which meant porridge. Checking the fridge to make sure there was enough almond milk left, I noticed the matcha jar I’d brought home from Tokyo and thought I’d give that a try…

To make one bowl of porridge:
– scant half cup of rolled oats
– 1 tbsp chia seeds
– 1-2 tbsp shredded coconut
– 1 scoop protein powder – I use Amazonia’s raw vanilla protein (optional)
– 1 tsp matcha powder (more if you prefer a stronger flavour)
– 1 cup milk – I prefer almond milk for this

1. Put all ingredients except the almond milk into a tub and shake to combine.

2. Pour the tub into a small saucepan over medium heat, along with the milk, and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer, and stir constantly until it thickens to a consistency you’re happy with (somewhere in the vicinity of 4 – 8 minutes).

4. Serve immediately – enjoy 🙂

After that warm bowl of love, we collected our fur baby (with a bag full of medication) and took him home to rest. As you can see, he got real comfy, real quick… 🙂 here’s to a better week ahead for my poor little bug, and I hope everyone else has a great week, too! And if you need a warm, comforting breakfast at any stage, I hope this recipe helps! xo

I believe the time has come for me to re-introduce myself…

For someone who rarely struggles to find something to write about, I’m finding it really hard to know where to start this post… If you’ve been reading for a while now, you’ll know that I’m struggling a bit at the moment. I’m not the same person I was 18 months ago when I started writing here, and given that this space is more or less my “journal” of sorts and I’ve always written my way through hard times, I think that’s something I need to acknowledge here.

Before I go on, I realise that the honesty in the post might lose me some “followers,” and that’s OK. If some of what I write about makes you feel uncomfortable, or you’re just plain not interested in it, that’s perfectly fine. That said, I also can’t ignore what is increasingly an enormous part of myself and my life, and I’m pretty sure I can’t keep faking it to you guys either 🙂

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So, allow me to re-introduce myself…
Hi, I’m Jess :)I work in corporate travel by day and moonlight as a food & travel blogger.
I love to travel, I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love to write.
I live in Melbourne and love this city to bits.
I’m a bookworm, a tea enthusiast and a market fiend.
I’m a classic shy little introvert, and as such have seriously honed my skills in “faking it” and keeping up a happy, confident facade in public.
I’m currently dealing depression, anxiety and disordered eating.

Depression has been part of my life since I was about 16 years old. I think anxiety has been around for a while as well, I just haven’t known what to call it. The disordered eating is relatively new to the party. They’re all really hard, in their own ways.

It’s hard to wake up some mornings feeling as if a dark cloud has formed over your bed while you’re sleeping. It’s hard to get out of bed at 5.30am after only a few hours broken sleep so you can exercise before work, every morning, no excuses. It’s hard trying to explain and defend over and over again why you can’t just “be happy” when you have a perfectly lovely life, and there’s really “nothing wrong” with you and so many other people have it so much worse than you do. It’s hard wondering what the hell is wrong with you and having no rational reasoning behind it.

It’s hard to come home feeling miserable and flat with absolutely no explanation for your husband other than “I’m just having a blue day…” It’s hard knowing that you’re putting him through such a hard time. It’s so hard to feel like such a burden to the one person who’s been through it all with you for the past eleven years and still feel like you’re no closer to being “better,” when all you want in the world is to be better for them. It’s incredible to see how strong he always is, without hesitation or complaint, which makes it harder still to have one of those days; you just want the pressure to be taken off him from now on. 

It’s hard when your family don’t know or understand what you’re going through. It’s hard to realise that you haven’t got many friends left, because not many people are willing to stick around when you’re going through this shit. It’s hard to keep up a brave face in front of the amazing friends you do have left even when they do know what you’re going through. It’s hard driving to meet a friend for brunch and panicking the whole way there. It’s hard sitting in the cafe with your “happy happy food blogger OMG I love all of the food!” face on when you’re freaking out inside. It’s hard sometimes to post happy and upbeat writing on my blog when my heart is breaking. It’d be harder not having this space and place to write at all though – it’s a big part of what keeps me sane on the bad days!

It’s hard to be so scared of food some days when you’ve always loved it. It’s hard to be invited to lovely meals out that you can’t totally enjoy because you’ve spent two hours studying the menu for the “healthiest” option, then freak out completely when you get there and order the “unhealthiest” option possible, plus sides, plus dessert. It’s hard to come home feeling like a failure, and continuing to eat because you’ve already ruined everything anyway. It’s hard to feel so ill you can’t sleep. It’s hard to throw it all up. And as if that’s not all hard enough, throw in lactose and fructose intolerance!

It’s hard to realise that you really just can’t handle it on your own anymore, and that if you really do want that happily ever after, you’re going to have to enlist help. It’s hard making that first contact with a “professional.” It’s even harder turning up to that first appointment. Hardest of all is looking at a complete stranger, kind as they may be, and still trying to smile through the tears as you tell them that you just don’t know what to do anymore. That you’re depressed and anxious and you really don’t want to be. That despite your degree in exercise science and decade working in the health and wellness industry, you’ve still somehow become one of “those” women who hate their bodies and often binge and throw up and “restrict” calories. It’s really, really hard to own that. And it’s really hard to share that to God-only-knows how many strangers.

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I think it’s silly and unfair and dishonest for me to keep writing here as if there’s nothing wrong, as if my life is a shiny, perfect bundle of travelling and adventuring and cooking and eating (side note: it feels unbelievably good getting all of that off my chest! I’ve hated the last few weeks feeling like an imposter here!); that’s what I’m working towards, but we’re not quite there yet 🙂

I also wanted to tell you guys that while I may start to write a little more about this side of my life (now that I’ve actually acknowledged both to you guys and to myself what’s really going on), this is still going to be first and foremost a food and travel blog. Writing is my solace. Travel is what sets me free. Food can go either way, but I’m hoping that with a bit of help, I’ll be able to add that back to the “good” column! So if you’re just here for recipes and suggestions on places to eat at and things to add to your bucket list, don’t worry; those posts are gonna keep on coming!

Anyway, a huge thank you to everyone who is still following my adventures on here – it still amazes and humbles me so much to know that there are people out there who are still interested in what I have to say! And the online blogging community is amazingly supportive, which I’m super grateful for 🙂 To anyone else who’s fighting their own battle right now, my thoughts are with you guys – never be afraid to reach out for help, because there’s something better out there if you do! But right now, I’m kinda tired so I think I’m gonna try to get some sleep… Here’s to more tea, more travel, more books and better days coming!

xoxo

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Cook this: fluffy chocolate protein & almond meal pancakes (low FODMAP). AKA dust yourself off & try again (& again) breaky.

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One step forward, two steps back.
Fall seven times, stand up eight.
If plan A doesn’t work, there are still 25 letters to go through.
If at first you don’t succeed…
And so on and so forth.

Fair warning – this isn’t just a recipe post, it’s also a bit of a it’s-my-blog-and-I-need-to-get-some-shit-off-my-chest-because-writing -is-my-outlet post. Feel free to scroll to the bottom if you’re just here for the recipe; it’s so delicious I won’t be offended!

Anyway, let’s not sugar coat it; it’s been a rough few weeks. I’ve been slowly but surely sliding back into that deep, black hole. I’ve been anxious and skittish and completely on edge. I’ve spent nights crying my eyes out, nights with no sleep, nights forcing myself to throw up everything I’ve just binged on, nights panicking and heart fluttering. And then, after maybe 4 or 5 hours of very broken sleep, dragging my ass out of bed at 5:30am to exercise for an hour before going to work and trying to keep my mask intact and my shit together  until I can go home and briefly let my guard down again. But not too much and not for too long, because I’ve got too much to do. That’s one of my go-to coping mechanisms; the more I feel myself slipping, the more I commit and over commit to. I try to keep myself too busy to actually stop and think about what’s going on, to stop and acknowledge that I’m struggling and to deal with it. I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do, because each time this happens I inevitably crash and burn and breakdown. But until then, I just keep going.

I know that inevitable crash and burn is coming; I can feel it. But it’s kinda hard to stop and acknowledge the problems and to deal with it all before we get back to breaking point – I just don’t have time for it! Dealing with this stuff isn’t something you can just do on a Saturday afternoon and bounce back by Sunday so you’re ready to go back to work on Monday, and I can’t just take a week off work while I cry and panic and seek professional help to get my shit back together! So until I can come up with a better plan, as a temporary measure, I’m trying to at least slow things down a little more on my weekends.

Saturday mornings so far this year have involved husband getting up early and jetting off to coach his footy team, while I get up at the same time and hit the gym, followed by breaky and getting on with my day. But with footy season finally over, the Melbourne spring sun shining, and the end of a really rough week all through which my man stepped up (yet again) and had my back without hesitation, I figured Saturday morning was the perfect morning to finally slow things down a little and sit out in the sunshine with some pancakes 🙂

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OK, recipe time now. We’re both a bit obsessed with NuZest’s chocolate protein, as you may have noticed in some of my other recipes, so I thought I’d look for a recipe I could make using protein powder. A ton of recipes involved mashed bananas (*gag*), so I kept scrolling – I eventually came across this one at Move, Nourish, Believe, but I didn’t totally love it… I screwed around with it a little and nailed the ultimate light and fluffy protein pancake! And the best part? Still low FODMAP! So happy!!

What you’ll need for pancakes for 2:
– ⅔ cup plain flour (use gluten free if needed)
– ¼ cup almond meal
– ¼ cup protein flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– ½ cup milk (I like almond)
– 2 eggs
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 tbsp maple syrup
– 2 tbsp vegetable oil
– a little butter or oil of choice to cook with

Cook ’em up…
1. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, almond meal, protein powder and baking powder) in a large bowl.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (milk, eggs, vanilla, maple syrup and vegetable oil).

3. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry. If it’s too runny, add a little more flour; if it’s too dry, add more milk.

4. Heat a non-stick fry pan over medium heat, and add a little oil or butter to coat the pan. Add about a quarter cup of batter at a time to the pan, and cook for a few minutes – until bubbles start to form.

5. Once you see bubbles, flip your pancakes and cook for another minute or so, until both sides are golden. Serve up with your choice of toppings – we went with some plain yoghurt, toasted cacao nibs, goji berries, shredded coconut, fresh berries, maple syrup and homemade lemon curd (husband’s favourite).

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So the pancakes were absolutely delicious, and the sun just kept on shining over the weekend (yes, Melbourne!) 🙂 This week is going to be a testing one, but before it all kicked off this morning I was lucky enough to spend a fantastic weekend with the husband, hanging around some of my favourite areas like Collingwood and the little city laneways I love so much, discovering some new shops and street art, and enjoying (actually enjoying) some really good food (disordered eating challenge for the weekend was eating at some of our favourite spots without it spiraling out of control into a binge/throw up/starve myself cycle). Pop back again later this week for more on the favourites we re-visited over the weekend and food porn to go with it; until then, thanks for stopping by and listening to my vent, I feel much better now and am all ready to face the first big challenge of the week tonight – stay tuned, more on that tomorrow!

Read this: Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons To Stay Alive
Matt Haig

I don’t even know how or where to start in describing such an incredible important book… HUGE thank you to Paula from @booksfordessert for  recommending this one!

Basically, Matt Haig, like so many other people, was suffering from depression. He got to a point in his life, again like so many others, where he had to make the big decision so many depressives face: do I end my life, or do I battle on? He decided to battle on, and this book is about all the reasons why he did, and maybe some reasons why you should, too.

The problem with most “self-help” books out there is that they’re written by “professionals.” I don’t care how many doctorates you have – if you’ve never actually suffered the agony and torment that is depression, nothing you say is going to be helpful. Because you can’t write it from a place of true understanding. That’s where Matt’s book is different. He isn’t a doctor or “professional;” he’s a real guy who really suffered and really gets it. And he’s one of the lucky ones that have come out the other side.

Personally, I think that if you have suffered from depression or anxiety, or someone you love is struggling with it all (which should cover just about everyone on the planet), this should really be required reading. Why? Because it is a deadly, nasty disease:

Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US – a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities. According to figures from the World Health Organization, it kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. As people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. It kills more people than most other forms of violence – warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, gun crime – put together… Yet people still don’t think depression really is that bad.

So what should we do? Talk. Listen. Keep adding to the conversation… Keep reiterating, again and again, that depression is not something you have to ‘admit to,’ it is a human experience. It is not you, it is simply something that happens to you. And something that can often be eased by talking. Where talk exists, so does hope.

This book is brilliant, because it’s written in a way that can be understood, whether you’re being followed by the black cloud or not. This particular passage is a good start:

It’s hard to explain depression to people who haven’t suffered from it. It’s like explaining life on earth to an alien. The reference points just aren’t there.

The main thing is the intensity of it. It does not fit within the normal spectrum of emotions. When you are in it, you are really in it. You can’t are outside it without stepping outside of life, because it is life. It is your life. Every single thing you experience is filtered through it. Consequently, it magnifies everything. At its most extreme, things that an everyday normal person would hardly notice have overwhelming effects.

For me, this book was particularly poignant because of the incredible similarities and parallels I drew to my life – he speaks about how some depressives use travel as a means of alleviating the pain, which I’ve found to be incredible true, and have written about a little here. The other thing that’s been a massive part of my life and that’s always gotten me through the worst times (and this goes back as early as five year old me who had paralysing nightmares and what I now recognise as mini child-sized anxiety attacks) is words. Pure and simple. Reading and writing has been my lifeline. And Matt touches on this perfectly:

There is this idea that you either read to escape or you read to find yourself. I don’t really see the difference. We find ourselves through the process of escaping.

One cliche attached to bookish people is that they are lonely, but for me books were my way out of being lonely. If you are the type of person who thinks too much about stuff then there is nothing lonelier in the world than being surrounded by a load of people on a different wavelength.

This book arrived on my doorstep at such a perfect time (while I’m not religious or superstitious or anything like that, I do believe that the universe has a way of giving you exactly what you need exactly when you need it); September is testing me. I’m struggling a LOT right now with my mental health. We just had R U OK? Day which I wrote about last week, and am really hoping helped even just one person out there. My Don’t be a D.N.B. shirt (proceeds of which went to Didi Hirsch who work in mental health for women, and particularly body image issues) arrived on a day where disordered eating was at an all time high (or low, I guess). And we’re also in the midst of Liptember, which is a campaign held in September to raise funds and more importantly awareness for women’s mental health by wearing some brightly coloured lippy – I’m horrible with lipstick (make up in general really – all I own is mascara, some eye shadow I was gifted for a Christmas 8 odd years ago, and some eye liner I don’t know how to apply and have therefore only used twice), but I’m donning the bright red on my more confident days this month!

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If you’re struggling, if you know someone who’s struggling, if you want to try to understand this deadly disease a little better, please pick up a copy of this book – it will only take you a few hours to read, and you never know what difference it might make 🙂

 

R U OK? How to ask, how to answer & why it’s so important

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Our culture, as Australians, is pretty simple; when you come across a fellow human, you ask “how are ya?” And you respond “yeah, good, how are you?”  We’re conditioned to be “good,” to not speak about our problems, to not be emotional burdens. But sometimes that’s not OK.

Tomorrow is national R U OK? Day in Australia, which comes in an ironically timely fashion for me; after a few pretty good weeks, I’m going through a(nother) nasty little stormy patch right now. It comes and goes so quickly and with SO little warning. If you’re a fellow Aussie, you may have also noticed Buddy Franklin in the news over the last day or so, dealing with something similar, with some of his closest family and friends stating that they were unaware of his battle with mental illness. Ahhh to have a dollar every time that phrase was uttered… “Ohh, I had no idea, you seem so normal!” (I’m not a bloody alien!) And that’s the thing that makes mental illness so deadly; people still don’t talk about it because they’re, I dunno, embarrassed about it, feel awkward about it, still believe in the stigmas attached (all because the education isn’t there). And so, this horribly isolating, dangerous disease (every single bit as deadly as other serious PHYSICAL illnesses, by the way) goes unnoticed, often until its too late. And that’s what R U OK? Day is all about.

If you’ve never heard of it or seen the logo, in their own words, they are:

…a not-for-profit organisation founded by Gavin Larkin in 2009, whose vision is a world where we’re all connected and are protected from suicide. Accordingly, our mission is to encourage and equip everyone to regularly and meaningfully ask “are you OK?”

We know that suicide prevention is an enormously complex and sensitive challenge the world over. But we also know that some of the world’s smartest people have been working tirelessly and developed credible theories that suggest there’s power in that simplest of questions – “Are you OK?”

I’ve written a little about my own struggle with depression, anxiety and disordered eating before on here, but as a general rule, I’m not super open with it. Actually, let me re-word that; if I’m asked, I’m honest. If someone is genuinely asking, from a non-judgmental place, what’s going on and wants to know how I feel and where I’m at and how I got to that point, I will be open and candid about it. I don’t feel shame over it; it is what it is. Some people are affected by diabetes, and they don’t have to apologise for it. Some people are coaelic, and that’s not their fault. People with Crohn’s disease or endometriosis or melanoma aren’t expected to have to defend themselves and the perceived ‘inconvenience’ their illness is causing for people who don’t understand it. This is no different. For whatever reason, the way my brain is wired and the way the chemicals interact up there has caused me to end up with depression. I am not depression, but I do suffer from it. It doesn’t define me, but it does affect me.

As for the aspect of it all that R U OK? deal with, suicide, that’s not a subject I’ve written about before, and I’m not certain I ever will. It’s a difficult subject to broach; it’s something that everyone has an opinion on, and those opinions are all very personal and formed from our own experiences. I also tend not to discuss it because, like mental illness full stop, a lot of people out there don’t take it seriously. I will post a review on this book next week, because I think it’s completely necessary reading for every single person who is or knows someone affected by depression (basically everyone on the planet), but in his absolutely brilliant book Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt Haig writes this:

“Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US – a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities. According to figures from the World Health Organization, it kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. As people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. It kills more people than most other forms of violence – warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, gun crime – put together… Yet people still don’t think depression really is that bad.”

Those statistics, I think, really speak for themselves. So, instead of discussing my thoughts on suicide per se, I want to focus on one big thing we can do to prevent it. It’s easy enough that anyone can do it, it costs nothing, and it could save a life. Wanna know what this big thing is? Talking.

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The theory behind R U OK? is that a simple conversation could be all it could take to save a life. Talking, asking, listening, opening the conversation and therefore taking the stigma and secrecy out of the suffering. It’s as simple to affect change as just asking someone “are you OK?”

 

How to ask
Like I said, it’s a difficult subject. It’s hard enough to talk about your own feelings of hopelessness, let alone ask someone else about theirs. If there’s someone in your life you’re worried about and who seems like they’re doing it a bit tough, here are a few ways you can ask them if they’re OK…

1. Make time for it: Personally, while I appreciate friends asking me if I’m OK, there’s nothing worse than being asked at an inappropriate time or place, because then it kinda feels like they’re only asking because they feel like they have to, not because they want to. Ask R U OK? when you have time to stop and listen to the response, not as you’re rushing off between appointments. And consider where you are, too – the middle of the office or a quiet cafe might not be the best!

2. Let them know you’re concerned and don’t take no for an answer. Then, just let them talk: After asking “are you OK?” you’ll most likely be met with “yeah, fine, why?” Don’t take it at face value – if you know this person well, and your gut is telling you they’re not fine, call them on it. Tell them that you’re not entirely sure you believe that, and while you may not understand exactly what they’re going through, you’d like to try to understand and help where you can. If you’re worried, don’t let it go. Once you’ve expressed your concern, then just let them talk. When you’re used to keeping it all bottled up and someone actually, genuinely makes the time and effort to ask if you’re OK, it takes a little time to express what’s going on. Give them a moment to gather their thoughts, and when they do start talking, don’t feel the need to jump in and problem solve; sometimes just giving voice to what’s been swimming around in your head helps!

3. Let them know it’s not their fault: People who struggle with mental illnesses of all sorts often feel like it’s their fault. Like they’ve done something wrong to deserve it. One of the most comforting things you do is reassure them that this is not their fault, that yes it is a shitty situation, but it’s not their fault they’re in it. Depression is a nasty, irrational illness, and it doesn’t discriminate who it chooses to shoot down. But no one asks for it.

4. Do NOT say any of the following things, under ANY circumstances:
– It’s all in your head, you’re fine.
– You have a great life, I don’t know what you could possibly be so depressed about.
– There are heaps of people who are worse off than you.
– Just smile!
– You can actually control this, just decide to be happy.
– Yeah I know what it’s like, I have shit days too.- This has been going on for a while, shouldn’t you be better by now?
– Shit happens, just get over it.
– You’re so over dramatic, you just want attention.
And in case you’re wondering, I speak from personal experience here. Yes, people have said all of those things to me at some point. Some of them have even been said by family members. This is why I don’t have a lot of meaningful relationships anymore.

5. Set boundaries: While it’s very tempting to want to jump straight in to savior mode when a loved one is hurting, that’s not necessarily the best thing for either of you. Yes you’re their friend or family, yes you care very much, and yes you want to help. But sometimes the best way to help isn’t letting them transfer all their problems and hurts on to you. Let them know you’d like to help where you can, but make sure you’re not doing that at the cost of your own mental health. Offer to go along to a psychologist appointment if they feel like they need the support, or catch up for a weekly coffee and chat, but don’t cancel your plans day after day to be checking up on them. Encourage them to find solutions that will work for them rather than trying to do it all for them.

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How to answer
This is hard to write, because it’s very personal and individual. And personally, I hate being asked. I’ve been conditioned to shut up and put up, display the shiny, happy veneer to the outside world and deal with the hurt myself. But the older I get, the more I realise I can’t keep it up forever.

1. Put yourself in their shoes: If anything, depression makes you even more sensitive to other people’s hurts. A lot of people struggling with depression (myself included) try extra hard to make sure everyone else is doing OK as a way of deflecting our own problems. If you saw a friend who seemed down and out, you’d ask them too, so don’t get your back up when someone asks you – it means you’re loved!

2. Don’t get defensive: Assuming they’re coming from a place of understanding and love, they’re not accusing you of anything; they’re worried about you. They’re ready to listen, so you don’t need to defend how and what you’re feeling. Drop your guard and let them see you, not your mask.

3. Be open to help: It can be hard enough opening up to someone you know and love; it’s a whole different ball game opening up to a stranger. But you can’t use your loved one as a crutch. Asking if you’re OK is a way for them to make you realise that you’re actually not OK, and for you to become OK is probably going to take a bit of work on your part. Be open to outside help, because it’s unfair to expect your loved one to solve all your problems for you.

4. Be honest: If you’re not OK, say so. If someone cares enough about you to actually ask, the least you can do is be honest. They wouldn’t be asking if they couldn’t handle it, so tell them what’s going on as honestly and openly as you can. You’d be surprised how good it feels to get all the shit that’s been building up out of your head and into words. It can also help put things into perspective and give you a new lease on your problems, hearing them out loud instead of having them swim around in your head.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: If they care about you, one of the first things they’re going to do is tell you to let them know what they can do to help. You don’t offer your best friend help if you don’t mean it, so if having someone bring their extra dinner left overs to work for your lunch so you don’t have to cook, or picking up your kids from school, or just catching up for an hour over a cup of tea is going to really help you, let them know! Even your closest friends aren’t mind readers; if they don’t know what you’re going through, how can you expect them to know what they can do to help??

And lastly, SAY THANK YOU!!! Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone care enough to ask if they’re OK. If someone asks you, thank them.

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Tomorrow, let’s all put a bit of love out there and start the conversation, because you never know whose life you might be saving – all you need to ask is “R U OK?”

 

 

If you’re not OK, please consider seeking help from:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
SANE – 1800 18 7263
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467