6 Things I could Accomplish if I Stopped Falling Asleep on the Bus

I love a nap.

I can be pretty lazy and I’m a world-class procrastinator, so a good afternoon nap is always appreciated. That’s something I certainly didn’t grow out of during 3 years of Uni. In fact I’m quite seriously debating having a quick nap now and finishing this later, but I won’t (or I might have done, how would you know)?

The Uni lifestyle can be an unstructured one, to say the least. There’s no established routine and more worryingly all that work that needs to be done, those thousands and thousands of words – that’s all down to you and you alone. You, your self-motivation and your will-power.

So yeah, lots of naps tend to happen!

In fact I remember clearly, days that more or less consisted of one long nap – often with great remorse that I didn’t bask in their glory more while I had the chance. On these days getting out of bed was done no earlier than 3pm and even then it was for the sole purpose of being sociable, which meant joining the housemates in the living room (duvet in tow, naturally) for a marathon of Jeremy Kyle, Don’t Tell the Bride and Eastenders. The pinnacles of physical excercise for the day consisted of stirring your pot noodle, loo breaks (once they became absolutely essential) and taking turns to reboot the wireless.

At a previously undetermined point during the early evening your conscience would kick in and you’d drag yourself to your room to retrieve the laptop and a couple of books, muttering something vague as you left the room along the lines of “right, I HAVE to do some work, nobody nick my seat.” Then you’d settle yourself back in your carefully sculpted bum-shaped dent in the sofa with the laptop, books and a cuppa – and proceed to google pointless crap, refresh your Facebook timeline and carefully study the IMDB profile of that guy on the TV and figure out which film you know them from. Needless to say the books were usually employed exclusively as a make-shift coffee table and you’d be left wondering as you carried them back upstairs a few hours later, what made you bring them down in the first place.

But anyway, snapping out of reminiscing about the dreamy parallel universe that is UK higher education and getting back to civilised life, where there are jobs to go to and to-do lists to keep on top of, napping is a somewhat dangerous game.

I’ve found the perfect nap length is around half an hour. Have a nice half hour nap and you’ll find yourself refreshed, focussed and raring to start some housework/excercise/job applications/writing (or whatever it is you need to do – these are just a few of the things that I expertly procrastinate from on a daily basis). But go any longer, sleep through the alarm or groan at your designated waker to leave you alone one too many times until they think “sod this” and consent to leave you in your pit to sleep away the afternoon – and it will likely result in a solemn pledge to never nap again.

Have one of the latter kind of naps and with cruel, cruel irony you’ll feel like you haven’t slept a single hour in the last 3 months. You might as well concede defeat and kiss productivity goodbye for the day as it saunters out of the front door, leaving you to stare blinkingly after it in an unparalleled state of groggy, disoriented can’t-be-arsedness.

The problem is my bus journey to work at the moment is about 45 minutes, so take off a few minutes at the beginning for getting sat down, getting my phone or Kindle out and fooling myself that I’m going to read a book/write/find out what’s happening in the world – and you’re left with the perfect nap time. Believe me my body has wised up to this and is taking full advantage. Out of an average 10 bus trips per week I tend to sleep straight through 8 of them, and doze through at least part of the other two. Maybe it doesn’t help that it’s usually dark while I’m travelling at the minute but let’s be honest, it could be like Miami Beach in July out there, and I’d probably still nod off!

The whole ‘I can’t possibly fall asleep in public’ thing deserted me months ago, another thing scratched off the list of things I get embarrassed/ashamed about as I get further into my twenties and simultaneously care less and less about what people think.

Although I will admit that there was a short period some months ago when I was traumatised by witnessing a poor teenage guy fall asleep on the top deck of a (very busy) bus from Newcastle. This wasn’t a problem in itself and it could have turned out to be a great little nap, if the bus hadn’t lurched rather violently, sending the guy hurtling to the floor equally as violently. To make matters worse he woke up half way down and yelped like a little puppy, (except much louder). Needless to say the teenage girls sitting behind him couldn’t stifle their giggles. To be frank they were more like guffaws and there was no real attempt made to hold them in.

I do still have some shame and I would expect that I too would turn something close to the shade of crimson that guy did if that happened to me. In fact I’d probably have gotten off the bus at the next stop and waited for the next one, on which nobody would have known of my humiliation. So anyway I swore off falling asleep on the bus that day, but apparently I got over that quite quickly…

Anyway getting to the point, I’ve been re-evaluating my productiveness (or lack of it) again lately. So here is a list I’ve come up wth to try to motivate myself, of things I could (theoretically, assuming some level of productiveness rather than 45 minutes of staring wistfully out of the window) do with the 7.5 hours that I spend sitting on a bus each week. If only I didn’t spend them sleeping…

  • Read a book or two each week – then I could even think about starting to write a book-review blog, which I’ve wanted to do for a while, only I don’t get through anywhere near enough books!
  • Write a new blog post every day – not that I’m under the illusion that I have enough good ideas to write that often, so the quality/quantity balance would be way off!
  • Watch all of Breaking Bad in 8 weeks – I realise that’s not quick for most people but as things stand it’s taken me 2 years and I’m only up to season 3, episode 4 (no spoilers please). Maybe then I could even make some progress on the many other shows that I seem to have stalled half way through, like Supernatural, Grimm, Game of Thrones, Criminal Minds etc etc
  • Read A LOT more news, and be a bit better informed.
  • Listen to more new music.
  • Speak to a fellow bus dweller – sounds weird I know but people must have done this before the days of mobiles, Kindles, tablets and MP3s!

Kids say the Harshest Things

So I’m living back in my family home since finishing Uni last Summer.

At 24 and a half, I’m definitely feeling the pressure – though from nobody but myself (and possibly a teeny bit from my little sister who wants my bedroom) – to progress my life in at least some fashion since achieving the ‘walked off the edge of a cliff’ experience of graduating over 6 months ago now; but for the moment I really do love living here.

Of course there are the obvious perks like once again being able to give Mam a ring on the way home from work on a cold, grey winter night and get her to stick the bath on. Not to mention the distinct and very well appreciated lack of rent payments to be made (though of course I do pay my way) and the fact that there is no utterly incompetent and/or criminally negligent landlord in the equation to get my blood boiling to unhealthy temperatures.

But the best thing about living at home is definitely that I get to see my nieces and nephews loads, and properly watch them grow up. Of course I have to admit that this is me in a good mood talking – this house is a rather chaotic, manic and at times shouty one and that’s not always fun. But it’s always been that way and for the vast majotity of the time I love it!

So today I got up – like most Saturdays – when I decided that I couldn’t roll over, sandwich my head between two pillows and ignore the racket from downstairs any longer. It sounded like my completely amazing if sometimes a tad (quite a lot) shouty Mam was having a whale of a time with the 8, 3 and 2 year olds and it was after 10am (which meant I’d had a 4-hour lie in compared to most week days) so I wasn’t too much like a bear with a sore head as I went downstairs.

The two older cherubs (little brother and his big sister) were sitting in the armchair in the corner having a rare moment of peacefully playing a game together (this is a pretty big deal) on big sister’s iPad. After a few minutes of chatting to Mam while they played and I made us both a cuppa, I was mercilessly ganged up on in what has to have been the funniest verbal attack that’s ever occurred without a quick-witted comedian and an ill-fated heckler being involved. I’m not even sure how or why it started but here in ascending order for your comedic enjoyment, are the best of the insults that were hurled at me over the 5 minutes that followed:

  1. “Stupid face, you smell like poo” – some pretty standard 3 year old material
  2. “Aunty Lauren you’ve got a bum-head on your face” – erm… unique
  3. “Yeah, you’ve got a bum on your face… you’ve got cheeks…so bum cheeks” – ahh, outwitted by 8 year old logic!
  4. “That’s cos you’re old… in fact I think you already know that…” – insightful…
  5. “You’re so spotty… you’re like Mr Tumble’s spotty bag…” – that’s right, this one’s my personal favourite, I’m a spotty bag. Spotty. Bag.

Needless to say I would have been left reeling from this creative tyrade – if I wasn’t completely used to it. And if it wasn’t so hilarious. And if it wasnt followed very closely by this from 3 year old Ethan – “Aunty Lauren, I just love you!”

So yeah, that was the first 15 minutes of my Saturday. You’re jealous right? I would be!

P.s. this one wasn’t aimed at me but there’s no way I could leave it out. A few minutes later Nicole the 8 year old piped up with this absolute gem! She informs me that she heard it in a Taylor Swift song but coming out of the mouth of an 8 year old to describe her younger brother and cousin, I think it’s found its perfect place in the world – “Aren’t Ethan and Kenzie a nightmare wrapped up in a daydream?”

I’m still laughing now!

Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech and the Wise Man on the Bus

Picture the clichéd image of a bedraggled man or woman sitting in a chair hunched over a typewriter. They appear to have been in the same position for at least three or four days. Every now and then they stop to violently tear the paper out of the machine, ball it up as small as they possibly can, and toss it into an overflowing waste paper basket. Each time they spit forth a tirade of foul-mouthed self abuse as the rejected sheet descends to join the pile of other useless rubbish in the bin – all there is to show for the three or four hours that they have actually been sitting there.

That’s how I write.

All I can say is that I’m thankful for laptops and word processors, especially for the ability they afford me to repeatedly cut out huge portions of my writing and start over, without single-handedly destroying the Amazon. To put it mildly I’m a ‘drafter’ – the writing process for me, as I’m sure it does for many others, involves copious amounts of cutting, pasting, deleting and re-writing – and occasional swearing (out loud, not on the paper). But usually I get there, I end up with something that I think gets across the point that I am trying to make.

What has made that process so much more difficult this afternoon is that, as I’ve just realised, I actually have no idea what the point is that I’m trying to make; or rather what my stance is on the issue that I’m trying to discuss.

I’ve been trying to write about my views on the public reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings that tragically occurred 11 days ago. Everything surrounding this tragedy is terrifying and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Of course this is always going to be a difficult subject to write about. It is a story of inconceivable tragedy that tugs at the heartstrings, not just the political sensitivities, of many nations. It has come at a time when (speaking for a moment of the UK in particular, as this is all that I have personal experience of) many people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the system of government. I have personally heard people who would never before have dreamt of abstaining from voting in a general election, considering doing just that. Not because they can’t be bothered but because they simply no longer buy that there is any difference between the parties on offer. Many of the people who are considering ‘waiving’ their right to vote don’t see it as that at all, they see it as exercising their right not to do so. In a nutshell (admittedly one inside which the emotional topography of an entire nation is hugely over-simplified and generalised) the population is angry. The “this country is going to the dogs” sentiment abounds and although that idea seems always to have held appeal for the older generations who fondly remember a “better time” that in reality may not have been any better at all; now the younger generations are starting to agree. But how do you fight against an establishment which is so.. well.. established?

In the midst of all this uncertainty is escalating religious tension, and one thing that I am almost sure about (I say almost because I’m less qualified as a politics expert than I am as a zookeeper) is that the aforementioned political parties don’t really mind that tension, not one bit. After all it is not only distracting us from how utterly uninterested they are in the wellbeing and quality of life of anyone below them in the class and power foodchain, but is an ideal basis of useless rhetoric and empty promises with which the various parties can divide the population into comfortable voting categories – then pretend they care who we vote for as they all enjoy remaining in power together, the bestest of buddies living the high life behind closed doors. The escalation of religious tension between Muslims and – it would seem – everyone else, has provided the opportunity for UKIP and Nigel Farage to rise up from the masses (this description requires us to forget for a moment that Farage has basically the same background as the rest of the major players – give or take a few years of make-me-rich banking) and try to convince us that they are the ‘revolution’ that this country so sorely needs. They’re reminiscent of a manufactured pop band and I suspect they’ve been designed by the people in charge to make us think that we do not need to question what’s really going on, we just need to rebel by voting for UKIP in May and everything will change; we’ll all have more money, there will be 0 unemployment for the white man and they’ll find the cure for all cancers, in early June. If UKIP do get into power I imagine it will turn out to be more like the time when Rage Against the Machine stole the christmas number 1 from the X-factor – only if we had found out soon after that the band were in fact managed by Simon Cowell all along, and they’d immediately started covering Leona Lewis songs.

But that’s a subject I could write about all day. What I find so much harder to do is form a solid opinion on the human issues surrounding the tragedy of 12 people murdered in their office as they went about their day and how this can come to happen, in the midst of so much more hatred than I ever want my future children to be surrounded by.

Like everyone else, I’ve read a lot of opinion pieces about this tragedy over the last 11 days but I’ve honestly found myself more confused after reading each one.

In trying to form an opinion I have considered writer Mehdi Hasan’s assertion that Charlie Hebdo has never published cartoons about the holocaust or 9/11 as this would be offensive; and that this destroys the idea that they believe in freedom of speech without limits?

But hang on a minute, while Charlie Hebdo have indeed never published either of the above (thankfully!) but to the best of my knowledge, nor have they ever published jokes about thousands, or millions, of Muslim men, women and children being massacred. Surely their Muhammad cartoons are all about denying extremism that’s based on the belief that people deserve to die for refusing to follow a prophet? Surely that’s their reasoning for ridiculing Muhammad? Not racism, not hatred of Muslims?

But then there is a lot of discussion around whether it as seen as acceptable for other religions, in particular Judaism, to be mocked in the same fashion as we are expecting the followers of Islam to accept. This seems to centre mainly around the reported sacking of Maurice Sinet in 2009 for allegations that he made anti-semitic remarks in his work.

In my view, all religions should be allowed to be mocked and need to be mocked, if we are to ever come to understand that they are flawed human creations, not divine catch-alls for whatever monstrous behaviour we as flawed human beings want to get away with at any one time (which they have served as across all religions for centuries). But of course that has to apply to all of them.

A question that I have seen asked by many, after first being posed by Professor Brian Klug, which has caused a lot of debate, is mentioned in the Mehdi Hasan article and which did really make me think, was this: would someone joining the unity rally held in Paris in reaction to the shootings, holding a placard showing that they support the gunmen and their ’cause’, have made it out of that situation unharmed? I don’t think I can answer that question confidently. So does this prove the hypocrisy of the idea of free speech without consequences?

Then I read another article just today, that has been written in response to the first one, and this too made a lot of sense. In it, among many other good points, the writer argued that none of those defending Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons “have or would advocate (government-sanctioned) suppression of Holocaust jokes, however repulsive they might find them,” because they believe in free speech.

But wait, the question posed is not about Government-sanctioned judgement. This still leaves the question of whether all of those attending that rally really would have been able to allow the man with that placard his right to free speech without violent consequence, given how deeply offended they would have been by what he was saying?

Indeed, many of the sickeningly racist comments that I read attached to a video (LINK) of a radical Muslim being attacked by two British men for preaching on an British high street, certainly did not reflect the opinion that voicing their views (no matter what they are) should not put a person in danger.

As I write this I realise that of course, trying to work out what would have happened in Brian Klug’s scenario is all conjecture and nobody can really say what would have happened in that situation. I suppose the point I’m making is just that I am confused about what I think here.

So all I can do is go back to the things that are easy and are facts in my mind – because sometimes it helps to take things back to basics for a minute and look at what we really believe:
1. What happened to those journalists is not OK. It can never, in any way, be justified.
2. Mass persecution of people of any (or no) faith, can also never, in any way, be justified.
3. For as long as we keep allowing our governments and press to guide our opinions of each other, we’re screwed.

That’s it as far as things that I am sure of on this subject goes, that’s all I’ve got and I’m aware that it isn’t very useful at all. In fact it’s probably nothing more than common sense, but the problem is that amidst the bombardment of information that we all receive on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis, maybe our view of common sense has gotten a little lost in the white noise?

An elderly gentleman on my bus the other day, who smelled quite bad and talked loudly to himself for the whole journey – soliciting more than eye-rolls and sniggering then I would have hoped to see in 2015 – at one point said something that I think maybe we all need to stop and remember. He said “we’re not all the same though are we, whether you’re a man or a woman or whatever, we’re all different from each other, every one of us.”

Why I Would Rather Try To Find The Funny Than The Meaning Of Life

Peg-o-Leg's Ramblings

Sir Loin of Beef Sir Loin of Beef

Some look at life’s journey as a pitched battle, and some as a noble quest. Either way, a smart knight should be prepared for the dragons he or she is bound to encounter along the way. My weapon of choice is a feather duster.

It has only snowed once so far this weird winter.  I took advantage of the unlooked for boon of ice-free roads here in the country last week and went for a walk.  My mood was somber as I set off down the road, well bundled against the bracing cold.  I needed the lift that nature always gives me because I felt lower than I have felt in a long time.

I was thinking about my dear cousin, Moe. She’s experimenting with multiple chemo treatments, locked in mortal combat with the cancer that has spread despite her efforts. We recently learned that her…

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Actually I’m Worrying a lot about Washing my Hands Lately, I Wonder what that’s about?

I’m of the very strong opinion that mental health needs to be talked about openly if we are to continue progressing beyond our current position on how we understand, cope with and support people through mental illness.

First things first, there are two thoughts that I anticipate those words may have inspired in you:

1) who would have thought that Lauren would have a strong opinion? (this one only applies if you’re as partial to a nice bit of sarcasm, as I am)
2) Well, there’s a heavy first sentence

To the first one – don’t worry about it, I haven’t gotten to 24 without realising that I’m a bit of a gobshite! The second one is more or less the reason I wanted to write this post, in an attempt to articulate and share my view on why that first sentence is in fact not heavy, intense or brooding at all. Why the fact that mental health is still not an everyday topic of discussion – but still a very niche one which can bring with it hushed tones, apprehension and awkwardness – shows that we still have a long way to go towards really understanding it.

Firstly, let’s start with a few things that I’m not saying.

I’m not saying that I think everyone should have deep, soul-searching conversations about their childhood and the continuing effects it has had on their adjustment to adult life, on a weekly basis (can of worms, right)? I’m not saying that every person should finish reading this article, immediately call up and refer themselves for their chosen type of therapy or counselling, as this is the only way to avoid an inevitable nervous breakdown at some point in the future. Nor am I saying that you should start describing to strangers on the bus how you’re feeling and seeking their advice on what it all means.

What I do want is to live in a world where people can feel comfortable to sit at work and say things along the lines of, “I’m feeling really anxious today” to their close colleagues (with whom they are comfortable sharing family, relationship and probably sexual events, experiences of so called ‘physical’ illness and who knows what else) – and no-one will think they’re weird; for feeling that way nor for sharing the information.

I think it should be socially acceptable for anyone, when asked by a friend or close aquaintance “how are you?” to answer not just with either “I’m fine thanks” or “well I’ve got a bit of a cold/the kids have got me worn out/I’ve got loads on at work”; but also with “I’m feeling quite down” or maybe even “actually I’m worrying a lot about washing my hands lately, I wonder what that’s about.”

OK, that last one sounds like a bit of a weird thing to come out with, right?

But why?

It seems obvious to me that this kind of natural, everyday conversation is the only thing that can help us to truly tackle the stigma that still haunts this part of us. If we are truly listening to organisations like the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Rethink and Time to Change, who all do fantastic work and are undoubtedly instigating progress, then we know that every single person will be affected by either their own or a loved one’s mental illness in their lifetime. Of course they will. The mind is such a complex element of us. How can we expect it to function perfectly all of the time? Isn’t that like expecting to get through your whole life never suffering from any ‘physical’ ailment – not a single cold, sickness bug or broken bone?  So why are teenagers who show signs of suffering from OCD, eating disorders, depression or anxiety, still the ‘weird kids’? Why are anxiety and depression still made so much harder to deal with for so many people, by the fear of judgement?

Of course I know that there are physical illnesses and conditions which also still carry a lot of stigma and I believe that the same applies to them.

If truly open conversation about these issues could become the norm; it would allow the next generation to grow up hearing all the time that they aren’t the only ones ever to feel this way or that. Just as importantly, they’d also be learning from day one that if they recognise signs of mental health problems in their friends or classmates (a situation with which they will undoubtedly be faced at some point), that child or teenager (or colleague at work) does not have to immediately become somebody to stay away from.

Such an incredibly large amount of my own experiences with mental illness – with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and eating disorders – has been about loneliness, about hating the way that I felt because I was convinced I was the only one who had ever felt that way. For me it has been a vicious cycle of feeling rejected and the resulting low self-esteem in my early teenage years; through searching for ways to control the world around me by subjecting myself to regimes of cleanliness (then later dieting which bordered on starvation all the way through to compulsive over-eating); then the resulting ‘realisation’ that I was in fact a freak and that the rejection I felt from others was justified – re-enter the ever-decreasing self-esteem. Growing up immersed in the flourishing popularity of social media and heightening reverence for celebrity culture, two things that so often revolve around cutting and pasting your life and experiences to showcase only the very best of you for others to compare themselves to, can only be making things more difficult for those with low or impressionable, susceptible self-esteem (so the vast majority of teenagers).

So to add to the list of things that I’m not trying to do with this entry – I’m not trivialising mental illness and the dark, terrible places to which it can take people. I am not trying to pretend that talking will ‘make it all go away’ because the likes of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia and schizophrenia are all in people’s heads and if they would only talk they would be all better. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I have some experience with some types of mental illness and I know intimately my own story of mental health. But I’m well aware that there is 1000% more that I know nothing about and that every type of mental illness and every person who lives with it is completely different.

I’m also not saying that opening up and talking is easy. But I believe that it should be easier, and that it could become a lot easier, if it was more of a ‘done thing’. What I am saying is that in my own experience – which is all that I am able to pass comment on – opening up and talking about the way I’m feeling and the things I’m thinking has been the only thing that has ever made any real difference. That’s partly because it’s freeing to say things out loud and it can be helpful to hear another person’s perspective, and because yes, things often do sound a lot different when you get them out of your head and say them out loud. A lot of what helped me to conquer my 50-a-day hand-washing habit was that when I did finally begin to talk – often just telling a family member why I was feeling the need to wash my hands at that particular time – 9 times out of 10 it made a lot less sense to me when I heard it spoken out loud; so slowly I managed to differentiate again between when it was necessary and when it wasn’t.

But mostly talking has helped because at every turn, every time I have finally opened up about something that I thought made me an irreparable freak, whether it be to a family member, a friend or a cognitive behavioural therapist  – I have learned almost instantly that I am not the only person to have ever felt that way.

I’ve learned (well I’m learning) that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that I will never be a totally level-headed, emotionally well-rounded person (pssst, that’s mostly because these mythical creatures don’t actually exist) and if I’d known that 12 years ago, like actually believed it, I honestly believe that things could have been a lot different.

One time sticks in my mind when I had a conversation with a colleague at work about obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. I don’t remember how we got onto the subject but it was just an everyday natural conversation – no hushed voices, no feeling that we were confiding in each other to the exclusion of all others because they just wouldn’t understand. Just a conversation about some shared experiences. It felt good, as it always does, to talk openly about my experiences without any shame, without feeling like I had to keep anything back because it would make my colleagues want to avoid me. And once again I found out that someone I respect has had similar experiences to me. But because (as I alluded to earlier) I still bear absolutely no resemblance to a level-headed person, I worried later on that I had shared too much.

It reminded me of another time a few months ago when I gave a presentation to a teaching development conference at Uni. I was presenting the work I’d done for a module about self reflection and development and I had planned to skip over the part that I had written about my experiences with OCD. When it was written it was only intended to be seen by my tutor and one or two other examiners. Although I didn’t have a problem with sharing it as such (I wasn’t embarrassed about the experiences any more) I was for some reason, embarrassed about the fact that I had written about it in my work. I think I was worried that it would seem like I was attention-seeking, or just that people would think I was weird for ‘over-sharing’. But for whatever reason, when I was up there, I decided to talk about it after all. So I spoke very briefly about why that was included and how it had benefitted my work. As I had predicted, I felt like I had definitely over-shared. This was a room mainly full of strangers after all, and what was the actual likelihood that my supposedly heroic honesty would have any sort of positive consequence for anyone in that room? Basically I felt a bit silly.

But a few days after the conversation at work that I mentioned earlier, another colleague mentioned that they were going through a rough time with anxiety and panic attacks. They weren’t sure about sharing this and I’m pretty sure they only did so because they had to explain why they had been having days off. However when they did, the original colleague mentioned that we had been talking about our experiences with similar things a couple of days before and the three of us disussed our experiences again. I realised then that by talking about our experiences a few days before, we had opened up the chance for someone who was going through something that could be very lonely, to see that they were actually going through something totally natural, and very common. 

Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people in the UK in any given year, and 1 in 10 children have a mental health problem at any one time according to the Mental Health Foundation; so mental health needs to be considered by everyone. What we need to understand is that everybody has mental health, in just the same way as everyone has physical health; and if we really realise that, we can continue to reduce the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. It’s undeniable that we’ve come a long way and that this stigma results in far less harsh treatment now (at least in this country) than it has done historically.

But I think the next step is realising that actually, mental health is a part of our physical health, there shouldn’t really be a distinction. After all, is the brain not a part of our body?

So yes, I am what you could call “aggressively open” about my experiences with mental illness. Maybe people sometimes feel uncomfortable with how open I can be. Like I said I’m still learning to trust myself. My (very) fragile self-esteem and anxiety means that I question pretty much everything I do and say. So sometimes I wonder if I’ve done the right thing when I open my huge mouth. But its so important to me that my Niece and Nephews, Goddaughter and anyone else whether its a loved one or a complete stranger – should they ever experience any of the things I’ve talked about here – know that they are not a freak, that thousands of people before them have been in their shoes, and that they won’t be rejected for being unwell.

Tonight I Watched Big Brother

So tonight I watched the first episode of Celebrity Big Brother and I made a decision… when I have my own home I’m not buying a tv…

For the first 10 minutes I was just plain angry. Raging in fact. Of course this is what they were aiming for, parading around the wonderful K**** H****** (I refuse to post her name and add to the results count when she googles it). But it wasn’t her hateful bullying statements aimed at fat people, ginger people, scottish people, the list goes on and on… no, what made me so annoyed was the fact that she’s still being paid to be on telly spewing them.

Not only is she on there but they’re playing her up as the Wicked Queen, as if her professional bullying is funny and makes her the most entertaining character.

Then the parade continued, some of them I recognised and some I didn’t (I should probably be ashamed of how excited I got over Kavanagh – but I’m not)! Some of them were booed and some were cheered in traditional pantomime style. It was interesting to see, though, how Alicia Duval talked about getting famous and sleeping with lots of people, and was loudly booed when she came out. Immediately after that a man (I forget which one) did exactly the same and was cheered like the stud that he apparently is. Lovely.

I carried on watching, really, really hoping it would stop being the K**** H****** show at some point but alas, it never happened… so it looks like at least the first part of this series will be based on continuing to celebrate the school bully in all her vindictive glory. Playing the game of forcing her to ‘pretend’ to be a decent human being to the other celebs’ faces while bitching about them in the diary room.

But the point that CBB is missing is that the overly bitchy, nasty pantomime villain portrayed by ‘she-who-must-not-be-named’ in her column and on tv, and now in the special lair custom-designed for her ladyship in the Big Brother house – is an act! She’s playing a character for a living and the time that she’s going to spend being forced (read allowed) to be nice to people is going to be easy, in fact it’ll probably be a nice break, because she’ll get to just be the plain old, nice, probably pretty boring human being that she does actually happen to be!

So I’m not the biggest fan of reality tv at the best of times (you probably haven’t read this far without realising that) but I am a bit of a sucker for the jungle and to be honest I wouldn’t have minded catching some of this year’s CBB if it had been sans KH, as there are some people in there that I wouldn’t have minded watching.

But I honestly don’t think I could cope with watching what that awful woman does for a living being glorified to that extent, while the producers sit behind the scenes like a poor man’s version of President Snow’s game makers, praying that she can’t manage to be half-decent and it all blows up. Just imagine the gleeful hand-rubbing when she makes someone cry, and oh the spike in viewers if someone does just smack her square in the face!

Social Media Cold Turkey – I Did It!! (day 31)

Image taken from Keisharocks.com

So I’ve done it, 31 days without using social media!

The withdrawal honestly hasn’t been too bad. I haven’t had to fight against a powerful, primal urge to check my Snapchats. No arguments, bribery or blackmail have ensued as attempts to make my partner give up my passwords; nor have I managed to lock any of my accounts by trying to guess what he might have put. No late night phone calls have been made to friends in a bid to find out what I’ve been missing. It turns out life without Facebook et al. isn’t actually that bad! In fact its been a good excuse to break a pretty irritating habit!

I can’t pretend I’ve been more productive because realistically, I haven’t. The time I haven’t spent scrolling through Facebook whilst on the bus to and from work has for the most part been otherwise wastefully occupied. Mostly by falling asleep. I do that A LOT. Its kind of my thing. I might have caught 20 minutes more sleep per night through not lying in bed of an evening checking social media, but I don’t think I’ve particularly slept better for it – as some suggest you will after disconnecting from always-on-forever-pinging-at-you communication.

So I haven’t become a more productive, more accomplished, better-rested, cooler, more interesting individual through my 4 week abstention from social media. But I have learned that it is easier to live without it than I thought it would be (at least short term), and that those who really want to keep in touch with you (and who you want to keep in touch with) will do that through those long forgotten mediums of text and phonecalls (and sometimes even face-to-face encounters).

However, one of the things that you can’t do effectively without it is to spread the word about your new blog. And get people to read it. So I’m back! Hey, I never said it didn’t have its uses…

What I’d say I’ve really learned from the whole experience, from sitting down and thinking about social media, and writing down my hopefully not too mind-numbing ramblings about what its like to use it and to not use it – is how powerful it can be. How huge a part of our lives it is and just how much of ourselves we put out there when we use it.

I’ve read, looked at and watched some of the most heartwarming things imaginable, right on Facebook and Twitter since I started using them. I’ve watched a terminally ill young man use social media to raise huge amounts of money in record time, for people in similar positions to him; seen a simple hashtag help a nation to show their compassion for an entire race of people and stand up against racial hatred in the wake of a terrible crime committed by one hateful radical.

And recently I’ve also read the constant and growing outpour of racial hatred from people that I grew up with, went to school with and have worked with – resulting from the government and the media’s use of social media to spread their hateful message about how Muslim’s are “destroying Great Britain,” in order to distract us from the actual root of our problems (them) in the run up to a general election.

So really what I’ve learned is how great social media can be, but also how dangerous. Really stopping and thinking about social media, which we’ve let into our lives in such a massive way, has made me think more about how I use it; the size of the pinch of salt with which I take everything that I read online; how I view others when I’m reading their posts or comments; and what I put on there about myself, for all the world to see.