The Little Jar

I’ve been neglecting my little page a bit lately but a stressful few days have gotten me in the mood to sit and write something. There’s something about getting motivated and creating a thing that didn’t exist before I sat down and started typing, that always manages to make me feel a bit better. A bit less useless. It let’s me tell this wonderfully persistent, naggy brain of mine that in fact, I am kinda good at shit.

So I was thinking today, as I do most days along with 7 zillion other things, about how very fast this year is zipping past and the fact that it’s almost 1/4 of the way through already. Oh screw it I’m going to say it, we’re nearly 1/4 of the way back round to Christmas guys! It’s almost Easter. My 25th birthday is in just over 10 weeks. It’s almost a year since I bound and submitted my dissertation. It’s Spring already.

Just to state the obvious for a second – humour me here and pretend you hadn’t already noticed – one of the various obsessions that my clinically anxious mind likes to have repeated dalliances with is the notion of just how fast the time around which we choose to structure our lives likes to flit by, leaving us staring after it like a hungry dog who’s just watched a butcher run past (inexplicably but it’s a metaphor, go with it) with a string of sausages dangling  over his shoulder; but realises pretty sharpish that he’s tied to a lamppost and has to sit and watch as the juicy sausages fade into memory.

The point is, the year is flying by in the same whirlwind fashion that all of it’s brothers before have done before and all it’s successors will continue to do.

So I think it’s time to stop for a minute and take stock of the year so far. It’s been a big 3 months, and an exciting 3 months. Actually taking a look back at it serves to make it feel a lot less short; it feels good to realise how much has happened in that time. To name a few, one of my best friends and my older-little brother both passed their driving tests. Another bestie started her lessons and another one conquered her nerves and re-started them after a long break. My Mam, another of my best friends and my older sister have all made drastic changes to their lifestyles that they’ve wanted to make for a long time, and are already healthier, slimmer and happier. My big sister started her Nursing degree (yesterday, actually) and is a big step closer to achieving the career she’s always wanted. Another very good friend of mine had an easel built for her by her boyfriend and started to paint again (which is great news for everyone). I’ve had various blog posts shared by prominent mental health organisations and started blogging for the website of a fantastic local (for now) organisation. I’ve also signed up and been in training for my first ever running event.

So it’s safe to say I’m one very proud lady, with a lot of great people in my life. I’m also more than a little bit sentimental in character, just in case I didn’t state the obvious enough earlier.

So as previously pointed out I’m a major over-thinker and a lot of the time this can make it hard to be positive and upbeat about things because I’m always finding something to worry about. Sometimes it feels like there’s a sunny, positive, probably pretty annoying person inside me trying to burst out, but she’s held back by frustratingly obsessive worries and anxiety. Last year this finally drove me to undergo Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and it was very helpful. CBT is not about delving into your childhood to figure out the hows and whys of the way you feel. It’s much more about learning how to regain control of your thoughts in order to be happier and, for me, more productive. One of the things I learned a lot about is just how closely our thoughts, feelings and actions are linked and how to employ actions to take back some control of what you’re thinking and in turn, how you feel.

So in order to work on feeling more positive, I decided early in the year after seeing the idea somewhere on the infinitely wise inter-web, to start keeping a little jar in which I stick a little bit of paper each night, after writing on it something positive from my day. Sometimes it’s something I’m thankful for, sometimes it’s something fun I did or something that I achieved. Sometimes it’s just something really funny that happened.


I know, horribly cheesy!

But you know what, it works! I have a hell of a lot to be positive about and although I recognise deeply all those reasons to be positive and I think about them all the time, sometimes my brain doesn’t like to let me really feel as positive about them as I want to. So the idea is that by making a point of doing this every night, I’m reinforcing my sense of how positive my life is, by acting on it.

I guess I’m sharing this because as simple as it is, I have felt a positive affect from it. It can’t fail to make you look at things a bit more positively when you realise how easy it actually is to think of something good from every day; and I’d recommend it for anyone who sometimes finds it hard to feel as positive about life, as their probably-pretty-great life should allow.

And if you’re anything like me, feeling more positive about what you do have will motivate you to work harder on achieving the things that aren’t in the jar yet!

I’ve been having a look back through my jar tonight and it turns out I’ve got a fair amount to feel good about! Here’s a few of my examples picked at random, just in case you’re interested…

“Booked up for Primrose Valley with the fam in the Summer. First time in 4 years, can’t wait!”

“Celebrating Tamara’s 25th in Hertford, catching up with uni mates”

“Saw Andrew Maxwell… at Newsham Side Club!”

“Chilling with Ethan (my nephew) in bed, doing some writing”

“Amazing dinner at Laura and Gary’s with the gang!”

“Had a great day fundraising with Nicole (my niece) and made loads of money! Nicole and I wrote her first ever blog post, too!”

“Spent the afternoon hanging out with Danni (best friend) and Sav (soon-to-be-Goddaughter)”

“Spent a couple of hours at Aunty Marion’s looking at pics of Grandma and Grandad at my age! Great to talk about how they were as Grandparents and learn about them as a young couple”

A Love Yee Like Ma!

Similarly to a lot of 20-somethings not long out of Uni, my concept of what I want to do, how I want to use my adulthood, which of the many and varied opportunities that lay at my feet I should grab by the horns and point blank refuse to let go of, is a very blurred one. If my plan for the future was a painting, it would most definitely be an abstract one. If my ideas about where I want to be when I’m 30 were to be likened to another part of our lifelong learning curve, the most fitting life-stage would be that part between baby and toddler, when a child seems to start realising that the status quo of being carried around, having their nappy changed when needed and crying to communicate needs to change at some point, that they are now going to start growing hard in a specific direction; but they are yet to develop a clear concept of exactly what that is going to involve.

However, although my many and varied ideas about the life that I want to pursue can at times mutate and transform beyond all recognition on an hourly basis, there are a few common threads that run through them all.

Bear with me for one more paragraph, I promise this post isn’t actually about me…

One of them is finding a job that I enjoy doing at least most of the time because to adopt an admittedly cheesy-sounding but undeniably sound philosophy, “life is too short” to wish away 5 out of each 7 days and experience Sunday-night-dread 1 evening  of every, single, week. They also include doing a job that allows me to have a positive effect on the lives of as many people as possible; learning what it is that I need in order to be happy and pursuing it; eventually owning my own home; seeing as much of the world as possible; and (this is a biggie) some day becoming a mother as loving and supportive as mine is.

There it is, quite a smooth link there if you ask me! So in true vomit-inducing fashion – no apologies will be made so if it turns your stomach, you shall just have to look away – here are a list of things that I am thankful to my Mam for on this Mother’s Day, because I think the woman deserves to know just how much of a positive impact she has had and continues to have, on my life.

So anyway, this is by no means a comprehensive list and I’ll no doubt be missing things out. But at this moment in time, Mam, these are the things I want you to know I’m thankful for:

– for being the kind of Mam my friends can hang out with whether I’m there or not

– for giving me so many siblings that I’ll never fail to have someone to go to, even if there was anything that I couldn’t come to you with (this also makes joint present-buying a very strong opportunity)


– for welcoming me with open arms back into our family home, quite a few more times than I ever intended. And for making that family home the place that I most love to be. I am under no illusions about the fact that many people dread the times they have to make an appearance at their parents’!

– for always showing me when you are proud of me. For yelling like a loony at my graduation as I walked across the stage.


– for being my all time favourite person to dance with, only partly because we dance exactly the same!


– for teaching me compassion, by showing it genuinely for many people that you don’t know from Adam. And crying at the opening of an envelope!

– for putting up with much more than is covered by your motherly-duties, to have me close and make sure I’m OK.


So I hope you have a lovely Mam’s Day Mam, and thank you, really.

Our Fundraising Weekend

A little while ago I asked my Mam if I could raise some money for charity because I wanted to help people that don’t have as much money as us. image So I asked Aunty Lauren if she wanted to help and she was very excited. Me, Mam and Aunty Lauren came up with a big list of ideas and we decided on two things to do. The first thing was a sponsored walk from Blyth beach to St. Mary’s lighthouse which was my Mam’s idea. We did our sponsored walk yesterday and we walked about 7 miles in very very strong wind! At one point it was so windy that we were nearly blown into the sea! image image Before we even started walking, in the carpark at Blyth beach, a man in a big DFS truck stopped and put some money in our bucket! We also already had £156 in sponsors on our JustGiving page before we did the walk! Everyone was really generous and they were all saying good luck and well done. image The walk took us 1 hour and 45 minutes but that was with lots of toilet breaks at the pubs on the way! I also went to the public toilets next to the beach and they were ugly and horrible, but thats enough about the toilets! We had 10 grown ups and 5 children and the grown-ups complained more than the kids! My little cousin Jak is only 4 years old and he walked and ran the whole entire way! Weird and Funny Picture! When we got there we had some food and drinks and we bought an ice-cream, even though some of the grown-ups thought this was crazy because it was so cold and windy! image image image image But it was fine because me and my Uncle Liam kept warm next to the van attached to the ice-cream van, at one time we were sitting inside the door of the van! A few more people had stopped to give us money on the way because we had made special t-shirts with red nose faces and the red nose logo on the front and a “please sponsor us” message on the back.” When we got back everyone was very tired but we were excited about how much money we had made. We counted and we were up to about £310. A family friend even knocked on the door a little while after we got back, to give us some money! My Aunty Lauren and Jade snuggled up on the settee and had a sleep, while me and Aunty Caitlin let Kenzie do our make-up.image We made some tea and some cupcakes and then we had an early night to get ready for facepainting the next day. The second part of our fundraising was facepainting for children and grown ups at the Keel Row pub. image Once we had picked Sophie up we went to the pub and at first we were locked our because they weren’t open yet! But we were let in early and we got a table and sat down to wait for my Mam to come with the facepaints and the rest of our posters and things. When my Mam got there we set up everything on the table and people were starting to come in. We painted each others faces first. I did a silly red nose face on Aunty Lauren and made her whole face bright red! I got one done too, by Sophie. image image It took a while for the first person to come and get their face done so we just had fun painting each others faces. The first person to come over was a little girl who got a butterfly just like me! After that some of the men came to get theirs done and that was really funny! One got a pirate and then the other one asked for a pirate but his friends were sneaky and asked us to do Kermit the Frog instead, so that’s what me and Soohie did! He was surprised when he looked in the mirror. Everyone was very very geberous and even though not many people got their faces done, we still made about £120! image image There are still some sponsors which people have not been able to pay yet so we do not know our final, final total but we counted everything tonight and we have made £427.58!!!!!!!!!! That is so much more than we were expecting when we set our first target of £50! I feel really happy that we have made so much. From one little idea that I had it has spread and spread with people sharing and sharing it, from our friends to their friends to their friends. image Thank you very much everyone for sponsoring us. I’ve had a great weekend and I cant believe how much I’ve raised with everyones help. Thank you!

And thank you especially  to my Mam for helping with everything and making sure we didn’t forget anything, so everything could be perfect!

image The funniest part of the whole weekend was when my Dad let me paint his face as Raphael! I even painted his spiky hair (not that he has much)! image Thank you everyone! Love Nicole Barnes xxx

Lessons Learned Last Weekend

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am in equal measures too lazy, too stingey and too lazy, to spend much time on various health and beauty treatments. I’ve never had hair extensions, I can’t stand wearing fake nails, I gave up on false eyelashes after a few goes and I’ve never (no never!) used fake tan. Now you must understand I have nothing against any of these things, they all just require that little bit too much effort for someone quite as lazy as myself.

The one pamper treatment that I have always wanted though, but never gotten round to having (again, the laziness), was a proper massage and a facial. So when my frankly smashing bezzie mate announced last week (after trying quite hilariously for about an hour to keep it a secret) that she had booked a ‘treatment session’ for me, I was really quite chuffed! She had taken it upon herself to do this due to the high levels of stress and emotional instability that I had exhibited to her during our regular chats, in the few days prior.

Fast forward to me gingerly (love that word) stripping down to the waist and diving under a blanket thingy in a lovely-smelling little room with nice calming music and a – less calming – unlocked and inexplicably not even fully closed, door. Lots of hot stone and oil proceedings ensued when the lady returned, thankfully closing the door behind her, and I was pretty much having the time of my life. Massages are seriously good people! But you probably already knew that, I doubt it takes many people 24 years to get round to having one. Anyway I loved it, even if I did have to concentrate really quite hard for the first 5 minutes on not laughing out loud at the mental image of ho my face must look squidged through the little hole in the table, as seen from below. Or at memories of the Friends episode with Phoebe, Monica and those inappropriate noises. What can I say, I’m a very sophisticated individual.

Even I had to make an effort for my brother's wedding
Even I had to make an effort for my brother’s wedding

For the second half hour I had elected to have a facial, so after discussing my skin type and appropriate face masks for a few minutes, I awkwardly wriggled over onto my back and the lovely lady (she was very lovely, I don’t think I mentioned that yet) got to work on my mush. This second part was more of a chatty affair and she was, as I say, very lovely and fun to talk to. About half way through the facial regime came the face mask and once this was applied and doing it’s thing I was given a very relaxing and almost sleep inducing head massage (you’ll know if you follow this blog that dozing off is always a strong possibility for me in any sort of relaxation, or just any sitting down, situation).

Soon my normal-dry skin was sufficiently cleansed, scrubbed, moisturised, toned, sanded and polished (OK I may have made up a couple of those but you get the point) and I had re-dressed my top half under the blanket thingy somewhat in the style that we used to after swimming lessons in the little pool at middle school, all too aware that there was a room full of maniacally hormonal teenage lads on the other side of the door, who despite the teachers’ best efforts, weren’t always successfully kept on the other side of that door. I got dressed in this fashion because the lady had vacated the room and left the door ajar again. Weird. I realise of course that you’re probably sat there wondering exactly why I didn’t shut the door. Well with hindsight, I’m not really sure why I didn’t! I guess I was half worried that there was some little quirk with the door that meant it was prone to jamming and needed a skilled ‘knack’ to get it open again from the inside. So survival instinct and fear of embarrassment at having to bang on the door to be let out, prevented me from closing the door. At any rate, it simply didn’t present itself as a viable option at the time.

Anyway overall my hour’s session was most enjoyable. It was great to be pampered for a while and I felt nicely relaxed enough by the end to nod sleepily through the ‘aftercare’ instructions, which included advice to try to abstain from caffeine and alcohol for the rest of the day as either of these could cause headaches. Something about having given the lymphatic system a kick up the backside? Anyway I nodded sleepily and completely ignored this advice. Straight to Danielle’s for a cuppa it was, with a stop en route at the newsagents to pick up a bottle of wine to be had with dinner at our friends’ house in a few hours time.

Alas it turned out the lady knew her beans! After one cup of (fully caffeinated) tea the day started to take a bit of a downturn, in the shape of a steadily worsening headache. By the time we got to our friends’ house, well let’s just say it’s a good job all of the company were very close friends who’ve seen me at my worst long before now as I was not doing well at all! I had to start speaking more slowly than a stupid English tourist trying to communicate with a Spanish waiter, to ensure my mouth was saying the same words that my brain was thinking. It wasn’t too much longer before my right eye started to behave very much like an old TV that had lost signal in high winds. Next was the forehead-splitting headache and churning stomach. Then as quickly as it had started, it began to sidle away and within 3 hours start to finish, I had gone through an entire migraine cycle and come out the other end even chirpier than usual, in fact I couldn’t shut up and the wine started to look particularly attractive.

A couple of hours, a veritable banquet of homecooked food and a few glasses of wine later and I’d had a lovely night, a great catch up with some of my best friends in the world and some great conversation! This was 4 days ago now and my head has been quite achey in an on-off, annoying niggly type fashion since, which I’m really hoping is going to politely sod off pretty soon but overall, I’m all good!

Having read up on it since, head massage, if one is not used to it, apparently an bring on migraine attacks, which I can fully believe as this was the first one I’ve had in around 12 years!

So in summary:
– Back massages are ace!
– Although a head massage feels bloody great at the time, I will probably never ever ever be having one ever again
– Migraines are scary and they make me want to cry and get cuddles from Mammy
– My friends are by far the best that a whingey stresshead could ever ask for!

Most of my main ladies (with the exception of Nikki!)
Most of my main ladies (with the exception of Nikki-we need more photos all together!)

On Why I’ll Never Stop being a Chatterbox

One night this week while having a few cocktails with some work friends, to say farewell to someone who is moving on to pastures new, I got possibly the best compliment I could ever ask for. One of the girls told me that since meeting and getting to know me, she feels a lot more comfortable with talking about mental health.

It was said in such an unassuming, casual way and I think that’s partly why it meant so much. I’m not one to easily accept compliments at face value (I doubt myself way too much to do the easily) and after all we had enjoyed considerably more 2-4-1 cocktails than had originally been intended. But I knew that this was said genuinely, mainly because it was clear after she saw my reaction that she hadn’t a clue it was going to mean as much to me as it does.

Now I want to stress that this was a work friend I haven’t known for all that long and whose knowledge of my life and experiences is comprised only of what I have posted on this blog since I started it before Christmas, and a few mental health-related conversations here and there at work. Natural, unobtrusive, day-to-day conversations about mental health and mental illness. This is not someone who I have dramatically opened up my heart and soul to and sat sharing experiences with for hours on end.

This is not someone who has come to me with problems that they wanted to talk about, or who is having a hard time with their own mental health, as far as I know. Any discussion that we have had about these issues has been just that, basically just every day chat.

So being a chatterbox can be a good thing – take that teachers of Blyth!

As you’ll know if you follow this blog or have basically ever met me in the last 5 years or so, I think that being open about my own experiences with mental illness is the best gift that I can give back to all of the people who have supported me through them – whether by telling me about their’s, talking to me about mine, or just not running a mile when they’ve realised I am about as far as it gets from this mythical ‘normal’ person people are always banging on about. I am what could be described as ‘aggressively’ open about my experiences and I’m fully aware that I’ve made people feel uncomfortable on occasion with my openness. After all unfortunately, the stiff upper lip is not yet dead .

I know as well as anyone that having the courage to ask that friend who doesn’t quite seem themselves lately if there is anything they want to talk about, then listening while they tell you about the ‘weird’ things happening in their head lately and not running a mile, is important. Spending some time reading up on OCD or anorexia or post-natal depression or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or bulimia or anxiety disorders because you’re worried about someone close to you, so that you can understand what they may be going through and how you can offer them the best support, is crucial.

But what is at the very root of fighting the stigma around mental illness, in my eyes, and what has the power to allow all of these types of support to become more widely available for everyone and even become ingrained in the way that we think about each other and about our health; really is just being willing to chat about it. It’s about not going awkwardly silent if it is inadvertently brought up in a conversation with your workmates. It’s about not ignoring that it may be a factor in whatever it is that you happen to be chatting about, because you don’t want to ‘bring the mood down.’

It would seem that we don’t need to have personal experiences of mental illness and/or to share those experiences with the world, in order to make a contribution to the opening up of discourse around mental health, we just need to allow it to be a topic of everyday, ‘normal’ conversation.

This way we can help to show everyone that it is an everyday, ‘normal’ issue and help to banish the “I’m a freak” belief system that can make mental illnesses even more difficult to deal with.