5 Books That Changed My Life

I’m a self confessed book nerd. I read every day and I read anything. It felt like Christmas when I found Kindle Unlimited!

Here are 5 books that changed my life!

The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling – Ok, not technically one book but it’s my list and I’ll do what I want! I think most of us know the Potter story at this stage and many of us fell in love with it through JK’s books. She created such a vibrant, magical world full of complex characters and creatures that I couldn’t help but want to be part of it. I was totally enthralled with this series and I’m so grateful that my mam would go with me to order first editions and queue for every release. What really stayed with me from this series were the lessons about love, loss, friendship and hope. 

 

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – I first read this as a teenager when I was really struggling with depression and anxiety. A dear friend, at the time, had read it and thought I would appreciate it so she loaned it to me and I’m so grateful that she did. This book struck a chord right away. I could relate to Charlie in so many ways and as a result felt a little less alone during a time where that couldn’t have been more important. The format of this book appealed to me, it was the first book that I read that was written entirely as letters to an unknown recipient. Perks is a book about abuse, friendship, and not being okay. I go back to this one time and time again and I can’t recommend it enough.

stepphhsays-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-quote

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – Ah, the story of Catherine and Heathcliffe, a classic! A classic that I’ve never finished because I get bored after a few pages. You might be wondering how this changed my life when I’ve just said I’ve never read the majority of it. You see, up until this point I always finished a book, it didn’t matter if I wasn’t enjoying it, I was so stubborn that I had to finish it. This is the one that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Life is just too short!

 

The Tale Of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – The Peter Rabbit & Friends collection was gifted to me shortly after I learned how to read. They are the first books I can remember reading by myself. I adored Peter Rabbit and his mischievous ways! I don’t know how I didn’t lose any of these because I brought them everywhere. I still have the cardboard box that these came in, though after two decades it’s well worn and held together with tape! Peter Rabbit inspired a lifetime of reading.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I read this as part of English Junior Cert and I was totally engrossed. I actually read it before school started that year and I still have that same copy. This was the first book that really made me think about racial inequality. It wasn’t something I had consciously given thought to before then and now I understand that I was very privileged to be in that position. Even though this book was published in 1960 it opened my eyes to the race issues that we are unfortunately still dealing with now.

stepphhsays-to-kill-a-mockingbird-quote

Are you a fellow BookNerd? What books have stayed with you or taught you something?

Mental Health or Mental Illness

​Are mental illnesses real? Is there a difference between mental health and mental illness? Does it have to be one or the other? Do we ‘suffer’ with mental health?

I’ve seen some discussion around this in recent months and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. There seem to be two main views when it comes to this argument. The first is that mental illness doesn’t actually exist but rather we’re all on a spectrum of mental health throughout our lives and should be treated as such. The second view that I’ve seen quite a lot of is that mental illness is very real, it should be treated with medication and if other people are saying they are having difficulties without a diagnoses they are being dramatic/they need to just get on with things/they should just man up.

I can only ever speak from the point of view as a service user, patient and someone with an interest in mental health so please don’t take my view as gospel, it’s just my personal opinion. I don’t fall in to either of the above camps. However, I think they both have some valid points. I agree that we are all on a spectrum of mental health but I think that mental illness is very much part of that spectrum and I agree that medication is often needed to treat mental illness but I don’t think it should be the only treatment.

There is a lot of stigma surrounding conversation about mental health and illness. We’ve gotten much better at speaking in statistics but we’re not so great at talking about the reality of either. Often times those who are struggling will carry that in silence for many reasons – fear of being treated differently, fear of a label, shame that they’re not doing better, etc. I think if we were more open to the idea of mental health as a spectrum this wouldn’t be such a big issue.

Here’s the thing – WE ALL HAVE MENTAL HEALTH. 

we-all-have-mental-health

We all have mental health and we all have it for the entirety of our lives, not just when times are difficult. I often hear people saying ‘I suffer with mental health’, is that the right way to phrase that? If we’re always saying we’re ‘suffering’ with mental health then mental health becomes something negative. It may seem like a trivial thing but when that’s all we’re seeing it becomes ingrained and before anyone has realised we’ve subconsciously associated mental health with something ‘bad’. 

I try to stay away from saying that I am ‘suffering with mental health.’ In conversation I will simply say that I’m not well in the exact same at that I would if I had a cough or cold. A majority of the time the person I’m conversing with will ask me in what way I feel unwell and I have no problem telling them ‘I’ve been feeling down lately/I’m really burnt out/I’m overwhelmed with anxiety right now.’ Was it a bit odd to answer so plainly initially? You bet it was! There were a couple of times that the person I was speaking to seemed taken aback and maybe a little unsure about how they should respond but now it’s become normal for myself, my friends & my family. It’s important to challenge the way we speak about mental health and illness. Now, we speak about mental health in the same way we speak about physical health. It’s the equivalent of saying ‘I have a headache’. 

And that makes much more sense, right?

Mental health is not something that is inherently bad or good, it simply is. We all have physical health that is on a spectrum and we do things to take care of it – go for check ups, eat well, exercise. We all have mental health, shouldn’t we treat it in the same way? The reality is that the majority of us don’t, we ignore it until there is a crisis.

Maybe if we had a shift in attitude towards our mental health we would then treat mental illness and crisis differently? Mental illnesses are very real and they need treatment just like any other illness needs treatment. To say that mental illnesses don’t exist undermines the work of thousands. It denies the reality of so many and takes away the relief felt when they finally get a diagnoses and treatment plan. Maybe if we treated mental health like physical health we would view a person with depression/anxiety/bipolar/etc in the same way we view a person with cancer/epilepsy/heart disease – with empathy and compassion, not fear, judgement and mistrust.

To me, it seems like we need to overhaul our attitudes. We need to recognise that everyone goes through tough times, that they may need emotional support but not necessarily require medication. We need to see that a lot of these people will not receive a clinical diagnoses but that doesn’t invalidate their experience. We also need to recognise that some people do have an illness, that they will receive a clinical diagnoses, that they need a treatment plan that is right for them and their experience is valid too.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

What are your thoughts? Do you think mental illnesses are real? Do you think mental health is a spectrum? Do you ltreat your mental health in the same way as your physical health? 

*World Health Organisation 

Need help? Want information? Click here

5 ways I practice self-care

Note: There is a difference between self care and caring for yourself in crisis. Personally, self care is all the things I do when I’m well to help keep me that way. They’re particularly helpful when I am having a bad day, I’m in a bad mood, I’m tired, etc. They are not the same as care in times of crisis and should never replace that care. If you need medication and therapy to help you cope with a mental health/emotional difficulty you should absolutely continue with those.

Last year ‘self-care’ became a bit of a buzzword, almost a trend but that doesn’t mean it should be brushed aside as something trivial. Looking after yourself is important so here are five ways that I practice self-care…
1. Reading – Firstly, I’m a nerd. I love to learn new things, it makes me happy. For some people active learning ends with school or college. For others it’s a lifelong persuit. I read to learn new things. I also read simply for pleasure, to escape in to a new world of live as someone else for a while! *An added benefit to reading is a book club and the community they bring either IRL or online – if you’re looking for an online group try the Rick O’Shea Book Club on Facebook, it’s full of lovely welcoming people who are always up for a chat and Rick hosts RSBC events around the country throughout the year too!
2. Spending time with loved ones – An hour spent watching Designated Survivor with my mam, a trip to Lidl with my dad for whatever gadget he’s spotted in the catalogue, meeting  a friend for a coffee and a catch up, going for dinner with my boyfriend. I can’t stress the  importance of this enough. To be surrounded by love & to give that back, to know that there are people who care about me and to spend time doing something I enjoy with people whose company I enjoy is so cathartic.
3. Spending time alone – On the flipside, I need time alone. As much as I love being with those I love, I also need time to recharge by myself. I’ve mentioned before that I am introverted and I think this would be the case even if I didn’t have social anxiety disorder. I need time to do nothing and I try to make sure that I get that time!
4. Having a bath – My favourite way to relax! Sometimes I combine this with 1 and read while I’m in there! No distractions, just chilling out. I like my water a little too hot, my bubbles mountainous and my fingers and toes resembling prunes by the time I get out! Bonus points if someone else thinks to run a bath for me or gifts me any kind of bath products. A million things from Lush are on my wish list, along with a bath tray!
5. Cuddles with my dog – For several years we had a revolving door of strays that my sister would bring home for a few weeks until a new home was found. Once my sister moved out the dogs stopped and I spent years trying to convince my parents to let me have one of my own. It took until I was 19 but they eventually caved! We went to Dogs Trust where there were loads of beautiful dogs looking for forever homes.

The dog we came home with is a Collie crossed with, well, something? He’s been an absolute joy. He never fails to put a smile on my face with his antics. He’s cheeky, he likes his comfort and he rests his head in my lap when he wants something. He’s perfect. 

Meet Dobby.

stepphhsays-dobby

Why do you do to look after yourself? Share your tips, you might help someone out!

Mental Health & Illness Charities/Support – Ireland & UK

Need help? Want more information?

The following are Irish Mental Health or Illness charities/support services.

Don’t be afraid to contact someone or do some research – it’s why they’re there.

IRELAND

Mental Health Ireland – ‘MHI’s aim is to promote positive mental health and wellbeing to all individuals and communities in Ireland.’ A fantastic site for information, MHI even provide training to the public. MHI have Mental Health Associations around the country that you can contact for info or volunteer with.

Aware – ‘Aware undertakes to create a society where people affected by stress, depression, bipolar and mood disorders are understood, supported, free from stigma, and are encouraged to access appropriate therapies.’ Aware’s services include Support Mail, Support Groups & Support Line as well as online courses, group education and school based courses. All of these services are free.

Samaritans – ‘We offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal.’  Samaritans offers a phone support line for anyone who needs to talk. This a non judgmental space, the volunteer you speak to won’t impose their beliefs on you and they’re available every day, no matter the time.

Jigsaw – ‘The National Centre for Youth Mental Health. There to ensure that no young person (age 12-25) feels alone, isolated and disconnected from others around them’ Jigsaw has ‘hubs’ or drop in centres around the country. Here, young people can access support from trained staff, short term counselling, advice and information about other support services that may be of help to them. To find your local centre click the link!

Your Mental Health – ‘YourMentalHealth.ie is a place to learn about mental health in Ireland, and how to support yourself and the people you love.’ This HSE website provides a list of services, real life stories and a wealth of information. Your Mental Health are the folks behind the prominent #littlethings campaign.

See Change – ‘See Change is Ireland’s national programme working to change minds about mental health problems in Ireland…working to create a disruptive, community driven social movement to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health problems.’ See Change brings together 70+ organisations to work towards a common goal. On the site you’ll find sections the Green Ribbon Campaign, blogs from See Change Ambassadors and Mental Health in the workplace and lots more.

Pieta House – ‘We support people and communities in crisis by providing freely accessible, professional services to all.’ Pieta House have 12 centres around the country where service users can access support for issues around suicide and self harm. A doctor referral is not needed and the service is free. There is also a Freephone helpline and text service available. Pieta House are the folks behind ‘Darkness Into Light’ one of Ireland’s biggest mental health fundraisers that takes place every year.

A Lust For Life ‘A Lust For Life is…an Irish wellbeing movement created to transform how we talk about and treat mental health.’ ALFL aims to get us talking about our mental health and encourages mental fitness. This site is great for tips, articles and research around both mental and physical health. ALFL along with Pieta House are the folks behind #SoundEffect & The Little Book Of Sound.

UK

Centre For Mental Health – ‘We change the lives of people with mental health problems by using research to bring about better services and fairer policies.’  A fantastic site for information.

Mental Health Foundation – ‘Dedicated to finding and addressing the sources of mental health problems.’  Lots of information presented in a very user friendly way, clear guides and explanations.

Together‘We believe that people experiencing mental distress can direct their own journey towards improved mental health and to living independent, fulfilling lives. Our role is to give people the tools and the support to achieve this.’ Here you’ll find community, acommodation and criminal justice support along with along with research & guides.

Rethink Mental Illness – ‘We believe a better life is possible for millions of people affected by mental illness.’ Rethink can provide accredited advice & information to anyone affected by mental health problems. They also provide support groups and services and they campaign nationally for policy change.

Mind – ‘We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.’ Mind campaign to raise awareness, promote understanding and improve services. They also provide advice and support to anyone who needs it.

I Own It

* At the bottom of this post you will find a link to a list of Mental Health & Illness charities/support services should you need help or information.

‘Mental illness’ is not a slur, an insult or a derogatory comment if you don’t let it be those things. It is simply fact. A state of being. 

I have a mental illness, she has a broken arm, he has asthma.

Mental illness is part of me, not my entirety, but definitely part of me. When I first started blogging about my experience of mental illness someone told me that I should not define myself by it. I ignored them then and I ignore that advice now. There are many ways in which I define myself – brunette, introverted, sarcastic and yes, a person with a mental illness. After all, if I live the reality of Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression every day then why wouldn’t I describe myself as a person with those illnesses? I won’t run from it or hide or try to pretend otherwise. I have been endlessly comforted by reading about other’s experiences with ill mental health and now, I hope I can provide that same comfort for someone else.

There is a certain empowerment that comes from saying “Here I am in all my parts, illness included!” .

None of us are JUST our illness but to take ownership of it is a powerful thing. 

When I was a teenager only close friends knew that I was unwell and they, being so young and uneducated about mental health in general, were also ill equipped to deal with it. I was afraid to tell anyone else, to speak out, to tell someone how I was struggling. I felt ashamed and abnormal. I had parents and siblings who loved me but I kept everything a secret from them. In those days the illness was in control. I was no longer in the driving seat of my life, Anxiety Brain & Depression Brain were winning.

I’m not saying that everything was suddenly sunshine and rainbows when my family eventually did find out. It took years of tears, therapy and trying different medications for me to begin to feel like I was in control and in the end what has actually worked for me is developing my own plan – medication if I can’t function in my daily life along with talk therapy, writing, mindfulness and meditation.

Sure, there are still moments when Anxiety Brain kicks in and I have a meltdown, maybe throughout the course of my life there will always be those moments, but a majority of the time I am well. My illness is part of me, I am not part of it. I am stronger than my illness. I own it. My name is Stephanie. I have a mental illness. I am okay. 

I’m not sure I’ve written the words  ‘mental illness’ enough times…so just in case – mental illness, mental illness, mental illness 😉

For me, a massive change was owning my illness and sharing that experience.

If you have an illness, any illness, has there been a standout moment where things changed for the better?

Share some positivity!

Click Here for help/info

I Am Not Ashamed – Social Anxiety

* At the bottom of this post you will find a link to a list of Mental Health & Illness charities/support services should you need help or information.

This post was previously published (2016) on my personal Facebook page . The weeks leading up to it had been tough, I was really struggling and this marked a turning point for me. After sharing it I received a lot of private messages, some from people I knew and some from strangers, they shared their stories with me. Some of those people had never openly discussed their experience with mental ill health before and they told me that reading my post and seeing the amazing, positive responses from my family and friends encouraged them to talk and share and realise that there were resources available to them.

I can’t magically make people ‘better’, I don’t have all the answers, I still have bad days and I’m only writing from my own experiences. But if there is even the most infinitesimal chance that re-posting this here could help one more person, to make them feel less alone or provide them with some information on where to get help or to give an insight to someone with no first hand experience of mental illness, then it’s worth it.

‘Underlying social anxiety disorder or social phobia is the fear of being scrutinized, judged, or embarrassed in public. You may be afraid that people will think badly of you or that you won’t measure up in comparison to others. And even though you probably realize that your fears of being judged are at least somewhat irrational and overblown, you still can’t help feeling anxious.’

StepphhSays Social Anxiety

These two photographs were taken recently. On the right – the standard selfie! My hair game is strong and I felt good.
On the left – yesterday morning in the middle of a panic attack. It had been building for a few days. I couldn’t bring myself to shower or dress myself.
Nausea
Trembling
Sweating
Crying
Racing heart.

I am not alone in this, 1 in 5 young Irish people are currently battling a mental illness. Research carried out by the HSE showed that 62% of people would still not be comfortable telling people (family/friends/professionals) that they have a mental illness and would prefer to keep it a secret.

I’ve always been open about having a mental illness. While it isn’t the entirety of who I am, it is a big part of me. Experiencing an anxiety disorder first hand has taught me a lot about myself and the society we live in. It has helped shape the woman I am.

If you have (or think you might have) a mental illness please don’t hesitate to speak out. Talk to your family and friends. Tell a teacher, a lecturer or tutor. Make an appointment to see your GP. Keep speaking until someone listens. Do not give up.

There is no shame in having and seeking treatment for a mental illness.

I have wonderful family, friends, classmates and tutors who do their absolute best to support me and understand when I’m going through a difficult time but they only know how to do this because I’ve been open with them. There will always be people who say nasty things, who refuse to educate themselves – fuck them! (sorry for swearing mam!) Those people don’t matter.

We need to keep talking about this until it is treated the same as any other illness.

I have a mental illness.
I am capable of achieving my goals.
I have a mental illness.
I am still a loving daughter, sister, girlfriend, aunty and friend.
I have a mental illness.
I am NOT ashamed.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger please call 112 or go to your nearest hospital.

For more information and support please visit:
www.sosadireland.ie 
www.aware.ie
www.pieta.ie
www.spunout.ie
ie.reachout.com

Or call Samaritans free on 116123

Both www.yourmentalhealth.ie and www.alustforlife.com weren’t included in my original post but they are both fantastic websites and I can’t recommend them enough.

I won’t often ask you to share something, if you find a post interesting & want to share then that’s great (and thank you!) but on this occasion I am asking outright:

Please, PLEASE, share this post.

Thanks,

Steph.

Click here for help/info

And so it begins…

So, you might be wondering why this blog is only going live now considering I have a background in eBusiness and a love for all things social. The truth is, this isn’t my first blog. In fact, I have had several blogs and social media channels which have been deleted shortly after publishing them or before they’d even been viewed by the public.

To be fearful of creating a blog might sound ridiculous but for me it has been a big deal. I have Social Anxiety Disorder, I worry how I will be perceived by other people, excessively so (more on that later!), I was afraid that someone would read this and think ‘She doesn’t know what she’s doing.’, ‘Her blog is shit!’, ‘Look at her thinking she’s something special.’, you get the idea. I was also a bit apprehensive because I’ve spent months reading other blogs, seeing how well developed they are, feeling intimidated or like I need to conform to what is popular right now and God forbid I should make a grammatical error (*gasp*).

Ultimately I decided to forge ahead – this blog might not fit a particular aesthetic or niche, it will probably be a bit scattered and it will never be perfect but that pretty much describes me!

I hope that in sharing my thoughts and experiences I make you laugh, question and maybe realise that you’re not alone when times get tough.

Don’t be afraid to say hello!

Steph.