Tag Archives: Mental Health

Holding Back The Years

I recently rediscovered a video-camera tape from 20 years ago. It’s a 7 minute long, shaky as hell, candid effort of 17-year-old me and a friend driving around Sydney in a Porsche, behaving like extras off Neighbours. It’s bloody brilliant. 

Now when I say brilliant, I mean in the most non-brilliant, sarcastic of ways. It’s actually horrendous. The camera work is filmed as though we’re on a fairground ride, it’s windy as hell or pitch black most of the time, and the shots of us getting in and out of the car resemble something from either an 80’s porno or a cop film. Then there’s my hair.

I’ve had to borrow an old school Sony video camera to be able to watch this epic back. It’s such an old model. There’s no viewing screen, just plug-in aux cables and a battery pack which no longer works without a mains cable. Somehow, the tape we recorded on is as good as new, almost 20 years later.

Not particularly loving sixth form or my job at Merseyside Police, I grabbed my Aussie passport in 2000 and went back home to work in Sydney while the Olympics was on.

I made some amazing friends and memories and carried out my share of irresponsible behaviour. Well, that’s what your teens are all about, right? But that hair! Where the hell were my friends when I asked for an official KAREN cut? Sheesh.

Last night I sat on the floor and stared up at the big screen as my teenage self came into shot. The instantly recognisable frown, the wiggle in my walk (those heels were immense, I bought them in Dune on Bold Street in Liverpool before I left), and my hysterical imposter Aussie accent.

Having been back in Sydney just three months, and having left the UK as a fully paid-up, card-carrying Scouser, I was definitely putting that on!

I look back at my tall, athletic frame and wonder why I ever beat myself up so much about my body. Three kids and 20 years later, I’ve fallen heavily into the trap of wishing I had loved myself and valued my self-esteem at that young age. Instead, I just wanted to feel like I belonged, somewhere.

Singing along to Christina Aguilera on the car radio, we drove around Double Bay and over into the city without a care in the world. We were pretending we had it all and could rule the world. When in actual fact, we were broke and wondering how much longer we could last out before calling home for a bailout.

If I had any advice for my 17-year-old self, it would be to value and understand the importance of living an authentic life.  Put honesty, with yourself and others, integrity and loyalty at the very top of your list and never lose sight of them.

Twenty years later, having, at times been ruled by my ego and selfishness, I realise there is no opportunity to wipe the slate clean. You learn, (eventually) and you move on. On reflection, in all its technicolor, straya-accented glory, I was already on a bumpy path at just 17.

The video is entitled ‘Pie’s Adventure’. Someone, I think it was my dad, once said: “Kate’s in Sydney” which apparently sounded a bit like Steak and Kidney, so naturally I was nicknamed Pie, from there on out.

Let me tell you, Pie has had many an adventure since Sydney 2000, some good, some not so good, but this is the only videotape I have to document who I was and how I’ve changed. It’s wonderful and mortifying in equal measure.

Here’s to holding back the years. Stopping to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and being grateful for another blessed day.

 

 

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Gone Fishing

The following short post is in response to Writing for Wellbeing, an initiative by the University of Liverpool, Literature & Science Hub. The course ran throughout the Covi-19 lockdown period and encouraged people to write in response to 9 different themes. This piece is from a prompt about nature as metaphors in mental health. 

I like to cast my net far and wide. A skill I have mastered from 37 years of making four beds every morning. The muscle memory serves me well.

The net encompasses the whole body of water, overlapping the shore on the other side, bullrushes, and rocks poking through. The objects that lay on the far shore are lost and forgotten, like toys taken to play outside and left in the rain.

The net sinks deep in places where the current is strong. On my own, it takes all my might to pull the catch to the surface. Entangled with the outstretched claws and tusks of polar bears and elephants, suspended in the dark trenches and cold water.

There is no fight for breath anymore. They wait patiently to be brought back to the surface to be disected.

The shallow pools offer a more palpable yield. Flamingoes in formation, performing their rudimentary dance. It’s loud and chaotic but the routine brings me peace and clarity. I catch flamingo on every trip and they are delicious.

Lemurs, on the other hand, cause me grief and give me life in equal measure. The most challenging of my daily catch, the striped tails mesmerise and disorientate me and I regularly lose my balance.

Sometimes they resist with such force, the struggle tires me to tears. Other times they are curious about my methods and indulge me, coming right to the surface to reach out or inspect the net and my equipment, before darting away. The unobtainable Lemur, always slipping through my hands.

I am committed to the notion that successfully catching a Lemur, will make me an accomplished angler. For now, I will feast on flamingo and nurture their existence on the water.

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I Need New York

When I’ve had a crappy day or my head is filled with made-up scenarios and situations I’ve made ten times worse by overthinking, only a trip to New York can soothe me.

Sadly I’ve neither the money nor the physical ability to hop on a transatlantic flight right now. So the next best thing is Sex And The City. I know, I know. It sounds utterly ridiculous but losing myself in the drama of four, wealthy, successful women, living it up on the streets and Park Avenue apartments of New York, is good for my mental health.

We’ve all don’t shitty things in our lives. Lied, cheated, been selfish, whatever. But somehow, watching fabulously-dressed, no f&ks-given, women make these same mistakes, is pretty spell-binding.

Carrie is awful to Big, he can’t commit. Carrie treated Aiden even worse. He needed security. Trey can’t get it up, Charlotte just wants to be loved. Harry loves Charlotte, just like she wanted, only initially she’s ashamed of him/his appearance. Miranda wants her independence, Steve just wants to adore her, and Samantha? Samantha just has it all.

Since SATC hit UK screens back in ’99, the overriding question was always, “which one are you?” Same went for The Spice Girls. The stigma being if you were a Samantha, you were a bit of a slag. Fast forward 20 years and I’m fully admitting that I’m a little bit of all of the SATC characters – guys included. Just not Berger. Don’t be like Berger.

When everything around me feels like it spiraling out of control, the ultimate chill is a full back catalogue binge. Followed closely by Gossip Girl – although I can’t see Dan as innocent after becoming hooked Netflix series ‘You’. If you know, you know.

I have deadlines looming early next week so I can’t currently afford to lose two days to New York and high fashion. I’m going straight in with the first movie. Expect tears, but an altogether much happier me in around 2 hours time.

 

 

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Domino

If you were the wife of a highly successful, Premier League footballer, and a delivery guy was asking you to sign for a package addressed to an unfamiliar name, of course, you’d turn it away.

That’s what was going through my head, as I stood there, suspended in time and space on the 14:12 intercity service. The train was just a few hundred meters from the station. I’ve always been one of those travellers who get up early. It drives my boyfriend mad. The pilot puts the wheels on the tarmac and I’m already unlocking my seatbelt and making a move for the overhead storage. So impatient.

Holding on to the handrail, I had been willing the train to move faster, as standing in such close proximity to the onboard toilet was making me feel sick. Schoolgirl error, I should’ve moved back to the other end of the coach.

That random conversation with my boyfriend about a minor, actually humorous incident at work had stuck in my mind. Like when I can’t figure out the next step on my daily sudoku and I zone out, staring into the distance. My mind often snaps back to random snippets of conversation.

That one time an old boss lost his rag in the car because I claimed my favourite song of all time happened to be the same as his. He said I was wrong, I was just trying to fit in and be cool, I should have the confidence to be myself. There was an awful silence in the car while the song rang out on the radio. It’s still my favourite song.

Another conversation my brain likes to regurgitate, was with my Dad. He’d asked me to go Christmas shopping with him, in particular for a jewelry charm for my stepmother, to mark the birth of her first grandchild. Sounds pretty normal, apart from the fact I’m a mum of three. Apparently my children didn’t count. That one stung, so I kind of understand why that stick out. But the package story?

I think I remember the heat on my face at this point, or maybe the shunt first.

The guy stood next to me had a black Nike backpack on both shoulders. Two-strappin’ as my fourteen year old would say. I remember this clearly because I liked it and Googled to see how much they are.

He flew toward me from the train coach door, the backpack connecting with my face with such force, I was told afterward that it broke my nose. I’ll probably never know what he was carrying, but it felt like bricks.

The impact started a sort of domino effect as I reeled backward into someone else, eager to depart the packed train. Next came the shattering of glass, and then, the darkness.

The crumbs on the worktop slowly came into focus. A sudden pang of embarrassment. I should’ve done a better job of cleaning up before Joyce got here. I doubt she’ll judge me given that she’s here to help, not hinder.

“Is there anything you want me to jot down, anything at all” Joyce asked patiently. I shook my head. She began to gather up her notebook and papers, I could feel her pity as she smiled and patted my arm.

“We can try again next week. Remember, there are no rules here. All at your own pace, in the meantime, try to write down any thoughts or notes you might want to chat about and I’ll see you on Thursday, same time?”

“Sure” I replied, and added an absentminded “Thanks, Joyce”.

The woman was being paid to sit and listen to me talk about the trauma. Trauma, God I hate that word. Incident is another one that gives me goosebumps now. So does survivor. I sat with my guilt, in comfortable silence, long after Joan had left. A blank notebook in front of me. Physically unable to pick up the pen and write down the thoughts racing about in my head.

It’s like I’m waiting for the swell to calm. I keep picturing Niagara Falls. The memories, pictures, sounds, feelings, all flowing rapidly over the edge, fighting for position. I’m up there on the edge, amongst it all when I want to be upstream, where the water flows quietly.

I picture myself standing on the riverbank, the sun warm on my face. I close my eyes. I can hear the water running by and I am calm. I can stand there all day.

Until the heat gets more intense, it’s burning. I open my eyes, look down at the water. At a package floating by, tied with string, no, wires. Lots of wires. The sun stings my face, I cover my face with my hands, they’re covered in blood and then, the darkness.

 

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A Whole New World

Today marks the beginning of a new dawn, (ooh sounds a bit Avengers that, doesn’t it?) it’s 08:12 and I’m on the bus to work. The first day of the 9-5 beckons.

It might sound the start of millions of other Monday mornings too, but this one is pretty monumental for me. I haven’t worked a 9-5 job in almost ten years. The freelance life has afforded me the school run, leaving dishes and bed making until mid morning. Leisurely making random lunch combo’s such as Heinz Oxtail soup with a sprinkling of grated cheddar, three snack size sausage rolls and a CapriSun – it’s a winner!

I worked 9:30 -2:30pm most days, then picked up the laptop again from 6ish and worked until I fell asleep in the chair. Usually with Brooklyn Nine Nine on in the background. Then I started picking the laptop up at 4pm, the kids ensconced in front of Cartoon Network. I started forgetting spelling sheets and our regular reading routine abandoned.

I would jump up at 5:45am to put uniforms in the tumble dryer on the day they were needed. I’d begin to order in more during the week, instead of a just a Friday night treat, Pizza Hut was becoming a staple. I was failing my kids.

So something had to change. And it has. I bid farewell to freelance life. Juggling work at all hours of the day and night, trying to make ends meet and feeling like my professional exams were a complete waste of time.

This morning I was up at 6. The sun is shining, which is a great start. Weekend washing done and out on the line. Uniforms ironed, day bags packed, and everyone out the front door to breakfast club by 7:45am.

My little son shine (that’s his nickname) she’s a few nervous years going in to breakfast club with his sister, but I know in a few minutes he’ll be totally fine. In the long run, I will be too. I know that regulating my working hours, income and career expectations will benefit us all. We’ve just got to tough out this first week or so. Corona Virus pending!

By writing this I’ve stopped myself from eating my packed lunch. Although, I fear it may not make it til 12pm! To everyone starting their first day, or planning a fresh start today, best of luck to you!

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1, 2 Back Again

As you might have gathered from the previous post, things haven’t exactly plain sailing of late. It’s time to move on. 

I’ve been working as a freelance journalist for the last 4 years. I loved it. Until a few months ago when I realised I’d stopped being fun. I shouted at my kids, for being kids. I was living hand to mouth because I’d prioritise doing fun, work-related stuff instead of making sure I had enough money for a rainy day.

It’s hardly the crime of the century, I know. I mean who has money to save in the current economic climate? But the reason this has bitten me so badly in the ass, is because it’s now three weeks until Christmas and I have a grand total of £87 in the bank.

WHY did I stop being a freelance journalist so close to Christmas? Why not see it through until I had another job, or at least until January? Well, mainly because I was so ridden with anxiety and down about it, I walked around the Christmas Markets with my kids, randomly bursting into tears. That’s usually a sign something isn’t right.

For four years I’ve (just about) managed to juggle everything. Three kids, a full time, pretty demanding job, a house, a dog and a boyfriend. Working in the media is like having another child. 24 hour commitment and this overwhelming feeling of not being able to switch off and never quite being good enough.

Every update my Iphone spewed out about how many hours screen time I’ve accumulated (Approx 7.58 hours per day FYI) I’ve felt increasingly like I’m missing out on my kids, yet I wouldn’t put my phone down. I’d work harder to get my workload done so I could chill out, only for another deadline to arise, and another and another.

A steady stream of work is absolutely nothing to be sniffed at, again, especially not in the current climate. But my god it’s so hard to keep up. I got teary. My persistent nose bleeds got even worse. I got the shakes and then the random bouts of crying my eyes out started.

I woke this morning to the sound of my electricity metre beeping. This means it’s low on credit. No credit, no internet, no work, no money – no electricity. Who’d have thought it? Someone having such an amazing time, bossing it at work, going to parties and meeting famous people – would be wondering where the hell the next £10 electricity is coming from?

It’s two weeks before Christmas. I have £85 in the bank and I’ve spent so long applying for jobs and ticking ‘I Am Not A Robot’ Captcha boxes that I think I actually am a robot.

It’s terrifying. But it was still the right thing to do. My mental health has taken serious nose dive and while it’s going to be a really tough few weeks, it can only get better. I took the advice of a friend and looked at Universal Credit while I’m applying for jobs all over the country.

I would genuinely rather pluck my own eyes out than have to go through that absolute shit storm of an application process, which at the minimum takes 5 weeks to reach a decision. Now I can fully understand just how desperate it must be when even though you’ve worked and paid into the system, there is nothing to help you bounce back when you need it. Thank god for family and friends.

Back to square one it is. I’ve written this primarily to look back and realise how low I’d gotten before I did something. Wanting to do you best at work is a great attribute. Letting it blind you to the reality of a situation, is a curse.

Catch me on Linked In!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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