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1,2, have a breakdown…and breathe

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Sometimes you need to take life with…

Cough, sneeze, sip, curl up and…breathe.

The past few months have been more than a little hectic.

Since January I’ve completed my journalism diploma, got a tattoo, spent weekends in Norway, Rome and Exeter and started a job as a newspaper reporter.

I’ve moved my life from Manchester to Cumbria, swapping the buzz of the city for the cackle of seagulls and am lucky enough to have the Lake District on my doorstep.

There’s so much in my life to be thankful for and I wouldn’t change a thing.

But amidst all of this glorious chaos and change I’ve forgotten to relax and my non-stop lifestyle has worn me down.

Some familiar demons have also tried to rear their ugly heads.

So here I am, tucked up in bed having been off sick all week with a virus.

There’s nothing like immobilising fatigue and mind numbing daytime TV to make you take stock of things.

So here goes.

It’s official. I’m a journalist. No longer a student, or just a blogger, and no need for the “aspiring” prefix.

I’m finally doing a job that I really love and now instead of just eliciting groans from my friends, I actually get paid to come up with puns. (case and point)

Every day is different, my colleagues are lovely and I get to chat to lots of interesting people.

So what could possibly be wrong?

Well I’m not always the confident person I try to portray.

On the inside I’m still plagued with crippling self-doubt and worry.

That’s when the anxiety bubbles over.

In previous jobs I’ve experienced stress, whether I was slogging it in retail or working in an icecream parlour.

But now instead of literally crying over spilt milk, my bathroom breakdowns are more likely to be the result of an interviewee cancelling or a constantly engaged phone line.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I can’t help putting unnecessary pressure on myself.

Mistakes happen and we learn from them.

But on a day when anxiety is tapping me on the shoulder my mind can take the following negative spiral:

“My shorthand isn’t quick enough.” “I should have practiced more.” “I’m useless.” “I bet they regret giving me the job.” “I’m hopeless.” “I’ll never get back up to speed.” “I’ve let my tutors down.” “I’ve let myself down.” “I’m a shit journalist.” “Maybe I should just quit.” “I’m not good enough.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m going to get the sack.”

Then there’s depression – my other nemesis.

I imagine it as monster which greedily feeds off the nervous energy of my anxiety.

Lots of change, even when it’s positive, can be hard to cope with.

In situations like this I would usually turn to drink but since I’ve ditched the booze for good that’s no longer an option.

So for the first time I’ve been totally sober through the difficult adjustment period of moving to a new place where I don’t know anyone.

The old me would have gone out to bars alone, drunk all night, chatted to anyone, had a one-night stand, gone into work hungover, drunk more to numb the anxiety, and repeat.

It’s not so bad now that I have housemates and a fixed abode.

But for the first few weeks I was staying in a B&B and lots of evenings spent alone in a small room with only a TV for company gave me too much time to dwell on things, feeding the monster.

I didn’t realise how bad my mental health was until  I was back in Manchester for a weekend and plans to meet some friends fell through.

Whilst on a bus into town, I got a message from one of my old course mates to say they couldn’t make it.

In the end it turned out no-one was free.

I burst into tears.

It was nothing personal, everyone had their own things going on but in that moment the monster munched a big black hole in my heart.

I spent the rest of the bus journey in a snotty mess with black rivulets of mascara running down my face.

I’d been unhealthily relying on that single event to cheer me up.

It wasn’t a big deal, and if I’d been in a better frame of mind it wouldn’t have mattered.

But right then I felt as though I’d fallen into a chasm of loneliness in which no one cared, everyone hated me, and life seemed pointless.

The allure of the bars seemed more tempting than ever.

But after quick walk around the city centre and a phone call to my dad, I felt marginally better and went home to watch a film.

Now I’m on the road back to better physical and mental health.

No matter where I am or what I’m doing I’ve realised that I can never take my mental health for granted.

It can be fragile but all it needs is a little water and sunlight every now and then.

Getting back into a routine of yoga and meditation, finding time to relax and eating right will all help.

And the little things which go wrong, be they mistakes or disappointments, don’t have to spell the end of the world.

But for now I think I’ll just close my eyes, count to three…and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8

What it’s like to be a 22 year old alcoholic

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Me at my 20th Birthday party…before I passed out on the sofa

“My name’s Kathy and I’m an alcoholic.”

Those were the words I thought I’d never be able to admit to myself.

But sitting in a dank and dreary church hall I found myself saying them to a dozen complete strangers.

This was the first step in my recovery.

I have now been sober for 17 days and feel happier than I have in months.

That’s 17 hangover free days, 17 days of not feeling sick or embarrassed or ashamed, 17 days of mental clarity, 17 days of thinking positively, 17 days of the rest of my life.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s been easy though.

It’s been so tempting just to have a sip of someone’s drink when it’s been offered to me, so tempting just to have one or two when I’ve been out with friends and everyone around me is getting loose and merry.

But my problem is that I could never just stop at one or two drinks.

I could never be content with feeling tipsy and most nights out would always descend into the oblivion of a blackout.

That’s what makes me an alcoholic.

When I went to my first Alcoholics’ Anonymous meeting I wasn’t yet sure if I was an alcoholic, or rather I didn’t want to admit it.

In my view giving myself the label of “alcoholic” would be hitting rock bottom.

But the truth was I’d already hit rock bottom long ago and then proceeded to plateau on the lower slopes for a while.

In the end admitting that I was an alcoholic wasn’t any scarier than anything I’d already been through due to alcohol and it was what has enabled me to take that first step on the ladder to spiritual recovery.

When you’re in your twenties most people turn a blind eye to your alcohol abuse since they think you’re just going through that “party phase” and are exercising a right to be young, wild and free.

But behind the laughter and the slurring of words there is often a deeper, darker expression of pain which no amount of wine or beer can hide.

It was when I woke up in hospital after falling over and suffering a concussion that I decided enough was enough.

I’d had enough of not remembering , enough of hearing second-hand about my drunken exploits, of being overcome with regret and shame, of putting myself in a position where I was vulnerable enough to be manipulated and abused, of having too many close calls and too many near misses.

It was time for a change.

I’m not going to be that crazy party girl anymore but that’s not really who I am anyway.

I’m a fun-loving extrovert, a journalist and writer, a dreamer, traveller, artist and musician and I don’t need alcohol to be any of these things.

Having suffered from depression and anxiety I have now had the epiphany that I also suffer from alcoholism – possibly the most deadly mental illness of all.

I say this because alcohol itself is a depressant so using it to cope with your problems is just a vicious cycle which will only ever make things worse.

It’s also too easy to hide.

Most girls my age go out and binge drink on the weekends, they fall over, they swear, they maybe have one or two more than they should but few people would consider that they could be alcoholics.

But that’s the thing about alcoholism.

It isn’t ageist or sexist, it doesn’t matter if you drink alone or with friends, if you get drunk every day or just binge on the weekends, if you do it at home or in a club.

There’s more than one way to be an alcoholic.

As someone who’s never been able to say no to a drink I’m looking forward to saying yes to a life of abstinence.

It doesn’t make me boring or dull but rather allows me to be me without the oppressive chains of an illness over which I have no control.

So the next time you’re egging your friend on to do a shot or drink up, or get another round in, just pause to consider if it’s really the best thing for them.

Alcohol is fine in moderation.

But for people like me it’s a curse.