In the middle of it.

I read somewhere that people find it easier to read about mental illness when it’s over. We like the “I was in a difficult place but came through” kind of story.

I think it’s also easier to write when you’ve come out the other end and you’re in a better place.

I am in the middle of it now; not the way I was a few years ago, when I was doing some pretty self-destructive stuff and people around me were worried and I rushed to the doctor’s because I didn’t know how to manage it. I came out the other end; I went to therapy for 2 years and was on medication for 3. But I am afraid it doesn’t really go away. It’s not “cured”. It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that you remove and throw into the medical waste bin and recover from and don’t think about anymore. It’d be so much easier if this thing; this fog of the mind, this pressure on the chest, this weight…if it was more like something ugly you root out and less like the sea, with its depth and its waves and its rage…

January started full of hope but then turned painful. Some of that is due to things that have happened; news I’ve received about illness in people that are close. I spent a lot of time contemplating mortality; what if they don’t make it after the operation? what if he dies? do I buy a plane ticket and fly over, just in case?

My mind has been flooded with stuff. I have half thoughts; one idea pops into my head and another one races in before the first one has finished. There are many overlapping sentences and words and things I don’t want to think about. I start to think ugly thoughts. Travel well-known paths; they would be better off without you. You’re a bad person. You’re a bad person. You’re alone. Challenging the voice is hard. There’s little energy. There’s half-thoughts. There’s a knot in your throat and tears because the voice is mean and you don’t want it and you don’t want to believe it…you know it isn’t true but speaking up is difficult.

One of the things I learnt during therapy was that I need structure. That means sleeping at a regular time. Eating nutritious meals at regular intervals. Exercising regularly. The thing is that many of those things go out the window when depression hurts the way it has for the past few weeks. It’s not just in my head but in my body. The pressure on the chest is not a metaphor.

When it feels like this you have to fight. At least I do. I have to fight to convince myself that the mirror isn’t lying to me and that I look…well…normal, rather than believing whatever distorted view of my body I have in my head. I have to convince myself that eating is good and I need nourishment. I have to convince myself that I am not stupid and that I am valuable and that I am loved. I have to convince myself that asking for help isn’t shameful.

You also need people. You need people who are in your corner. People who will listen to you when you need to let out whatever’s on your mind. People who will encourage you to not let the thoughts take over. People who will reason with you and help you see things from a different perspective. I don’t know where I would be if I were alone in this. I am incredibly grateful for the people who supported me back when I first got diagnosed and the people who support me now. Especially my partner, who is patient and kind and very practical.

I have this thing called depression but depression doesn’t win. If you’re struggling, know that there is hope. Know that asking for help is courageous.

Today is #TimeToTalk Day so I thought I’d share a bit about my journey. I worry that many people don’t seem to have anyone to talk to about their problems. You see, I believe everyone needs to look after their mental health and having someone to talk to is crucial. Connecting with other humans is crucial. I understand that we live in a society where people are reluctant to get personal.  All over the country people go:

“You’re alright?”
“Yes, thanks, you?”
“Good, thanks”

I’m not suggesting you interrogate people about their state of mind but that we can all aim to have more genuine conversations with one another. Those kinds of conversations often start with listening.

This article offers great insight into how to support someone who is struggling.
Here’s an article about how to cope with loneliness and how it affects mental health.
Click here to see a range of mental health helplines.
Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash



Unlearning insecurity

I have a confession; I feel insecure rather often.

After having a conversation with someone, I sometimes have this crushing feeling that all my ideas are just wrong or my knowledge incomplete. And that I would be safer and feel better if I just kept my thoughts to myself because everybody else knows better than I do. Recently I had a conversation with two other people and one of them wanted to talk about misogyny. He asked me what I thought about the #metoo campaign. I didn’t have a clear-cut answer. I think there’s something valuable about sharing experiences but I can accept that there are pitfalls with hashtag campaigns. He was very respectful of my opinions and seemed curious about what I thought. I walked away from the conversation feeling like I’d gained something from it and interested in looking up some book recommendations. But it didn’t take long for the insecurities to set in. “Why did you say that? What will they think? You don’t know enough to talk about that…” I hate that feeling and I have a suspicion that it’s something I picked up along the way. Surely it isn’t something one is born with. If it is something I learnt, then I would like to know how to unlearn it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is one simple fix for it. I guess in this particular situation, one of the things I can do is go out and have more conversations and be willing to be challenged on my opinions. I can also learn how to thoughtfully and respectfully challenge others.

Insecurity, however, goes beyond conversations with acquaintances. I think it shows up in my close relationships, in my work and in the way I see myself. I’m not sure that by learning how to behave in certain situations I will be able to root out what’s behind the unpleasant thoughts. I want to deal with the feeling as well as learning to improve in situations where I feel inferior.

It can be difficult for me to let go of thoughts that are critical. After that particular conversation, I couldn’t shake this feeling of dread on the tram on the way home. I kept thinking about what I should’ve said and about how I need to read more and learn more and listen better. Sometimes the thoughts take hold and I feel like a hurricane is tearing through my mind. Years ago, before I was diagnosed with depression, those thoughts were a lot bigger and wilder and scarier. I didn’t know what was happening to me. My inner voice would go on tirades about how bad I was or how fat I looked or how hideous my soul was… I would have awful dreams and imagine the most terrible things. Therapy helped with a lot of that but I have noticed that some of my insecurity remains. It seems to have morphed into something smaller, less threatening, less dogmatic. It’s not “You’re fundamentally evil and don’t deserve love” but “Your ideas aren’t refined enough; you need to learn more and before you speak/write/share”. It’s more of an invitation to retreat rather than a statement about who I am. It’s like my insecurity takes on the disguise of a helpful suggestion. It’s sneaky like that.

Knowing what’s happening to you is important when you struggle with feelings of insecurity. Being aware that I have this helps me catch the thoughts early and I do manage to stop them. Sometimes I get there late; when I’m tired or have period pains or something negative happened during the day, it can be a lot harder to get myself out of the thought spiral.

Writing this made me realise that I’ve linked depression to feeling insecure. I’m not sure if these two can be separated. Perhaps feeling insecure is part of having depression. Life is mostly good these days but these insecurities remind me of the more fragile, more obscure parts of my mind.

I have picked up so many unhelpful, inaccurate and damaging thoughts and beliefs and somehow made them my own. I know that the process of unlearning deeply rooted beliefs can’t be easy or quick. But I am hopeful and willing to do the work.

Staying current or staying sane?

My Facebook feed is home to a variety of perspectives; some of them I applaud, some of them I disagree with, some of them are full-on triggers for all things negative in my head and sometimes my heart.

Today someone posted an article about the rights of EU/UK citizens and Brexit, I read the article and then I read the comments section on the post. The person who posted enjoys discussing politics on Facebook and is rather good at it. One of the comments, however, displayed one of those opinions that trigger me. Out of respect, I cannot copy and paste it here but the contents of it essentially said that UK citizens in the EU contribute to the economy, whilst EU citizens in the UK are merely here for the money, competing for limited jobs and using the UK’s under-pressure public services.

Nobody replied to this person and I considered it for a moment but what do I say? How do I say it? Am I allowed to say it?

I don’t know how to engage in conversations about migration where people have opinions such as the one above. I haven’t learnt to distance myself from the issue – I cannot stand back and discuss like my acquaintance who posted the article. I just sat there and felt hurt. I told myself off for letting this person hurt me, this person who is a “friend of a friend” (on Facebook!). My insecurities, my identity issues rush to the surface when I read things like these.

You see, I want to be a well-informed, open-minded individual who is not afraid to hear other people’s opinions. I also think it’s important to challenge people’s views if you don’t agree but when it comes to migration, I am at a loss. I am a migrant, I will always be and when accusations of job-grabbing, public service-draining, etc. fly about, I feel like I am the one being accused. Now I know that people who know me don’t see me that way and I know that because some of them have told me. “No, it’s not you, it’s those other people.” And I know what they mean but it still pisses me off. It pisses me off because what they mean is: you look white, your accent is not that offensive to my ears, you have a job, you don’t dress a certain way (and by that they mean that I’m not a Muslim woman in visibly Muslim clothing), you don’t seem foreign (most of the time)…

Mental health and newsfeeds

When I talk about triggers I mean things that really hit me emotionally. I used to have depression and these days I feel fine but there’s always the chance that it could come back. I have the odd moment where I feel so overwhelmed that my heart starts racing and I just sob – like this morning at my desk. Winters are hard because of the lack of light. The referendum last year was hard because I felt like I wasn’t welcome. My newsfeed is hard because people say things about “the other” without thinking that someone in that group will read what they say. Do they say it to hurt? Do they want to offend people on the “other” side – that other religion, that other ethnic group, that other gender, that other sexual identity…

There are definitely people who make their points with a degree of decency and respect – they make me think and that’s good. But so much of our media, and that includes social media, is full of poison or what I perceive as poison. This is not about one comment on one post on Facebook. This is about what the most popular newspapers publish on their pages and websites every day. This is about the conversations I overhear on the bus. This is about hearing “for the many, not for the few” and having a suspicion that ultimately you’re not included.

Maybe I am too sensitive to certain things – I am sensitive when it comes to migration. I struggle to see where I belong in society because to some extent what defines who I am is that I migrated. The first few moves were out of my hands and then I made the decision to move here and I stayed.

So what do I do? Do I engage and challenge and argue? Do I read/listen to different perspectives on sensitive issues even though they might open up the gates to a place I don’t want to go? I am terrified of depression. It is the ugliest place I’ve ever been.

I spill colours.

I am large
with expectation.
My belly is round,
hips full
swaying from side to side
caught in the rhythm
of the Pacific Ocean.

I spill colours on the pavement
I forget smiles on the metro
I’ve shed memories on the train
worn trainers to work
unfriended people on Facebook.

I am loud
with laughter
and sarcasm

I dissolve, sometimes
I shrink
so others can bloom
be heard, be happy…

There is fire in my eyes
Spanish sunshine on my skin
A mélange of colours in my hair
ComPassion in my veins –
Relentless strength.


You remember learning to be kind
and more patient
with yourself.

Some days seem too steep to climb,
others are smooth.

Some days you worry too much –
what will they think?
how do I look?
why am I crying? hurt?

Some days you like being here,
others you wonder why it doesn’t all just end.

Some days you worry about sliding back
into the whirlpool of twisted thoughts
and knots and aching limbs
and shifting ground…

Some days you miss sitting in that room
opposite a sweet, yet distant, lady
who asked you tough questions
and helped you feel understood.

Some days you wonder whether
you’ve recovered.

What is that anyway?


Bustling streets;
you rush
though there’s plenty of time,
you’re not meeting anyone in 10 minutes.
Nobody’s telling you to hurry
yet you speed up,
dodging tourists that stop
at every corner
to take pictures of the sights.
They pour out an endless stream of opinions and random facts about this place.
You try to walk past them.

It’s so painful to walk sometimes!

You gather impressions:
People eat, love, laugh, argue…
You rush.
Because somehow they will notice
that you want to walk slowly,
that you want to take your time
in getting where you want to be.
And that is outrageous!

I have to move,
I have to go.
Go, go, go!
There is no time.
I’m late.
I’m always late.
I’ll be told off if I slow down.

They will say:
hey you! Schiet op! Don’t slack!
Get over it already, it happened years ago!
Your body is fine, use those legs!

There is no time, you think.
Somebody is watching
and making the clock tick faster,

As you try to keep up
you grow thorns
and curl inward.

You speed up
trying to get it sorted.

Until one day
you fall.

On the ground you remember:
It is OK to walk slowly.
You might need help for a while.
It is OK to walk slowly.
Some people won’t understand but
it is OK to walk slowly.
And some people will remind you that it is OK.
It is OK…

– Yessica Dædalus, 2013


Train journeys on rainy afternoons;
The perfect setting for reflection.
The world has turned green in
my absence.
Flowers, though,
are taking their time.
It’s only a season of life
Only a season in the valley;
A season
Soaked in green
Groen: beautiful, rich,
everlasting green.

Viajar en tren durante tardes lluviosas
es perfecto para reflexionar.
El mundo se ha tornado verde
en mi ausencia.
Las flores, sin embargo,
se están tomando su tiempo.
Es sólo una temporada en la vida;
a season, like the rainy season
Sólo es un tiempo
en el valle.
teñido de verde:
hermoso, interminable