Mental Health Awareness Day

Hi, how’re you feeling? It’s world Mental Health Awareness Day

1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems in any one year. This is especially prevalent in poorer and older communities, such as in Tower Hamlets where we manufacture our clothing, or at the day centres where we do our knitting. With this in mind we’re asking you to get behind Mental Health Awareness Day and campaign for better mental health, so we can continue to provide meaningful, fair work for low income and older women at risk.

A few ways you can support:

  • Get our Charly Cox She Must Be Mad t-shirt, with £1 going to fund research with charity MQ, and another £5 going to meaningful work in Tower Hamlets for low income and disabled residents.
  • What’s your advice for looking after your mental health? Share it in your order notes and win a free copy of Charly’s book with your tee.
  • Share your mental health stories and tips on #SheMustBeMad or read our founder’s story below.

I’ve always been anxious. I was an anxious kid. One of my first memories is rolling around in hysterics on a leafy pavement, scooping up crisp packets and stuffing them into my jacket on the way to nursery. I remember tears rolling down my cheeks, out of breath as my mum spat on a tissue and rubbed it on my grubby face to get rid of the mud. In my tiny strange child brain, the world was less frightening and disordered if I could keep the pavements clean. I think most children absorbed little Lisa Simpson messages about littering or the environment, but this neurotic four year old took it to the extreme.

Many fears and anxieties manifested themselves over the years; a morbid phobia of blood, boats and snakes, and rituals and comfort objects that I would scream and cry the house down without. I didn’t sleep much – a late night reading of anything snake or evil related would set me off (hi Harry Potter and Nagini) and I was Very On Edge for a child. This extreme sensitivity then manifested itself in a deep, dark funk once I hit the age of 11. A three week period, North Tyneside’s grey temperate, PE lessons and bullying probably didn’t help.

From then on, all through my teens and until about the age of 24, I struggled with my mental health. As a teenager I discovered that smoking weed and drinking large, bulbous bottles of Lambrini helped calm my nerves and made me feel momentarily invincible. That was punctuated by 3 weeks of not getting invited to the party again, lying in bed and kinnnnda wanting to die the whole time. At 14 I was referred to a child counselling specialist. I’d been missing a lot of school and felt like I couldn’t be around more than one person at a time, or stop crying, or get out of bed much. And sort of wrote a few suicide notes and tried overdosing. That old chestnut.

The one thing that wasn’t suffering was my appetite – I was eating a Chicago Deep Dish pizza after my dinner every single night and snacking out big time. I didn’t leave the house much, so it made sense that my only enjoyment came from food. I was still a kid and had inherited a freakishly fast metabolism, so my counsellor came to the conclusion that I had an eating disorder. I didn’t, but kind of played along with it to get out of going every week. They dosed me up on child sized Prozac proscription and I yo yoed back on forth on it until I was about 17. I had maybe 3 or 4 major mental health crisis after that time, where I couldn’t eat, sleep, get out of bed or stop thinking about jumping in the sea.

A lot of things happened in between feeling in control of my mental health and not. A lot of these were semi external factors: abusive relationships, heartbreak, the death of a close friend, being really broke, and the stress of overworking. Things didn’t necessarily get easier (hello, adulthood) but I did find better ways to batter down the hatches and cope, and my wellbeing has been better following the tips below.

Exhibit A of my anxious childhood.

Self esteem is like scaffolding, or a golden suit.

I still have occasional days when I wake up and feel like shit. Joke, I hate mornings so it’s most days. But building up my self esteem over the years, by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and constantly reminding myself to be my own cheerleader, has helped massively. I have a Golden Suit I can wear despite feeling like an ogre’s toenail. My golden suit is the fake-it-to-make-it attitude I put on every morning until the habit becomes reality. I have learnt to mostly love myself through the tender habit of trying.

When I’m feeling low, I remind myself of the scaffolding I have in place if everything went to shit: really fucking good friends and colleagues, and supportive family, the amazing business I’ve helped to build, a genuinely golden hearted partner. Glossier skin care. Coffee. That cardamom buns exist in the world. These don’t have to be big, but I also try to have a physical manifestation of them in a box under my bed too. It’s my Break In Case of Sads Box and it contains cards and letters and photos to remind me of people or things I’m proud of.

Medication is fine if you need it.

Sometimes I freak out about having been on antidepressants for half of my life. Then I remind myself that no matter how much yoga or swimming or running I do, no matter how much sleep I get or kale I eat, my medicine makes me a better, easier to be alive human. I liken it to feeling like you’re whizzing through life on rollerblades after spending years wading through treacle in an old metal diving suit. When I take beta blockers for public speaking induced panic attacks, I feel 1 pint and a yoga class kind of invincible, but without the sweat or inappropriate day drinking. I’ve tried a bunch of medications and was lucky to have found the right ones at the ripe old age of 24. That was three years ago now, and apart from a slight case of Emotional Constipation (I can rarely cry which is weird), I’m the best I’ve ever been. Discuss with your doctor, let it work or perserve as best you can with terrible side effects for six weeks, switch it up if it’s not making you any better.

Therapy is good. NHS waiting lists are bad.

A therapist once told me that your mental health is the most important investment you can make in yourself. She was like, if you had a chronic back problem, you wouldn’t just try one thing and call it a day. You’d go back to the doctor and exhaust every option until it was sorted, and therapy should be like that. I’ve had a bunch of talking therapies, counselling, crisis team outreach calls and CBT on the NHS, and a one off paid hypnosis session that left me so relaxed I felt like I’d been stroking the world’s softest cat for an hour. Some of them worked, and some of them didn’t, but I’m glad I was open to trying. CBT was the most effective for me, but if you’re stuck on a huge waiting list I’ve found using apps like Calm, or reading other people’s experiences really help in the meantime.

So there you have it. There’s still bad days and good days, but the biggest single factor in me feeling better (aside from Citalopram god bless it) is the cultural change around mental health and feeling less of a stigma or like a failure for experiencing it. That’s why being open and receptive to those with mental issues around us is so absolutely important for us all.

Sophie Slater

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