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I’m 37 in less than 2 months, and I’ve got a new addiction that up until recently would have been meant for the confines of a Kindergarten or a Junior Infants class of a weekday morning. I’m addicted to colouring books. More specifically, colouring books made especially for grown-ups. I’ve called them Adult Colouring Books, but that just conjures up images of pages upon pages of boob, fanny and willy drawings, or outlines of a page or ten from Kama Sutra; although, I’m sure somebody’s thought of that already. Nothing new under the sun and all that… *goes searching on Amazon*

I may have been a bit trigger-happy with the 'click to buy' button.

I may have been a bit trigger-happy with the ‘click to buy’ button. Click the pic to see more on my Instagram!

So why is there such a fascination with Grown-Up Colouring books now? Well from my uneducated lay-person standpoint, it seems to be a branch coming out of the Mindfulness movement – giving people a chance to be ‘in the present’ (feckin’ hippies I know, but it works) and calm the mind, giving it focus and having a moment or two of time to yourself doing something pleasurable and visually stimulating in the process. A little bit of Occupational Therapy for the price of a colouring book and some markers.

From the Completely Calming Colouring Book 2 - Love. Click on the pic to head to Amazon and buy it.

From the Completely Calming Colouring Book 2 – Love. Click on the pic to head to Amazon and buy it.

Years ago in the midst of a very dark patch, I was in town and I got a notion that I wanted to colour in. It seemed that my love of stationery was a gateway drug to it; but there wasn’t anything in the way of a wide assortment of books to choose from. Either that or I just didn’t have the wherewithal to go looking for it online. So into Michael Guineys I went, bought a jumbo kids’ colouring book and a packet of markers all for under a fiver, and headed home all excited to stick my head into a bit of childhood regression; anything to alleviate the ball of twine-sized anxiety in my stomach that nothing would shake.

Stationery is Sexy AF

Stationery is Sexy AF

It didn’t last long, mostly because there’s only so many giant cartoon dogs you can colour in before you get bored. You’re engaged in a childlike activity, but that doesn’t mean you need child-centred content. This year I started to properly discover more advanced books with detailed patterns and shapes, repetitive geometrics, paisley-style prints, mandalas, and detailed cartoons of the most beautiful things in the world. I’d seen one or two books in the senior classrooms of the schools I’d taught in, given to kids who would finish work faster than the others and needed to keep themselves occupied with something a bit more challenging, and I was SO JEALOUS. So imagine my delight when I saw how huge the range of colouring books had become for overgrown kids like me.

Click on the pic to head over to my Instagram and get some colour ideas!

Click on the pic to head over to my Instagram and get some colour ideas!

So if you think it’s something you’d like to try out, I can’t recommend it enough. For so many reasons. I suffer from Dermatillomania, which is basically a compulsive skin-picking disorder, and has been the bane of my life ever since I developed my fine motor skills. At its simplest, it’s anxiety-based, and left unchecked, causes huge pain and discomfort and scarring. It’s like a mild unconscious form of self-harm, so the doc tells me. When anxious, I’ll tear at the skin on my body, face, hands, to the point where my fingers are so sore from having pulled hangnails (imaginary or otherwise) that they leave infections and swelling behind, and I’m left disfigured, bleeding and in pain. So when the chance to get stuck into something that would otherwise occupy my hands, I pounced on it like it was the last Krispy Kreme on earth. It’s the artistic equivalent of a stress ball for me, and what it saves me in disfigurement and low self-esteem cannot be measured.

It's called The Hipster Coloring Book, but don't let the title put you off. It's SO MUCH FUN. (click pic to buy on Amazon)

It’s called The Hipster Coloring Book, but don’t let the title put you off. It’s SO MUCH FUN. (click pic to buy on Amazon)

I really think you should give it a go. You don’t have to be a Salvador Dali type, there’s designs and pics out there to suit everyone. If you think a book of complicated mandalas might add to your stress levels, then there are others with simple yet adorable pics and lettering you can sweep a marker or pencil across with delight. Click on any of the pics to find the books pictured here on Amazon, or to go to my Instagram to see what manner of a colour scheme I’m chucking down on to a page.

Follow me on Instagram - Click the pic!

Follow me on Instagram – Click the pic!

Pen, pencil, or ink?

You all know the usual suspects to get hold of in any bookshop or stationery (yum) shop; Crayola, Sharpie, Faber-Castell and all those are obviously perfect to kick off your colouring habit. I got a 24-pack of brilliant Crayola markers in Heatons for under €8 (with a free blank sketchbook thank you vey much!) to start me off. I’m a markers girl myself, being a cartoon lover until the day I die, but there are some amazing colouring pencils out there if you take a bit of time to wander around art supply shops and see which ones you like.

If you want to pimp out your colouring experience, Staedtler Fine Tips are the mutt’s nuts altogether. Having explored the wonderland website of artist Johanna Basford (click the pic below to see her work), I decided to splurge on the Staedtler so when I decided to take on intricately detailed drawings and patterns, I could keep my perfectionist side at bay by staying inside the lines. Her books are an absolute treasure. They’re next on my list. Click the pic below to be taken to her website and have your mind blown.

Click on the pic to head over to Johanna's website to see all her books and the pens she swears by.

Click on the pic to head over to Johanna’s website to see all her books and the pens she swears by.

There you have it, a short and (hopefully) useful guide to get you started on the road to regression. There really is nothing like taking a bit of time to yourself and indulging in a pastime that makes you feel like a happy kid again. It’s also a lot more socially acceptable than, say, firebombing your workplace or quitting your job in spectacular Jerry Maguire-style fashion following an epiphany / nervous breakdown. Be nice to yourself; make a bucket of tea or grab a class of wine, curl up on a comfy couch with your pencil case and book of choice and GET COLOURING IN. You won’t regret it. I promise.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Getting jiggly..and it’s shit.

What he said.

What he said.

I hate exercise. HATE IT. Yeah I get it, it’s good for you, Nature’s anti-depressant, blah blah blah, you won’t know yourself…fuck the fuck off! I just DON’T. LIKE. MOVING. Unless it’s to turn arse-cheeks and reset the butt-groove in the couch after a two-hour marathon. And don’t tell me that’s not an effort. You’re also not taking into effect the amount of times you’ve to lunge forward to click the ‘Continue Playing’ button, lest you end up staring gee-eyed and a paused screen for the remainder of the night until sunrise (or your bladder, whichever comes first) alerts you to the fact that you may have to vacate your trusty cosy haven of sloth, otherwise you’ll end up with some serious stain issues on the couch. Take it any further, and firefighters will have to crane-lift you and your new furniture-shaped adult diaper to the hospital so the doctors can try and separate your bloated flesh from the leather settee it appears to have fused itself to. I’m not even joking; it’s a thing. I saw it on Nip / Tuck.

It’s all well and good lauding exercise as Nature’s Anti-Depressant, but that just means that in my opinion, Nature is really shit at making anti-depressants. Gimme hard chemicals any day. Nice little pills wrapped in foil, like tiny promises of mental peace & quiet for anyone who opens them. They’re fantastic. They have the ability to stop me running, crying and terrified, into the arms of complete strangers on the footpath because I’m too afraid to walk a few blocks down the road to Dunnes. You know what else comes wrapped in foil and makes me feel better, Nature? Chocolate. Chinese Food. A kebab at 3.30am after a night of delicious gin (which doesn’t come wrapped in foil, but it sure as shit makes me feel better).

Mindy Kaling is Truth.

Mindy Kaling is Truth.

Some would say heroin and meth also come with a foil accompaniment, and to those I say shut up; this is my blog where I’m ranting without fear of logic or consequence jumping in. I’m venting. You want calmly presented facts and all that shite? Go look up some medical journals and feel smug while the rest of us enjoy a good mental blowout. We’ll all behave again tomorrow. If you’re going to keep reading; suspend all realities and known benefits of exercise, and join me in my Circle of Hate.

You know what else is utterly cock-rotten about exercise? It interrupts my day. I’ve become quite used to spending up to twelve hours a day worrying incessantly about nothing and everything, while trying to write some coherent thoughts as a thousand voices roar behind me into my ears that I’m complete shit. I’m an expert at Anxiety Management; well, to be more accurate, Anxiety is an expert on J-Ro Management. It gives me full-time hours and expects me to work weekends and nights at a moment’s notice, and if I could turn in some reports on why I should never leave the house and socialise with mates again, that’d be great. It’s the mental health equivalent of that douche-bucket manager in Office Space.


Also can we take a moment to call bullshit on all those exercise videos with women who don’t sweat? They can kiss my fine white Irish plus-size arse. There they are, sighing gently through The Insanity workout with only a little ‘eeek’ or ‘oooh’ emanating from their perfectly over-glossed lips in between the kind of fitness regime that I’m pretty sure was previously rejected by Navy SEALS or fucking Black Ops for being ‘A tad harsh’. All of these skinny bitches in the background behind their slave driver / trainer grinning widely and yipping in between sets as they’re tortured are the best living example of Stockholm Syndrome I’ve witnessed since Patty Hearst. Sweat? NOT ONE DROP. Oh no, not these gals. Sure, they’re lightly misty across the face, but they just look glowy and dew-fresh, like a Stephanie Meyer vampire walking around in the sunshine. In the meantime, just getting in the main door of the gym makes me look like this:

Anyway, I joined Zumba. I know it’s not the ‘in’ thing to do in the face of all things TRX and Crossfit and TR-fit and Cross-X (or whatever the fuck they’re called – are they the same thing? I bet they are the sneaky bastards), but as I mentioned in my previous post “Life As A Living Before Picture“, my lung capacity is in dire straits, and I’m tired of breaking a sweat and needing my inhaler every time I so much as open a book, so I decided to jump in at the deep end and really give them something to give out about. It seems to be working. I’m pretty sure I left half of one on the floor at my very first class. Must check with reception to see if anyone handed it in.

I would never submit you to an actual video of me trundling my sweaty way through a Zumba routine, so to get a fair idea, please watch this clip of a cartoon potato giving it socks to a dance choon.

The girls in the class are all lovely, mad eejits…and you kind of have to be. To engage in a ferocious cardiac workout like Zumba is (despite what others think, it’s fucking INSANELY tough) for a full sixty minutes in front of a full-length mirror, stuck in a body that you hate, wishing the inches away as you pound the floor, and still have a laugh with those next to you, tells me that my fellow Zumba hostages are a decent bunch of lasses. Added to which our instructor Sarah is a legend of a woman, part insanely happy Energiser Bunny, part Drill Sergeant. The best way to be when you’ve someone like me in your group.

Yes, Gillian. Yes it was. WITH DELIGHT.

Yes, Gillian. Yes it was. WITH DELIGHT.

So onwards I waddle, trying to get myself together. Some friends have told me that I’ll eventually get past the seething hatred I have for moving, and be all super-psyched about the prospect of getting up and out to burn away the calories in time. To them I say “I love you, but take a look at who you’re talking to, and revise that statement.” I’ve been on this planet a good while now at this stage, and I have NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, liked ‘activities’ that involved leaving a couch or a bed or the house when there is no discernible threat to my person from fire, flood or famine. It doesn’t mean I won’t do it, sure anyone with a toast crumb-sized piece of common sense knows that it’s the only thing that’ll shift pounds and make you feel better while you get your eating habits in order. So it’s a necessary evil in my world. Doesn’t mean I’ll be a fitness fanatic any time soon. I’ll leave that to all my fabulous fit friends who enjoy a couple of 5K runs of a weekend while I slave over a hot laptop trying to make a name for myself writing shit like this.

So to all those who love a good calorie burning session in whatever form takes their fancy; rock on, you mad, jammy fit, well-toned bastards. I’ll stick to flipping the bird at my workout gear and undressing my couch and fleecy blankets with my eyes. In the meantime, I’ll still continue to venture out to Zumba on a regular basis to engage in a fat-threatening habit that may, if I stick with it and remain consistent, actually be responsible for me needing to invest in smaller jeans and taking longer to use up my inhaler, as opposed to taking longer to, you know, GET UP A FLIGHT OF STAIRS.

Better keep at it, so.


Little Voice, Big Issues

July 14th is the most important day of the year for J-Ro. If the planets align and all goes according to plan, I will be heading over to London to ask a nice man with letters after his name to shoot laser beams down my throat and give me the gift of speech and song once again. HOW MAD IS THAT? Fucking sorcery. Or modern medicine. Whichever you prefer yourself. My only disappointment is that I’m not allowed keep the lasers. I may ask if I can keep the nodules, to put in an ornamental glass jar on my mantelpiece, with the words “LEST WE FORGET” engraved on it. I’m sure he gets that request all the time.

So with about three weeks to go, it feels like I’m feeling the loss of my voice even more than I have in the previous fifteen months that I’ve been living with this condition. More than anything at the moment, I’m pretty fucking angry at how little of a general fuck was given when I finally got an appointment at the ENT clinic to see what was actually going on in that weary overused throat of mine. After a few months of feeling miserable and wallowing, I had finally gotten it together enough to head to my GP and say (read: whisper hoarsely) that I’d been hoarse for two or three months and that wasn’t okay, and please help me because I can’t even make a phone call, not to mind sing and make a bit of a living. He sent off a letter, and quick as a flash FIVE MONTHS LATER, I got an appointment. Christ Almighty, don’t they know how much you can Google about something wrong with you in that time? Dr Gregory House had nothing on my diagnostic skills.

Naturally, because I’d been Googling and self-assessing, and more relevantly, because I’m a complete Anxious Agatha, I was terrified that it was cancer. Singing in outdoor pub areas for a good while had not been doing my throat any favours anyway, and being very aware that lots of non-smokers who played live music for a living had suffered in varying degrees from throat issues ranging from chest infections to occasional hoarseness and right up as far as fatal throat cancer. I had always kept the story of late eighties television presenter Roy Castle (read his story here) in the back of my mind, as an example of how non-smokers could be open to the dangers of secondary smoke, so thanks to the good old HSE waiting lists, I was able to dwell nicely on that for a good 20 weeks or so. Lovely. Cheers.

Googling symptoms - BAD IDEA

Googling symptoms – BAD IDEA

So eventually I found myself sitting in the ENT clinic with the consultant with a teeny tiny tube camera up my nose and down my throat as he promptly informed me I had “two fine nodules there all right”. I was relieved that at least there was something tangible and real that was causing my hoarseness and that it wasn’t psychosomatic – there are no lasers for that. Yet. At least this was something that could be dealt with, and I could get on with my life with the slight chance I may be able to sing again…right?

Before I knew it I was back out the door armed with two A4 sheets on ‘Caring For Your Voice’ and a recommendation to start speech therapy. That was it. The voice-care stuff I could – and have on many occasion – obtain myself by faffing about online. They were all lovely tips on how to care for your voice, so as not to GET nodules in the first place. That was pretty fucking handy for me, wasn’t it? He may as well have given some guy with a shattered femur two paracetamol and a leaflet entitled “How Not To Break Your Leg” and sent the poor bastard home. Bollocks to that, I thought. I wasn’t at my most optimistic leaving the clinic that day…


My only option was to research and look up the various avenues open to me. I’d been told quite categorically by my doc “Oh, we don’t do that surgery anymore, unless what you have is malignant”, so basically if it wasn’t cancer, I could thank my lucky stars AND go fuck myself at the same time. BRILLIANT. Sure who needs a voice anyway? It’s one of those useless things your body still hangs on to, like your appendix, or your first crappy tattoo. God forbid I’d need it to try and make a living or use the phone, or go to job interviews, or pursue a career in television or radio like I had been contemplating. God, no. I should be happy for the rest of my lonely mute life with a mini-whiteboard and dry wipe marker around my neck, hoping the person I’m talking to can read my writing, or just simply read. Fuck that noise. I was getting mad now…


So after months of feeling sorry for myself, and a few serious bouts of depression where I had to fight with myself for hours just to get out of bed, not to mind have the headspace to launch into independent research on what the shit to do with this voice of mine, I finally got a molecule of motivation. I decided that I wanted surgery; no amount of speech therapy was going to magically make these nodules simply disappear of their own free will. They needed to get the fuck GONE. So eventually after lots of time rambling around online medical journals, I sent out my first query email to the office of the man who had worked on the voice of singer Adele over in Boston, Dr Steven Zeitels. Now I knew there was no way I could ever afford his services (thanks, American Healthcare System) but I figured if i could at least get the ball rolling, he might point me in the direction of other surgeons in the field closer to home.

Dr Zeitels hanging out with Steven Tyler; who he also treated. What a star-bar of a doctor.

Dr Zeitels hanging out with Steven Tyler; who he also treated. What a star-bar of a doctor.

You could have knocked me down with a feather when one day out of the blue in the park, I get a call on my mobile from Boston, MA – and the Doc himself is on the other end! He knew within a minute of talking to me even on the phone that simple speech therapy was never going to help me, and I felt so vindicated I indulged in some serious air-punching, Judd Nelson Breakfast Club-style. We chatted for a bit, and he gave me some names of consultants and put me in contact with other people who could give me some info and help. Thankfully, there were some London names on that list, and the search was on with serious gusto.

Once I had some information for the UK, it took less than an hour to find a reputable consultant in the London area. The laser surgery area is huge nowadays, and I read about TV presenter Holly Willoughby and some guy from The Wanted both having undergone laser treatment for exactly what I have, and been ecstatic with results. So after two or three emails back and forth, I’m now sitting here blogging about how it took all of an hour in total to get my 15-month voice problem fixed once I decided to not take no for an answer and get some second and third opinions outside of this wonderful country of ours. As I was told by Dr Zeitels, it’s not that they don’t do the surgery here anymore; it’s that they can’t. So if I hadn’t gone off on my own and done some research, I’d be sitting here right now drowning my throat in expensive jars of Manuka honey, breathing deeply, drinking gallons of water and resigning myself to forever sounding like Marge Simpson’s two sisters after a Lamb Of God concert.  

It’s really quite something to have the gift of a voice taken away from you; especially when it’s your source of income, how you express your personality, your ability to communicate effectively, how people define you, how YOU define you, your go-to place when you’re on your own and you just want to sing until you feel better about life. When you have no voice, it’s surprising how much it affects your self-esteem, and how those around interact with you.

Yeah, you'd think....

Yeah, you’d think….

Without meaning to, people can ignore you, interrupt you, and talk over you. Most group conversations are a bit of a battlefield, with lots of strong personalities loudly debating, or joking, or just having the chats. If you have no voice, you’re meek by comparison. It’s survival of the fittest; and you’re the weakling of the herd. If you happen to be under 5ft like myself, and you’re out in a pub with mates with the music blaring; forget about it. They can barely hear you down there when you’re at peak vocal fitness, so your husky little squeaks or froggy croaks are never going to cut it. So that’s fun.

I’ve found it so fucking hard to get on with being me without the voice I was known for; be it from singing or just from being out & about. Up in RTE last year when I was doing the social media for Connected, I got to meet a lot of influential people, but my voice was so bad at that stage I doubt I even made any sort of an impression. I’ve never been so self-conscious of something about me in my life. Being short, I can handle. Even if well-meaning friends make jokes or remarks about my lack of height and they sting more than they should, I can still brush them off and square myself up on the outside. But my voice is / was my pride and joy, and something I thought I could depend on. It helped to define me. So trying to meet new people and opening my mouth to speak and hearing only an alien croaking sound used to destroy me, and therefore any confidence I may have initially had. I don’t even have my own laugh any more, it’s just a hoarse squeak. It’s fucking horrible, I feel ugly and insignificant and I hate it. Many’s a day or night I’ve come home and burst into tears, feeling like the invisible girl. I’m not used to that.

One thing I’ve learned though, is about changing my personal definition. I had to keep telling myself that I am not my voice, it is a part of me that needs some TLC at the moment, but it does not make up all of me. It’s helped my writing too, in that I’m doing way more of it because I can’t bend the ears off my poor friends like I used to do any more. All this useless drivel has to come out somewhere. (I still try to be a chatterbox, but it doesn’t have quite the same effect when you’re whispering). What is hilarious though, is when you lean in and whisper your news to your friend, he or she starts whispering too – even if we’re sitting in their car alone.

Anyway, I soldier on, like the rest of the world. I’m very lucky and grateful that I was able to book the surgery, and it costs less than the average eye laser surgery treatment, which is fantastic. I’m really looking forward to crapping my pants the night before going under general anaesthetic, but my trusty best friend Olivia will be keeping a watchful eye on me as I lose the rag, and also as I emerge bleary-eyed from post-op. I can only imagine the fun she’s going to have at my expense. I can’t even have one of those YouTube video clips of me talking utter bollocks after surgery, because I won’t be able to speak AT ALL. I suppose if that’s the only disappointment and regret I’ll have about this whole thing, then things are pretty fucking good right now don’t you think?

I’ll leave you with my favourite mute cartoon character.

The Master of the Written Sign

The Master of the Written Sign

Ask J-Ro: It’s Okay To Not Feel Okay – Get Talking!

Hey Jen, I have been really down lately, I have battled depression for a couple of years, but lately I have been lying awake beside my amazing husband thinking he would be better without me. I can’t work up the courage to get help. Some days I feel normal and tell myself I’m fine. Others are bad….


First of all, thank you for contacting me. It must have been so difficult to write those words down. Suicidal thoughts can be louder than any other thoughts running around your brain, so to sit and put them down in concrete form takes a supreme amount of energy. Well done for reaching out!

Second of all, don’t despair. You will be okay. You’re still here, so you have options. If you think people would be better off without you, I can tell you now quite categorically that you’re wrong. Apart from your immediate family and loved ones who will be devastated and forever changed by such an event in ways you won’t be able to imagine, you have no idea how many other people you have influenced indirectly or connected with who will be affected by you deciding to end your life. So promise yourself that you’ll stick around, and in time you will be very glad you did.

It’s also vitally important to recognise that depression is an illness, and suicidal thoughts are a symptom of that illness, so thoughts are not coming from a place of logic. They’re coming from a brain that is battling with its chemistry & wiring levels, so when you get these feelings of despair and depression, don’t take them into your heart. Tell yourself it’s your brain chemistry, and it will pass. I’ve been there more times than I can count, so trust me on this one. It will pass. It may pop up again, but it will go again. The trick is to be self-aware. And that starts with talking to a professional.

Get the ball rolling with a visit to your GP, but also check out Aware (click here) for some fantastic support ideas. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Talk to your husband, and I can assure you, you will be glad you did, and so will he. You don’t have to do this alone. You would want to help him if the situation was reversed. What’s also fantastic is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it helps you to train your mind and learn how to cope when you do have bouts of depression. There’s more info on that if you click the link here.

Pieta House (available here) are fantastic as well. Reaching out and saying that you’re not feeling good and you’re having those thoughts is a big step to take, so you should be very proud of yourself. Don’t be afraid to keep taking those steps. You’re going to be okay. You ARE okay. You can always keep coming back here as well with any questions or support you need! Best of luck!


Me And My Shadow – Five Years On

I tend to do lots of thinking. Well, what else is there to do when you live in your head all the time? If you’re sitting in a pool all day you may as well swim a lap or two every now and again. Most of the thoughts are fine and banal. Some are friendly, some are out of my control, some have sent me shooting out of sleep like a cannon in absolute terror, taking me five solid minutes to remember where I am, and another five to believe my mind was telling me the truth. Thankfully the latter isn’t as common as it used to be. I wouldn’t wish that kind of thing on my worst enemy. If you can’t trust your own brain, then hope is a very faraway thing.

But anyway, I digress. It’s been a fucking rollercoaster of fresh hell and insane adventures in mental health the last twenty-five months, not to mind the last five years. To put it mildly, this last half-decade makes Girl, Interrupted look like High School Musical. I spoke about my own experience with depression before in Me And My Shadow (click here to read) almost five years ago (yikes), and I’ve felt for a while that it was worth a revisit, if only for myself.

The reason for posting it publicly is to show that there is never an easy wrapped-up Hollywood ending to these things. I’d like to tell you that I found inner peace, loved the shit out of myself and had amazing life-fulfilling relationships that made me glad to be alive, and came off all meds, and lived blissfully ever after, happy as a laughing baby on YouTube. I’d like to tell you that, but I’d be lying SO FUCKING HARD.

I got worse. A whole lot worse. In every way. I still did the everyday stuff like finishing college and all that, but my soul did everything under massive protest. Most nights I stayed in, relieved to be at home where I could collapse into my dark, sad, yet comfortingly familiar little corner of my world. The thoughts of having to get it together mentally & physically to go out into the night and deal with crowds and bright lights and shoving stupid people stepping on my toes and elbowing me in the head (being short in the club is a fucking curse) was just too much to cope with.

I spent most of my alone time listening to sad music and faffing about online. I could be the life and soul of the Facebook party from the comfort of a Onesie while wearing a hair turban with sections of my face smothered in Sudocrem. It’s a good front for those of us who are mentally terrorised by the outside world. It has its drawbacks too, in that if you’re good enough with words and you REALLY don’t want anyone to see how bad you are, nobody will be any wiser. Remember: your fingers don’t get sad; you can still type happy words while crying your eyes out.

So on went this life of mine, with the usual ups and downs while I more or less navigated my way through various crises and hurdles that are microscopic looking back, but at the time seemed like I was at the foot of Everest. That was all fine, and doable, and that too did pass..but then in 2013 my mom died, and my heart and brain broke one after the other, never to be fully healed again.

It’s a strange old thing, grief. I spent the first year without Mam simply on auto-pilot on the outside, working in schools, trying to get some sort of new life together and find a place to live in town and being ‘grand’, all the while holding on to the soothing effects of various meds for dear life for fear I would collapse into a pile of tiny shards of glass if I didn’t have them. There were times I couldn’t allow myself to even take a deep breath in the classroom, in case I would break into sobs because the pain in my chest was too much. But life marched on yet again, and I eventually found some semblance of stability, which is precisely the point at which my brain joined in the fun of completely fucking me over for another twelve months.

I won’t dwell on the many adventures that me and my mind went on together, lest this piece become some sort of self-indulgent Depression Porn, which is not the purpose of this piece (you can wait for The Book for that!). Suffice it to say that when your own brain is your enemy, the world is a very frightening, lonely place. I repeated a lot of bad habits I thought I had left behind years ago. I was back self-harming, both physically and in being careless and not looking after myself, and various other bits and bobs that didn’t help. All this led to an intervention of sorts by some very caring friends who I hadn’t managed to fool, and they scooped me up and got me first into A&E, then into a day psychiatric unit. The rest is a better, albeit staggered, slightly more stable mental history.

I’ve left volumes out, because I will be writing about it in more detail in another long-term project; but also because the nitty-gritty isn’t pertinent to the piece. I guess by looking back at the original piece from 2010 compared to now, I’m showing the world that things aren’t always linear. Particularly when it comes to mental health issues. There’s no such thing as an “I lived happily ever after!” finely tuned ending when it comes to the battle for your sanity. But you know what? That’s totally okay. It is what it is. That ‘One Day At A Time’ stuff works for depression and anxiety as well as addictions. They’re all pits that can pull you back in with the slightest little knock-back. I went eight years without cutting myself, then fell off the wagon during a particularly dangerous black time last year. Afterwards, I was so angry at having broken the promise I made all those years ago, but all I could do was reset the numbers and start again. One day at a time? One minute at a time if you have to. Fuck it, whatever it takes to keep you on this earth a bit longer to give yourself a chance.

It’s when things stop going okay after you think you’ve gotten it all under control that can cause a lot of despair in people. They feel like they’ve failed. But look, shit happens. Whether maintaining good mental health, or recovering from mental health issues, these things are a constantly evolving (and devolving) process. People love loose ends to be tied up all clearly explained and resolved in 30 minutes with commercial breaks, but that’s just fiction. The only thing that marches on consistently, not giving a fuck about where you’re at in life, is time. So let that do the straight-line thing, cos nothing else in life or the state of your mental health is going to behave that way.

So take comfort. If you’re falling down just when you think you’re doing okay, you’re actually still doing okay. It’s just a bump. I swear on all the Gods that people believe in, and on all the laws of nature. You know how I know? Because I’m still here, and so are you, reading this and getting a headache, for which I apologise. Time has passed since you felt a hell of a lot worse, so you’ve got an advantage straight away. That’s how I judge my progress with this Shadow of mine. If I compared how I am now to how I was when I wrote the original post, there’s actually very little progress made. But fill in the space between with all that happened in my life (none of which is unique to me, we all grieve), then I realise how lucky I am that I’m still above ground. So onwards I march. I really hope you do too. But don’t do it alone. I had a treasure-trove of people around me, and that’s the only reason I’m able to sit and type this in any coherent form. Pretend you’re a friend asking you for help – would you be annoyed and tell them to feck off? Speaking from experience, it is incredibly profound and liberating to actually say the words “I’m not okay.” The dynamic that they set off can be, quite literally, life-saving. Get it done.

Oh, and one more thing: FUCK HOLLYWOOD HAPPY ENDINGS.