J-Ro Goes Solo….in Edinburgh! (Part 2)

Seriously, like. People see this view on the way to WORK.

Seriously, like. People see this view on the way to WORK.

After all the craic of Saturday, where I went to the Edinburgh Dungeon and made a new pal, I was all set to rock out the door on Sunday to hop on an open-top bus and go Full Tourist around the city. I was pure excited, having visions of dressing up like a victim in an anti-mugging campaign; neon fanny-pack, Edinburgh Castle novelty baseball cap, my passport in a stupid-looking yoke around my neck, and my phone in a clip belt. Alas, this unnerving vision of sexuality was never to come to fruition – for two reasons.

The first being that when it comes to weather, the ‘Burgh can be a temperamental finicky bastard, so grey skies and wetness in the air were all around. The second reason being that I was completely wrecked. I seem to have a very short shelf-life for the outside world, and it gets shorter depending on how I am in myself. When I’m out, I enjoy every minute, and do my best to soak up the experience of whatever has lured me from the comfort of a couch-fort and a computer screen. But after a while I reach a very definite point where my brain turns on a dime, and the urge to run screaming back indoors is almost a physical one.

It’s a strange sensation to explain to those who don’t suffer with mental health issues. Christ, it’s difficult to explain to myself at the best of times. It’s not a panic attack as such; rather it can feel like the energy level bars on a video game screen depleting into the red and you’ve limited time to get back to base to recharge, or it’s Game Over. It comes out of nowhere, but it makes its presence known. It has no real logic, but your physical brain tries to attach it to something tangible to try and make sense of it. Which, cruelly enough, adds to the weight on your shoulders. I’m aware enough now (thank the Gods) to read the signs and know when to tap out of a situation and retreat to base camp where possible. Jaysus, I’m very high maintenance. It’s all a bit of a cunt really. But, I digress.

I also ate food while I was away. Sometimes as much as three times a day.

I also ate food while I was away. Sometimes as much as three times a day.

So after being sensible and staying in on Sunday and, as my sister says, ‘having a serious chat’ with myself, I woke up on Monday seriously excited to be getting tattooed for the day. There’s nothing more handy at keeping you in the present and worry-free than sitting for almost seven hours while someone etches ink of many assorted colours deep into your skin with needles. It’s not for everybody, I’ll give you that, but God I fucking love it.

Click this pic to go to Semper's FB page!

Click this pic to go to Semper’s FB page!

I was greeted at the door of a gorgeous Georgian building just off Princes St by one of the coolest guys I’ve ever seen. David Corden, one of the most talented tattoo artists on the planet, is working out of his home studio while he gets ready to open his shop, Semper Tattoos & Piercing, in the next couple of months. Big smile, all style, he grabbed me in a massive bear hug and introduced me to Michelle Maddison, the unbelievably talented woman who was going to be using me as a human colouring book for the day. She normally didn’t work Mondays, she told me later as she worked away using pretty much every gorgeous colour on the spectrum on my upper arm, but my subject matter was what sold it. “It was Jem And The Holograms, how could I not?” she laughed.

Chopper and Bronson. Best. Dog. Names. Ever.

Chopper and Bronson. Best. Dog. Names. Ever.

We were kept company outside the sterile studio area by Dave and Kelly’s French Bulldogs Chopper and Bronson. A pair of four-legged, big-eared happy-out goofy legends who loved hanging with humans who gave them loves and attention. I loved them! We had Netflix on in the background while Michelle worked, and she gave me Dealer’s Choice, so just for something to focus on when the pain got a bit iffy, I stuck on some Alan Partridge. Not my smartest move. Can’t be laughing while someone is doing some precision-level permanent needlework on your skin. Thankfully, Michelle is steadier than a neurosurgeon, and I’d seen all the episodes before, so it was less of a guffaw and more of a knowing chuckle to myself.

Michelle and I were BUZZIN', so we were. #SorryNotSorry

Michelle and I were BUZZIN’, so we were. #SorryNotSorry

In the end, I broke my own personal sitting record for getting tattooed. Previously having sat for three and a half hours at a time for larger pieces, this one clocked in at a whopping six and a half hours. I was very glad of the Mars Bar I’d scoffed just before we began. I was quite proud of myself, but I think I’ve found my limit now. By hour six I was sweating and drawing inspiration from Tyler Durden in Fight Club and trying to find my cave and my power animal, who was hopefully a cheeky foreign-sounding meerkat armed with a cold water spritzer to douse my arm and bring sweet relief.

By the end of the session, I was rewarded with the most colourful, awesome eye-catching tattoo on the planet. It’s a tribute to my childhood in the Eighties, and my adoration for Jem And The Holograms, which, to me, was the ultimate feminist cartoon for young girls. Who needs Girl Power when you had Synergie and could fool your fella into two-timing you just by wearing extensions and giving him a different name? (Poor Rio. Mensa was never going to have his number on speed-dial, that’s for sure.) Michelle is one of the coolest, most lovely people I’ve ever met, and her eye for colour is almost painful, it’s so beautiful. She has a blog of her own talking about her tattoos and showing her work, as well as detailing her experience of upping sticks and moving to Edinburgh to start a new life for herself, with all the perils and pleasantness and pitfalls in between. Click on my Jem tattoo pic below to head over to her fantastic blog.

Pic courtesy of Michelle Maddison Instagram - click to visit her personal blog!

Pic courtesy of Michelle Maddison Instagram – click on Jem to visit her personal blog!

In a side-development, I discovered that both Dave and Michelle were both massive fans of the artwork of my first cousin and veritable Instagram royalty Morgan, whose Instagram profile (@c0dex) is a showcase of some of the most gorgeous animation-style artwork you’re ever likely to see. Fucking hell, this Interweb is small. But mighty. Check out one of her awesome drawing pieces below:

That night I headed back to the apartment, with an arm twice its normal size but a hundred times more colourful. I’ve always hated my upper arms, they’re the features guaranteed to ruin my enjoyment of any pictures where they inadvertently show up. Why would I draw attention to them so, I hear you ask? Well precisely because I hate them. Why not paint them with something that brought me so much joy as a child and turn that hatred on its head? It’s a lovely experience to look into the mirror and instead of feeling despair at my shape, feel happiness and remember the excitement of getting up at 7am on a Saturday morning as a kid to watch a girl band kick ass and make me feel like I could do it too. It’s not for everyone, this business of getting inked, but it’s what does it for me.

I find myself going into an almost meditative state, getting in ‘The Zone’ while you and the artist reach a certain level of peace and quiet as the picture starts to take shape…which Michelle and I then smashed to smithereens by reading the holes off various exes who had done us wrong and comparing horror stories. It was fantastic.

Click on this pic to go to my Instagram!

Click on this pic to go to my Instagram!

And with that, my last night in Edinburgh was upon me. Without knowing it, my friends Bryan and Mags had given me the gift of a proper break away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and I’d been able to assess some stuff and sow the seeds of ideas and plans for the future on a professional and personal level. To me, that was priceless, That, and I had the company of Arthur, the cuddliest and most affectionate cat in the United Kingdom. I’m very grateful to know the people (and animals!) that I do. They’re the cat’s pyjamas, so they are. (I’m not sorry for that)

I miss Arthur, my little furry holiday therapist.

I miss Arthur, my little furry holiday therapist.

All excited and gooey from tattoo juice, I wrapped my arm in cling-film (unpleasant and a complete head-wreck for the night) and threw myself head-first into a fitful sleep. For I had one more Edinburgh adventure ahead of me the following morning….

Tune in next time for another instalment of J-Ro adventures!

<3

A First-Timer Awaits Darkness Into Light…

Right lads. Four hours to go – no point in trying to sleep at this stage! I’m home and stocking up on bagels and tea for later on, got my raincoat & runners ready…it would only be a cause like Darkness Into Light that would have me up walking any kind of distance at 4am of a Saturday morning.

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I’m dedicating my walk to my wonderful gentleman of a cousin Keith Smith, who was one of the most genuine, gentle souls to walk the earth, and who, like many others, died by suicide this year. Something in our mental health care system is letting down the most vulnerable of people, and until that changes, I guess all us ordinary non-government folk can do is stand up in a show of force to those who are struggling with the darkness, and in a mass symbolic gesture, tell them we understand, we know the pain. Some of us (me included) are doing the walk simply because we are here to do it, and I’ll be honest, 18 months ago I didn’t think I would be. But that’s a whole other story…

So we walk for you, those people who can’t, those who are not around any more even though they should be, who wish they could, who can’t see the wood for the trees, those who could maybe be just one more human interaction away from deciding to stick around…we walk for all of you.

Mind Yourselves. Best of Luck to everyone walking around the country today.

Jen.

Ask J-Ro: Anti-depressants & Side Effects – What’s Normal?

Have you ever used anti-depressants? Any weird side affects? I’m currently on Venlalaxine and they cause me to sweat a lot and have dry mouth, just wondering if this is common for other people on ant-depressants to have recurring and annoying side affects.

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In my own experience: I’ve used anti-depressants on and off over the years (under doctor supervision), and been on a wide selection in the years that I’ve been treated. I’ve heard of one called Venlafaxine, so I think maybe that’s the one you’re referring to, because no search results are coming up for the one you mentioned. I’ve found Venlafaxine very helpful in the treatment of anxiety-based antidepressants, and is more commonly known through the brand names Ireven or Effexor.

There CAN be side effects to taking any anti-depressants, mostly in the first few months of getting used to the drug – the important thing is to take the time to read through the leaflets you get in the box, and that will make you feel a bit better about any strangeness while you’re on them. Sweating can be a side effect all right as far as I know, but if it’s giving you cause for concern, ask your GP for a detailed chat about any changes that occur after you start taking them. Unfortunately, it can be a trial-and-error process when you start getting treatment for depression, and some pills will be more effective than others. It depends on your diagnosis and the nature of your illness.

The important thing is to not give up or stop taking your prescription unless on the advice of your doctor. If you suddenly stop taking Venlafaxine then you’re REALLY going to experience some crappy side-effects, and you don’t want that. So keep taking them as prescribed until your next doctor’s appointment, and then have a chat with them about the side effects you’re experiencing and get some reassurance. You’re most definitely not the only one who gets these side effects, but consult your doctor before you do anything anyway.

Bottom Line: Talk to your doctor before doing anything.

Well done on being proactive in your treatment plan! Always be in tune with your body & mind and don’t be afraid to speak out if you’re not happy with what is being prescribed to you. The more information you have, the better you and your doctor can work together to find the best treatment for you in the long run.

If you haven’t before, I would also recommend bringing in a talk therapy aspect or some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions to help with recognising signs of distress or anxiety and learning how to manage and deal with them in everyday life, and in conjunction with meds, you’ll be fighting fit and happier in yourself over time! Who doesn’t deserve a little peace and contentment in themselves?

Best of Luck!

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….

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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!

<3

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.