26th July: The Recovery Shoebox Project

It’s been a while since I posted here. It’s not because I haven’t had anything to write about, if anything it’s the complete opposite.

Life has been absolutely topsy-turvy throughout the lockdown, and after throwing myself into as much as I could to keep myself distracted, focused on university and trying to maintain a positive mindset, I realised I was overdoing it and a crash and burnout was soon approaching.

Having recognised these signs, I made the decision to pause.

So, as posted on social media, I explained how I’ve been taking some time out of self-study:

When the lock-down began to lift, (and realising that it was 4 months ago that it was March), it was becoming clearer that the new university semester would soon be here, and was a bit of a shock to the system! It felt like the world had stood still during the lock-down, and suddenly we have found ourselves almost catching up with it.

Realising the reality, the need to pause really was necessary. I had become so focused on maintaining the academic status, I was forgetting the most important thing. Me.

I would like to believe I have been raw and honest within my posts in the public domain with my university experience thus far. (Of course, some things still remain under-wrap for the sake of boundaries and personal reflection, but I still share the difficulties which can arise when you struggle with hidden disabilities – including mental illness).

My first year was tough. I had psyched myself up to starting university. I was so excited to get started, (bearing in mind that I was still running my business, and hoped that university would enhance my skills and confidence), but even in the first week I was experiencing an abundance of emotion. I tried to hold it together, and my online persona remained “positive” and “hopeful”, because a part of me still was. I knew it was just my mental health adapting to change. I just didn’t realise I would end up completely relapsing.

It had been years since I’d been in the classroom, and the only groups of people I’d spent time with in more recent years was through therapy, or much smaller art and craft groups. I was confronted with one of my fears, and perhaps what would be a familiar anxiety for many – New people.

Meeting new people can be really tough. My anxiety sends me into overdrive of sharing too much information. Whilst some people may be fascinated by the stories I have to share, it can be overwhelming for many (perhaps wondering how I feel so “confident” talking about such issues…) when actually, it’s just as overwhelming for me. I can share so much leaving me open and vulnerable, and whilst I believe that sharing experience is part of breaking the stigma attached to such issues, it can often do more harm than good.

I feel challenged to be “liked” and “understood”. I feel I have never fit in anywhere and this has been a constant battle my entire life. I am certain that if you asked old friends from school, they would say I was challenging and ‘crazy’. I only have to look through an Art School residential I attended for one week, in my later years of secondary school (15 years ago!), for the students to all write in my scrapbook:

Image details:
A distorted photograph of me dressed up for my birthday at Halloween – with words “I’m not crazy” written across with a couple of the words “I’m” and “Crazy”, in red .
(Note: This was an Art Therapy piece from being in a therapeutic community, and I am ok with sharing it).
It has been edited with layers of photos with some of the messages students from an Art School (KIAD, now known as University of Creative Arts in 2005)

It’s like the illusory truth effect (1977). I’d heard and repeated it in my mind for so long that I “was crazy”, that perhaps I began to believe it. Others did too. I was impulsive, over-reactive (dramatic!), emotionally unstable and in a world of my own. There were times I felt safe there, but it was actually a really dangerous place to be.

Whilst everyone joked and laughed along with me, there was a darkness which would be exposed in later years. I had my secret battles, I would end up not being believed by many, and it took a long time for others to come to terms with who I was who I have always been.

The stigma of mental illness 15 + years ago is no different to how it is now. People are talking more openly about mental health, but there’s no change in the system. If anything, it’s getting worse, and sadly people still judge and torment. Words such as “crazy” and “mad” are used irresponsibly and needless to say, these words may be said jokingly with humour, but when you hear it over, and over and over again, it is possible to break a person. I’m not saying that I was ‘broken’ because of these words, I’m not broken. I have cracks, but I sure as hell try my best to fill them with gold!

Image – Found via Pinterest

So along with my fears of meeting new people, and the challenges I have faced with socialising, I had expectations – some good, some bad – No doubt, we all did.

It was all one heck of a ride.

My first year wasn’t easy, and I’m not expecting the next couple of years to be either – But I do want to manage them better. I thought I was doing my best by working tirelessly throughout the lock-down, when in fact it was causing me more harm than good. So, by acknowledging this, the only way I can focus on me, is if I learn to switch off from the world and that feeling of needing to know absolutely everything that there is to know about everything! After all, learning is a journey and it shouldn’t be rushed.

I found this quote a while back, which made me think about how I have been over the past year:

Image details:
Painting, Quote and Illustration in my sketchbook.

We will all have our stories, and many of us will have faced challenges. It’s how we deal with them that matter, and I hold my hands up to say that I didn’t really deal with mine, and it took a lot longer to find peace with my relapse and focus on what I’ve learnt from the experience.

We all have our battles – we all struggle and manage in very different ways.

I want to be able to grow. I want to flourish in an environment which doesn’t make me anxious every time I step into the room (such as being in a class full of people!). And the only way I can do this is by resting, and not worrying so much on needing to know everything. I don’t want people to see me as “weird” or “crazy”, I want them to see me as supportive, compassionate, determined, courageous, and inspirational. I want to have a lasting impression on people for the right reasons – Not just because I was the one who cried every time in class! I know that being able to show emotions can be a sign of strength, but as I have previously said – being emotionally unstable can be extremely challenging.

What matters most of all is keeping myself well. What matters is that we all keep ourselves well! In such a strange, chaotic and confusing present, we need to be gentle with how we progress into our future.

I was reminded of this when I had a very nicely timed delivery on Friday…

Back in November, I applied for a Recovery Shoe Box.

I had never heard of them until I read about them on a popular award-winning Mental Health blog, called Cara’s Corner, and it sounded exactly like the support I needed. Cara herself had not long received a box, following the battles with her anorexia, and was shortly starting day patient to get back on the recovery wagon.
She shared the story across her social media platforms, and it gave me an opportunity to reach out.

Relapsing and putting my body through hell, I was exhausted.
Again, I want to be careful here, so I’m just going to pause this thought…
There are some things I am not ready to disclose in this space.

When I received an email to confirm my address was still the same, I didn’t think too much of it. I was grateful to have heard back, and hadn’t even acknowledged the time that had passed. I had been fortunate to receive support from all areas, and although I was on waiting lists and denied support from some places (these are flaws in the system), I had somehow made it through the first academic year.

When the postman delivered the parcel, I held off opening it until I felt ready to.

A few hours passed, and that time had come. I sat on the living room floor, and I cut away the plastic packaging and as I opened the box, it was like Christmas morning, opening up a stocking!

I had absolutely no idea what to expect, other than it may be similar to the self-care box I’d made myself only a few months back (See blog post here). And I’m not going to lie – In some ways this was better! I may not have chosen the contents, but everything made me smile and made me feel grateful to be here. I played with each little fidget for some time and read through all the information, even checking my phone to see what apps had been recommended which I hadn’t had installed! With personalised items, including a couple of vegan treats, support leaflets for a range of mental health difficulties, and different activities which I just love!

Wow! A shoe-box full of helpful resources and distraction techniques.
💚 #megansgreenheartofhope
Send someone who cares about you a green heart emoji to tell them you’re having a bad day.
Envelope of distractions and positivity quotes.
Lots of suggestions to add to my list!

The Recovery Shoe-Box delivery was an absolute joy to receive. I couldn’t believe that this initiative was started up by a beautiful lady called Megan in 2017, and that it has been continuing in her memory since her passing in February 2019. As I said in my email to Megan’s proud Mum, I was so thankful and my heart was filled with so much warmth and kindness – “I honestly believe Megan is smiling down on you and I can really feel her energy in the making of this project.” Sending these boxes for free, and seeing how much effort, love and care has gone into the boxes to ensure the receiver has a ready-made safe comfort box for those difficult times, is just incredible!

Please, if you can pop by their socials (found on their website), and hit them up a ‘like’, follow the amazing journey this project has been on so far, reaching over well over 2020 boxes!

After this long and exhausting read, I want to encourage anyone reading this to reach out if you’re struggling. It’s ok to ask for support!

Speak to your friends, your family/guardian, teacher and also your GP.
There is also a mass of information which can be found at:
Mind, Rethink, Samaritans, Time to Change, Mental Health Foundation, B-Eat, Young Minds, Big White Wall (name changing soon), Anxiety UK and there are others – Including a list on The Recovery Shoebox Project.

I’m going to spend the next few weeks looking after me. Focusing on what I need to do, to keep myself safe and on track for my degree. It’s going to be an interesting time for us all in this “new normal”, and whilst it’s not the university experience we’d all hoped for, it is still an opportunity to make memories to last a lifetime.

Take a break too. Look after yourself.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others.

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