Tuesday, 18 April 2017

My Mental Health Journey

Hi guys,

I know it's been a while since I uploaded a blog post, and even longer since I was uploading them more frequently. I thought of so many things I wanted to post, life updates, such as my move back into academia as a Postgraduate student and a series of posts about studying for a Masters and postgrad university life, a post about a sport which has become my passion and favourite hobby, a post about moving to Scotland, and more.

But what is probably my biggest struggle, my worst demon, the thing in my life I'm constantly half fighting and half working with to make things better - my mental health. I've never talked about it on here, but I've wanted to for a long time. It's not like I have a million readers, so I don't know what has been holding me back for so long. But I'm finally going to do it.

As a child, I was always anxious. I worried, I was nervous, shy, and very sensitive. There are reasons for that, that I don't feel comfortable publishing online, but I have been vulnerable to mental illness for as long as I can remember. I was a deeply unhappy child. I never had a lot of friends, I was the kid who had one best friend, and the rest of the class shunned us, because we were the losers.

This feeling never seemed to go away. I wasn't a carefree child, in fact it was the opposite. We tried everything - changing classes, moving schools, it seemed to be the same story everywhere. I was unhappy, and I didn't fit in. Classmates were polite to me, but never seemed to want to be my friend. All I wanted was a lot of friends, but I was so scared and shy that I'd overanalyse every word I said, thinking I said something wrong or stupid.

As a teenager, I started to notice that I was tired all of the time, more than normal. I came home from school at 4 PM, fell asleep immediately, woke up at around 6 PM for dinner, and by 8 PM I'd be asleep for the night. Homework would barely get done, I'd make up excuses for the teachers and I had a good enough memory to get by in class tests without much revision. I had numerous doctors appointments, and they had me tested for a bunch of different things - anaemia, diabetes, and mononucleosis were among them. My blood tests always came back fine, there was never a problem. I don't know if anybody else will identify with this, because it seems self-destructive, but when we called the doctor's for the results, I was hoping for an illness. I wanted something, anything to explain why I was feeling this way, so I could start treatment. When my blood tests came through clear, time after time, I felt more and more defeated.

At sixteen, I did get assessed by a psychiatric team, but again, no long-term solution was offered. They're hesitant to diagnose teenagers with mental illnesses, and even more hesitant to prescribe medication. I was told I was sensitive, a perfectionist, and negative/pessimistic, but there still wasn't a solution. I needed answers. I knew puberty was supposed to be hard, which is what everyone kept telling me, but I knew it wasn't supposed to be this hard. I was lost, I was struggling, I felt so alone. Again, it started affecting my friendships - people don't like being around unhappy people, and I was unhappy. One of my lowest points was in my final year of high school, when people voted for people in categories, such as class clown or cutest couple. I got voted as most pessimistic, which showed me that my classmates saw everything I hated about myself. I don't like to see myself as a pessimist - I like to hope that things will go well - but I was anxious and unhappy, and that was the vibe I gave off to my classmates. When all I needed was support, I could tell people didn't want to be around me - I still don't really blame them though, at high school, when everyone is under 18 years old and is growing up and going through things themselves, nobody knows what to do. Nobody knows how to handle mental illness, especially not me.

At university, I was happier, but I went through phases - I'd have a breakdown every few months or so, go see student services, sometimes they'd tell me it was normal to feel stress as a student, though once they did advise me to seek help and told me to contact a young people's counselling service - I filled in the initial inquiry form, but by the time they got back to me, I was feeling better and never replied.

In my third and final year of university, things hit an all time low. It was partly the stress of being in my final year and partly being in an emotionally abusive relationship at the time that triggered it, and this time I knew it was anxiety. I experienced my first full blown panic attacks, and my chest would feel tight most of the time. I never went to see a GP while I was at university, though. It was only afterwards, at the end of September when I left/was encouraged to leave my first job (a story for another time, as this job pretty much forced me out due to my poor mental health) that I went to see a GP. They said they agreed that I had anxiety, wrote 'Generalised Anxiety Disorder' on my medical records, and prescribed me medication - Sertraline.

The waiting list for counselling was too long, and I really needed help, so I did an online CBT programme as well as seeing a private counsellor - I was very lucky to have my mum's financial support for that. That did help, short term. Especially the medication. It took me a while to get back on track - for weeks and weeks, just getting up and leaving the house was an achievement. If I managed to get showered and dressed, and run maybe one errand, such as going to the post office or my estate agent's, or signing on to JobSeekers and attending a meeting, it was a successful day. With the medication and counselling I bounced back quickly, and did ICS, a three month volunteering programme in Zimbabwe. That programme set off my anxiety again big time, due to the fact that I wasn't allowed out of the house alone - but the house was small, I was terrified of my host mother, and there wasn't even a garden or a quiet place I could have some privacy. It led to three months of feeling very trapped and isolated, but I'm glad I stuck it out and made it through. The summer after I got back, I was just delighted with the freedom being home gave me, that I didn't have in Zimbabwe. I had a summer job I loved and was good at, spent a lot of time with friends, and had the best summer ever.

Then, September 2016, I started my MLitt in St Andrews and moved from the South of England to Scotland. I was happy to be back in academia, my course was challenging, but I was coping. I slowly started to go off my medication. I started archery, which I could write a whole other post on, it's the best sport ever, and I love it. I made a lovely group of friends, the team from the archery club. I started dating a really sweet guy. I had a dip in confidence over the Christmas break because of one bad grade, but I picked up.

A few months ago, at the end of February, my wonderful Grandad passed away. It was really unexpected, he was only 77 and had no prior health problems, in fact he was the carer for my Granny who has Alzheimer's. I hadn't seen him in a while, too. I had all four grandparents previously, and I had never experienced grief before. And I experienced it intensely. I fell into this dark pit of grief after the funeral, that I'm still not fully out of. I didn't feel like myself. The person I was before the news felt like a stranger to me. I cried multiple times a day, I had zero energy, and coursework just wasn't happening. I'm now slowly starting to accept his passing. Slowly.

But I could tell that there was more going on than just grief. Everything was a struggle again - in fact, it still is. I went to sleep last night with lots of plans for the day, but this morning I couldn't get out of bed until 2 PM. This wasn't laziness, it was more like feeling incapable of moving. I just lay there, scrolling through social media, watching videos on YouTube and Netflix that I barely remember now, like a blur. It was like being stuck. Since the funeral, I've also had constant facial tension, headaches, and sometimes migraines.

Last Friday, I went to see a clinical psychologist for the first time for an initial assessment. It went very well, and I'm going to see her every week starting next week for therapy. She said she's taking my case and everything I said very seriously, but the good thing is she thinks that she can help. She gave me the diagnosis of 'moderate to severe recurrent depression, with anxiety' which was a surprise to me - I always thought anxiety was my main one - but now I think about it it does make a lot of sense. In some ways, I think I've had this my whole life.

I'm still in the process of coming to terms with my depression - I feel like there is a lot less awareness about depression. There has been a lot more awareness about anxiety recently, which is great, but depression is a tough one. I'm hoping to do a few more posts on this at some point in the future.

So, here I am. After feeling incapable of moving until 2 PM, I managed to force myself to shower, put some clothes on, and go into town. I went to Costa, had some food and a hot chocolate with my boyfriend, and I did some reading for my course before grabbing food from Tesco and heading back home. Tomorrow, I have an appointment to see a GP to talk about going back on Sertraline again. I'm not better, I'm not recovered, I can't type up an inspiring post about how I recovered from depression and anxiety.

But I'm still here. I'm trying. I'm doing my best. My journey is still in progress. And hopefully I can keep you all updated.




Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 Recap

Hi everyone! 

As it's New Year's Eve, and I have no plans except for sit in front of the TV until midnight before going to sleep. 2016 seems to be going round the internet as being the worst year ever, and while some parts were pretty bad - *cough* Brexit - it was definitely not all bad. 

2016 started with me gearing up for my three month trip to Zimbabwe on the ICS programme. I had travelled before, even travelled alone before, but never for that long. And as 2015 had been the worst year of my life so far, I was ready for some adventure. And it delivered. My time in Zimbabwe was tough, my anxiety was pretty bad the whole time I was there, but I'm so glad I went. I learnt so much about tolerance, flexibility, resilience and adapting to different situations. I came back feeling like I could do anything.

Also, Zimbabwe could be beautiful!

Before I left for Zimbabwe, I submitted two applications for masters degrees in English Literature. I had decided I was going back into academia. While in Zimbabwe, I heard back - I didn't get into Oxford, but only a week after that I found out I got in to St Andrews! Yes, the famous St Andrews that William and Kate went to, which anyone who actually goes there is pretty tired of hearing about. 

But before starting my masters and moving to Scotland, and after I recovered from the reverse culture shock of returning from Zimbabwe, I had the best summer ever. I worked for NCS, was in charge of a group of ten crazy but lovely teenagers, and managed to get concussion while falling/jumping off a cliff. And then with our wages, some of the people I worked with and I had a lovely holiday in Madrid. 

Here I am, in my academic gown. No, this isn't the gown we wear when we graduate - this one is a traditional one that is for events, or just daily wear. Yes, I feel like I study at Hogwarts. 

Then, St Andrews happened! I could write a whole new post on my life as a masters student. It's hectic, but I love it. Scotland is lovely, the town is lovely, I've now taken up Archery as a sport and I actually don't suck too much, I even compete occasionally, which I love. I am portraying this in a very positive light, considering I've spent the last week in a perpetual state of meltdown because I'm working on a tough essay, while waiting for the feedback for another tough essay, while worrying about my PhD applications. Because yes, I've decided that I'm going to apply for a PhD, starting in 2017! 

Another aspect of 2016 I thought I'd briefly mention is romance. I spent the end of 2015 recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship, which screwed me up pretty bad. I saw a therapist weekly to address my issues with relationships, which helped immensely, and in 2016 I was able to picture myself with other people. Now, I've actually started a new relationship, with someone who seems like a genuinely good person, and it's been going well so far! 

So there we have it. 2016. Like most years in my young adult life, a very eventful year. While some very bad things did happen, the ones that affected me most were Brexit and the bombings in Brussels, the city I grew up in. But so many good things happened in 2016 as well, and tonight, as we bring in 2017, I'd like to focus on those. 

Lots of love,



Sunday, 25 September 2016

Does Feminism need a rebrand?

One experience that has always stuck with me, is sitting in a first year undergraduate seminar room, ready for my first session on Feminist Theory. Before saying anything else, the lecturer asked everyone to raise their hand if they identified as a feminist. Out of a class of twenty people, one girl raised her hand, followed by a couple of very hesitant, half shrugging hands – hands so carefully raised that they easily could turn into a head scratch if they suddenly felt too embarrassed.

The girl who raised her hand first was asked to elaborate, and she started speaking with the statement: “Well, I don’t mean like man-hating or anything…”

When the lecturer then asked who believed that men and women should be equal, everyone, including the men (the limited number – it was an English Literature course after all, where, in my experience, men have always been a bit outnumbered!) raised their hand.

Both of these statements, ‘feminist’ and ‘believing men and women should be equal’ mean the same exact thing. The reason I still remember this seminar I attended four years ago today is because this, to me, screams gigantic problem. Despite the fact that it was the same thing, the entire room would confidently admit to believing in equality of the sexes, but almost none admitted to being a feminist.

If I had endless time, I would love to repeat this exercise with every single group of people I met. It would be fascinating to see how many people who may be very well-meaning in their opinions that men and women should be equal – I could even go as far to say as this seems obvious to most – but how many will admit to being a feminist straight off the bat?

I believe that the issue doesn’t stem from feminism itself; it is the stigma that surrounds it. There is the stereotype that all feminists hate men. Or the stereotype that all feminists are hairy lesbians, which is damaging on so many levels and believe me, I could go on about this for hours. These are only the more obvious, basic stereotypes. A quick Google search on ‘feminism definition’ brings up Urban Dictionary as the second result. Within only a few clicks, I can read definitions such as these:

“Feminism used to be about women getting the same rights as men, such as the right to vote and equal pay at work.
Now feminism is a movement full of women who seem to think that their ability to push a baby out of their vagina entitles them to bigger and better everything.”

“A relentless political advocacy group pushing for special privileges for women, which pretends to be a social movement advocating equal rights for the genders.”

“Feminism is the radical notion that men are not people.”

Of course, as nothing is known about the author of these statements, nothing further can be assumed. However, it is shocking that these statements (only a snapshot of the many, many similar statements) come up so easily with a quick Google search. There are many, many debates on the true definition of feminism, and which aspects are most relevant today, but I believe that equality is something that everyone should continue to strive for.

As much as I love the empowerment of women – hell, women should feel empowered! - I think that more awareness needs to be raised on what feminism truly stands for – equality between the sexes. The stigma that comes with being associated with the word ‘feminist’ needs to be stopped. If we are involuntarily excluding one of those sexes, surely something needs to be done about that?

Therefore, in order for the feminist social movement to carry on making progress, it does need a rebrand.


Saturday, 25 June 2016

I Am European

An instagram picture taken by me, a few months ago, when my mum and I had lunch in the Berlaymont building of the European Commission. 

AKA "The Lament of the Child of a 'Eurocrat?'."

AKA my own personal feelings about the EU Referendum, which is not intended to cause offence to anyone who may have voted differently to me, I respect your opinions, this is just how I feel, and how the Referendum has affected me personally.

Let us start with a little snippet of my life story - my mum works in HR at the European Commission in Brussels, and has done for over 30 years. I was born in Belgium, as was my little brother. My family are all fully British, and I have always been a British passport holder. Until I was fourteen, I was educated in the local Belgian primary and secondary schools in my town, which is how I became bilingual. For my last four years of secondary education, I attended a European School, where I was educated in multiple languages, and surrounded by other kids from all different countries and cultures.

This is the European School Ethos:

"Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe." - Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the EU

I used to be able to go grab some books from my locker, walk down the hallway and hear conversations in English, Dutch, French, Italian or Portuguese, all mixed in. Being 'foreign' wasn't a thing. Going from one class to the other, I genuinely had to ask myself 'which language is this next class in?'. That was my life, from ages fourteen to eighteen.

Yet despite having been to school in a very European environment, I still felt British. That was my passport country, and I had various relatives living in the UK. As I wanted to study English Literature, I went back to the UK for University. Despite it being my first time living in the UK, and I did come from abroad, I didn't join the International Society. Nobody really knew, unless they asked where I was from, that I hadn't grown up there. But I was shocked at how many people assumed I wasn't British, that I was Belgian, just because that's where I was born and grew up. It was such an odd concept to so many people that you can still be British and feel British and grow up elsewhere. I guess I can't blame them, as people with an upbringing and education like mine aren't exactly common.

I loved living in the UK. Despite speaking Dutch fluently, and French almost fluently, English has always been the language I was most comfortable expressing myself in. I made a lot of friends, gained so much confidence, and despite always being the 'foreign' one in my friendship group, I had a great time. My closest family still lived in Belgium, as do a fair few friends, and I visited there every holiday. Luckily, the European Commission has a policy set in place to allow the children of expats who choose to study in their home country, like I did, to receive a certain amount of money per month for accommodation and living costs - as long as they are in full time education and under 26. As I didn't qualify for the UK Maintenance Loan like most of my peers did, this money was a life saver.

I have shared all this stuff about me for a reason - I just wanted to show how the EU has played a major part in my life.

After graduating, I had every intention to stay in the UK. Why not, I loved it here. I lost Belgian citizenship to live here - I had to hand my permit of long term residence back in, I had officially left Belgium, and I was a full UK citizen.

When I first heard about the EU Referendum, I laughed, and my exact thoughts were 'what a ridiculous idea, that'll never happen!'. And then the day got closer, and it became much more of a possibility that it might happen. And then it did.

As someone who grew up European, who has grown up knowing that all of these people who are from different countries, who speak different languages and often speak broken English in a funny accent - these people are the same as us. There is no difference. I grew up without any fear of new cultures, or different people. At school, if I met someone who didn't speak any of the same languages I did, I would laugh and enjoy the hilarious attempts to communicate in broken sentences of whatever language that other person might speak. It has only been since coming to the UK that I've heard the word 'immigration' thrown about in a negative context. Call me idealistic or naive, but I don't see anything wrong with immigration. There's so much to learn and experience from different cultures, any cultures, that having more diversity and multiculturalism seems like a good thing.

It was a sad day for me, to wake up on the 24th of July 2016 to see that awful word - 'out.'

It seems very personal. Suddenly, my mum's future in her job is uncertain. She's looking into requesting Belgian nationality, and so is my brother. I, unfortunately, left. So if I want to become Belgian, I'd have to move back and work there for 5 years.

As well as my mum's job and my family's financial security being on the line, so is my future education. I plan to do a PhD after my MLitt, but without the funding I get from the European Commission, I won't be able to do it anymore. Suddenly in one day, everything I was certain about, became uncertain.

I have never felt less British. I don't want to have to get a visa to visit the country I grew up in. I don't want my mum and brother to have to get a visa to come and visit me. I am European, not British, and I feel like that has been taken away from me. Luckily, I'm doing my masters in Scotland, so I'll be surrounded by people that feel the same way, mostly people who want to be European, to be in the EU. Having been to the school that I did, with the ethos it had, I've been able to experience and appreciate how amazing it is to live and work in an entirely multicultural, multilingual and European atmosphere. I wish every British citizen had been able to experience and appreciate that.

This wasn't what I wanted. This wasn't my vote. And it feels like 52% of the country don't want people like me here - people who know the EU very well, have connections to the EU and have lived abroad for most of their life, but are still British, feel British and choose to live in the UK. I thought I could be both - British, and still European. But now I'm leaning more towards European.

I know this post is really long, and I will be mightily impressed if anyone read it all, but I feel like we've lived through a historical day, that will be remembered and talked about for decades to come. If any of our great-great-grandchildren study History or Politics at university, they could end up writing their dissertation on this. I wanted to document how I felt.

Again, these are my personal thoughts. I mean no offence to anyone who may have voted out, and is happy with the result. I just wish it had gone another way.

Lots of Love,



Friday, 27 May 2016

Loving Yourself #1 | Celebrating Your Own Achievements

The photo is me, in a beautiful place called Domboshava in Zimbabwe, where I was enjoying the view, and clearly loving life a lot!

I've been wanting to write posts of this nature for a long time now, so I thought I'd start a little series called 'loving yourself.' The name comes from a little joke a friend and I have, where we refer to simply having self-confidence as 'loving yourself' and it became a thing.

I think that this is such an important thing to talk about, mainly because - you are you. You were born looking like you do, you have a unique personality, quirks and interests. Wherever you go, whoever you're with, whatever you do, the only person you are with 100% of the time is yourself. So why not appreciate the good things about yourself, enjoy the good aspects of your personality, the little things you like about yourself? Why not love the body you have, dress it how you want, put makeup on the face you have, make yourself look exactly how you like it, no matter what you look like? Why not love yourself?

For this post, I want to focus on achievements. I feel like such an emphasis is placed on being humble, and there are so many negative words around such as 'bragging', 'self-centred', 'arrogant' etc. that people might not always give themselves the credit they deserve.

Celebrate the big achievements, for example

  • getting the exam results you needed or wanted
  • going travelling without parents
  • going to university
  • graduating university
  • getting your first job
  • getting a promotion or a better job

I often make blog posts about mine, such as graduating from university, or doing charity work abroad. But there are other things I've achieved that I will proudly declare now - the first one being getting into St. Andrews University in Scotland to do a master's course next year! I never expected I'd get in, and the university is number 3 in the newest league tables, right behind Oxford and Cambridge, which gives me a little excited flutter in my stomach every time I think about it. I also got into a very competitive teaching graduate scheme, which despite having to withdraw from after the first month, I still smashed that original interview and beat out a lot of other applicants for a place. If anything like this has happened for you, celebrate it! Be proud of it! Talk about it, shout about it! 

Another really important thing that often gets overlooked, are the little achievements in life. Those tiny things you find difficult. Those things that seem effortless for so many people, but it's a big deal to you. This could be anything, like

  • booking a doctors/dentist appointment
  • finally catching up on bills and paperwork
  • starting an assignment and it isn't the day before the deadline
  • tidying your bedroom
  • cleaning the house
  • taking the rubbish out

I'll give you an example from my personal life. I have an anxiety disorder (I've not really spoken about this on here, but I might do a post about it in the future) and celebrating little achievements really helps me a lot. So a few weeks ago, I needed to hand a spare set of keys into my estate agents, because they didn't have one. I had the keys in an envelope ready to go, but for some reason I was having an anxiety related block. I froze up every time my mum asked if I'd done it yet. 

I'm not sure why I found it so scary - I think it might have something to do with the layout of the estate agents office, the person in charge of lettings is at the very back and when you walk in, all the people at their desks are facing you and looking at you, and the closest one will ask if they can help, but you're still standing in front of everyone. A few days ago, I braved it, and just did it. This might seem like such an easy thing to anyone else, but to me, this was an achievement. I'm proud of that, and I'm not going to put it down or brush it to the side just because 'anyone else' would have done it without any problems. I then rewarded myself with a new lipstick from Superdrug, which was next door

I guess the message I'm trying to get across here, is that achievements can be different things for different people, and I strongly believe in being proud of yourself. Maybe every day, write down what you achieved, because there will always be something - even if it is just getting out of bed and getting dressed. 

In the comments below, write down one thing you've achieved recently!

Lots of love,


Saturday, 14 May 2016

Beauty Wish List #2 | High End

As I am currently experiencing quite the lack of disposable cash, I am trying to give my lust for new, pretty and expensive beauty items an outlet by creating a wishlist instead. So here you have it - my high end beauty wishlist! I so wish this was a haul post instead

1. Too Faced Chocolate Bar Palette

Yes, the simple, original chocolate bar. I feel like every single blogger already has this, and the current hype is all about the new ones, such as the bon bons one or the peachy one, but none of them appeal to me as much as this one does. Mark my words - one day, chocolate bar, you will be mine!

2. Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua Foundation

My humble collection of high end makeup has been expanding, but I'm still yet to try a high end foundation. I've heard so many good things about this, and as my skin is not as angry with me as it used to be, touch wood, a lighter base like this is right up my street.

3. Guerlain Terracotta Bronzer

I'm quite new to the world of bronzers, but it hasn't escaped my notice that these ones are supposed to be one of the best. Plus, their shade range is great, so I'd even be able to find one for my pale skin!

4. MAC lipstick in Velvet Teddy

Everyone loves MAC lipsticks. So do I. And this is one of the most popular shades. Nevertheless, I've been really into nudes lately, and I have heard that Velvet Teddy is flattering on all skintones, and I really really want to jump on the bandwagon and try it. actually, I feel like most of my choices are very much 'jump on the bandwagon' choices, but I don't care

5. Zoeva Rose Golden Brush Set

The one in the picture is volume 2, but to be honest I would be over the moon with either of the rose gold brush sets. I've never tried anything from Zoeva, and these brushes are just the most gorgeous brushes I have ever set my eyes upon. Not that I've actually set my eyes upon them, because I don't have them. Ah well.

6. Too Faced 'Better Than Sex' Mascara

This is such a popular mascara, it must be good. Too Faced is an amazing brand, the packaging is pink so of course I love it, plus the name makes quite a bold claim. I have about a million mascaras on the go so I really don't need another, but is it really better than sex? I'd have to try it to find out...

Anyway, this rounds up my little high end wishlist - I feel like instead of wishlist, this blogpost should be entitled 'wishful thinking' instead.

Have you tried out any of these products? Which products are on your current wishlist?

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