Happy Hallowe’en!

Yes, it’s that time of year again – every kid dresses up as either a zombie, a witch, or Batman and starts combing the streets for sweets. Their parents desperately try and get them to sleep afterwards. The shops begin filling with Christmas things. Fake cobwebs reign supreme and that spider on the table is (hopefully) plastic.


All kidding aside though, I love Hallowe’en, despite it’s commercialisation. I love this time of year as well – everything turns a really nice, warm colour which is comforting despite the drop in temperature. I get to break out my scarf collection the sunlight turns everything buttery and lovely.

So some things about Hallowe’en you might not already know.

It’s not actually called Hallowe’en. The word Hallowe’en itself is a corruption of All Hallow’s Eve; which unsurprisingly occurs the day before All Hallows. This is a Christian holiday that takes place on November 1st and may also be known as All Saints Day. Traditionally the dead are honoured, graves are attended to and tidied, a special Mass is said.

All Hallow’s Eve itself was another of the Christian Church’s way of imposing their religion on the masses way back when in the Middle Ages. All Hallows replaced Samhain (pronounced So-wen), which is a pagan holiday about – guess what- honouring the dead. It’s a Greater Sabbat, and it’s the night when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. A good time for divination and for honouring the ancestors that came before us.


To bust a couple of myths that annoy me while I’m here;

  • Blacks cats were believed to be witch’s familiars (a demon in a benign form that aided the witch in her evil spells and midnight demonic rendezvous). Hence unlucky.
  • 13 is the perfect number for a witch’s coven – again, hence unlucky thirteen. For this reason I consider thirteen a lucky number. It’s amazing what a shift in perception can do.
  •  Sacrifices do not mean live sacrifices. Usually it’s flowers or food. We’re not complete psychopaths.

It’s simple, then, to see where the whole ghost/witch/skulls/general spooky theme comes from. No matter which belief system you ascribe to, this time of year is certainly the time of the dead, with rites of some form or another going on right across the world. Though why the spiders have to get involved I just don’t know. I hate spiders. Even the plastic ones.


It’s not even so much about celebrating death. It’s about celebrating the cycle of things. Our ancestors may leave us, but they also leave their lessons, and if we listen to them, I don’t believe they’re ever truly gone. And honestly, death is a very natural part of life. It has it’s place in the cycle just the same as the Beltane fertility rites in May or the return of light into the world at Imbolc (Candlemas in mid- February).

So, yeah, I love this time of year. It’s a quiet time of year. I outgrew trick-or-treating a while ago. While I was an undergraduate it was a Hallowe’en Corp night out in Sheffield wearing as much fake blood as was tasteful (or not…). These days it’s brownies or traybake, my Samhain rites and bed. And wine. Makes me sound like an old woman (which I’m not, how dare you), but there are other ways to enjoy Hallowe’en. Pumpkin carving, baking, stressing over assignments (this year anyway).

And hey, any excuse for sweets.


Be nice to black cats should one cross your path. They’re not unlucky, most of them are quite friendly. If you see one being hurt at this time of year, please do something about it!

Stay awesome, and Happy Hallowe’en!




Cat on Broomstick

Witch Hat




Mental Health Top Tips – What’s Top and What’s Not (Part 2)

Good evening interweb!

Hope we’re all hale and hearty, and we all had good days.

I had a busy day. Oh, the life and times of a Masters student – deadlines deadlines deadlines. Ah well. I signed up for it, I shouldn’t complain.

Anyhoo…yesterday I did a rundown of half a list of Top Tips for taking care of your mental health. This particular list was taken from this page of the Mental Health Foundation website. I see these things everywhere and wanted to poke my nose into how much actually works and how much is wishful thinking.We started with 1 to 5 yesterday, here are 6 to 10.


I’d like to put in a short apology to people who tried to follow some of my links the other day – it only occurred to me later that linking to scientific papers while on my university-access computer was fine, but not all of you would have that luxury so; if you can’t access all of them, apologies.

Anyway. Part 2. Part one to be found here .

6. Ask for help

This is the one that gets to me the most. Don’t get me wrong; asking for help is always a good idea. But I often wonder if people truly understand just how scared one gets when you have a mental condition and need to ask for help. It comes back down to stigma. No matter how much we might understand in today society of technology and science, there is the pervasive idea in the community that people with mental health problems are different or ‘broken’ in some way. Internalised and treatment stigma is among the leading causes of people not seeking help, and stigma itself fourth overall . In a more accessible format, the campaign ‘Time to Change’ pledges to tackle stigma and help mitigate it’s impact on people, and for more information on this campaign, follow the link  here.

As a society we are taught to be independent, particularly in the Western world. For myself, I was terrified of coming forward about the fact that I was suffering; I was scared of being judged by my family, my friends, my future employers; of being told there was nothing wrong with me and that there was nothing anyone could, or would, do to help me; that I wasn’t ‘doing mental health right’ because in relative terms I didn’t consider myself especially serious. In spite of NHS guidelines and targets, the waiting list for psychological therapies is frighteningly long, in both adolescent and adult mental health services – clearly, this is very dangerous, but bear in mind not everyone can afford private treatment.

I could go on all day about the damaging effects of mental health stigma and the under-funding of the public mental health system, but I’ll cut it short there or we’ll be here all night. In summery – asking for help is fine; feeling like you can ask for help is a bit more complicated. But sometimes, you have to be brave.


      7. Take a Break

Fun fact: according to the Mental Health Foundation, mental health issues account for over one-fifth days of work-related illness a year. Stress accounts for 40% of all work-related illnesses and is the second biggest cause of workplace illness after back pain (according to my lecturer, but it sorta makes sense). On the one hand, we need to work to live, unless you have a medical reason not to (“I’m a lazy bastard” is not one of those reasons). On the other, the fact of having a mental illness can make getting, and indeed keeping a job, that much harder. It’s the biggest Catch-22 I can think of – we all need to take a break, but actually can’t take a break because, as the old song goes, “money makes the world go around.”

In day-to-day life, however, it’s a much simpler proposition. There will come a point you are so stressed you can’t concentrate, that everything gets too much – that’s when you stop for a sec. Or an hour, or a day. You can’t stop permanantly – living with a mental health condition means exactly that – you have to live as well. I personally go for a walk (or on Youtube if it’s raining). Me-time is a good thing, especially when you’re an adult and you have much less of it.

Last thing; The list classes this as ‘take five minutes from your day-to-day activities or a lunch break at work.’ An aside here – 100% of the working population is entitled to a lunchbreak if they work over a certain number of hours per day anyway. It’s law.


      8. Do Something you Love

I could lump this under at least three other headings; Keep Active, Take a Break and Keep in Touch. Again, we return to endorphins and the pleasure system of the brain; I draw your attention back to the links I included in Part 1. It’s true; doing something you love makes us happy and I don’t need science to tell you this.

From personal experience, and the testimony of others, one of the hardest things about having poor mental health is lack of interest in doing the things you love. It’s another Catch-22, especially with depression as you no longer feel like you have the energy to do what you love. Not to mention the slightest screw-up while doing this activity you love, can feel like your best friend coming in with a baseball bat and just whacking you in the head with it. We have to try that much harder to get enjoyment out of life. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try in the first place, but for the people out there who say ‘Oh, you love doing that, why don’t you do it more if it makes you happy?’ – try and understand, some days it’s just not going to happen.


      9. Accept Who You Are

I’m grouping this under Ask for Help. Yep, self acceptance is a wonderful thing. As Tyrion Lannister put it, “Know your failings. Wear them like armour and they can never be used to hurt you.” I swear, every single song or book or magazine article these days is about ‘be who you are and say what you think,’ and all that jazz.

There’s a wealth of literature on self-actualisation; the same for self-esteem and self acceptance. It’s empowering, it’s awesome, as part of a therapy program, I believe it’s very useful as a tool for life. It’s not like flipping a switch, though, which the article seems to be implying; that’s delusional. It takes work. I’ve spent four years cultivating confidence in myself, and I’m still not totally there yet. My standards for myself are so ridiculously high, I doubt I ever will be. And some days that’s fine and some days that isn’t fine, but I can’t imagine dropping my own standards as I’d have nothing left to aim for.

And all I can really say here is; try telling yourself you have to accept who you are when every thought in your head is telling you (in a very rational tone of voice) that who you are is a useless oxygen thief. Self esteem comes with time, and with help.


      10. Care for Others

Again, one that could go under Keep in Touch.

This to me brings in some themes along the line of altruism, or the act of giving or acting on someone’s behalf without expectation of any reward. Whether you believe this truly exists or not is up to you, but some thoughts about “Altruism born of Suffering” and “Gift-Love” (if you say so mate) published online in Psychology Today Show there is some truth to this. There’s also an idea that one becomes happier spending on other people that spending on ones-self. So, as odd as it may initially sound, there is some merit to this.

Therapy is a two way street, as is friendship. I find talking to my friends very soothing and I like to think they feel the same way about me. This is one of those things which is quite idiosyncratic. In my experience, my friends which suffer from mental health problems are some of the sweetest, kindest people I know; but there does come a point you have to stop caring for others and start caring for yourself. Where that point is is up to you.


So there. We have some tips which are useful and work, and others that need a little more thought before you just jump straight in. The take-home message I want to drive home here is; It is never as simple as the posters make out. Mental illness is a deeply scary and deeply complex issue – much like the brain itself.

I will be back at some stage with more in the crazy world of mental stuff. I want to try and stick with the mental health theme; it’s good for my course, it’s good for my brain and the more dialogue we have on these issues, the better.

Remember to care for yourself and your nearest and dearest. We all gotta live on the planet.

Stay awesome!



Picture source – head

Picture source – heart and brain

Picture source – Yin and Yang

Mental Health Top Tips – What’s Top and What’s Not

NEWSFLASH: Today (10/10/2016) is World Mental Health Day. I’m ashamed to say that Facebook had to inform me and it almost completely blew past me.

You may have noticed the mental health is very close to my heart. Today, 1 in 4 people in the UK have been diagnosed with some kind of mental health problem.  I personally have never been shy or retiring about the fact that I am one of those people. I have been through CBT, I feel far more in control of my low moments; but from personal experience, the truly bad days never really go away.

This is not the case for everyone. I know people who have been in therapy for years and it has done nothing for them. I know people who believe there is no help for them and therefore refuse to seek help altogether. Around a year ago I wrote an article regarding the crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 and the stigma surrounding depression (to be found here), so I won’t return to those issues in as much detail here.

The other thing that cropped up on my Facebook was The World Mental Health Foundation (who sponsor World Mental Health Day) stating 10 Top Tips for looking after your mental health. These tips appear to be ubiquitous; most of them are listed in every single self help book, mental health leaflet, motivational poster and God knows what else that one can find in any relevant charity or GP office. However, this doesn’t mean they should be discounted.

frontbrain1 [Picture Source]

Because I can rattle for England and in the interests of keeping this post both readable and digestible, I’ll post five tonight and five tomorrow.So, let’s have a look at the first five:

  1. Talk about your feelings

The oldest one in the book, but nonetheless a goodie. Talking can be massively cathartic, and ‘guided talking’ (which is how I like to think of counselling) can lead you down mental pathways which are very illuminating.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ in mental health therapy – which is a good thing – but not everyone responds to them, not to mention that a significant proportion of people relapse following completion of treatment. Add this to the fact that most people don’t want to talk about their feelings. In spite of the advent of the internet,(where any idiot can post their opinion – case in point; me), we live in a very insular society.

Do not get me wrong: talking about your feelings is healthy, particularly in those feeling isolated and scared. It’s up to the individual, however, to decide whether, and indeed when, to talk and when to stay silent. You shouldn’t push someone into talking if they don’t want to; it helps nobody.


      2. Keep Active

This is one I am a big fan of. I know not everyone is into fitness, but I love going for a run or a cycle if I’m feeling down or stressed. There is a literal stack of evidence that exercise improves mental health; it releases endorphins (the brain’s internal pleasure hormone) which promote general wellbeing, not to mention the physical health benefits. I could sit here spouting them all day (but I won’t, because that’s not why I’m here).

It’s not an alternative to therapy, mark you. At the height of my depression I was cycling and riding almost every day and I still felt like hell – in fact, it shut my background noise up so that I had more time to focus on the crappy thoughts – which arguably made it a lot worse. However, walks can help on a down day (or night, but if you’re going to go out walking at night, please be careful). Runs as well, if you are that way inclined. But for serious mental health issues, therapies (both pharmaceutical and psychological) are recommended. Exercise is not a cure-all.


      3. Eat Well

I think this one is a little bit nebulous, to be honest. Laying aside the fact that people on special diets such as coeliacs or lactose-free are perfectly capable of living on these diets and being perfectly fancy-free, it’s a very under-researched area. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some merit – logically speaking, if eating the right diet is an aid to weight loss/gain, healthy skin, the improvement of general body functioning – why not improved brain function as well? An article written by Nutritionist Resource (here) links food consumption habits to conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. As with all mental health issues, however, it is never this simple; for example, there is evidence to suggest that most psychological disorders have some kind of genetic component. Don’t panic – these gene variations are small and not particular heritable, but their presence alone is enough to complicate matters when it comes to predicting and managing mental health issues.

I think that eating the right diet is important anyway, but when it comes to staving off or preventing mental disorders, I think that there is too much going on in the brain to ascribe a major significance to this approach – yet. As for the future…who knows?


      4. Drink Sensibly

The World Mental Health Foundation classes this particular tip under ‘Don’t drown your sorrows in alcohol.’ Not arguing with this at all. They’re right – alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant, no matter how crazy and alive it might make you feel when you’re out with your friends, dancing on the table with your shoes on your head or something equally odd (I maintain to this day, the video does not exist). Alcohol dependence is not a fantastic coping mechanism and adds a whole new dimension to treatment. Unfortunately, it does tend to co-occur with issues such as depression – keep a sharp eye.

I’d like to add a another dimension to this tip myself however – drink enough water. The average human needs up to 2.5 litres per day to maintain a good level of functionality (link and link). This is surprisingly hard to achieve (or maybe I’m just lazy), but it does make a difference – it aids digestion, brain function, cell function…it’s an all around good idea. Personally, I feel much better in the morning if I’ve drunk enough the day before, and like sh*t if I haven’t.


      5. Keep in Touch

I would really like to class this under ‘talk about your feelings,’ but I feel this pertains more to having a social life than to talking to a professional or having good ol’ rant to your best friend. It’s also about maintaining good relationships, and being able to recognise if someone is toxic for your mental health. I’ve had to back away from friends sometimes for a good long while because they’re simply not good for my state of mind at a given point in time. There is nothing wrong with this. If they care, they should understand. If they don’t, they’re not worth your time.

Humans are inherently social animals; no matter how much of a misanthrope you might make yourself out to be, as a species we don’t react well to being alone. There have been studies which have shown that social isolation (real and perceived) activates the same region of the brain that processes physical pain; the cortex begins producing a painkiller. Being left out literally hurts. It therefore makes sense that keeping in touch with friends should help with mental health issues. It’s often not easy, however; on a bad day, the idea of being in the same room as someone else can be the worst thing in the world. It’s made worse if you live alone or with people who you don’t know terribly well (like a house-share or a student flat), or if you have to go into work when the last thing you want to do is be social. Having the support network certainly helps, but that same support network should understand if you need some alone time as well.

Okay, that’s it for this half. I hope that’s been at least partly interesting an informative, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the rest.

Stay awesome!


Note; if anything discussed above has affected you, or you feel like you need to talk to someone, below are some links to sites which can take you further or give you more information. These will be specific to the UK (as I know most about this system) but there will be similar sites for people living in different countries and continents. Help is out there somewhere, promise. 



Brain and heart picture source

 Yin-Yang picture source




Meet Josh

Meet Josh.


In the end, it came down to a choice between my mental health and the love of my life.

Those who know me will know that 2011 was a Bad year all around for me. I fell in love for the first time…and then was unceremoniously thrown out of it. My parents finally admitted that they needed to separate, ending a 30-year marriage. Exam results the previous year which had been a lot worse than anticipated meant I was in danger of not passing my A-Levels; not to the standard required for uni anyway. My depression kicked itself into high gear, partly as a result of this but also partly because it had been stewing for two years; eventually that sort of thing boils over and sticks the pan to the stovetop. It’s not pretty.

In the end, had it not been for Josh, that attempt on my own life might have been successful.

A lot of people mistake Josh for my boyfriend when I first tell them about him. He isn’t – he’s my horse. Specifically, a bay hunter-type, 17.1hh mountain of pure attitude. I’ve had him since I was 15. After we lost one horse to early retirement and another to a jumping accident, I wasn’t sure I was ready; a month with Josh and I was positive I was!

In the end it was a simple leap of faith.



The thing about owning a horse is the routine; horses love it. We give them an ultimately unnatural life. We keep them in a stable or a field with a finite amount of grazing and no way of travelling on to another when the grass gets too low. We ask them to do things with themselves that would never occur to a horse living and running wild. We ask them to trust us totally and as a result they are fairly dependent on us. The horse is a magnificent creature of more brain than you might think. But giving them a routine helps them to relax in this life that we give them, which means we, as their owners and carers, must stick to this routine. Having this responsibility means that I couldn’t simply give up and curl up into a ball under my covers and stay there for ever, as I wanted to. It meant I couldn’t kill myself when I wanted to. When there was nothing left, there was Josh; my responsibility. My anchor to the real world.

In the end, Josh saved my life.


When I first went to university back in 2011, I wanted to take Josh with me. A quick check of my finances showed this to be impossible. Keeping a horse with a full time job is difficult enough, let alone at university with no car, no money and even less time.

I almost didn’t leave.

Sheffield is a long way from where I grew up. But where I grew up was now a toxic environment for me. And the only thing to do in a toxic environment is; get out. (I can see some people reading this and rolling their eyes, saying ‘it’s not that simple.’ No, it’s not, but that doesn’t mean you should stay regardless).

In the end, my mental health came first.


I missed Josh like someone had physically taken one of my ribs, shoved it into my heart and left it there. For years, I felt guilty about that choice. Questioning if it was the right one. Abandoning my responsibilities is not something I’m ever comfortable with. But I knew I could no longer live at home, not safely. By the point I moved away I was in therapy, but entering therapy does not mean automatically all your problems are solved. And really, there was no future for me in Essex. So I left him, and I hated myself for it. I was scared; so scared he’d forget me, or hate me for leaving, or suffer missing me.

Five years on, there is not one iota of me that regrets the decision.

In the end, it was the right choice.



Josh is still around; he’s happy. My Dad and his new partner (who is as horse-mad as I am, if not more so) do a marvellous job of taking care of him – and their three other horses. He’ll never be alone or unhappy. He has his ‘herd.’ He has a routine, a relaxing life in his old age. I see him every time I have the chance to go down. He’s never forgotten me; everyone from my father to the lady who runs the livery yard tells me when I’m around he acts like a completely different horse (yes, ego boost alert, hush). Simply because I have my own life now doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about him. Even my partner has met him, and had a ride.

(He confessed afterwards he was more nervous about meeting Josh than meeting my parents. Mad children that we are).

Some things change as we grow. I am not the person I was in 2011 when I first left home, and whoever is up there looking after me, I thank you every day for it. My connection to Josh, and a love of horses in general, however, is something that will always be a part of me.

In the end, I found myself, and never lost him in the process.


And in the words of Taylor Swift; “Somehow that was everything”