I’ve been offline for a long time now, dealing with a flair up of my depression, anxiety and migraines. All this illness and the knock-on effect it’s had on my life, both personal and at work, has given me the opportunity to review my aspirations and refocus on what I need.
I’ve decided to focus this blog on living with, and overcoming the barriers of, depression and anxiety, support for fellow migraineurs, and the power of self acceptance and positivity to achieve the life you want to live.
I’m keeping it as simple as three words:
Accept. Inspire. Grow.
Accept that some things can’t change. Accept yourself for who you are. So-called “flaws” and all, because every weakness can be reinterpreted as a strength; every setback an opportunity.
Inspire others. Challenge yourself, and seek inspiration from every possible source, even negative things.
Grow. Keep growing. Keep evolving. Keep pushing your personal boundaries and the limits of what you can do.
Those are my 2019 resolutions. Will you take this journey with me?
Hey peeps, and welcome to another Project Unicorn blog. I’ve been struggling for several weeks now with my anxiety and depression, and I’ve felt completely buried under this cloud of mind fog and confusion. I haven’t felt inspired and all I’ve wanted to do is curl up in a fluffy blanket and go hide in a cave somewhere (preferably with access to Skyrim and Game of Thrones).
But that’s not going to make me feel better, is it? Happiness isn’t a destination and it doesn’t just happen on its own. Happiness is working at it every single day. I always think of my mind like a garden. As you might have guessed by now, I’m a ridiculously metaphorical person. The world I see around me is full of stories and everything is something else. It can be amazing and makes for a very interesting way of telling a story, though it can sometimes leave people looking at me with that ‘what exactly was she talking about?’ expression.
So, yes, my mind is a garden. Right now I’m stepping outside into my garden for the first time in weeks and I’m looking around with a mixture of dismay and determination at all of the weeds and vines choking my flowers of happiness.
You see, my happiness is a bunch of tulips and some sunflowers, some pretty roses and lavender… and a bunch of other flowers that look and smell great even if I don’t know what they’re called. I’m a metaphorical gardener, not a real one! I see a real life bug outside and I squeal and run back into the safety of my house (whilst trying not to squish the darn thing on my way inside).
Anyway. In my mind-garden, my little chibi-cartoon self is pulling on her sparkly gardening gloves and rolling up her sleeves ready to tackle the choking weeds of self-doubt and the vines of sadness. It’s not that these weeds don’t have a place, it’s just that the vines belong in the greenhouse of grief (which thankfully doesn’t need to be opened very often) and the weeds are from the anxiety meadows over the fence. They keep coming back into my little garden even though I keep pruning them back.
Because, peeps, self-doubt keeps coming back. If you’re susceptible to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or self-doubt, any of these things, it takes constant work to keep your head above the water and keep those weeds out of your sunny little garden.
So, let’s begin. The first weed of self-doubt is a writing one. This is a large weed with a very deep root and lots of stalks. Each stalk is a question that Steve the Demon Monkey uses to poke me with, bruising my little unicorn butt and making me stumble and fall. Am I a good writer? Will I ever actually finish my novel? Will anyone really like it?
These doubts seed other doubts and before you know it, the sunflower of writing is overwhelmed with this dark grey mess of stinging barbs and pointy thorns and I can barely choke out a sentence to keep the flower from withering.
So, I take my sparkly gardening gloves and I start pulling back those thorns. It hurts and I’m very scared. I’m scared right now, writing this blog with the knowledge that it will go out onto the internet and be read by other people. What if you hate it? What if you don’t care at all?
But then I remember that I don’t write because I want to make money, I don’t write because I want to please other people or have them think well of me. I write for me.
And all of a sudden the weeds come away and my sunflower reaches up to the sky again. I think ‘yes, I can do this.’ And I look around at the possibility of everything I could achieve. I like my writing style, I like my characters. Someone else out there in this vast world will probably like them, too. And if not? That’s okay. Because, when I really get down to it, I’m writing my book for me. I’m writing this blog for me. I just happen to want to share it with other people in the hopes that it can make you laugh and maybe help a little bit, too.
Now. I brush my hands off and mud sprinkles over my rainbow wellies. This kind of gardening is so much better than real life gardening. In my real life right now it’s raining. In my mind garden it’s sunny, the sky is blue and there are fluffy white clouds drifting overhead. I can hear a robin singing and sparrows chirruping. If I imagine hard enough, there are also some cows mooing.
Ah, sweet English countryside.
I digress. I haven’t written in a while. The last few blogs I started I gave up on halfway through. This is fun!
Now for the money vine. That one is choking my tree of inspiration. It’s sort of like a pear tree only the fruit is all gold and glowy. The money vine, however, does not have leaves made of money but bills. It oozes a sticky sap called ‘gnawing worry’ that seeps into the trunk of my inspiration tree and stunts its growth. The little tree is all gnarled and bent over, wispy leaves withered and dry, no fruit hanging from its branches even though it should blossom all year round.
Money worry is often the blocker to creation and success. Whilst financial stability and a degree of material possession can be a good incentive – like saving up for that really cool Friesian horse that you really want because it just looks so absolutely gorgeous with its long floofy mane and tail and it would be so much fun to ride and you could enjoy the clip-clop of its big hooves as you rode it down the street… – too much thinking about money and possessions quickly turns into fear. Fear that you don’t have enough stuff, that you won’t be able to pay your bills, that you’ll never have enough money to live the life you want…
The money-worry vine is very closely related to the ivy of self-comparison. It’s a slow-growing mind plant that can, in the right place and with the proper pruning, be a useful form of motivation. Competitiveness comes from a well-maintained self-comparison ivy. When we want to do better than someone else because it is closely tied with a strong belief in ourselves and watered with words of confidence, it can be a useful plant and very strong. But left unchecked and choking the life out of the flowers self-esteem? That’s no use to anyone.
Whenever I worry about money, my train of thought inevitably slides along to negative comparison. I look at other people, colleagues at work, people on TV and even strangers in the street, and I wonder how it is that they’re so much better than me. They seem to have their life together, they know themselves and they’re just cool. My wife is cool. She always seems to self-controlled and calm, even though she says she’s actually very anxious.
A nettle catches me as I chop away at the ivy and vines. Ah, good old weight nettles. One of my biggest fears and my biggest source of self-comparison. I feel like I have to compensate for my weight, for being fat, because to be overweight is to be a failure.
To be me is a failure. Strip away the nettles, the vines, the ivy… all of it and there it is. The root of it all that just won’t come out no matter how deep I dig.
You’re not worth it.
That message got put inside a very long time ago and it’s the reason I have this struggle with the weeds in my garden.
I take a step back and brush off my hands again. My little wheelbarrow is full of weeds. I don’t need them. They don’t belong here. What am I going to do about this root? It seems bigger than before. It’s grown back.
Well, I’m not a unicorn for nothing. I have magic inside me. It comes from a place of love. It’s a diamond, strong and shiny, and it fills me warmth. When I feel like giving up, it’s what whispers at me to try again.
So I kneel beside the root and I feel sorry for it, because it came from a very unhappy plant in the mind garden of a very unhappy person.
And then I sprinkle unicorn dust on it. Because I AM worth it. I’m great, just the way I am. I’m amazing because I’m me and I’m alive and that’s amazing.
I know my unicorn dust won’t kill the root but it shrinks it and makes it retreat back under the fence, out of my mind garden again. The sun is shining for me again, burning away the fog of depression. I look around my garden, at the trees and flowers with space to grow again, and I’m happy.
I can do this. I can do anything.
WE can do anything.
Stay amazing, my fellow unicorns. I’m sure I’ll see you soon!!!
Hey peeps, and welcome to another Project Unicorn blog.
Today, I want to vent, and to address an issue of social equality (AKA feminism).
The term “young lady”. It really rankles me. My hackles go up every time someone says it to me.
The problem is, I work in a very sexist company. It’s old-fashioned, male-dominated and traditionally a ‘masculine’ career. Therefore, a lot of the senior and middle managers are middle-aged or older white men.
I didn’t realise this when I joined, otherwise I would have seriously considered running for the hills. I don’t know what it’s like out in the field, though I can’t imagine it’s much better, but at this office, and certainly in my department, the casual sexism is rife.
And it’s p*ssing me off.
My second line manager, for example. The head of our team. Refers to me and my female colleague as ‘young ladies’ on a regular basis. When asking how we are. When assigning us work. When asking for an update. When telling me off for raising a grievance about bullying against my line manager…
All the time.
I’m going to say something to him, from both a gender-queer and feminist point of view. I don’t identify as a lady, or a woman, so calling me this is insulting in that sense, and to call me young lady is, to me, patronising and condescending and therefore insulting a wider social sense. He doesn’t call people ‘young man’, he calls men by their names, and even if he did, why should he assume a typically ‘fatherly’ position in the conversation? Keep it professional, dude. You’re my boss, not my Dad or my Uncle. We’re not even Facebook friends outside of work. You know nothing about me. Don’t assume you can call me whatever stupid pet name you feel like.
Yeah. Vent. Warned ya.
Now, interestingly, when I Googled ‘young lady offensive’, there were several articles and conversations on the internet about it already. People have mixed opinions on the matter. Some say it’s endearing, or mildly annoying but that ‘you can’t change an older man, he’s set in his ways’. Some ‘feminist’ writers say that the angry response is actually because it’s our own self-doubt creeping in and therefore we should just be more confident.
I want to address these findings.
Not to everyone. (Not to me.)
Not in a professional workplace setting, especially when discussing a grievance or a project.
Not when you don’t 100% know the person you’re saying it to identifies as a young woman
Not when you’re not friends with the person you’re saying it to, and 100% know they’re comfortable with that sort of language
It’s annoying but you can’t change an older person
Bullsh*t. Everyone can learn and improve. Nobody HAS to be ignorant, or rude or offensive. A mistake followed by a sincere apology and then not doing it again is OK. Continually sticking with your old ways of doing things, despite it causing emotional or physical harm to other people? Then you’re an arsehole and I have no time for you.
This is also disrespectful to the older person. You’re assuming they can’t or don’t want to change. Maybe they just didn’t realise it was upsetting or insulting?
It’s actually our own self-doubt creeping back in. Just be more confident!
Bullsh*t. Even if I do struggle with self-doubt at times, I’m insulted because it’s insulting, not because I’m not feeling confident. Subtly putting the blame back on the woman is disgusting and not ‘feminist’. You moron.
I have a lot of feelings about this. I’m entitled to my feelings. Things need to change. They’re improving and that’s brilliant.
They can be even better.
So, to all those out there who might want to call me ‘young lady’…
My name is Laura. Please call me that.
Peeps works, too. Or folks. Or everyone.
There are so many neutral ways of being informal. That’s the other thing. A lot of people then come down with the patriarchal hammer (without even realising it’s the patriarchy hammer) and saying ‘it’s Polictical Correctness gone mad!’ and ‘we’ll never be allowed to make jokes again!’. No. Just be nice, and RESPECT each other.
Hey peeps, and welcome to another Project Unicorn blog.
Yeah. I want to run away. I’m feeling really stressed and overwhelmed by my life right. I’m having some problems at work because my boss is a bully, whether intentional or not, and it’s having some extremely negative effects on my life.
I want my blogs to be about happiness and positivity, but I feel like such a liar right now because I have such a strong voice in my head screaming at me that I’m the problem with my life and that everything and everyone would be better if I just wasn’t here.
I’m not about to hurt myself, don’t worry. It’s more that I want to be someone else. I don’t want to be me anymore. Being Me seems to be the problem.
I can’t seem to make any decisions right now. My brain is whirring at a thousand miles an hour and spinning around a thousand possibilities like a hamster in a wheel. Could I do this, could I do this, is this how it’ll fix it? Where’s the magic button? Where’s the off switch? How can I make it all go away?
I’m exhausted. I can’t stop yawning. All I want to do is sleep but when I do sleep I have horrible nightmares about being chased by walkers (as per The Walking Dead) or of drowning.
I’m having loads of migraines, or just one constant migraine that doesn’t shift. It feels like my left eye socket is made of sandpaper and my eye is grinding against it every time I blink or look around, and my jaw is wired shut. There’s a hot needle in my ear and the tide keeps going out in my head. That and the fact that I feel really sick, like I’ve just stepped off a rollercoaster and I’m seeing black spots everywhere, sort of like dozens of little spiders just crawling over everything or floating in the air…
I need a break. But I can’t have any more sickness because I’ll lose my job. I’m already on an attendance plan because of the migraines. I’ve been given a good tolerance and they’re allowing me to have up to 1 day off a week (on average) but if I’m off for more than that, I’ll fail the plan and then I won’t have a job to worry about, which is even more stressful because I have a mortgage and bills to pay.
So, yeah, I just want to run away. But I can’t. I just want to not be me because someone else must be better at dealing with this… right?
I used to be happy. I used to be confident. I’ve lost it all. Who was that person? Who was she? Who was I? How did I do that? It doesn’t feel real anymore. It doesn’t feel possible.
What can I smell? I smell… lemon cleaner, aircon air, my perfume… carpets…
What can I taste? I taste… Coca-Cola, chocolate, caramel…
What can I see? I see my work laptop computer, I see this word document, I see a smiley face sticker on my keyboard, I see the Marvin the Unicorn plush keyring that my amazing wife made me, I see a post-it saying ‘Just be Yourself’ and a little cartoon picture of my two wonderful dogs, Lilly and Doug.
What can I feel? I can feel my mouth stretching into a smile again, a really big wide smile that crinkles my eyes and fills me with hope. I can do this.
What can I hear? I hear uplifting music on YouTube through the blue earphones I’m listening with. I can hear my keys clacking, a really satisfying sound because it means I’m writing and writing is my life.
I’m going to be just fine. I’m okay. Just as I am. I’m back, I’m good… I’m breathing.
Hey peeps, and welcome to another Project Unicorn blog!
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Dandy Lion, the self-doubting weed.
Now, this is NOT my artwork, but this is very much how I imagine Dandy Lion, the self-doubting weed.
Basically, Claire and I (with the help of our amazing strong friend) cleared our back garden of all the massively overgrown weeds a few weeks ago, but in the nice weather I’ve noticed that they’re starting to grow back. So out I popped this morning to pull up some of the nettles and dandelions before they could take over and create a Backyard Jungle once again.
And it reminded me of my mental health.
Confidence and positive thinking don’t come naturally to me. My depression and anxiety are daily struggles. BUT if I can keep working on the weeds of self-doubt then, over time, Dandy Lion will become a positive-thinking flower, instead of a self-doubting weed.
So, how do I do this? With extreme effort and patience. And a lot of Google searching. I mean a LOT of Google searching.
There is tonnes of advice out there, and some of it might work for you, some of it won’t. Here’s something what works for me:
I pick a feature, just one, about myself that I like, and I compliment myself in the mirror EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Sometimes, I have to pretend that the reflection is a different person, and I ask myself, how would I speak to her? I’d never say a horrible, bullying thing to someone else, but my self-doubt weeds make me do that to myself.
Honestly, try it.
For me, I choose my big blue eyes. I think they’re really pretty.
Now, the self-doubting weed immediately pops up and, like a stinging nettle, jabs at me and says, “That’s so vain, who are you to like your own eyes? You can’t call yourself pretty; that’s arrogant and then no-one will love you.”
To which I reply, “It’s okay to like just one feature. I’m going to keep saying it for a while and see how things go.”
And the weed of self-doubt subsides into sulky silence and lets me get on with my day.
It still jabs at me (especially when I first started, it was so difficult to ignore the stings!), but perseverance is key and, sort of like non-harmful re-planting, the weed of self-doubt is slowly moved into a pretty terracotta pot and becomes a flower of confidence instead.
Because weeds are really just flowers in the wrong place.
There’s a time and a place for self-doubt – it can help us become better, stronger and kinder people – but too much self-doubt, like too many weeds, or self-doubt in the wrong place of your mind, like weeds in the wrong part of the garden, can make it really difficult to see all the beauty that your mind has to offer.
Could this work for you? Why not try it for 28 days and see? Apparently, that’s about how long it takes to change or create a new habit (or how long it takes to re-plant a weed into a pretty new pot).
Hey peeps, and welcome to another Project Unicorn blog!
Today, I want to share with you the story of how I proposed to my wife. It was such a typical example of our relationship and it formed part of my wedding speech.
It’s our 3 year wedding anniversary in July and I’m looking back through our wedding photos in preparation.
I proposed in 2009. Claire had moved in with me at my parents’ house cos she was still in uni but needed a break from home, and we were definitely back together (after the on-off-on-again 2006-2008 phase).
I knew I wanted to marry her, or at least get a civil partnership, which was our only option at the time, but proposing is really SCARY so I sort of wanted to test the waters first and get a sense of how receptive she was to the idea.
Subtle I am not.
So there we are, sat on the end of our bed, talking about rental flats versus waiting and saving to buy a house, and I say, super casually (of course):
“I guess, before we get a mortgage, we should probably get married…?”
And she just looked at me for a long minute and said, rather incredulously,
“Did you just propose?!”
Now, this was a scary position to be in because if I said no, she might be too upset for me to try again, meaning I’d blown my chance forever, but if I said yes then it was the crappiest proposal in the history of the world ever.
So… I hedged my bets and said…
It’s gets better…
“But not really… but if I was… what would you say? Cos I really want to surprise you by proposing on valentine’s day only… oh crap, well, surprise!”
Of course, after we laughed about me being a dummy and the worst person at keeping secrets, Claire said yes and burst into tears of joy.
And then I said,
“But I’ve not really proposed, because you propose with a ring, this is just the pre-proposal, so you have to wait till valentine’s day.”
2 weeks later and we’re walking into H Samuel the jewellers for engagement rings.
But I kept the box and on valentine’s day I put a Haribo gummy ring inside, got down on one knee and proposed properly.
Enter more tears and hugging.
… we still ended up getting a mortgage before we got married though…
Hey peeps, and welcome to another Project Unicorn blog! Isn’t the weather gorgeous at the moment?! It certainly is where I am in the UK. Glorious sunshine and heat. The birds are singing, the cats are soaking up the rays and the dogs are having a jolly good time running around in the grass.
Peeps… I think I’m… happy… Like, truly happy…
It’s really scary!
Haha! I love how I’m worrying about being happy! This is the thing I’ve been aiming for, a goal I’ve had in mind for a while… and now I’m worried again. I’m worried that it won’t last, that the come-down will be more than I bear…
But, at the same time… I don’t want to be worrying. The worry and the happiness come in waves, like gentle water lapping at a beach. Yeah, apparently I get all poetic and descriptive when I’m happy. Enjoy!
I think I’m so used to being anxious, so used to worrying that it’s become a habit. I’m so used to not feeling good enough and not being happy with my life, not feeling like a success or capable of achieving anything that I can’t recognise these feelings for what they are.
I didn’t have a single day off sick last week. Not one. For me, that’s amazing. I’ve not binged on food in 2 weeks. That’s also amazing. I’m so proud of myself.
Sure, I’ve had dips; I can look back over the last 2-3 weeks and see the odd difficult day. I’ve smoked a few cigarettes to keep from cutting but y’know what, I’m not smoking anymore, not for 4 days, and I feel brilliant.
The house is in order, I’m getting back on top of the laundry and the dishes… The dogs are so happy as well now that I’m happy.
So… how could I keep this going as much as possible?
Write more of my book (that gives me a huge sense of pride in my achievement and it’s a great use of my extra energy)
Exercise (I can improve my cardiovascular health and lose some weight, which will boost my self-esteem even more)
Get ahead of the housework (so that it’s easier on the not-so-good days)