#atozchallenge: H is for Home

ParasolThe good times … and the bad …

Home is where I lay my head.

I’ve had homes in a lot of places. For the first nine years of my life, home was a semi-detached house in a small village in Kent. I have a few very vague memories of playing with my best friend and going to school there. After Kent, we moved to High Wycombe which is the place I call home-home. It’s where I did most of my growing up and where my mum and sister still live. I go home-home as often as I can. After High Wycombe, came Bath. I studied at the University there and did a four-year tour of student accommodation. I got married there and lived in a fourth-floor flat in the city centre for a couple of years – just up the road from the Haagen Daz cafe! I also had my babies there, and we bought our first house there: a teeny-tiny terraced place on a hill overlooking the city. During my studies, I travelled a bit too; I spent six months in Israel and then six months in Salisbury – not quite as exotic! Now, I live in a semi-rural village in Hampshire, just around the corner from my in-laws and just over an hour away from my mum. We are now in our second home in this village … We moved in to our current home in October last year.

I’ve always been a homebody. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not unadventurous, but home is where I usually feel most comfortable. Home is where I go to recharge my batteries after I’ve been adventurous. Home is a sanctuary. Home is a haven.

Or it should be …

Depression, unfortunately, is no respecter of home. During my teenage years at home-home, both my mum and dad battled with it. Our teeny-tiny terrace house in Bath was where I first suffered from it, and our home before this one was where I thought I’d recovered from it but found that I still had a long, long way to go. On my journey back to wellness, home has been a place of rest and recovery, but it has also, at times, felt like a prison from which I desperately needed to escape. The trouble is, wherever you go, there you are, and there are some problems you can’t leave behind.

Right now, I am well, and home feels like a happy, warm, light, open and joyous place. Should my mood dip again, and should I find myself pacing like a tiger in a cage, I shall remind myself that it’s not home that has changed; it’s the chemicals in my brain.


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: G is for Guilt

GuiltThings that hinder …

Sometimes it seems as if every day there is something new to feel guilty about.

Oops, I’ve left the TV on standby; the ice caps are going to melt … No, sorry, I’m not going to set up a direct debit to your charity even if it is only for £3 a month; I’m such a bad person … Bugger, I threw that sliver of paper in the waste bin instead of the recycling box … Yes, I have eaten my five-a-day. What do you mean it’s seven-a-day now? I’m a ‘stay-at-home’ mum; I must be wasting my education. I’m soon going to be a ‘working’ mum; that means I’ll be neglecting my children. No, I didn’t manage 10,000 steps today. No, these bananas are not fairtrade. No, I haven’t grown this carrot myself in an organic raised bed that I cobbled together from reclaimed timber that was originally from a sustainable forest! No, I haven’t done the dishes. No, I haven’t cleaned the toilet. Yes, I am watching The Mentalist and mucking about on Twitter while every single person in the rest of the world is hard at work …

That’s just a little snapshot of some of the thoughts that go through my head on my less rational days.

I find guilt destructive – it’s too closely related to shame. Guilt paralyses me. Guilt makes me feel bad and lowers my self-esteem to the point where I feel I am a worthless, useless waste of space.

Yes, I need to take responsibility for my actions. Yes, I need to acknowledge my mistakes, deliberate and otherwise. Yes, I need to apologise for those mistakes and make every effort not to do again whatever it was I did that required an apology in the first place.

BUT … I also need to cut myself some slack. I’m not perfect. I do make mistakes. Sometimes I make the same mistakes over and over again. For years, I felt guilty about some of the things I thought, said and did while I had (and was recovering from) depression, and that guilt hindered my return to health. Looking back, I want to hug the woman I was and tell her that it was not her fault, that it was the illness talking, thinking and doing. ‘Just let it go, love. Move on. Don’t dwell on the past. Dump the guilt and shame. Be free.’


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: F is for Fiction

FictionThings that help …

My first published short story was The Greatest of These, written in 2010 for a course I was studying at the Open University. It’s about a mother, her daughter, her soon-to-be-born grandchild and the sacrifices we make in the name of love. Not long before I started the course, I’d been wrestling with all sorts of conflicting feelings about doing what was best for my family and doing what was best for me, and along with my feelings, my experiences with depression and anxiety grappled their way out of my head and onto the page. I remember that writing it felt cathartic. It’s not completely autobiographical though; it’s heavily fictionalised, but now that another four years have passed, I can read the story and see exactly how far I’ve come.

(c) Heather Stanley

I started writing fiction on doctor’s orders. She said I needed to give my brain something other than my anxieties to focus on. That was in 2006, and I’ve been writing stories (and doing writing courses) on and off ever since. One of my insomnia-tackling tricks is to mentally walk down my story corridor, opening doors and peeking in on the characters and worlds I’ve stowed behind each one. Usually, within a couple of minutes of poking around, I’m fast asleep. Sometimes it doesn’t work, though, so on those nights, I have to apply logic and remind myself that even if I don’t sleep, I’ll survive, and if it carries on, I can always take 10mg of amitriptyline a night for a couple of weeks to get me back on track. Thankfully, I rarely have to resort to that these days.

I don’t just love to write fiction, I love to read it too. My teenage years were spent riding dragons on Pern and administering Voigt-Kampff tests after World War Terminus. Before that, I drugged pheasants with Danny the Champion of the World and climbed Faraway Trees with Moonface and Mr Watzisname. I’ve solved crimes, captured serial killers, swashbuckled with pirates and been swept off my feet by Messrs Rochester and Darcy.

Fiction allows me to examine, but it also allows me to escape. Fiction helps.


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: E is for Eggs

EggsThings that help …

Mmm … eggs. I love eggs. I love them fried, poached, boiled and scrambled. They’re a good source of protein, and although they do contain cholesterol, the latest advice from the British Heart Foundation is that there is no limit to the number of eggs you can eat each week!

I’ve been following the BHF’s So You Want to Lose Weight for Good guide since September last year and have so far lost over 3 stone (20+kg). Eggs have always been part of my diet, but I eat them more regularly now. (Two eggs count as one portion of protein.) Losing weight has had a majorly positive impact on my health, both physical and mental. I am so much fitter and can do so much more – like walking my daughter to school without any back pain and without breaking into a sweat – and I feel as if I’m starting to get to grips with all the food/weight/body-image issues I’ve been wrestling with since I hit puberty, but I’ll come to those in another post …

Eggs contain tryptophan, one of the building blocks of protein, which plays a roll in mood. According to the British Dietetic Association, studies have shown that adding pure tryptophan to the diet of people with depression can improve their mood. You can’t buy tryptophan supplements in the UK, but you can buy eggs!

A quick google of ‘health benefits eggs depression’ takes me to Top 10 Health Benefits of Eggs which tells me that:

“Eggs, being rich in vitamin B12, can help improve your mood and keep stress at bay. They also contain other B vitamins such as vitamin B6 and folate that promote mental and emotional well-being. In addition, egg yolks are a good source of lecithin, which works as a mood stabilizer. Eggs are also believed to help treat depression due to their high levels of the amino acids methionine and cysteine.”

Sounds good to me!


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: D is for Duvet Days

Duvet DayThings that help …

Some days it feels as if the sun has gone behind a cloud and is never going to come out again. Some days the most I achieve is getting the kids up, washed, dressed, fed and to school on time. Some days it’s just all too much.

It’s on those days I have a Duvet Day. I dig out a DVD box set, curl up on the sofa, snuggle up under my blankets and switch off my brain. Once upon a time, I would have seen that as giving in, admitting defeat, being lazy, wasting time, but now I think of it taking much-needed rest and allowing myself to recover. Sometimes keeping going is exactly what I need to do, but sometimes it isn’t. Over the last few years, I’ve learned to listen to my body and my brain and most of the time I’m able to do what’s right for them. Happily (and perhaps unsurprisingly) my need for Duvet Days is growing less and less and less …


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: C is for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

CBTThings that help …

When I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, my GP told me to speak to my health visitor and ask for some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This was in 2006, and I’d never heard of CBT, but I asked anyway because I would have done anything to get better.

‘Sorry,’ said the health visitor, ‘we used to offer CBT, but since our funding was cut we can’t anymore.’

I remember thinking ‘Typical!’ but at the time I wasn’t all that bothered; I was just relieved that my doctor had put me on antidepressants. Six months later, I was off the medication and feeling a lot better, but it’s been a long and bumpy journey back to good mental health.

Moving on to 2014 …

Not long ago, when my daughter developed some school-related worries, I bought What to Do When You Worry Too Much – A Kids’ Guide to Overcoming Anxieties, and it was only once I read it myself that I realised I’d unintentionally been giving myself CBT over the last few years. The book’s advice on how to beat your worries amounts to the following:

  • Think of your worries as plants. If you nurture them, they will grow. If you ignore them, they will die.
  • Lock up your worries in a mental strong box and only air them at an agreed Worry Time.
  • Use logic. Think about what is really true rather than what you’re afraid might happen. Remind yourself that bad things don’t happen very often, but if they do, you’ll survive.
  • Imagine your worries as a bully who sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear. Tell him to ‘Buzz off!’ Tell him he’s lying. Flick him off your shoulder and stamp on him!
  • Get active. Burn off your worry energy by moving your body.
  • Breathe deeply and relax with a favourite memory.
  • Remind yourself of all the things you’re good at and do them.

My worries revolve around sleep. It was lack of sleep and an obsession with my baby’s sleep that triggered my depression and anxiety in the first place, and if I have trouble sleeping now, those old feelings come creeping back, but by unwittingly doing my own version of the above, I have armed myself with weapons to use against them. I only wish I’d learned about them sooner.


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: B is for Birds

BirdsThings that help …

There are few things in life that give me more pleasure than watching birds. The apparent simplicity of their lives attracts me just as much as the beauty of their plumage. I can lose minutes at a time, standing at my lounge window, watching the blackbirds, robins, sparrows and bluetits flit happily about my garden. I can while away whole hours lying on a beach watching the gulls wheel above my head.

RobinOf all the garden birds, the robin is my favourite. They are such friendly creatures, hopping around on their spindly legs, looking for whatever grubs my spade unearths. I never feel alone in my garden; I always have company, especially at this time of year when the baby robins are leaving their nests.


titRecently, the  National Trust commissioned vocal sculptor and beatboxer Jason Singh, to put together an album of tweet music in celebration of spring. Apparently, research has shown that listening to birdsong not only makes people calmer but boosts positivity too. Three quarters of the people surveyed felt more connected to nature in spring than at any other time of year, while, for many, the sounds of spring brought back happy childhood memories. Other studies have shown that natural sounds have restorative qualities; the call sounds of songbirds and other natural noises help people recover more quickly from stress compared with the noise of urban living. I can get on board with that!

When I’m feeling stressed, when the little niggles start to take hold and make my heart beat faster, simply walking into the garden can help me calm back down. There is definitely something peace-inducing about the sound of birdsong and the whisper of the wind in the trees, especially for a tinnitus sufferer like me. But that’s a whole other post …


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: A is for Anxiety

BlessingOr how it all started …

It was ten at night, and I’d been having contractions since five in the morning, but nothing was happening, so the midwife decided to hook me up to the foetal heart monitor ‘just to make sure everything’s okay.’

But everything wasn’t okay. With every contraction, my baby’s heart rate dipped.

‘Your contractions are still relatively weak,’ said the doctor, ‘but baby doesn’t like them, and I’m concerned that baby won’t cope well when they do get stronger. I recommend you have a c-section as soon as possible.’

‘Okay,’ I said, leaning back on the bed. ‘That’s fine.’

The doctor gave me a sideways look. ‘You seem very calm about this.’

‘I’m always calm in a crisis,’ I replied. ‘I’ll fall apart later.’

And that’s exactly what happened; fifteen months later, I was on medication for depression and anxiety. But it wasn’t just the drama of my second child’s birth that had triggered my mental illness; I’d lost my dad a year before she was born, and since she’d been born I’d been battling baby-induced sleep-deprivation. Controlled Crying hadn’t worked and after five months of it, it had left me a quivering wreck. I’d become obsessed with her sleep and my own lack of sleep, and the thought of upsetting our precious routine would send me into full-on hair-pulling, hand-clapping, rocking-backward-and-forward panic attacks.

Antidepressants helped. Talking helped. Having a loving and sympathetic circle of family and friends helped. Eventually I relaxed, let go and more-or-less recovered, but I’ve been left with a strange sensitivity to stress. I’m still calm in a crisis, but the tiniest things can trigger the old reactions: the palpitations, the irrationality, the obsession with routine. Happily though, this doesn’t last long anymore because I’ve learned to recognize anxiety’s approach, and I’ve assembled an arsenal of weapons to use against it. I’ll be writing about those in future posts. Stay tuned …


An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: Me and My Mental Health, It’s #TimetoTalk

Time to TalkI’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety. I believe that being open about my mental health problems has helped me to recover from them. I also believe that the more people talk about it, the more society will recognise that anyone can suffer from a mental illness and that there should be no shame in it or stigma attached to it.

That’s why I’m using this AtoZChallenge as a Time to Talk. Over the course of April, I will be posting about my experiences with mental illness: the bad times, the good times, the things that help, the things that hinder. As well as writing, I’m looking forward to talking, but I’m not an expert on mental health, so I won’t be offering any advice. With that in mind, here are some links where you can find out about:

See you tomorrow for A is for Anxiety …