Thursday, 7 May 2015


Please vote. 

Amazing women gave their lives for us. It seems reckless to not exercise the rights for which they fought so very hard. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

What to say, when you don't know what to say. 13 helpful things you can do for you friend who is suffering from a mental illness

We all know someone diagnosed with a mental illness. Indeed I imagine for every friend known to be suffering there will be at least one other all alone with their illness. As someone who knows that a number of my friends are dealing with mental health issues, I know I find it hard to reach out and try and help.

However as one of those friends who is suffering from mental ill health I know how important it is to have someone make the effort to reach out and just say hello. It sounds like it should be easy but I can understand you reticence. Will I say the wrong thing? Will I make things worse? Will they think I'm ignoring their issues by just talking about my day? The list is endless. However, never forget the power of just asking, "how are you today?"

So do you want to know a big secret? We actually like the same things as someone who isn't mentally ill. I know, right, this is huge!

I know, I know, I'm making light of a pretty serious situation but perhaps the one thing I want over anything now that I've come out of my mental ill health closet is to be treated as an equal. An equal, who may have persistent thoughts of suicide yes, but also wants to be treated like they are normal too. 

It sounds counter-intuitive, I totally understand. However, whether you feel all along in your mental illness or like me are in a locked psychiatric ward it is "normality" we crave. It's not fun being on a psychiatric ward, it's the opposite of normal. 

So I thought I would put together a little list of things I know I would appreciate whilst in hospital (and I'm hoping others would too!)

Remember there are endless restrictions on psych wards. Oh how I miss my hairdryer and tweezers! The rules are important, so please don't try and outwit the nursing team by bringing in contraband items. The rules are there to protect and staff and patients. Different wards will have different rules especially psychiatric intensive care units.

Let's start small remembering that the smallest kindness means a great deal when you feel abandoned. I'm going to talk as if you were sending me your love because linguistically it sounds much nicer! (And of course I'm fishing for love!)

1. Text message - just a note to say you're thinking of me means the world. Those sweet little words just feel so nice especially when you can look back at your support on a dark night. As with everything else I'm going to mention today, please don't expect a speedy reply or even a reply. Unsurprisingly words don't always come so easily, especially if you're known for being relatively humourous and erudite - I should listen to my earlier advice!

2. Emails - I've received some rather lovely emails whilst I've been in hospital They are are most welcomed. However, not everyone will be allowed to use their laptop or phone. Indeed even if they can data allowances are burnt through in minutes (or perhaps that's just me - stop watching TED talks you idiot!). Chargers are also an issue so patients will not usually be allowed to keep any wires in their room, so again, response times will be slow!

3. Phone calls - I've kept in touch with my darling Grandmamma this way. Only for her to tell me she thought it would be a good idea to get the bus home from hospital instead of bothering patient transport after a trip to physiotherapy and she promptly fell over. Oh she is a tough old bird, silly but tough. Anyhoo, there is nothing better than someone else moaning about their issues and asking if you had any thoughts about how to help them. Again, normality, being asked to help with someone else's problem feels good, even if you can't offer anything. 

4 Trashy or not so trashy magazines (and I would say cigarettes too but my public health training forbids me!) - they are almost used as currency on the ward. Anything to ingratiate yourself to your fellow patients. It makes for an easier ride. In my last stay I've not been allowed out without Bean and so I've had limited means of bringing in the trash!

5. Pretty cards - they are always so pretty. Indeed this post was somewhat inspired by the clever and thoughtful empathy cards from Emily McDowell. They say what you might find it difficult to say. Perfect aren't they.

It's probably best if you send a card to home rather than the hospital (assuming there is someone who can bring it to them). Just a few words of encouragement or just general chit chat is lovely to read. I truly adore the sweet cards I've been sent. Seeing them on my bedside table makes the day just seem a little brighter. They ooze love. Oh and if you have a friend with cancer there are some perfect cards for that too.

6. Music - my lovely friend sent me Taylor Swift's new(ish) album. You certainly don't want to be sending people Massive Attack! Happy upbeat music all the way. Even my Grandmamma's toy boy (he's not that young really but he is lovely) sent me some music on "the iTunes," what more could you possibly want!

7. Books - send a book you love - perhaps nothing too heavy or preachy. Obviously you can send life-changing books but please don't expect me to read them. My concentration is hideous and whilst I'd love to read Thomas Pinchon I'm more likely to appreciate Hyperbole and a Half's - Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened which Bean bought for me last year or perhaps Cat Lady Chic which I happened upon in Waterstones this afternoon trying to hide from the rain.

8. Beauty joys - hello indulgent hand cream or perhaps the odd temporary tattoo so you can forget, just for moment that you're stuck on a locked psychiatric ward and you're just treating yourself to a little luxury. I have enjoyed playing with temporary tattoos from Rifle Paper Co and again from Emily McDowell. They just add a little fun and whimsy to my day. I find that if you can stimulate your scent memory bank you can transport yourself to another world. Indeed I have a handkerchief from our wedding which I've sprayed with Bean's wedding cologne and I find it so soothing, especially when the ward is noisy and unsettled.

9. Lovely noms - oh yeses, hospital food is hideous. So hideous. I'm lucky that Bean can bring me home, most nights, so I can make a salad to take back with me. However not everyone is so lucky. There is a distinct lack of fruit and veg and when the odd piece of fruit finds its way into the communal area you can guarantee that one person will try and take it all. Oh to have strawberries! I'm also very lucky that I have friends who bake me cakes. Much appreciated. 

10. Flowers - I'm never going to turn down flowers, it is the thought that truly counts. However can the snob in me just wants to insist that you move away from the evils of Interflora. If you want to send cheap flowers Bloom and Wild always have little discount and their flowers are great! Although avoid lilies. I really associate them with death and their pungent fragrance gives me a headache! In my time as a patient I've enjoyed a bouquet or two, but even if you could bring a few bluebells or muscari from your garden (well that's what's in our garden right now along with wild garlic - whoop!), that would be perfection. Again it truly is the thought that counts. 

11. A balloon - I adore these giant balloons with the amazing fringing. I can't help myself. I know they are ridiculous but sometimes the absurd is what you need! I have no idea is Bean reads my blog but ahem, cough, cough, splutter. Perhaps more suited to when your friend is back at home and feeling hopeful because the strings and helium aren't really suicide watch friendly.

12. Visiting the hospital - Hugs are always wanted we're not infectious. The sense of touch is incredibly important, to feel connected to another person is vital to ground you in the moment. However, please don't be upset if you're not invited to hospital. It's different from a normal hospital ward. My own covert and overt stigma about mental illness means that I am afraid of my two worlds mixing. The world where I'm Anna and the world where I'm a psychiatric patient. I fear that it might be hard to be seen as just Anna when I've allowed friends to look into the abyss. 

Perhaps I'm too wary, if you are invited for hugs, hold your friend close. It truly is a wonderful feeling to be accepted no matter your ills.

Finally, 13, its unlucky for those closest to the patient. Keep in touch with spouses and partners - Please don't forget their nearest and dearest are probably struggling too. Whilst being a patient is incredibly hard it is important to recognise and support spouses. I feel Bean's worry and stress. He acts as the messenger and holds my hope that things will get better but he also experiences and absorbs my distress. I'm very lucky he has a wonderful support network but every time I talk about myself on facebook I make a little plea that Bean needs chocolate and hugs. 

Crumbs this has been a long post. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you obviously don't need to do every little (or quite big) thing I've suggested. It's about finding what you are comfortable with and caring about someone you love who's not having a great time right now.

It all boils down to love and hope. You can't do anything more for us, as much as I would love you to banish my evil thoughts forever, it's just not going to happen. We hopefully have the therapy and the medication we need to do that. What I crave for is a few moments in the day where I can smile or feel loved. 

So, if you ever go through something similar I hope that I could hold onto your hope and make you smile for just a moment. Because moments turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours, hours turn into days and days turn into forever. And that's all we can hope for, a future.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Oh it's Banked.

Oh the last 4 days have been truly wonderful. The weather has been beautiful. My heart has been filled with joy.

The past week had been terrible. I was on lockdown and unable to leave the hospital during the day. Only Bean could bust me out in the evening. Oh those hours dragged with only the occasional punctuation of ceramic fun. Sure, I'm useless at it but I do find it relaxing and I don't particularly care that I'm rubbish. (Which is a big step for me!)

Indeed there is a certain zen like quality I've discovered, akin to a moment where you cannot be disturbed and in that moment you are focussing on something outside yourself. The voices calm down and Magic FM pervades. Indeed it was the ceramic-like silence I yearned for each day as the ward inexorably moved to a crescendo with the staff seemingly unable (or not wanting) to control the most vocal of patients. My head, felt as if it were in a vice and I found myself taking paracetamol not as a way to die, but as a way to live. 

So as Friday arrived I sat on my hospital bed waiting to be seen in ward round. Yet it wasn't until 6 pm I was seen. (Top tip psych team, perhaps start your ward round at 9am like alllll the other doctors) After waiting and waiting. I took to standing in the corridor, alternating between making one of the old ladies tea and walking to the smoking cage (not actually on fire) to practise my zen breathing whilst feeling like Hannibal Lecter. 

When my time finally came and made my impassioned plea. Yes I lied to get out of hospital just a week ago but not even in my darkest hour would I try to kill myself on the weekend of my husband's birthday that would be pretty poor form. I wanted to support my husband, for a change. I wanted my husband to enjoy his weekend. I wanted my husband to have a drink on his birthday. I wanted to have sex with him and I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to feel the sun on my skin. I wanted to wear nice clothes. I wanted to cuddle my foster family. I wanted to bake and cook lovely things for his party. I wanted to see my wonderful brothers. I wanted to see my pregnant friends (one delivered this morning squeeeee!). I wanted to raise a glass (and take but a sip) of champagne to my two friends who recently got engaged. I wanted to feel as if I had a life. I wanted to feel normal.

I know, I wanted a lot. I know they see me as a flight risk. I understand why it is difficult for them to trust me. So I was incredibly happy when after much discussion I was allowed home. Allowed home to be a wife to my husband. I was allowed to feel normal. It was a magical feeling.

So Saturday arrived and I had slept in my own bed and my head was filled with happiness and not pain. The magical feeling continued. We somewhat broke protocol as Bean allowed me to go out on my own. With his stern warning that it would not be cool to kill myself ringing in my ears, I inhaled freedom. I was so glad he chose to trust me because it meant I could attend the brush calligraphy with Quill London with the amazing tutors Emma Block and Teri Muncey of The Lovely Drawer.

The sun was shining, I felt happy and perhaps a little pretty. I was a ridiculous cliché. I felt as if I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale. I danced all the way home. I danced home for husband cuddles and an amazing dinner. You see, last year the husband made a BBQ smoker which is amazing! A 45 gallon drum of joy. The meat is slowly cooked but also infused with a delicious smokiness. Oh it is amazing. If you can get an invite to eat his amazing meat I suggest you take him up on it. My favourite is roast chicken but he's also dabbled in ribs, brisket and pulled pork. So for his first of the season he went with chicken. Oh lordy, it's perfection. 

After filling myself to the brim on amazing chicken and losing the wishbone contest I embarked upon creating his birthday cake. 3 hours later, it was 1am and I wanted to cry. I'd finished creating a monster. A monster 6 layer cake with an attempt at rosette icing. I only realised at 11pm that the icing nozzle I needed wasn't in my box of tricks. Ah well. However, I am covered in purple. The purple being swiss meringue buttercream. I retired to bed, hoping that I didn't turn our sheets purple (after a rather lame attempt to de-purple) and that the cake will be vaguely edible the next day.

After another blissful night's sleep it was time to make the house ready for a Bean Party. The husband dealt with all the meat. Oh so much meat. The smoker was full. Oh the joy! Balloons were blown up and tied out side and the sun kindly came out as the first guests arrived at 4pm and stayed in the air until wind told us to hide inside.

I was so happy to see my big boy's face when he blew out his candles and that we got to toast to two of our newly engaged friends. The cake was welcomed by all and looked pretty pimp on a plate! It was a day full of laughter and love and meat and bourbon and trifle and cake. What more could you want? We went to bed exhausted but seriously happy campers.

(Oh and if you want your friends to throwdown I suggest you make salted caramel rice krispie treats. Seriously, it was a good job I held some back. Bitches and man bitches love that shit. They are crazy addictive! I'm a bit scared to share the recipe! I might once the wounds have healed.)

Monday was our day of rest. We snuggled with the kittens and barely moved. It was truly wonderful.

And now we arrive at Tuesday. Last night I declared on instagram* that I had felt it was a turning point moment. (See I can't stop with the clichés). I hadn't felt so happy, so content, so smiley for so very long. I truly hope this is the start of a new journey. I was meant to return to hospital today but I stayed away and said I would return after voting on Thursday evening. I just couldn't face entering the maelstrom after such a relaxing weekend. 

I guess I need to take that first step. It's incredibly scary and the voices are still loud but love can conquer all right. I often think about the words, "if loved could have saved you, you would have lived forever." Perhaps love could save me? Perhaps? Perhaps? Perhaps?

*come along and follow my rather imperfect life albeit with all the colour already - @annaandthering

Friday, 1 May 2015

Love is...fostering cats!

I’m going to have to break the stationery mould today. I can’t contain my excitement much longer. I guess I could combine it with my instagram which has been inspired by the wonderfully inspring Susannah Conway with the hashtag of AprillLove2015 this month. The last prompt yesterday was “Love is..”

Apart from Bean and stationery I do love one other thing. Cats.

Last weekend we adopted a new brood with their mother. When the last one flies the coop, they will be the 42nd cat we’ve fostered. We started working with HAWS – Hounslow Animal Welfare Society and since Bert we’ve fostered from Celia Hammond in Lewisham. Don’t think for a second we think this is altruistic, we are fully aware of how lucky we are to look after all our monsters!

I thought I would try and share a picture of each one to walk down memory lane. They have all been pretty marvellous but have also brought us to tears too.

Tula. Our first and she was a bit damaged, poor thing. She has babies before she was a year old and all she wanted to do was play, especially at 4 o’clock in the morning. She loved to played fetch and her favourite fetching toy was a piece a piece of string called Peter Stringfellow. 

Florence and the Machine (or Dorothy if you’d prefer). These were the cats we fostered before and after our wedding. They were little sneaky monsters. The stole anything tasty from the meat nappy (you know what I mean, the weird material at the bottom of a steak) to all the nibbles. Once they has liberated the treats they would growl wonderfully if we tried to take it away from them. The little scallywags.

Monty and Bunny. Bean’s favourite, well Bean was Monty’s favourite. He could have taken him in a papoose to work with him. Monty was a cutie that waited for Bean to come home and run to him when he saw him walking to the front door. Bunny on the other hand was slightly more regal, content with the odd cuddle. She just seemed rather fancy. 

Phoebe and Rae (although Bean will contest that these are not their names) We hadn’t has the pleasure of a long haired kitten before and she knew she was pretty. Where Rae was so affectionate, Phoebe would just haughtily look down on you. Unsurprisingly after 5 hours of them on the adoption website they were adopted and on their way to their new home.

Bert. Oh Bert, he was a long term foster. We knew he probably wouldn’t make it to the end of the year but we gave him a good last summer. He was our boy. When he first arrived he was so tired, he had to have his food bowl right next to him and he still didn’t really want to eat. This all changed when I sat next to him eating a large prawn or two. His jaw dropped and bewitched me into giving him most of my dinner. As he gained strength we allowed him to go outside a little bit. He loved sitting outside. I’m so happy that he was so happy. On the day he went to sleep, (I’m convinced he knew what was about to happen). I watched him sit in the garden saying goodbye to his domain. I will always miss Bert, he was a clever, silly, gentle and loving cat.

The Ferals! Callum, Georgina, Ben, Brooklyn and Barrett (We did not name them!) Oh my this was a eye opening experience. Kittens need to be socialised at an early age to stop them becoming “unhandleable” (that’s a word right?!). They needed to live in a cage whilst they were with us so there was some chance of us handling them. Two of the little ones were perfectly fine being picked up, the biggest didn’t mind so much but hated that he had to be put back in the cage. The last two, the two tabbies, they were another story. They would let us pet them but picking them up was somewhat fraught and I still have to scars to prove it. I’m so glad they all found a home I was incredibly worried that they might be unadoptable but luckily two lovely families took them into their hearts.

The Flowers were not named by us! Primrose was the mummy with one boy, Crocus and 5 girls Rosie, Violet, Tulip, Poppy and Pansy. This was our biggest and youngest litter so far but luckily Primrose was obviously an old hand at all this kitten rearing malarkey and they were no trouble at all. Well no trouble is probably a bold statement, they were lovely naughty kittens. They never all slept at the same time so there were always paws thundering around. They also knew how to hide incredibly effectively, so much so we had to tack a sheet under the sofa bed they had to play on because they kept hiding inside. Sneaky monkeys! They were so cute though!

Dave, her three girls Amy, Holly and Dora and her boy Grey. Mamma was called Dave by the people who used to see her every so often and they assumed she was a boy. Dave was so stressed when she arrived. Her three girls were a good size but her boy was tiny and sadly he passed away the next day. I buried him with the peacock feather he would have played with. At least he didn’t suffer. Dave was a bit of a silly mummy. She was obviously a pet at some point because, even if she was being suckled, if you caught her eye, she would fly up, milk going everywhere, to get a cuddle. Really lovely mummy and kittens. My father loved Dave and he is a complete cat racist – it’s black or it’s not a cat. So this tabby beauty had many admirers!

Agatha and Beetle. These two were so special. We hadn’t looked after older cats since Bert and these two were super special and gorgeous. Beetle the Black had the softest fur you ever did touch. She also had the rather charming quirk of coming to bed and sleeping under the covers with you she had kept her claws to herself it would have been perfect. When I tried to hurt myself the first time she came to bed with me and held her paw over my wrist as If to protect me. Agatha the Fluffy was an epic cat, she had some mistrust of tall men (sorry Bean) but she was rather affectionate with me. She would come onto the bed to try and wake me up by licking my face, bleurgh! But she let me cuddle her and her fluffiness so it wasn’t all bad, at all! Her eyes were enthralling, I’ve never seen such large eyes on a cat. It’s a shame we could keep these two ladies, I would have loved to have kept them forever.

The Octet. Pixie, Steve, Boris, Humphrey, Minnie, Iris, Lenny, Chloe and Emmy. When we were told there was a litter of eight to deal with my first reaction was “yes, yes, yes all the kittens” Luckily Bean agreed. This was certainly our biggest challenge yet. Mum, Pixie was a sweetie and she was very good at tracking who had eaten or not. That’s not to say there weren’t a few tears. 8 kittens learning to eat and litter train at the same time was somewhat overwhelming at time and I might have shed a tear or two. Happily they managed to get the hang of things pretty quickly although as the picture of Chloe shows, learning to eat is a messy business! I know you’re not meant to have favourites but Steve was the perfect boy, Humphrey the ginger loved to bunny hop with his fuzzy bottom and Iris was a beautiful black fluffball who loved to cuddle. I miss them so!

And currently, Lexie and her 3 boys and 2 girls (I think – I’ll have to check again when we weigh them on Sunday at 3 weeks). Oh my these are the youngest kittens we’ve had. Oh my, they are adorable. We are yet to name the kittens, perhaps you might be able to suggest a sweet name or two?

They are rather cute!!!