World Mental Health Day 10/10/19

My entire life I’ve always known one thing for certain, I am different from the rest.  Growing up people thought I was a bit strange – leaning more towards the weird side than the normal side where the majority of my friends were.

In primary school I was a storyteller before I fully learned the use of the alphabet.  I would make up stories for other kids to play out but I was never asked to play with them.

My first crush was Sylvester Stallone, my friends were more drawn to Deiter Brummer.  I was a huge fan of old musicals and I loved watching Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Audrey Hepburn sing and dance their way across my TV screen.

My favourite film was The Nun’s Story in which Audrey Hepburn plays a young woman who gives her life to serve God as a nun.  I wasn’t particularly religious but I had respect for others who devoted their lives to a good cause and strived for a better world.  I would look at Audrey Hepburn in her nun’s habit and I wanted to be just like her. I fell in love with the simplistic lifestyle of growing tomatoes in the convent, sweeping leaves and in a world where fashion defines us I wanted to wear the nun’s habit because then everyone was the same.  No-one was better than the next.

To get myself prepared for my future as a nun I would parade around my bedroom wearing my dad’s dressing gown because it was black and I’d drape a white pillow case over my head. At school I would walk around the playground with my hands tucked into my sleeves imitating what I’d seen in the film and I’d ask my grandma if I could try on her wedding ring so I could pretend I was married to God.

Believe it or not at school I did have friends but there was always a clear difference between us.  From a very young age my career aspirations were different from those of my friends.  Most kids stereotypically wanted to be things like lawyers, doctors and teachers.  I wanted to be a Gurner. And I believed to be a good gurner I needed practice. So I’d practice anywhere I could, in mirrors, away from mirrors, out and about shopping in town, down at the supermarket, play time at school.  But it was a dinner lady at school who laughed at me and said,

“You can’t be a gurner you silly girl! You’ve got too many teeth!”

Talk about shattered dreams!

As we got older our career goals changed.  In year 10 I wanted to be a Podiatrist and I spent a week shadowing three different people who all had a passion for feet, but not in a creepy way.  They wanted to help people, they would keep the elderly’s toenails trimmed and tend the aching bunions of Bolton’s Ballerinas. 

Obviously helping people was at the top of my agenda but the feet I had in mind weren’t the feet of regular people, oh no.  I wanted to look after the feet of musicians, people in bands.  People in the bands I loved to listen to.  I wanted to cut Crispian Mills’ toenails, scrape the dead skin off Simon Fowler’s heels, moisturise James Mudriczki’s bunions and line up each member of The Montrose Avenue and take care of their ingrowing toenails.  Not that any of these people had those problems but that was the dream.

To me this was normal and it was absolutely achievable but coupled with the fact that all of those bands were the ultimate no no for a teenage girl in the 1990’s and I wore completely the wrong style of clothes I was bullied for about two years by a group of boys in high school who took a dislike to me and my ambition.

My friends would suggest listening to Peter Andre and Take That and at least pretend to like them.  They advised me to change my hairstyle, wear mascara so I’d look just like everyone else and STOP wearing t-shirts with pictures of Meat Loaf printed on them.

I could have changed. They said it would be easy, but I didn’t have the ability to be normal, I didn’t have it in me to conform.  I may have had friends and people who loved me but growing up it was always pointed out to me that because I was different I was a disappointment.

Growing up I felt worthless, pointless and a plague on my family.  I was suicidal on more than one occasion.  Imagining everybody’s life without me in it was a lot more appealing than me trying to fit in to what they wanted me to be.

My dad would point and laugh at the way I walked and the way I dressed.  Everything I’ve ever done was a disappointment to him, I wasn’t clever, I wasn’t pretty or athletic and I didn’t speak Greek.  I spent my childhood and most of my adult life wondering who I was as a person.  I’d say I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to be, what was my actual purpose in life?

My entire life I’ve felt like an outcast, a project for people to mould into what they wanted me to be because it wasn’t acceptable to just be me.  Because of this I had that constant feeling of never being good enough for anyone. 

When I was 20 my university friends took all of my clothes out of my wardrobe, locked them away and replaced them with theirs so that I would look more up to date.  I found the spare key and took my clothes back.

When I was 29 my friend said I would never find a boyfriend unless I changed my sense of fashion.  I ignored him.

Every time someone tried to change me I would retreat back to the things I’ve always loved, indie music, jeans and jumpers and a straightforward hair do!

I used to cry over not being able to fit in to any group and never being accepted until I finally realised I’ve actually always known who I am!  I’ve never had a problem with the things I enjoy or the things that make up my personality. 

I know now that if anyone has a problem with my individuality then that’s their problem because it’s not a bad thing to be different but it’s not acceptable to judge a person because they don’t match up to societies expectations.

Seventeen years ago this lady – her name is Ann – gave me a job and somewhere to live.  I worked the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Ice Rink 3 years running.  She accepted every bit about me, quirkiness, mental illness and just plain weirdness.  Because of Ann I had my first experience of what it was like to just be me.  Through Ann I met my first group of friends who accepted me from the word go.  They fell in love with me the same way I fell in love them, we were strangers in a city that oozed a unique quality and we were all finding our feet in some way or another.

Seventeen years have passed and it has never mattered to then what’s playing on my IPod or what jumper I’m wearing or how long my hair is.  The fact that I have Bipolar and a Stoma doesn’t alter who I am to them, it’s what I do with it that counts, who I reach out to when I should.

2018 taught me that suicide happens all the time.  It happens to our parents, our aunties, uncles, friends and the people we pass on the street that we might never think to ask if they’re okay.

In the early hours of New Year’s Day 2018 my friend Renae lost her husband and their four children lost their amazing dad when he took his own life.

Frith was a doctor, a surgeon.  He was in the business of helping people and when he took his life no one knew why and no one saw it coming.  It just goes to show that suicide really can happen to anyone because mental illness doesn’t discriminate.  

Renae will probably spend every day trying to piece it all together while she takes care of their four children reminding them every day of the man they knew as Dadda. 

Over the last 18 months or so one thing has always been constant; Renae is not ashamed of how Frith died and she is the one person who has shown me that having a conversation over and over and raising awareness of suicide is so important so that people know they are not alone when they are struggling.

I talk to Renae most days and I guess both of us are trying to make sense of it all but it also led me to look back on the people in my life I’ve either lost or almost lost to the same thing.

When I was a child my family in Greece was large in numbers, my grandma had multiple brothers and sisters and I know you’re not supposed to have favourites but as a kid I gave my heart to my Auntie Sophia.

While my brother and I failed to measure up the expectations of the relatives Auntie Sophia was different; she was funny and kind and loving and whenever she was around it felt as if all expectations of us had melted away.  We didn’t have to do anything to earn her love, it didn’t matter that we spoke next to nothing in Greek.  We were allowed to be a bit cheeky, a bit mischievous, she was different to the rest of the family, she was a breath of fresh air.

I can’t remember when I noticed she was gone, I can’t remember if I ever asked why? But I was much older by the time I knew she’d taken her own life.

Over the years I’ve learned more about my family history and I’ve come to know more about the people in it who I have almost lost to suicide.  I’ve seen friends lose loved ones, friends lose friends and every time another person takes themselves away from us it makes me reflect on my own situation.

The last 14 months have been difficult.  I walk the walk of a public speaker trying to show people that you can take control of your life and mental illness but behind the walls of my eyes I still struggle with being that same disappointment I always felt I was.

In times of darkness I sometimes still struggle with suicidal thoughts and I don’t have the answers to tackling the big issues but I have my own version of suicide prevention and this is how I am still standing here today.

I listen to the same music on repeat for hours, days, weeks, months, however long it takes to feel better.

The usual suspects are:

  • Josh Groban
  • Chris Daughtry
  • Cher
  • Meat Loaf
  • Linkin Park
  • Luke Bryan
  • Puressence
  • Kula Shaker

And I’ll look for meaning behind the lyrics of the songs to inspire me to carry on through the tough times and believe it or not it actually works.  And it makes me wonder if the people behind the lyrics have felt the same way I do and then I don’t feel so alone.

I write stories, inventing characters and plots that represent a better world to live in.  A world where solutions are easily accessible.

I look at pictures of swans on the internet and I wonder how simple their lives must be and how much simpler my life could be.

My family.  Whether they know it or not my Mum and my husband are the light at the end of my tunnel.

Milly – my cat – as sad as it may sound, at 19 she knows me better than I know myself.

BAND – my voluntary work gives me hope whenever I lose sight of it.  This group of people have done more for me than they will ever know.

The Simeon Centre – I’ve never been one for therapy or counselling.  I’ve tried and tested it in the past but in April this year this organisation helped me to start to make sense of a part of my life I never thought I would ever be at peace with and I can finally move forward.  It’s because of them that I can embrace being different and be proud of it.

Life isn’t easy for any of us.  Sometimes it’s like being served a bad sandwich in a restaurant we’re supposed to love.  We don’t always like what we have but there are ways we can deal with the things we go through that help us to learn and grow as individuals.

Above anything else, at least for me, acceptance is the key to becoming the best version of ourselves that we can be. At the end of the day life shouldn’t have to end because of the things we go through; life starts the second we find it within ourselves to be able to take control of it.