Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Craft & Crumbs #Crafternoon

The thought of organising a fundraising event simultaneously thrills me and terrifies me. I love planning. I’m the person who creates a Facebook event for her birthday six months in advance. I have post-its in every shade and I have to have a relevant emoji after every event in my iPhone calendar. 

But paired with stellar organisation skills is a deep, overwhelming anxiety that I’m not doing enough, I’m doing everything wrong, I’m missing something, I have no idea what I’m doing, no one will care, no one will turn up, and/or whatever I’m organising is going to fall flat on its arse, much like all the parties I’ve ever planned on Sims 2. 

It seems fitting that the charity fundraising event I’m organising with my friend Ashley is for Mind, who campaign for better mental health.

We’re holding what is known as a Christmas Crafternoon. God loves a pun. On Saturday 5th December, our family and friends are bombarding my parents’ house (sorry mum, sorry dad) for an afternoon of crafts, games, and throwing money at homemade bakes and gorgeous homemade winter-scented candles we'll be selling.

The online ‘Virtual Crafternoon’ is Sunday 6th December. It’s a wonderful idea, and so beautifully 2015. If you can’t attend a Crafternoon in person, craft your heart away on this Sunday and tweet about it using the hashtag #Crafternoon (and tagging @MindCharity) in the process. It could get the idea trending, conversations flowing, friendships blossoming, and money thrown into the pot. I’d say post on Facebook about it too, but hashtags on there still make me uncomfortable. It’s weird. Don’t do it. You don’t even go here, Facebook.

Raising money for this will be tough. 

1) It’s not to battle a physical illness (mental illness can most definitely manifest as a physical one and I will defend that until the end of time). In my experience, raising money for mental health causes isn’t as 'popular'. 
2) We’re not running, or doing anything stupid. We’re just… making crafts, eating cakes, selling candles, hopefully holding a raffle/auction, and merely asking people to donate for the sake of the cause. Raising money is arguably easier when you’re throwing yourself into a physical activity and/or testing yourself. So, sorry lads, there’s going to be a lot of tweeting, Facebook statuses, and Instagram tagging. I’ll print off the donation link and shove it down your throats if I have to.

The raffle/auction is still something we need to organise thoroughly and think about logistically (I know, how boring). In the meantime, if you’re an artist, author, creator, etc and think you may be able to donate something (some artwork, a signed book, y’know), then PLEASE DO let me know! Tweet me at @louisejonesetc, or email

I’m so excited for this. We’re itching to raise a good lot of money for Mind, and it’s just going to be a lovely day of Christmas music, food, friends, family, crafts, and laughs. And I can’t wait to see what other Crafternooners get up to, too.

If you would like to donate, here’s the link! Our target at the moment is £200, but smashing that would be a dream:

THANK YOU, YOU BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE. INCLUDING YOU. AND YOU AT THE BACK. Have you done something new with your hair? You look lovely.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

An education in medication #WMHD

Today is my 75th day on antidepressants. Sertraline, to be exact. I’d never heard of it until the day I had a breakdown in my doctors’ surgery’s reception, and at first I treated it like a child hating its new baby sibling. This tiny, tiny white pill was apparently going to help things, but I had no idea how and resented it for being so smug in its ability where I lacked it.

But now we are best friends. The kind of friendship where you walk into the friend's kitchen and help yourself to food, know how to work the oven, and make yourself at home taking control of the TV remote. We’re comfortable, we’re tight, and if it ever moved away, I would cling on to its ankles wailing that Skype calls would never be enough.

Today is also World Mental Health Day. So, to mark it, I've written down the things I have learnt since starting medication, in the hope that it might help others who are battling between unwelcome sibling and clingy friend.

- You will not feel better straight away. At first, you might even feel worse. Side effects can come in all shapes in sizes. They may be worse than period pains, and they might not appear at all. I always felt sick in the mornings, felt high as a kite at 2pm, and had restless legs at night. I also couldn't orgasm for a month, but the less said about that the better. Too soon, man, too soon. Regardless, antidepressants need a good few weeks, maybe even months, to survey your mind and settle in well. Sometimes they’ll fit in quickly, and sometimes they won’t at all. For the latter, you should go back to your doctor to try something else, and that is okay. There are a bunch of different antidepressants which work well for different people. But give it time.

-  Medication does not replace your own strength. As well as expecting it to work faster than it did, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel... Brilliant. Fine. Happy. Excited. I got frustrated that I’d finally accepted medication but it wasn’t fixing anything. Medication isn’t a fixer. Medication gives you the time and space to breathe, and it gives you a kick up the arse. It quietens down the terrible monsters in your mind and turns up the volume of your own confidence, self-worth, and motivation. Now, I wake up and I actually get out of bed. I go out for a run because I don’t clock any voices telling me not to bother and I cheer myself on the whole way instead of listening to the dark laughter about how stupid I am for even attempting to get fit. The voices are trapped in a binbag in the corner of my mind. And if I do happen to hear them, in any context, I stop. I wait. I breathe. I re-evaluate what has just happened. I think. I carry on.

-  Telling people you’re on medication gets easier. I was incredibly reluctant to tell people I was on antidepressants. Not because I felt like a failure for having to take them, but because I was terrified that they wouldn’t understand. I quickly realised that that’s not my problem. I am looking after myself and that’s all that matters. I didn’t tell a lot of best friends for weeks, and some only found out when I wrote my initial blog post about it. Thankfully, everyone was lovely. Some didn’t quite understand and some admitted they didn’t know what to say, but no one judged me. Now it’s easier to tell people, if I feel the need to. I’m taking medication to fix something broken in me, like any other illness.

-  You might have to set rules and do some taming. What has been harder than telling people I’m on antidepressants, is telling people I can’t really drink. Telling me, specifically. I like a drink. I like my 2 for 1 cocktails and cold glasses of wine. So telling people that I can no longer indulge is worse than killing a kitten. My doctor said that alcohol can have different effects on different people so to just be careful with it. At first, I was fine. I was careful with wine but carried on merrily with spirits and cocktails. Now, I’m off everything. For now. I started to feel incredibly tetchy, anxious and emotionally exhausted, and days after a night out were a write off. I felt groggy, down, and hated myself. So sometimes, although medication is awfully clever, it can run riot and you have to hold back on some things, much like stopping a toddler having too much sugar.  

-  How you know your mental health ‘dips’ to be may change. This is something that only hit me the other day. Now that I’m generally better at looking after myself and stopping any flickers of bad mental periods before they develop, anything I cannot control can have a bigger effect on me, because the change in my mood is more drastic. As an example, last weekend, my boyfriend and I had a slight ‘miscommunication mishap’, let’s say, and he snapped at me. I was feeling totally fine and happy in that moment, so his snap took me by surprise and I felt all the blood rush to my feet. I got a lump in my throat, the monsters in the binbags tore their way out when my medication's back was turned, and I immediately started to panic and had a desperate need to burst into tears. It was tough, and totally unavoidable. This wasn’t a thought to calm, or a social situation to deal with, it was an instant trigger for me, and I wasn’t prepared for it because I was feeling happy. Pre-meds, it wouldn’t have triggered anything. I would have been so ‘flatline’ in my mind anyway that I would have blamed myself and thought it was standard for him to be mad at me, and would have just been quiet and depressed for the rest of the day. This time, him snapping totally caught me off guard and I couldn't understand, so the effect was a lot more physical. It was panic rather than depression and something I wasn’t used to. Now I’m aware that my body and mind may react differently to before, and I’m prepared for it.

-  You will have bad days. You just will. Medication does not fix everything, and sometimes your antidepressants will take the day off. But the bad days won’t last (if they do, go back to your doctor - you may just need your dosage upped or medication changed) and you just have to ride it out. Don’t get angry at yourself, it’s not your fault and you haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes you might just be a bit exhausted. Take some time to look after yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get out of bed or can’t be bothered to shower. Do some things you enjoy; watch some trash telly (I recommend Catfish), eat a whole tube of Pringles, and hound your friends on WhatsApp to get them to send you links of cat videos on YouTube. You will be okay.

-  This is not a concrete situation. I say this for two reasons. Firstly, I’m struggling with getting hooked on the idea that antidepressants are beautiful and will solve my problems for the rest of my life. In an ideal situation, you will be on medication for six months to a year (this is what my doctor is aiming for with me), because in that time you will hopefully have worked on some coping strategies to look after your mental health without medication. Antidepressants can be addictive, and not relying on them is definitely something I know I’ll have to keep working on. At the moment, I’m terrified of the thought of ever coming off them. But I know that one day I should try. (However, it’s very much worth noting that if you cannot deal with coming off them, that is okay and nothing to be ashamed of. It just goes without saying that if you can try and work through any mental health blips without them, go for it. But of course each situation and each person is different.) Secondly, if you are struggling with the idea that you are on medication in the first place – always remember that does not have to be forever. Nothing is concrete. You are constantly a work-in-progress. We all are.

- You are the bravest person in the world. Battling with your own mental health is tough, especially in a society where stigma is still rife. Taking the steps to control your own body and mind, get better, and look after yourself when it’s the last thing your little monsters are telling you to do, is incredibly brave. You should be proud of yourself.

Now go and grab some Pringles. The next episode of Catfish starts soon.

For more information on antidepressants, see Mind's information and support page:

For more information on World Mental Health Day 2015, search the hashtags #WorldMentalHealthDay and #WMHD on Twitter, and see:

Friday, 2 October 2015

Raise your hand. Be brave anyway. #YAtales

You could hear the incensed whispers from across the country.

“What the hell is she playing at???”

“She’s disrupting the status quo, someone do something!”

“Is she ill? Shall I call 999? I’m gonna call 999.”

There was no doubt that my old university course mates, now dispersed across the UK, would have sensed that something was awry in that packed out room at Waterstones Piccadilly where, sat at the back by a protective pillar, I had just raised my hand to ask a question.



This is unheard of. You don’t ask questions. It is the one Victorian tradition we are ok with keeping: you do not ask questions. No one asked questions in university lectures. And if you did, you were shunned and burnt at the stake. So why on earth had I found myself feeling compelled to put my hand in the air like I just don’t care?

This wasn’t a university lecture. This was a M&S univ- This was an event at Waterstones Piccadilly consisting of a panel of three incredibly talented and badass YA women writers, who had me quite literally on the edge of my seat with my face beaming as they spoke about things from what drives their writing, to how much importance they put on meanings within their stories (that was my question, just saying).

Phil Earle (host), Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Katherine Rundell

I’d never been to an event like this before. I’d never even been to a book signing. So when I found out three of my favourite authors, Annabel Pitcher (My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, 2011), Jenny Downham (Before I Die, 2007) and Katherine Rundell (Rooftoppers, 2013) were going to be at the mighty Piccadilly store for a chat and signing, I couldn’t resist. Obviously I dragged my friend Katie along with me for support. Although, she also asked a question, so the only dragging to be done involved our bodies to the depths of woodland after being executed for treason.

I expected a standard Q&A and readings from each of their new novels: Annabel’s Silence is Goldfish, Jenny’s Unbecoming, and Katherine’s The Wolf Wilder, but what I got was the most inspirational few hours of my life. These women are all so incredibly different in how they write, their style of writing, their motives behind their stories, and their personal backgrounds, but rather than their successes and brilliance being completely intimidating, they instilled the strongest sense of determinism and empowerment in me. And for that, I am beyond thankful.

Annabel Pitcher is growing a tiny human inside her. I assume it has a face and limbs and recognises its mum’s voice by now. She used to be a teacher. Jenny Downham used to act and she takes years to write a book. Katherine Rundell is an elected Fellow at Oxford University and has a voice that would either seduce me or send me into a blissful, transcendent sleep. 

It was exciting and calming to listen to them talk about their individual lives, and it reminded me that to be a writer, you don’t just write. You do other things. You have other jobs, you have a plethora of experiences, and you live a life so varied and full of thought and passion that you have no choice but to turn the depth and expanse of that life and your mind into stories. YA stories.

Because that’s what young adults need. Options. Diversity. Choice. Freedom.

I was gripped. I hadn’t been so full of joy about life and all the things I wanted to achieve in years. I hadn’t been inspired so deeply since I discovered hummus. It was exciting to see three different women, three different loves, three different lives, and still all so powerful and strong in who they are. But their one main thing in common is that they are just… so…


Getting to the 20,000 word mark is absolute hell, and God forbid if anyone reads your draft before you’re happy with it. AND WILL YOU EVER BE HAPPY WITH IT? What if no one is happy with it? What if you’re never happy? Ever?

“The voice on a writer’s shoulder is a terrible one, but you have to shut it up and tame it.”

It was so affirming to hear that these incredibly talented writers suffer with the same doubt and self-deprecation that I do, that a lot of us have. But there was a glow around them all that proved that their pride, determination, and love conquers it all.

“It’s okay to be afraid. Be brave anyway.”

That was it. That was the line from Katherine Rundell that said it all. It is okay to be absolutely terrified of life and your dreams and yourself, but be brave and storm it anyway.

We all suffer with it; that fear that nothing will be good enough, that we won’t be good enough, that we are making all the wrong choices. But there are no rules and there are no limits and there are no repercussions for trying your hardest with your braveface on. Use the fear as excitement for whatever lies ahead. Be brave anyway.

To look into the eyes of women who simultaneously terrify and inspire you is an odd feeling. To raise your hand and speak to them is even odder. But to have passions and dreams in the life that once started in a tummy, just like Annabel’s imminent arrival, is the oddest thing of them all. And isn’t it just wonderful? 

Silence is Goldfish (October 2015) by Annabel Pitcher: 

Unbecoming (September 2015) by Jenny Downham: 

The Wolf Wilder (September 2015) by Katherine Rundell:

Images by Freepik