17 Things I Learnt in 2017

I know cliché right? Particularly for a first blog post, I just couldn’t help myself.

They always say that you should reflect on the past and set goals for the future. However, the goal element of the tradition has just never worked for me. I tend to make the stereotypical new years resolutions that everybody decides on. Again, like most, I don’t end up accomplishing them as life just seems to get in the way or my priorities shift during the year.

So, you’re probably wondering what is the whole purpose of this blog post, right? Well, I am good at the other half of the tradition – reflection. I am a self-proclaimed perfectionist and one of the few assets of this trait is that I find it simple to reflect on what has occurred in the year.

The year 2017 has been a challenging one, to say the least. I have been driven to my emotional limits and confronted situations I never assumed I would find myself in. Yet, I got through it somehow. An accomplishment, even if it seems laughably small to the unknowing eye.

So I will stop rambling on about the reasoning for this post and get to the main content and purpose of me writing this. Here are, coincidentally, 17 things I learnt in 2017:

Just a quick disclaimer! Points 1 to 8 focus on mental health, with point 6 specifically focusing on self-harm. If this is a trigger or if this makes you uncomfortable please skip these points.

  1. Your mental health concerns won’t just ‘go away’ if you ignore it

I have struggled with mental health issues, predominantly relating to anxiety, much of my adolescent period. However, I didn’t do anything until this year, as I was terrified to admit I had a deep-rooted problem.

People talk about the stigma attached to mental health and even the romanticisation of particular disorders. However, they weren’t my reasons for not seeking help. I had sought help in the past but received no support from areas I trusted, an excellent example of this being my secondary school.

The school had witnessed two of my serious experiences with my anxiety, yet all they appeared to worry about were my grades. Rather than me being emotionally stable, my grades and their statistics appeared to take a permanent priority. After my experiences, I was not even asked if I was ok the next school day.

However, I would like to make it explicitly clear that I don’t blame my school or my teachers for this. The educational system is stressful for both pupils and teachers. While we are pushed to get the top grades and learn as rapidly as possible, teachers constantly need to prepare and mark like well-oiled mechanisms. There is no longer any time to relax or seek help if the need arises. This results in pupils and teachers not being mentally supported, and a rise in mental health issues in both adolescents and teachers.

  1. It’s ok to take some time out

Anxiety disorders have the power to completely engross your mind. This means my brain never switches off or even turns down somewhat. I have now realised that due to this factor, I need to give myself time to recover every day.

Some people would say this is self-care but I disagree for one single reason; this doesn’t make my anxiety more tolerable. Giving myself time means that I’m not constantly focusing on blocking out my anxiety. Formulating an obstacle between anxiety and motivation is not only mentally draining, but also extremely challenging to repair from day to day. No matter how hard I try to repair any cracks, somehow the two seem to trickle into each other.

Having time out allows me to destroy that barricade. It allows me to be as carefree as someone with anxiety can be. It allows me to evaluate my emotional stability appropriately. It allows me to keep my sanity in a way.

  1. Feeling comfortable around your counsellor is important

I began seeing a counsellor in November 2016 after enquiring when I first started studying at college. I concluded that I needed to face my issues with my mental health. I felt as though my permanent ignorance towards my mental health would hold me back. If I couldn’t confront my own concerns at 16, how would I cope when life threw further challenges my way?

I adored my college counsellor, as she was someone I felt relaxed around. She seemed to understand what I was saying even when it didn’t make sense to me. She knew how to push me but not cross any of my boundaries. She explained things in a way that my brain had never comprehended before. The same things couldn’t be said for my Mind counsellor.

Mind is a remarkable mental health charity that not only supports people with a variety of disorders but also enables them to meet people in similar circumstances. This is something I hugely respect, as I know how isolated mental health can make you feel. I decided to have extra private counselling with Mind as I felt it was the only way I could heal as swiftly as possible. However, certain things aren’t going to work for everyone no matter how hard you try and accommodate the masses.

The counselling I received was both professional and tailored to my needs, yet I was never entirely comfortable in the sessions. I think the environment I was in played into that immensely. The counselling happened in a conventional room with two seats in a terraced house. It felt clinical, which I guess is predominantly the point, and it seemed to lack any sense of joy and warmth. I was so used to having this bright room in a well-known setting that it was a shock to the system.

It was really my initial encounter with the adult mental health services and it confused me to be truthful. Why does adulthood mean a drab colour palette and minimalism? Some may say this is just my ignorance and lack of knowledge of the main system, yet I highly doubt that the lack of comfort I felt would invite those most in need of aid.

  1. Seeking professional help for mental health is stressful and often disappointing

I’d like to begin this point by saying I sincerely admire the work of doctors and all those involved in the NHS. They get enough criticism in the media and I decline to be a part of that. My issue is with the health system in place currently.

I visited my local doctors at least four times before being offered medication to help with my anxiety. There wasn’t the possibility of a referral to the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). I was told in my first appointment that my case wasn’t ‘severe enough’ for a referral. Then even if I were ‘severe enough’ it would be at least a six-month wait before I received any support.

Being told this was probably one of the most worrying and upsetting things I have ever been told. The idea that my situation wasn’t bad enough to fit the guidelines was horrific as I felt I couldn’t get any worse without gravely harming myself.

However, it also made me think about something I’d never thought before. Imagine if I had an eating disorder and was told that my condition didn’t fit the expected guidelines for support. Can you imagine the harmful or even fatal effects of just one comment?

  1. Recovery is difficult but worth it

When I have a setback I find it extremely difficult to cope due to my perfectionist nature. Yet when I look at how far I’ve come over the past 12 months I feel a sense of self-respect. I have achieved a lot even though I faced numerous setbacks. If you had told me some of the things I have accomplished when I was at my lowest I would have probably laughed in the persons face.

People often say recovery is more like a zigzag than a straight line, and as cliché, as that is, I have to agree.

  1. Self-harm shouldn’t be a coping mechanism

For some, this may be seen as self-explanatory but for myself, this is how I coped for around four years. It wasn’t about hurting myself; it was a release that allowed me to get along with life. I was so frightened of admitting the fact I was struggling, that I would have rather had that release then had a long-term solution with the correct support.

I wasted so much time and made the situation worse for myself because I was so used to aiming towards perfection. People who are perfect don’t struggle openly, is always what raced through my consciousness. Now I know that’s a load of nonsense, and I was frankly an idiot for even thinking of the notion. Perfection doesn’t exist, and even if it did it’s not worth the mental destruction.

  1. More people are struggling then you realise

I didn’t realise how many people did struggle with some sort of mental health issue until I started discussing it. I’d always known people who had struggled throughout their adolescents yet there were so many more people than I realised.

I still believe the stigma attached to mental health is part of the reason for the absence of open discussion. There is clearly more discussion than there used to be, especially among young people. Yet I still get this apprehensive feeling before I reveal to anyone new that I have a mental health disorder and I know I am not the only one that encounters that feeling.

  1. Having a mental illness doesn’t make you weak

Again, some may say this is self-explanatory but for me, it wasn’t that easy. For years I thought I was clearly doing something incorrect that resulted in my condition. Maybe it was because I wasn’t strong enough. Maybe it was because I wasn’t intelligent enough. Maybe it was because I wasn’t beautiful enough.

Obviously what I am and what I look like has nothing to do with it. Mental health doesn’t pick its victims based on characteristics; it will thrive wherever it can.

  1. Don’t settle for less than you deserve

This could be applied to anything when you think about it. However, I’m going to apply it to a short-lived romantic relationship that I regrettably got into this year.

I wasn’t too sure about this boy in particular as some of the things he did were real red flags for me. Yet I decided to get involved as I thought this would finally be something good to come out of 2017. That decision was a tremendous error on my part.

The boy I thought I knew and the boy that actually existed were two completely different people and I ignorantly dismissed the early signs because I felt a sense of comfort. The early hesitation that this boy wasn’t what I deserved turned out to be more than accurate.

My action to ignore my early negative thoughts turned out to create a lot more anxiety than joy, and I have to take some responsibility for that.

  1. If someone makes a bad impression when it matters, don’t give him or her another chance

Again this refers to that relationship. Our first date was actually my first ever date and like most people, I was filled with excitement and nerves. Yet for most of the date, I was left feeling confused and frustrated.

A real key thing on a date is communication, yet this only happened in the last hour of the date. Luckily it was a double date of sorts so I did have other people to talk to but when I say this boy wouldn’t speak to me; I mean he literally did anything he could to not talk to me. I actually went to leave twice but my friend urged me to stay.

He put the blunder down to nerves, which is understandable to a certain degree. Yet after being put through what he put me through, I find it more difficult to believe.

  1. If someone keeps disappointing you, don’t give him or her another chance

This carries on from the last point really. Disappointment is probably one of the worst feelings and for some reason I allowed myself to go through that multiple times.

My need for just some sort of joyous yellow to make its way through the grey cloud I had come accustomed to had overridden my need for balance. Even months later, I still don’t know why I let this happen to myself.

I think sometimes you become so desperate for something good and different to occur that you allow anything to happen as long as you feel something new. I foolishly had this mentality at the time but I do understand why. I had had such an awful time the months before that I just wanted to feel something other than anxiety, stress and self-punishment, and for a while I did, but those moods soon returned.

  1. Someone’s dishonesty towards you says a lot about him or her, not the other way round

Yep, it’s about him again, but honestly, I learnt a lot from a bad situation. For a while, I believed his inability to be honest with me and his incessant need to mess me around were due to me. I’d obviously done something wrong to deserve this. Whether I had been too naive or too gullible, this was my clear punishment for that. Yet now I know that is very much not the case.

Looking back at it, I did nothing to deserve the way I was treated. I was completely genuine and honest throughout; it was him that was the problem. I was just oblivious to this because I was very hurt by the situation.

I think I’m such a perfectionist that whenever something remotely negative happens the first person I blame is myself. I don’t I’ll ever be able to change that part of myself, but I’d like to make the realisation time a lot quicker.

  1. Toxic relationships don’t change for the better

This isn’t necessarily something I experienced first-hand but something I have observed over the last 12 months. Sometimes it’s little signs such as body language. Some it’s obvious in the way people speak to each other.

No matter what signs they were, they continued to become worse until everything seemed to explode into an unnecessary disaster. It is stressful enough to watch these situations; I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be in the midst of one.

  1. Coming out is freeing

I am bisexual and had been out to my friends for around a year before coming out to my family. I didn’t really see the point in coming out to everyone until after I had a girlfriend or someone of sorts.

I decided to come out on National Coming Out Day 2017 as I had been talking to my now-girlfriend for around a month. I came out over text, which isn’t exactly traditional, but it was the easiest way to do so with my anxiety.

Since that day I have felt so carefree around my family and I have felt more myself than ever before. It’s a new sense of freedom that I am so glad I am allowed to now experience.

  1. That doesn’t mean people aren’t going to have questions

I was very reluctant to make this point, as I know a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community encounter ignorance or homophobia within their family. Thankfully I am truly grateful to not be in that position

Discovering and labelling your own sexuality is extremely difficult so I can understand the confusion it may cause. I was lucky enough to never be asked any ignorant questions or overhear any homophobic comments so my experience has been a lot more positive than some.

I am remarkably lucky to come from a family that I know will have my back and love me no matter what I do or who I am. I am also lucky to be surrounded by friends who don’t care about sexuality or any other natural feature.

  1. Finding a job is extremely difficult

You’re probably thinking this is an obvious point, right? Well, it is. Yet I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was.

I now have a job, sadly it is a zero hours contract and I am paid under £5 an hour. I am grateful for it though as it allows me to gain experience in retail.

When looking for jobs I found experience was a massive deal, which is fair enough. The problem is if you don’t hire young people because they lack experience, how are they supposed to gain that experience in the first place?

  1. Your opinion of yourself is the only thing that defines you

This probably seems like something I took of a motivational poster in a school or on Tumblr, but it is true. We often hear this sort of stuff being thrown around online and from our peers, but we rarely actually believe it.

The past year I have tried to block out not only the opinions of those that are not important to me but also the opinions my anxiety feeds me. This wasn’t an easy task and I could argue it was rather unsuccessful. Yet I have improved in a small way, remarkably thanks to my stubbornness.

Whenever I hear someone mocking me in any way I am now determined to prove people wrong, now more than ever. 2017 may have been horrific in many ways, but it has made me more determined than ever to succeed in anything I decide to set my mind to, and for that, I am grateful to this abomination of a year.

For anyone that has been affected by anything I have spoken about, here are a few websites that could be useful to you:

ThinkTwice – A mental health charity aiming to raise awareness and fight the stigma attached to mental health

YoungMinds – A mental health charity focusing on children and adolescents

Mind – A mental health charity providing information and services such as counselling in local areas

Stonewall – A LGBTQ+ equality charity that provides support while also campaigning for LGBTQ+ issues

LGBT Foundation – A LGBTQ+ charity providing support, advice and information

These mental-health links should not be used to self-diagnose, if you feel you have a mental-health issue please go and see a health professional

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