Over the course of my life, I’ve been so consumed by analysing every little thing that I’ve said or done, trying to catch my negative thoughts, and spiralling into anxiety or depression that it feels as though I never forged a real identity for myself. Being chornically socially anxious, it seems like although I have made and maintained successful relationships, at times I have been like a chameleon, subtly changing my ideas, values, likes or dislikes depending on who I was around.
At my lowest times, I have wondered whether I am a person at all. The turbulence inside my head seemed to be all I was, all I could do or think about, all I could ever be. I have felt, keenly and agonisingly, that I have no personality and no idea who I am. Of course, the more rational part of my brain that gets a little air time every now and then knows that depression made me feel this way. Depression sapped my enthusiasm for anything, my energy, and any sense of self-worth I may once have shakily grasped.
Depression may well have exacerbated this, but even during my times of stability this feeling of something not being quite right has lurked in the shadows, questioning my actions, my thoughts, anything I chose to spend my time doing. I’ve been keen to nurture this, taking any failures or loss of interest as proof that I wasn’t supposed to be doing that, it’s all wrong, why are you even bothering?
Instead, of course, what I should have been nurturing are the seeds that I discovered when I gave myself some time to breathe. When I remembered that inside, somewhere, there are some qualities, passions, and feelings that make me who I am. My entire blog is based on this analogy, so with that in mind I thought it might be a good idea to have a little prod around the wasteland, and see what the little seeds are up to. My seeds are those little things that helped me remember who I was, and start to live life a little better than I was, a little more how I wanted to.
This is a fairly easy concept to grasp. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but through my low periods it’s very quickly fallen by the wayside. Reading when you;re exhausted and completely distracted by the white noise in your brain is near enough impossible. Even now, feeling decidedly more human than I was perhaps a year ago, reading is still a struggle. I am still chronically knackered, and never seem to allow myself the time to escape into another world. That’s quite an important part of reading, for me – to enter into a story completely different to my own, to feel and discover things along with characters, to wonder at the twists and turns of someone else’s plot.
At Christmas, the ever-obedient Mr Seeds got me a reading journal. This small book has A to Z pages where I can note down each book I finish and what I thought of it. Starting this (albeit still rather empty) journal was a step towards me allowing myself to actually have thoughts and feelings about things. I could look back and think, ‘Ah, yes, I really did read that, and look, I had a thought or two about it.’ It gives me a chance almost to prove that I was able to think about something other than whatever my brain was shouting at me.
Yes, I know, being vegan is not something many people want to hear about as they assume that adopting a vegan lifestyle automatically turns a person into a holier-than-thou preacher wearing shoes made of hemp and eating only salads. For me at least, this is quite far from the truth.
I’ve dipped in and out of being vegetarian since I was a pre-teen, the latest venture being towards the end of 2015. It only took two months of that in 2015 before Veganuary 2016 came along, and I started my thirty-day vegan challenge. That was two and a half years ago, and I’ve never looked back.
For me, aligning my love for animals with how I live my life is logical. Whilst I don’t walk around yelling about how vegan I am, settling into a lifestyle that eliminates cruelty to animals suits me. I don’t have to worry about where my meat has come from, what’s in it, or what happened to it in its short life. I can make up my face, clean myself and my home, and dress in ways that don’t interfere with the peaceful existence of our animal friends.
The whole world isn’t going to go vegan overnight, I know that, but it just works so well for me, I love it, and it’s given me a sense of purpose and compassion that I perhaps didn’t realise I had before. Making the switch to being vegan was a big step for me, given how much I worry about what other people think about me. I still don’t shout about it because I worry that I won’t be able to defend myself or my beliefs, but actually doing it was huge.
Since I went vegan, two of my friends have given up meat and another is fully vegan. Having these conversations and encouraging people to follow their beliefs has been a real boost for me, and I’m proud that a decision I made has had some sort of small impact. Veganism has also opened my eyes to other environmental concerns and encouraged me to slowly start reducing my plastic use, the waste I leave behind, to recycle my clothes where I can, and buy second hand.
When I was a (clearly excellent) teenager, a few friends and I joined a poetry website – it was AllPoetry, if anyone’s interested. Whilst this lead to some truly hilarious literary outings, at times I did actually use it seriously, and it helped. Yes, teenage angst is an embarrassing cliché, but if there were things I needed to deal with, AllPoetry heard about it. A case in point; my boyfriend when I was sixteen took up with someone else. That was a poem. More seriously, a young man we went to school with passed away in a car accident when we were just starting sixth form. I didn’t know him well, but the death of a peer at that age is something worth of processing, poetry or not.
At that time, I also kept an online journal. I was really into early 2000s online personal record-keeping, evidently. Regardless of its nostalgic cringe-factor, again I think this was a helpful outlet for me. It’s a shame growing up takes away the earnest sincerity of publicly rhyming one’s emotions, but there we have it. I grew up, and my emotions stayed inside rather than messily spilling out onto the internet. Until now, of course, over a decade later.
Moving on, having this blog has, of course, helped me. I spent a long time focusing on my health (or lack thereof) and work, and how the two chaotically intertwined to create the perfectly lacklustre shitstorm that was (is?) my life. Whilst it’s easy for me to say now as a near-enough unemployed scrounger, spewing words onto a page on a semi-regular basis is cathartic and reminds me that I’m capable of more than clinging onto employment by the stubs of my fingernails. It’s stirred a creativity in me that was long dormant. I like arranging words on a page even if technically, grammatically, and in any other ‘proper’ sense it isn’t worth a lot. Propriety can, in this instance, very politely jog on.
Keeping things alive
Whilst keeping myself alive has at times been a monumental chore, keeping other things alive has given me some sense of purpose. Honestly, during a bad episode in my mid-twenties I passively considered suicide but felt too guilty about abandoning my hamster to even contemplate it further. Really. I’ve had pet hamsters, not through my childhood like a normal person, but instead through my twenties and into my thirties. I’ve lived in flats where having larger pets would be neither practical nor fair, and hamsters are immeasurably cute.
My first was a present from my then-boyfriend for my twenty-fourth birthday, a lovely little Syrian called Flo. Oh, I loved that little girl, and she loved me. She would sit on me calmly, much preferred me to anyone else, and had an impressive array of delicate urethral health problems. She escaped once but just politely sat under the wardrobe until she was found the next day.
After Flo passed away at a ripe old age, I mourned appropriately and eventually brought home Piglet, a bruiser of a beast who mastered the escape of her cage almost immediately. She lived fast and died relatively young, but she was with me through my break up and lived with me in my little flat afterwards. Sherbet followed, a mild mannered but inherently nervy lady (yes, they have all been female) who saw out the rest of my tenure in my flat, and moved in with me and Mr Seeds.
Finally, we have Linda. If you’ve seen my Instagram you may have spied this tiny grey ball of fluff that looks adorable but has the personality of a particularly shitty cat. Aloof, completely unencumbered by affection, a serial nibbler, bar-swinger, and increasingly feral in her latter years, she nevertheless makes me laugh daily by being so stubbornly daft and curious.
Whilst it may not appear hard to keep hamsters alive, having something to care for and nurture has been important to me. Alright, they aren’t as cuddly and affectionate as dogs nor as contrary as cats, but they do respond to you, they’re entertaining, extremely cute and appropriate for living in a small space. I love the little babes, and much as I want a house full of lame cats and blind dogs, the thought of giving up my rodent husbandry does make me a little sad. They’ve kept me going, made me smile, and kept warm a small part of me that loves to nurture and care.
Piercings and tattoos
I got my ears pierced at the ripe old age of sixteen. Unfortunately for my mother (hi mum!) that was a slippery slope and I currently have thirteen ear piercings, a nose piercing, a navel piercing, and six tattoos. Again, as a clearly amazing teenager I rocked an ill-advised eyebrow piercing. Those were great days.
I should point out that the tattoos came much, much later owing to my crippling-if-it-wasn’t-so-unimportant need to constantly overthink what other people might think of me. Still, growing past that has given me some sense of self, some idea that actually, I can do things that I want and surprise surprise, it doesn’t impact anyone other than me. Doing something for me still feels pathetically novel, although I must admit to being glad I didn’t cave to my tattoo urges until a later age, because ooh boy would we have some embarrassing inkings to show off by now.
Still, taking the plunge, so to speak, has made me feel more at home in my skin. I’ve made no secret of how my poor mental health has affected my body image, but even on bad days, I get to look at some pretty cool artwork on my skin and remind myself that there’s at least a few things to love.
I didn’t think I’d be able to write this much when I first thought of the idea for this post. Although most of it is detail about dead rodents, I’m still pleased with my ability to recall and participate in some things that aren’t completely detrimental to my wellbeing, to have something else to focus on besides being a loon.
No matter how bad it feels, these things are still inside you somewhere. We are more than our illnesses or conditions, more than our thoughts and how we manage day to day.