National Volunteers Week


Me back when I first started volunteering!

From the 1st-7th June is National Volunteers Week and as a Voluntary Services Manager this is a big deal on a professional level but for me it’s also a personal one too. It’s a moment for me to acknowledge how far I’ve come; it’s easy when work is hectic and my love life is a mess to lose sight of what I have achieved in the past year and a half but as I was giving a speech to a hundred volunteers it made me realise that I have totally smashed it.

In my speech I shared that I had started out in Voluntary Services at the recommendation of my CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) who essentially was like ‘you kind of need to be doing something with all this free time…’. He was totally right, my hair was hacked off from a manic moment of stupidity, I’d gained tons of weight which I was very self conscious of and my confidence was so low I hated going to the shop for milk. I could barely look people in the eye (unless I was manic in which case I was looking people in the eye waaay too much) and that just wasn’t me. As you may have noticed I’m pretty open and chatty and all of a sudden I was this meek, terrified shell of a person. I applied to volunteer and when the Manager eventually got back to me I noted she clearly had a high workload and might need a hand. Because I’m drawn to highlighters, stationary and a spreadsheet, supporting with admin seemed like a good start. The Manager talked me down from my first instinct which was to fill every single day of the week with volunteering and we settled on a few hours a week of admin for Voluntary Services.

Since graduating I’d been completely frustrated by my inability to do anything, finishing my final year of University whilst in a psychiatric Day Hospital had been a push and I remember sobbing over the fact I could barely retain a sentence let alone write a paragraph. I’d always been pretty academic and I had already pushed through a difficult period when my boyfriend at the time had become unwell in my second year of University, I was determined not to fail at the final hurdle but it was a huge struggle. When I eventually graduated I’d given myself 6 months to get on top of my mental health and then I’d start work, my friends will tell you I love a good (and often unreasonable) deadline. My CPN did a kind of mumbled ‘that seems unlikely, you may need to readjust your expectations…’ which I ignored. When the 6 months was up I applied for jobs and got interviews but was so terrified at the prospect of being expected to literally turn up every day or be fired that I didn’t make most of them. I was still hugely struggling with my insomnia, self harm and suicidal ideations that it seemed absurd that I should manage that as well as a job, it was a job in itself.

Like my CPN said my expectation was way off and 6 months ended up being about 6 years, disappointing but he was also right about something else, volunteering was life saving for me. Volunteering allowed me to build my confidence and get comfortable with my skills again without the pressure of being paid. I was expected to come in but I wasn’t obligated to and that felt far safer and relaxed than paid work. If I slept terribly we just changed the day I was due in and if my seizures were bad or my stomach issues weren’t great I just came in later in the day to accommodate that. The flexibility allowed me to become more consistent because I didn’t feel any pressure from anyone I volunteered with. Both Managers I had during this time supported me fully and kept me in check, if I was a little high (which by the way meant I was pretty efficient and an absolute filing machine) then they simply kept tabs to make sure things were ok.

Eventually I built this up into part time hours and then after a few years became paid as an Administrator. Since then I’ve been a Voluntary Services Recruitment and Training Coordinator (worlds longest title), a Voluntary Services Coordinator and now a Manager. I feel so passionate about volunteering because I’ve seen the reciprocal benefits first hand. Of course volunteering is about giving back and creating meaning for those you support but it’s a two way street. Volunteering also allows us as an organisation to engage with our community, form connections between volunteers, reduce loneliness and isolation and support people with building their confidence and skills. Volunteers are integral to the running of organisations, particularly charities and smaller companies which are so reliant on the generosity of local supporters.

As I looked around during my speech on Sunday I saw so many smiling and reassuring faces, volunteers that I get to spend time with daily, weekly, monthly and even once a year, but all amazing people that I truly consider part of my team. It made me realise how hard it is to share our stories and life experiences in setting which aren’t mental health orientated, even if they are mental health supportive. In the past I’ve been happy to share my story but in my new job I’ve worried about how people will perceive me and my competency. Sharing my story to a room full of people who weren’t involved in mental health was daunting but the response I had afterwards reconfirmed my belief that we all share a common humanity. The number of people that shared their own stories with me afterwards was amazing and reminded me that we all have life experiences which shape our personalities and intentions in the world. It’s easy as a member of staff to feel you need to put on a front in order to seem capable but the reality is that by sharing your truest self you open yourself to connecting with people on a meaningful level.

For National Volunteers Week I take a moment to acknowledge the hard work I have put in to building my career but also the amazing volunteers I get to support every day and that support so many fantastic charities and organisations in my local area. For anyone that is considering volunteering I’d highly recommend using the Do-it site (No it’s not a Nike website, that would be an odd thing to recommend), It’s a great resource for finding volunteering opportunities in your area, click HERE for more information.

Please do feel free to share as I’d love the world to be volunteering but I’ll settle for encouraging the smaller number of people within my network!


Dear you…

As many of you will know this week is mental health awareness week. I’ve been pondering on what to say and came across the below whilst stumbling through my hard drive last night looking for my CV. The below letter was written to be submitted to the ‘Recovery letters’, part of a collection of letters written by those who have had mental health issues to those currently suffering. All start with ‘Dear you’. It seems well timed not only for this week generally but for me personally at the moment to remind myself that whatever is going on for me i showed up when it was hardest to and i continue to show up every day and i should be very proud of the work I’ve done to do that.

For more information on the Recovery Letters you can check out the website on:

‘Dear you,

You will most likely have already been told on numerous occasions that ‘it will pass’, it will ‘get better’ or that ‘you will survive this’. If you’re anything like me you’ll find these kind of platitudes annoying, you’ll think ‘don’t tell me i’ll get through it, how can you possibly know that?’. You may, like me, find these phrases condescending, like your grief is something to wade through until you reach a definitive end point, the holy grail of sanity and insight that could only be obtained through mental torture. You may already know that the likelihood is that you will get better, you’ve probably seen the posters of celebrities sharing their stories and notifications bursting onto your newsfeed of people who have been and conquered depression. You may know it, but you may not feel it. We talk about ‘fighting’ depression but in doing so we lose sight of how well armed our opponent is, how well equipped our nemesis stands with our inner thoughts of self loathing and anger. Depression is fluent in your Achilles heel and will twist your own words until they boomerang back to you, battered and bitter and bruised.

So give up the fight, not forever, but for a moment. Depression is exhausting and twisted and it’s ok to say ‘today i don’t want to fight, today i want to stay in bed, or pace the floors, i want to cry and get mad, i want to feel frustrated and defeated, to feel seething and consumed, today i am going to sit with and accept that i feel this way’. It’s not defeat but a very brief truce. Fighting is hard work; it’s keeping calm, trying to do dishes, trying to distract yourself, taking a walk, taking a nap, taking a pill, eating something healthy, eating something. It’s trying to go to bed on time but not too early you can’t sleep, it’s having a bath but not for so long you’re lost in a puddle of your thoughts, it’s mindfulness without too much mind on the fullness in your head. It’s exhausting. So today you can pause the internal monologue and just accept where you are. It feels awful and it’s ok to acknowledge that, you can set aside the pep talks and motivational speeches for today and simply be. You can know that one day it will feel better but right now it doesn’t and that’s frustrating and unfair.

At the same time however, take a moment to acknowledge the fact that you showed up for the day, it could be in the pyjamas that you haven’t washed for weeks with your hair in a mess and fire under your skin but you showed up nonetheless. People may tell you to wash your clothes, clean your hair or meditate but they may not realise you opened your eyes this morning and are still here this afternoon and that’s amazing. You know it will get better but today you are still on your journey and you are learning and growing and whilst it may not feel like it that is succeeding. Don’t berate yourself for things you aren’t doing, the wellness app you didn’t download or the walk you didn’t take. Acknowledge and marvel at the most courageous thing you did today, you stayed.

Good luck

Rip Tides & Changes Of Perspective…

53063681_2230622717001419_3165823563567464448_nI bonded with the beautiful Zoe at work and our shared passion for mental health awareness has been a gem. Following a recent break up she’s been doing a little ‘you alright today?’ head nod when I come into the building which has been much appreciated as have the lunches during which I’ve word vommed for 20 minutes before asking how she is. When we first met she showed me some videos with me which I wanted to share.


‘Hey! I am a friend of Hannahs. We met at work and bonded over our common interest in mental health, Mari Kondo and living in Cambridge! I love Hannahs blog, particularly her honesty and realness about life! I love that everyone is different, with our perspectives shaped by things that have happened in life along the way! Last year I was living in Florida, I recorded this video about perspectives after looking at a sign about rip tides. I hope it encourages you in some way!’

Video Link: HERE

Meltdown On The Beach

20190223_170734There’s nothing like screaming at a friend to fuck off on a beach at 6pm on a Saturday night to really bring home that you’re probably not feeling very well. In general I am not a screamer in arguments, I’m a go and have space and then I will talk to you like a rational human being kind of person, so screaming is a big fat red flag. Orange flags that I chose to ignore in the run up to the weekend away were: an increasingly worrying lack of sleep, irritability, feeling agitated, thoughts about self harm and generally feeling overwhelmed. All these I largely chose to ignore, however I did have a small moment of self reflection the night before that I was feeling nervous about the trip. As many of you know travelling used to be a bit anxiety inducing for me; all the pressure, inability to manage my own time and possibility of becoming unwell or forgetting my meds. These days however I’m generally fine travelling and so whilst I vocalised some of my concerns to my friend I probably did so in a semi casual, ‘o yeah, by the way…’ kind of way as opposed to a ‘dude I’m actually worried about this’ way. The problem with doing this is that when it becomes a shit show they are a bit caught off guard and because I also didn’t take the time to fully acknowledge I was feeling down, I was also caught off guard.

The upside of the saga is that it acted as a sharp and speedy dig in the ribs to get me to ask for some support from my GP. I’ve been putting this off because whenever I’m low I have a tendency to compare it to my first low, which is sort of how I imagine childbirth in that it was so awful I can’t even quite connect to the memory. If this is the basis for monitoring mood then most of the time it doesn’t compare and I shrug off a possible need to seek help and be somewhat preventative. I am also conscious of the time and effort it requires to get a GP appointment these day, particularly now I’m working. I then balance up the additional stress of involving work and having to slot in an appointment during my working day and I’m like ‘hmmm I guess i’ll just wait it out and see where this goes’.

Luckily for me I cried throughout my appointment which demonstrated both to myself and the GP I needed a hand. She offered to write me off work which I declined but I took her up on flexible working. She wrote me up a prescription for more sleeping tablets and encouraged me to take them every night seeing as sleep is my main trigger. She referred me to Psych for a medication review and possibility of a new CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) and generally heard me out on the pressure I felt from full time work and relationships. The fact she took me seriously and noted that it was important I took time out to prevent an episode was so refreshing because the mental health system generally requests you be verging on suicidal before providing support or intervention. When someone takes the time to support you it forces you to do a reality check for yourself and I noted that i felt overwhelmed with commitments and like I wasn’t have much time to myself.

Last week I had the psych appointment which is essentially a triage system for mental health, they work out what it is you need, where psychiatric services need to step in and what community services you can access. By this point I’d had my flexible working which although it wasn’t quite flexible enough was a huge help so I was feeling calmer and maybe like I no longer needed the appointment. I went along and promptly burst into tears so perhaps it was a good thing I went, we spoke about triggers and where the stress was, my appetite and my sleep. She noted that although it had been 1 year of full time work now, some recent changes at work were making me feel uneasy and pressured to hold it together. The last thing you need when feeling down is pressure to do anything so I was struggling with this. I am also used to being surrounded by people who work in mental health, have their own experience or have been part of my experience. So I found it difficult that the two things in my life that were very meaningful and at the forefront right now, my relationships and my work, did not have this same level of understanding. She recommended some counselling, guidance around speaking to work and a referral for a one-off psych appointment to discuss and increase in meds. This feels like a step backwards but as she put it ‘maybe you’re current dose works for when life is going well but when life is challenging it just needs a boost to keep you stable’ fair enough.

A week on and i’m feeling much better, largely because I’ve been open which means people are more understanding and my social hermit status is acceptable. People are able to make small adjustments which probably seem stupid but help; things like not being part of big whatsapp groups that endlessly ping notifications up on my phone, understanding I’m more flakey than usual or that visits may even be just be at someones house rather than doing anything exciting or stimulating. My friends and family know me and these nuances so well that they just slip into this mode fairly easily and that’s so unbelievably helpful.

One good thing to have come out of it is that it’s got me back up and painting which I haven’t done in ages, visiting my friend nudged me into focusing on finishing a piece and I felt so pleased that i’d accomplished that for her when I saw it up her on her wall (literally like 200 years after she actually commissioned it). That painting is like remembering a little part of my identity that has been feeling a bit lost recently, looking at it now makes me think of my amazing friend who always supports me in these things and the fact that I am a painter as much as someone with Bipolar.

I’m feeling a tad weird


So the past week or so I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with myself for just feeling ‘a bit off’. It’s not a full blown episode but I jut feel a bit out of sorts and it’s reminded me that in between episodes there’s always a little wiggle room to feel a bit strange without committing to something hard-core like a bit of mania. This has involved some low key things like racing thoughts, a sense of feeling uncomfortable in my skin and struggling to focus and then some slightly more unusual sensations like hearing a few voices and in a couple of fleeting thoughts of self harm. The self harm thing is odd seeing as it’s been a very long time since I did that and it tends to be during an episode, often a manic one (curve ball) where I find the sensation grounding when I’m feeling out of control. I’m certainly not recommending you cut your skin to feel calm because things like lavender sprays, ASMR videos, baths and walks are all much more in the vibe of ‘self-care’ that us millenials are snowflaking it up for and are a much healthier approach. I’ve therefore had to reflect on what these thoughts are attempting to address and I think It’s simply my body reverting to old habits; I’m like ‘Hey I don’t feel great body’  and my body is manically shouting back at me ‘just self harm, that worked in the past right?!’. As a reminder that did not work in the past, it simply left me with some odd scars and self loathing. What self harm does do however is calm racing thoughts so I’ve had to pull out some more healthy tools to deal with this.

One of these tools is distraction and this currently takes the form of ‘The Great British Interior Design Challenge’ if I am at home (If you haven’t watched it already it’s on Netflix and you must) and ASMR if I am out the house. ASMR is really a whole other blog post but is essentially like a more complex form of the white noise machines you get where you listen to rainforest sounds and all of a sudden there’s a frog and you’re like ‘where did that frog come from?’. It’s basically calming sounds someone makes with odd things like paper and crinkly raincoats and because someone is making them rather than them being on a loop there is enough variation that I’m focused on the sounds but also able to pass out asleep to them at bedtime. It’s a handy tool for when I’m out the house and particularly if I want to just look like i’m listening to music such as in the Cafe at my workplace.

The second is being super mindful about overstimulation, I tend to find when I feel like this that I feel easily overwhelmed by things around me. Right now it’s not enough that I need to check out of all social situations but it’s enough that each day I’m judging where I’m at and what I’m doing the following day. For example today I have a longer day at work and am attending a social event in the evening so I did literally nothing last night except make some chilli. It means that I feel fairly fresh to socialise today. When people say overstimulation lots of people things of loud noises or lots of lights but it can be as simple as lots of phones ringing or being around people constantly, even if it’s not noisy. Taking time out allows me to stagger interactions so they feel more manageable and this is really important in a people-facing job.

An inability to focus is tricky seeing as at work I’m managing multiple things every day so I am up to my eyeballs in lists. I have a notepad broken down into subsections (mmmm nerdy goodness) and then a ‘today’ pad, so i can remind myself that I.must.get.this.done! Normally I am better at prioritising workloads but right now I am making sure that I complete a task as I go to ensure it gets done and not lost into the ether of my brain and my drawer. This lack of focus is tied in with racing thoughts which are sometime productive because they force me into being a little supersonic hedgehog and other times I just go into mental overload and have a meltdown.

Hearing voices has been enough that it’s thrown me when I’m around others, particularly as they have largely been derogatory, but not enough that I’ve been worried. I spent a rather interesting day in London a week or so back where there was constant chatter in my head and also in the actual world and I sort of just followed my friend from shop to shop like a mute puppy in an attempt to maintain calm. This week they’re off though which is good because that’s one less thing to worry about.

In ‘Crazy Ex Girlfriend’ the main character talks about becoming unwell with her BPD because she didn’t keep ‘doing the work’ around her mental health and I can see that I have recently fallen into that trap. I haven’t been making sleep a priority, I’ve sort of just accepted not sleeping and I haven’t been having huge amounts of down time. Both best friends have recently been unavailable (for good reasons like being in awesome holiday destinations) but it means I haven’t had an outlet or check in point with people who know me well enough to have a good grasp on supporting me feeling this. I’m also in a semi new relationship where I’m hyper aware going a bit off grid would not be ideal and whilst I know rationally if he can’t stand the heat he should get out the kitchen (said with all kinds of sass and finger wagging) I also know that’s not how it works if you like someone. The result is that I’m scrambling to get my shit together so that I don’t fall apart, which I guess is a motivation but also feels like a bit of pressure too. Finally job stuff is going well and I’ve possibly got some cool shuffle rounds happening in my department so I’d quite like to be on my game to encourage that change rather than be like ‘awesome thanks for the opportunity but I also need to work from home every day this week now’. So basically there’s a fair bit of pressure to stay on top of things when normally I’m like ‘cool I’ll just hang in my PJs and take sleeping tablets every night and ride it out.’

It’s been a stark reminder that although things have been going really well it’s easy to slip up if you stubbornly refuse to notice the smaller things and it’s also ok to do the work and be a bit weird if you need to. I am therefore choosing to be a bit weird for a minute to stay well and not go hard-core weird for the long term. This is healthy decision making.


Happy (belated) New Year!


Gratitude journal is back on people

Happy New Year people!

And by that I of course mean ‘happy end of Janauary because I haven’t got my act together to write something yet’. As many of you know I generally hate New Years Eve because quite frankly reflecting on the year has usually been a rather depressing experience. In the past it has consisted of noting that I am still not working, I am eeking out my daily activities to fill my time (a swim can become a 3 hour experience if you really try), I am just about maintaining stability and I generally have nothing to say for myself. That is of course a very reductive approach to a human being but in a world of workers we place a lot of value on employment and frankly I was itching to work, I was just also petrified of the responsibility. Whilst I sat at home contemplating my many failings as a person my friends were out partying or socialising and generally acting like they were in their twenties. There were a few years that I attempted something like a celebration however they generally fell flat. In 2015 I had a horrible break up and decided to head to Brighton in a moment of false empowerment, I’d imagined looking out across the sea at midnight with my chin up and the wind in my hair but when it came to it I chickened out, concerned I’d be murdered under the pier I instead opted for staying in crying through the 12pm fireworks. So you see it’s generally not a great night for me.

This year however I crushed it, ok I wasn’t partying and I actually spent the first couple of hours tidying and cleaning which sounds lame but hey, you can’t shrug off an entire personality. Instead I stayed in with a friend playing a 2 person version of articulate (surprisingly it’s still fun) and noting that this year I’ve absolutely smashed it. Now my version of smashing it is most other peoples version of existing and has been now for some time but the past year I started work, got promoted, actually socialised and even managed to keep it together and not be triggered off by any of these things. Starting work has been such a huge shift for me and there were definitely points of being sleep deprived and having a little cry in the toilets or eating takeaway 3 nights a week just so I could have a nap when I got home but i did it! This was the first year I wanted to celebrate because this wasn’t just a celebration of a year without an episode but an acknowledgement of how far I’ve come.

Whilst I don’t usually set new years resolutions this year I decided that if I can work I can probably try out some loose intentions. If last year was about just getting by this year is about getting on top of things. Back when I had nothing to do with my time my flat was immaculate, I had birthday cards sent out on the dot and I’d sometimes be up at 7am doing a food shop; I exercised several times a week and went on walks most days because both of these things allowed me to get out the house. All of these things are very easy to do when you have 8 hours of time to fill but they are less easy when you are at work till 5:30, shops close at 5 and you are exhausted. It still takes me by surprise that I only have 2 days a week of actual free time and am expected to complete all my jobs and relax in these 2 days ready for another 5 days of work. That said my main resolution is to be more organised in the below areas (the others are things like stop over plucking your eyebrows)

  1. Friendships – One London based friend books in the next time she will see you at the end of each visit, previously I felt this was a bit much, I now think it’s pure genius. I aim to be as organised with friendships as I am with work.
  2. Chores – Tidying, doing washing, organising food shops, they’ve all fallen at the wayside in a bid to survive working life. Starting the week avoiding my washing basket and filling the sink with heaps of fairy liquid to disguise the mounting dishes under a sea of bubbles is not healthy. I aim to start the week semi organised at home.
  3. Sort the food situation – Whilst I’m getting on top of food I continue to eat a jacket potato from the canteen 3 times a week due to disorganisation, I am amazed I am not one giant potato (although I was nicknamed spud as a child so maybe it’s a self fulfilling prophecy). I aim to prepare lunches at least a few times a week in a bid to save money and avoid the inevitable transition from human to vegetable.
  4. Exercise – Geeze louise I’m just one mound of cellulite at this point, I accept some of this as being human but I would also like to get fitter. My ultimate fear when it comes to exercise is that I will end up in Hospital for something and the surgeon will come out of theatre shaking his head and explaining my heart was just clogged with fat. This is gross and encourages me to eat more lentils and do at least some exercise.
  5. To wind down more before bed and go to bed at a reasonable time. Watching Crazy Ex Girlfriend till 11pm and then not brushing my teeth is not conducive to a relaxing nights sleep so I am back on the lavender pillow spray and gratitude journalling it up.

These are all loose aims, staying well is enough of a concrete goal that I don’t feel the need to place more pressure on myself, but it’s part of a wider aim to get back to my organised little self. It’s a positive sign that I feel able to ask more of myself than simply holding it together, even it’s just the small stuff ;).



Powerpoints & Presentations

Morning all

So as many of you know I write best when totally sleep deprived so… ‘hi guys!’. The past couple of weeks I haven’t slept that well but last weekend I was so tired I fell asleep on a friends sofa with a hot water bottle, blanket and a pug at about 3pm so apparently that’s my winning combination and a solid indication I need a dog sharpish.

This time of year is always a bit strange (and don’t get me started on New Years eve) because it’s an opportunity to reflect. In the past these reflections have consisted of things like ‘cool, you are alive, nice work’ or ‘hey you have been going on regular walks AND you have 3 friends’. For every ‘perk’ there has been a number of less cool observations like ‘I still don’t have a job and I want to work’ or ‘my friends have homes and jobs and boyfriends and grownup lives and I am still living like I’m fresh out of uni’. BUT ta da! This year is different, this year I have a nice flat and a grownup job, I even socialise with people on a WEEKLY basis. Whaaaat?!

Last week my mum asked how long it’s been since I started work and guys it’s literally been 1 year, that’s crazy. In that time I’ve already been promoted and am doing things like presentations and speeches and hosting big events; as a comparison 4 years ago I was hiding in bushes from Psychitarists (and also a shed), I considered stabbing my CPN (he advised me not to) and I watched Fraiser for 8 hours a day 7 days a week (excellent show but merely existing as a human being). It was about this time last year that my benefits were cut and I suddenly had 4 weeks to find a full time job and I genuinely cannot believe where I am at now.

I was recently describing to someone why it is so important I do this blog for myself and continue to look back at my experiences and it’s because I need to look back to fully appreciate where I am at now. Back when I was my most ill I would never have considered the possibility of being a functioning human being let alone enjoying functioning and yet here I am. The past month of my job has been pretty stressful but every time something feels too huge I’m like ‘dude, you used to run across the motorway dodging cars and cut yourself with broken glass from the road, you can probably handle this meeting’. Only by looking back do I have a real sense of how far I have come and what I am capable of. Last week I helped a colleague out with a presentation at the last minute and afterwards thought to myself ‘mate, there was a point, just a few years back, where you would literally have vommed all over the floor and been so anxious and sweaty and gross’ and you just totally winged that.

This evening I am hosting a party for 76 people at work and whilst I’m a bit nervous I can also see I’m totally normal level nervous, that in itself is so huge for me. This weekend we held phase 1 of our big family christmas get togethers and I looked around and felt so incredibly grateful for the amazing people I have around me that celebrate all of these mini successes with me.