World Mental Health Day (the pandemic version)

This year I won’t write much about how important is World Mental Health Day. We all know that every day is Mental Health Day, we can’t look after our mental health once a year, we need to tend to it as much as we do our physical health, if not more and asking for help if needed is nothing to be ashamed of, it only shows you are human with feelings.

And if you are one of those people who goes around boasting you never had a mental health problem and telling others they should ‘man up’, then you are in deep denial. One person every 40 seconds commits suicide. Take a minute to let that sink in before you devalue others’ mental health struggles.

I won’t talk about my personal experience either, I’ve done it plenty of times, you can read more here, I just want to say, after everything the whole planet has been and still going through, especially these last few months, the constant fear of contracting the virus, worrying about our loved ones who are more vulnerable than others, the prolonged lockdown, struggling to cope with being inside for so long, the effects on our financial situation and worrying about employment and money, the psychological effects of self isolation, after all these and unfortunately much more, please just remember:

It’s OK. It’s OK to struggle, it’s OK to be angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, worried.

We are all different and we all deal with our issues in our own way. Do what you need to do for yourself, look after yourself and remember to devote time on your mental wellbeing, in whatever form helps you, it could be anything. For me is yoga, writing, music and travelling, wandering around (though I can’t do much travelling right now but I try as much as I can on my little island). For others could be drawing, dancing, anything. Please don’t feel guilty if you haven’t been ‘productive’ or had a sofa day. 

And if you can, speak about it. Let’s get rid of the stigma once and for all. Why is it fine to talk about heart disease, cancer, little pains, big pains, express our worries, pain and fear when it comes to physical health but we still can’t openly talk about  it when we feel down or sad, or are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, borderline personality?

So that’s my message for today. Look after yourself and talk about mental health.



World Mental Health Day, 2018

Every year, since I started this blog, no matter how I feel and what I do, I always make time to write about World Mental Health Day.

It’s been celebrated since 1992, 26 years. A lot has changed since then, but there’s still a long way to go.

I won’t go into much detail of my own experiences, but I fell down the dark hole a couple of times, I’ve been through anorexia in my teenage years, I had a bitter taste of how hypo-chondria feels like and I’ve been struggling with anxiety for years and although I’m handling it much better it sometimes flares up. So, I know first hand what is like.

And is not just me. Many close, loved ones had their fair share of experiences.

Always remember, you are not alone, even when you think you are. God I know how tough it is. How impossible it feels to just admit you are struggling. But the moment you do it, to share it with someone else, family, a friend or dedicated helplines, it will make a huge difference.

And it’s OK not to be OK. Some days are better than others and some days are not. I’m battling with my own troubling, debilitating thoughts lately and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for days, I still make it out of bed, go to work, see my friends, do things most of the time and there are days that I just go straight home after work, crawl into fetal position, shut my eyes and lie there in silence, because it’s all too much to handle. And that’s OK.

After almost six centuries, since the first time the term ‘psychology’ ignited the research into the field, we finally live in an era where it is OK to be open and honest about your struggles. There is still stigma around it, but it’s getting better and more and more people, organisations, workplaces realise the importance of mental health.

This year’s theme is Young people and mental health in a changing world which couldn’t be more crucial. Mental Health Awareness, mindfulness and emotional intelligence training should be taught from a young age, children should learn how to recognise and manage their feelings and know from as early as possible that it’s OK not to be OK and that they have someone to talk to about their feelings and their struggles.

Maybe if the support was there for our generation, we would have been able to cope better, so let’s make it our goal to improve that for future generations.

I’ll close this with what I said last year, every day is Mental Health Day.

Here’s to another year of great initiatives to improve awareness and embed World Mental Health in our daily vocabulary.

PS Featured Image is one of the official World Mental Health Day 2018 posters by WHO (World Health Organisation). I do not own this image.



You are very much on time

Today I’m not reflecting back on last week.

I weirdly can’t remember much of it. It’s all a blur.  I remember walking home after my hairdresser’s appointment on Monday evening, only to find out the next day that a girl was raped at the very same park I walked through, roughly at the same time I passed by.

I didn’t hear a thing. It was only 6:30pm in the evening. It shouldn’t be dangerous walking through a park with so many people around early in the evening.

I no longer walk through the park at night, most days. Some days I’m angry that women in this day and age are advised not to walk through a park in the afternoon, just to be on the safe side, so I walk through it and I’m ready to fight whoever tries to even touch me.

I remember Mike’s birthday lunch and the fire at Waterstone’s whilst we were at Turtle Bay. How sad to see all the books, all the beautiful books with amazing stories on their pages, all the philosophy, science, literature, fiction books that open up our minds and teach us valuable lessons burnt.


And I remember having delicious pies for lunch on Thursday. This is it. The rest is nonsensical in my brain.

What I vividly remember is waking up one day during the week in tears. I was terrified, panicking. Panicking this year is going so fast, too fast. I cannot believe it’s already March.

I went through a whirlwind of emotions, thoughts. I’ve been contemplating about life a lot this week.

‘Am I good enough?’

‘What should I do next?’

‘What do I really want to do next?’

‘What if I die right now?’

‘What have I achieved in my life so far?’

‘I am running out of time. I’m almost 32, what should I do?’

Excruciatingly painful questions with no simple answers.

And then I remembered. I remembered a video my lovely Lou sent me.

A simple, minute and a half long video going through examples on how people achieve different things at different times. One might have become a CEO when they were 22 and then died a year later whereas someone else became a CEO when they were 50 and lived until their 90. Just an example to show that we all work on our own time zones, some might seem ahead and some might seem behind you, we shouldn’t mock them or envy them. Because we are all running our own race, in our own time, our own time zone.

So simple, yet so powerful. I’m in my own time zone, as you are in yours.

It’s incredibly tough to not compare yourself to others. Society norms dictate and often measure your success on others. But that’s not the case.

I recently finished reading one of the best books I’ve ever read and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone, Emotional Intelligence, why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman.

I’ve learned a lot from this one book, from the neuroscience behind it to what Emotional Intelligence is to how developing it can benefit yourself, others, the society, the world, but I won’t go into much detail, one must read it to get the full picture.

Emotional Intelligence, recognising your own emotions and managing them effectively, motivating yourself, recognising emotions in others and handling relationships is what can make or break you. Emotional Intelligence in contrast to the highly regarded by many IQ can be cultivated and improved at any age. And it should. It’s vital and essential. It all starts from a very young age. The way your parents raise you up even since you are a toddler affects your whole life but you have the power to change it. It should be taught at school, it should be taught from a young age.

Why? Because when we finally become adults we can cope better in life. We learned how to be good, loving caring humans. We are aware when and why we are happy, upset, angry.  We recognise how others behaviours affect us and how to change that, we know how to treat people truly respectfully without letting prejudices affect us. We are more resilient to social pressure and all of the social rules dictating our lives. We won’t feel the need to measure our success by comparing our lives to others, because we have the emotional intelligence to recognise that’s just emotions and feelings imposed by others. 

What is success anyway? Money, fame, reaching the top of your career ladder?

No, not really. Many have done that and if you ask them years later they all say the same thing. They’d rather have spent more time doing things they love, with the people they love, making memories.

Of course it’s important to love what you do. And I respect people who love their work. But work is not everything and it shouldn’t define us. And not all of us are lucky to be doing what we love for a living.

In one of the first Derren Brown books I read, Derren whilst explaining how he memorises and recalls people’s names, mentions that when he meets people he never asks them what most would ask, what they do for a living, because some might hate their job and what they do doesn’t define who they are, but he instead asks them what they do in their spare time, what their hobbies are, what they love doing, and then associates their name with some of their favourite things. What a great way to remember people’s names!

I’ve met many ‘successful’ people in my life. Most could only talk about their job and their career, understandably because they love it but they couldn’t discuss about anything else. They rarely read any book, they rarely had time, or made time, to go on a holiday or explore another culture, they haven’t listened to music or went to the theatre for months. They couldn’t remember the last time they’ve seen a film, they had no knowledge or experience in anything else other than their work.

If that’s success, then I do not want it.

What I loved about my lunch with Charlie yesterday is that we could chat about films, life, society, Higher Education, music to travelling and life. Because we both love learning, trying new things and our life doesn’t revolve around work. What we do for a living does not define us and it shouldn’t.

What the world needs is more well-rounded people like Charlie. Well-rounded, emotionally intelligent, loving, caring humans.  People who have what the Japanese called Ikigai, ‘a reason for being’.

Some of them might have reached success in the conventional sense, some might not. But it doesn’t matter.

I don’t know if anyone in years to come would even remember who I was, I don’t know if I leave a big mark on this crazy world, but we all leave our mark, big or small.

What I’ll leave for others is what I learned from my life through my blog, I’ll leave thousands of photos of delicious food and beautiful places and stories of amazing humans.

The feature image I used for this post today is an example of what I’ll leave for others. A gorgeous moment I captured whilst walking to work. I stopped walking for a second because I wanted to take in the beauty of this world. The sun coming out of the clouds, shining gloriously, brightening the beautiful park. Every time I stare at the sun I think of all my friends and family who live far away but at that moment standing there, the same sun is shining where they are. At that moment they don’t feel that far.

We are on our own time zones, literally and metaphorically but we are part of each other’s life, we are part of each other’s time line, in the most beautiful way. Because we love and care about each other. And I smile. 

It’s all about the little things, it’s all about enjoying every single moment, trying new things and for me right now, doing more things I want to but I’m scared of. And everything will fall into place. Just like that.

There is no better way to end this post with a poignant quote by my favourite lady, Leslie Knope.




Not waving but drowning…

Last Friday I attended an inspiring, thought provoking talk on mental health by Hugh Clarke, the Former Head of Counselling services at London Met and counselling Psychologist, as part of the CPD series of workshops run by the Southampton Learning and Teaching Institute at the Uni.

Hugh started the session by guiding us into a three minute mindfulness exercise. I’ll describe how I felt after the instructions below, in case you want to try it, I don’t want to influence you. Read all the steps first as after you close your eyes, you won’t be able to see the rest.

  1. Sit comfortably with your whole feet touching the floor and let your hands gently rest on your thighs.
  2. Close your eyes. What  can you see? Now focus your attention on your breath. Then move to the sounds inside the room. What can you hear? What can you smell?
  3. Now focus on the sounds outside the room, what else can you hear?
  4. Now move back into the room and pay attention to your body. How do your hands feel on your legs?
  5. Now shift your attention to your internal body. What did you notice? Your heartbeat?Can you feel your blood flooding through your veins at every corner of your body?
  6. Now gently open your eyes.

How did that feel?

I felt relaxed, calm and fully concentrated, ready for the talk.

Hugh continued with a question, how we thought someone who is about to take their own life may feel.

My first thought was relief. Relief and calmness, as they can now put an end to their suffering. Others said a sense of control, as this is something they have control of. It made us all think.

He then played us a clip of Stevie Smith, reciting ‘Not waving but drowning’, the poem that inspired the title of his talk.

and then showed us a picture of the infamous Landscape with the Fall of Icarus painting.

Landscape with the fall of Icarus
Landscape with the fall of Icarus

Icarus, based on my beloved Greek Mythology, fulfilled his dream of flying with wings out of feathers and secured with bee wax his father Daedalus made. His father warned him not to fly near the sun, but he ignored him, so his wings started melting and Icarus tragically fell and drown into the sea.

Can you see him in the painting? Maybe not at first. Everything seems normal, everyone getting on with their day and Icarus actually looks like waving, but he is drowning.

And that’s what happens in every day life. Signs of struggling and mental illness are not obvious most of the time.

Hugh went through staggering statistics on student and general population mental health in the UK. Some of the ones I noted down:

-There are over 250 labels used to stigmatise people with mental illnesses. Unbelievably sad.

Labels used to stigmatise people with mental illnesses
Labels used to stigmatise people with mental illnesses

-27% of students reported they struggled with mental health issues.

-77% of students who reported they dealt with mental health issues were suffering from depression and 74% struggled with anxiety.

-The number of students and the severity of mental illnesses they struggle with it’s been increasing year after year, now at its highest.

-A survey of a major UK university revealed that 40% of their students were ‘detached solos’, students alone and isolated.

The stats for the UK general population are equally sad:

-There’s been a 43% increase of use of anti-depressants.

-75% of people who commit suicide have never asked for help.

-For men under 35, the most common cause of death is suicide.

What’s causing mental illnesses? That’s of course a complex question, is not just one thing, and it’s different for each individual.

But some of the main reasons (other than the immediate family environment and upbringing): society, local economics, fragmentation, helpless resentment, the ‘Buffoon effect’ (e.g. Donald Trump), social media (comparison with others which can reduce self-esteem), tyranny of perfectionism, tyranny of the ‘should’ (we all suffer from this to some degree!)

Causes of mental illness
Causes of mental illness

So how can we help each other?

Develop supportive climates through empathy, spontaneity and equality. Be compassionate and encouraging. The sense of belonging, feeling valued and self esteem are vital. And of course emotional intelligence.

At that point Hugh ran out of time as we bombarded him with questions but emotional intelligence, contrary to general intelligence, can be increased throughout our life. Self-awareness, your relationship with yourself and others, recognising and controlling your feelings can all improve with practice. And that can benefit one’s life in so many different ways, I need a whole post for that.

Hugh intended to finish his session the way he started it. Practising mindfulness.

A 3 minute mindfulness exercise has been scientifically proven, not surprisingly, to significantly reduce stress (which confuses us and doesn’t let us concentrate, it makes everything blurry) as it focuses our attention to ourselves, to the present and our nervous system comes back to a calm, neutral state and we can think more clearly.

What a brilliant talk. I’m sure if we had more time we would have been there for hours.

I hope you enjoyed this. I definitely enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.