If you’ve met me, you’ve probably realised that I’m a very awkward person. I stumble over words, never know how to greet people (is it a handshake? A hug? A kiss? Two kisses?!), and have been the perpetrator of many a social faux-pas. Trust me, I’ve got enough to fill a whole other blog post. Actually, I just might; it would certainly make for some entertaining reading!

I feel constantly paranoid about my appearance and spend hours after a perfectly normal conversation, cringing about something I said. However, in recent months, I’ve developed a few methods of easing my worries and alleviating some of my social anxiety.

Here are some of the things I tell myself:

“[Friend’s name] isn’t giving our conversation a second thought”

Are you worried about something you said in an earlier conversation? Take a moment and think about it. Are you over-analysing all the things the other person said? I doubt it. You probably don’t even remember the exact words they used. So chances are, they probably don’t either.

If, however, you have genuine reason to believe they’ve misconstrued something you said – ie. they confirmed what you said back to you and it wasn’t quite right – you can always send them a message to clarify. Make a joke about it, if appropriate, or apologise if you’re concerned you caused offence.

“It’s OK to make mistakes”

Life isn’t scripted. Sometimes we mess up our words or accidentally interrupt each other. That’s absolutely fine. Again, make a little joke, or apologise if you’ve interrupted someone, but don’t sweat it. We’re all human.

“It’s not always up to you to fill the silence”

Obviously if you’re hosting a dinner party, you probably should try to keep the conversation flowing. But I’m talking more about those awkward situations at work – you know the ones. Whether you’re trying to make a cup of tea around someone washing up their Tupperware, or enduring a silent ride in the lift with your boss, it’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to fill the silence. Remind yourself that they’re not saying anything either, so if they’re happy being quiet, you can be too.

“We’re all in the same boat”

Worried the person you met at that party last weekend thinks it’s really weird you kissed them on both cheeks? Chances are, they’re sitting at home stressing about the fact they shook your hand when you left, rather than giving you a hug. We all do it. Every one of us lies awake at night replaying these moments in our heads. They’re honestly probably too busy worrying about how they came across, to think about anything you did.

“It’s fine to step away from situations that make you anxious”

Sometimes I find large gatherings, especially with a lot of people I don’t know, very overwhelming. If things become too much I excuse myself to go to the loo, or step outside for a moment of fresh air. No-one’s going to think you’re rude or weird, and it’s OK to be honest with people. If someone judges you for telling them you need a moment to clear your head, quite frankly there are probably better people you could be spending your time with!

Other things that can help

In social gatherings I often like to have a drink in my hand. And no, it’s not because I’m a boozehound. Having something to hold (that isn’t my phone) means I don’t gesticulate wildly, which was something I found made me feel very flustered when I talked. It also gives one of my hands something to do, as I often feel self-conscious about how I’m holding myself and what I’m doing with my hands. Also, I find it really helpful to have something to sip while I talk, as it lets me pace myself, stops my mouth from getting dry, and gives me a couple of seconds to clear my head if I’ve lost my train of thought during a conversation.

I’ve learned to make jokes if I accidentally say something silly. I know – it’s easier said than done, and it definitely takes time. But I’ve really found that by not taking myself too seriously and just embracing my own ridiculousness, I’ve become much more relaxed in social situations.

Saying no

I try not to plan too many social events in one week, as I know I need time to recharge. You don’t have to accept every invitation – your friends will understand. Use whatever helps you feel organised, whether it’s a paper diary or the calendar on your phone, to manage your social life. Not only will planning ahead help you feel more in control, but scheduling regular self care time is a great way to avoid feeling burnt out. By being more selective, you’ll find that the social events you do go to are so much more enjoyable.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help

It can feel really daunting turning up to a large gathering by yourself. If there’s going to be someone there you know, why not ask them to come out and meet you at the door so you can walk in together? Obviously this won’t always be an option, but when it is, please don’t feel too embarrassed to ask. They’re not going to think you’re being silly but again, if for some reason they do, I would argue that there are plenty more supportive and understanding people you could be spending your time with.

Just be honest

Everyone has certain things that make them uncomfortable. What makes your needs any less important than someone else’s? For example, if you don’t feel safe in crowded places, let your loved ones know. In the same way they probably wouldn’t take their vegetarian friend to a steak restaurant, they shouldn’t want to take you somewhere that makes you feel anxious either. Your needs matter and you deserve to surround yourself with people who are considerate of your feelings. 

I’ve been mulling this idea over for some time now and I thought today – with #thrivingatwork trending on Twitter, and the topic of mental health in the workplace being widely discussed – would be a good time to share it.

I want to create an ‘openness in the workplace’ scheme

Now bear with me here, I haven’t worked out any of the finer details, but the basic idea would be that managers can sign up to have a little sticker or badge on their desk which shows their team they’re open and sympathetic to mental health struggles. Other members of staff could also display their support, with the goal of creating a safe environment, where people feel comfortable being open if they’re struggling. Anyone can sign up – whether they have personal experience of mental illness or not.

This would only be a small part of a wider campaign and I have yet to think of a catchy name, so if anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

I’m aware there are potential pitfalls

For example, I in no way want this to become a ‘counselling’ service. People involved in the scheme shouldn’t be treated like a substitute for qualified mental health professionals, nor should they give any sort of advice – just support and understanding.

In fact, this may be a crap idea altogether, so please feel free to tell me if you think it is! What I’m hoping is I can get enough people interested in getting involved and we can have a bit of a brainstorming session and bounce ideas off each other. Please get in touch if you’d like to be involved in any way.

People shouldn’t feel afraid to phone in sick if they’re having a bad mental health day

I’ve seen far too many people on Twitter saying they’ve often felt too afraid to be honest with their boss when calling in sick. We shouldn’t have to lie – mental health is as important as physical health. The goal of this campaign is to reduce stigma and help people to understand this.

I want talking about mental health at work to be as commonplace as talking about having a cold. In the same way you might grumble about having a headache, if you’re feeling anxious at work, I believe you should be able to mention it to your employer and be able to take a few minutes outside without it being a big deal. I have personally experienced working in an office like this and it was a wonderful, supportive environment that everyone should have.

If I can be a part of making that happen, even on the smallest possible level, I want to. Let’s do this!

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that I tweeted about getting some MEGA EXCITING news yesterday.

I sort of planned to wait until everything was finalised, contracts signed etc., but I just can’t wait any longer.

I am thrilled to announce that…

GIF of Mel doing a drum roll

Drum roll please!

I’M WRITING A BOOK!

I will reveal more details later, but for now let me just say that I am ridiculously, deliriously happy. It’s a memoir, so I’m going to have to dig deep and get nice and personal – I hope you’re ready!

It’s all thanks to this little blog that I’ve been offered this incredible opportunity, so I’d like to thank you all for your support, encouragement and kind words. I really feel like I’m part of an amazing online family and I’m grateful for that every single day.

All my love,

Mel

(A soon-to-be PUBLISHED AUTHOR – WHAT?!?!?!?!)

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a few tweets about the mental health blogger convention I’m hosting next year. I’ve had a few questions about it, so I wanted to answer them all here. I’m so excited (and nervous!) about this event and I hope to see loads of you there.

Where is it?

It will be in Bournemouth, at the Queens Hotel.

This is roughly a ten minute walk from the train station and a two minute walk from the beach if anyone fancies wandering down afterwards. If you’re driving down, there is free parking at the hotel, but it’s limited. Don’t worry though, there is plenty of street parking around, though please be aware it’s all pay and display.

When is it?

Saturday 14th July 2018, 11am-6pm.

Will there be food?

There will be tea and coffee on arrival as well as a light buffet. If you have any allergies, please check with hotel staff on the day.

Where can I stay afterwards?

There will be a small amount of discounted rooms allocated to this event. Please contact the hotel directly to make a booking and explain that you are attending the event.

Failing that, there are loads of hotels nearby; my recommendations would be any of the Oceana Hotels or The Orchid, which is very affordable.

What’s the running order of the day?

I’m still nailing that bit down, but currently I have plans for the following:

  • Talks from people in the MH blogging community
  • Exhibition stands with products
  • A booth with a make-up artist/eyebrow lady (sculptor/artist/stylist/whatever the term is…!) giving makeovers
  • Potentially readings from authors and a stand-up set
  • Selfie area (I will also be running a competition for the best selfie!)
  • Lots and lots of mingling and great conversation with like-minded people, in a relaxed, comfortable environment

Sounds great – how can I buy tickets?

Tickets are £15 each and you can buy them here.

You won’t get a physical ticket, but I will be sending email confirmations, which you will need to have with you – on your phone is fine!

Can I vlog the event?

Please feel free to take photos on the day and write blog posts after – the more the better! However, at the moment, I think I’d prefer it if there wasn’t any vlogging (though I may film some of the talks myself). I only say this because I want everyone to feel comfortable and some people may not feel relaxed being on camera.

Is the venue wheelchair accessible?

Yes!

Help! I have more questions!

If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know in the comments, or drop me an email: geekmagnifique1@gmail.com

MH Blog Con logo

 

A while back I talked about how mental illness and therapy are portrayed in various TV shows.

I found this a really interesting post to write and since then, I’ve been particularly impressed by how mental health has been explored in two particular shows. Spoilers ahead – though I’m talking about season 5 of Suits and Star Trek TNG, so I wouldn’t worry too much!

Suits

This may sound strange, but when Harvey started having panic attacks at the start of season 5, I was thrilled. It was great to see a strong, confident man experiencing severe bouts of anxiety, rather than the tired, predictable portrayals I’m used to seeing (Big Bang Theory’s Stuart, I’m looking at you). I think this helps to drive home the point that mental illness can happen to anyone – regardless of wealth, success or any other factors – and remind people that outward appearances can be deceiving.

Harvey Specter having a panic attack

Harvey up until this point had been portrayed as a stoic character who, it could be argued, is not very in touch with his emotions. Problems in his personal life began to take a toll on him however, and his panic attacks frightened him so much that he started seeing a psychiatrist.

In these sessions with Dr Agard, we see him resisting her efforts to help him, as he struggles to be honest with her. She starts to dig a bit deeper and it becomes clear that his current problems stem from much larger, more deep-rooted issues. I’m only a few episodes into the season, but I’m excited to see how this story line develops.

What I liked…

  • Harvey’s honesty with Mike when he tells him he’s having a panic attack.
  • Straight after, when Mike asks if Harvey’s alright, rather than brushing it off, Harvey admits he’s not.
  • The realistic way the panic attacks are portrayed, showing the overwhelming physical symptoms: racing heart, sweating, vomiting. I thought these scenes were very well done.
  • The fact that Dr Agard insists Harvey talks to her, refusing to simply prescribe him medication. One thing I’ve learned is that talking therapies and medication go hand-in-hand, and I’m glad this is being explored on the show.
  • The balance between Harvey being vulnerable, while also still being his usual self. Though I suspect he may continue to unravel and I’m interested to see where the show takes him, at the moment I like that he’s struggling, while still being high-functioning. It’s a realistic portrayal of what many people go through each day, and the way the anxiety is slowly creeping its way into his life and affecting his work as he tries to keep afloat is very relatable.
  • The way it showed that therapy isn’t an instant fix. My heart sank when Harvey triumphantly threw his medication away, because I thought the writers were just using the panic attacks as a one-off dramatic device. I’m so glad the therapist didn’t just say a few magic words and instantly ‘fix’ him. It’s much more realistic that he didn’t experience an immediate breakthrough and again, I’m excited to see how his experiences continue to develop his character.

…and what I didn’t

  • The ‘mind-reading therapist’ trope. When Dr Agard told him, ‘I had you pegged from the moment you walked in’ I have to admit I rolled my eyes slightly.
  • Dr Agard’s openness with Harvey. Some of what she divulges to him and the poker game they have later on didn’t really ring true to me, but then again, I’m not a psychiatrist, so who knows?
  • This hasn’t happened yet, so it’s possibly unfair to put it in the dislikes column, but I have a feeling they will end up dating and I really hope they don’t.

The verdict

I’m a big fan of Suits and absolutely love Harvey as a character, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how he continues to try and overcome his anxiety. I sincerely hope he doesn’t just end up in a relationship with Donna (or Dr Agard!) and that’s the end of his panic attacks. I’m so sick of the ‘love fixes everything, even mental illness’ rubbish we see so much in films and TV shows.

Very important scientific side-note:

Would you just look at him? *Inserts a million heart eyes emojis*

Harvey Specter GIF

Star Trek: The Next Generation

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek since I was a kid. Everyone knows it’s always been ahead of its time in many ways, but I’ve started to notice recently that it was also ahead of its time in the way it tackled ‘difficult’ subjects like suicide and grief, while normalising the idea of seeing a counsellor.

What I liked…

  • The fact the Enterprise not only had a ship’s counsellor, but that she was an integral part of the bridge crew and a close confidant of the captain. It’s a shame this wasn’t a role that the other Star Trek franchises had.
  • The episode ‘Hero Worship’, in which a young boy attempts to avoid confronting the grief of losing his parents by ‘becoming’ an android and mimicking Data’s mannerisms. With Troi’s guidance, Data forms a strong bond with the child and helps him work through his feelings slowly rather than avoiding them.
  • The episodes following Picard’s assimilation into the Borg collective, as he tries to cope with his trauma and readjust to life back on the Enterprise.
  • The episode where Troi has to help her mother uncover repressed memories of the child she lost. This is all done very symbolically, with Troi delving into her mother’s Betazoid psyche to try and understand the self-preservation mechanisms her mind has put in place. Look out for a very young Kirsten Dunst!
  • Troi as a character. I always admired her integrity, compassion and empathic abilities.
  • Voyager also had a couple of great episodes, my favourite being ‘Extreme Risk’. After finding out all her Maquis friends are dead, B’Elanna starts to deal with her grief in unhealthy ways, such as taking part in extreme holodeck programs with the safety controls off.

…and what I didn’t

  • Nothing! Unless there are any episodes I’ve forgotten about (please comment if so!), as far as I’m concerned, any episodes that dealt with mental health, grief or suicide did so cleverly and sensitively.

Side-notes:

  • Deanna had the most incredible curls and was very much the envy of my frizzy-haired nine year old self.
  • I adore both of these kick-ass ladies and their friendship.

Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher

And a cheeky but very special mention to…Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I could (and probably will) fill an entire blog post with reasons I adore this show – go and watch it, now! It’s funny, relatable and moving in equal measures, and I promise you will fall in love with Rebecca Bunch.

Rebecca Bunch

If you want to watch any of the shows I’ve mentioned, they’re all available on Netflix. You’re welcome.