I’m taking a step back from my blog for a few weeks. As those of you who follow my blog and social media know, I’ve been on an at times very painful mental health journey over the last year. I am now, under medical supervision, going cold turkey on some of the medication that I’ve been taking. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, is taking its toll both physically and mentally.
Even though I love my work, and indeed writing helps to keep me stable and sane, I need to take the pressure of deadlines and blog schedules off myself for a few weeks while I heal. This means that I’m unlikely to be posting here until early March. I’ll be dipping in and out of social media as I feel able, so please do come and say hello to me there (there are links in the sidebar) as I’d appreciate some company while I do what I can for the rest of this month.
I was asked last week if I could recommend a nail varnish that doesn’t destroy weak nails. When thinking about my reply, I decided to widen the response and talk about the subject generally as it’s something I’ve encountered with my own hands.
Here are my five top tips for dealing with yours:
1) Take a supplement to ensure that you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to maintain healthy nails. There are lots of expensive ‘beauty’ versions on the market but I stick to Sainsbury’s own brand women’s capsules, which have the RDA of pretty much everything your body needs.
2) Wear your nails short. It’s an obvious recommendation but nails get weaker with length. A lot of advice says to keep them no longer than the end of your finger but I’d be lucky to grow my even to there!
3) Use a strengthening treatment to nurture nails as they grow. A couple of years ago The Independent featured a great round up of options from £2.50 up to £40. I buy Nurture Oil from my beautician and I absolutely swear by it. Since starting to use just a drop a day on each cuticle, my nails have been in the best condition ever. Get some! You can buy a bottle here, although there are lots of similar generic oils on the market. And if you wanted to go to the queen of hand and foot care, try out Margaret Dabbs’ Nail and Cuticle Serum, £12.00 at Space.NK.
5) Switch to a nourishing nail varnish. A number of brands now offer colours that they claim will help nails. Nail specialists Essie have just launched their Treat Love and Colour range (£8.99 each, available at Boots), made of up three pastel shade varnishes which, they claim, give you ‘beautiful sheer colour without sacrificing the health of your nails! In fact, it aims to improve it!’. If you’re looking for a wide selection of colours then check out Liz Earle’s Strengthening Nail Colour options (£8.50). There are seven shade that cover a pale to dark spectrum and each contains two kinds of oil – hence the claim to being strengthening.
And I couldn’t do a piece on nails without giving a shout out to the fab team at WAH Nails. Their Soho salon is a great place to visit if your after a top notch manicure or fancy some crazy nail art – they can do it all in their fun and interactive space. Perhaps it could be a goal once your nails feel stronger?!
Every Monday morning from the beginning of January to the end of June, I’m attending a two hour group session that uses the Dialetical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the 1980s for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which is what I have (you can read more about BPD here). The Monday therapy group draws heavily on Linehan’s teaching which, like its near cousin Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, concentrates on dealing with the symptoms rather than focusing on the causes of mental distress, as is the case in more traditional psychoanalysis.
There are advantages and disadvantages to any therapeutic approach. I’m on a waiting list for individual trauma therapy but at this moment I really value the DBT group and its emphasis on emotional regulation. Each week we learn another skill that can help us better cope with our often volatile feelings. Some exercises are cognitive, while others are practical tips. This week we looked at ways to distract ourselves when in a heightened emotional state. Crucially, this is not about avoiding difficult or unacceptable situations; rather it is a way to calm down when we feel triggered.
One of the suggestions yesterday was so simple yet of such genius that I knew I had to share it here on my Tuesday Reviews Day post. Linehan’s key DBT textbook offers seven different ways of distracting yourself when distressed, one of which is via sensations – i.e. you create another sensation to distract your mind from its negative spiral of thoughts. One way to achieve this is by eating sour sweets.
Yes, eating sour sweets is a bona fide suggestion from an NHS group therapy course.
At first it seemed a bit ridiculous, albeit a good excuse for all the bingeing on Haribo Tangfastics I did in the autumn. But the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense. Eating something that’s verging on unpleasant automatically overrides anything else that’s happening in or around us. Just think about last time you accidently tasted something you didn’t like. There’s not much else on your mind while you’re going ‘Bleurgh’.
In a spirit of scientific experimentation, I paid a trip to the local Mr Simm’s Olde Sweet Shoppe shortly after the group ended. The owner knowledgeably guided me to the sourest jelly sweet (apple fizz), the hottest boiled sweet (Hot or Wot?) and the worst confection of them all: Mega Sour Apples (these genuinely come with a consumption warning to not eat more than one at a time).
I purchased 100g of each and I can now vouch that eating any one of these babies really does keep your brain entirely occupied. Even if you aren’t in a low or negative mood, they are most definitely a distraction; I literally could not think about anything else except the flavour and the possibility that I was actually going into anaphylactic shock, such was the swelling in my tongue.
I don’t think you have to be struggling with BPD or any other mental health issue to benefit from this simple idea. Buy some strongly flavoured sweets (from my not-that-extensive testing, boiled sweets seem to be better than chewy ones) and stash them away in your handbag, desk drawer or somewhere at home. Next time that you’re feeling stuck in a negative frame of mind, pop one and see what happens. In a bizarre way I’m actually quite excited about my next downturn in mood just so that I can gobble some more and really test the theory. Although I will definitely only be attempting one Mega Sour Apple at a time.
Last Sunday I went to see Jackie at the pictures. It. Was. Amazing. Left with my mind spinning about the subject of women and power but longer term it’s the film’s style that will probably stick most with me. The outfits are divine (they have to get the Oscar for costume), as is the set – notably the recreation of the White House in the early sixties. This Vanity Fair article features the movie’s set decorator, Veronique Merley, who talks about how they achieved this feat.
Some of these great Civil Rights activists must be turning in their grave if they could see what was happening in the US today. It seems that American society is growing ever more divided, with the fault line often running along racial differences. However the recent protests are a reminder that there is still some hope out there. Likewise this story, although a seemingly small the gesture, encouraged me to retain hope: a Manchester mum and her two boys covered anti-homeless spikes with cushions. The power of small actions exemplified.
I also want to finish this weekly round up with another example of hope – and the power that we have to do good things. The video features Lionel Messi, world class footballing legend at Barcelona, and his biggest fan – a young boy from Afghanistan called Murtaza Ahmadi. For 2.46 minutes, push aside any opinions you have about football (soccer) and focus on Murtaza’s delight and the heartfelt treatment he received. You may want tissues near by….
Now that those who attempted Dry January are facing a decision about what to do with their drinking habits, I wanted to return to what seems to be a burning question: why is it so hard to give up drinking?
This question has been much on mind this last month as I’ve written a series of posts about sobriety. To be honest, it’s something I’ve pondered a lot in the two years since I’ve quit drinking – and it also haunted me for well over a decade before that.
For some people it simply isn’t hard to do. They can go for weeks or months without touching a drop and don’t think of it. For those of us with a more complicated relationship to the bottle this kind of laissez faire attitude is incomprehensible. When I was drinking, booze was all too often at the front of my mind: when I’d have it next followed by what had I done when I’d had it, over and over, an endlessly repeating drama.
Now I don’t drink, that drama has gone. That noise has subsided. There’s no furtive planning for the next occasion nor are there any pieces to pick up afterwards. No fog of forgetfulness, no blackouts where memories should be.
I look back at last weekend and the one before and the one before that…I can recall Friday night and Saturday night clearly. Thursday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday too.
This weekend will be the same. No fuzziness around the edges, not even the slightest lapse in recollection. It will all be as clear as it is now as I write at three in the afternoon.
Those strange people who’ve never liked getting drunk hold this up as a positive effect. Many reformed drinkers do too. You’ll never have that loss of control again! Isn’t it marvellous?!
No. No it isn’t. I’ll tell you the truth. Knowing that you’ll never again experience that fuzziness around the edges, the lapse in memory, the loss of control is not marvellous, it’s terrifying.
The long deep outbreath that comes with the first sip? It vanishes forever and you’re left wondering what the f*ck you’re going to do without it.
What will life be like without the release valve that we’ve come to rely on? What will life be like without having the edge taken off? What will like be like without the endless drama of planning/drinking/patching up?
What’s it like?
Your mind becomes like a glass of freshly drawn tap water. It’s refreshing in a way but you can’t hide anything in it. You see all the things that you drank to forget right there, now unavoidable. Whatever you tried to cover up will be exposed. Whatever you tried to drown will rise to the surface.
This, my friends, is why it is so hard to give up drinking. Facing this clarity, embracing it even, is one of the hardest challenges that we can take on. It’s the archetypal hero’s journey, treacherous but noble. Many will fall by the wayside, unable or unwilling to continue.
Living with this clarity, sitting with it night after night, week after week, will test us in every way it can.
Is it worth the fight? Everyone answers that question for themselves. I can see clearly what the right response is for me.
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