Thursday, 10 October 2019

My Year in Breakdowns

Around this time last year, I got my perfect job as a bookseller in Waterstones. I was fully aware that it was only a seasonal position, but I wasn't prepared for my reaction to being let go at the end of January. 

I have struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager, and have been on medication since I was 17. So, as you can imagine, I've had a few breakdowns before. 

This one was different.

I lost all sense of purpose in my life. I had graduated university a few months before, and after deciding to take a year out to work, I was left without any schedule or tasks to complete. I applied to multiple jobs, and all either rejected me or didn't reply at all. 

Then, something scarier happened.

My OCD evolved. 

My obsessions have always been easy to track. Work, school, the number 4, and a few other things. But suddenly, without any warning, my brain began to worry about my physical health.

I was convinced I was dying.

For anyone who has OCD, you will know what I mean when I say this thought consumed every waking moment of my day, to the point where I couldn't even bear to get dressed because I would be scared to look at my body in case I found something that shouldn't be there.

This, added on to my usual daily obsessions, destroyed my life.

The only thing I wanted to do was to pack a bag, get on a plane, and never come back. 


Seeing me struggle, my mum knew we needed to take action. I have had therapy on the NHS before - and though I adore our national health service - it was not a success. I had to wait 6 months or more even for a phone call assessment, and I knew I couldn't wait that long.

Then, my mum had an idea. She knew about this women's centre in our city that offers counselling, so I emailed them with my story. The next morning, they replied with an appointment for the next day, and after meeting my therapist she scheduled 12 weeks of sessions, and suggested since I was into writing that I join the women's creative writing group.

This women's centre changed my life.

Every week, I had a schedule! Creative writing on Wednesdays, and therapy on Thursdays. I was still applying to jobs, but slowly the interview offers starting coming in, and slowly the need I felt to run away and jump on a plane subsided. The women in the creative writing group were of all ages (from 30 to 80!) and even though I was the youngest, I felt so lucky to be there and listen to the lives of all those wonderful women. We even had a real lecturer from one of the city's universities teaching us. 

In this 12 weeks, I applied and got into my Masters degree, got a new job, wrote thousands of words, did my first public poetry reading, and made friends from all walks of life.

I still have bad days. I still wonder what if I had got on that plane? even just for a split second. 

But I don't want to run away anymore. I want to run towards all of the opportunities that I have been so grateful to receive. 

My mental illness does not control me. With the help of therapy, new medication, and my family, I am able to control my mental illness in a way I never thought possible at the start of the year. 

And you will be able to do the same. I promise. If you are struggling, reach out, because you never know who is there to help until you search for them. 

My name is Hannah, and I have anxiety, depression, and OCD. 

My name is Hannah, and I am a Masters student, writer, daughter, sister, and girlfriend.

I am not defined by my breakdowns. 

Sunday, 11 August 2019

REVIEW: ...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne

Photograph by me

Title: ...And a Happy New Year?
Author: Holly Bourne
Publisher: Usborne
Release Date: 1st November 2016
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Page Count: 224
Original Language: English
Format Read: Hardcover
Other books in series: Yes! The Spinster Club series
Movie Adaptation: N/A

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

Same bench. Same view. Same girls. and yet totally different girls...
Evie, Amber and Lottie are having a New Year party to remember.
10... 9... 8...
For the first time since leaving college, all three girls are back together. It's time for fun and flirting, snogs and shots.
7... 6... 5...
(And not tears or tantrums or terrible secrets.)
4... 3... 2... 1
Because everything's going great for these girls - Spinster Club forever! Right?

I freaking love Holly Bourne. She was amongst the first panel of authors I ever saw at an event, and her books mean a lot to me. I read her during my first year of university, which if anyone has been keeping up with the blog for a couple of years knows, it wasn't the greatest time of my life. 

The Spinster Club girls rock. I love their passion, their loyalty to one another, and their feminism. Feminism is tough to talk about, and even harder to write about, because there will always be someone in the back of the room who says stuff like "women have all of the rights now!" "why can't you just call it equality?" "stop being angry man-hating, bra-burning, frigid women!". 

Obviously, feminism is a lot more nuanced than this. But my point is, Holly Bourne writes about feminism brilliantly. She's one of the best in the business. 

I'll be completely honest with you. This book (which is number 3.5 of the Spinster Club series, marking it's end) is not my favourite of the lot. I love the Spinster Club, and I adore how Holly writes, but this one just wasn't for me. There was a lot of crying and arguing, which is pretty realistic to what goes on at teenage house parties where alcohol is involved, but the character development just wasn't there for me like it was in the other books.

Perhaps this particular book in the series just wasn't for me - like I say, I love the other books. Despite this, I found myself really enjoying it, and as always, Holly's writing keeps me on that emotional rollercoaster - which is exactly what a book is supposed to do. 

That rollercoaster is pretty fun. 

Don't let me put you off reading this book. I still gave it 4 stars on Goodreads! As with every book series, not everyone will like every single book. However, this doesn't stop you from loving the series as a whole, or loving the author. 

I will always love the Spinster Club!

Friday, 9 August 2019

REVIEW: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Photograph by me

Title: Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Vintage
Release Date: 6th March 2008
Genre: Graphic Novel / Memoir
Page Count: 343
Original Language: French
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: Yes! 

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandfather of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. 

This has been on my shelf for a LONG time. A few years ago I had a big graphic novel haul, and Persepolis was one of the novels I bought. Like all book bloggers, I have a huge 'to-be-read' pile, and so I decided to see if I could read this in a day.

Let's just say that it wasn't a difficult task. I absolutely devoured this book.

This was such an educational experience for me. I'm a white, British woman, so my history lessons in school were limited to Western wars. However, Satrapi documents her life during the Iran-Iraq war. Since a lot of my blog readers are around my age, and probably know as little about it all as I did before reading Persepolis, I thought I would break it down:

  • Iraq invaded Iran on the 22nd September 1980, in an attempt to replace Iran with a Persian Gulf state.
  • Iraq also wanted Iran's oil. This is a very important detail.
  • The US, Britain, France, Soviet Union, and most of the Arab countries supported Iraq.
  • There were also a lot of border disputes (Iranians needing Visas to leave the country for example, which were very rarely handed out).
  • There was devastation in Iran. Bombs, chemical weapons, and targeted attacks on civilians were just some of the tactics used by Iraq to annex Iran.
  • It is estimated that over 500,000 Iraqi and Iranian soldiers died, as well as many killed and injured civilians. 

This is the short version, but there is so much more to the story. What Marjane Satrapi does is invite the reader to come inside her childhood home, and not only see the reality and attitudes during this war, but the private reality and attitudes between herself and her family and friends. 

At age 14, Satrapi is sent by her parents to Austria to study. They let her go, away from the death and destruction and fear. 

However, away from the war, her life is still full of fear, destruction. This time, loneliness is added to the mix. 

This graphic novel is just incredible. The way she brings everything to life - the falling bombs, her mental health, the timeline of the war itself - I felt like I had to know what happened next. I needed to stay with her, until the very end. 

She discusses all of the taboos that Westerners take for granted too. From wearing a veil correctly to having sex with your partner before marriage, or even just walking with your partner down the street. 

As well as the raging war, there was a social war on women. The way all of this is revealed and goes hand-in-hand with each other is fascinating. 

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone reading this blog post should go and read Persepolis when you're done. Educate yourself, understand what your country did or didn't do in relation to the war, and read the stories of the Iranian people who had to live through it all.

You may get upset. You may get angry. You may get passionate. These are the responses you should have. Read this book, and hope that no one has to write an autobiography like this again.