Saturday, 5 November 2016

Why Trains Matter to Mental Health

Yesterday morning, around 11.15am, I was standing on the platform at London Bridge in floods of tears. Some background: I had arrived on the platform at approximately 10.15am, ready to board my train for the short journey home to Catford at 10.25am. Then the boards changed to say it was delayed by three minutes, I rolled my eyes. I've never been on a Southeastern service that either departed or arrived on time. Then it was delayed by 11 minutes. I rolled my eyes harder. 'Keep on Southeasterning, Southeastern, I thought.' Then it disappeared from the boards all together. There were no announcements. Station staff didn't have a clue what was going on. I tweeted  Southeastern, they said hang tight, the train's on its way, promise. It got to 10.40am and the board showed the train would arrive at 10.42am, then 10.46am. Then the train that was supposed to leave at 10.40am was cancelled, sensibly at this point, but still no information on the 10.25 other than 'please listen to announcements for information'.

At 10.45am there was an announcement saying our train was awaiting signal clearance at Cannon  Street and would be on the move shortly. After disappearing and re-appearing on the boards several times it was back, with a promised departure time of 10.55am. It got to 10.55am. Twitter said the separate, 10.55 service would run, but with a delayed start time. There was an announcement re: the 10.25 service, which was apparently still awaiting that all important signal clearance. The board refreshed to show the train would leave platform 7 at 11.01am, Twitter told me it would be leaving platform 8 at 11.11am. I was, by this point, quite understandably stressed.

So at 11.15am, I was on the platform at London Bridge in floods of tears, when a man asked me why I was crying. I told him. He said "If you don't mind my asking, why does that upset you so much?"

I should have told him I did mind his asking. I should have pushed him onto the tracks. Instead I just reiterated that I was cold and tired and had been there for an hour and would really like to go home. He shrugged, and walked off. There was obviously a large amount of sexism at play here; men are never asked to justify their emotional responses, much less by complete strangers. But yeah, I was probably overreacting by most people's standards. But the problem is, your standards are not one-size-fits all.

I have depression, as most of you know. I have done since I was 18. I don't know why that was the number that flicked the switch, I stumbled through the majority of my teen years perfectly happily, despite that in retrospect, they were unduly awful. But it was and here we are. I saw a therapist once. Well, six times actually (CBT isn't the longest of treatments). I should really go back. My therapist told me that I was also incredibly and abnormally anxious, which she didn't think was helping my general mood. I've never seen a psychiatrist (under-funding of NHS mental health services, come on down!), so I don't have a diagnosis, but lets say dysthymia and anxiety then. A winning combination, Like cheese and wine (NB: I have never actually had cheese and wine. Should I? Is it everything they say and more?)

Obviously, depression affects different people differently, but I know for some of us, it can turn minor irritations into insurmountable problems. Things hit us much harder than they do you. For you, your train being delayed is an inconvenience, for me, it's yet another thing that's going wrong for me. It's another reason to see the world around me as nothing but darkness. It's another reason to not want to carry on. (I'm not actually going to kill myself over Southeastern's sub-par service. I suspect that's what they want.) You got home an hour late, emailed Southeastern to complain and got on with your day. I got into bed and pretended to watch Snapped: Women Who Kill (come on guys, you KNOW me by now) for three hours, but really I couldn't concentrate because my head hurt from crying so much, so I was really just in bed shivering and staring into space for three hours. At 3pm I felt well enough to go and do the shopping I'd planned to do as soon as I got in. At 7pm I felt well enough to cook. At 9pm I felt fine again. It lay waste to my entire day, that minor inconvenience of yours.

So. Next time you're about to accuse someone of overreacting, maybe consider that things don;t impact on them the same way they do you. Trains are important, yo.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

How to Live Well

Some time ago, somehow, unwittingly, I signed myself up to a website called Quora. I'm still not sure how (and they say a university education is worthless these days). For the uninitiated, Quora is essentially Yahoo Answers but for adults - think less "I've been putting my period blood into my boyfriend's food for a month. Is he a vampire yet?" and more "What is your investment checklist before you sell a stock?" It's fair to say I'm more of a lurker than an active contributor to this particular repository of online knowledge.

Nonetheless, I still read the emails Quora sends me, mainly because it sends about five a day (it gets better, I seem to have signed up multiple times, under different email addresses. I'm not convinced I wasn't involved in some kind of conspiracy and have since had my memory wiped). Somewhere along the line I decided it was easier to just acquiesce and accept my new life as a member of a thriving internet community I have no recollection of applying to join.

And anyway (don't fucking judge me, I read as article in the Observer's education supplement recently that said the idea we shouldn't start a sentence with a preposition is outmoded and incorrect), the daily digest emails are quite interesting sometimes. There is, however, one thing I've noticed, and that is that pretty much every other day, it not actually every day, someone asks a variant on the same question which may have been the first I ever read on the site: "What are some habits of highly successful people?" See also "How do I become successful?""What do successful people NEVER do?", etc, etc. And the only thing more predictable than the question is the answer - it is always exactly the same.

Cod, successful people are really fucking boring, if their habits are anything to go by. Every time I read another identikit answer I think that regardless of whether or not following all these daily rituals would actually make me successful, they would definitely make me miserable. Honestly, life's too short for a cayenne pepper cleanse. Ever. So fuck how to live successfully. Here's how to live well.

Start your day with coffee

Some (successful) people will tell you to start every day with a glass of tepid water with a slice of lemon, as "it aids digestion". I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your digestive system is doing just fine on its own, We didn't have safe drinking water in England until the 19th Century and people's guts did OK. Sure, average life expectancy was 35 for much of that time, but do you really want to live too far past that? You're only going to get fat and lose your hair. 

Here's how to start the day right: coffee. The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant - it increases the heart rate and gets your blood pumping to promote wakefulness and alertness. It's like cocaine for middle aged office workers. You need to be awake to get out of bed and start your day, plus your heart is getting a workout - what could be healthier than that? The only downside is that coffee is a diuretic, so it can make you thirsty if you have it first thing. You could choose to combat this with a glass of water (guaranteed 99% cholera free since 1835!), but I find a can of Red Bull is extra refreshing, and bonus, more caffeine!

(For anybody interested, I don't buy Red Bull unless absolutely necessary - successful people such as myself don't pay full price for branded energy drinks where avoidable. Boost has been on 'special offer' at 49p since it was released onto the market, but the best value for money out there is Bulldog, which has a regular retail price of 35p and a full, syrupy flavour that isn't too sweet. Best Buy Energy Drink, also 35p is fine, but the taste is weak.)

Set your alarm an hour later than you usually do
I'm so tired of hearing that you should start setting your alarm an hour earlier than necessary in order to do well. Seriously - it makes me feel tired just thinking about it. The idea is that by giving yourself an extra hour in the day, you can achieve so much more - it's another hour in which to be successful after all! Except bullshit. Your body needs sleep in order to regenerate its cells, and that includes brain cells, An extra hour in the morning is just another hour in which to be tired, My advice is to have a lie-in. Try to spend an extra hour in bed, if you can. For example, I set my alarm for 8am, but I try not to get up before 9 - all the extra brain cells I have acquired in that time mean I'm extra ready to take on my day, and having 12 minutes in which to shower and dress is daily exercise in logic and problem solving - it's basically olympic training for your brain,

Take a long, hot shower
The logic of successful people would hold that one should take a freezing cold shower every day. The cold has the dual effect of waking you up (necessary, I suppose, if you haven't had any coffee) and making the experience uncomfortable enough that you won't spend too long in the bathroom (heaven forfend you not be imbibing your tepid water and lemon by 5.06am precisely). But herein lies the problem - the short, sharp shock of walking into a cold shower might wake you up, but it's still a shock. Did you know that of you find someone suffering from hypothermia you shouldn't try to warm them up too quickly? The inclination is to stash them in a hot bath until paramedics arrive, but you'd do better to spend the time planning their funeral if that's your approach, because the sudden change in temperature is enough to kill them. Same problem with the cold shower. You're all snuggly and toasty warm in bed and then you leap into a stone cold shower - it's not going to end well, is it? Sure, you might not actually die, but do you really want to risk it?

Don't Disconnect
It's amazing how many people will take to social media to tell you to disconnect from social media. Successful people don't waste time making and maintaining connections, keeping up with the news or reaching out to, and learning from people all over the world, people who might know things you don't and be able to help you close that deal, fix your computer or diagnose that weird rash that you're too embarrassed to see a doctor about. People are a distraction. Successful people log off from the internet and work for 16 hours a day until and because their only friend is the cold muzzle of the gun they press to their temple every night. Don't be successful.

Watch TV
Quite possibly my biggest bugbear, even more so than people who press the call button for the lift when it's clearly already lit, or people who press the button to open the doors on the train before it has even come to a full stop (I have a lot of button-related rage), is people who say they don't watch TV. "I don't even own a television" is the most overused phrase in the English language, I hear it at work and I WORK IN TELEVISION. Successful people don't watch TV, they read books, because successful people apparently never worked out that it's not an either/or situation. They also never worked out that cortisol, the stress hormone, can do serious harm to your vital organs if left unchecked, and trash TV is a faster way to unwind than settling down with the a glass of tepid water and a well-thumbed copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the original English (speaking as someone who had to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the original English as part of their degree, I can confidently state that it actually raised my stress levels significantly). Successful people also don't know that a TV set can be a portal to learning and betterment - and anyone who cares to still disagree would do well to remember that I have watched enough murder documentaries to make it entirely plausible that I could kill you and never get caught.