A year ago I finally caved to suggestion and set up this blog. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t really think anyone would be interested in what I had to say. I thought that my mum, boyfriend and a few of my closest friends would read it and eventually I’d get bored or distracted and stop writing. Little did I know that in my first month I’d get 1000 hits and that these weren’t just from people who knew me in real life and either cared about me or were being nosey, but would also be from complete strangers from around the world who were going through something similar to me.
When I created the blog I wasn’t really even sure where to start. I’ve learnt a huge amount since then and there are things that I would now change if I started all over again but you live and learn. Choosing a title for my ramblings was really hard and originally I wanted a quote about mental illness from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – my favourite book, but that was already taken so I went back to the drawing board. I wanted it to be obvious that it was about mental illness but I wanted to avoid stigmatising language like Crazy. Some of the titles that didn’t make the cut were: Cupcakes And Down Days, Don’t Call Me Crazy and Mental About Cupcakes. Finally, it ended up between two In The Midst Of Madness and Refusing To Be Invisible. My favourite was In The Midst Of Madness and luckily the few friends I consulted agreed and so In The Midst Of Madness was born! Next, what was I going to write about? What did I want to tell people? I wrote a list of things that I had experienced and things that I felt people needed to know and started creating titles for those posts so that while I was setting up I had a good list to choose from when the moment took my fancy to write something. As I’ve gone through the year, I’ve still not finished working my way through that list because new things have cropped up because of media coverage, fluctuations in my conditions, events and awareness days/weeks and the themes they’ve suggested sufferers should write about.
So what has blogging done for me? I won’t go as far as to say it’s been therapy for me but it’s certainly been cathartic. Being virtually housebound means that I often feel incredibly isolated and lonely. There are very few people who visit me or contact me and I often feel alone and misunderstood but having a blog which is mine, where I can write whatever I fancy, has been really helpful in allowing me to have a platform to reach a much wider audience. It means that I finally have a voice. Despite being stuck indoors, I can now be heard. I can help educate others, help explain what these conditions are like, help give a voice to those that aren’t able to communicate their thoughts and feelings and ultimately achieve my goal of helping raise awareness, increase understanding and reduce stigma.
Throughout my time as a blogger I’ve been contacted by numerous people who’ve thanked me for my words, who’ve offered support and encouragement and most of all people who have or are going through the same things as I am currently. I feel honoured each time someone contacts me and opens up or confides something in me, I feel honoured to be on this journey with some of the loveliest people around, most of whom I have never and will never meet. I’m not a believer that illness happens for a reason, I don’t believe that God only gives you what you can handle or that I had some life lesson to learn which involved being ill for two thirds of my life but I do believe that illness changes you and while so many of its effects are negative and life-altering in a truly terrible and devastating way, it also changes people in a couple of good ways. Chronically ill people are often the kindest and most understanding people you’ll ever meet, they’re much more grateful for the little things in life because they are painfully aware of how important they are and how quickly the big things can be taken away when taken for granted. They’re also some of the most sympathetic and caring people and I find that they often make the best friends. If you’re friends with someone who’s chronically ill then you should count yourself lucky and cherish that friend because chances are they’re ploughing their precious energy into a friendship with you because it means the world to them despite often tiring them out.
Blogging about my experiences of mental illness led me in a very unexpected direction at the end of April when the Adult Colouring craze hit the UK and then the world by storm. As most of you know, I was already on that bandwagon but was a secret colourer at the time and was elated when it became fashionable and so many of my friends started getting involved and I no longer had to colour in secret. However, with the release of so many books, how did I know which ones to get? I’m on a very strict budget because we’re living off just my boyfriend’s income (we receive no benefits despite what many people may assume or believe) so money is very tight and the last thing I wanted to do was waste it on a book I wouldn’t like. I scoured the internet for reviews to tell me what the paper quality was like and whether my beloved fineliner pens would bleed through but I found nothing that had enough detail for someone like me who couldn’t visit shops and flick through the books. I saw that other people were reviewing books and being sent copies by the publishers but that these reviews, whilst very well written, weren’t suitable for someone who was entirely reliant on them to make a decision about where their money would be spent and so my reviewing venture began. I contacted some publishers, not expecting to even get responses let alone have any of them be happy to send me books, but that’s what a few of them did and away I went. I set up a separate blog dedicated to all of these reviews which I named Colouring In The Midst Of Madness to allude to the fact that I was not only reviewing adult colouring books, but doing it from a mental health perspective and I wanted it to fit in with my “brand”. That blog has overtaken this one in terms of hits and visitors and last month I received a staggering 100,000 hits thanks to being the second person in the world to publish a review online for the long awaited release of Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford (Colouring Book Queen and worldwide bestselling illustrator). I’ve now reviewed over 70 books and products and have a huge waiting list of books piled up in my lounge all waiting to be coloured and reviewed. I’m slower than other reviewers but that’s because of the amount of detail in my reviews and the fact that I always colour a full page in each book. I also have bad mental health days where I have to take a day off and just deal with how overwhelmed I feel at being out of bed and awake, without the stress of analysing intricacy levels and paper quality and trying to colour within the lines.
Having this blog and becoming a reviewer has taught me that I can write. I’m not amazing at it but I’m good enough that people enjoy reading it and come back for more which is the biggest compliment I can get! I’m hoping to broaden my reviewing horizons and start reviewing other products and services from a mental health perspective and if anyone has any ideas on things they think I could review then please do let me know, I love hearing from you and ideas are always welcome! Mentally ill people are often overlooked and the difficulties we can have when using products are not often thought about but given that 25% of us every year are experiencing some sort of mental health problem, it seems like a pretty good group to review for, even if I do say so myself! Ultimately, I’m hoping that all of this hard work will pay off and that I’ll be able to land myself some sort of writing job, preferably that can be done from home while I’m recovering until I’m unleashed back on the outside world and can realise my full potential again. I don’t want to be a writer for the rest of my life – I have big, grand plans to try and take the mental health world by storm and get mental illness on the school curriculum, reducing stigma before it’s even become ingrained and ultimately change the way it’s viewed and treated in this country. But, in the meantime, I’d love to use my skills to write and reach a bigger audience than this blog currently does. I’ve never been one to do things by halves and despite being virtually housebound I have big plans and I push myself to my absolute limits. I’ve challenged myself and been interviewed live on radio twice and was interviewed for a couple of media articles one of which was published in Nautilus magazine and the other in The Guardian newspaper. I would certainly push myself to do those things again and would love to be on TV and reach an even larger audience (from my own home currently of course). If anyone out there would like to employ me to write then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you – click here if you would.
As you can see, the last year has been fairly eventful thanks to blogging and the opportunities it has created. I’ve not made an awful lot of progress healthwise but this post isn’t about that, it’s about what I’ve learnt, what’s helped and what I plan to do over the coming year and beyond both on my blog and generally with my future career. On top of all of this, I spent 8 months last year teaching myself to crochet and then setting up a business on Facebook selling my crocheted items which is currently on hold because I’m so busy reviewing but I am looking forward to getting back to it some time when I have a bit more free time and share my woolly creatures with the world again. The picture above on the left was everything I’d ever crocheted up until that point and was the cover photo of my first ever blog post so it seemed only fitting to show you what the same shelf in my flat looks like now after making well over 100 crocheted items that have been sent all over the world.
The last thing left for me to do is to thank you, each and every one of you for reading my blog, whether this is the first and last post you’ll ever read or whether you’re one of my true and avid fans who’ve read everything I’ve ever written (I salute the few of you that have done this, it’s no mean feat now I’m reviewing books constantly). Your support means the world and I read every single email and comment and I do always reply so do check back. I hope that my blog has helped each one of you in some small way, whether it be picking out the right pens or the perfect colouring book, or voicing the feelings you’ve never been able to express, or just helping you to realise that you’re not alone. I hope I’ve helped, because that’s all I really want in life, to help others and to make a difference so that when I’m gone, people will know I was here.
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