“We Cater to Norms Only”

Today has been quite a scary day for me. Recently I’ve been battling with some personal demons of my own.  My depression seems to have become an incredibly annoying and stubborn form akin to a pubescent teenager mixed with a spoilt two year old constantly on the brink of throwing a tantrum.

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Basically, I’m going through a phase where I’m having to struggle against my desire to self-sabotage. It’s seems really stupid, why on earth would I want to stop myself getting better? The thing is, when you’ve had years and years of practise putting yourself down and telling yourself that you are worthless, it’s extremely difficult to break out of the cycle. Now my depression is targeting the exact things that make me feel better by rebelling against me taking medicine or going to my meetings with the psychologist. It even convinced me that I needed to break up with Burly because if I stayed with him I was condemning him to a life of misery. Thankfully Burly is a very sensible person and knew that what I was saying wasn’t really coming from me. It’s as if the depression sweeps over me like a wave or a thick billowing fog. Whilst I’m trapped in there my depression takes over my brain and mouth, making me believe that all my fears are true. It doesn’t matter that Burly is right there in front of me repeated pleading with me that what I think isn’t the truth. At times when I’m trapped up in the depression wave the only thing I can do is kick and fight as hard as I can to reach the surface and regain my brain again. Once I finally break through it I instantly know when I’m back in control, but then the realisation at all that I’ve said whilst my depression had the reigns comes crashing down on me. The guilt and shame I feel is unbelievable and frankly I think it’s incredibly unfair! My bloody depression comes barging in uninvited, throws a strop and smashes everything up and then just buggers off, while muggins here is left to put it all back together! Just rude, plain and simple. Apparently what I’m feeling and how I’m struggling is very common amongst depressive self-punishers like me. It’s just another way to put yourself down and deny yourself happiness as you believe with all your heart that you don’t deserve it.

Anyway, so I’ve not been having the best of times as it is. Happily I have been a little better this week as both Burly and the Doc have been looking after me.  I’ve been quietly working away, keeping to myself whilst picking myself back up again.

Then I heard the sad news about the Germanwings Airbus crash.

Before I go on, I beg you please not to miss understand me. The loss of the 149 people involved in this incident is just tragic and I feel nothing but the most heart-felt sympathy for everyone who are now grieving for their loved ones. I think that I can safely say that no one is in any doubt that this horrific incident should not have happened and that the 149 casualties were victims of a system that failed them. Nothing that anyone could say would ever change that.

But have you seen the way that the british media has reacted as soon as there was the faintest whiff of scandalous and dangerous mental illness in the air?

the sun

They actually used the word ‘Madman’.

Just take that in for a second.

Madman.

I’m sorry if I seem patronising, but I honestly and truly didn’t realise that I was living in a society that would allow a person who suffered from mental health issues to be publicly labelled as a ‘madman’.

The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror also seemed to have something to say on the matter…

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the mirror

Even The Guardian, though trying to hide behind more ‘tasteful’ wording, made sure that no one could forget that mental illness was involved here…

the guardian

Why are they fixating on the fact that the co-pilot had mental health issues? To me this headline is pure and simple fearmongering. The message is to fear those with mental health issues as based on this one event they are all clearly a threat to society.

But guys, it’s me who’s scared. Seeing all this negative response to the co-pilots condition has made me so afraid.

I’ve heard on the news today such phrases as ‘Should people with serious depression be allowed any job?’ and ‘How can the general public be kept safe in future’ from such ‘Criminal, crazy acts’? Depression has been the buzz word in many of the sensationalised tag lines.

Is this what people honestly think of those suffering from mental health issues?

As I said before, what has happened is truly tragic and should have been avoided. But here’s the real issue that I find the most disturbing.

It actually seems like the reports on the airbus crash are no longer focusing on the loss of life. They’re not focusing on how the families can try to move on and heal. They even seem to be just fleetingly talking about what safety methods can be put in place in future to avoid such incidents from occurring again.

What they are pumping all their efforts into is announcing the fact that Andreas Lubitz had mental health issues. And they are doing so in such a way that it is harmful to others who also suffer. They are parading his mental health issues as an example of what ‘normal’ people should fear. They are taking us back to the days where members of the public where taken around the insane asylums to view the inmates as exhibits.

Please, please don’t think I’m being flippant, but can you imagine if this occurred when being homosexual was illegal and it was discovered that the person who caused the crash was gay? Would the head lines read like this?

‘Suicide pilot had a long history of homosexuality. WHY ON EARTH WAS HE ALLOWED TO FLY?’

‘Killer pilot suffered from HOMOSEXUALITY’

Or even what if we went back to when black people were banned from many jobs. Would The Sun headlines have read like this?

‘BLACK MAN IN COCKPIT’

Some of you may think I’m being dramatic, but what I have seen and heard today has made my blood run cold.

I know that people who read what I write understand that I my main goal is to be honest about what I feel and experience with my depression in order to reduce stigma. I lay myself bare so that people can get a glimpse into my life and maybe find something that might help them.

But based on the reaction I’ve witnessed I can’t help but stop and think, am I putting myself at risk now? It’s no secret that I’ve have attempted suicide before and still battle suicidal thoughts, does this mean that people will be afraid of what I could do? Even with job applications, I’ve always been determined to disclose my mental health issues on my application, despite some people advising me not to. I’ve always believed that if a company won’t hire me then I don’t want to work for them anyway as they won’t support me. But now I feel like I’ve seen a glimpse into what people really think about mental illness. Do people look at my application and dismiss me because they’re afraid of dealing with me? God forbid if at some point I’m involved in an accident, would my past battles with depression be dragged out for all to see as proof that I was unfit to be amongst human society in the first place?

I feel as though a black day has occurred in the fight against the stigma associated with mental health. We were just finally getting to a stage where people felt brave enough to stand up and be honest about their struggles and where non suffers felt comfortable asking for more information on the subject. Maybe I was naïve but I thought we were winning the battle.

Now after all that has been said I’m scared.

What can we do now guys? I guess we just pick up from where we left off, though I know that my heart feels a little heavier now.

norms only

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A very merry undeath day to me!

undeath day

So today is a bit of a weird day for me. This time last year I was in hospital after having taken an overdose in an attempt to end my life the night before. In fact, around about this time I think I might have been making the hospital stay of the other patients just a little bit more unpleasant by very noisily becoming reacquainted with the copious amounts of alcohol I’d used to wash down the pills. That day all I could feel was disappointment. I’d failed at so many things in my life already and now I couldn’t even kill myself properly. I’d promised myself that it would be over, that I wouldn’t need to cry or feel any pain anymore. Yet there I was, still breathing, still having to deal with life. In effect I’d broken my promise. Actually, in a sense I’d caused the opposite of what I wanted. Now people knew and they would be watching me and forcing me to keep going when I didn’t want to. When I went back to the house that I’d already said goodbye to the evening before, I wasn’t happy to be home, I was just so, so disappointed.

As the weeks passed I slowly began to piece myself back together, thanks in no small part to the love and affection I received from Burly. As I started to receive formal help I realised that if I was going to go down this road then I needed to make a commitment to myself. I needed to care about what happened to me, and caring meant that I had to make a new promise to myself. So I took a deep breath and solemnly swore to myself that in a year’s time it would be better. It wouldn’t hurt so much and I’d be well on my way to a brighter and happier future.

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Fast forward now to today and where am I? Still unemployed, still battling demons from the past and still depressed and anxious despite being on more medication than ever. Not exactly what I’d envisioned.  I knew that this date was looming and during the week and as it got closer and closer, I felt the panic and sorrow start to descend. In spite of all the effort I’d put in during the year; meeting with an employment officer, being employed briefly, starting medication, meeting with a psychiatrist and a psychologist regularly,  I’m just back where I began a year ago.

So I did what I usually do in these situations. I made myself a duvet cocoon and refused to acknowledge the world.  It was a pretty effective duvet cocoon equipped with all the mod cons, namely my kindle. I could happily spend the entire day and night hidden away with ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and my cuddly toy bunny for company.

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But even the fabulous eleganza extravaganza wasn’t enough to shut everything out. Like some very poorly timed joke, I received yet another job application rejection yesterday. Fan-bloody-tastic. It wasn’t even particularly fancy, just a part time job as a receptionist at the doctors practice and I wasn’t even offered an interview. I told my psychologist about this and what did he suggest? Taking my BVMedsci Degree off my CV so that I look less qualified and therefore more appealing to employers. Wow.  And how do I explain the massive six year gap where my degree took place? And then do I just lie forever?? And then what was the point of putting myself through absolute hell for six years just to pretend it never happened??!! No mister psychologist, I think on this subject you and I disagree profoundly.

Ok rant over.

Anyway, so receiving this letter led to the inevitable sobbing, shivering, wailing mess that I knew had been brewing all week. I’d broken yet another promise to myself. I’d told myself that by this time things would be better, that I’d be happier. Well nothing was better, nothing had changed, I’d let myself down again. I started to wonder, was it really a good thing that I was still here?

Luckily, Burly was once again on hand to soften my harsh thoughts. He held me while I was crying, despite my protestations that I wanted to be left alone. He knows by now that that’s a complete lie, I just want to punish myself by not allowing myself comfort when I think that I’ve failed. When I could finally breathe again between sobs I ran a hot bath and just let myself melt into the water. Slowly I began to feel the tension drain from my body and I gradually allowed myself to relax. My tears dried and I finally started to listen to what Burly was saying to me.

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Things had changed. Everything that I was pointing out as a negative was only half of the story. Yes I’m unemployed now, but I did have a job at the Uni for five months. Not only that, I was good at my job. Not only THAT but I loved my job!! I was popular with the rest of the team that I worked with, I always strived to do my best and I felt like I was genuinely helping people.  Yes I’m still having issues with my past, but I’m not as tortured by it as I was this time last year. I hardly ever have night terrors anymore and, although I am still having nightmares, I’m finally starting to tackle them through my therapy sessions.  My mum and I are closer than ever since last year and that has really helped me to open up and talk about the past more. And yes, I do still have depression and anxiety, but I’ve been trying, and that’s actually a massive achievement. I’ve cared enough about myself to keep going to the sessions that have been set up for me. I’ve really put an awful lot of effort into helping my mind to be kinder to myself and prevent my default setting from always being ‘it’s all your fault, you should die’. And it is better, as much as my depression wants me to believe it isn’t. People are aware now and I’m being looked after and helped. Ok, so I don’t have the amazing job I envisioned and I’m still am battling away at my mental health issues, but that doesn’t really mean that I’ve failed. First of all, believing that I would be better after a year was probably a silly promise to make to myself. My perception of what ‘better’ is changes all the time and knowing my mind, I would have always been disappointed with where I was. Secondly, I tried. I’ve achieved much more than I’ve given myself credit for this year and I’m actually visualising the future. This time last year I didn’t even want a future. That’s the most important thing to remember right now.

So I shifted my view. I shouldn’t beat myself up for not reaching some arbitrary deadline that means nothing to anyone except myself. For once I should be glad that I ‘failed’. I didn’t manage to kill myself a year ago and that’s a good thing. I should view today as a day to be celebrated and not mourned. I’m still alive. I’m not in hospital today, frightened, frustrated and broken. I’m not at rock bottom without any desire to be anywhere else. I’m actually alright.

Today is the first anniversary of my Undeath day!  I’m alive guys! I’m still here! And I want to be here, I’m happy I’m still here. That’s something I’m more than happy to celebrate and I’m hoping you’ll congratulate me too.

So where will I be in a year’s time? Who cares as long as I’m still here.

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Oh and also I baked my very first undeath day cake. For once the cake isn’t a lie…

 

i'm alive cake

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Time And Relative Dimensions In Sleep

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Apparently these days I’m a time traveller. It came as a surprise to me too, believe me. all of a sudden I’m finding myself being transported back to the past, reliving bygone days. It’s pretty cool, apart from the fact that I have no control over when it happens or where I go. So for the past ten nights I’ve been warped back down my time line against my will and forced to witness the desolation that was my life after my dad died.

Ok, enough ‘clever’ word play. Basically, I’ve been having nightmares again. I thought that I’d managed to break through it while I had my job at the uni. Sleep came so much more easily and bed actually felt like a relaxing, comforting place to be rather than one that filled me with dread. Now when I think of the comfy mattress and snuggly duvet, all I see is a yawning blackhole of despair. My bed time has gradually become later and later as I put it off but  now I’ll actually admit that I don’t want to go to bed.

My nightmares all have a reoccurring theme; the loss of my friends after my dad died. In every dream I find myself back at high school or a weird hybrid place made up from school and Uni, but my closest friends A, E and H are there. In one dream a highly complicated task was set with an incredibly short time limit. Everyone split off into groups to search for items but I found myself alone. I began to run about trying to find the things I needed but they always disappeared as soon as I got to the place I thought they would be. I saw my friends A and E were working as a pair so I went over to try and join them. They looked at me with such distain and then turned away and ignored my desperate pleas to not let me fail. I was heart broken. Loneliness swept over me and felt so intense that I began to feel more and more desperate. I remember saying to them ‘Please! I loved you, I still love you! Why did you leave me?’ They turned round to look at me but said nothing. I woke up and found myself sobbing my eyes out.

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My most recent nightmare last night was set back in my high school. I was in a classroom, I think it might have been a science lab. I was trying to find a seat but no one would move to let me sit next to them. The teacher started to get angry at me because I wouldn’t sit down, even though I pointed out that I couldn’t. I looked at my friends A, E and H, imploring them to let me join them, but they were with their new friends and didn’t want me. I tried to speak to H, begging her to speak to me. Although she looked sympathetic, she didn’t say anything back to me. I woke up and enjoyed yet another morning cry.

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In another nightmare, it was my last day before finishing high school for good. I was upstairs in the language block looking out of a window into the quad below. Everyone was milling about saying goodbyes and I spotted my friends. They were laughing and joking with their new friends, hugging each other as they began to move off to leave the school grounds. I tried to call out to them, asking them to wait for me but of course, as it was a dream, my shouts were pathetic and no one heard me. I tried to go down the stairs but a combination of jelly legs and liquidation of the floor made that incredibly difficult. I think I finally managed to move outside by squirming along on my tummy. Of course, by the time I got there, everyone had gone and I was alone. Begin the morning crying ritual.

Of course all of that is fantasy. So what was the reality? I touched on that a bit in my post ‘chapter 1 – let’s begin at the start’, but here are some of the key moments I remember.

I remember not really being able to function very well after my dad died. It was a month before I went back to school and quite often I’d burst into tears, skip classes or just not go in to school at all. I couldn’t see the point to life if everyone just dies anyway. I was submerged in a fog of pain and fear and I just shut myself away. I was a completely changed person.

A few months later, when I began to look for an exit out of the fog, I found I wasn’t the only one who had changed.

I remember trying to talk with my friends but found I wasn’t the same funny girl I used to be.

I remember watching A and E split off and find separate groups of friends. A became friends with some of the religious people who made me suffer during my dad’s death. E became friends with a girl who didn’t seem to like me being around much.

I remember in jokes and conversations that I was left out of and feeling pushed further out to the edge of the friendship group.

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I remember going to find my friends at lunch time so we could spend time together to find they’d already left with their new friends.

I remember instead spending my lunch times in the girls toilets crying because I was alone and it was the only place Boyfriend P wouldn’t follow me.

I remember a girl in my year seeing me crying and telling me that the reason I didn’t have friends was because I was too depressing to be around.

I remember my eighteenth birthday. It was lunch time and as usual my friends weren’t around. I was walking through the corridors when I bumped into a girl in my year who had the same birthday as me. She had a stack of pizzas she’d ordered for her and her friends to celebrate. In an act of unbelievable kindness, she asked me if I wanted to join her. I don’t care if it was because she knew I was lonely or if she never really intended for me to say yes, I was just grateful that I didn’t spend my birthday alone.

I remember my last day of school. All the girls came to school dressed up in fairy wings, colourful tights and knee high socks. Everyone apart from me that is. No one had told me that this was what we were doing because no one was really bothered enough to speak to me anymore. I smiled, signed people’s leaving books and tagged on to the other friendship groups for pictures.

I remember pawing through all the notes me and my friends passed in classes, all the doodles we’d done in rough books. Just all the nonsense, crazy things we used to fantasise about and crying as I realised that the magic had gone. It had evapourated while I’d been stuck in the fog and there was no way I was getting it back.

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I know I sound like I’m full of self pity, and shamefully I probably am. But I know It wasn’t my friend’s fault, like I say I had changed and I know saying that I was difficult to be around is an understatement. Friendships evolve and end all the time, I know it’s a part of life and it’s happened to me many times since high school. I just wasn’t prepared for it when it happened. When my dad was ill, all I could focus on was his impending death. I didn’t really consider life after that event, at that point in time I couldn’t comprehend anything beyond my dad’s exsistance. However, as it does, life did go on, but I didn’t want it to. I didn’t want anything to change, I just wanted it to back to how it was before. I hadn’t realised that while I was looking the other way dealing with my grief, it’s already lost my old life for good.

So now it’s nine years later and I’ve been through so much more since high school. I went to Uni, made new friends, played some epic Quidditch and met a most excellent Burly. I’m planning our wedding and picturing a future together. So why is my brain dragging me back to the past?

The thing is, I’m not even mad at my brain. It’s not one of those typical ‘scumbag brain’ moments where it feels like my mind is deliberately going out of its way to humiliate and hurt me. It feels more like my brain is a small child asking me ‘why?’ It just doesn’t seem to understand what went wrong. It’s gesturing at my broken past life, tears in its eyes, begging me to fix it. All it seems to know is that before *gestures wildly* THIS happened I was happy, therefore I need to fix *sweeping arm movement* THIS.  According to my brain, fixing the problem is simple. I just need to travel back in time to high school and reunite with my friends. That’s why it’s been taking me there every night. It’s probably my destination again tonight whenever I get round to going to sleep.

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I want to help you brain. I wish more than anything that I could go back to before, back to my previous life. I miss my friends so badly, I miss the laughter and the silliness. I miss feeling so carefree and only being concerned about who was more fit, Orlando Bloom or Viggo Mortenson (A, you were right, Viggo is more attractive now that I’ve lost my prepubescent eyes).

But brain, the sad reality is I can’t time travel. The past is set in stone. Even if I met up with A and E now I know it wouldn’t help. You’re mourning for a life that’s long gone, a life that I’m not going to have ever again.  You want past A and E, you want the good feelings you had when we were together. You want to go back to life before Dad died, before everything changed. You want to feel normal again. I’m so sorry brain, believe me, but I can’t ever take us back to the past.

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The thing is, when it comes to death, all anyone ever thinks of is the loss of the person who is dying. I don’t think people truly realise that it’s so, so much more than that. Of course you lose them but you’re also robbed of your future together and the life you used to know. When I mourn for my dad I mourn for his voice and hugs that I need to comfort me today, I mourn for the conversations he and Burly could have had about sports and I mourn for the life I used to know with him around. Present, future and past; grief ripples through them all.

The most we can hope for is to move on together into a new chapter of our story. We can create new moments together, meet new friends.  We shouldn’t live in the past but we don’t need to forget it. We can take what we’ve learnt before to help us and gradually it will hurt less and less.

Who knows, maybe one day we may even feel normal again.

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We need to talk…

On the 11th of August  I was probably doubled over in hysterics with a massive stitch in my side at my sister’s birthday. I had a fantastic time filled with crazy golf, board games and delicious cake. I laughed so hard that I couldn’t breathe. It was one of those special times where I completely forget about my mental illness and could live as me for a while.

Thousands of miles away, on a completely different continent, a much loved man was having a very different experience. Depression had wrapped its ugly black fug around him, blocking out all hope, pushing him further and further into despair. As the pain got more and the desperation became unbearable, he searched for anyway to escape. By that point, death seemed like the only way to be free.

rb-1It came as such a shock to everyone to hear that a brilliant, sparkling-bright soul like Robin Williams had committed suicide. I have to admit that I am only just coming to accept it as a fact. He was just WONDEROUS. He had this fizzling electricity about him. Even though I never met him, I grew up with him as a major part of my life. My childhood was filled with laughter and my imagination sparked by his magic. I’m not ashamed to say that I sat down and had a good cry after his death thinking of a world without his beautiful soul.

As much as Robin Williams’ death has deeply saddened me, it has also moved me to think more about mental health issues and the power of depression. It doesn’t just grasp the ones who suffer from it, it seems to have this kind of hold on everyone. No one really dares to speak about it and I can’t think of any reason for this than fear. I’m not sure if it’s fear of the unknown, fear of association, I don’t know. I just know that those who suffer seem to hide their feelings away while those who don’t suffer can’t bring themselves to ask about it in case they disturb the beast.

I always think of my most used quote from Harry Potter to sum up how I feel about this;

‘Fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself’

By being afraid to talk about mental health issues, we are making it a taboo subject and increasing its hold over us. We’re afraid to ask about it in case we stir up negative emotions. We’re afraid to reach out for help in case we are seen as ‘crazy’ and are rejected. It happens to me even now despite the fact that I like to think that I’m very open about my illness. When I visited home for my sister’s birthday, I forgot to take my anti-depressants home with me. I only realised after the four hour (six hours if you include the traffic!) drive and I didn’t think it would be a big deal. This meant that I went three days without my medication.

Turns out that kind of is a big deal.

When I came to go to work on Wednesday I was still suffering from withdrawal symptoms and I was a nervous sobbing wreck. I knew that I was in no fit state to go into work, but I was too frightened to ring up to let my bosses know. I didn’t know which of my supervisors would answer the phone and I didn’t know how they would react towards mental health issues. That’s not to say that my supervisors aren’t nice people, they’re all super friendly and helpful at work, but when it comes to a subject where there’s so much stigma and shaming surrounding it I have no idea what their personal attitude towards the situation would be. Maybe they would think I was weak and couldn’t handle work or maybe they would think I was lazy and just wanted a day off. In the end I chickened out and begged Burly to ring in for me. Highly unprofessional and highly cowardly, but I just couldn’t bring myself to admit to my supervisors that I was struggling with my depression on that particular day.

But why? Why did I feel like that? I was right, I really wasn’t in a fit state to go to work that day. It’s just the same as not coming in because you have a contagious head cold. Just because you have a cold on that particular day it doesn’t mean that you are weak and that you can’t do your job. Once you’ve had time to recover, you’ll be back to work as normal. And that was all that I needed. After one day of rest and looking after myself I was ready to return to work. It’s just such a pity that in this day and age, when we like to think that we as the human race are so progressed, that I felt shame, embarrassment and fear about admitting I needed help just for one day.

We need to talk guys. We need to be open and honest. The more we talk, the more power we can take back from depression and stop it from manipulating us with fear.

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I’m going to take the first step. There’s no point in writing about needing to talk more if I hold back information. So please, be patient and kind with me.

I do not claim in any way to know what was going through Robin Williams’ head when he chose to end his life last week. To do so would be crude and disrespectful. What I do know is how I felt when I was there myself in January this year.

It was not long after Burns Night, a Scottish celebration of the poet Robert Burns where haggis and whisky are consumed in copious amounts. We had a party to celebrate and invited some of mine and Burly’s friends over. Burly had bought the biggest haggis I had ever seen in my life in anticipation. I cooked lots of different dishes involving haggis; haggis pizza, haggis pakora, haggis nachos, all sorts. It was a lovely evening.

A few days later we were slowly working our way through the left over haggis. I decided to make a haggis shepherds pie which Burly rated 7/10. I took pictures and started to write a blog post about it. It got late before I finished so we decided to head off to sleep. When I lay down in bed, without any warning, thoughts and images about my dad’s death flashed into my head. It was a relentless torrent of pain and grief pouring down on me. Nothing had happened to make me think of him, nothing had triggered it. All I had done was relax and try to go to sleep.

And that was it. I was done. I didn’t really cry, I didn’t scream. I didn’t feel particularly sad. I just knew that I had had enough and that it needed to end. My mind and body were spent, there was nothing more that I could draw upon to fight.

I told Burly I couldn’t sleep and that I was going into the living room. I told him I’d probably drink some of the left over wine to help me relax.

I sat down on the settee and put on Family Guy. After a short while, when I thought Burly might have fallen back asleep, I crept to the bathroom and raided the medicine cabinet for pills. I found Ibuprofen and paracetamol. As I’d discussed the fact that I was suicidal with my doctor, he had requested that Burly look after my anti-depressants so I didn’t know where they were.

I went back to the living room and sat down with a bottle of wine. I’m not very good at swallowing tablets so I decided to take them four at a time at intervals. While I was doing this, I tried to carry on writing my blog post. Very soon what I was writing turned into a suicide note. I think it’s safe to say that not very many people begin their suicide notes with a haggis shepherd’s pie recipe but I was always one to be different.

At one point Burly came in to check on me. I thought he might do this at some point so I had already hidden the tablet packets. He asked me what I was up to on my laptop and I just said ‘I’m writing’. He didn’t seem to realise that by this point I was on my second bottle of wine. I didn’t let on that anything was more unusual than normal so he left me to it and went back to bed.

I can’t remember right now how many pills I managed to take in the end but I think it was about 28. I’d made my way through all the white wine and moved on to red. I don’t really like red wine and its bitter richness was making me feel queasy. I think there were only four tablets left in the packets at that point but I left them because I didn’t want to throw up. In my drunken state it didn’t even occur to me that I could drink water or get a crabbies from the cupboard. I just finished my note and lay down on the settee hugging my cuddly toy bunny.

While I was lying there I didn’t feel upset or frightened. For once in a very long time I felt at peace. It would all be over soon and I wouldn’t need to keep fighting anymore. I started to think about how nice it would be to see my dad again.

When Burly got up for work he came into the living room to see how I was. He found me on the settee and thought I was asleep. He tried to speak to me and wake me up. I wasn’t really asleep, I remember him speaking to me clearly, but I didn’t seem to have the strength to say much back. At that point he saw the pill packets and realised what I had done.

I heard him ringing for an ambulance and begged him not to, begged him to just leave me. I started crying hysterically, pleading for him to just let me die. I was so close to being free. Of course he ignored me and soon the ambulance arrived.

I was taken to A and E where they did checks on me and hooked me up to a drip to flush the drugs through my system. I didn’t really feel ill at all, just very tired. A doctor came and spoke to me about how serious the situation was and how my liver was in very real danger of being damaged by the pills. They gave me an antidote for the paracetamol and warned me that I might have an allergic reaction. For a while nothing much happened and I was just left with Burly to relax.

Very slowly, very gradually, my head became more and more itchy. Soon my scalp and my groin both felt like they were on fire. I started crying because it hurt so much. Burly called the nurses over and they gave me an anti-histamine. They warned me that this too might have side-affects and I might begin to feel nauseous. They gave me a bowl just in case.

After the itching died down, I sank back into the bed and began to doze. Burly took this opportunity to go out of the room to ring my Mum and let her know. Not long after he left I started to feel extremely sick. I sat up, grabbed the bowl and proceeded to be violently ill. I couldn’t breathe because I couldn’t stop retching. I shouted out for help, I didn’t care that I was in a crowded ward. By the time the nurse came over to me, I’d stopped being sick. She gave me a new bowl and left saying she’d come back soon with and anti-emetic. A few minutes after she had left I began to be ill again. This time I just vomited mucous and blood. The retching was so violent that I wet myself. I sat there in the cold, wet bed sobbing. I was too ashamed to call over a nurse. I waited until Burly came back and could help me. We had to get a nurse to come over and change my bedding. We didn’t have a change of clothes with us. She warned me that there were no pyjamas, instead I was given this sort of wrap. There didn’t seem to be much sympathy for me and there seemed to be this idea that the vomiting was from the alcohol. I was finally given an anti-emetic and I began to relax again.

Burly told me that he hadn’t been able to get through to my mum the first time so he went back out to call again after I had settled. The woman in the bed opposite me looked over, obviously concerned for me after I’d been so sick.

She asked, ‘do they know what’s wrong with you?’

I replied, ‘Yes.’

She waited a moment before timidly enquiring, ‘what is wrong?’

I took a breath and said, ‘I tried to kill myself.’

Instead of recoiling away from me and avoiding eye contact like I expected, this complete stranger got up from her bed and came over to me despite being in obvious pain. She put her arms around me, hugged me and said ‘I know how it feels, I’ve been there too.’

I hugged her back, buried my head in her shoulder and cried.

When Burly came back, she left me in his care and returned to her bed. Not long after this I was moved to a new ward. At this point the drugs were really affecting me and I was drifting in and out of sleep. At one point a doctor turned up, I think he may have also had a junior doctor with him too. I opened my eyes and tried to sit up a bit to speak to him. Instead of speaking to me, the doctor directed everything at Burly, almost as if he was ignoring me. The last thing he said before he left was ‘Oh, this ward can get a bit busy and noisy at times so she might find it difficult to sleep. But that’s probably a good thing and maybe it’ll teach her not to try this sort of thing again.’

I felt so insulted, hated and alone after those words. It was as if I was a naughty child who needed to be taught a lesson. There was just no sympathy for me at all, as if I deserved to suffer for trying to commit suicide. And seriously, it was insomnia caused by nightmares that had got me in this situation in the first place! If a night of disturbed sleep was all I needed to put me off suicide I would have been cured years ago.

I dozed off for a bit after this and Burly took this chance to pop home to get more clothes for me. He was gone for a while and at one point I was woken up by the food being brought round. I received shepherd’s pie. Needless to say, I didn’t have much desire for shepherd’s pie at that exact moment in time.

As I looked around the room, it seemed like everyone had visitors with them. I became painfully aware of how long Burly had been away. My throat and stomach were both so sore and the drip in the back of my hand was uncomfortable. I hadn’t wanted any of this. I was supposed to be free by now; I wasn’t supposed to be surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar place. I was frightened and frustrated. I hugged my bunny, who’d come with me in the ambulance, and cried.

A nurse noticed, drew the curtains around me, then left.

Burly obviously did come back in the end and I was moved to a different ward where I joined several elderly ladies. He stayed with me as long as possible but we both knew it would be best for him to go home and get a good night’s sleep. I, on the other hand, spent a sleepless night in that ward accompanied by a symphony of bodily functions as the ladies merrily snored, wheezed and farted in their sleep. My particular favourite was a lady down at the other end of the room. She was obviously a little confused about where she was kept calling out to the nurses. At one point she kept calling ‘Michael! Michael! Turn off the corridor light, our electricity bill will be huge!’ Finally a nurse pleadingly responded, ‘My name isn’t Michael! It’s Sophia!’

The next morning Burly returned and after a brief medical assessment, I was released to go back home.

For the next few days I remember just feeling blank. It was just all so bizarre. I wasn’t supposed to still be here, but somehow I was. I’d been so ready for it to end and for me not to have to care or fight any more. Now I was back home in the same living room that I had said my goodbyes to just days before.

So that’s the story of my attempted suicide. To be honest, now that I’ve seen it all written down it feels quite daunting. There are probably a lot of people wondering why I’m sharing such personal information about myself. It is scary, I can’t deny that, and I am worried that there will be a negative response. However, I genuinely believe that the more we try to talk about our experiences and our fears, the more that we normalise depression and reduce the stigma, the less likely it will be that people will react negatively to us and that in turn will make it so much easier for us to find help.

It hurts me so much to think of Robin Williams and how alone he must have felt. Again, I wouldn’t ever claim that I know exactly how he was feeling, however if it was anything like how I felt myself in January, when I felt as though my whole life had already been sucked out by depression, then I would never wish that upon anyone.

My tribute to Robin Williams is to be brave, take a deep breath and make the first move.

Here is my story. It might be long, hard and it might be tricky to take it all in but it’s all my own. It might leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths but my hope is that it will help us all come together.

As the man himself once said…

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The best thing since Waitrose Essentials thick sliced bread

Hello again everyone!!

So things have been a little bit quiet on the Universally Challenged front for a while. Last you guys heard, Burly was in hospital after contracting the infamous Delhi belly while I was snivelling inside a duvet cocoon of self-pity.

Good news though, Burly isn’t dead! Hooray! In fact he’s been out of hospital for ages. Like over a month. I’m just been incredibly rubbish and never actually updated my blog. However there is a surprising reason for this. I am also no longer inside a duvet cocoon of self-pity. Why you ask?

BECAUSE I’VE ONLY GONE AND GOT A FRIGGING JOB!! AS IN AN ACTUAL, RE-LIFE, 9 TO 5 JOB!!!

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Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

Ahem. While I suppress my internal squeeing, let’s try to take a bit of a professional view on this for a minute.

So as probably most of you are aware by now, I’ve been struggling to find work since I left Uni around this time last year. Without going into too much of a rant, I was left pretty high and dry by my school, who seemed to be glad to just wash their hands of me and push me out prematurely into the world with absolutely zero idea of what I was going to do next. This caused me to become increasing disillusioned with my place in the world and slowly all my confidence and self-belief ebbed away with every rejected job application sent back to me.

Over the past few months however, I’ve been getting help from professionals who have begun to very carefully and gradually put things into place to help me on my way again. I’ve been attending regular meetings with an employment officer through the charity MIND. At first I was apprehensive about what she would be like as I’ve heard some horror stories off friends who have been forced into unpaid jobs in exchange for help. I knew that I would rather continue my lonely life of unemployment then have what little self-esteem I had left beaten out of me by such soul sapping work. Fortunately, the meetings with my employment officer are nothing at all like that. She’s absolutely lovely and completely respects my boundaries for what I feel comfortable doing. Just knowing that I was attending meetings with her gave me the drive to continue applying for work as I was eager to show her that I wanted to make a change, and all the time she praised me and pointed me in the direction of job adverts that seemed suited to my desires.

Unfortunately, and sadly predictably, all the animal related jobs that I applied for during that time rejected my application. With the help of my employment officer, I plucked up the courage to request feedback on my performance to maybe pick out areas that I could improve on. I was a bit heartened when they all got back in touch with me saying that my application was good it was just that so many people were applying for the jobs, but I still felt down because I was I ever going to get a job when the competition was always going to be this fierce?

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One thing that I always knew would help me to get a job would be to get a job. I’m serious, that’s not a typo. Everyone always says that once you get your first job, finding others to follow becomes easier as you’ve proved that you can actually work in society. All of my references on my CV at the time were just lecturers who had known me very well at Uni and I had no employment referees. My last job was actually as a waitress in a pub restaurant when I was sixteen, which isn’t exactly impressive when you’re trying to get potential employers to take you seriously.

So, although I was getting help and support, I was still stuck in a rut that I was finding it extremely tricky to break free of.

CUE SAVIOUR PENGUIN!!!!

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This is where my very good friend Pingue stepped in to save the day! Some of you may have already heard of him from the atrocities of April the 9th. Well, Pingue currently works at Southampton University and happened to hear about the possibility of temping work arising in another department. Obviously his down-and-out, unemployed hobo friend (me if you haven’t guessed) was the first person to spring to mind and so he sent me a message asking me if I’d like my name to be put forward. All he told me was that it was something to do with computers. I was feeling particularly care-free and brave that fateful day, and so I responded ‘Sure, why not?’.

A meeting was quickly set up for me to go along to Southampton Uni. I was told that it would just be for a chat so I didn’t really think too much about it and astonishingly I managed to keep myself calm right up until I entered the office.

I was then ambushed by a bunch of jumbled up cables and a computer and promptly told to set it up and connect it to the internet. This was no informal chat, this was an interview. Not just any interview, an interview with a surprise practical exam.

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I managed to maintain a cheery smile on my face as I swore and panicked inwardly. I was going to bloody wring pingue’s bloody neck!! After taking a few deep breaths, forcing myself not to run instantly back out the door, I realised that the task was a lot simpler then I had first thought. I knew what all the cables were and where they should go and pretty quickly I’d finished the task.

Then came the interview that up until about five minutes previously I had had no idea would be happening. Again, by some miracle, I managed to keep myself calm and walked into the room with a smile on my face and my head held high. And it seemed to go extremely well! I kept smiling, I cracked a few jokes and I didn’t stumble over my words.  The job that I was applying for turned out to involve exchanging old hardware for new hardware on a contract that would run up until August. However, at the end of the interview I was told I might be more suitable for a different position. My positivity instantly deflated as I had thought the interview had been going so well and I felt my stomach drop with dread at the thought of what lesser work they might offer me. In fact, I was asked if I’d be interested in taking on the role of Welcome IT officer, a job that would involve greeting new students, assisting them in setting up their IT equipment and sorting out any problems they might have.  It would have longer hours (9-5 instead of 9-4), opportunities for overtime and the contract would run until the end of October.  Trying to stop my heart from actively leaping out of my chest, I calmly responded ‘Yes, I would be interested in that’.

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The very next day I received an email informing me that I had been successful in my interview and that the role of Welcome IT Officer was open should I wish to take it.

For the entire rest of the day I was in celebration mode! Burly was actually taking a work from home day as he was taking me to an appointment with my employment officer later that day and I couldn’t wait to get there to tell her the good news! I was just so pleased that I had managed to get a job all on my own! Ok, ok, I give credit to Pingue too, however I had done the interview entirely by myself and come through alive! SO MANY EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!!!!1

That lunch time Burly and I decided to pop out to the shops to buy a feast to celebrate. It was a choice between Tesco and Waitrose, but as this was a special occasion, Waitrose it was. I went around the shop in a frenzy akin to a contestant on Supermarket Sweep! We got pastries, Nutella, alcohol, ALL THE MEATS! At the very end of the spree, we doubled back to pick up the more mundane items. When we back tracked to the bakery, Burly’s eyes widened with wonder. ‘Thick sliced bread’, he whispered in awe, ‘we should get it as a treat!’. I grinned at him for a moment, thinking that he was being sarcastic, but when I saw his face I realised he was totally serious. Never in my life have I ever seen someone so excited over bread. But even in his ecstasy of bready wonderment, the ever practical Burly knew his limits. Bypassing the fancier brands on offer, he reached out and selected the Waitrose Essentials brand of thick sliced bread. We were truly living the dream.

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But now I must bring you forward, back to the present day for the most shocking revelation of all. Make sure you’re sitting down for this one. Are you ready? Here goes…

I have just finished my first week at work.

I’m getting up and leaving my house every morning. I’m going to work everyday from 9 to 5. I’m meeting new people and making new friends. I really like everyone I’m working with because they’re all so helpful and friendly. I’m coming home in the evenings and having a nice relaxed time watching TV with Burly. And I’m going to bed and sleeping undisturbed.

AND I HAVEN’T BEEN SICK OR CRIED ONCE!!

In fact, even more miraculously, I’ve slept peacefully every night completely undisturbed by nightmares!

And it all just feels so incredibly normal. I feel like an actual normal human being doing normal human things and having completely normal human emotional responses to them. And I’m so ecstatically happy!!!

While I was unemployed I began to think about my time at vet school and how much I hated the work experience I did there. It was so incredibly stressful, always with people trying to trip me up or catch me out, always looking for the mistakes I made and never praising me for the good I did. Especially during my last year at vet school, the whole environment became extremely cut-throat with even the people I considered friends turning their backs on my pleas for help while they looked after their own interests. I began to wonder if it wasn’t the work that was the problem but me? What if every single job I had from then on made me feel that panicked and isolated? What if I was destined never to work but just languish away at home doing nothing? All that I ever wanted in life was to be a useful human being, to do something good. I started to feel like just a big empty void of nothing. Not only was I not making a good impact on the world, I wasn’t making any impact at all. In a lot of ways it felt even worse than making a bad impact. At least doing something that had repercussions meant that there was proof that I existed, but just having no influence on the world at all made me feel like I might as well not be here at all.

I’ve only been at my new work place for a week but I already feel so much happier and healthier. It’s given me a kind of closure. I’ve realised that it wasn’t a problem with me and that I just wasn’t meant to be working in such a stressful environment as Veterinary Science. And that’s absolutely fine! Lots and lots of people aren’t vets in the world and now I know I’m one of them. And I’m so much better off without it 🙂

So here I am, an actual functioning part of society. Just your average everyday person with an average everyday job. And I couldn’t be happier!

Maybe I’ll go out and get some thick sliced bread to celebrate…

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Get down with the sickness – AN UPDATE

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Hey everyone!

Just thought I should do a quick post to say I’M STILL ALIVE!!! HOORAY!! We got back from India on Wednesday and I have all the stories to tell!

However, something has come up which means I might have to delay my posts a little bit. I’d like to say it was unexpected, however we did travel to India so really it was only a matter of time.

So both Burly and I have been quite ill since Sunday and we suspect we’ve had some form of food poisoning. We’ve just been getting by with it but then on Friday Burly took a turn for the worse and had to be taken into hospital. He’s alright at the moment which is good but we still haven’t had a definite diagnosis for what’s going on.

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Meanwhile I’ve been dividing my time between snivelling inside a duvet cocoon feeling sorry for myself and hauling my sick ass up to hospital to keep Burly company. I of course do not mind doing this at all because Burly is quite sick, however it does mean that as soon as I get in at night I just drop dead in bed because I’m so shattered, meaning that I’m not in the best place for blogging at the moment.

So while many an adventure was had in India and I have about a trillion stories to tell, I’m afraid they are going to have to wait until Burly is back home and on the mend.

Meanwhile, here are some teasers of things to come in my tales of India;

  • An epic and terrifying journey on the Indian version of the Knight Bus
  • ALCOHOL. SO MUCH ALCOHOL.
  • A surprise guest appearance from Adele.
  • The world’s best dance moves.
  • Atomic power curry.
  • Fame Simulator 2014.
  • Cool guys don’t look at explosions.
  • Badass Natalie comes out to play…

 

Hopefully that will be enough to wet you appetite for now and I’ll be posting properly very soon 🙂 xxx

 

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How to Murder a Rainbow

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Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Last night I was invited by my friend Pingue to come over to his house and help him bake his birthday cake to take into work. He told me he was planning on baking a cake with rainbow coloured layers, which made me super excited as I’ve always wanted to try to make one myself. Unfortunately I had a doctor’s appointment that evening which meant that I’d be turning up quite late. Pingue said that this would be fine as he had another friend Thork coming so they could get started without me.

Burly and I turned up at the door with some extra mixing bowls and baking tools, itching to get stuck in to the bake. As the door opened I was greeted with ‘You should have come sooner!’

Little did I know how true those words were.

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I took myself into the kitchen to find both Thork and Pingue happily stuck into their baking with apparently not much left for me to do. I decided to relax and watch them at work.

After a short time I was a bit alarmed to see Thork ‘mixing’ the ingredients using a stick blender. In other words, he was just pulverising it. I tried to casually suggest using the electric whisk I had brought with me but they were both quite content to continue as they were.

I didn’t realise at the time that this was only the tip of a humungous ice berg and that things were about to very swiftly escalate towards calamity, starting with the first batch of cakes to come out of the oven.

As they were produced, Pingue sheepishly admitted that he forgot to grease the tins. This wasn’t a massive problem and we managed to gently ease them away from the base. I noticed there was something a bit strange about the texture of the cakes but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

It was at this point that we realised the red layer was in fact purple with blue speckles. Something very bizarre had occurred with the food colouring they had added before I got there. There was nothing we could do about it now, purple it was.

As the next batch was being readied to enter the oven, I was casually scanning the kitchen when I was forced to do a double take in horror. What on earth had Pingue done!? I grabbed the flour bag, read the name again and burst out laughing.

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He, in his infinite baking wisdom, had been using strong white flour instead of just plain flour. Strong white flour is the kind that you would use for baking bread, which means that the structure is a lot more solid than the nice, fluffy texture you look for in a cake.

No wonder the cakes had felt funny to me! I’m fairly certain you could have thrown them across the room and they would have bounce back off the wall like a basket ball!!

Pingue claimed innocence, ‘How was I supposed to know it was meant for bread!’

I then pointed out the picture of bread on the front of the packet and the helpful recipe for bread on the back of the packet.

His response? ‘You expect me to LOOK at the packet?’

I just couldn’t believe it! This is what happens when children do not have sufficient adult guidance. But again, there was nothing we could do now, multi-coloured bread cake it was!

Only, we soon discovered that even getting the multi-coloured part would be nothing more than a pipe dream. Pingue had been dared to include a layer of black ‘sponge’ (now bread) in his rainbow. The batter that he and Thork produced looked something like the horrible, smelly tar you sometimes find on the beach. They decided that the final layer should just be plain so that it contrasted with the black. As we pulled out the second batch of bread to make room for the tar, we noticed that yet again some kind of strange alchemy had occurred with the food colouring. The green layer was not green. It was yellow with red speckles.

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Do you happen to know the song ‘I can sing a rainbow’? Well, if we were to use our cake as a basis for alternate lyrics, they would go something like this…

‘Black and purple and blue and yellow,
Yellow with speckles and plain.’

Then came assembly time. The recipe called for a mascarpone cream icing which I was instantly wary about. I’ve made cream cheese based icing before and I know that it can be quite slippery and wet. But I was there to follow instructions so I set to the job at hand. Pingue wanted to just set the cakes one on top of the other, which is fine, only he hadn’t sliced any of them into thin layers. In the end our vapid rainbow bread cake stood over a foot and a half tall.

Fairly soon the instability of the icing began to show. The sheer weight of the mountain of sponge was forcing the layers to slide about in the middle as well as at the bottom. There was no way that this cake was going to survive us letting go, never mind a journey all the way to Pingue’s work! I tentatively asked if he happened to have any wooden kebab skewers that could be stuck through the centre to help it hold together.

And so he promptly produced a massive knife.

I knew this wasn’t a good idea and pleaded for him to check if he had any skewers but there were none to be found. Great big massive knife sticking out of the middle it was. To be fair, once the knife was inserted the bread cake definitely became more structurally sound. All we had to do now was deal with the problem of having a massive knife handle sticking out of the top. I jokingly suggested that we should pour some red food colouring on the top to make it look like we stabbed the cake. Apparently this was one of the best ideas we’d had all night.

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We took the little bit of icing that was left and added the red food colouring. I have no idea what kind of food colouring Pingue had bought but instantly I saw why they had issues making the sponge red as straight away the icing turned purply. When we spooned it around the knife handle, it started to look more like mushed up liver than like blood. So I took the ‘red’ food colouring, poured some onto a spoon and flicked it a little bit at a time over the cake. That was the crucial finishing touch. Some how, by making our cake gruesomely gory, it suddenly made it work.

And so ended the short tragic life of a poor tortured rainbow that never really came to be. From the ashes of the broken dream rose a grotesque, mutated zombie rainbow, akin to Frankenstein’s Monster. But as grim as Frankenstein’s Monster may look, you’ve got to admit that he’s got a look all of his own.

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I think this quote from Burly really summed it up;

‘It’s possibly both the best and worst cake I have ever seen’.

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