Reading List for a Healthy Mind

 

Reading was one of the first things I loved to fall by the wayside. Slowly but surely my love of reading is returning.  Though my brain has yet to wrap around books of any length I am very much enjoying Audio-books and graphic novels.

Recently I’ve discovered a wealth of amazing autobiographical graphic novels, exploring personal journeys of recovery and mental health. Here are a few of my favourites.

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

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This is a perfect illustration of living with an eating disorder, particularly if abuse was a key factor in it’s development. Please be aware that this book can be triggering and only read if you are in a healthy place. My husband has also read this book, the poignant illustrations helped him understand the things I cannot explain.

When Anxiety Attacks seeking out therapy even when your problems seem  weird or silly by Terian Koscik

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I stumbled upon this in the Wellcome Collection bookshop. They have a fantastic selection of books concerning mental, as well as physical, health. This short comic feels like a snapshot of the authors life. really useful for anyone who thinks their problems aren’t ‘real’ enough to seek help.

 

Hyperbole and a half by Allie Brosh

Absolutely hilarious and only a little heart breaking. Brosh’s illustrations are so simple yet express a width depth and breadth of emotion. Brosh reveals so much about her life, from her struggles with depression to the, possibly ill-advised, adoption of two dogs. I finished this book then read it all over again. I laughed and I cried, sometimes at the same time.

 

We Can Fix it! A Time Travel Memoir  by Jess Fink

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The author travels back through her past attempting to fix absolutely everything. It is a tempting prospect to go back and change all those humiliating memories. The ones that still creep up on me when I’m in the shower or trying to get to sleep. This is a fantastic tale of accepting yourself by facing up to those memories and being able to move on.

There’s also a couple of non-autobiographical comics I find helpful I think they belong here.

Flimsy’s Guide to Modern Living by Rachael Smith

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Essentially a picture book for adults. Flimsy is a charming character who gives his very best advice on modern living, whilst always holding tight to a glass of wine.  Its a simple reminder of all the lovely things you can do to feel happy. My husband picked this up for me at Leicester Comic con and I have a lovely sketch of flimsy drawn by the author.

The Fox and The Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

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I mentioned this stunning book in a previous post. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Every page is illustrated beautifully. The story takes you through the dark woods, alongside a young fox, in search of his star. It’s a true delight to read and sure to calm any chaotic thoughts racking the mind.

And finally this wonderful advice from Brian Blessed…

 

 

 

Things I have yet to make

  1. Tilly and the Buttons Fifi Pj Set
  2. Make up bag
  3. Fabric Box
  4. Tea Cosy
  5. Hex quilt
  6. Cushion covers
  7. Make A5 books to sell at Crafty Sew & So
  8.  MY NOVEL

Things go wrong.

This is inevitable.

I hate it.

Let’s start with number one. I was happily getting on with this somewhat complicated pattern from Tilly and the buttons. My perfectionist nature made me work for too long and get too tired. This led to me making the  rather silly mistake of attaching the central back panel upside down. I probably should have stopped for the night. Instead I carried on, unpicked the French seams (nightmare)  and the bias binding. I put the back panel the right way round. I then restitched the French seams and attached the bias binding. It was when I’d completed this that I realised it was not only the back panel I’d  put upside-down but also the two back side panels.

The idea of unpicking four French seams and the bias binding is not a pleasant one. When I think about it my stomach tenses. It’s not gnawing or sick feeling. It’s a ball of tension the size of a large marble.

Number Two is somewhat similar. I began making a small zip bag only to discover I had sewn the zip to the bottom of the bag. This is by no means irreversible. In fact I have since written a tutorial on how to make this very same bag with Crafty Sew & So. Even so, every time I look at the error, I become uncomfortable. To me it is a failure. Therefore I am a failure. And so another marble hits against the first.

So go the rest of the unfinished projects until I reach the inevitable fact that all these small projects are distractions, albeit useful and fun distractions, from what I am supposed to be doing. Writing my novel.

This worry is a  bowling ball. It smashes the delicate marbles into shards of glass and presses the pieces into my gut.  Each new worry piles on and on. My house undecorated and Christmas presents unwrapped forces pine needles down my throat. Each message I’ve yet to reply to or stupid mistake I make sends an electric shock through the tangled mess and welds it together. Too soon all my failings become impossible to ignore. Equally they are impossible to complete. Movement causes pain.

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Chiara Bautista

 

The Solution

I need to untangle the mess. One step at a time. One breath at a time.  My solution. A list. Or rather a number of lists. For a long time I wrote my achievements of the day. As I got busier and busier, with working at Crafty Sew & So, running a Story and Rhymes group, looking after my niece, taking driving lessons and the many social meetings which happen along the road to recovery, I stopped. The exact date I ceased doing this was the 25th September. I’m even feeling guilty about not filling my achievement’s in! I’ve realised it coincides rather neatly with writing this blog.

I am going to write a list of achievements over the past three months, then continue with this routine. An issue I tend to struggle with is acknowledging what I have done. I feel as though I should have always done more, or better. Writing my achievements of the day, even small ones helps offset this negative way of thinking.

Here’s an example of a typical day from back  in April

  • Got dressed
  • Ate Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
  • Walked up the garden
  • Started a Pincushion Cross stitch
  • Called Mum

More recently I’ve been able to do more, this is one from September

  • Went to get my hair cut
  • Organised a Bookcase
  • Wrote a little ghost stories

I no longer have to write which meals I’ve eaten or little things through the day which have now become routine. I can leave the house without too much anxiety, whereas before even the garden felt daunting.

I am also going to write a big to-do lists for each month then a smaller one for the week and then have a list of three or so things to do in a day.

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Hyperbole and a Half

Christmas is Coming (and there’s nothing you can do about it)

A list of excuses as to why I haven’t blogged in over a month

  • My sister had a beautiful little baby girl
  • I helped plan my dads wedding
  • Volunteered to help get my friends shop, Crafty sew & so, open
  • Arranged wriggly readers at my local library
  • Had many stressful driving lessons

That list wasn’t as long as I thought it would be. My writing has taken a little bit of a back seat but I have been crafting away at the aforementioned shop and also making little lovely books to sell there.

Now I will shamelessly plug the delightful shop Crafty Sew & So.

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It’s a brand new shop in Leicester’s St. Martins square which sells, fabrics, haberdashery, patterns, and lots of gorgeous hand-made gifts (a few note books made by yours truly). They also run fantastic workshops for novices and the more experienced sewer.  I  made bunting, stuck up letters, folded fat quarters, and put rolls onto fat quarters. I also acted as guinea pig for a fabulous denim skirt which shall be appearing here shortly.

All of this has involved an awful lot of socialising. Everything was a challenge from the simplest tasks such as getting a bus into the city centre or finding the courage to eat in public, to the more stomach churning experiences such as serving customers or being in a shop with well over sixty people for the launch party.

It’s been well over a year since I left my job at Waterstones due to severe depression and anorexia. If I were to do these same tasks six months ago I’ve no doubt I would have used food to manage my emotions and more than likely resorted to harmful coping mechanisms.  Right now I feel like I’m treading water, not drowning. So long as I take things nice and slowly and take care of myself I might, one day, feel like a normal person….whatever that might be.

30 minute doughnut holes…and difficult choices

I was pretty sceptical about this recipe as the doughnuts I’ve made before I’ve left to prove for a good while.  Never the less I decided to give it a go.

I used Kelly Senyei’s recipe from Just a Taste  

For the doughnuts:
5 cups vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup milk
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Equipment: Deep-fry thermometer; Small ice cream scoop (I didn’t have one so I used spoons, they weren’t particularly neat but worked fine.)

Add the vegetable oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot. (There should be at least 2 inches of oil in the pot and at least 2 inches between the top of the oil and the top of the pot.) Attach the deep-fry thermometer to the pot and begin heating the oil over medium heat to 350 ºF / 180ºC. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and the egg.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir the milk-egg mixture into the dry ingredients, then stir in the melted butter, mixing until a soft dough forms.

The dough is pretty springy  and easy to scoop. I used the whisk instead of the dough hook on my mixer.
The dough is pretty springy and easy to scoop. I used the whisk instead of the dough hook on my mixer.

Once the oil has reached 350ºF / 180ºC use a small ice cream scoop to drop about 1 tablespoon scoops of dough into the oil, careful not to overcrowd the pan (they will puff up). Fry the doughnut holes, flipping them in the oil, for about 2 minutes or until they’re golden brown.

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Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnut holes to the paper towel-lined baking sheet. 

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Kelly uses a glaze but I just rolled them in caster sugar. I found it’s difficult to know when they are cooked all the way through. I’d probably say make the doughnut holes pretty small to avoid doughy centres.

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Lovely misshapen doughnut holes
Lovely misshapen doughnut holes

They smelled delicious, however I struggled to eat them. My last few blogs I’ve been doing a very good job of ignoring my mental illness. Avoidance is all very well until it’s comes back to bite me. It’s with more than a little trepidation i mention it now. (At the bottom of the blog where none but the most dedicated will do more than skim read). That’s enough procrastination…

My anxiety around food has risen a little recently, I’ve taken a few more scary steps, such as restarting driving lessons meeting a friend in town and ordering a toasted tea cake, and attending my sisters baby shower and nibbling at the afternoon tea (awkwardly scraping butter from my scone). Theses activities have pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged what I can and cannot do.

Although it’s been rather liberating and fun it does leave me feeling more vulnerable and anxious. Adding to this anxiety is the fact that for the last couple of months my weight has been steadily rising. I’m weighed every week so my therapist can keep track and check if I’m staying healthy. She assures I am still within the lower bracket for my BMI  but that does little to ease the worry of those rising numbers and the slow change of my body shape. She often describes it as a wack-a-mole scenario. when one thing in my life improves another issue pops it’s ugly face up.  In fact two have popped up recently the first is massive anxiety over talking on the phone and the other is to do with food.

To cut a long, and complicated, story short;  One thing I did when I was suffering severely with my eating disorder was bake for other people and not eat the results myself. This is a unhealthy coping strategy and allowed me to not eat whilst having the satisfaction of providing for others. this almost happened when I made these doughnuts. I displayed them beautifully made a cup of tea and watched them cool without the slightest desire to eat them.

I had a friend round at the time, she ate them happily. I took a deep breath and tried to let the pressure fall away. After managing to relax and reminding myself it was my choice whether I ate or not I was able to enjoy the sugary treats.

They tasted lovely but I think I prefer the traditional method of leaving the dough to prove as the texture is nicer. As a quick treat they work perfectly.

I made a fancy sketch book cover

Yesterday I went to a wonderful craft day with Neil Burly at perfectly 4med. This was a Christmas present from my mum. Only recently have I felt well enough to leave the house for a day. The main obstacle was eating in an unfamiliar environment. Happily I coped just fine with my packed lunch, sitting outside with a gorgeous Labradoodle  named Charlie at my feet.

We started with a blank sketchbook and added texture with paste and glued all sorts of beautiful bits and pieces into place.

I really liked the keys
I really liked the keys
This is my mums, she was going for a summer garden
This is my mums, she was going for a summer garden

The next step was to paint over it with craft paint, I can’t remember what it was called but it was a chalky, acrylic, glue paint. it took me a couple of times because the metal was tricky to cover.

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I love the texture of the lace

when this is nice and dry we could use spray, paint, inks, there were so many colours to choose from it was fantastic.  I started with this:

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I had absolutely no idea where to go from here, and felt very much like I a school child and asked for help, turns out I just had to do more. I sprayed more colours and it looked a lot more like i wanted however now the bronze key and bits looked way too bright and not at all tarnished. Again I looked helplessly about and asked for help to make verdigries effect. it turned out perfectly. wpid-20150704_143353.jpg

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I was amazed at how many different looks came from the same materials. I had a fantastic day and would recommend it to anyone.

Today I made an attempt at drawing

I’ve always been keen on drawing but my perfectionism has gotten in the way. If there’s a drawing I’m not happy with I’ll often just tear out the page rip it up. This is not conducive to learning. Recently I’ve decided to make another attempt. It took me a surprising amount of time to find a book that actually began with the basics. Every book I looked at went into very technical detail and demanded knowledge of technical materials. This is an awful lot to assume of a novice.

I finally found one that seemed perfect when perusing the little library down the road. |his trip in itself was a big achievement as it was the first time I left the house by myself in a very long time.  I managed to push through the anxiety and even had a nice conversation with the library assistant. I walked home, very proud of myself, with a Everyone Can Draw and a small bundle of books under my arms.

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Everyone Can Draw: Step by step instructions for artists Barrington Barber

       I skipped the introduction, hopefully I’ll go back but I was impatient to start. The very beginning  taught me different ways to hold a pencil, work with tones and create simple shapes.

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I particularly like the fact that Barber give advice on which pencils to use an later which charcoal, pens and brushes. So far the ‘lessons’ are clear concise and not the least bit patronising.

The ink was trickier than pencil, it feels a clumsy
The ink was trickier than pencil, it feels a clumsy
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working on shading, I’m not that keen on this
starting to have fun here and not being technically correct
starting to have fun here and not being technically correct

I’m really looking forward continuing, I’ve just order watercolours and brushes and will post my mess of an attempt here.

Today I made a plan

‘If a job is worth doing it’s worth doing badly’

When my therapist gave me this piece of advise I told her she was wrong.  I absolutely hate doing anything that I deem less than perfect. This way of thinking is not helpful, it often leads to not doing anything for fear of doing it badly. This perfectionism is ever present in my life. I have only recently been able to consider the idea that even if I feel I’ve done something poorly, it does not mean that I am a failure.

Recently I’ve been able to do a lot more, however this is not as good as it may appear. I have gone from doing very little to filling my day and exhausting myself.  I now start to feel I have to work endlessly in order to prove I am a worthwhile person.

My solution  to this was scheduling and alarms set on my phone. I wrote  a list of things I would like to do this month and divided it into weeks and then planned one or two activities to do each day.

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With set activities each day I hope I can concentrate more on doing what I enjoy without the the stress of trying to do too much.  I am starting to believe that if a job is worth doing it’s worth doing badly….so long as it gets done.

Today I made rhubarb crumble

On a visit to my in laws I picked up some lovely lovely Rhubarb. I’ve never made anything with Rhubarb  before so I thought I’d go with a simple crumble.

Freshly picked rhubarb
Freshly picked rhubarb

Decided straight off this crumble would be for my husband. As I don’t really eat Rhubarb it didn’t feel like a ‘safe food,’ I have been challenging a fair few things  relating to my eating disorder recently and decided not to push myself too far. 

For the Filling

250g Rhubarb, 50g Golden caster sugar, 1 1/2 Tablespoons Port (if you fancy)

Rhubarb chopped up
Rhubarb all chopped up

For the Crumble

70g self-raising flour, 42g chilled butter, 25g light brown muscovado sugar,

  • Pop the Rhubarb sugar and Port into a pan, cover and simmer over a very low heat for around 15 minutes or the rhubarb is soft but still holding it’s shape.
  • Place rhubarb in a small baking dish. Preheat the oven to 200 c (180 c fan)

now comes the terrifying bit….

  • Form a crumbly mixture by rubbing butter and flour together using your fingers!!!!!

My thoughts went from this isn’t so bad to If I don’t get this crap off my hands soon i’m going to cry then back to a slightly calmer I can do this for a few more seconds. 

  •  Add the sugar mixing with your hands!!

This was a tiny bit easier as it was dryer and stuck to my hands less.

  • Sprinkle the mixture on top of the Rhubarb and bake for 25-30 mins or until golden brown
    All finished
    All finished

    My Husband said it was delicious.

Today I made my vote (and a little felt mouse)

I woke up bright and early ready to vote! It had been planned, I had to arrive after most people have been to work but before the elderly folk and people with kids  had managed to get out and about. It worked, just  about, there where only three people ahead of us in the Parish Hall. I handed my poll card over to a nice middle aged woman and she gave it to a balding man lingering behind her. He ripped it into four rough scraps and threw it away.  I’d been guarding that piece of cardboard obsessively for over a week and took an instant  dislike to the man.

It only took a few minutes to get there and back. I was home with a cup of tea in no time. However my body refused to accept that I had nothing more to do. After trying to relax and becoming irritated I decided to make a little something from Everything Alice : The  Wonderland Book of MakesIt was very difficult to focus, and the method of  measure twice, cut once went out the window.  I did not pick out materials that particularly matched. His ears are too small and inside out, his eyes are weird looking and the tail could be a lot neater. I debated whether or not I should post. I am not proud of my work but I am trying to work on my issues with perfectionism. So here the little mouse is in all its imperfect glory.

A bit of a mess starting off
A bit of a mess starting off
pretty button sewn on the back
Pretty button sewn on the back

 

 

little cow mouse
little cow mouse