Personal stories of reclaiming life from mental ill health

Rachel: Distorted reflections

You just can’t be unhappy on a swing. It cheers me up, I always end up giggling. My soul feels a bit lighter.

The Eastney end of the Portsmouth seafront [is] the nicest place I know.  It’s lovely, quiet. It’s a place to come when you’re happy. Lots of happy memories. It’s also a place where I come when I need a bit of escape time.  There’s no wifi on the beach. You can read and get work done and think. It’s nice, it’s different to everywhere else but also really familiar. I run along the top. Not the stones, there are people that do that, more power to them, but not me.  You can go quite far and look at the view, it’s misleading because you run several miles and then you’re like ‘Oh damn it,’ and you’ve got to run all the way back.  So you have to be careful.

I don’t think that I see me the way other people see me.  It’s weird, people call me inspiring a lot. I don’t know what to do with that.  It’s really lovely, you know.  Like, I met this guy who’s a web developer, he’s from Brighton and he teaches, that’s what his day job is. He was saying, his trainee teachers were asking them, ‘Who is the most amazing teacher you have ever met?’ and this girl just put her hand up and said me. I taught her at her A-level, years and years and years ago, must have been my first or second year of teaching. I was like ‘Shut up!’


[How would I describe myself?]  That’s a good question. I don’t know. I find it really really hard to think of a positive word. I think I’m quite brave. I do things I don’t always want to do. I make myself do them. Partly because I want my own children to see that if you work hard, good things will happen and that not all the good things that happen are easy, because I don’t think life is that easy actually, and it’s good for them to see that.  The scary stuff is necessary to get to the really exciting stuff.

People ask me to do things but I think, ‘Why ask me?’ There’s like this person or that person who’s amazing and can do, I always think, a better job, or a different  job anyway.  People see me as being someone capable. I know I’m capable, I’m always just surprised to get such opportunities. I think, it’s silly to turn things down in life. It’s kind of recognising that it’s ok to do things because you’ve worked hard. And it’s ok to be all right….to be good at something.  I don’t think I’ve felt that I’ve been good at something for a while.

[This year] I’ve jacked in everything I’ve ever been good at to start a new job that I’ve never done before. Which is really scary, but it’s good scary. In fact, I’m going to stop saying scary, I think I mean exciting but it’s the same feeling.

I have probably been a bit more… rollercoastery. I’m either really, really good and everything’s brilliant, like proper bouncy Tigger, or I’m really not good and I can’t talk to anyone.

I’ve probably been like this for a little while. I think I’m putting myself under pressure to do things that means there is emotional fallout sometimes. And I don’t think I respond to things the way other people would, either. I like that I can at least recognise that [laughter] It’s kind of good, isn’t it? I think for the most part I feel stable in myself.  I’ve never not been in to work or anything like that. I just feel that I’m a really, really good actress, I can do a very good impression of being really, really good  when I’m really not.

I don’t even think my kids notice anymore. Um…no. I don’t think anyone would, actually. I don’t want to have a negative impact on anything. I think if you do the sort of job that we do, you’re in quite a powerful position.  People don’t realise the impact that just one teacher has on their classroom. You need to be that stable grown-up and things need to be ok and they need to see that it works out. They need that, and so do your own children.  A lot of people need you to be a certain way.  Just to be ok because people can’t, people don’t, see signposts very clearly when you’re not all right unless you go ‘I am not ok.’  [silence] Then they would do something about it, but I don’t think they need to. I don’t need people, I don’t need intervention or anything! I’m ok. I know I’m not all right and I know it’s temporary and I know that it will go away and so I just sit and read or I go out running or whatever and just work it off, it disappears.


Yeah. I think it would have been nicer if I could have worked this out…20 years ago [laughter]. Oh look, if you go outside and run around a bit you’ll feel better.  Or go sit and look at the sea. I’ve had a bit of a turbulent couple of years and I don’t know if me before would cope very well at all. So it’s good to have those things that let you just take a step back a bit and get away from yourself. Do the things that allow you to take a break and take a bit of a reality check on things because actually how bad is it? The world keeps spinning and things keep happening.  I wish I’d worked it out quicker, actually. I’m quite self regulating now. I don’t have tablets or anything like that. I haven’t had tablets since I was a teenager cos they made me sick anyway [laughs].

Friday nights are really hard for me because the kids go to their dad. It’s been over a year and I still don’t know what to do with myself and I’m not organised enough to make plans. Or in my head I think I don’t actually want to see anybody because I’m just miserable!  Then inevitably, by half past nine, I’m like [makes stressed sound] so what I do is walk to the park at the end of my road, as there’s never anyone there. I go on the swings and it’s really fun. You just can’t be unhappy on a swing, I don’t think anyway. It cheers me up, I always end up giggling. My soul feels a bit lighter. If you’re one of these people who doesn’t take yourself too seriously, it’s just so fun – this probably counts for all playground equipment – because of how stupid you look. It’s just nice, it makes you feel free, like a little kid again. Kick your legs up in the air and can’t reach the floor. There’s something cool about that.


I don’t think I was blogging a year ago. I didn’t have confidence to even write [my ideas] in public. Not because I didn’t think the ideas were good enough, but I was uncomfortable with people reading my writing. I always thought it was so bad. And sometimes, you know, people go ‘urgh, you spelt something wrong’. Most people know that  [I’m dyslexic and] have problems with writing so actually that’s not that noble a deed.

So I had a list of things I wanted to do. So some of it was, ‘I’d like to write a book.’ So I guess I’ve done that. And I wanted to write something for the Guardian, ever since I was a little kid. I’ve been tootling off to buy the Guardian since I was about 11. Down to the newsagents on my own, how lame is that? That’s how pretentious I was. Uuuuh, so I guess I’m gonna be doing that. I wanted to do some really mental, big, event thing but I guess I’m doing the Times Education Festival this year, which is nuts.  And there’s loads of random stuff that I still haven’t done. I still haven’t done a bungee jump. I still don’t own any red glittery Converse. It’s 60 quid that I can’t justify, I just can’t. It’s cheaper to dip them in a box of glitter, do you know what I mean?

I guess, professionally, I’m good at what I do. A lot of people ask to come and see me teach now. ‘Ask to come and see me teach? Really? Ok. Sit at the back and I’ll do what I was gonna do anyway.’ The education minister came to see me teach, how weird is that? For a day out. ‘Let’s go to Southampton and watch some chick teach.’ Ok. That’s nice though. And that would have frightened me [previously]. My classroom’s like Charing Cross now so that’s fine.  I play with a lot of stuff and try a lot of things but I don’t think I’m really amazing at anything. I think I give it a damned good go, if I do it for the right reasons and I think that it works and has the impact intended. Not like the boss of anything.

It was quite interesting, talking to this lady at [a professional event], saying ‘You don’t think you’re as good as we think you are.’  She went, ‘Hmm, you should go for counselling or something. I was like you, I went for counselling and I’m much better now. Cos I don’t have all those funny little niggly doubts all the time.’ It never really occured to me that you would go for counselling to do that. I’ve thought about it since. How would you find a counsellor to ‘Please sort out my self esteem.’ Apparently hypnotists can do it.


I tried doing CBT techniques to go, ‘I’m as good as everybody thinks I am’, but it doesn’t work. [CBT is about] the patterns of behaviour based on your thoughts, whereas if there’s no behaviour that’s symptomatic of it then there’s nothing to fix, actually.  It’s all internalised. It’s horrible feeling that you’re not quite good enough. It would be nice to kind of shake that a little bit. It’s not all the time. I don’t go home at night crying like Edgar Allen Poe, but when people ask me to do things I always have flashes of, ‘Really?, Like, really?’ It would be nice not to have that all the time because it’s quite invasive after a while, I think.

That’s the paradox of Rachel. I know I’m good enough or why would they ask me? You wouldn’t want to have somebody come and do something if you thought they were a bit shit, would you?  So they must think I am good enough. So therefore, by logic… [laughter] So yeah, you need to suspend your disbelief and trust in it.

I wonder if trusting in it after a while will make it so. It’s good to take time to reflect about things, isn’t it? I know a lot of people who haven’t survived this, this journey and their depression, it kind of got them in the end. I think I’m up to seven now. Seven of my friends have killed themselves for various reasons and I wonder [if] having something like [Mindshackles] would have made a difference and we kind of owe it to people that are really cool [but] not here still to think about that a little bit as well.


In some ways I’m really strong. I do scary shit and bad things happen and I get up and go to work and its all fine and I look after other people, do the whole Mummy thing pretty well. Well no one’s in A&E, are they?

The boys are doing really good. Finn’s doing well at school. He’s in a rock band, which is hilarious, he has rock band lessons. He plays the base. [I asked him] ‘What do you do?’ It’s  kind of like this [air guitar] ‘Duh, duh, duh’ yep, that sounds right [laughter]. He’s so funny. Fraser’s doing every morning at pre-school to try and break him in for school, which is not going to work because he’s like a little tiny, Moriarty, evil mastermind who is not used to any conformity which I’m really, really proud of [laughter].  You go ‘Sit down’ he goes ‘Why?’ Well because I want to read you a story. ‘What story?’ So he doesn’t take anything at face value. I love that because Finn’s really conformist [he can’t] cope with people challenging him whereas Fraser is just like, if he doesn’t want to do it, it’s not even that, it’s if he doesn’t see the value in doing it, he’s not doing it. Which I love because I’d love to be more like that. He’s like, if someone tells you to do a thing that has no value you don’t really need to do it, actually.


Right now, I make things right that aren’t right and I fix things that need fixing. That’s kind of cool. My biggest weakness right now is my self doubt. Hands down. I think.


Rachel: Distorted reflections