#SmearNotFear

Today I went for my first smear test and I’ve decided to tell the internet about it because a) I am a chronic oversharer, and b) the NHS is having a real problem getting people to turn up for their smear tests!

Last year, 25% of those invited to come for a smear test did not turn up (that’s over 1 million missed tests) and that number was even higher among the 25-49 age group.

The smear tests for HPV – human papilloma virus – in the cervix. HPV has a bunch of different strains, most of which you’d never know about because your body can just flush it out. There are some strains, however, that are strongly associated with cervical cancer – 99.7% of cervical cancers are associated with only a few strains of HPV. The smear test looks for HPV, and particularly these strains, to try and catch cervical cancer as early as possible – it really can save lives.

So this June (around 6 months before my 25th birthday) I got a letter in the post inviting me to set up a smear test appointment, with a little information booklet. I set up my appointment for this afternoon at my own local practice and turned up, feeling a little nervous. I saw a practice nurse called Fiona who spent about 10 minutes explaining everything to me – what the test was for, how it would work, what my results would mean when I got them in the post. I was given plenty of privacy to change and the test itself took less than a minute. Sure, it was a little awkward having a complete stranger poking about, but the nurse did her best to help me stay relaxed and not feeling too weird. And sure, the speculum was slightly uncomfortable for a second, but no more so than when you first insert a mooncup*, if you’ve ever used one of those. I was reassured that if it had been uncomfortable or painful that there was lube available, so if you have issues with dryness then that is nothing to worry about either.

So yep, the whole thing was over faster than it will take most people to read this post, and was a perfectly neutral experience overall. In two weeks I’ll get a letter telling me one of three things:

  1. I have no strains of HPV, come back in 3 years (most people)
  2. I have a strain of HPV not associated with cancer, come back in 1 year. HPV is incredibly common, and 80% of all sexually active people will have at least one strain during their lives, but most will notice no symptoms.
  3. I have a strain of HPV associated with cancer. In this case, I will make an appointment with the gynaecology department at the hospital and they’ll do a further examination to check for abnormal cell development in my cervix. If they find any abnormal cells, the nurse told me that they can usually sort that out there and then. I’ll then be told when to come back for another smear test.

And that’s it. It is definitely worth it to go for a smear test because 60 seconds of feeling slightly awkward and holding back a dozen “buy me dinner first” jokes is well worth it if it saves lives. And smear tests have been proven to save lives – it’s estimated that up to 5000 cases of cervical cancer are prevented every year because of this one little test.

*At the average reading speed of 300 words per minute, the test would have been over before you reached this point in the post. It’s really that quick!
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My Diagnoses: Part 4, Anxiety

Finally, we reach the end of me discussing my mental health in a more specific and serious manner than I’m used to. As I said to a friend last night, I don’t like talking to people seriously about my mental health because they then become Very Concerned, and during a bad episode when you’re already struggling to cope with your own feelings, having to guide someone else through their feelings about your emotions is exhausting. If you aren’t serious enough, however, people think you’re faking it, or doing it for attention. Writing blog posts about this has been very much my way of saying “look, this is a serious thing that actually really affects me and makes things harder for me than they would be without it”, but for some reason, words that are written down rather than spoken seem to manage to avoid other peoples’ reactions to my problems.

Anyway. Anxiety. I developed it when I was 17 and was diagnosed at 19. Because it’s relatively recent compared to my other mental health problems, I tend to think it hasn’t been around for very long (but writing this down, I realise that it’s been seven years and all of my adult life, oops). It’s also the only mental illness where I can pinpoint its beginning to a single event, and because of this and its being relatively recent, it is the one mental illness that I feel some hope about being rid of it one day.

I have three main kinds of anxiety. The first is a sort of constant, humming, low level stress. Imagine you’ve got a deadline due tomorrow that you haven’t done any work for yet, and it’s already 5pm. Or you’re stuck in traffic and super late for an event you’ve been really excited for. Now imagine feeling that as your baseline. You’re making a cup of tea, and you’re that stressed. You’re playing your favourite game, and you’re that stressed. It’s your day off, you have planned nothing to do but sitting around with a good book, and you’re that stressed. This is my baseline.

The second kind leads on immediately from the first kind – if your baseline is barely managed, constant stress, then what happens when something does actually go wrong? (Hint: the answer is panic attacks, my dudes.) It doesn’t need to be a big thing, even something as simple as not being able to open a jar – or in one memorable experience, make pancakes – and I’m crying and rocking and unable to breathe. If you have never experienced a panic attack, they’re awful. Everything is terrifying and you feel like you’re going to die. If you hyperventilate too long, you get light-headed and end up passing out. The exception to this kind of anxiety is that if something really major goes wrong, I get so stressed I just skip the emotions and operate purely logically while everyone else freaks out, like some kind of backwards, messed up superhero. Anxiety Girl, she can only deal with major issues! Don’t ask her what she wants to drink or she’ll panic, Anxiety Girl! Super catchy.

The third kind is only set off by very specific events, or triggers. Sometimes these triggers are times of year, sometimes they’re specific actions or phrases, or people or places. Sometimes they’re moods or personality types that other people have. When I come across one of these triggers, I get a very deep anxiety that interacts with me physically. I feel tense and nauseous and sometimes end up throwing up. I get eczema-like rashes, aches and pains, and I bruise more easily (this is due to anxiety creating way too much of a hormone called cortisol). If it’s really bad, I end up dissociating. If you’ve ever driven your car and got home then realised you don’t remember driving, that’s dissociation. Usually this only happens when someone is tired or distracted and doing a thing that’s so familiar their brain goes on to autopilot, and they get some sort of signal when the journey is finished to let them know they have to concentrate again. When I dissociate from anxiety, it can be days before I regain full situational awareness, and I end up with no memory of when I’ve eaten, what I’ve eaten, if I’ve slept, where I’ve been, or who I’ve talked to. You can tell if I’m dissociating because I’m quieter than normal and seem zoned out or distracted, favour repetitive behaviours and phrasing, and make less eye contact. If you want to, you can try to give me a signal to re-orient myself by asking me to name the colours I can see in the room.

Anxiety is fast-acting and intense. For me, it’s much more of a physical illness than the others and it’s the reason I had to take almost two years out of work.

And that’s the end of it. I hope this “series” of sorts of posts has been helpful in understanding why I’m so passionate about mental health education, representation and support. If you have any questions feel free to ask me them but be prepared for a less serious, more bantering discussion because I really can’t deal with it when people get Very Concerned.*

 

*this does not apply to other mentally ill friends, whose concern is usually not about their own feelings about my mental illness, but a gentle reminder to make sure I actually realise that my experiences are not normal.

My Diagnoses: Part 3, Depression.

I’ve already written about autism and OCD, and today we come to depression.

I think the best description of depression I’ve ever heard is from Allie Brosh in Hyperbole and a Half. In it, she uses the example of being a child and playing with your toys and really connecting with the stories you invent, and enjoying them, however as an adult, you don’t experience that same connection or enjoyment. She makes the point that depression is a lot like that, just with everything in life. It’s harder to connect to other people, to hobbies, to your work or whatever gives you purpose, to your own self and needs, and it’s also more difficult to actually enjoy these experiences.

I’ve had depression since I was 12, and it’s also my oldest diagnosis as I was diagnosed around 14. I started going through puberty when I was around 12, and I believe that puberty plus existing mental illness tendencies meant that my brain developed in such a way that depression was going to be inevitable, like my brain had just the right amount of everything needed to make a nice mental illness soup. To quote this Neil Hilborn poem, “I am just carbon and bad timing.”

Depression is an odd one for me to write about. I have now been depressed for more of my life than not, and at this point it no longer feels like a separate thing to myself, it just feels as much a part of me as my arms or my nose and I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be depressed. I also haven’t spent a lot of time lately discussing it and delving into it the same way I have with autism and OCD, and these things combined mean it’s quite hard for me to express how depression affects me. To me, describing how depression feels is like trying to explain how water tastes – the language for it just doesn’t exist. And the older I get, and the more familiar depression gets, the harder it is to explain it.

I mean, I could say that it’s been a long time since I’ve got anything less than full marks on the “in the last two weeks” survey, but then do I have trouble getting out of bed because I’m lazy or a night person, or because I’m depressed? At this point, I can only guess which of the symptoms I have because of depression, and which are just my own natural character traits. (To continue quoting that poem – “I think if I was somebody else I’d still be mentally ill. / It’s impossible to imagine a colour you haven’t seen.”) I could say that in the last week I’ve only showered twice and that unless I have to, I don’t generally get out of bed. I could say that over my weekend (Saturday-Tuesday) I probably only managed to eat four meals, or that I spent my days at home playing Solitaire because I couldn’t get into the books or tv shows I’m trying to read/watch at the minute, and Solitaire was the only way I was going to do something other than stare at the wall – and I have cream walls with no pictures. They’re really boring.

The ways in which I know depression definitely affects me are lack of motivation and feeling emotionally numb (except for anxiety, apparently that’s the only thing my ridiculous brain is happy to feel). I find it hard to see the point in things – sure, I know that if I don’t wash my dishes, I won’t be able to cook and eat, but what’s the real point of cooking and eating? And if I did know, what’s the point in that? Much like trying to bargain with a small child who’s just discovered the words “no” and “why”, trying to motivate myself to do anything takes real effort.

In terms of emotional numbness, it’s hard to describe this if you haven’t felt it. All I know is that I don’t often feel anything. I experience life, sure, but most of the time I don’t particularly have many emotions attached to that. And that’s what makes depression so hard – the thought that you have another 60 years of feeling empty nothingness. The flip side of this is that I am so unused to actually feeling a Real Live Emotion that when I do, it’s overwhelming, and it’s usually the negative emotions that get through. So I end up swinging between empty nothingness and hurting so badly I get chest pains, and crying so much I get nosebleeds and my tear ducts sting from all the salt.

This is also where addiction is a really easy trap for someone with depression – maybe you drink a coffee and you get an energy surge, and even though it’s not an emotion it feels kind of like one, so you drink more coffee trying to keep something that is the closest to thing to a positive feeling you’ve had in a while. Or maybe you keep going on rollercoasters for the adrenaline rush, or you post a lot on social media because reacting with people online gives you an endorphin rush, or maybe all of these examples are just thinly veiled metaphors for more negative coping mechanisms*.

Other mental illnesses feel like waves crashing on rocks, but depression feels like a slowly incoming tide that you don’t notice until it’s too late. It’s an illness that you can only really talk about in metaphors because it buries itself so deeply into your sense of self that it doesn’t feel separate any more, and you can’t tell where you ended and it began. It’s hard to write about because it’s hard to explain.

 

 

*they are.

My Diagnoses: Part 2, OCD.

Before we start, this post contains trigger warnings for: mentions of intrusive thoughts to do with self harm. These are in the paragraph beginning “my main, current obsessive thoughts”.

As I posted yesterday, I want to write about my diagnoses and how they affect my day-to-day life.

I’m uncertain as to why my OCD developed – it’s not even known for sure what causes OCD, and it’s thought to be a mixture of genetic and neurological factors, and personal experiences. I’m also uncertain as to when exactly I developed OCD, although I can point to my own symptoms and experiences of it around 7 or 8 years old, and I was diagnosed at around 20.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is when your brain has unwanted, obsessive thoughts – these may be rational or irrational – and in order to try and get rid of the thoughts you develop compulsive behaviours, such as checking things or cleaning things. With OCD, irrational thoughts are known to be irrational, and it causes people a lot of frustration and anxiety to have to perform compulsive behaviours to deal with thoughts that they know aren’t real.

My main, current obsessive thoughts are that there is chicken blood in my tap water, which developed around four years ago. The other is that I am an irredeemably bad person, and this has been a constant obsession since I was a child. Since I was 13 or 14, this obsession has also often caused a second obsessive thought in which I want to rip all of my skin off or stab myself as a punishment. Remember – these intrusive thoughts are unwanted – I do not actually want to do these things or believe that I have done anything to warrant this sort of punishment.

In order to deal with the obsession of tap water, I avoid it a lot. I am slowly using exposure therapy to deal with this – I can now drink still bottled water with no problems, whereas before I could only drink sparkling water, boiled water in tea, or non-water drinks. I’m also able to drink squash most days with either filter or tap water, and I’m currently weakening this until I can drink normal, unfiltered tap water again. I can also sometimes drink tap water if it’s in a store-bought water bottle (like an Evian or a Buxton bottle). I’m aware that this belief of chicken blood in my tap water is completely irrational, but trying to drink tap water gives me really bad anxiety and I have dehydrated myself in the past rather than try and drink it because of this fear.

To deal with the second obsession, I regularly delete all the data on my electronics, and rip pages out of notebooks. I’m not sure where this compulsion originated, I just know that it’s related to that obsession somehow. When I say “data”, I mean all messages, call history, internet history, game data, etc. I have managed to limit this to not deleting photos and things on computers at work or school (when I was still at school). I’m very slowly working my way out of this one too as I used to only be able to delete things at certain times, and I would end up deleting things every five or ten minutes, whereas now I’ve managed to get it down to three or four times a day on a good day. If you know me in real life, you’ll also know I do a completely new social media reboot every few years – I’m hoping to have this part of the compulsion under control in 2020! (Mostly because there are a few games I’ve restarted a couple of hundred times that I’d really love to finish some day.)

I know some of you will be thinking “but Catherine, surely you can just stop deleting your data and start drinking tap water, it’s not that hard!” I know that, logically, but I can’t explain the fear and anxiety that I get if I even think about doing that, because doing that will mean that those obsessive thoughts get louder and louder and I don’t want them in my mind. For me, the stress of irrational behaviour is much easier to cope with than the stress of the intrusive thoughts.

OCD is chronic – which means that for the rest of my life, it will be there, and there is no cure. I can however be aware of it and control it, and I can use exposure therapy and techniques of slowly letting go of compulsive behaviours so they don’t control my life in future. As you can tell, I don’t feel as positively about OCD as I do about autism. It’s probably my least favourite diagnosis, partially because of how much it controls my thoughts and behaviours, and partially because it’s so misunderstood and misrepresented.

Again, my OCD experience is not the same as every other obsessive-compulsive person’s. I hope this has been helpful in understanding how Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects my everyday life and makes my brain and experiences different to someone who does not have OCD.

 

 

My diagnoses: Part 1, Autism.

I talk a lot about my mental health, but I don’t often talk about what my actual diagnoses are, getting diagnosed or how they affect my day-to-day life. I’ve decided to go in chronological order of when they first appeared, and so part one is autism.

Autism is genetic, and so will have been something I’ve had since I was born. However, because I’m female, and fairly intelligent, I wasn’t actually diagnosed until last month (aged 24). This is a common theme – those with higher intelligence, women, and people of colour do not get diagnosed at the same rates as white boys with average or lower intelligence, for a multitude of reasons. Despite my brother being officially diagnosed as a child, and my dad self-diagnosing around the same time, it was assumed in my family for a long time that any traits I had were picked up from living with two other autistic people. It wasn’t until my community mental health team suggested autism that I took it more seriously and started actively pursuing a diagnosis. I was diagnosed much quicker than most other adults because usually you have to wait to see an autism specialist – who are underfunded and oversubscribed. My psychiatrist, who I was seeing for other reasons, diagnosed me himself with resources from the autism centre because they refused to take me when I already had someone who was capable of giving me an official diagnosis.

Here are some of the symptoms that affect me:

Executive dysfunction: Executive functions affect (but are not limited to) things like goal formation, planning, staying on task, self-monitoring, memory, and attention. This is probably my biggest struggle. My main problems lie in planning, following routines, staying on task and short-term memory. In terms of planning things, I have to say the steps out loud in the order I’m going to do them, and usually for a couple of minutes before I can even start. I have to continue saying the steps as I do them because otherwise I will get confused and do them in the wrong order, or miss something out. This also counts for routines. You’d think that after almost 25 years I’d have learned, but if I don’t follow the exact same morning routine every day I miss something out – like brushing my teeth or putting on shoes. On really bad days I have to set alarms to remind me to eat and go to bed because otherwise I’ll just forget that food and sleep are necessary functions for survival. Staying on task can be hard because I get really easily distracted, like in the middle of a conversation I’ll forget I’m talking and just walk off, or I’ll lose my train of thought because there was a noise outside or the sun went behind a cloud. To help me stay on task I have to hyperfocus on it, which I’ll get into later. Memory is a thing that’s got worse as I’ve got older, and I’ll often ask the same questions over and over again, or forget information that’s just been told to me. As that’s recently worsened, I don’t have many strategies beyond just writing it down.

Stimming: A stim is a – usually repetitive – action that relates to an emotion. So even as an adult, I suck my thumb to calm or settle myself, especially at night, although I’m trying to replace this with a chewable necklace since recently I’ve been biting my thumb in my sleep to the point of breaking the skin. I don’t know how to explain it, but sucking my thumb brings such an immediate and overwhelming sense of comfort and relief. Fidgeting is something I do when I’m nervous to calm myself down, and I especially like to plait or twist pieces of material, or slowly spin my fidget spinner. When I’m panicking, I shake my head and flap my hands, and when I’m really happy or excited I bounce on my toes and “buzz” – small shaking movements in my upper body, like when someone gets electrocuted in a cartoon. When I feel these emotions, I will make these actions, but at the same time I can make myself feel more calm or more happy by doing these actions.

Hyperfocus and special interests: Hyperfocus is what I call when I have to really concentrate on something. It probably has a proper name that is something different, but it just means that I zone out of everything except the thing I’m currently doing. This means I won’t notice things happening around me – like that gif of Stan Lee sorting records while Spiderman fights in the background, I will be completely oblivious to my surroundings. This links in with special interests – sometimes when I’m doing something related to my special interests I will hyperfocus on it without meaning to. Special interests are just things that autistic people latch on to and try to do the thing or learn about it as much as possible. Current special interests of mine include reading, certain youtubers, and names. I read at least 50,000 words a day whether on news sites or fiction, I will try to learn as much as I can about the youtubers I like and I can spend literal hours on baby name websites seeing what names mean, what variations in spelling there are, what’s popular, or what names are related, and I find all of these things really fun and relaxing. This is different than my non-special interests such as music and politics, which I just enjoy doing or discussing but not on the same level, and I would never hyperfocus while doing these.

Sensory: Similar to stimming, certain external stimuli can overwhelm me or make me feel better. So touching soft things, or putting my hands in still water, makes me feel calm and happy, while even the thought of touching velvet makes me want to rip my hair out and throw up. Some of my physical senses are more sensitive than the average person, and some are way less sensitive, like smell. I can’t really smell stuff unless it’s very strong, or very close to my nose. It’s only recently occurred to me that maybe baths smell when you put bath bombs and that nice bubble stuff in them. To me, I can smell a bath bomb if I hold it to my nose, but not once it’s dissolved. I can also get sensory overload because my brain can’t filter things – so if I’m in a busy restaurant I can hear the music, the chairs and the cutlery scraping, the traffic outside, and every single conversation happening around me at the same volume. Or if I’m already nervous or frustrated and there’s a light breeze, it feels like the wind is touching me as solidly as a person. This can be a lot for my brain to cope with, and if I get sensory overload I will sometimes shut down slightly and stop talking or moving in order to try and limit the things that are happening.

Scripted speech: I was considered pretty good at customer service in previous jobs, and I’ll be honest it’s entirely down to scripted speech. This is where someone asks the same questions or has the same topic of conversation every time within a certain context – for example, the famous “would you like fries with that?” Once I’ve learned you’re into cars, you can expect that topic to dominate a lot of our conversations because that’s been added to the script I use when I talk to you as a topic that gets positive reactions.

Those are probably the top five symptoms I have, although there are others. My experience with autism is not the same as everyone else’s, and some autistic people may have completely different symptoms, or different expressions of the same ones. I hope this has been helpful in understanding how autism affects my everyday life and makes my experiences different to those of someone who is allistic (not autistic).

 

Treat Us

I was sitting in my psychiatrist’s office and we were at the end of a session. As usual, he asked if I had any questions.

“Actually, yeah,” I said. “What’s my actual diagnosis?”

“Oh, we don’t work with diagnoses,” he replied. “We just try to treat your symptoms.”

I was gobsmacked. Still am. And yet this is the reality for so many people trying to get treatment for mental health problems. One of the major talking points among my mentally ill friends is how difficult it is to get a diagnosis in the first place, never mind getting multiple diagnoses at once. Just among my own friends we’ve had doctors change diagnoses without informing them, doctors who told them to choose which diagnosis they wanted more because they didn’t believe in multiple diagnoses, doctors who have “undiagnosed” people because they don’t believe their previous diagnosis from another doctor exists.

Can you imagine if we did this with physical health? Fatigue, needing to use the toilet more often, and nausea and vomiting can all be symptoms of flu, pregnancy and cancer. Imagine turning up to the doctor wanting an ultrasound and a confirmation of pregnancy and they say “Oh, we’re just going to treat your symptoms.” Imagine being diagnosed with cancer and when you changed doctor a few years later, informing them you had cancer only for them to say “No, this was changed to a flu diagnosis six months ago.” Imagine getting the flu while pregnant and going to the doctor only for them to tell you that because you’re already pregnant, you can’t possibly have flu and you’re attention seeking. There would be outrage, and rightly so!

What’s more, in each of these cases, treating the symptoms without treating the root cause of the problem could be fatal. Doctors wouldn’t dream of treating the flu, cancer and pregnancy in the same way – yet they’re happy to treat different mental illnesses the same way. And if you were diagnosed with flu but were also already pregnant, that might change how they treated the flu compared to the non-pregnant population, because we understand that when it comes to physical health having multiple conditions changes your needs. When it comes to mental health however, you’re lucky if you are even *allowed* to have multiple conditions on paper.

Over the last year, I’ve asked multiple times to be put on medication for my mental health, or to have long term talking therapies that aren’t just centred around breathing techniques, and I’ve been consistently refused both of these things. Today I had an pre-appointment for the last thing I’ve been offered by my team before they discharge me – a six week group discussing breathing techniques. I wanted to scream that breathing techniques will not change my brain chemistry. I’ve had depression for 12 years, I’ve been doing the same breathing techniques for 10 of them. The reason I’ve been refused medication is that it doesn’t always work – well, breathing is definitely not working and I’d really like to try something else now. If a doctor refused to even consider chemotherapy for cancer because it doesn’t always work and instead sent their patient on a six week course to learn how to breathe because it would help the nausea, they’d be fired (I hope!).

What’s on paper doesn’t change reality. Refusing to diagnose and treat a physical illness does not mean that person’s illness will go away. Refusing to diagnose and treat mental illnesses does not make them disappear either.

1 in 4 people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Some of us will have more than one mental illness at the same time, and that’s the reality. Treat us, don’t just discuss our symptoms. Refusing to do so can be fatal.

Home

For the foreseeable future, I’m a bit of a nomad. I’m going to be bouncing between Leeds, Sheffield and Belfast and not really spending more than three days in any one place. I’m quite lucky in that I’m able to consider all of these places “home”. I was born in Belfast, where my family still lives. My spouse and my stuff are in Sheffield, and my job and my in-laws are in Leeds.

I sometimes wonder if I’d have been the sort of person who has three homes without the past that I have – I’ve moved house on average once every year and ten months since I was born, and I’ve managed to have four addresses in one calendar year on two separate occasions. I definitely got used to the concept of home being more than bricks and mortar a long time ago. I’m also quite used to being away from people that I love – Jon and I were long-distance for the first three and a half years of our relationship, and I’ve lived a similar distance from my family since I moved to Sheffield in 2012. Because of that, the decision to take a job in Leeds and save time and energy by just lodging with my parents-in-law half the week, and skipping weekends with Jon to go back and see my parents was a pretty easy choice – and perhaps it wouldn’t have been so simple if I didn’t already have good practice with the most obvious drawbacks to this decision.

Having three homes has some real advantages – I’ve got a sixth sense when it comes to airports, I can navigate train stations in my sleep and I have mastered the art of fitting five changes of clothes, three books, toiletries and a laptop into a small backpack and still having space for a multipack of Tayto from the airport WHSmith on the way home. Being in a different culture to my own has forced me to look at my birth culture (Northern Irish culture is more different to English culture than you’d expect) with fresh eyes, sometimes critically and sometimes with a greater respect. I’ve learned more about my own history so I can better share my first home with my friends in my new one. I know I can be completely independent and I know I can turn up in a new place and make friends because I’ve done that already.

I’m also really glad that my homes are so close together. Perhaps by chance, or perhaps because those of us with more than one culture seek each other out, a lot of my friends are immigrants (people who were born in another country and have moved to a second) or TCKs (third culture kids – those whose parents were born in a different country to theirs, many of whom have grown up in more than one country). Out of my 98 friends on facebook, there are 6 continents, 22 countries and 18 languages represented, and so many of my friends share their traditions and holidays with others so we can learn more about each other and the world and I think it’s wonderful, but I’m really glad that the home I miss is only 250 miles away (whatever side of the Irish Sea I’m on) and not literally on the other side of the world. I’m glad that when I moved here that I spoke the language and had enough similar culture that I didn’t feel completely out of my depth.

On the other hand, this is pretty tough. I’m kind of tired of living out of a suitcase already, and of being on trains and planes, and of missing people. I’m tired of every journey being bittersweet because I’m leaving home and going home all at once. I’ve been in six places already this month, and there’s another two places to go before it’s over and sometimes I wish I had just stayed put.

But then I remember that I’m so very lucky. I’ve had so many experiences that other people will never get and I’m not even 25. I’ve had a lot of practice at this, and I have a lot of friends who Get It, and no matter what way I travel I’m always going home.

I wrote this quite a while ago, and I might finish this poem one day; but for now it can sit here.

In another universe, known just by me,
There’s a Sheffield café on a Belfast street,
Where the Pennines fall west of the Irish Sea,
And I’m always Home, and you’re always with me.