It’s Okay Not to be Okay xx

Do you ever get to a stage where everything just suddenly crumbles? Someone says one little thing or something happens and you realise you’ve only just been holding everything together? You’d even managed to convince yourself that all was well and the worries that trouble your mind weren’t really there anymore.

This happens to me a lot. And since today is World Mental Health Day, I figured it was worth talking about. Thankfully the taboo times of ignoring our mental health are starting to fade away but a lot of us still struggle to talk about it for fear of being misunderstood.

Weakness. That’s the brush everyone feels tarred with when we talk about how we feel. No-one wants to appear “weak”.

Yet some of the strongest people I know are the ones who have a daily fight to remind themselves that they are worth something. 

Life can be pretty exhausting when your own mind constantly tells you that you need to be more. And not feeling able to talk about it can leave you feeling invisible.

So today, and everyday, reach out to people you care about. Tell them that you are there. Not everyone understands how it feels but everyone can take the time to try. You’d be surprised at how many people are trying to be “okay”. Remind them that it’s okay not to be okay. x

 

 

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome. It’s a thing. No, really, it is. Here’s the definition:

Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

It was identified by researchers at Georgia State University in 1978 when they noted that successful women had a tendency towards high levels of self-doubt. Since then, more recent studies in Belgium have shown that it is common across different career types from “white collar” jobs to scientists. Men feel it too (although possibly to a lesser extent) and sometimes it’s joined by it’s unwelcome friends – anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and guilt. As you can probably tell, it’s not really a charming guest.

For me, it’s an overwhelming feeling that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Like everything I’ve achieved has been through luck and is a fluke. Like I’m just pretending I know what I’m talking about and if pushed, I’ll flake out and be discovered for not really having a clue.

It’s a fairly regular anvil of self-doubt that hangs over my head and threatens to come crashing down with little notice. If you look for it, you can see it through the facade. The unwillingness to make a big deal of things that others would be singing and dancing about. The hesitation to sell myself and recognise the work that I’ve done and things I’ve achieved. The avoidance of talking about my work and myself for fear that I’ll let something slip that “shows me up”. The second guessing myself and wanting to “double check” everything when I do talk about my work. The never feeling quite ready to do things and being able to find a million reasons not to try.

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The trouble is, I tend to compare myself to everyone else’s highlight reel. Thanks to a mix of social media where we only really see the extremes of life (cause let’s face it, posting “hey I got out of bed today, had a shower and then sat for 10 hours working at my computer” isn’t really InstaWorthy) and knowing some super confident people who seem to do nothing but talk about all they’ve achieved. I have nothing against the latter, it’s just foreign to me and adds to the feeling that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t until I was talking in a recent interview about my meandering career path that I realised I have a lot of experience and different skills. Even writing that now makes me very uncomfortable.

I’ve been running my own business for almost three years now and sometimes I forget that in terms of a small business, it’s still early days. I hold myself to extremely high standards and get frustrated when I’m not exactly where I feel like I should be. It’s very easy for me to pattern spot and give much higher value to the things I’m not happy about and to dismiss the success I’ve had a long the way.

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Recently, I’ve been doing well. OK I’m not bringing in the money I’d like (but who is?) and I’ve got a list of ideas for improvement longer than a Mo Farah run, but when I consider the direction my work is taking, a lot of great things are happening. From being asked to deliver a photography class for Skillshare to having my #RealGirlsRealBeauty images up as part of the Visible Women Festival. From starting new collaborations for my wildlife work to finding more time to connect with my wildlife and nature photohttps://www.meiphotography.co.uk/overcoming-imposter-syndrome/ ‎graphy. It’s really all very positive.

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So why do I wake up some days and think I’m just playing “make believe” at all of it? Without reading all the research (and thus being able to thoroughly back-up my opinion without horrendous self doubt…), I guess I won’t really know. I just have to keep pushing through it and finding ways to work around it.

It seems that speaking up about it is part of that journey. Putting my hand up and saying that I often don’t feel like I’ve got a clue what I’m doing. Confessing that most days feel like “fake it til you make it” days.  Coming clean about this and finding other tortured souls helps. It’s why I’m writing this blog.

Other ways of tackling it are keeping track of the successes. Reminding myself of the victories I’ve had, how far I’ve come and accepting praise when something great happens instead of getting cagey and awkward about it.

Sometimes, through the midst of all this, there are perfectly timed moments that give me a much needed confidence boost. Like today, when I felt the sensation of that anvil getting ever closer to landing squarely on my head, this blog popped up in my feed. A review of a photoshoot I did last year.

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It made my day.

And that cheeky toddler face from one of my favourite photo sessions of 2016 reminded me that sometimes we just need to stick our tongues out at Impostor Syndrome and keep on doing the best we can. x

 

Facing Anxiety

I Am Enough

I Am Enough

For as long as I can remember, anxiety has played a massive role in my life. I can barely think a time where it hasn’t at least lurked somewhere in the background, threatening to rear it’s ugly head.

Most of the time, you’d never know it. I believe “high functioning” is the term used to describe it, meaning the majority of the time I can get through a day without any obvious issues or falling apart into the stereotypical anxious wreck that people tend to conjure up images of when you mention you have this. Instead I appear together, efficient, busy, organised, controlling…

I’ve struggled with it privately for many years. Thanks to the stereotypes and the misplaced shame our society associates with hidden illnesses like this one, I wasn’t confident about admitting to it. Being anxious is for people who are weak and can’t cope right? It was something I wanted to hide and pretend wasn’t happening to me.

A few months ago I came across this blog by Sarah Schuster on The Mighty Site and I felt an instant connection with her words. Finally someone was able to explain how I was feeling and the impact it had on my every day. I realised I wasn’t alone and it gave me the courage to speak up and talk to people about the constant worry; the late nights lying in bed unable to quieten my busy mind; the not being sure if my concern was rational or a symptom of this illness; the panic attacks over seemingly small things that my body reacted to as though I was about to die. You see, anxiety is a mental illness, but what people fail to realise is that it has many physical aspects. Increased heartrate, shallow, panicked breathing, increased temperature, flushing, sweating and shaking. You body responds to stimuli in an extreme manner and it’s not at all pleasant.

We learn to avoid these panic attacks by planning and controlling as much as we can. We fill the quiet times by keeping busy so our overactive mind doesn’t run away with itself. Small things can become overwhelming, so we work out our triggers and avoid them or change things to avoid setting a panic off.

It’s constant.

It’s exhausting.

I was surprised to find so many people who had been feeling the same way. So many people who felt they had to hide this for fear of being judged by others or made to feel like they can’t cope. People who are extremely successful in all walks of life also suffer from anxiety and find ways around it but unless you suffer from it, you wouldn’t necessarily know their struggle.

So I decided to start a new photography project. Facing Anxiety aims to help people find a way to stand up to their anxiety and find support with likeminded people who understand what they are going through. To show people who don’t struggle with this illness that the stereotypes are wrong and misinformed, that people they’d never suspect have this are fighting a daily battle.

One of the issues I have thanks to my anxiety, is feeling as though I’m not enough. Like I always need to be and do more. Here’s a shot I took a few years back. Something I need to remember more often.

If you are interested in taking part in this project and are based in Glasgow (or nearby) or in Frankfurt, please get in touch. I would love to speak to you about getting involved.