To celebrate 40,000 views on my blog, I thought I'd do a Q&A. Here are my answers to your questions!

1. Do you feel like you have improved/grown as a person since you started blogging? Anna
Definitely. I think as we grow older, we all develop anyway. But it's nice to be able to document it through my blog. I've met so many new people who are going through the same thing as me. I've improved my writing skills and have gotten various opportunities out of being a blogger. Helping so many different people has been one of the most beneficial things I've done; it feels good to use my experience to help others. Through my blog, I've watched myself grow from the times of my most severe anxiety and depression, through my ups and downs and to where I am now on the road to recovery. My blog has definitely helped me to think things through and I don't regret it at all.

2. What's the best ways to cope with anxiety and best advice you have ever been given? MK Dude
I have written a blog post about the ten top tips to cope with anxiety, here. I have a few pieces of advice that have stuck with me throughout my battle with anxiety. A fellow anxiety sufferer called Baylee once gave me this piece of advice: "The best advice I can give is just to be as accepting of your anxiety as possible. Don't push through attacks, don't get down on yourself and don't feel like you're being robbed of living. Your anxiety is happening for a reason and it's molding you into such a strong person. You got this." Alongside that I've always kept in mind some advice from my Mum: "I have the same right to be on this planet as anyone else." And whenever I am about to face a difficult situation, my Auntie has always told me to "kick ass". Surprisingly it really works to build your confidence!

3. How're you feeling about going to university? Have you spoken to your uni's disability office & sorted out DSA etc? Alex C
University is a massive step for me and one I didn't believe I would ever be taking a few months ago; in a way I'm proud of that. I'm both really excited and terrified at the same time. Moving out, meeting new people, studying a subject I love, budgeting, taking part in new sports and new opportunities is all something I have to look forward to. I've sorted out everything to do with my anxiety as a disability including DSA. The support team at my university seem so lovely and I'd strongly advise you to use the services that are available to help you. Don't be afraid at reaching out.

4. Where are you? Do you go to support groups? Amy
I'll be moving to another part of the UK very soon to study Law at university, and as of yet I haven't been to any support groups. I think my support group is my friends, family and here on twitter. I don't think I'd feel comfortable being in a support group either as it would just increase my anxiety. Although, I know that many people prefer them.

5. If you're going to ask yourself one question that you find hard to answer, what is it? Angeline Lim
Perhaps this question?! No, this is a difficult one to answer. I am a very philosophical person and a person that thinks deeply. Sometimes it can be hard to switch off! I suppose a really difficult question would be "what is the meaning to my life?" I know I have asked myself that during my depths of my anxiety and trying to search for answer through all of it. I'd like to come to an answer that was certain, such as 'happiness' but I don't think we'll ever know. It's an individual journey and sometimes it annoys me that I cannot find an answer. I suppose just trying to be the best version of me is the way forward. Figuring out the answer to the beginning of the universe and why we're all here, will come in time!

6. What is your reaction about Robin William's death? Angeline Lim
I think it's extremely tragic. I remember watching him on TV as a child, as I can imagine all of us did. It just highlights the fact that even the people we think have no problems, who seem happy and have great lives, can be in the darkest depths on the inside. It reiterates how serious mental illness is. If I recall, Robin 
reached out for help many times, but he just couldn't cope. If anything is learnt from this, it's to take mental health more seriously including battling the stigma and providing more care. 

7. Have you ever read a book that has been transformative for you when struggling with anxiety? Steven Colborne
It's more quotes which have helped me through my battle with anxiety in terms of anything literature related. But, my Auntie did recommend a book called 'Feel the fear and do it anyway', which is quite a well known book. I read some of it and it did help me to rethink a little. Although I must admit I haven't read all of it yet! 'The Perks of being a Wallflower' has some very poignant points with life lessons, the same as 'The fault in our stars'. They are both fiction, but both make you think about life and how we live it. Both the books and the film versions have comforted me, especially 'Perks of being a Wallflower'. It follows a group of friends in which one of them is battling their mental health throughout adolescence.

8. How to spread mental illness awareness? Dearieda
There's so many different ways! I guess it's approaching people which can be the hardest. You can spread mental health awareness through talks, holding charity events, teaching yourself, writing blogs, making posters, even telling your friends about what the reality of mental illness is really about. Anything you can do, can make a massive difference.

9. Despite anxiety being so hard to deal with, do you think it's made you who you are now and made you stronger? Danielle Rolfe
Looking back now, I think my anxiety was always going to come to a head. My battle with anxiety made me start from the beginning, a bit like a newborn child. One who had to relearn everything she's ever known. It has definitely made me so much stronger. Trying to keep going when you've lost everything you've loved and even the ability to even leave the house, makes some very dark days. Experiencing those moments and the thoughts of giving up and keeping going makes you stronger every time. It doesn't necessarily make it easier, just makes you stronger as person. Of course, I would never wish this on my worst enemy and I definitely wouldn't be the same person I am now, if I haven't been through what I have. As one of my idols once said to me "imagine each person as having a tank. Your tank will be fuller and stronger than others because of what you've been through. You can use that to help you in later life." I find this so true. I do look at things differently to others and in a way my anxiety has made me stronger than others even though it may be one of my weakest areas.

10. What is the best way to get through to anxious people stuck in "a loop" who seem not to take in your caring help? Miranda de Barra
This is a tough question. Anxious people do tend to be stuck in a loop because they are too anxious to do otherwise. Anxiety can be so overwhelming, even the best of advice might not work. It's difficult because what got me out of it was medication. I think the best thing you can do, is just to let them know that you are there for them and you will help them in any way you can. I promise you, we aren't ignorant or rude, our anxiety just takes over. If possible, try and get them professional help or show them the options available. I can assure you that they are very grateful for the support.

11. How do you find social situations with your anxiety? Pubs, Clubs Parties etc. Any techniques for facing these environments? Alex C
When my anxiety was it's most severe, I wouldn't take part in any social situations. Now, I can take part, but I'd be lying if they didn't make me anxious. Generally speaking pubs and catching the bus, presents little to no anxiety. But clubs and parties can be can still make me somewhat anxious. The main technique I use is breathing and just giving it a go.

12. This is my question: Would you #standupagainstdepression? Elena
Of course! There is no doubt. With myself and many family members being affected, means it's close to my heart.The more awareness we can raise, the better.

13. I have allegrophobia and a fear of crowds, how so I overcome them? They are quite bad. Any tips on your fears? @B_acting
I think it's important to have a few techniques you can use during the situation, which I have listed in some of my blog posts. Counselling such as CBT can help immensely. Perhaps starting off with small groups and then slowly building up? In terms of my fears, I have managed to overcome a fair few of them such as going to school and catching public transport. Yes, they still represent some difficulty, but I am better than before. I am still yet to get over my fear of my driving test!
 For me, it required exposure to the situation and time. Medication has helped immensely as well as training your brain to have belief in yourself.

14. How do you break free from old negative thought patterns? Flowerpot
I think it starts with training a negative into a positive. So instead of saying "I will never not be tired" you'd say "I will always feel refreshed" Of course, this is a very basic example, but by looking at the situation with a positive, it gives a different effect. It takes a lot of work to train your brain, but you can do it. I used to write myself a positive speech to read to myself every morning. It's proven to work!

15. How do you get back on track after a relapse of anxiety? Alison Wright
I think it's very important not to be hard on yourself. Relapses of anxiety are completely normal. Make sure you take some time to yourself and don't throw yourself into situations that are going to knock your confidence. Start off small and build back up again. I also wrote things down and took a note of how my anxiety was.

16. Can you cure it once and for all? Kman
I'd like to think so. I know many people who have recovered and have almost recovered from their anxiety, including me. It's possible.

Best wishes and thank you for following my journey!
Amy Xx

Bad days

I know when I write this blog I tend to appear to be positive, which can sometimes give a rose tinted view of my own situation. 

Many of you will know that anxiety is not an easy thing to go through in everyday life. Not being able to do the things that others can because the anxiety is that overwhelming, is extremely frustrating and saddening. Those of you that have anxiety will also know that doubtful thoughts are very hard to over power no matter how many people say "you'll be fine" or "you're in control". It's easier said than done.

Everyone in life gets a bad day, where things go wrong. But with anxiety, a bad day can be titled when it just overwhelms you, and when you can't do anything. We all get those bad days. There is many a time when I cannot cope, when I have a bad day, when I cannot leave the house and when I can't do things my friends are doing. I know that many of us suffering with anxiety get this and some have said that this blog shows I am coping. Yes this helps, but I am not immune from bad days and recovery is a journey with bumps in the road. I am just like you.

It's perfectly normal to have bad days. It doesn't mean you've gone right back to the beginning, so don't be hard on yourself if you're not doing as well as you have hoped. We all must keep going; even if you feel like you've gone back to square one. It's just a step back, you've come so far already.

Best Wishes,
Amy Xx

I can't be happy

How many times have you heard someone say to you to "just be happy" or to "cheer up" and yet it feels like an impossibility? I know we all have down days; when we feel sad and tired and times when little words of encouragement and doing what we love can make us feel a whole lot better. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

There have been so many occasions where people have said to me, to "just think positively, when you do that your whole mindset will turn around." As much as I tried, I just couldn't think positively. I just couldn't change my life around. Thus, when someone says to you to just be happy, some people just feel they can't. It's not through a lack of trying that people feel this way. After all, who would want to be in darkness for their whole life?

Depression is something that many people describe as a black hole which can't be climbed out of, a weight on a sunny day, when everything is going well in life, but yet you cannot get out of bed in the morning.

Depression takes away the ability to do what you love. It is a real illness, which many scientists believe is based upon a chemical imbalance. Depression can physically stop you from doing things. You can begin to eat more or less, becoming more tired and angry, or struggle to sleep. You can lose interests in the things you once loved. You can lose concentration and have suicidal thoughts. From the inside the person may feel utterly hopeless and doesn't want to talk to anyone or do anything. They will be in turmoil. A complete lack of lust for life. This isn't ignorance, this is just the sheer lack of capability to face anything without feeling like you're going to explode.

For many on the outside and who have never experienced depression, I can understand how it is difficult to accept why people just can't do things. But, even if you don't understand it's important to be patient and to be there for the person. The worst thing you can do is be confrontational towards them as this just makes it worse and pushes the person further into the darkness than need be. Often when you're depressed you feel isolated and alone, and you need to just be there to look after them until they feel ready to face the world again.

Depression is a serious illness and needs to be regarded with importance. Please don't brush it aside. Don't forget to get professional help if you or someone you know is really struggling. You've got this.

Best wishes,
Amy xx

The gender debate

When you mention mental illness, I reckon the majority of people would see it affecting mainly women. The general stereotypical view is that women are caring and sensitive and men have to be macho (believe me, I want to get rid of these stereotypes as much as the next person does) Men feel that they often have to hide their feelings and supposedly that this is why men don't tend to seek help for their mental health issues, but it is extremely important to do so. 

I was watching the TV the other day and Mind were being interviewed, explaining that the suicide of men outnumbered women 3:1 in the last few years and which can be understood due to the lack of willingness to reach out. If this blog post does anything, it's to raise awareness of the mental health issues that men can face in the same severity as any woman can. They deserve to seek help if they need it.

There is no point in risking your health over some society's construction about being a 'real man' because we'd all rather have health than living up to some unwritten expectation.
So, if you know of a man that may be experiencing mental health issues, share this post and let them know that it's okay. Men suffer with mental health issues too and it's crucial for you to get help; you're not inferior for doing so.

Best wishes,
Amy xx

The end?

What a difficult few years it's been, but I can proudly say that I've gotten into university to study Law; which has been my lifelong ambition.

If you have read my blog post about my struggles with school, you'll know that I've missed around a year of my A-levels. But, I was still extremely determined to get the grades in order to get to university. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten into my first choice university as I didn't get the grades and they weren't going to give any leeway either. And as much as I wanted to go to that uni (a lot!) I still managed to get my insurance choice, so it's still somewhere I'd like to go.

I was absolutely devastated when I found that I didn't get into my first choice university, devastated. And at the time, it wasn't confirmed that I was into my insurance choice either, so I was very lost and angry at myself. I don't think the outcome would have mattered as much to me, if I had been at school full time without any troubles with my mental health. But these last few years and my battle with anxiety has been absolute hell; taking away my education and opportunities. Everything I loved became everything I lost. I worked so hard to even step inside the school gates and to keep on going, and not doing as well as I hoped, was destroying.

But, what I must take from this is a greater sense of self worth. I managed to get into university, which a few months back would've been impossible, let alone taking my A-levels. It would've been completely out of the question. I am disappointed, but I must be proud of the fact that I can say that I couldn't have worked any harder and that these are my results at the end of it. If I didn't work as a hard, I wouldn't be where I am. I must put into retrospect that my grades are good considering my attendance. Not only that, but I mustn't be as hard on myself; not everyone can be the best all of the time. I've always been seen as a "bright" and hard working student, and as my anxiety got hold, my grades began to drop and I began to lose the very thing I was really passionate about; making me feel stupid. As hard as that is, I am where I am and I am who I am. No matter what the hardships, I know my triumphs and that is what I must hold dear, no matter of others opinions. At the end of the day, life doesn't always go to plan and you may feel you haven't got the justice you deserve, but it's something you have to grow with and sometimes that may be for the better. 

It's time to begin the next chapter of my life. I am both excited and terrified. I hope you will all follow the journey with me!

(And would you believe it, I'm currently writing this blog post whilst travelling on a train by myself! Who would have thought it?!)

Finally, If you're going through a severely difficult time, keep going. I was so distraught, but I held on and now I'm here. Something I would never have thought possible. I have been where you've been and I know what it's like. It can get better.

I'm proud of you!

Best wishes,
Amy xx

Summer series: France

On the way back from my cycle through Germany (You can still sponsor me!) I went to France for a day or so.

I've always loved France and it's always been a childhood memory of mine. We stayed overnight in a place called Lille. Although it has maintained it's culture, it's pretty expensive. Unfortunately I didn't buy very much, apart from when I went to the market. The morning market there reminded me of an old market which would perhaps be found in London. Unfortunately, the markets where I live don't resemble this as much. It was so busy and so nice to see people buying all their fresh food and handmade gifts, which seemed like such a blast from the past.

In the evening we found the best Cafe I have ever been to. It was so old and rustic, with posters of old singers and movie stars all over the walls. There was an old fashioned juke box and vinyls everywhere. I ended up buying a vinyl by 'The Arrogants' which was actually the son's band of the Cafe owners. As well as that, a well known Belgian DJ played vinyls all night, whilst we spoke to some lovely French people. I just loved the atmosphere. I must say though, I did feel slightly out of place as I know next to no French! 

I've included some pictures below. Let me know what you think.

There may not be a blog post next Thursday as it's A-level results day. Next Thursday I will know whether I will be going to university or not; wish me luck! I hope all of the hard work has paid off and I have been a victor over my anxiety >:) You can read more about my battle with anxiety and school, here. Good luck to all who are also getting results!

Best Wishes
Amy Xx

Compulsory education

I wrote a few months back about mental health in academia or rather the lack of it. This post is going to be focused more on the need for it rather than the pressures and protection.

I've been wanting to write this post for a while and is something which I am extremely passionate about, due to my own experience of mental health in the education system. However, what had sparked this post was a tweet from @Mentalhealth_ed who have set up petitions to the secretary of education, to make mental health in education compulsory. You can visit their website, here.

You see, mental health is extremely common, with 1/4 experiencing a mental health problem in any one year. More importantly though, 1/3 in every school class will experience a mental health problem. That's the same probability as some physical illnesses and yet, mental health is still not addressed as important or fatal, which of course it is.

The anatomy of the body is taught in biology, but yet mental health is left out of it. Furthermore, in personal development there is the discussion of drugs, alcohol and sex to an extent which may or may not be successful, but yet no talk of mental health. Until you go to school, you are surrounded by your families opinions, and at such an influential age this is all you really know. Thus this is where school becomes an important information source. With young people spending more time in education than outside, surely it's highly important to prepare them for future life and everything that can come their way. By educating early, we can get people to really understand the reasons and reality to mental health. In this way then we can battle the harmful and horrific stigma of the straight jackets, murderers and schizophrenics. 

If we aren't going to learn about this in education, then where will we learn it? We won't learn about it in the community, because many still believe in the myths. They aren't educated on mental health, which isn't always their fault; it's what they've been socialised into. I have written a lot more about the stigma, here and whilst we are working on the government, you can voluntarily read about the myths, here.

It's not just the education during these school years, but the importance in noticing how many pupils go through mental health problems. With mental health in schools still being taboo due to the lack of education, many will keep their mental health a secret as it is seen as 'bad' and this is extremely dangerous. Many teachers don't have the knowledge of how to act and pupils don't know how to act around them with only knowledge of stereotypes. With it being so common, not only do we need to teach to get others to understand, but to support those suffering. We must let them know it's okay to talk and you shouldn't suffer in silence.

Many of you retweeted my tweet about mental health and education, which is amazing; it just shows how many people see compulsory mental health in education as important. Please help us to raise more awareness and change the current situation by sharing this blog post, and using the hashtag #compulsorymentalhealth on twitter.

Let's just give ourselves one last reminder. Mental illness kills and destroys. Physical health is attributed with the same statistics and has more attention paid to it, but the same if not worse consequences can occur from a mental health condition. People have lost and are losing friends, family members, colleagues, sons and daughters, mums and dads due to the mental illness that is eating them away and yet this still isn't regarded as important enough to educate about. Because there aren't straightforward scientific methods to determine the diagnosis of these conditions, it's brushed aside. Because you can't see internal bleeding or a lack of white blood cells, it's regarded as inferior. But, let me ask you this; would a person stay in hell if they had the chance to leave?, would there be tears running down their face with absolute dread in their eyes, with a racing heartbeat if they weren't trying to get over the fear attributed with their mental health condition? It's time to face the fact that mental health does exist. We know that it can be a chemical imbalance and we can see from the outside the absolute turmoil in people's behaviour. Now's the time to educate, to get rid of the stigma and to save lives. 

You probably know someone who is suffering with mental illness or are yourself. Please sign the petitions to improve peoples lives for the future. 

Best wishes,
Amy xx

Summer series: Belgium

On the way back from my cycle through Germany (you can sponsor me here) we visited Belgium. It was my first time in Belgium and I have to say it's intriguing to say the least. I did see some weird and wacky things.

I only spent two days in Belgium, but during that time we visited Ghent and Brussels. Brussels was the place I really wanted to see, but it was very touristic; full of souvenir shops. However there were some great chocolate stores and a lovely cheese store called 'Tonton Garby's cheese store' where he made home made sandwiches and who is the friendliest person I have ever met. If you ever go to Brussels, make sure to say I recommended you. (The food was great too!)

I much preferred Ghent, which had kept more of it's culture. On the night we arrived, it was the last day of the Ghent music festival to which 200,000 had been to the night before. The atmosphere was electric and there were so many diverse characters. I also managed to find the best vintage shop ever. There was so much variety, at such a good price. I ended up buying four items, which I will do a post about later on. The pubs and bars are a world away from anything like the UK; so full of character, quirkiness and the best music. The trams were also pretty cool and so were the churches; in which I lit a candle and watched the most beautiful church choir sing; angelic! In one of the churches there was also a 'thought tree' in which I left a note about my blog. If any of you find it, let me know! On the last night however, my dad managed to drop my shoe in the canal, slightly funny but I was then shoeless. At least I get a new pair!

Whenever I go on holidays, it makes me reflect. I came to realisation that this is what life is all about; traveling, experiencing and enjoying. I found myself thinking about getting stuck in the same routine and how refreshing this break was. In everyday life, you never get a chance to look outside yourself because we're always so absorbed. The little anxiety voice in my head telling me to not do things was silenced for a while too; I thought 'just do it'.

I've included some pictures below.

Best wishes,
Amy xx