Helplessness by Martin Seligman is a book I read back when I was a teenager, and all I could remember about it was that it had made me angry for a couple of reasons: (1) the animal experiments it described; (2) the way it seemed to be saying “Just stop being depressed! Simple!”

Re-reading it, I enjoyed it more. Partly because I have a better appreciation for reading things I don’t entirely agree with; and partly because (probably for the same reason) I don’t think Teenage Scar gave it enough of a chance. (more…)

This year I have a lot to read, which is exciting. I’m starting uni this week, which I’m sure will bring its own reading list; I’m working on a couple of new papers; I’m writing a novel; and of course there’s the usual TBR pile of things I’ve found that looked interesting.

Last week I read four books, although the first one is cheating a bit; it took me a full two weeks to read because it was a textbook, so although I finished it this week even I am not quite a fast enough reader to manage fitting in a textbook around working full-time.  (more…)

The blog was going to be taking a break today, because I have a unicorn wines post in the queue but I haven’t finished writing it yet. Then I logged onto Twitter and saw that it’s Teacher Appreciation Day, so I thought I’d share a poem I wrote about the teachers at my old school, who were utterly fantastic and without whom I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be alive.  (more…)

On March 4th 2014, my friend Jo killed herself. She wouldn’t have understood how much we’d miss her, because when you’re in that kind of state of mind you don’t get it.

I do miss her, though. If you’re thinking about killing yourself, you probably have people who will miss you too. They won’t even know before you die exactly which things they’ll miss about you. Some will be obvious, of course, but others not so much.  (more…)

Katy, Adam and Audrey have been BFFs forever. They know everything about each other – all their shady secrets, all their likes and dislikes and stories of lost loves. Even now that they’re adults, their lives still intertwine – a friendship that stretches across the years and binds them together for all time.

So when Katy suddenly kills herself, it punches a pretty big hole in Audrey and Adam’s lives.


I’ve never really been into reading biographies. With the exception of pretty much anything about the life of Kierkegaard, I generally stay away from true stories and read either academic non-fiction, or novels.

But this year quite a lot of biographical accounts have ended up on my reading list, and several of them were amazing enough that I decided to do a whole new Reflections post for them.

I’m defining ‘biography’ quite loosely here, to mean anything where the author draws on personal experience (either their own or someone else’s) to discuss the central premise of the book.


the world is hard today
but there is still

there is still a person smiling at a stranger in the street
still the trees of summer wafting in the breeze
still the light of a warm golden evening slanting through the park
still dust motes dancing in its wake
there is still


I was sitting on the platform at Brighton station, waiting for a train. It had been a bit of a frustrating day: the trains had all not been running on time, and I’d only needed to go down there to pick up a single envelope. In total so far, the journey had taken me three hours for a five-minute conversation and envelope handover, and I still had the journey home on a stuffy train to look forward to. And the announcement boards weren’t working, and the train man had told me the train would “probably” be arriving soon, on platform five.

So there I was, sitting on a bench waiting for a train. I’m a patient person and had resigned myself to the idea of spending all day on public transport. I’d finished Augustine’s Confessions on the way down and was now in the first few pages of Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy.


Some time ago, I broke my foot in a boxing class. I’m not even sure how I managed to do it – I wasn’t actually boxing at the time, just doing the warm-up exercise, which involved sprinting from one side of the room to the other when the trainer yelled “GO!”.

I tripped over something (myself? the floor? air?) and landed crumpled-up on my foot. It broke. I spent some time at home, not walking on it and keeping it strapped up and elevated, until it eventually healed.



I signed up to the HelpStopMe service a few weeks ago and have been doing their Depression course online.

I was skeptical because I’ve had bad experiences with therapy in the past, mainly because it’s focused too much on feelings. I’d sit down opposite my therapist, who’d ask how I was feeling, and I’d say “fine” and wouldn’t really be able to elaborate. We’d go over and over the same ground, they’d ask about my experiences, I’d tell them, they’d ask how these things made me feel, I’d say I didn’t know, we’d get nowhere.

So I wasn’t sure what an online course could give me where classical therapy has repeatedly failed, but I figured it was worth a try. And I was pleasantly surprised: it’s actually really good.

I think one of its main selling points, at least for people like me who don’t really go for the “touchy-feely” approach, is that it doesn’t focus too much on your emotions, but more on actions. If someone says “How have you been feeling this week?” I find it hard to give them an honest answer, but I can answer “How many times have you been outside this week?” because that’s pretty straightforward.

I’m currently part of the way through module 13 and have just done the Depression Self-Test for the third time. They ask you to take this test periodically throughout the process, so you can work out how you’re doing. When I first started, I scored 19. A few weeks later, I scored 27. At the time, I was quite disheartened by this outcome, but I’d just had some bad news and I do find that sometimes with things like therapy you have to be prepared for it to get a bit more difficult before it gets better. This time when I did it I scored 15; overall a definite improvement!

There have been improvements in my day to day life as well. I’ve been doing more, but not in the manic-doing-everything way that I’m used to, just in a getting-more-done way. Rather than trying to cram as many things as humanly possible into a 24-hour period, losing sleep and berating myself when I don’t manage to complete everything, I’ve been splitting my days into sections (one of the recommendations from the course) and managing my time more efficiently.

There was a really useful module at the beginning – it took quite a lot of work but it was well worth it, so if you’re stuck there at the moment I’d recommend ploughing through! It involved taking an hourly inventory of everything you do for a week. Yes, it’s hard work. I did it in an Excel spreadsheet because I didn’t want to be constantly logging in to the HSM site. The idea is that you write down what you did, hour by hour, and then your level of happiness, from 1 to 10. There were some things that were unsurprising – when I called the water board to query my bill, my happiness went down – but there were other things that I never would have guessed. Like for instance, every time I spent time on the internet when I wasn’t working, my happiness went down. I’d thought I enjoyed things like playing around on Pinterest and Tumblr – and I do – but sometimes I’d do it just to stop myself thinking about anything, and actually it wasn’t healthy. I’ve now cut down on my internet usage (I know! Shocking!) and it’s really helping me feel better about life in general.

I’ve had several realisations throughout the course, one of which was that I’ve spent most of my life looking after other people – I’ve pretty much always had someone depending on me for something – and the past two years are the first time I’ve ever just lived on my own and not had someone need me for something. I then realised that, if I treated myself in the same way I’d treat someone else who depended on me, I’d probably feel a whole lot better. And that’s just logical. I like logic.

Another useful realisation happened when I was scoring my weeks on the happiness chart. Every week when you log in it asks you to rate how happy you’ve been feeling in the past week (something I don’t find easy). There was also an exercise towards the beginning of the course where I had to write down a number of things I had to do over the coming few days, and then estimate how happy each one would make me feel. I discovered that I didn’t mind admitting when something would hit the lower end of the scale – I gave out a lot of 2s and 1s – but that I couldn’t bring myself to tick an 8, 9 or 10 – there was some kind of misplaced guilt involved with the idea of enjoying something, or admitting to actually being really happy. I haven’t quite worked through this yet, but I think just knowing it’s there is probably helpful.

The course (at least, the bit I’m on at the moment) mainly focuses on challenging your beliefs in a way that seems rational, which I like not only because it’s nice and logical, but also because it makes me feel less like some kind of completely irrational weirdo. Sometimes just the thought of seeing a therapist can make you feel like there must be something wrong with you; doing an online course, though, just means you’re into self-improvement, and the way it’s set up means you feel like the things your mind tells you aren’t particularly weird, they just need to be questioned and challenged from time to time.

I’d definitely recommend HelpStopMe, particularly their Depression course which I’m taking at the moment. You can sign up here and take a test to see whether you’re currently experiencing symptoms of depression.

It’s currently just £39.99 and you can sign up at

Disclaimer: HelpStopMe allowed me to try their service for free, however they have not paid for my opinion or influenced it in any way. All views are my own.

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc