My Mad Fat Diary author Rae Earl is exactly the funny, straight-talking auntie we all need in our lives. She won’t sugar-coat the suckyness of being a girl but, having survived her own teenage mental breakdown, she’s absolutely full of wisdom and smart advice about how to get through the absolute worst of teenage (and adult!) life.
Now, ten years after letting us all read her teenage diaries, Rae’s latest book is part memoir, part guide to all things mental health. It’s packed full of everything she wishes she’d known when she was your age, with medical expertise thrown in by Radio 1’s Dr Radha.
We sat down with Rae to get the lowdown on It’s All In Your Head: A Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together, the book she describes as “a brain beanbag, to have as a reference by your bed, and flop into whenever you want”.
So what are the top seven things that she hopes you’ll take away from It’s All In Your Head?
Everything can be survived
“Basically everything can be survived, and you can get through it. Just give yourself time,” Rae says – and she’s living proof. “As a teenager I was very embarrassed about being on a psychiatric ward, and mental health issues don’t usually get better over night. Most conditions have to be managed throughout our lives, but I’ve reached this age now where I’m fine to talk about those things.”
Everyone is struggling, and you don’t have to do it alone
“Everybody thinks they’re a freak, everybody’s struggling, even the people who seem to be swimming through all cocky; everybody’s having a crisis. Nobody’s perfect or got it all together. I was going to say it’s that age, but actually it’s just life – I’m 46 and I’m still winging it!” Rae laughs. “When I was at school, we never had that conversation. But if we’d had that chat, that feeling of intense alienation and loneliness could have been alleviated,” she adds.
“I think if I’d felt able to have those chats with my friends, I would have felt far less lonely, and far more able to make change, because I wouldn’t have felt so disabled by the fact I was on my own. I denied myself so much, and absolutely invalidated myself from life – it was all such a waste. Having that chat would have been so important to me, I think I would have said yes to a lot more.”
Be careful about over-sharing online
“It’s a cliché, but the biggest thing that’s changed since I was a teenager is social media,” Rae says. “If I imagine putting social media into my life at that point, I don’t think I would have managed that well at all. I would have over-shared and that would have left me vulnerable. I think it would have exacerbated my problems with my body more. But then, on the flip side, perhaps seeing other people share their experiences would have helped me accept it,” she adds.
“My diary was private, it was a place to vent everything I felt in a perfectly safe space – so I think I had more freedom to make enormous mistakes without it going viral. Now we share so much, but you do still need to have somewhere private and safe.”
Failure is essential, so give yourself a break
“I wish I could change the word failure, because it’s so loaded – but failure is an essential part of life,” Rae says. “It’s how you come back from things. It’s unbelievable, you learn so much on the way.”
It’s fine to say no to things
“It’s fine to put your hand up and say ‘I’m not comfortable with this. You’re allowed to say no to things. Sometimes it may be something you have to get comfortable with – a job, education – but, by flagging it up, people can help you find a way to get through something that’s proving difficult for you,” she says.
“There are some things where it’s obvious – if it’s going to put your mental and physical safety at risk, you know to say no to it. But inevitably, wonderful things also often come with discomfort. Discomfort is part of life, and it’s fine to say yes if it will lead to something lovely. It’s all about learning your limits,” Rae adds.
Fit your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else
This advice is borrowed from those aeroplane safety talks, but Rae says it’s something we can all learn from. “A lot of people aren’t good at putting themselves first – often because we don’t want to face things,” she says. “I certainly made my life about other people’s problems, rather than sorting out my own, but it’s just about finding those little steps that help you get better day by day.”
Talk to someone about your problems as soon as possible
Finally, Rae says, “the longer you ignore your problems, the worse they get. It’s like a weed that keeps on growing bigger and bigger. The sooner you have the conversation with someone who loves you, the sooner you can get better.”
She adds: “I know it’s uncomfortable, but the people you love want you to be the happiest and best you can be, even if that means discomfort or a painful conversation. And even if you feel that nobody loves you, there are organisations that genuinely do want to help – you just need to tell them.
“If I’d had earlier intervention, I would have enjoyed a lot of my life more – but I didn’t say anything, I just engaged in behaviours that made me temporarily feel better, but just added more problems on top of problems,” she says. “Start the conversation now, as soon as you can.”
Rae Earl’s book It’s All In Your Head: A Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together is out now, published by Hachette.
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