Unite For World Cancer Day

Today is world cancer day, a day uniting the world’s population in the fight against all types of cancer. The tagline this year is ‘We Can. I Can’ and encourages everyone in the world to get involved and take their part in reducing cancer globally.

I think Dame Helen Mirren in Calendar Girls described the importance of fighting against cancer much better than I can…

 

‘I want to raise money in memory of a man I loved, and to do that I’m prepared to take me clothes off for a WI calendar… because there are some things more important than council approval. And if it means that we get closer to killing off this shitty, cheating, sly, conniving bloody disease that cancer is, oh God, I tell you, I’d run round Skipton market naked, smeared in plum jam, wearing nothing but a knitted tea cosy on me head and singing ‘Jerusalem’.- Annie (Calendar Girls)’

 

Cancer is the most horrific illness, it steals the lives of those who have it and I’ve watched it continue to take the lives of those left to survive the loss of a loved one. It’s been many years since our family was sadly struck by cancer, but years later the impact is still there. They say that things get better, and in so many ways they really do. The sadness and feelings of loss are still there, as with the loss of any loved one, but they do feel less like they are at the centre of your mind all of the time. There is more space in your head to remember the happiness you shared with that person rather than focus on the sadness and illness.

 

But you are left with the sad memories and I think it is so important to remember this. Sometimes you can slip into thinking that everyone must be fine now, as everything happened such a long time ago, but the effects of cancer still exist many years later. So please stop and think about people who may have those difficult days and need a little extra thought and comfort.

 

Cancer can leave you with sad and painful memories, but it can also rob you of the memories and moments you were expecting to have with that person. The landmark moments in your life, where you wish they were with you or the gatherings and celebrations that feel a little emptier.

 

This world cancer day I will be uniting with the people who have suffered and beaten and survived cancer, the families who have suffered great loss and will find a way continue to live with the memories of their wonderful loved one, everyone who is fighting the battle against this shitty, cheating, sly, conniving bloody disease and all those who are waging a war against it through fundraising, research and supporting others.

 

This blog is dedicated to my Uncle Gerard and Granddads Jack and Tom; whose memory is always with me, guiding me through life; and to my wonderfully strong and resilient family who I would be completely lost without, especially my Mum, sister and Aunties (the strongest women I know).

 

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Time To Talk Day

Today is Time To Talk Day. The aim of the awareness day is to encourage people to talk about mental health and change lives. Hiding my mental health struggles has always been a way for my illness to be stronger. At my worst moments, I hoped for people to ask how I was and give me the opportunity to just not keep my mask on. There is hope in recovery from mental health struggles. It can be a winding tricky journey, but it is possible. Today, speak to friends and just give them the chance to have a chat… or even not chat at all and just be together.

The World Is Making Me Worried

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It seems like the world is getting more and more muddled each day. I avoid finding out about the daily news, but the headlines seem to creep in regardless. The world is a scary place right now and I’m left wondering what we’re meant to do about it. A powerless millennial, who apparently is responsible for sorting out this mess, but where do we begin.

The UK is in a Brexit muddle and America is dealing with the outcome of Donald Trump taking up the US Presidency. We’re left watching powerful politicians making changes that may affect us for the rest of our lives, and I’m left thinking that they’re not even the ones I wanted to be making those decisions for me. I am feeling disempowered and invalidated on a global scale. I wanted to write something powerful and meaningful, but my friend Sara AlAseeri put it so much better than I ever could:

“It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts.” – Ella Fitzgerald.

Unfortunately, if you’re a Muslim in today’s world, where you’re from completely determines where you go.

Unfortunately if you’re a Muslim in today’s world, you live your life fearing that if one country doesn’t want you around that others will soon follow its example too.

Unfortunately, if you’re a Muslim in today’s world others’ stereotyped and racist beliefs of you and people in the Middle East are no longer just their beliefs but are considered valid truths, and no one will look at you as evidence that their “truths” are false.

Unfortunately if you’re a Muslim in today’s world it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how nice you are to others, or how much you contribute to a community. You are a Muslim, and if a minority of people claiming they are muslims have done some terrible things than you should be punished for it too. Even though you have no control of them, don’t even consider them as part of your religion, and want them gone just as much as anyone else.

Basically, if you are Muslim you will be judged or even hated by some based on where you’re from, and you’ll be banned from going to certain places. Thanks for spreading the hate Donald Trump. Good job at accomplishing nothing good for the world.

Thank you to all the kind people who are fighting and protesting against this man and his immigration bans. Thanks for reminding me that there’s still plenty of loving people out there.

-Sara AlAseeri

I’m seeing a world that seems bitter and filled with hate. I’m seeing a world of people who do not want decisions about their lives being made by a minority to whom we have no aliance with or belief in.

To someone struggling with mental health problems, it adds to the desire to hide away from the world and almost say… well I did tell you everything is bad and scary and broken. I want to be able to fix it and make it ok for those I love. I also have moments where I feel like what’s the point in try and tackle things close to home when everything in the world seems doomed. But the thing is, now is the time to really focus on self care and looking after those around you. We have a responsiblity to do what we can to make the world a better place. If you’re in a position to rally and protest, I wish I could be there with you. But if all you can do is sign a petition, show care to those around you in your community or even just manage to show yourself a moment of kindness today, then please please do.

Stay safe everyone and spread a little kindness today.

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Lists Against Fears

THE NEW YOU.jpgWhen you’ve been in some sort of treatment for a mental health condition for a number of years; it can be rare to be presented with a new idea that you’ve not seen before. This isn’t to sound arrogant as if I’ve had all of the treatment there ever was… not at all. But rather, there are some similar ideas and techniques that come up more often than not. Whilst a lot of these traditional, go-to ideas are great, it can feel a bit hopeless if you’re just being given the same old. I’ve always had a belief that if what you’re doing isn’t working or really helping, then you need to keep trying until you find something that works! Sometimes it feels this is a real weakness of community mental health support. There’s a limited scope for overstretched teams to provide care that’s tailored to the individual and it can feel like professionals try and shoe-horn you into their own method of working… and discharge people who don’t progress within the parameters of what’s available.

Recently, I worked with a locum practitioner who gave me some new ideas, things I’d never tried before. I was a bit dubious about some of them, as they were out of the normal CBT based ideas I’d been given in outpatient treatment. The number of times I’ve had to write a food diary, compare it to my meal plan, write down my thoughts and then counter them with alternative thoughts; is probably too many to recall now! For so long, that has been the treatment. There’s been very little creativity. I’m not criticising the professionals I’ve worked with… totally… but I am saying there could be a little more variety in the kind of work offered to outpatients regardless of the understandably challenging lack of resources. So, back to my locum practitioner. One day we were talking about the importance of having my weight monitored. It’s something I’ve always hated and battled against. Partly due to OCD rituals surrounding getting a perfectly accurate comparative weight (yes… something I know isn’t really a real thing but that’s not the focus here haha). So being a regular argument had with the team, we began for a moment to have the standard backward and forward about being weighed. I was told why I needed it done and promptly replied with all of the counter arguments I could. It wasn’t really going anywhere and it was reminiscent of conversations already had.

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So she stopped us and pulled out a piece of paper, telling me we were going to think of a different way of tackling this. I was anxious and stressed and not very receptive to a new idea. She told me that we were going to write a list of thirty reasons why it was good to be weighed by someone from the team. We titled it in a positive way, not limiting ourselves to it being ‘ok’ to be weighed but going fully for it and using ‘good’ and specifying it would be done by the team. Already my brain was feeling a little frustrated that loopholes were being firmly avoided! It was a challenge, I definitely protested that there was no way I could think of one reason let alone thirty. But gradually with a little persuasion, the list began to take shape… the options could be sensible, off the wall or completely ridiculous. Here are a few we came up with:

  • People will stop nagging me to get weighed
  • Meg and Bert (my labradors) get weighed at the vets and enjoy it, so I can too
  • I can smash my scales into a million pieces because I don’t need them now
  • It’s just measuring my relationship with gravity
  • Good to give my scales a break/holiday/weekend break
  • Maybe I’ll enjoy it

And so on…

The list turned out to be a powerful tool. By the end of thirty reasons, I had been through fits of laughter, completely relaxed and actually if I had been weighed straight away… I probably would have been fairly relaxed about the whole situation. By finding thirty reasons that it was good for it to happen, I had a whole list of evidence to counter the negative thought processes that were going on in my head. I had a list of reasons that were quite motivating and I had something that could make me laugh and remind me that perhaps the whole process wasn’t too scary after all. I’ve realised that writing a list to counter my fears can be used in any situation that I’m worrying about or anything I’m struggling to be able to do. And the best thing… if at thirty you still feel anxious, you can always write thirty more.

Recovering Through Creativity

It feels like a lot of people are growing frustrated of limited mental health services. There always seems to be unnecessarily specific criteria to be seen, and even if you are, the waiting times and the treatment available is often really limited. I’ve found that using my creativity has been really beneficial for my mental health and helped me in my recovery journey. I’ve often joked with friends and professionals that people with eating problems often seem to be really creative, recently I laughed at this and said it was probably because we don’t have much choice when we are restricted in our normal activities!

I’ve wanted to do a series of blogs for a while, and a lovely friend finally helped me to see the theme and work out how they could all fit together. I’m going to write a series of blog posts that look at lots of different creative ways to support recovery from a mental health condition. I’m a firm believer that there is a way for everyone to recover and improve their mental health and unfortunately, current mental health services often don’t allow for this. There seems to be a current system where, if you don’t show improvements with whatever treatment you are given, it can feel like you’re ‘given up on’ and discharged. Rather than the services stopping and thinking… what could we do differently to support this person, it often feels like a one size fits all approach is offered and if it doesn’t work for you then sadly there’s not much else they can do.

Of course, this is a fairly simplified view that doesn’t take into consideration the areas in the country where there are some really fantastic resources and the professionals who pull out all the stops to offer you the treatment that you really need. But it’s not a view that appears to be uncommon amongst individuals I’m in contact with who are experiencing first hand the issues with cuts to mental health services. Unfortunately, it feels like services are often doing the best they can on minimal budgets, but the patients are the ones who suffer. Often they are left feeling hopeless and beyond help and resigned to the fact that perhaps they will be unwell forever. It’s not a nice place to put people, especially when treatment can be littered with threats of discharge if you don’t ‘comply’ with the support that isn’t really helping. It feels like it’s a bit of a mess really.

 

But alas, I could continue to rant and vent about services. Or I could share some ideas for some alternatives methods that might help with recovery. Some of these will be ideas I have used and had from wonderfully helpful professionals, some are from across the internet and some are ideas I’ve come up with along my own journey.

As part of this mini-project, I’ll be starting a new recovery art journal and a bullet journal and sharing any progress or ideas I get from these! I’ll also share some bits from my old inpatient art journal and my relapse prevention work.

If you have any ideas or thoughts… or you want to share your attempts at some of the ideas, please get in touch through the comments or my contact page. I might even think of a hashtag if I’m feeling really technically minded!

 

 

Remember that these ideas aren’t a replacement for professional and medical help, it’s important to be under the care of health professionals who can help monitor your condition and support you in whatever way they are able to! 

 

 

I Resolve To Be Myself

390572166d02379f0068722cd31abd76Every year, around this time. We look back at last year and think about the things that went well, but more often the things that weren’t right as well. As much like the rest of life, often these reflections focus on the negative. We’re raised by society to notice flaws, critique ourselves (often arguably so we can improve) and strive to be the best and most perfect version of ourselves. We can end up being in a cycle of never really noticing when we are enough and have actually done something well. When was the last time you actually congratulated yourself on an achievement and spent some time just pausing for a moment to reflect on it before you rushed on to the next thing on your to-do list? In a way, it stops us from living in the moment and means we’re constantly moving on to the next. I start to wonder if just spending more time in the current could help us to feel happier.

New Year’s resolutions seem to epitomize these feelings of setting yourself up to never to be able to realise your achievements, rather continue to strive for something more that perhaps you can’t even get to. New Years Resolutions and intentions often look at changing you, making you once again strive for perfection. They become lists of rules for the coming year… you might plan to lose weight, eat better, drink more, find a better relationship, be more social… do’s and don’t’s that perhaps you don’t need in your life. Even more reasons and ways to beat yourself up for not being better. It’s a part of the new year that I find pretty frustrating… and I’ve not even gone into all of the body shaming and annoyingly triggering weight loss/dieting obsessions!

This year, I’m taking a different approach. One that I really hope will be better for my wellbeing and enable me to spend a little time appreciating being myself rather than wanting to change everything all of the time. This year I’m focusing on resolutions that celebrate and enhance what I can already achieve and give me to drive to be successful as the person I am instead of wanting to make myself fit into a mould of what I imagine I am meant to be.

My resolutions look a little different to last year:

  1. To make the most of time with my friends and family; creating memories and enjoying their company
  2. To find a way to be creative each day; whether it’s crochet, art journaling, colouring or listening to music
  3. To cut myself some more slack and practice using the good enough principle in my day to day life- I think we are all too harsh on ourselves. Life isn’t perfect and I’m going to try and use my compassionate mind skills to remember that it’s ok to be good enough (carried forward from my 2016 list)
  4. To read and write each day and develop something I’m good at, moving away from just writing at work
  5. To make self-care a priority and practice it each day
  6. To create records of life through my journal, gratitude lists or photos
  7. To work towards the future; whether it’s through challenging my fears around dating, thinking about getting my own place or managing my money better
  8. To think about my mental health, not bury my head in the sand when things are hard and to seek and accept support when I can’t do it on my own
  9. To think about how decisions will impact on me and strive to think about my best interests and not always put everyone else first
  10. To be ok with the fact that sometimes, on hard days, all I can do is just be and that’s completely ok

 

2016 has been a challenging year, perhaps 2017 can be filled with more compassion, acceptance and feeling ok with being good enough.

Farewell 2016!

It feels strange to be coming to the end of another year. It doesn’t feel like a whole 365 days since I was writing at the end of 2015. To be honest this year feels a little like a blur of events, all sorts of challenges hitting us one after another! 2014 was the year I began to properly recover, 2015 was the year those skills began to be put to the test and 2016 feels like the year my recovery path has been truly rocked; leaving me having to work really hard to keep myself on the straight and narrow.

My end of the year blog needs to have a special space for my wonderful Mum, who has shown so much bravery and strength, especially in the last six months. She is my rock and I want the world to know how much I love her and admire her.

2016 was my final year of University… finally! After a long 5 years, I finally graduated. It wasn’t without it’s stress but it was a milestone I was very happy, despite all odds, to have reached. I threw myself straight into work and got promoted to lead my little team, which was very exciting! It’s been a year of successes and changes as well as adventures of all sorts. I went to Paris, on my first cultural exchange, which was totally amazing and introduced me to some amazing people. And of course, the best part of the year… when Stitch finally moved in with me! Well, I think seeing my wonderful friends Sarah and Debbie finally married was pretty amazing too!

This year has reminded me of the importance of all of my people (who aren’t all pictured, but I hope you all know who you are!!); I’ve vowed to spend more time with family and friends and all of the people I love and care for. Events of this year have shown me how precious everyone is, and how you really can’t predict the future. Sometimes things come along that throw your whole world upside down; and these are the moments that remind you of the importance of spending time making memories and enjoying time you have. You never really know what might come around the corner. I am so grateful for all of the support I have had from my amazing family and friends over the year.

2016 feels like a challenging year. Both personally, within my family and in the world around us. We are in a place of change and uncertainty and these are the times when looking after yourself and those around you is of utmost importance. Life is so very precious and that’s the most important thing, especially when the world is a little unstable.

Here’s hoping for a new year filled with good health, happiness and lots of exciting adventures.

Happy new year xxx

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