When 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.
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.
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!
Every 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:
- To make the most of time with my friends and family; creating memories and enjoying their company
- To find a way to be creative each day; whether it’s crochet, art journaling, colouring or listening to music
- 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)
- To read and write each day and develop something I’m good at, moving away from just writing at work
- To make self-care a priority and practice it each day
- To create records of life through my journal, gratitude lists or photos
- 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
- 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
- To think about how decisions will impact on me and strive to think about my best interests and not always put everyone else first
- 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.
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
A belated entry for the 4th November!
Stormy weather is often synonymous with mental health struggles. Often images such as stormy seas and waves; are used to describe the challenges faced by people with many different difficulties. The use of these metaphors can work alongside different skills (such as mindfulness, distraction and other distress tolerance techniques) to help people to remember to hold on to hope that one day the storm will past, as it can’t live forever.
From a young age, I found storms exciting. Of course I would have to watch them from the safety of my parent’s bed… but there was something about the sheer power that left me with feelings of awe. The same can be said for the sea, especially when it is swirling and violent. Both elements of nature always have a positive impact on me and help me to remember that I am part of something much much bigger and because of that my problems can feel smaller.
Another childhood storm memory came from one of my favourite storybooks; the story of Mowzer the Mousehole cat. The story is based on a Cornish legend involving a fisherman named Tom Bawcock and his cat. The tale goes that one winter, the Cornish village (Mousehole) was facing starvation as none of the fishermen had been able to go out fishing. Tom and the loyal Mowzer set out on an adventure to catch fish and turn the fate of the villagers around. In the eye of the storm, they were faced with the giant ‘Storm-Cat’ who was only quelled by the purring of Mowzer, who of course saved the day! The book is beautiful, but the idea of taking the plunge and battling out into the storm to help others really resonated with me, perhaps that sometimes in recovery we sit with what we feel is comfortable and safe for fear of being stuck out in a storm of emotion or difficulty. But, the same comparison shows that even the biggest storms can be calmed with compassion and care (and obviously a cat!!).
I wanted to write a blog today about with one of the NaBloPoMo prompts. One idea was to talk about the things you do on a bad day with your mental health to help yourself. It made me think of keeping the hope that the storm will pass, as this is something so important to remember. But like I said in yesterday’s blog about hope, it can be really challenging to think in that way when staying afloat within the storm is about as much as you can manage.
Here are a few ideas of the types of things I do, to help myself, on a bad day!
- Well, I’ve already mentioned my first coping method (go-to mantra) a little, but it’s going on the list again. I have a whole Pinterest board with all sorts of mental health quotes
ranging from those that just sum up the way I’m feeling perfectly, to those that give me hope and those that act as reminders. My two favourites at the moment are those that remind you, that storms are actually a really good place to learn lots of new skills… quotes like ‘A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’. I also like those that talk about making the most of time within the storm, such as the one to the right or my absolute favourite ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain’. Surrounding yourself with positive mantras or having them to hand can give you the boost to keep going.
- When I’m having a bad day, I try to show myself some compassion. Rather than beating myself for having a tricky day, I remind myself that it’s ok to not be 100% ok all of the time.
- The next step to conquering a bad day is to get out of bed and make it. Sometimes it can feel hard to leave the safety of my duvet, but generally my mood is better if I can make myself get up and make my bed to prevent myself getting back in to it. Sometimes it’s ok to do things in a more leisurely way or allow myself to have a lie in if it helps, but getting up and about is just as important!
- When I’m feeling rubbish, I really struggle to be nice to myself. I try hard to be compassionate, but actually being kind to myself is something I still need to practice. I have a list of different accessible self care activities that I try and include in the day if I’m struggling. Things like a soak in the bath, bit of creativity, painting my nails or going out for a nice walk. Having Stitch (my cat) is also really great as he’s a perfect self care cuddle monster!
- There is definitely strength in numbers when it comes to mental health difficulties. Whether it’s someone to sound out your negative thoughts to or support you to see something different, speaking to a someone in your support network can help you to not feel alone. You deserve the care from other people, especially when you’re feeling horrible! The support of my friends, family and the professionals I have worked with has been so helpful when I’m struggling.
- Music is a real influence on my emotional wellbeing. I have a lot of different playlists depending on what I need at the time… whether it’s something to ‘dance it out’ round the room to (much to the disgust of Stitch), or whether it’s some deep dark and twisty indie to let out the emotions I’m feeling. Of course sometimes a bit of upbeat music can get me out of a slump too!
- Finally, starting the day by setting some simple goals or intentions for things I need to get done… even if they’re small… can really help me to have a little focus or feel positive that I’ve achieved something by the end of the day.
Remember… all storms have to pass in the end!
Hope is a strange thing. It can be the motivation to keep going when things are hard or the idea that things may one day be different or better. Hope is a hard thing to hang on to, it’s not exactly tangible and it can be easily shattered. But even the tiniest amount of hope can be a really powerful thing. I’ve frequently been told to hold on, with the hope that it will get easier. But I guess I want to be told exactly when that will be… easier said than done I guess.
Perhaps, certainly in recovery, it is much easier to identify and manage if someone has lost hope, rather than working out how much hope they have! Martin Seligman found that if animals were subjected to difficult situations that were out of their control, then became helpless and passive; not wanting to try and escape the situation they were in. Perhaps demonstrating what happens when you lose hope in a situation. For people lack of hope can manifest in many different ways such as; depression, anxiety, lack of motivation or self destructive behaviours. It can be a bit of a downward spiral where hopelessness leads to individuals not wanting to try and change, and therefore the negativity is perpetuated.
Hope is not pretending that troubles don’t exist. It is the hope that they
won’t last forever. That hurts will be healed and difficulties overcome. That we will be led out of darkness and into the sunshine.
Sometimes taking the first step, especially when you feel hopelessness, can be the hardest. If you don’t believe things can change, then it’s totally understandable that it feels impossible to get started and find some hope.
So how can you find hope and break unhelpful spirals?
- Break it down a little- sometimes hoping to be ‘recovered’ can be a very tall order. It can feel like you’re trying to get from A-Z without any real idea of how to get there. It’s important to try and allow yourself you work through the process, taking measurable baby steps to find your way. It’s also completely ok if your goal changes, it can be a fluid process which in itself may give you hope.
- Show yourself compassion- once you begin your steps, you make have to reevaluate and take a different approach if it doesn’t feel like it’s working or going smoothly. Of course, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, but if it’s too hard you won’t reach the other side anyway. You may just need to change your goal posts and aim for slightly simpler steps. A headteacher once told me that when you write a to-do list, you should start with 2-3 things you’ve already done or know you can complete straight away. Giving yourself the immediate satisfaction of completing something can then spur you on to manage the rest.
- Start a gratitude list- I am fairly certain you’ve already achieved a lot in your life. If might not feel it, but think about the little things you have achieved. Reminding yourself that you are in fact pretty amazing can help you to feel hopeful about the future.
- Find Inspiration- this could be from people you know, famous people or celebrities, quotes, stories or anything really. Surround yourself with your inspiration and re-visit it daily to help move your mindset on to one of hope.
- Find hope by letting go of negativity- starting to let go of negativity, anxiety or depression can set you up to find space for a little more hope in your life.
- Think your way to hope- think about the way your life is now and the type of person you would like to be and what kind of life you would have if you were that person.
- Gain support from others- if you’re feeling hopeless, sometimes you need someone to help you find hope again. This can be from friends, family or even professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Look after yourself- once again, self care is really important here. Looking after yourself can build your resilience and help you manage when you’re feeling hopeless.
- Help others to help yourself- sometimes getting a little perspective can help you find hope again.
- Be brave- ultimately, don’t give up. You’ve got this, you can do it. Maybe not right now, but you will be able to.
At the end of the day, all you need is hope and strength. Hope that it will get better and strength to hold on until it does.
I’ve decided to take part in NaBloPoMo this November, the idea is to blog each day throughout November. I thought it could be a good excuse to get back into a blogging routine and share some different mental health related content over the course of the month. If there are any topics you’d like me to chat about, just get in touch via the comments or my ‘talk to me’ page.
At the weekend the clocks went back… apart from completely confusing my body clock, cat and any hope I had of working out what time of day it is… the change also brought with it darker nights. Whilst it’s a great excuse to get snuggly, watch lots of tv (ne series of ‘How to get away with murder’ woop!) and master the art of gourmet hot chocolate making… the darkness can pose difficult mental health challenges. Dark nights can make feelings of loneliness, isolation and generally feeling sad a lot stronger as well as increasing anxiety and other mental health struggles such as SAD. Autumnal evenings can be as tricky as they are cosy!
As the clocks have only just gone back, at least we have a little time to get into the swing of dark evenings… I’ve pulled together some top tips for coping with dark nights:
- Get into a good routine– routine can be a key factor which tackling any mental health difficulty. Having a plan of what you’re going to do in the evenings, especially those that feel longer due to the lack of daylight, can help them feel more manageable. A routine can also give you a sense of purpose which can help if you’re feeling lacking in motivation or drive.
- Plan in social time– whilst socialising can feel hard when you’re not feeling all that up to it, being around people can help to boost low mood and act as a great distraction on long autumnal nights! Autumn is the time of bonfires, fireworks and nights in with a good film! Making plans in advance can give you something to look forward to as well!
- Make the most of the sun– it’s important to boost those vitamin D levels whilst you can and get out in the sunshine for as much time as possible. Heading out for a lunchtime walk can help boost your levels and keep SAD at bay!
- Make your surroundings cosy– artificial light won’t cure SAD but it can help brighten your surroundings which can improve your mood. Nice scented candles or fairy lights can help to make the gloomy evenings feel nicer.
- Eat, drink and be merry– having a healthy balanced diet and keeping hydrated can help boost your mood and improve general and mental health.
- Brighten up your walls– redecorating for the different seasons might not be wholly practical, but using brightly coloured accessories can help stimulate your mind and improve your mood. Think about your surroundings and think about ways you might make them feel happier; such as nice photographs, having a declutter or restyling your accessories.
- Sleep well– getting into good sleep routines can be another helpful way to sort out your circadian rhythm and manage autumnal darkness.
- Get active– regular exercise can help release endorphins which can boost your mood. Anything that gets your heart pumping can work!
- Celebrate the season or start something new– think of ways you can celebrate Autumn or try something new, that can keep your mind occupied and give you something to get good at over the darker months! Maybe teach yourself to knit or crochet… or learn an instrument.
- Avoid alcohol and stimulants (like caffeine)– alcohol and stimulants can exacerbate anxiety and low mood, so limiting them can help improve things!
- Boost your vitamin levels– multi vitamin supplements that include vitain D and B12 can help boost depleted stores over the darker months, you can get cereals fortified with these minerals and vitamins too.
- Work on your self care daily– self care is something that needs practice. You can get really good at it if you keep trying to fit it in to your normal routines. /having lists and ideas of different things you can try can be a helpful reminder to do something just for you, especially if it doesn’t feel like it comes naturally.
- Dance it out– for me, a sure way to pick up my mood is putting on a happy playlist and dancing it out around my room à la Grey’s Anatomy. Maybe dancing it out isn’t for you, but find whatever it is that helps! It might be regular soaks in the bath with smellies or a good dog walk with a friend. It’s ok to experiment until you find what works.
- Lean on your support network– friends and family are there for you, but often won’t always know they need to be there for you unless you let them know you’re going through a hard patch. Speak to them, let them know what’s going on and ask for their help.
- Get some professional help-it’s ok to not be ok! But if you identify yourself as not being ok, then there’s no shame in asking for more help or support. Sometimes this can come from professionals whether it’s through therapeutic support or medication. If you broke a leg, you’d accept a cast… so if you need some support with your mental health then treatment is ok too!
Come back tomorrow for more NaBloPoMo fun!