A Message From Your Chronically Ill Friend

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I’m the friend who has to cancel at the last minute, the friend who’s always ill and often not very specific about the exact reason I’ve had to cancel… so I thought I ought to provide a bit of an explanation! 

22251271_10155262155554531_1328950934_oWe’re due to be meeting up, I’m excited, we’ve made plans… it’s going to be awesome. But at the last moment, probably become quite predictably, I’ve sent you a message to cancel… again! It’s not ok, I should have given you more notice or not even made plans if I wasn’t going to be able to keep them. The truth is, I was ready to go. I’d showered and dried and straightened my hair; spent ages picking out something to wear, got excited about seeing you but then my insides rebelled and I was suddenly too sick to come and see you. I’ve ended up spending the rest of the morning sat on the bathroom floor being sick/trying not to be sick. It’s nothing you’ve done wrong. My body just has the most awful timing.

It’s now 3:45am and I’m wide awake. It seemed like the perfect time to write about chronic illness, when it was once again impacting on my sleep. My physical health has been really kicking my butt recently. But it’s hard, when it’s been flaring up for a while, because I worry that people will get sick of hearing that I’m sick. I’m equally sick of FEELING sick too! But unfortunately it’s what’s happening right now and I have had to adapt my life to fit around my broken body until it’s feeling a little better. Being chronically ill isn’t what it looks like in films; people aren’t able to drop everything to come and look after you and the reality is that my Mumma is over 200 miles away… so when I threw up all over my own socks at the weekend, all I could do was cry a little and man up to clean everything up whilst all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa with a sick bowl and Mum hugs.

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Despite being poorly, I have a job! Working from home is a godsend at the moment and I would have probably needed to take sick leave if I didn’t. Again, despite the common misconception that working from home means you lounge around in bed watching tv all day; I’ve still got to go to meetings, meet deadlines and manage my wonderful team of four. It’s been flexible so I can work my hours around when I’ve got the most energy or feel the least poorly, but it’s still really hard. I have to put on a brave face and nap in my break or collapse at the end of the day needing to go to bed at 6pm… only to wake at about 2am everyday when the pain and antiemetic meds wear off, until the next dose kicks in and I can get a couple more hours sleep before I need to get up for work again. It’s exhausting and sometimes work is pretty much all I have the energy for. Plus, my week is full of regular medical appointments which can increase when I’m not very well.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad. There are days when I don’t feel so poorly and times when I am not having a flare up, that I can be a relatively normal human… even if I do have the hobbies of a 90 year old. I’m used to being poorly now and am good at adapting and listening to my body (occasionally). I have a brilliant supportive army of friends, professionals and cats of course. And life is always good when you’re under a pile of blankets, with a cat and surrounded by wool or paint.

Things I’d love to be able to tell people when I’m struggling with my chronic illness:22217831_10155262157739531_533723081_o

  1. I’m not unreliable, my health is. Yes, this can mean that I AM unreliable, but I feel as awful about it as you feel frustrated with me. I am beating myself up about it already and have been worrying about having to cancel and hoping it doesn’t mean you hate me!
  2. I really wouldn’t cancel unless I had to and it’s probably better than me throwing up on you or having to spend the whole time leaving you to run to the bathroom or being unable to do anything because I feel so unwell.
  3. Please don’t stop inviting me, I feel so lonely with my chronic illness a lot of the time. Even though I often won’t be able to come or commit to seeing you. When I do see you, it means the world to me and I have the best time ever!
  4. I still really love you! Having to cancel plans is no reflection of how much I care about you. It’s really easy for friends to drift away from me because of how pants I am, but it’s really isolating and I miss you.
  5. Please be patient with me! 
  6. I want to be normal. I would give anything to not have to have the problems I am struggling with. It massively sucks for me as well as those around me. I would definitely prefer to be spending time with the people I love than having to be at appointments, being poorly or even in hospital (as happened recently).
  7. My health is unpredictable. So I may have to cancel on you one day, but feel a little better the next and be able to see someone. I have to take opportunities when they arise, it doesn’t mean I like someone better than you, often it’s just that there’s been a little respite from being ill so I have taken the opportunity to try and have a life!
  8. Social media doesn’t always reflect how I am! Sometimes my social media can show me having a relatively normal and fun life, I don’t often post about being poorly because I don’t want to bore people or seem like I’m fishing for sympathy. I’m not the type of person who’s likely to post ‘hospital selfies’ as I often feel ashamed of being ill or embarrassed. On days where I spend 50% of the time hanging out in the bathroom or curled up sleeping, I’m unlikely to post pictures or let everyone know (unless you’re my Mum, then you tend to get a play-by-play account of my misery and sadness 😉 ). I also don’t always post pictures on the day I take them, I might be reflecting on something nice that has happened recently but not necessarily post day-to-day pictures… or I just post pictures of cats, crochet and art journalling.
  9. I’m sorry if I don’t reply! I’m a bit useless at replying to messages on a good day, but on a bad day, it can be impossible. I appreciate people contacting me and it brightens my day so much, but sometimes I’m just focusing on not throwing up on myself… so I might be a little delayed in replying to you!
  10. My illness is pretty invisible! Sometimes I might look fine, but inside I’m really feeling unwell or my mental health is difficult. Please don’t judge me by my outside appearance. Plus… makeup is a mighty fine cover up!!
  11. Let’s alter our plans so we can still meet up! Sometimes, I might still be able to see you if we can change our plans. Coming over to mine is often much easier for me. It means I don’t have to worry about driving and if I suddenly feel unwell, I’m in my own home and it’s easier to manage compared to being out and about. If I’m not well, a crochet and coffee date can be a lot easier than meeting somewhere or walking for a long time. I get really fatigued when I’m poorly and sometimes I can manage going out for the day, but it wipes me out for a few days afterwards. So, talk to me and see if we can arrange something smaller and easier, so I can still have hugs and company!

It’s now 4.45am. I’m still fairly awake, but my insides are starting to settle a little. I’m fairly sure my bloodstream must be about 50% antiemetics by now. Hopefully I’ll get another hour or so asleep before I start it all again tomorrow. It’s hard being ill. I’m sorry for being unreliable. I’m sorry I’m not better by now too. I’m sorry I don’t look ill enough… but most of all, I’m sorry I have to be sorry all of the time. I’ve not asked for this and I would give it away in a heartbeat. I’m not asking for pity or sympathy. I just hope reading this helps with some understanding that I’m being crap for a reason, and I am trying my hardest not to be.

Shoutout to all my badass chronically sick friends, especially my Mumma, who’s the baddest badass of them all.

 

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A Message of Hope In Difficult Times

Just over a week ago, the world felt like a different place. Things felt a little less sad and scary than they do today. We are in the aftermath of great tragedies both close to home, Nationally and Internationally; and surrounded by the uncertainty of an election where it feels as though many people are feeling alienated by the politicians who are meant to represent them. Looking at the world feels terrifying, there is so much hatred and suffering right now and we seem to be in the midst of so much change, that it feels really unstable and messy. People around me are hurting and struggling and it’s hard to always find the positivity and hope to get through the tricky bits to a new day. What is the use in powering through if it’s going to just feel the same? In the depths of my struggles and battles with mental illness, I have felt really hopeless at times; I’ve had times where I’ve not been able to imagine a life without my demons and it’s felt awful, to say the least. But, despite the hard times, there were always little glimpses of hope. I think Dumbledore said it best:

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In times of difficulty, it’s so important to take stock of everything around you that is good. Look out for the tiny positives, wherever you can find them because the little things can build up and grow to a much larger amount of hope and goodness. Once you start recognising the good around you, your mindset can be shifted and things can feel a little easier and more positive. When I was in inpatient treatment, we completed a task of noticing positives or negatives during the same day and reporting back to the group. We found that it was much easier for people to find negative things about their day as opposed to those who were looking for positives, however those who were trying to purposefully find something good in their day generally had a better day and noticed the little things that were good. People who were looking for negatives tended to slip into a spiral of catastrophizing everything that was happening around them and assumed their day was going to be bad anyway. Despite it just being a short and non-scientific experiment, it was impressive to see there was a difference between the two groups. Now, the effects of positivity and gratitude are

Now, the effects of positivity and gratitude are widely discussed, with examples of improvement health, happiness and wellbeing demonstrated.  Whilst looking for a little positivity or gratitude, or even trying to create a little for ourselves each day won’t fix the world around us or protect us from some of the horrible, unfair and upsetting things that life can throw our way; it can help to create the resilience and strength we need to find a way through the dark times and back into the light. These good bits of life are like the little glints of sunshine getting through, add them all up and you might find your days get a little brighter and you feel a little stronger.

We are in difficult times at the moment and it is so important to seek support from those around you or professionals if you are struggling. You deserve happiness and healthiness and you deserve whatever support you need to get to that place. Stay strong everyone.

My Mental Illness Is Real: Stop Making Me Prove It

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I read an article on The Guardian website a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking. The article talked about society’s apparent need to conceptualise mental illness as a ‘real’ thing, in a way that is physical and material. It’s something that has bothered for a long time; there seems to be such a divide between mental and physical illnesses and as someone with mental health problems, it can be exhausting trying to validate an illness that others can’t see.

The article describes society’s need to find ways to present mental illness as equal to physical illness and it’s something I’ve faced frequently during periods of struggling with my mental health.

Simplistic biological explanations tend to increase stigma, not least because they cement a division between ill and well people. Many people have felt silenced and traumatised by such accounts, feeling that the illness model shuts down their truth.

There is an implicit suggestion here that mental health problems have to be viewed as being equivalent to physical illnesses if they are to warrant society’s care and funding.

The Guardian Website

It’s no surprise that it can be challenging for people to understand something they cannot see, as humans we often need something tangible to hook into. But there seems to be a great focus on people with mental illness to need to prove that it’s there, something that seems less apparent with physical health problems. When was the list time you needed to demonstrate you had asthma, for instance? People tend to accept your condition at face value without needing to have proof of it.

I asked people with mental or hidden illnesses to share what they wished they could tell friends around them about their condition: 

  • Just remember. Ask but not push. Learn about it. Learn the signs.
  • When you say “Yes I found X hard too, then I did Y and it was better” in response to me saying I cannot do something, it is hurtful; it shows you believe I could do it if I wanted it enough or if I was more like you. There is often a hint in there that you are finding it frustrating. If you want me for example, my room to be tidy that much, you could just ask if I would like it if you helped me to do it. Otherwise, you can accept that what I am saying is the truth: cannot, not will not. No matter how much you may think “if she can do X, why can’t she do Y?”
  • Knowing that the unknown can panic someone, like not knowing if food is involved, how long you’ll be doing whatever it is, who’ll be there etc. Be understanding if someone is too freaked/anxious or uncomfortable being there!
  • Simply believe me. Just because you cannot see it, certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. When I am bad, the world doesn’t see me, only my bed does. So please believe me in every way. If I say I am not up to something today, it’s true. I shouldn’t have to justify myself to my friend.
  • Don’t give up on my as a friend because I’m always cancelling or having to leave early. Don’t think I’m lazy because I need to sleep lots.
  • It’s not ‘just a crumb’, it’s poison to me
  • Just because I cancel at the last minute every time, it doesn’t mean I don’t value our friendship. It means I just couldn’t that day.

So what can you do to support someone you know who is struggling with a mental or hidden illness: 

  • Please understand– sometimes I need a nap in the day. I am not lazy, I cannot always sleep at normal times and everyday activities exhaust me.
  • Please still include me– I cannot always participate but I feel good when included and will participate whenever I can.
  • Please don’t judge me– sometimes I go silent and hibernate, sometimes I express my pain through status updates or messages. I’m very vulnerable when I do this and appreciate kindness.
  • Please forgive me– when I’m not there for you as a friend, because I’m struggling to keep my head above water and survive.
  • Please understand– my medication sometimes makes me sleepy/out of sorts/upset etc. I may seem over the top at times, but at that point, I’m just needing a comforting response.
  • Please be patient with me– it’s difficult living with an illness. There are days when I’m not myself and not up to all the things I might have once done. Please give me time and patience and maybe we can do those things once more.

Hidden and mental illnesses warrant the same support and respect from friends, family and those around them. It can feel challenging to have to prove you’re unwell if you condition isn’t obvious from looking at you, but it doesn’t make it any more valid. Perhaps try and discuss why proof is necessary rather than feeling the need to provide it.

40 Things To do When You Feel Dark And Twisty

So you’re in the dark place, but what can you do to pass the time while you’re there and ultimately help you to get out of it and back to an adequate level of humaning? I’ve come up with my go-to list of dark and twisty activities, that can be used at varying levels of commitment, motivation, energy and willingness to participate in any form of life. 

The feeling of ‘dark and twistiness’ was brought to us by the incredible Shonda Rhimes, the amazing creator of Grey’s Anatomy, who has also been described as a ‘life ruiner’ for her heartbreakingly wonderful yet emotionally wrecking writing. I’m a bit obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy, partly because I generally love most medical dramas, but also because the lead character Meredith Grey seems to channel a lot of the inner turmoil and deal with a whole lot of life shit that connects with me on a spiritual level.

The idea of dark and twistiness came to the world from Grey’s and explained the type of person in life who is generally dark and pessimistic but also has the ability to perceive a situation to be the worst it possibly can be. The reason for becoming ‘dark and twisted’ is having lived through difficult times that have in fact prepared you for the world, rather than being someone who is bubbly and positive and therefore clearly doomed to hit unhappiness and reality out of the blue. Ok, it may seem like it’s negative to be ‘dark and twisty’ but I see it as quite the opposite, it’s a kind of understanding that life is shit but actually you can be ok with that and sometimes allowing yourself to be in the ‘dark and twisty’ place means you can hit those feelings head on and deal the crap out of them!

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So, often it seems, I reach my dark and twisty max level and want to grab Stitch and spoon under my duvet until the end of time. Whilst this is a totally good use of time to just sit with the feelings, it can also be less than ideal when you are required to be an actual human. It’s important to remember that it really is ok to have real dark and twisty moments, real life is full of difficult times and the key is to be able to get through them rather than pretend they’re not real or try to do everything you can to never have them.

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So you’re in the dark place, but what can you do to pass the time while you’re there and ultimately help you to get out of it and back to an adequate level of humaning? I’ve come up with my go-to list of dark and twisty activities, that can be used at varying levels of commitment, motivation, energy and willingness to participate in any form of life.

  1. Open the curtains– if you can’t go out, let some of the world in. Sunshine can help you feel a little more like you can do some of life and if the weather is miserable it can help give you a good reason to hibernate and focus on self-care for the day. Open them a little way if you can’t face the whole word at once. Sitting in the dark isn’t good for your mood, let in some light and see if it helps you feel a little better.
  2. Call in sick– just because the feeling is in your head, it doesn’t mean it’s not an acceptable reason to take some time off to feel better. Sometimes it’s better to give in and accept you’re feeling dark and twisty than keep pushing through until you crash. If you had flu, you would take time to recover and mental health shouldn’t be different just because you can’t see it… well I mean if you’re only able to lie like a starfish on your bed, it’s pretty obvious you’re not doing all that great!
  3. Lie like a starfish on your bed– for me, starfishing is very therapeutic. Sometimes I will set an alarm and allow myself a period of time to just feel sad, angry, frustrated… whatever it is and take up the position of starfish face down on my bed while I feel those feelings. It doesn’t have to be done in starfish form, but giving yourself a set time to be sad can be so helpful as you give yourself permission to do it, let it out, and then in some mental way can often move on from that feeling and allow yourself the brain space to do something else.
  4. Find a new project or learn something– I’ve recently taken up crocScreen Shot 2017-02-14 at 19.01.11.pnghet. Being a massive perfectionist, I tend to hate the beginning of new hobby as I dislike being ‘rubbish’ at something intensely. Thankfully a patient friend persisted with me and taught me the basics of crochet… I’m now officially hooked! The benefit of crochet is I can do it when I am lacking in brain power. It doesn’t matter if I’m not feeling great, I can get a really satisfying feeling of making progress with a project, as well as it being fantastic as a distraction from the way I’m feeling.
  5. Watch a whole lot of Netflix-of course, other streaming platforms are available! Netflix is full of all sorts of films and tv shows etc; that can be a real escape from a difficult mood or stressful feelings or emotions. Netflix can make it easy by playing the next episode automatically for you to save brain power!
  6. Spend time on Pinterest– Pinterest can be really useful if you’re struggling. It’s full of positive inspiration, interesting ideas and tutorials and general distraction. I have created different boards to suit different purposes and emotions. Pinterest is one of my go-to distractions.
  7. Turn off your phone– when the world is overwhelming, the constant ‘on call’ nature of modern technology can be exhausting. Whilst it can be great to be available, the presence of read receipts and notifications that you’re online can mean you don’t get a break from people. If you’re feeling a little peopled out, take some time with your phone turned off, or at least in another room. It can be really freeing to not feel the need to check it all the time.
  8. Avoid social media– similarly, it can be really soothing to have a social media free day. Social media is an amazing way to connect with people, but it can also be a real stress if you’re not feeling great. Feeling the need to keep up with everyone else’s perfect lives is not only exhausting, but it’s not necessarily real! People often present their lives on social media as ‘instagram perfect’ when they may not really be as happy and perfect as they seem. Taking a social media break can help you focus on you and also help you stop comparing yourself to other people.
  9. Keep hydrated– dehydration can have an impact on mental health as well as physical health; such as causing anxiety, difficulties in focus and concentration and generally cause lethargy which can lower your mood. Keeping hydrated can help you feel a little more energetic and if nothing else, may stop you feeling worse!
  10. Morning pages-a fantastic ED nurse Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 10.30.51.pngintroduce myself and a friend to
    morning pages. I’d never heard of them before, but now I’m an avid morning page convert! It’s a really simple process. All you need is a blank notebook or sketchbook and some pens or pencils. The idea is to write or draw whatever is in your head first thing in the morning before you do anything else. The benefit of getting ‘out’ what’s in your head, is it can help you to realise what you’re thinking and act as a healthy way to let out difficult emotions etc. Morning pages can be a really good addition to your routine or something you use when you’re feeling dark and twisty. The key is to not look back over the pages. Once the thought it out, it doesn’t need to be revisited as this can cause you to feel the same emotion again if you’re reminded of it.
  11. Blog or journal-another way to try and get out difficult feelings is to write in a journal or write a blog post. There are lots of journalling prompts on Pinterest and other sites, or you could free write to get whatever you’re struggling with ‘out’ on paper.
  12. Crafting– one of my favourite self-care acScreen Shot 2017-03-27 at 11.00.57.pngtivities is craft. Whether it’s
    drawing, painting, sewing, crocheting or anything that allows me a little bit of downtime, craft is so essential to maintaining good mental health. Craft can be something that’s really personal to you. You don’t need to show anyone or need it to be perfect. It can just fulfill a purpose; whether it’s as a distraction, as something you enjoy or as an outlet for the way you’re feeling.
  13. Sleep or rest– sometimes, all you can do is rest and build up your strength to fight on another day. It’s important to keep an eye on your sleeping patterns, in case you are using sleep as a way of avoiding rather than in a more positive way. Listen to your body, it’s so wise and will let you know if you need to have some rest. When you’re struggling with your mental health, you will probably feel it physically too. Listen to what you’re body tells you it needs and think about resting as a bit of self-care.
  14. Try and read something– even if you lack concentration and can only read a page (or the same page about a million times), a little escape into a book can be a way to help lift your mood or distract you from the way you are feeling. Children’s books, poetry or your favourite classics can be easier if you’re lacking concentration and still feel like an achievement when you complete them.
  15. Surround yourself with comfy blankets/cushions/snuggly things– self soothing is a key part of distress tolerance techniques. Finding things that help you to feel safe, calm and comfortable; can really help you to feel a little better or more grounded. Experiment and find the things that help the most.
  16. Put up some happy pictures on the wall– again, pictures can really promote wellbeing and remind you of the reasons you’re getting through the hard days. Photos are also a brilliant way to feel closer to people who you’re away from, such as family and friends.
  17. Get out feelings with paint– recently my life has been all about art journalling! Art journalling is a great way to express yourself, get out difficult feelings or emotions, motivate or inspire yourself… and all the while be really creative and experimental.
  18. Throw something at the wall (ping pong balls are good)– sometimes you just need to get an emotion out quickly. Often this can lead to unhelpful or harming behaviours. But a similar effect can be gained from doing something that can feel destructive but is essentially a safe activity! For example throwing a ball at a wall, shredding newspaper or screaming into a pillow.
  19. Have a mega clear out– spring cleaning and getting rid of clutter can feel really productive and help you feel like you are doing something beneficial. Getting rid of things you don’t want or need anymore can help the space around feel more calm and help centre or ground you a little.
  20. Reorganise your room– creating a nice clear space to think in can be so helpful if you’re not feeling great, once you’ve got rid of any excess clutter, perhaps have a move around and try and find a little Hygge or Feng Sui.
  21. Go back to the films and TV that give you most comfort– most people have a film or tv program that makes you feel happier; whether it’s a classic from your childhood or a series you’ve seen so many times, you know all of the words. Revisiting something that reminds you of good times, helps you to feel calmer and more content, or acts as a bit of background noise to keep out the dark and twisty thoughts can be really helpful.
  22. Listen to music– music that reflects how you’re feeling or tries to get you into a different mind frame is another way to either get the dark and twisties out, or help you feel a little better. Creating a playlist of songs for different moods can be a great bit of distress tolerance distraction and once you have them, they can be really accessible when you need a bit of a musical interlude. Explore other people’s playlist for different moods if you want to see what other people have found helpful, that might suit you too.
  23. Eat what you fancy– sometimes a little comfort food is just what you need to nurture yourself when you’re not feeling great. Tasty food that you really fancy can be really helpful for your wellbeing and giving in to a craving can feel like a real treat.
  24. Take vitamins– when you’re not feeling great, a boost of vitamins can help you feel less run down and stave off any illness when your immunity might be low. Vitamin deficiencies can cause mental health issues or exacerbate them and poor mental health can similarly cause deficiencies. The likelihood is that difficult patches with your mental health could leave your body needing a bit of help, so taking vitamins could help shorten the difficult patches or even prevent them in the first place.
  25. Spend time with your pets or with animals– Animals can be really soothing and the links between animals and improved mental health and wellbeing are widely discussed.  It can be helpful to observe that animals live in the moment, they don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow, they are content with the here and now, perhaps showing us a different way of being. Pets can reduce stress and anxiety as well as be a comfort on a difficult day. They can be a real motivation to get up and look after them and them are good reminders of the simple things that are required in life such as food and water.
  26. Have a shower and get dressed– when you’re struggling to find motivation, self-care can fall by the wayside. Sometimes having a nice relaxing shower or bath can be another way to soothe your dark and twistiness.
  27. Take a trip in your mind– your imagination is a really powerful thing. When your head is in a difficult or negative place, doing a little mindfulness or using your brain in a more creative way can be really helpful. Take a trip in your mind to a place that feels safe or special to you, or even choose somewhere you would like to go to. Remember or imagine as much as you can using all of your senses. The more detailed the image, the more distracted or calm you could feel.
  28. Spend some time in nature– finding a way to connect with nature around you can help you find some stillness and beauty within a difficult day. Find spaces of natural beauty around you and enjoy the smells, sight and feel of the nature around you. Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 11.18.37
  29. Look for inspirational quotes, literature or poetry– looking for some inspiration from others can help you feel more positive or help you find some motivation. Collect positive quotes etc in a journal or on your phone so you can refer back to them at times of need.
  30. Do some yoga– the process of learning and practicing yoga has lots of benefits for mental and physical wellbeing. The idea is to do what you can and not push yourself past your limit. A big part of yoga is focusing on breathing, which can really help if you are feeling anxious.
  31. Take a gentle walk– A nice calm walk to see something nice, visiting someone you care for or doing something like feeding the ducks can give you some respite from the difficulties you’re facing. Take a friend or go alone with your camera and make sure you notice the little things as you go along.
  32. Have long gaming sessions– whether you’re a seasoned gamer or have a copy of the Sims from when you were a teenager; gaming sessions can act as a real escape from difficult times. Getting stuck into building the best Sims palace you can, you might find you get sucked into playing which gives you a break from your head.
  33. Treat yourself– a little treat can help to pick up your mood, or act as a tool to manage your struggles.
  34. Allow yourself to not be human for a while without feeling guilty about it– it’s ok to not feel ok. Some days are a real challenge and can feel impossible to get through. It can be helpful to allow you to feel the way you feel without trying to fight it. Curling up on the sofa for the day and watching reruns of your favourite tv is often as good as a proper break. You don’t have to feel guilty about it, if you had flu you would take a day off work. Mental health struggles are still illnesses, just invisible ones.
  35. Reach out to friends who can support you- friends can be a really useful support network who can provide company, advice, distraction and understanding. It can be hard to explain the way you’re feeling to friends. But once they know what you’re going through, they are a great source of love and hugs which can help you feel better.
  36. Get some fresh air– even if it’s just sitting in the garden doing nothing, fresh air and a little change of scenery can help you feel a little better than staying cooped up at home.
  37. Make something with your hands to get out of your head– like baking, knitting or colouring. Keeping yourself busy can give your head a different focus. It can be really distracting to learn something new to keep you head extra occupied.Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 12.37.25
  38. Eat something really nourishing and tasty– A simple recipe with some mundane chopping will give you a good meal and help you feel like you’ve done something for yourself.
  39. Invite over some company– sometimes being alone when you’re not feeling great is not the most helpful thing to do. Time alone can be good, but isolating yourself can make ruminating on the thoughts and way you are feeling worse. Finding friends who understand what’s going on for you can be really helpful, but sometimes just having someone with you as a distraction is enough.
  40. Ask for some more support– it’s ok to not feel ok. Sometimes you need a helping hand from someone who cares about you and can support you. Support can come from friends or family members, but sometimes you need a little more than friendly people around you. Your GP can be a good start to getting more help, they can prescribe medication or refer you to secondary mental health professionals. Sometimes it can be hard to communicate the way you’re feeling, writing it down or using a different medium such as art can help you to explain.

 

The irony is, this blog took me a number of weeks to complete because of my own dark and twistiness. My way of managing it was to think of some of the ideas within this blog as well as reaching out to those around me to help. The feeling of overcoming a patch of greyness is amazing. It’s hard to imagine getting through it, but when life begins to brighten around you, you may not even remember the depths of where you have climbed from. 

We’re Supposed To Be The ‘Crazy’ Ones

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I feel as though this blog may become a rant. I’m not sure if I’ll even publish it… but I feel like I need to get this out before I end up exploding. Granted, I probably won’t really explode, but that’s the way it feels at the moment.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in every 6 people over the age of 16 in the UK has a ‘common’ mental health problem. The stats show an increase especially in women suffering from mental health conditions since 2000. However, almost half (43%) of adults identify as having had a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lives. The figures clearly show the prevalence of these conditions and yet the resources to support them seem to not compare to these stats. Then when you look into the specifics of the illnesses that I am most familiar with; around 46 % of those with anorexia recover, 33% improve (assumably existing in the weird limbo that is recovery) and 20% remain chronically ill; the story is similar with bulimia and other eating disorders.  The statistics don’t make for encouraging reading. Whilst I am hopeful and confident that all those I know who have these illnesses will make a speedy recovery; it feels even more possible that people I really care for might not get better.

I want to be positive, I want to campaign for early intervention and really believe that everything is going to change and all the right services and organisations will get the money they need to support everyone. I’m feeling scared that this just isn’t going to be the case. On the news, mental health is in crisis. There are no beds, long waiting lists and the treatment just isn’t getting to people in a timely and apparently appropriate manner. Around me, friends are being sent to hospitals far from their homes, being discharged from services that they qualify for but cannot see because the services are ceasing to exist in the same way and people are getting poorlier without the right help. In most cases, it seems like the answer is to simply help people earlier, when they’re able to work with professionals. But it seems like care is not offered until patients are past the point of being able to engage with it, so they are discharged for being too unwell. We’re living in a world where people aren’t ill enough to access support, which by the time they can access, they are then deemed too unwell and discharged anyway. It feels like utter madness… and we’re supposed to be the crazy ones.

Is there a solution? Well, I think the only solution would be a radical overhaul of existing mental health support systems. Easy! If only it could be sorted just like that. I really don’t know where the changes need to start, but I know more than anything tat they are desperately needed. Deaths from mental illness may be prevented if sufferers have appropriate support at an earlier point. It makes sense, because surely less money would be spent if we stopped waiting until people were really poorly to support them.

Tonight, I feel scared and a little helpless. I want to find a way to make things better and I want to wrap my friends in cotton wool and keep them snug and safe. I just hope small, gradual changes can start to filter through and improve services that desperately need a new way of working.

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.

Coping With A Stormy Day

A belated entry for the 4th November! 

Stormy weather is often synonymous w4cb366c455ecc08786d89e8c7cf234a4 (1).jpgith 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 Mecb565cd82de68494c294dc8d4b419a0.jpgowzer, 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!

  1. 26dfe685b35e97be0aa42b7014aa9fb7Well, 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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!