Meet The Maker- All About Me

22853321_10155332911794531_4485875489526709737_nThis month I’ve been taking part in the #marchmeetthemaker challenge and I thought the prompts could make a really good series of blog posts. I’m a proud maker and creative who also has mental and physical chronic illness. I don’t let it define me and my personal journey has inspired a lot of craft and creativity. So my first blog post will be a little more about me and what I do!

I’m Kate and I’m a writer, art journaller and book loving creative from York. I grew up in the beautiful Suffolk countryside and am take lots of inspiration from nature and the world around me, especially the sea! I love anything crafty, creative or vintage, which you’ll see makes up a lot of the theme of my shops! I live with my two cats Nala (18mth old rescue tortoiseshell) and Stitch (7 year old hand reared Blue Burmese) who are my top crafting buddies.

 

 

I have chronic mental and physical illness which is something that means life can be a little unpredictable at times. I’ve learnt to adapt on the poorly days and craft has become a really big part of my life. It’s great because you can craft pretty much anywhere and even when I’m unwell, I can do something creative to lift my spirits.

I discovered the wonderful Conscious Crafties site a little while ago now and have two stores on there and two Etsy stores too! The best part about being a Craftie is that you are surrounded by talented people who are all facing challenges of their own, it’s really supportive and it’s helped me to build up my confidence and keep believing in myself!

I try to art journal or craft everyday. I learnt to crochet about a year ago now and I’ve been building up my crochet skills since then. I’m still at a pretty basic level but I’m definitely getting much quicker!

 

 

I make a selection of different crafts for my crafty stores: #datewithabook sets, wax melts, stationery, paintings and painted jewellery and crocheted items… just to name a few! I’ve recently started acrylic pouring which is so much fun… if a little messy!

 

 

Craft, for me, is all about expressing myself, relaxation and being able to make something that I love or someone else will treasure. I initially wanted to make things that would be comforting and supportive to people who might be struggling with their mental or physical health… and it grew from there. While my overall range of crafty items has increased, the fundamental wish to make something beautiful and meaningful has remained. Everything I make is made with love and care and wrapped to make a beautiful gift for the person who has brought the item or a recipient… everyone deserves to feel special and cared for.

You can check out my Conscious Crafties site here!

 

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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.

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.

Please Excuse Me While I Overshare

IMG_4212I’m probably guilty of oversharing; I’m a private person but when it comes to my mental health, I’m quite comfortable being open about my struggles. It’s an interesting balance. Will people be interested? Am I on the right track? Is this too much? It’s a conversation I’ve had on multiple occasions; perhaps my desire to share my story goes back to a time when I struggled to let anyone in, I became wrapped up with my illness and ultimately stayed unwell on my own. It was hard to open up to the people I care about. I was scared to let them down, to admit I was struggling and to allow them into the depths of what was going on in my head.

There wasn’t always a right time or a right way to talk about my mental health. Perhaps there is always a right time, but perhaps there isn’t. Sometimes the opportunity doesn’t arise or you have to make that chance to speak. Being a human can be tricky, there’s no manual that lets you know how to deal with different situations and sometimes it would be really lovely if there was something to refer back to when times are hard.

I developed maladaptive coping strategies over the years and thankfully had the chance to receive the support and help I needed at a time I was able to engage with it and I now consider myself to be firmly on the road to recovery. It’s strange when you start to do things and quickly they can become a habit, recovery has been a little like that… finding ways to develop the healthy and happy habits that turn problems into more manageable solutions.

I hate labels with an almighty burning passion. I think they can be something that frees you and offers you comfort but can equally burden you and make you feel more stuck. I struggled for a long while to accept that I had problems with my eating, denying the severity of my illness for a very long time. It’s interesting that when you have a difficulty with food, the thing that often becomes key to whether you are eligible to receive support and treatment is your BMI. Now, if I ruled the world, BMI could go and die in a hole. BMI is like underwear, it’s important but it’s not something that needs to be on show and focused on all the time… and I certainly don’t need other people flashing theirs in my face. BMI is tricky… it’s one measure but not the whole picture. It doesn’t take into account muscle mass, hydration, whether you’ve peed or not… and above all it doesn’t measure anything that’s happening in your head. They key to eating disorders often isn’t the food, it’s a symptom but there’s underlying problems that are the real problem deep down. It makes me cross that we currently have a system that just doesn’t seem to work, people are too ill or not ill enough and often it’s near impossible to receive the treatment you need when you actually need it. I think treatment should start early and work to help people before they ready the point of being too unwell to engage… I suppose that’s an argument for another time though.

So… I went from worrying a little about my weight, to being totally encompassed mentally and physically with an eating disorder. One of the ways I’ve tried to describe it to friends, family and professionals before is like that kind of conscience feeling when you leave the house and you know you’ve forgotten something; that feeling deep in your stomach that something is amiss but you can’t quite put your finger on what it might be. Well imagine that but the only way you can get rid of it is to place all of your self worth on what you’re going to eat or not going to eat, what you weigh or should weigh or did weigh or will weigh… then imagine that feeling being the background of everything. That’s what it’s been like for me with an eating disorder, part of my treatment has been to look at using mindfulness to notice my ED but let those thoughts go without needing to engage with them.

I hope you can excuse me while I overshare, I do it to try and help others and share my experiences to try and break down the stigma around mental health problems. I hope that if we try to move towards a society where it’s ok to talk about mental health, then a few more people might be able to get the help and support they need. I also share my experiences to help myself with my own recovery. I will not let my eating disorder beat me and persuade me back to a place where I keep my struggles from others to remain on the side of my illness.

Life Doesn’t Come With A Manual

Coming back to Uni after taking a leave of absence has been strange. It’s felt like there’s a lot to do, catch up on and keep up with; yet at the same time it’s felt oddly manageable at points which has of course led me to wonder what I’m doing wrong!! It’s been a weird muddly act of balancing, evaluating, reassessing and tweaking… But if I give myself a break and a little credit, I think I’ve been doing alright! It’s made me think a lot though, wouldn’t it be easier if we had a manual for all of this!!

Starting Uni and struggling with mental health problems was difficult. The longer I tried to get through, the more difficult it got. But even when things were almost as bad as they could get, there was no hard and fast rule about what to do. No one could tell me that I needed to not be at Uni, or that I needed to take time out. The decision had to be mine, of course people could advise but they couldn’t do the deciding for me. Looking back now, I do think perhaps things could have been easier had I decided to stop and focus on my health sooner, but then perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to engage at treatment and make the most of that time, had I not taken my Leave Of Absence when I did. Hindsight is, of course, a most wonderful thing! There’s no real way I could predict or work out what could or would have been, having a level of acceptance is definitely helpful! I guess I can just try to use my experiences to help me to possibly finally get my degree finished, by noticing my warning signs or when things are starting to get difficult… To help stop any deterioration in its tracks!

It’s ironic really, that after resisting taking a break from Uni for so long; it actually turned out to be the best thing I could have possibly done and ultimately a vital step in my recovery journey. I was really scared that taking time out would take away the drive I had to stay well; I feared that without that reason to keep going and would just have my eating disorder to fall back on. I was convinced I needed to have uni to give me a kind of raison d’être. It was really challenging to come away from my degree, especially as due to a year out, changing my course and then taking a LOA meant I had seen three cohorts of my peers graduating. I felt like I was being left behind, failing impressively! But the reality was that by enabling me to come back after taking some time to really focus on my needs, I am now in a place to actually give my degree the focus I need to! I hadn’t realised how poor my focus, concentration etc. was… coming back in a much healthier state has really reinforced it was the right decision to make.

If you’re thinking about taking a leave of absence, make sure you get a few different opinions, work out the reality of what it will mean (i.e. will you have to restart any modules) and try and hold on to the fact that often taking time out can be the strongest decision, rather than any sign of failure.