Retraining Your Brain

The Mental Workout

Something I’ve found strange whenever I leave counselling, (both group and 121) is how exhausted I feel. I leave feeling drained, I’m usually yawning away and if I can take a nap, I will! When you think about it, it makes sense. Much of what you do in counselling can be emotionally draining, but it’s also retraining your brain. Our minds are not weak, but many of the unhelpful thoughts we experience with depression and anxiety are as a result of years of learned behaviour.  Instead of accepting compliments we dismiss them,  it’s easier to believe the negative because one way or another our brains have been trained that way.

Retraining your brain is difficult. But it is possible. Its not going to always be foolproof. I know from experience that there are times when my head will go down a particular rabbit hole and there is very little I can do to change that. But what I have noticed is that while I may still fall, I don’t fall as far. Recovery from a relapse is quicker. While some people dismiss mindfulness, counselling and therapy as fluffy mumbo jumbo, it’s positive effect on mental health issues are undeniable. I speak from experience!

Retraining Your Brain Takes Time

You see, what we forget is that retraining your brain takes time, effort and perseverance. While medication can help level us out in a reasonably short space of time, the effort of overriding years of learned behaviour and negative thinking is going to be huge. When your head is so utterly convinced of your own worthlessness and has been for a while, one session of therapy is not going to magically fix you. And if we don’t persevere with the exercises and techniques between counselling sessions, how can we possibly expect to get results?

This is the part we all too easily forget. Recovery from depression and anxiety can be slow. You are in essence trying to re-wire one of the most complex biological computers ever created. To try and fix it quickly in the past, doctors were prepared to reboot it using electro-shock therapy or even via removal of specific areas of the brain.  When we look at such practices now we can see how barbaric and ineffective they are. But we can also understand the desperation of doctors and sufferers families, trying to find a way to fix a problem with something as staggeringly intricate and complicated as the human mind.

I know a number of people who say mindfulness doesn’t work for them. They find it hard (or even silly) to bring their attention to one thing, shutting out the other stray thoughts that creep in. But here’s the little secret; you have to practice! Not just for a couple of days and then give up. But to keep trying, again and again and again.  Look at this way, a marathon runner doesn’t just wake up one day able to run a marathon. They have to practice. It takes training. They have to make changes to their diet, pay more attention to what their body needs. It can take months (even years) of building up the strength and stamina to be able to successfully complete a marathon. And even then, they may not be able to complete a run in the way they thought they would.

It might take a while, but you’ve got this!

I mean that. I really do! Each time you do that little something to get you out of your comfort zone, you are making progress. The more you practice what you learn in therapy, the easier it will become. And no-one has the right to say how long that process will take. When someone once said to me at work whether I was really well enough to be there, I’ll be honest it made me angry.  Who was this person (who had no medical or neurological qualifications, let alone experience) to question the progress I was making?

It’s something that is personal to you. Your doctor and you are the ones who decide if the rate and means of progressing are working. If they’re not, again, it’s not someone else’s opinion that determines what to try next. Just you and your doctor.

But like I said. You have to put the work in! Retraining your brain is not something that will be achieved over night. Those little exercises you do every day that seem so silly? They are forming new habits, new pathways and coping mechanisms. Rebuilding your self-esteem and confidence that will help quieten those negative thoughts.

So I’m setting you all a challenge. I’m doing it too and if you want to leave comments either here on the website, or on Twitter or Facebook as to how it’s gone, I’d love to hear from you.

So here goes; your challenge is that every time a negative thought pops into your head think of two positives. It doesn’t matter how big or small these positives are. And keep doing it! If you look in the mirror and think ‘urgh, I look so disgusting today’, stop and take a good look at what is good. Be it you have nice eyes, a good smile…there always something. Mine today was I have good teeth and a kind heart! No matter who you are, you have worth. And if you’re struggling to see anything at all, ask someone who cares for you! Its amazing what you’ll find out when you see yourself through another person’s eyes!

Good luck guys, like I said. You got this!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Getting Out of The Comfort Zone

A Safe Place

This week I attended my first in a series of coaching sessions aimed at helping me cope with the challenges that I face when I am at work. My first of several 3-hour sessions. All aimed at giving me some tools to help me manage my anxiety and depression in the office. There have been times when I have been struggling. Yet despite my manager’s initial scepticism, she agreed that some in-work coaching would be beneficial. Now, not every employer would do this. Luckily the company I work for has strong links with a mental health charity. This in turn means that sometimes they are willing to go the extra mile and get things for their staff to help them cope.  For me, it meant getting out of the comfort zone of what I am used to.

One thing I have never really realised is how important a safe place is to me. Getting out of the comfort zone of home is one thing, but I hadn’t realised how much I needed to feel safe. Even at work.

Getting Out of The Comfort Zone and Progress

Sometimes it can be challenging to see the progress we are making. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what we see as our failures and short comings.  But very time we stretch ourselves, doing things that make us uncomfortable, we are making progress. So for me, this was doing this coaching session. I was having to be very open and vulnerable about how my mental health impacts me in the office with a complete stranger. I’ll be honest, I found it really hard. When the course was first recommended by the DSE representative, I really couldn’t see me doing it. For want of a better word, it seemed another bit of fluffy nonsense that really was just there so employer’s can be seen to be ‘helping’. But it wasn’t.

What it highlighted to me was one of the places I feel least safe is at work. I often feel exposed. The feeling of everyone judging and looking at you as you crash into a panic attack is terrifying. The logical thinking would be that no-one is ACTUALLY looking at you, but it’s still palpable.  Some of that comes because there is that fear in my head of ‘what will people think?’. It’s been hard enough when colleagues have glimpsed my self-harm scars and asked about them.

But here’s my challenge to all of you. When you’re next asked about your self harm scars, or about your mental health, try getting out of the comfort zone and be honest.  It is a challenge, but it also helps you progress.

The Challenge

Now it doesn’t have to be anything huge (my son recommended base jumping off a bridge to really push those boundaries!). But do those little things. If you struggle getting out of the house, try each time you go to be out that little bit longer. Without even thinking about it, I’ve been subconsciously doing this with Alex for a while. He struggles to be out of the house for long. Yet we’ve managed excursions that have been for 3 or 4 hours, when previously he could only have coped with 1 or 2. Yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s progress.

Only yesterday I found myself in the middle of a hugely busy Ikea store. I could feel my anxiety ramping up, I was cursing myself for not thinking about how Saturdays are awful in there. So many people, so much noise! But I coped. A few months ago I wouldn’t have. The reason I coped was I have been bit by bit pushing myself. Getting out of the comfort zone of home and into environments that, while I still feel reasonably safe are still busy and potential triggers. Practising the breathing techniques I have learnt from counselling in a moderately busy supermarket. Having my fidget cube on me when I went for an interview. Having people with me who help those feelings of safety. Just little exercises to try to push me that bit more.

And if I couldn’t cope? That was okay too. I tried. For every time we achieve a little win against whatever mental health condition we have, it will only because we have tried dozens of times before. Sometimes we will have failed outright. Others, we will have been able to cope for so long, then fell apart over something small. It happens. And it’s okay! Each time we try getting out of the comfort zone we are a step closer to , if not recovery, at least managing the condition. The important thing is to try. 

 

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This Is Me

Why This Is Me?

For anyone who is a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that music is incredibly important for both myself and Alex. It can help us describe how we feel, lift us when we’re down and be a balm when our mental health is at its worst. A few weeks ago I came across ‘This Is Me’ from the Greatest Showman soundtrack and this wonderfully anthemic piece really did something marvellous. It gave me a massive push, to try, to get out of my comfort zone and do things that terrified me. It reminded me that I’m stubborn and I’m not giving in to depression and anxiety.

Now, okay. To some, going for a couple of job interviews isn’t that big a deal. But to me it is. Going on holiday with Alex and my children for the first time was terrifying. Tonight I’m going to an outdoor performance of Macbeth and it’s been a struggle to find the motivation to make the picnic that I promised I would take. I want to go but the thought of going anywhere today is terribly daunting. This is the impact that having depression can have on me and for some people, well let’s be honest, they neither understand or like it.  Like many others who suffer with depression and anxiety, I’ve heard them all. The ‘just get over it’, the ‘snap out of it’, the ‘what is wrong with you?‘, the list of comments that can get slung at you is endless.

Because They Just Don’t Get It

A lot of people just don’t understand mental health issues. They don’t want to, can be just ignorant or sometimes just downright idiots. Unfortunately the idiots are the worst. Like the ones who think social media is the place to start ranting about how things like depression are because people are weak minded, or lazy. These same people are often the ones who call self harm attention seeking. This kind of thinking is what builds into the stigma that already surrounds mental health.

So what has this got to do with a song you ask? Well, as I was listening to the words I saw how this song could be an anthem for those suffering with mental illness against all those who disparage and belittle. Here’s a snippet of some of those lyrics that got into my head.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
The Shame Game
That’s the thing. At different times I’ve been told that no-one would love me as I am. I’ve been told I am broken and unworthy because of my mental health . I’ve hidden the scars on my arms, stomach and legs from the world and made to feel ashamed.
But I’m not. One thing Alex and I, and countless others like Hope Virgo, Rebecca Lombardo, Rethink Depression and more are all doing is taking a stand. We are not ashamed to share our mental health journey, we won’t be embarrassed into hiding our symptoms because it makes others uncomfortable. Whether any of these warriors realise it or not, by sharing their journey, like me they are shouting to the world THIS IS ME! Yes, I have a mental illness but it does not define me. I’m not ashamed of my illness and the damage I’ve done to my body when I was at my worst. I was severely ill, but I survived.
So, This Is Me!
Yes! This is me. I’m a mum to 2 children, I work in a call centre, I’m in a happy relationship. One of the things I love is watching The Big Bang Theory, I love cooking and having friends over for dinner.  Oh and yeah, I have depression and anxiety. I take medication for these conditions and there are days that are worse than others. No-one can call me weak minded or lazy, so I am as worthy as anyone else. The same goes for anyone who is suffering. You are not lazy, weak or a failure. You are worthy. Like it says in the song  ‘we are warriors’.
If someone is telling you any of those awful things, put ‘This Is Me’ on and drown them out. (Yes, I know the song is sung by the bearded lady, but what better song to demonstrate inclusion in a world where many are seen as outcasts?) Whether they like it or not, there’s a flood happening right now. People are taking notice and starting to talk about mental health issues, changes are happening. The more people who are standing up and sharing their stories, the more we can normalise the conversation about mental illness.
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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

How Can I Be More Resilient?

How Can I Be More Resilient than I Already Am?

We all know that life can throw challenges at you that can knock you off-balance. Even the most mentally tough person can be knocked sideways by events; losing a loved one, being made redundant, stress of moving home. There are a vast plethora of events that can turn your world upside down. Recently it was raised with me that I’m not coping as well as I should be, that despite all the medication and counselling, I’ve not progressed as well as expected. Looking at what’s been going on over the last six months, I can see why. I’ve returned to work, I’ve moved house, I’m battling with an ex over custody arrangements of our children. I’m still learning how to cope with dragging myself to work on days when depression wants to sink its claws in and drag me back to bed. And even though I’m doing it, I’m managing to deal with everything that has been going on, it’s still not enough. Asking for more support in certain areas has led to some questioning whether I’m well enough. It’s also led to me thinking how can I be more resilient? On the days when my ex is being a tool, or when a stranger in the street has reminded me so much of my late dad that I’m tumbling into darkness; how? How can I be more resilient to that other than through what I’m doing already and time?
Who Sets the Standard?
We are all guilty of a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality. We look at others and measure ourselves against them. Be it their success in work, the big house, the perfect children or the great figure and looks, we all do it. We set the bar so high from what we see others seeming to manage effortlessly, that we set ourselves up to fail.
But there’s a dirty little secret to all this. You have absolutely no idea what is going on in that person’s life. The shiny perfect exterior that you envy so much? It’s just that. An exterior. You have no idea what is going on beneath the surface. For those who suffer with mental health issues, a mask is incredibly important. It hides the struggle and darkness within. The death of Sophie Gradon this week, along with so many others that seemingly have the perfect life on paper, shows that a pretty smile can hide a lot.
When I spoke to a friend about the comments that had been made to me, she cocked an eyebrow at me and asked. ‘So they’re mental health experts now, are they?’ She’s right. The person who made those comments is not a mental health expert. My doctor is. And my doctor says I’m improving. Compared to where I was 6 months ago, compared to where I was a year ago I’ve come one hell of a long way. Yes, I feel I need to find ways how I can be more resilient, but when you look at everything I’ve been through, I’m more resilient than some think.
So how can I be MORE resilient?
That’s the tricky part. No-one is infallible and everyone is different. Yes, there are things we can do to improve our resilience. Taking time out, practising self-care and being more assertive can help improve resilience. They really can. But equally no-one has the right to tell you how resilient you should be. It’s that whole ‘just get over it‘ mentality wrapped up in different words. We are all different. Our resilience flexes with the stresses and strains of life, like a branch of a tree in the wind. We can help shore it up and strengthen it so that it can battle the smaller storms, but sometimes there may be a storm that causes a break. But, just like a tree we can heal, we can grow. New shoots can appear from the break and head in unexpected directions.
So in answer to the question, how can I be more resilient? The answer is this. You will be. It just takes time and no-one can know how long or in what form it will take. But when it’s there, you’ll know.

Hate What I see in The Mirror

Mirror, Mirror. On the wall, why do I hate me most of all?

This week we’ve been putting the spotlight on eating disorders, with podcasts, vlogs and more. If you haven’t already, I urge you to check it out. The reason we wanted to cover this was because of the number of people getting in touch with us via Twitter who have issues with eating disorders. But for me personally I really wanted us to look into this area because of the impact body image has taken on my mental health over the years. Like many people with depression, I have very low self-esteem. I also hate what  I see in the mirror whenever I look at myself.

A mirror with the words "mirror mirror on the wall..." Theme: hate what I see in the mirror.First thing I want to make clear. I do not consider myself to have an eating disorder.  I am stupidly overweight. But I do have an extremely unhealthy relationship with food. When I was younger I used to joke I was a bulimic with commitment issues, because I had the bingeing part down but struggled to commit to the purging part. A joke I used to cover the reality.

That I have an unhealthy cycle when it comes to my body image.

Not Just for the Young

Even now, I go through phases of starving myself, taking appetite control pills and laxatives in a desperate attempt to get slim. As I sit writing this, it’s with full knowledge that breakfast was a biscuit and a cup of coffee and I disguised that fact by giving my partner his breakfast in bed while I ‘ate’ in the kitchen. My head is in that place of utter self-loathing, but I won’t openly admit to it. I’ve even hidden the appetite control tablets I’m taking from my partner as I don’t want to admit that I’m that desperate to change how I look.

This is a long term thing. I’ve been exhibiting  these behaviours since I was a teenager. When I was first diagnosed with depression at 15, the referral to a mental health counsellor was expedited after my doctor discovered that in addition to going to Weight Watchers and following a strict diet, I was also routinely making myself sick.

My natural body shape is curvy (big boobs, big bum). Unfortunately currently everything is big. But no matter how lovely my partner says he thinks I look, I hate what I see in the mirror.  I always have.  Even when I was 16 years old with a size 10 dress size, I hated myself.  Even with a figure I’d probably now do anything to have, I was routinely self-harming.

It’s hard to explain that level of self-loathing.  Now, when self-harming becomes  an issue it almost feels even more justified because I am overweight. I deserve it because of how disgusting I am.

As a mum to a little girl, I know how toxic my thinking is. I recognise it. But I do struggle to deal with it. My body type is never going to be super-skinny, but I cannot seem to break the cycle. When I’m unhappy, I eat. Food is a comfort that I’ve turned to time and again. Then I feel awful for doing it and the cycle spins back the other way, so I won’t eat or I eat like a sparrow.

The Media Mirror

So much importance is placed on appearance nowadays it isn’t surprising to see how we are as a country seeing unprecedented levels of mental illness, especially in the young. So many young people of both sexes who tell themselves ‘I hate what I see in the mirror’.  It’s everywhere,  the constant objectification of people down to how they look, not their achievements.  I’ll give you an idea of what I mean; if you read the Daily Mail online on the right hand side of the screen there is ALWAYS a long list of mini-articles, usually celebrity focused. But what you’ll notice is the wording they use, it’s so-and-so shows off their slender pins, their pert derriere, their ample assets or how their body has snapped back in some ridiculously short time after giving birth.  It’s insane. Amal Clooney, an extremely successful human rights lawyer, is often reduced to just being slender, shapely or leggy. She gets snapped by paparazzi in New York leaving the office and is anything said about what work she’s doing? No, it’s comments about how she’s putting on a leggy display in a fetching red dress.

They are not the only culprits. We see it everywhere. As a culture we are entirely too focused on what people look like, judgement is passed on body shapes, choice of clothes, tattoos and piercings. We look and we assess the quality of the person before they’ve opened their mouth.

I Hate What I See in the Mirror, but I’m Learning to Love who’s Inside

When I say that I hate what I see in the mirror I am not referring to the person inside. I hate my packaging. Sometimes that hatred can be turned against the core of who I am, when depression is in full control I believe my failures are every part of my life. I will evaluate myself as a poor mother, a flawed human being with little to offer the world.

This is not true. It is the lies my own version of the ‘dark passenger’ tells me. In the same way a person suffering from anorexia is led to believe they are overweight when they are not, depression convinces that we are totally and utterly worthless in every arena of our lives.

"Dear you, make peace with the mirror and watch your reflection change." - Theme: hate what I see in the mirror.With all these mental health conditions we are battling an incredibly powerful and devious enemy: our own minds. To fight back against that voice is incredibly difficult, especially alone. Which is why we ran this eating disorder awareness week.  Too many people are struggling alone, believing the voice in their mind. But with the voices of Hope Virgo, Elle Rose and Hannah Brown and ours I hope you will have a greater insight into how that voice lies.

You are more than your packaging. If the voice in your head is not showing you some love, is evaluating you just by what it sees, remember there is always someone who loves what you see as flaws.  My daughter and son love me, they just see their mum who will do anything for them. They don’t see the flubbery mess I see myself as.  EVERYONE has beauty to them, we are unique, creative and wonderful creatures, we just need to learn how to love what truly matters and quieten the voices both inside and out that tries to convince us otherwise.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Fighting Back

When Clouds Descend

I’ll be honest, I haven’t written anything in weeks.  Life has been hectic with moving house, my daughter’s birthday and working. In all the hullabaloo I failed to realise my prepayment certificate for my prescriptions had run out. Which meant I rapidly ran out of my anti-depressants. I tried to stretch them out, taking lower doses while I waited and waited for my new certificate to arrive. With the move, affording additional prescription charges was unthinkable and as I didn’t see it as a priority I just let it slide. Yeah, I know. Stupid. A small part of me felt that I was coping. I’ve been fighting back against depression for so long and managed it before without the aid of medication, I truly believed I would be fine.

I was wrong.

For a While…

For a while, I seemed ok. Realistically for a while my high dose of Sertraline was still happily coursing through me, doing it’s job. As the doses became lower, I did not even notice the subtle changes that started to creep in. I started to become tired more often, something I attributed to the stress of moving and work.  Yet no matter how tired I felt, I couldn’t sleep properly. Waking often and for longer periods started to become nightly. When I did sleep, my dreams were becoming increasingly distressing and vivid. To the point that I was not just talking in my sleep, but physically responding to unseen attackers, kicking and thrashing with enough force that on one night Alex had to restrain my wrists in his hands.

I still wouldn’t admit that something was wrong. For someone who regularly encourages others to talk openly about their mental health, I was setting  a very poor example.  I wanted to put on that mask of every thing being fine. I have so much to be happy about. We’re in our new home and it’s everything I have ever wanted. My little girl finally has a room of her own that she has always deserved. My life is moving forwards with the man I love. Life is good. I was ashamed to admit that even with all this good in my life, I was still slipping back into the void.

Fighting Insidiousness

But like I said, despite my active mental health advocacy and all the support I have, those darker thoughts were starting to creep in. This is why I wanted to talk about this. Depression is insidious. When it’s claws are deep rooted within your psyche, it’s like a weed. You think you have beaten it back,driven it out to the root, but it only takes a little seed and it will take that opportunity to grow once more.

I know because it grew again. The little hints that the monster in my head was rising again were just so subtle, even I was deluded that it was being kept at bay. I didn’t see it. All I could see was my worthlessness , my failures. My complete and utter inadequacy, to the point I began to convince myself that everyone who I care about would be better off without me.

“It’s OK, it’ll Be OK”

There is no moment more horrifying than when you find yourself in the car pulling yourself out of suicidal thoughts and realising what pulled you out is your 4 year old saying ‘it’s OK Mummy, it’ll be OK. ‘ I was sickened, yet the thoughts were still swirling. That awful voice in my head was trying to convince me to leave my daughter with a relative under some pretext and just take myself away.  Funny though, just that thought arising made me start fighting back.

I tried to call my mum, just to get someone on the phone to stop those thoughts in their tracks. She wasn’t in. The thoughts started to scream at me how alone I was…No one cared. I still don’t know how I managed to leave a voice note for Alex, but I did. What he heard scared him sufficiently to call back immediately . I couldn’t talk. But my little one held the phone and talked to him, she told him we were coming home. That little voice, the one I know I could never hurt assuredly told the man I loved that she and I were going home. So we did.

A complete an utter mess.

Afraid Of The Monster in Me

It’s been a long time since I was last that afraid of myself. That complete feeling of not trusting myself. What it proved to me is I’m not quite ready to come off my meds yet, that I need to do more work on myself first before that day can come. Now I know that there are some who argue that meds are the new villain  in mental health care, too easily dished out in a quick fix solution because the waiting lists and demand on counselling is huge.

This is true. The NHS is struggling with the demand and far too many people are slipping through the cracks. It shouldn’t be the case that meds are being handed out like candy because the system is so over burdened that monitoring of those with mental health conditions is near non existent.

It shouldn’t be this way. But the reality is that it is. I get very little to no monitoring from my GP, counselling is one session  a month at best. The intervening gaps between appointments and reviews is huge and entirely reliant on me pushing for them. There is just no money available for on going care for those with mental health issues. And it’s a story we hear again and again.

Too many people who are told by their doctor that if their symptoms worsen to come back in and book an appointment, too many times health care professionals cite that victims of suicide had ‘protective factors‘ but no review was undertaken. If you have cancer, you have follow up appointments, check ups, scans. If you have a heart condition, a specialist monitors you with ECG’s, blood pressure checks and you will even be referred to a dietitian to help improve your health through change of eating if required.

But as I have found time and time again with depression and other mental illnesses, despite how fatal these illnesses can be if left unchecked, there is little to no follow up or after care. If you have to cancel an appointment too many times  with your counsellor (twice as a rule, and that’s not a case of not just turning up, I mean cancelling even with valid reasons) you will be bounced back to your GP.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

Would my recent spiral have been spotted with more regular contact with a counsellor of doctor? The honest answer is I don’t know, but I really feel that it would have been at least identified that I was struggling with a lot of different factors and there was an issue with having my medication available. I was lucky. My protective factor of my daughter was there, but that’s a ridiculous burden to place on a child. I’m now putting myself back together again, but it’s incredibly hard and puts a lot of pressure on those around me. No one should have to hear the one they love sobbing into the phone to Samaritans that they are fighting just to stay alive,  that they afraid to be alone for fear of what they will do.

Yes, I as the patient have a responsibility to report changes, but how can I when just getting an appointment with my GP is near impossible . And like I said, depression is insidious. It crept out on me again  from those dark corners and I didn’t even see it coming even with all my expereince  and knowledge.

Fighting Back

The way mental health is monitored and cared for needs to change.  In the mean time we need to keep on looking at those we care about. If we see little changes, say something. If you suspect an issue is going to be a trigger for you as a sufferer, say something to someone. We need to try and keep talking because when we clam up, the voice in your head can be a devious and cruel monster. We can’t let it win. So let’s keep fighting back.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

What You Don’t Do Says More To Me Than What You Say

After my return to work In January, I hit a lot of issues with my employer. Promises of support were constantly made, but little to nothing materialized. There were constant roadblocks, either in the inaction of my manager at the time, or the complete lack of support I received from HR. I was already struggling, yet for every little thing I found I was having to fight for it, tooth and nail. Despite promises of change I’d find their actions speak louder than words, nothing would alter and I would spin further into a vortex of feeling worthless and unwanted.

These actions (or in this case lack thereof) made me worse. My mental health took a serious hit as I battled even to get basic things sorted. A review with occupational health, a return to work meeting, even the basic stress assessment; it took a union rep getting involved to achieve any of these basic requirements. What may surprise you is the company I work for has a very prominent relationship with a mental health charity. They are active across Twitter with campaigns to try to raise mental health awareness with some very high-profile public figures. What I found was that despite their very vocal stance to the world, when it comes to their staff their actions speak louder than words. As a member of staff I found that you will lack support, basic rights under the disability act will not be fulfilled unless you push for them and that the management have a woeful lack of training or support in how to handle employees with mental health issues.

How Would That Make You feel?

It left me feeling un-valued and unwanted.

But it’s something you will find a lot, and not just in the world of work. In our personal lives too. How often do we say we care about people, compared with how often we show them. Like Alex has covered in the Onus, there is a tendency for people to be very vocal with their support, but lacking in the physical.

It also goes deeper than that. When we don’t show people what they mean to us it can inflict huge amounts of damage that you won’t see on the surface. Likewise when we treat people as something less than , it wounds. These scars that you don’t see are usually the longest lasting, the contributing factors to depression and anxiety that affects a person for years to come.

When Actions Speak Louder than Words

To put this into context, I’ll explain something from my past that even now impacts me. When I was 15 years old I began dating my first boyfriend. In my eyes, he was loving caring and everything I wanted. I thought he was perfect. You would think that he would have the same sort of feelings, right? Sadly, no.

The reality was he was considerably older than me. When we went out he would force me to lie about my age, so that it appeared more appropriate. He would dictate what i ate, would criticize how I dressed and how I did my hair. I was never good enough as me. I was often made to feel that I was being granted some sort of honour just to be with him. So even just the normal gestures of a couple in love were denied to me. Holding hands in public? No. Being taken on normal dates? Out of the question.

In private he would tell me he loved me. But the truth is if this is how someone behaves to someone they ‘love’ their actions speak louder than words. This is not love. This is not how you treat anyone else. It damaged me to the point that I feel unworthy, to the point I struggle to believe when someone genuinely cares for me. I don’t believe when they say they love me, think I’m special or beautiful.

Just because We Are all Guilty of This Doesn’t Make it Right

Yes, we can all be guilty of this from time to time.  In the early days of my relationship with Alex, I would often omit him from conversations with my ex-husband, if Alex called when I was taking my children to visit their father I’d pretend it was someone else on the phone. Yes, my reasons were based on fear of my ex-husbands reaction. But it does not excuse it. Alex and I ended up having a blazing row via phone over this very issue. As he explained how it was making him feel, something inside me snapped.  I needed to put my fear aside and deal with the matter at hand. My ex knew I was with someone new, so why was I pretending like Alex didn’t exist? Who was this helping? The honest answer is no-one.  If anything it was wounding the man I love.

We Need to Change

I’ve been on the receiving end being treated where the words being spoken did not match the actions.  I knew immediately it had to stop.  It’s something I think we all need to apply in our lives. Our actions speak louder than words.  For corporate entities they need to look at how they treat their employees before espousing their support for mental health. They need to be the example before they can preach for change. When they don’t is when employees are left feeling un-valued and disillusioned.

In relationships we need to show the ones we love, that we love them. Not just say the words. Show it. How we act to others, be they our family, friends or partners, can hugely impact them. If they suffer with mental health issues it can be even more important. When your mind is already telling you how worthless and imperfect you are, it will only see validation when people’s actions do not match the words from their mouths.

Actions speak louder than words. So don’t just say the words you think people need to hear.

Act.

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My Dad

A Sad Day

It’s a funny day today. It’s a sad day, but one where I want to celebrate rather than mourn. Today is the birthday of my dad. The thought of not celebrating it with him for this first time is causing an ache that just won’t go today. But I don’t want to sit and cry all day. I want to celebrate him. The wonderful things he did and achieved.

First off, I guess I need to tell you a little about him. As a child he was a rogue, scrumping from apple trees, truant from school and always in to mischief. He loved science and was fascinated by space and science fiction. Considering where he grew up in Birmingham in the 1940’s and 50’s, when poverty was a reality and life was hard, he still became someone who looked ahead to the stars.  He loved to read and loved music. All kinds, from The Planets suite to Beyoncé. I think I get that from him. I still remember him putting the L.P of the Planets Suite on for me to listen to and encouraging me to write stories from the images this music formed in my mind.

We didn’t always get on. What parent and child always does? We’d often butt heads because the reality is that I am as stubborn as he could be. We had similar tempers and that immovable sense of what is right. It would cause friction. But like my dad, I would do anything for my family and friends, even to my own detriment sometimes. It can be a bad thing, but if it’s the worst thing about me I’ll take it.

I’m proud to say I’m like my dad

So yes, today I want to cry. But I won’t right now. My dad loved going out for birthday meals, ( well any meal really). He celebrated and would not let things like birthdays or anniversaries just slip by. He loved his family, even when we were pains in the butt. He loved to watch his grandchildren playing and being inventive. He’d play the same song over and over just to watch his granddaughter try to sing along or dance.

So today I’m playing my music loud for him. I’ve sung at the top of my voice and I’m loving the little things my children are doing. (they’ve made a toy stage and put on a puppet show). My daughter and I have played Katy Perry’s Firework and danced around the bedroom singing along to it. Because one thing I’ve learned is that tomorrow is not a given. We all expected my dad to have many more years ahead of him, but life is cruel like that. A long time ago Alex wrote fleeting fragility and even more so today it rings true. Life is fragile and too short.

So yes, I have depression. I have anxiety. But like my dad I’m not going to let something hold me back.  So even though it’s difficult, I’m working again. Alex and I are looking at getting a house together with room for the children to have their own space, even though financially it will be hard. We are both still working on the website, driving it forwards with new ways for people to access content. I’m proud of what we achieve in the face of the naysayers. We may have mental illness issues, but we’re finding our way through.

Don’t Let It Hold You Back

So if you’re struggling today and you feel like giving in. Don’t. There’s always going to be obstacles. I could use today as an excuse to wallow in depression. Believe me, it’s there.  But the best way I can celebrate my dad is to not do that. It’s to play my music, laugh at the kids, work on the website. To do all the things that people think that someone who has depression shouldn’t be able to do.

So, to my dad. If you’re looking down on all of us today, I want you to know I miss you, but I’m going to show everyone that depression doesn’t win. It won’t win, over me or Alex. We will get the children what they need, I will keep working and we’re going to keep on with the website because we know it’s what we have to do. I hope we make you proud.

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Learn To Let It Go

Disney Again? Really?

Sorry to say it, but yes I’m referencing Disney again. In the form of ‘Frozen’. As I’ve said before, music is incredibly important to me. It speaks to me and helps me through a lot of what I’m dealing with. ‘Let It Go’ is that hugely popular anthem for the movie that every little girl seems to know verbatim. In the film Elsa seems to be able to let go of the things that have held her back from being her true self. Learning to truly accept who she is and let go of who she used to be is central to the development of her character. But in real life it can be much harder to do this. How do we learn to let it go when hurts from the past are hampering our recovery?

Nothing Worth Doing Is Ever Easy

Someone said to me that letting go of the hurts we’ve experienced is idealistic. That the reality is that it’s much harder to do, sometimes impossible. I know it is. I can be the poster child for holding a grudge. Only recently I had a conversation with Alex that opened my eyes. In my dealings with my ex-husband, Alex noticed I would often become aggressive in tone, I would become stubborn and immovable. Negotiation and compromise (especially as regards our children) just wasn’t an option.

But why?

My ex has undergone an incredible amount of change since our separation, he is now doing everything he can to build bridges with our children and become the father he should have been. He’s maintaining the changes and not reverting to previous form and recognises that who he used to be was not good. So why am I getting aggressive and possessive as regards our children when I can see he is amending himself?

After a considerable amount of discussion (and tears on my part) what finally stumbled from my lips was that I didn’t trust the changes I could see. That I was still holding on to the hurt and pain from our dysfunctional relationship and it was affecting my behaviour and preventing us from moving forwards.

I need to learn to let it go.

It’s Not Even About Forgiveness

That’s the thing. It’s not even about forgiving him. This is for me. Holding on to that pain is not helping me in my recovery. If anything, it just pushes me closer to relapse. And I don’t want to relapse.  I don’t want the scars from the damage that was done over the 18 years we were together to impact my new relationship. I’ll give you an example; recently Alex was unable to attend an Easter Egg hunt with me at my mom’s house because he was mentally and emotionally drained. His mental health wasn’t good and he needed the break.  On the surface, I smiled and reassured him it was OK. I understood. Like him, I know that depression can make us have to make choices of how best to expend our energy.

But inside me it triggered something. A wound opened up. All the times I had been abandoned to attend things by myself with the kids when my ex couldn’t be bothered. The times when we were made to feel we just weren’t good enough for him to want to be around.

Inside, it became raw and painful. I was angry and yet sad at the same time. My brain supplied all the untrue reasons for Alex’s absence (He was embarrassed by us,  we weren’t good enough for him) and to my mind it all became solid truths.  That there is something fundamentally wrong with me (and by association my children) that would mean no man wants to be around.

Crazy, right?

My ex and Alex could not be more different men. Alex is kind, caring and affectionate.  He would do anything for me and the kids and on numerous occasions has. I cannot hold him responsible for how my ex mistreated our family and I cannot punish him for feelings that get inadvertently triggered. So I have to learn to let it go. By taking a moment (after a minor rant to myself) I realised that my anger and pain was essentially being put there by a memory.   By holding on to that pain I was not seeing the reality; Alex wasn’t in a good way and if anything needed my support.  The moment I saw this, I knew I had to put those feelings aside.

By holding on to the pain from my previous relationship I was impeding my children from establishing a better relationship with their father, and stopping me be there for my partner.  I refuse to live like that. I won’t be that person.

It’s Not Easy, But I’ve Got to Learn to Let It Go

So that’s what I’m now trying to do. I’ve got to learn to let it go. I cannot live my life where my depression and anxiety are at constant risk of being triggered because of the past.  Somehow, I’ve got to learn to get past them and look at what’s important. My children. Alex. The future we are building together. I’m going to banish the ghosts of past hurts, so I can get the future I want.

It’s not foolproof. I know that. Triggers are triggers. But it’s how we deal with them. Like anyone else with mental health issues, I have to learn to look past the feelings and look at the reality. Is it really that bad? Is what I’m feeling really accurate or is it just me being haunted by my past experiences?

To quote Elsa;

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

What do you think? Because it sounds good to me!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Always Look On the Bright Side?

One of the ironies that has struck me with my life is that so many people perceive me as bubbly, out-going, the talkative one at any party. So many of my friends (and I think my colleagues too) find it hard to believe I have depression. I do everything I can to help others when they’re down, no matter what I try to find the positive and look for the bright side. No matter how dark things are I try to make it that it’s not all doom and gloom.

I’ll admit, a lot of the time this is a mask. I won’t let people see when I’m struggling. Even to those nearest and dearest, I fear letting them see because I don’t want people to worry about me. More often than not my concern is that I don’t want to bring them down. I’ll give you an example; a few days ago Alex was really struggling with depression. It had been knocking him about and most of the day I’d been trying to buoy him as much as I could. But what I didn’t say was that I was having a really rough time too, I’d had a call saying a relative was extremely ill and it had triggered so many memories of my dad that it was physically painful. I didn’t say anything until I got to the point that I broke down in tears.

Talking is Important

Normally, I can share pretty easily with Alex. The fear of tipping him over on that day prevented me from speaking out. For want of a better word I stuck him in a protective bubble because I was terrified of making him worse. When I finally did crack and we talked, what we both found was that by talking to each other, it helped us both.  It’s this that I want to focus on.

Talking helps. 

It’s why so many people  find support on Twitter and other social media. They can express their feelings to others, they can talk and get the darkness that’s inside out. Someone asked me recently whether by writing on a blog about mental health issues it is actually counter-productive to healing. The idea was that by writing about depression and anxiety, we can become permanently mired in it. To those that think like that, I suggest you go on and look at what is in the news feed on Twitter under #depression and #mentalhealth. What you find is that it’s not all doom and gloom.  I regularly see encouragement, support, people just getting alongside complete strangers and talking to them about what’s going on in their heads. These are people writing about their own experiences with depression, be it blogs or vlogs or as published authors. Their mental health does not define them. They use Twitter to be there for others who are struggling. It’s what Alex does every day, from when he turns on the P.C in the morning to when he closes his tablet just before bed!

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

He isn’t on there moaning about how his depression is so awful. He’s there, interacting with people. Talking. Getting the inside out. Supporting and encouraging wherever he can. I’m sorry, but if that’s the definition of being ‘mired’ in it, then sign me up! Like I said, having depression isn’t all being an Eeyore. It’s not all doom and gloom all of the time.  Yes we can have awful, dark and rough days. Does it mean my sense of humour died? No.

By talking about the good days and the bad ones we can get everything that’s inside out. That’s why sharing with each other is so important. It proves that the illness isn’t winning. Some of the things that have made both Alex and I smile like loonies have come from our interactions on Twitter (discussion of little ponies, strange objects that look like Daleks and sharing favourite songs to name but a few! ) These conversations have been with people who are struggling with one form of mental health issues or another.

That’s what some seem to forget when a loved one or friend admits they have a mental health problem. They are still people! That person is still them. It’s just another side to who they are!

I guess that’s why I called this post ‘It’s not all doom and gloom’. Because it isn’t. Depression is an illness. Bipolar is an illness. Anxiety is an illness. But as sufferers we are not stuck in the labels these words convey. They don’t define us or how we can be. After all we’re just people too.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.