Practical Tips for Mental Health

Being Practical

I don’t know about you, but I tend to forget things.  Ask Cheryl and she will tell you the same thing.  It can be hard to stay on top of things when struggling with mental health.  So, without further ado, here are some practical tips that I have to help you manage your day-to-day life!  With Christmas coming up, it could be very important!!

Useful Links:
A Very Mental Christmas
Practically Perfect

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Become a Patron - Practical Tips for Mental HealthDisclaimer: 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.

Building Our Dreams Up

Dreams

Have you got a dream?  I don’t mean the sleepy kind but the dreams that are plans for your life.  Something that you want to achieve.  It might be a career goal, a desire for a particular house or car or other possession.  What is it?

Tara, writer of www.wegotreal.com, wrote out her list of 100 dreams to share with us.  Included in those were things like visiting South America or Europe or Asia; travel for a year with her family overseas; read 1-2 books a month; perform in a community theatre production and many more.  Perhaps some of these coincide with your own dreams.  Personally, I want a Lamborghini.  Preferably a Gallardo or a Huracán, but we shall see what happens, eh?

Building Dreams

So you might be thinking that dreams are a strange choice of topic for a mental health blog.  It certainly seemed quite strange for me, but there is logic to my madness.  It all started with a tweet.  As coincidence would have it, this tweet:

It’s good food for thought, isn’t it?  After all, how many people like this do we actually know?  If we’re being honest, we know quite a few, don’t we?  They spend a lot of time telling other people how to live their lives, what they should and shouldn’t be doing.  But are they actually living?

The stereotypical and most obvious example would be parents.  Some parents insist that their children follow a specific career or educational path.  They have to go to uni, they must train to be something majorly successful such as a doctor or a lawyer.  Anything else is substandard, not good enough.  Alternatively, they believe that their child should enter the family business.  It doesn’t matter whether or not the child wants to, that business has been in the family for years and the child should follow in their parents’ footsteps no matter what.

Does this sound familiar?

Living Our Lives

Now those examples I gave before are perhaps a minority case.  I don’t really know how many people actually tell their children what they should and shouldn’t do in terms of their dreams.  My parents were always good at letting me make my own mind up, decide for myself what I wanted to do.  Not everyone is like that, though.

How many people tell us how we should live our lives?  Be it simple things such as how we should manage our daily stresses or how we should raise our children, do our work, all sorts of things like that?  Worse, how many people try and crush our dreams, labelling them as insignificant, unobtainable or as just plain stupid?

A scarier question, though…is are we guilty of doing that?

That’s right, I asked if we – that includes me as well as you – are guilty of telling other people how to live their lives or belittling their dreams.  It’s not something we will want to admit to…but I can’t help but wonder whether or not we’ve done it.

In truth, though, I think we’re all a little guilty of getting so wrapped up in what we think we should do and what we think others should do that we don’t really live our lives.  We hold ourselves to the dreams and standards that others set for us and we don’t really do what we love.  It can be a daunting prospect, though, following those dreams.  But does that mean we shouldn’t do it?

Chasing the Dreams

So what do we do?  Instead of telling others how they should live their lives, holding them back from their dreams – whether that’s by trying to put them on a particular path or by saying things like “I don’t think that’s a good idea, how can you afford it?” etc – we should focus on our own dreams.

I’ll give you an example: this website.  When my mental health started to spiral and I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I felt a calling to start a mental health support website.  I knew that it was going to be difficult, as we have running costs and it takes time to create the content, but I felt it was something important to do.  As a result, I’m building my own business out of this, so that I can bring about the awareness that is needed for people struggling with mental health conditions while making a living at the same time.  After all, it’s what I love doing.  I love helping the people who come to us needing help, I love raising the awareness and changing the lives of people who know nothing or next to nothing about mental health.

But it comes with costs.

As a result, there are people out there who disapprove.  Some people believe I shouldn’t be trying to make money from this – even though it’s all through donations that people are willingly pledging.  I’m not making people pay me for what I do.  I give it away for free and accept donations and pledges of support from others.  Others believe I should be in a job that is more secure, that pays a flat or set rate.  The trouble with that is that it would stifle the website because I wouldn’t be able to put the work in that I do.

So what is the right way?

I firmly believe that this is what I am meant to be doing.  This is my calling, my dream, my one aim in life.  No matter what other people think, no matter what they say, it is my responsibility to chase my dream.  No one else can tell me what I should be doing with my life.  After all, it is my life and it is mine to live.

So chase those dreams!

Who knows where they will take you!

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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.

The Things They Don’t Tell You

Going In Blind

There’s a lot of times in life when you go into things blind. New relationships, new jobs; you may think you know what you’re getting into but you get into things and it’s not quite what you expected. Sometimes it’s good things, but more commonly you find the things they don’t tell you are the ‘not so pleasant’ surprises. And it’s the same with mental health.

If you find yourself at that point you’ve gone to the doctor to get help because of depression or anxiety, the go-to move is for the GP to prescribe antidepressants as a stop gap while you wait for appropriate counselling. Good right? Well yes and no. Yes, they are putting in some treatment to help you, but you quite often find that due to time constraints there’s little to no explanation of side effects before you walk out of the appointment. The assumption is that you’ll read the finely printed leaflet in your box of pills.

But let’s be honest, how many people actually do that? I only do it because it’s a habit I learned from my dad. His knowledge of medicines and chemistry was pretty awesome and on more than one occasion he’d pointed out to his own doctor the perils of prescribing certain medications at the same time. (I recall one particular combination where the side effect could have been death). But he got me in the habit, I read the little leaflets and research the medication. But a lot of people don’t.

A Risky Business

The things they don’t tell you can be pretty damned important. Did you know if you are taking Sertraline you cannot take ibuprofen? Or have grapefruit juice? Alex certainly didn’t when he was first prescribed it. But it’s actually really important as it can do severe damage.

Likewise the side effects of some anti-depressants get glossed over. Some of the side effects can be short term, but there are some that just don’t seem to go. Alex still gets hideous leg cramps due to his meds. We both have, let’s just say…an interesting time with our stomachs. (Spicy food is not your friend with Sertraline). I expected side effects. I didn’t expect them not to ever go away.

But that’s just it. Your GP doesn’t have the time to tell you. What’s so wrong with this is that when you have depression or anxiety your mental state is not necessarily at it’s most rational or logical. You are trusting your doctor that they are doing the right thing. I’m not saying they’re not. But a frank discussion of what type of side effects could come into play could help direct which medication to prescribe. Looking back, if I’d known that a year on I’d still be plagued with stomach cramps, almost daily upset stomachs to the point that the doctor ended up prescribing an additional medication to help my stomach cope with the 200mg of Sertraline I take a day. Well, I may have asked to look at something else.

The Things They Don’t Tell You Can Really Matter

That’s just the problem. Because of the huge pressures on time and resources  there just isn’t the opportunity for your doctor to talk like that. But the side effects can really matter. Take for example one of the more commonly known side effects of anti-depressants; impotence and loss of libido. If you are a couple who were trying for a baby (maybe even the  inability to have one was a triggering factor to your mental health issues), then something that decreases your sexual drive in this way is going to make things even more tricky. It could just make things even worse.

And we see this time and time again. As highlighted in Hope Virgo‘s recent campaign to #dumpthescales , it wasn’t commonly known that access to eating disorder help was being determined by weight thresholds. Yep, even if you were known to suffer from anorexia or bulimia, you could be refused treatment because you weren’t skinny enough. When a concerned parent takes their child to the doctor because of eating disorder problems, what they don’t tell you is that your child could be turned away for weighing too much even when it’s openly acknowledged that eating disorders are mental illnesses. It’s insane!

We Need to Talk

Considering we live in the information age, currently there seems to be a big gap when it comes to all things mental health. From not knowing where or who to go to for help, to even just open discussions about treatment, there seems to be a lot of blundering around in the dark. It’s because of things like this that people make basic wrong assumptions about subjects like self harm, eating disorders and medication.

“You can’t be anorexic, you’re not that skinny.”

“People only self-harm to get attention.”

“You shouldn’t take anti-depressants, they’ll turn you into a zombie.”

So what do we do about it? We need to really start talking about it! From our doctors being more open and honest about side effects, to even us as sufferers sharing more of what is going on with us we can help educate people. We can break down the stigma. By sharing our experiences, having those conversations with our families and friends we can make a change.  Even if it’s just as simple as knowing that because your friend is on Sertraline may be why they’re ducking out of curry night, to how overwhelming it can feel to a sufferer of anxiety to do shopping and finding blessed relief in a store that is running the Autism Hour initiative; it all helps. Just having that little bit more knowledge can make all the difference.

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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.

Episode 54 – Worthy or Unworthy?

Are We Worthy?

It’s easy to belittle our worth and debate whether or not we are worthy of the good things that come our way.  We question our worth, we questions whether or not we deserve these things and I provide you with an answer to that today.  Why not join me?

Useful Links:
What You’re Worth

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Become a Patron - Worthy or Unworthy?Disclaimer: 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.

A Walk In Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

It’s Autumn now and perhaps it’s time for us to step back, take a break and relax.  As I walked my little one to school this morning and then walked home again, I had the chance to reflect on this as I walked.  Do we stop and take a break?  Do we pause our busy lives?  Not always.  But we should!

Useful Links:
Successful Self-Care
Taking Time Out

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Become a Patron - A Walk In Autumn LeavesDisclaimer: 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.

Don’t Tip the Scales

The Table Tip

It might seem like an odd title for a post, “Don’t Tip the Scales” but, as usual, there is logic to my madness (I know, I know…it’s scarce!)  Before I reveal that, though, I want you to think of the show Total Wipeout.  Do you remember that?  Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina and hosted by Richard Hammond, it was an obstacle course competition where contestants pitted themselves against each other to be crowned the Wipeout Champion.  They’d go through the qualifier, eliminating the out-of-shape or slowest of them.  Next came a second challenge designed to thin out the herd even more.  Then the last three would compete in the epic Wipeout Zone for the title of champion.

I loved it!

Seeing people fail…while it’s not necessarily a nice thing to enjoy, seeing people fall into the pools or muddy pits was actually really funny.  A bit like seeing those people take on Takeshi’s Castle or the American Ninja Warrior challenges.  There’s an odd kick that can be had out of seeing these people, so confident and full of that bravado, trying and failing to beat the course.

One part that I remember from Total Wipeout was the Tippy Table in the Dizzy Dummies run.  A large table that tipped steadily from side to side (at least as far as I remember it), making contestants slide into the pools at either side.  It’s that that I want you to picture.

The Total Wipeout Tippy Table

A Mental Health Tip

Just as the Tippy Table tipped contestants into the water, I find our mental health can tip us as well.  If you have depression and anxiety, as I do, then it’s possible for our mental health to tip like that Tippy Table.  Walking with depression and anxiety is like walking a knife’s edge because one false move or misstep and you’re over the edge.

What do I mean?  Well, I’d like to tell you a little story of something that I’ve experienced.  It’s one of the harder parts of walking with depression and anxiety.  I was sat in my old church in one of the services, participating as I normally would (I was in the brass band, the singing group and so on) and I suddenly felt my anxiety clawing at me.  Yes, I do actually mean clawing at me, because it felt like some ferocious beast trying to suffocate my heart.

I sat there as best I could, trying to fight the demon – yeah, I know, not very religious and holy to have a demon inside of me in church, but that’s how it felt at the time!  Unfortunately, all my best efforts failed and I ended up having to get up and remove myself from that situation.  I found a small, quiet room and barricaded myself in a little so that I could have a moment to attempt to recover.  Seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t work.

In the end, I went home.  It was only a five minute walk, round the corner to the block of flats I lived in, but I thought the fresh air and the home environment would have done me some good.  Already, the anxiety was abating and my heart-rate was slowing back down to normal.  I bet you can’t guess what happened next…

Off the Knife-Edge

Imagine for a moment that you are walking on that balance bar.  Cheryl did one recently at Cattle Country when we went on holiday.  We’d stopped off to break up the journey and give the 4-year-old a little bit of respite from the car and Cheryl decided she was going to do the balance beam.  As her weight shifted, the beam went to turn one way so she compensated for it to right herself.  That compensation turned into overcompensation, however, and she fell off the other side instead.

Well, this is what happened to me.  In my attempts to push myself out of my anxiety attack, I pushed myself too far.  Instead of my mood and emotions rising and rising in the uncontrollable bouts of anxiety, they plummeted like a meteor crashing or a spaceship re-entering the atmosphere in free fall.

My mood crashed.

In a matter of half an hour, perhaps even less time, I went from being so anxious that I was bright red from additional blood flow, heart racing, unable to sit still and remain in the situation, to being at rock bottom.  I was feeling nothing.  It was as if I’d just completely severed any kind of emotional link in order to protect myself, much like an electrical device has a fuse to protect itself from too much electricity.

And so it was that I crashed.  Completely and utterly, back to “the cutting room floor”, so to speak.  Yes, I’m attempting to put a humorous spin on it, but that’s one way that I cope.  In pushing myself out of the anxiety attack, I’d sent myself head-first into a depressive spiral that sent me back to self-harm to cope.  It wasn’t something I’d have thought I’d go straight to, but it happened.

A Balancing Act

So, as you can see, having a mental illness is just like a balancing act.  You walk the knife’s edge, trying not to tip yourself one way or the other.  It’s a constant struggle between sink or swim, fight or flight, getting yourself where you need to be with the resources that you have.  If you wonder why someone with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions is often tired…this is why.

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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.

Episode 53 – Continue to Step

Step By Step

How often do we take our journey one step at a time?  Perhaps minute by minute?  When we end up going back a few steps, it can feel like the end of the world, and we can blame ourselves.  Relapse.  How do we cope with it?  I share my thoughts on how we can deal with relapse and being knocked back.

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Become a Patron - Continue to StepDisclaimer: 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 That Simple…

The Simple Answer

How often do people have simple solutions to our problems?  “Just snap out of it.”  “What about all the things you have good in your life?”  “Calm down.”  Yet is the answer ever as easy as that?  I share my thoughts on the matter and provide you with a comparison to determine whether or not it is as simple as it appears!

Useful Links:
Looking For the Positives

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Become a Patron - It's Not That SimpleDisclaimer: 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.

Taking Time Out to Put Time In…

Put Time Aside

I’ve talked a lot about the need to put time aside for ourselves, haven’t I?  Taking time out from our busy lives to simply stop.  Whether we’re too busy living life in the fast lane or we just don’t actually take that time out from our lives, we all need to stop for a moment, don’t we?

But why?  Why do we need to stop?  As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes it’s important for us to take that time out so that we can practise self-care.  It’s not always easy to do that, however, especially not with life being as fast-paced as it often is.  Yet it’s crucial, is it not?

In this post, I’m not just talking about taking time out, though, I’m also highlighting what we put our time into.  Our time is precious, is it not?  One of the most valuable commodities this world has to offer.  So it’s important we remember we’re not just responsible for taking time out of our busy lives, we’re also responsible for what we choose to put it into.

Behind the Metaphor

Alright, so we’ve already established frequently that I enjoy playing video games.  It’s my key downtime moments, my chance to unwind.  Some people enjoy a hot bath, others a good book, me…video games.  Recently, I started playing the Forza series, beginning with Motorsport 6, then moving onto Horizon 3 and now, after finding a good deal, Horizon 2.  (I know, I’m going backwards, but what can I say?)  To all who look at them, they appear to be racing games where you drive, you race, you compete, you (hopefully) win.  But there’s more to it than that.

One thing I love doing is taking a car, putting it in the garage and tinkering.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a petrol head or a grease monkey, but I really do love coaxing these cars to be better than better.  You’d think Lamborghinis, Ferraris, McLarens and the works would be the almighty holy grail of cars anyway, but in these games you can tinker with a variety of different car parts – from their engines to their platform and handling, tyres through to drivetrains and more.  It’s by swapping and alternating some of these parts that you can get these cars to the top of their respective classes and turn them into almost unbeatable machines.

And I love it!

Originally, however, I didn’t know what I was doing with them.  I’ve already mentioned that I’m not a petrol head or grease monkey.  I wouldn’t know how to do any of this stuff with my actual car.  That’s where the game makes it easier because it does it all for you, except you control what parts are being added and switched.  For those who can’t be bothered to do this or really don’t understand it, there’s a “quick upgrade” option, which you can select and the game will install all upgrades to bring it to its supposed optimal performance level.  OK, it doesn’t always work that way, but it’s an option.

But for me, it didn’t quite work.  Which was then that I realised I had to actually put time into my cars.

What I Put In

Selecting that quick upgrade option saved me a lot of time.  I didn’t have to go through the different workshops, selecting and deselecting parts, looking at performance scores and charts, determining what parts I wanted.  I also didn’t have to learn what on earth it was all about so that I would actually stand a chance of understanding what I was doing.

Ultimately, however, that didn’t serve me half as well as it was intended.  A lot of the time, the quick upgrade feature would simply add all available parts.  Alternatively, it would maximise engine power and not worry quite so much about handling, giving you speed over overall performance.

Yet how often is that what’s needed?

Customising a car in Horizon 3.

For some cars, the power is already inbuilt and what they need is the handling to go with it.  Springs and dampeners, better brakes, body weight reductions.  For others, they did actually need that power.  In other cases, an entirely new engine or entirely new drivetrain – changing it from all-wheel drive to rear/front-wheel drive, for example – was needed.

How would the quick upgrade know that?

It was all about that personal touch; how to get the car driving exactly as you wanted.  Personal preferences, driving styles and so on were lost inside that quick upgrade, as it indiscriminately whacked every upgrade it thought best onto the car.  So it needed something a little bit more…me.

Gradually, I started learning what I was doing.  Tutorials on YouTube or on the game, tinkering, experimenting and finally I was building cars of my own on this game.  And do you know what?  They worked a lot better!  Why?  Because they had a better match to my driving style.

Taking Time Out to Put Time In

So what am I actually trying to say?  Simply put, sometimes it’s not about taking the time out to recharge, it’s about making sure we take the time out so that we can put time in.  Be it a hobby, a new skill, something that we want to learn…if we don’t put the time in, we won’t get anywhere with it.

What is it you want to accomplish today?  What do you want to get out of whatever it is you’re trying to do?  I’d like to encourage you: take time out so that you can put time in.  You’ll be amazed at what you can do!

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Become a Patron - No Room For ErrorDisclaimer: 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.

Looking for the Positives

Positivity and Depression

It’s something we’ve touched on before, the idea that simply being positive will cure depression. It’s something that any sufferer will at some point face. Someone well-meaning will point out all the good things you have going for you in effort to somehow snap you out of the darkness. If it were truly that simple would depression even exist? This is not to say we shouldn’t keep looking for the positives as a way of getting through, but waving them at people like some magic cure isn’t going to work either.

Recently, someone close to me, in an effort to ‘snap me out of it’ during a depressive episode, did try the ‘you’ve got so much to be happy about’ approach. It didn’t work. If anything, it made me feel worse. In my head it translated to ‘you have so much to be happy about, so why aren’t you? You’re so ungrateful.’ All the things they pointed out to me as my reasons to be happy, my relationship, my children, my job, my home; it’s not like I don’t appreciate and am grateful every day for the things I have. I am incredibly thankful for all the wonderful things in my life. But having them all pointed out to me as if I don’t appreciate all these things already hurt a great deal.

I Don’t Go Looking for the Positives

I know what the positives in my life are. I do. A depressive episode doesn’t change that. Yes, it can make it harder to see them, but they’re still there. I know they’re there. Reminding me isn’t going to shift the feelings that depression creates. Because I want to make something very clear; depression is not simply being unhappy. This is something that some people forget. It is an illness. Would you ask someone with a broken leg to be positive to make it better? Of course not!

Positivity does have it’s place with mental health. But it is personal. Other people telling you what to be positive about is not going to help. I don’t go looking for positives. I just take some time each day to remind myself what I see as the positives. And I change them regularly as part of an exercise that my counsellor and I have devised. And right now I’m going through a difficult patch, I’m struggling because my mental health is not at it’s best. But that’s okay. Like with any illness, there are times when we feel a bit worse than others. Right now, I’m not so good. But I’m doing what I can to get me through. I have the tools, I have the support I need and thankfully work are being understanding.

A Little Tip or Two

It’s not due to a lack of looking for the positives that has created this episode. It’s a culmination of things going on in my life, feeding into the illness and amplifying things so I feel like it’s crushing me. This does not mean I am ungrateful or unseeing of the positive aspects in my life, if anything it makes me even more grateful. I see the good things probably even more clearly than you do. To me, they are in technicolor compared with the insidious monster that slithers through my head.

So next time you’re helping someone with depression, rather than sit there and list all the things they have to be happy about. Just talk to them. Let them go looking for the positives themselves. By all means praise something about them that you like, encourage them. But please, PLEASE, don’t go telling a sufferer all the things they should be positive about, because in all honesty it does more harm than good.

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Become a Patron - Don't Let You Limit YourselfDisclaimer: 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.