Tuesday, 31 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 6 - OCD

It's New Year's Eve! Where on earth has 2013 gone (and how many times have you heard that today?)? Anyway, if you're lucky, I might just put up two blog posts tomorrow about my thoughts about 2013/hopes for 2014, and of course, day seven of 12 Days of Mental Health.

I hope everyone has a fantastic New Year's Eve tonight, and please stay safe whatever you do. Ours will be consisting of yummy chilli, pyjamas and Hootenanny whilst snuggled on the sofa with our cats.

Today, Kirsty shares her experiences of living with OCD. Here's a bit more information about this diagnosis first.

Please note this post may be triggering for some - remember it is vital to look after yourself first and foremost. 

What is OCD?

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) has been ranked in the top ten of most disabling illnesses of  by the World Health Organisation as one of the most disabling illnesses in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life. It comes under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, and consists of two parts: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repeated unwanted thoughts, urges or images that can be extremely distressing. Some might experience urges to check things, such as if a cooker is off, doors are locked etc. Others might have thoughts about hurting themselves or someone, as an example. A compulsion is a physical activity that someone with OCD feels they have to carry out, so actually checking things are switched off repeatedly, or hand washing excessively in order to relieve the anxiety.

It's important to recognise that everyone will experience anxiety-related thoughts at one point or another. We've all experienced times when we wonder if something has been switched off, for example, but OCD is different to this. For most people, the anxiety after such an event will decrease gradually, but for those living with OCD, this sense of anxiety is maintained for a much longer period of time, often until a particular compulsion is carried out.

It's believed that there are four main areas of OCD:

  • Checking
  • Contamination / Mental Contamination
  • Hoarding
  • Ruminations / Intrusive Thoughts
Underneath each of these are other individual OCD illnesses such as pure-O, pre/postnatal OCD, trichotillomania, dermotillomania, or Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, as examples. 

What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?

There are many different symptoms of OCD, and they can vary depending on the "type." But here are some more general symptoms. 
  • Unwanted repetitive and/or intrusive thoughts 
  • Intense anxiety and/or stress if you don't carry out a compulsion followed by a relief afterwards
  • Compulsive behaviours such as handwashing, checking, asking for reassurance, counting, ordering, arranging. 
  • Excessive magical thinking, religious and/or moral thinking
  • Hair pulling and skin picking
  • Fear of making a mistake, behaving badly, or embarrassing yourself
Remember to visit your GP in the first instance, who will then be able to refer you to the relevant specialist team or service. 

What treatments are available? 

Depending on the severity and type of OCD, a GP will make a referral based on your presenting symptoms. Many people find that CBT helps for mild to moderate symptoms, and in some cases, certain medications can be considered, such as antidepressants or anti anxiety medication. 

You may be referred to your community mental health team, or a more specialist OCD team, once again, depending on your circumstances. 

You may be offered Exposure Response Prevention which works by exposing you to your particular obsession whilst trying to resist the urge to carry out the compulsion. Whilst it sounds scary, it is done in very small steps to avoid as much distress and anxiety as possible. 

There are lots of online resources for CBT and specific help with OCD. Speak to your GP as well who may know of a "books on prescription" scheme which you can get from your library. 

Kirsty's story

I was diagnosed with OCD fairly recently, but have been struggling with it since I was about 8. I remember I never used to sleep well, and would spend hours in bed worrying about what could go wrong - house catching fire, dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. To calm these fears, I used to get up and check things – if the oven was turned off, if the front door was locked. This checking helped to calm me down so that I could get some sleep. I always knew it was irrational, but I did it anyway because it helped.

Fast forward 20 years, and although I no longer check things, the intrusive thoughts plague me constantly. I have recently started CBT, something I can honestly say that I had never heard of before until it was suggested by my GP. In my first session, I was asked to keep a diary of all of the intrusive thoughts over the course of a fortnight. I thought that would be easy- I was very wrong! I no longer have obvious rituals, but I spend hours replaying certain images in my head over and over to find out if I am really capable of such things. At the moment I am struggling with this dilemma. Writing down the thoughts has made them more prominent, but I am hoping that will stop soon.

There is something positive to have come from being diagnosed - I know what I am up against and I know I am not alone in fighting with the thoughts in my head. It might not seem much, but it helps me to remember that when I am in the grips of anxiety in the middle of the night. I have tried many things in the past to block out the thoughts- alcohol and self-harm being the things I have relied on the most. But they are not the solution, they only cause more problems. 

I urge anyone who is having problems to go and get help - talking to someone can be the hardest part, but there is help out there. I dread telling those around me about my intrusive thoughts, I worry that they will find me disgusting and repellent, but I am so glad that I took that first step. Telling someone about the thoughts was tough, but by writing them down I am beginning to see that they are just thoughts. I am hoping that, with help, I may be able to take back the control from OCD one day.

You can follow Kirsty on Twitter - click here

Further Information

Monday, 30 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 5 - EDNOS

Evening all, I hope everyone is well and still enjoying 12 Days of Mental Health. I must admit, I have learnt a heck of a lot in a very short space of time, and have been amazed at the stories people have written for me. Seeing the amount of courage in this world motivates me to keep going - if you do one thing tonight, give yourself a back on the back. You deserve it.

Today's guest blogger is Esther talking about her experience of EDNOS. First up, information.

Please note today's blog post may be triggering for some. Always look after yourself first. 

What is EDNOS?

EDNOS stands for Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and is normally given to those who meet some but not all diagnostic criteria of an eating disorder, for example anorexia or bulimia. Differences between EDNOS and other eating disorders may be that a woman still has menstrual cycles (these tend to stop or become irregular) or maybe chews but then spits out food.

Here is a "text book" definition of how EDNOS may be diagnosed. Note this does not necessarily take into consideration how someone may be feeling.

Examples Include:

  • All of the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa are met except the individual has regular menses.
  • All of the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa are met except that, despite substantial weight loss, the individual's current weight is in the normal range.
  • All of the criteria for Bulimia Nervosa are met except binges occur at a frequency of less than twice a week or for a duration of less than 3 months.
  • An individual of normal body weight who regularly engages in inappropriate compensatory behavior after eating small amounts of food (eg, self-induced vomiting after the consumption of two cookies).
  • An individual who repeatedly chews and spits out, but does not swallow, large amounts of food.
  • Binge eating disorder; recurrent episodes of binge eating in the absence of the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors characteristic of bulimia nervosa.

EDNOS is more common that you may realise - it is estimated that between 40 - 60% of those seeking treatment to an eating disorder have EDNOS, according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration. It can affect anyone regardless of age or gender, though there does seem to be some research to suggest it tends to develop more frequently in adolescence and early adulthood.

What are the signs/symptoms of EDNOS?

Potential symptoms of EDNOS are quite similar to that of other eating disorders. Here's just a handful of them:

  • Being preoccupied or obsessive over food, such as calories, cooking, and nutrition
  • Frequently weighing yourself 
  • Avoiding meals and denying hunger
  • Exercising obsessively
  • Feeling a sense of guilt, shame or embarrassment when you eat
  • Purging
  • Periods become irregular
  • Withdrawal from social situations 
  • Physical change in appearance
  • Feeling more sensitive to the cold, dizzy or tired
  • You may also experience symptoms related to depression and anxiety
There are lots of studies that look into how an eating disorder might have originated, but these are different for everyone. Just because someone has had a particular life experience, it does not mean they will get a diagnosis of an eating disorder, and vice versa. Many say that society of today is some of the reason due to its focus on body image, but other suggestions are that it could be due to bullying, family issues, genetics, and other environmental factors. 

What treatments are available?

Eating disorders can be extremely complex and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. People vary in the length of treatment they require, and how long their recovery may take. Some individuals may have a different eating disorder at another stage in their life, but this won't necessarily happen for everyone. 

If you suspect a loved one has an eating disorder, try and support them as much as you can, and don't get frustrated. It is better to accept and help fight it than to try and pin the blame. 

In the first instance, always visit your GP. Many find writing down what they want to say before they go really helps. Referrals may be towards a mental health team, a counselor, or a dietician. CBT might be offered as a talking therapy as well. Medication may be considered if you are also experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. 

Some people find that support groups are the path for them to take on their route to recovery, and there are also some good books and online resources.

In some circumstances, it may be necessary for hospital treatment so that the right support, advice and guidance can be given to aid recovery. 

Remember- everyone is an individual, and what works for one person may not work for another. 

Esther's Story

I’m Esther, a very-nearly 20 year old Politics student from a sleepy little town in Suffolk. I am happy to live in a world where everyone is different and where – for the most part – those differences can be appreciated and embraced. I can’t hop, click my fingers, whistle or wink but I am taller than average and I make a pretty good Thai curry so I guess that’s just the hand I was dealt. I also have Depression, Anxiety Disorder and an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) rolled up into a neat little package. It’s EDNOS I’m going to talk about here because it’s what I feel needs greater understanding. 

EDNOS is, in my experience, a pretty bizarre thing to be diagnosed with in that no one knows what it flipping well is. Obviously the doctors do, but generally speaking the majority of the population have not heard of the condition despite its prevalence.  

My ‘problems’ - for want of a better word – reared their ugly heads in sixth form, though everything had been bubbling away for a while prior to that. A combination of stress, perfectionism and insecurity gradually started to take hold of the way I saw food and my ability to eat it. Without going into too much detail I found myself progressively restricting my intake as I felt more and more pressure around me. Although I still wanted to eat food, and didn’t necessarily want to be thinner, eating around other people became nigh-on impossible as I was so fixated on what they might think of me if they saw me eating. 

Many counselling sessions, food diaries, courses of CBT and packets of medication later I’m in a far better position. I like to see myself as a ‘work in progress.’ I do have frustrating days where I find it hard to eat and there are still some foods and situations which are really difficult to succeed with but I’m slowly making my way through the list and ticking them off as I gain confidence in myself.  

Since being diagnosed I’ve managed to get my weight up and get to university, where I’ve made some amazing friends and am now living in my own house and responsible for my own eating. I made the effort to get involved with as much mental health charity work as possible and am also a welfare officer at uni. As scary and overwhelming as it can seem to be sat in a GP’s room or a CAMHS office and suddenly have labels sewn into your very being, I’ve found that on the whole people are lovely and want to understand, help and encourage you in any way they can. 

What my experience and speaking to other people in similar positions has demonstrated to me is the incredible resilience of human spirit. It’s dreadfully clich├ęd to say that everything has made me stronger but it kinda has, actually. I’ve been shown that even in the darkest of moments there are always people around you who will fight to understand and to care, and that mountains can slowly be turned into molehills if you can accept yourself and apply enough determination. 

In the words of Albus Dumbledore:  ‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ 
You can follow Esther on Twitter by clicking here.

Esther also writes a blog - you can read it by clicking here.

Further Information

beat: EDNOS (They also have a helpline and a specific youth line for advice and support) 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 4 - Addiction

Lack of sleep has left me feeling sluggish and a bit demotivated, so I apologise in advance for any poor spelling! Thankfully, having another awesome story from today's guest blogger, Mark, I've found the motivation to push through the sleepy haze. Plus, the hubby is cooking tea - bonus!

Today's post looks at addiction. If I am completely honest, I'm quite uneducated on this topic, but Mark's story is inspiring, honest and thought provoking, and has led me to want to learn more. You'll find his story below, but first up, here's some information.

What is addiction?

Today's guest blogger, Mark, has also released a free e-book, which has a great definition of what addiction is:

"Addiction is a strong, uncontrollable need for drugs, drink or to perform a particular activity. In
severe cases, this addiction becomes the most important thing in your life and often leads to
problems in all other aspects of life." (Taylor, 2013)

Addiction can take many different forms, whether it be through substance abuse, gambling, sex or even work. It is estimated that around two million people in the UK have an addiction in one form or another, according to the NHS Choices website. Addicts are unable to control doing, using or taking something, and this can result in the addiction becoming out of control as they require more and more to satisfy the craving and get the same mental "high".

There are many reasons why an addiction can develop, and it wouldn't be possible to list them all in a blog post. Some research suggests it is genetic, while others show that your environment plays a massive part, such as peer pressure, or perhaps it is used as a coping method to "numb" other problems in your life.

The impact of an addiction can be devastating on physical and mental health. In terms of mental health specifically, if you already have a diagnosis or are living with a mental health disorder, the symptoms of your condition could heighten. For example, alcohol is a depressant, and can also reveal more underlying issues such as anxiety or anger. The problem is that the feeling of numbness alcohol (or other dependencies) might bring is only a temporary relief, and the after effect tends to be worse.

When you have an addiction alongside a mental health illness, it is often referred to as a dual diagnosis.

What are the signs of an addiction?

As addiction can be different in every individual, there's not a one rule approach to what an addiction "looks" like. Here is a list of some potential signs:
  • Defensiveness and/or denial - If others around you start to question your behaviour, you may deny any knowledge or become defensive about the topic. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms - You may experience physical and mental withdrawal or "come down" symptoms if you don't take, use or do enough to satisfy a craving. This could include depression, anxiety, nausea, sweating, or insomnia, for example. 
  • Financial difficulties - You may face money troubles because of the need to pay to satisfy your addiction, and some may borrow or steal money. 
  • Physical symptoms might include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, weight loss/gain, impaired coordination, large or smaller pupils/bloodshot eyes, and changes in physical appearance (i.e. personal grooming). 
If you suspect someone you know has an addiction, remember that support is vital, and remain non-judgmental. Be ready for denial, tears, anger and frustration. Help them explore the options of professional help. 

What treatments are available? 

Once again, it's important to highlight that treatment plans will be different for everyone, depending on the type of addiction, the severity of it, and whether there are any other associated illnesses. In the first instance, always visit your GP - they will be able to help and support you even if you're not necessarily at a stage to stop completely. They will be able to refer you to specialist services as well such as statutory drug and alcohol teams, and mental health teams, as an example.

CBT is often used as a talking therapy to help those with an addiction - alternatively, counselling is an option, and there are trained counsellors who can specifically help with addiction issues. Speak to your GP to see what your surgery offers or where you can go for free/low cost counselling near you. 

For some, medication may be an option, but once again, this depends on the type of addiction.

There are lots of self-help programmes available online and through books, and there are many success stories, so consider this as another option. 

Mark's Story

It took me almost ten years to finally admitt that I am an addict. It took me five rehab programmes, nearly half a million pounds, everything I had and every relationship that mattered to me, for me to admit that I am an addict and powerless to my addictions and ultimately, a doctor had to stand over my bed, after two heart attacks, a stroke and pserosis of the liver, to know that enough was enough and that just one more drink or one more line of cocaine would kill me. 

Now, I feel comfortable and confident saying that I am an addict. I find strength in knowing that I simply do not have another recovery in me and in the two years that I have been clean and sober, I have managed to rebuild some of the relationships I damaged. 

It is likely that many people who do not know about addiction would have judged me on some of the behaviours my addiction drove me to. I pawned my sisters jewellery, even though she gave me somewhere to live, fed and watered me and showed continual support when almost everyone else had turned their back on me. I was dirty - a disgrace really, and at well over 6 foot, I looked ill at just 14 stone. My house was filthy. I didn’t change, I rarely washed and rather than spending money on even the most baisc of things like a toothbrush or a loaf of bread, every penny I had, and more, went on drink and drugs. I begged, I borrowed and often, I stole. I was violent, I was a criminal and I had no regard for anything other than my next fix. 

People who do understand addiction, and thankfully were there to support me in the more challenging stages of my addiction, knew that I was masking a wealth of mental health problems and physical dependent on alcohol to the point that I couldn’t get out of bed without a glass of vodka. They knew that as part of managing my addiction, I would need to address the various mental health problems that I had been hiding for so many years. My diagnosis included depression, psychosis, PTSD and OCD. I had been self medicating for years and didn’t know how to cope, manage or face life without doing so. Drinking two litres of vodka and taking nearly 6 grammes of cocaine a day, helped me stop nightmares, quietened the voices in my head and control my need to perform obsessive rituals that influenced many of my thoughts and behaviours.  

Unlike many of the other times I had tried to get clean and sober, when I went into my  final rehabilitation programme, I surrendered. It was the first time I had been honest with anyone other than my drug dealer. I was honest with myself, I was honest with the nurses, doctors and psychiatrists that were there to care for me and  found the strength to be honest with those around me. I took each hour as it came, I focused on changing myself from the inside, I accepted what I had done and forgived the people around me who had encouraged, who had not understood and judged without knowing. 

Now, two years on, I have found strength to manage over 700 days and 15,000 hours. I have days where I get through the day without thinking about it whilst others, I still revert back to an hour at a time. I have accepted that I will be an addict forever and I am thankful for each day that I am clean and sober. I have many other things to be thankful of now including a fiance, a flat and a career helping and supporting others with addiction. I have written a book. I have my own website and share my story to inspire and motivate others. Most, I have addressed my mental health issues with the correct medication and work hard to be kind to myself. I run groups, coach, mentor and always have my phone on to help people who are facing similar struggles. Today, I am thankful for being able to write this blog and share my story with others once again. If there is anything I can do to help or support anyone facing challenges with mental health or addiction, you can find my details at www.therealmarktaylor.com or connect with me on twitter @addiction_mark.  

Mark has also recently published his first e-book which is available on his website for free. 

Further Information

Saturday, 28 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 3 - Self Harm

Please note that some readers may find this post triggering - remember to take care of yourself first and foremost. Please call 999 if you are in immediate danger, 101 if you have a non-emergency but still require healthcare advice, call your local Mental Health Crisis Team or the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. 

You will find additional help and support at the bottom of the post. 

Where has Christmas gone? It's amazing how quickly the festive period passes by, and I'm certainly feeling it today. Thanks to my body clock deciding it wants to act up again, I woke up before 5am and couldn't nod off, despite a five hour trek in the sales yesterday and then going to bed at 12.30am. At least it meant I could get lots done and get today's blog post done a little earlier than usual.

Today's personal story comes from Jen and her experiences of living with self-harm. First up, here's some information.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm describes when someone intentionally hurts, damages, or injures themselves as a coping mechanism, whether it be to express distress, relieve insufferable tension,or to communicate when no other words seem quite right. It's extremely difficult to narrow down what self-harm is in just one blog post, as the causes behind self-harming are very different for each individual. Not only can self-harm take a physical form, but it could also involve individuals generally not taking care of themselves or taking unnecessary risks, for example.

It's important to remember that self-harm doesn't necessarily equal suicidal, nor should it be take for "attention seeking." I found this very important point on Mind's website on self-harm - "The size of the wound isn't a measure of the size of the conflict inside."

What are the types/"symptoms" of self-harm?

This is not an exhaustive list, but self-harming may involve:

  • Cutting and/or burning the skin
  • Small overdoses and/or poisoning
  • Using objects to hit against or swallowing or putting objects in themselves
  • Hair pulling (trichotillomania) or skin-picking excessively (dermotillomania)
  • Substance misuse/addiction
  • Deliberately under or over eating  
  • Taking unnecessary risks (for example, staying in an abusive relationship)
  • Less "obvious" forms include smoking, drinking too much, working excessively or anything else that means an individual is not taking care of themselves and to avoid addressing the problem at hand. 

Those who self-harm tend to try and conceal it due to the stigma associated with it, and for fear of being "found out." They may wear long sleeves despite how hot the weather is, or they may use heavy makeup to cover up bald patches or cuts/bruises. They may also show signs of depression, such as being tearful and have poor self-esteem. 

Many use self-harm as a way to regain some control in their lives at one point, and so, they do not want this coping mechanism taken away. If you feel that someone you know is self-harming, remember to be sensitive and understanding. Remain sympathetic and be patient. Don't judge, just listen. Do not react in anger.

What's the treatment?

As previously mentioned, this varies greatly depending on the individuals circumstances. As usual, always see a GP for further information and always call 999 in an emergency.

The most important thing to remember though is to not judge and lend a listening ear whenever needed. Offer to support them if they choose to seek professional help.

Self-harm usually indicates a personal struggle for someone, for example bullying, substance misuse, mental health disorders, or bereavement. Many find working on this underlying cause helps them in their recovery towards not self-harming. 

There are some fantastic tips online as to how to manage self-harm urges. Here are some I've picked out: 
  • Tangle toys. I have one of these and love it! My husband has one too that he keeps at work and plays with whilst he's in meetings. You can get them cheaply from Amazon in a whole range of colours and textures. Mine is the same as this one. They only cost about £3 or so. 

  • Get creative. Lots of people find that writing, drawing, scribbling, painting or anything that involves using your creative skills and your imagination will help provide you with a distraction. 
  • Ground yourself. Use techniques such as the STOPP method, and Mindfulness, to ground yourself, aiming to rid yourself of tension and anger. Google "grounding techniques" for lots of ideas. Try calling someone to distract your mind, or eating something with a very intense flavour or temperature (try a really sour sweet or an ice cube).
  • Snap rubber bands against your skin when you feel the urge to self-harm. It gives the same "effect" without the lasting consequences. You could also try drawing where you'd normally self-harm in a red pen. 

Jen's Story

Trigger warning: If you are currently struggling with self harm, please make sure you are safe before reading. 
"So, apparently if you get the urge to self harm you should try not to act on it for 15 minutes. This can be enough time to let the urge subside, and may mean that you can avoid hurting yourself. I thought I’d try to spend 15 minutes writing, and see what happens. And since self harm is the reason I’m writing, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about it. 
I am now 27 years old, and I have tried to stop self harming quite a few times. I actually managed to stop cutting for about two years (although I do admit to a couple of slip ups). But the urges never seem to go away completely, and recently things have become more difficult again. 
I don’t know when I started self harming. I can’t remember. As a child, overwhelming feelings very often led to me hurting myself in some small way. It made me feel more in control. When I was a teen, this escalated as I became more depressed, and by the time I was 18 I was cutting frequently.  
It’s important to realise that we all have ways of coping. Some are healthy, some aren’t. People turn to drugs (both legal and illegal), alcohol, violence, restricting or purging food, and also to self harm 
Everybody’s experience of self harm is different. People cut, hit or burn themselves. Some people take smaller overdoses (something which can be really dangerous, and definitely not to be recommended).  
When I deliberately cut myself, it’s a release. I am still working on stopping, on developing less destructive coping mechanisms and using them. 
I feel that it’s important to say that although I get the urge to, I no longer self harm every day. Or even every week, or month, actually. Over the years, I have become more aware of my thoughts and feelings, and things that work for me. I don’t tell myself that I will never self harm again, I just say that I won’t do it right now. But using this kind of thinking I can sometimes put off hurting myself indefinitely. And every time I want to self harm, and don’t, I feel a huge sense of achievement, which makes me feel stronger and more able to put it off for even longer. 
There is a huge amount of stigma surrounding self harm. I’ve lost track of the number of jokes I’ve had to grit my teeth through, and the strong opinions that people have expressed without having any consideration for who may be around to hear it. It’s seen as attention seeking (even though most people who self harm, myself included, work hard to keep it hidden). Even some doctors and nurses fail to act appropriately when faced with someone who self harms. I know for a fact that my current psychiatrist struggles to work with me because of my self harm. I’m hugely lucky that my partner is supportive and that I have an understanding therapist. 
Stigma is the main reason I’m allowing this to be published. Because it’s important that people know they’re not alone, that they’re not the only ones who are struggling. No matter who you are, how old you are, or how much physical damage you’re doing to yourself, it is so so so important to ask for help – whether it’s a friend, family member or a doctor or counsellor. If you come up against a negative reaction, ask someone else. And keep asking ‘til you get the help you deserve.  
Well, that’s been longer than 15 minutes, and you know what? I feel a bit better. "
You can read Jen's blog by visiting her website - jendotwilson or follow her on Twitter by clicking here.
Further Information

Friday, 27 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 2 - Depression

So glad to be sitting down and blogging after spending goodness knows how many hours sale shopping. Mind you, I got a fair few bargains (hello, new handbag) and we had breakfast at the Waffle House, so I'm happy.

Anyway, on wards to day two in "12 Days of Mental Health." Today, a lovely friend of mine, Lucy, will be sharing her story about living with depression and what she has achieved since her diagnosis. First up, here's some information about depression. 

You will find numbers and helplines at the end of this post of where to go for immediate support. 

What is depression?

We will all experience times of sadness in our lives, and for most of us, this low mood will eventually subside. Depression, however, is much more persistent and symptoms can really interfere with a daily routine. 

Depression affects different people in different ways. Later on in the 12 Days of Mental Health we will hear more about variations on depression, for example Post-Natal Depression (PND). 

What are the symptoms/signs of depression?

There's no test that can be done to see if you have depression. Common symptoms often include:
  • A general "low" feeling that doesn't seem to go away, or comes and goes on a frequent basis
  • Being unable to get pleasure from activities you would usually enjoy doing
  • Having difficulty sleeping, whether that be too much or too little
  • Withdrawing yourself from others
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and inadequacy
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
  • You may also experience suicidal thoughts and/or self harm (including alcohol and substance misuse) 
  • Feeling anxious
  • Decreased sex drive and appetite (in some circumstances, individuals may eat more than normal)
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth 
As usual, ALWAYS visit a healthcare professional for a formal diagnosis.

When visiting your GP, they may want to do a blood test to rule out any other physical illnesses that may possibly be causing your depression, such as a thyroid problem. Otherwise, they will normally be able to make a diagnosis after talking about your experiences over the past few weeks. In my personal experience, I have often been asked to complete the PHQ-9 questionnaire (have a look at a copy of that here). 

What's the treatment? 

For many people who are living with depression, negative thought patterns can be a downward spiral into a deeper depression, so it's important to try and nip them in the bud. Many people find that learning CBT helps to break this cycle. You can access CBT in many ways - speak to your GP to see what they can offer you. Alternatively, there are some great books and online resources you can work through. 

There's a good case for exercise being beneficial for combatting depression. Whether you're a keen runner, or like to dance while you're doing the hoovering, give it a go and help stimulate the release of endorphin into your brain. Your GP may be able to refer you on to an exercise referral programme. Don't forget that it's also important to maintain a good diet, and keep watch on your alcohol intake. 

Other talking treatments include counselling and psychotherapy. Talk to your GP about free and low cost counselling options near you. 

Having a good social network is also vital. Whether it be family or friends, challenge yourself to speak to someone, even if it's just a phone call. For some people their depression stops them from working, so consider volunteering if you feel able to.

Medication is also another option. It might not always be necessary or the right option for you, and you might have to try a few different types before you find the right one. Your GP will be able to tell you everything you want to know. 

Lucy's Story

"I guess an introduction to me would be a good start. I’m Lucy, 19 years old, from South Wales (the best part of the world, I know). I’m training to be a primary school teacher and I love to blog!

Three years ago in January I was diagnosed with depression. Depression took over my life. I wouldn't go out or eat, had periods of not being able to sleep and also period of constantly sleeping. I lost interest in everything, had no idea what was going on, couldn't see any hope and wanted out of this life.

However, here I am today alive, well and happy, because there is always hope even when you can’t quite see it.

There are a lot of negative perceptions about mental health diagnosis, but just because what someone may be dealing with I given a name, it does not have to become a life sentence. 

All of my major achievements in life have been achieved after my diagnosis. You see, diagnosis isn't a life sentence. It just means you may have to adjust how you’re living to get the most out of your life. It’s OK to deal with mental health issues, it’s OK not to be OK all the time, but that doesn't have to stop you living.

Since my diagnosis I've completed my GCSEs and A levels, I've raised a lot of money for charity, including over £3,000 for a charity which enabled me to go to Australia (and Malaysia on the way). I've modelled for Julien MacDonald, travelled to Switzerland and France, got into university and made some incredible friends and met some amazing people on the way.

Yes, it can be hard dealing with these things, but there’re always more than one way of doing things. You don’t have to be earning millions to achieve your goals or be the best you can. The greatest achievement you can have in life is to be yourself and live your life to its fullest.

If you have a dream, chase it. Don’t let a label hold you back. Don’t let uneducated ignorance get in your way. Use that ignorance to educate. Don’t let a label define who you are, take the diagnosis and live anyway.

Life doesn't end with the diagnosis of a mental illness…It begins a new day of a whole new life."

Follow Lucy on Twitter by clicking here.

Where can I find out more? 

If you would like immediate support, please call the Samaritans who are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year on 08457 90 90 90 (UK). You do not have to be suicidal, and you can remain anonymous. 

Thursday, 26 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 1 - Social Anxiety

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate the occasion, and I hope that everyone is well. You may have seen on Twitter that from Boxing Day I will be doing a new blog each day for "12 Days of Mental Health". I think traditionally the "12 days" thing should start on Christmas day, but I spent most of yesterday filling up on turkey and playing party games, and so, here we are.

Our first story today comes from a good friend of mine, Joe. But before we hear of his personal experience, here's some information about social anxiety. Considering the amount of pressure there is around this time of year to see family and friends, it's definitely a topic we should all consider and learn more about.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, also known as "social phobia" is the term used to describe persistent anxiety linked to social situations and/or being around people.

Those who suffer from social anxiety may have one specific phobia, such as public speaking, or using the telephone. For some individuals, however, they may have such a fear of behaving in a certain way or embarrassing themselves that they withdraw from social contact completely.

What are the symptoms/signs of Social Anxiety? 

We will all face situations in our lives which are anxiety provoking, such as public speaking in class or having a job interview. What is important to note however is that social anxiety is not just a form of "shyness", and can be an extremely debilitating disorder. Some of the signs might be:

  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Going out of your way to avoid social situations and potential "triggers" such as talking to strangers, using public toilets, eating out, or in some cases, employment. 
  • An overwhelming fear of others noticing your anxiety
  • Recognising that your fears and worries are "excessive" or "unreasonable"
  • You may also have other phobias such as agoraphobia
  • You may experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks

You may have one or several of these, and it's ALWAYS advised you visit a healthcare professional before diagnosing. 

How common is it and who gets it?

Social anxiety tends to be more common in women than men, and often starts during adolescence. According to the Patient UK website, as many as 1 in 10 adults have social anxiety to some degree at any one time. 

What's the treatment? 

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is one of the most effective types of treatment for social anxiety. Speak to your GP to see how you can get access. Otherwise, there are some good online resources for self-guided CBT, along with self-help books. 

For some individuals, medication may be considered. Once again, what works for one person may not work for another, so always speak to your GP in the first instance and understand the pros and cons.

Joe's Story

"Well, hello! This is the first time I've ever dipped my toes into the world of blogging so don’t be expecting the works of Shakespeare!

My name is Joe, I’m 19, Scottish and I suffer from Depression, Anxiety and Social Anxiety.

I was officially diagnosed in June 2013 after suffering since February 2011 when I lost my father to cancer. As I was at a fragile age, it took me a while to go see the doctor, as I just put it down to “oh it’ll be my hormones.” Looking back, it was a real battle sometimes.

One of the biggest obstacles I've faced was the social anxiety. After leaving school, I went to college, and studied Computing Technical Support. The thought of college was very daunting, meeting all these new people, and doing it by myself. But what I have learned is, social anxiety does NOT define who you are, this is my third year of living with it, and only a handful of people know I have it, my friends believe me to be a confident individual who is often the life of the party so to speak. You can still be the person you want to be, it’ll be tough, and every day can be a battle, but no-one and nothing can stop you being the person you want to be, you are unique!

I’d be lying if I didn't say sometimes I wanted to give up, but by giving up, you are conceding the thought nothing will ever change. If we have hope, then there is no reason things can’t get better.

Here’s me, I struggled, with my mental health issues, and the loss of my father, but I’m sitting here just now, with an Higher National Diploma, a support network of amazing friends, some of which I’d never even had met if it wasn't for my circumstances, and for all I’m not happy with the way it happened, I’m proud of the person I've become, and you should be too. 

Because like me, you are still here, still fighting, and one day, we’ll win this fight.


If you'd like to follow Joe on Twitter, please click here.

Where can I find out more? 

I also personally recommend reading this article on the BBC News website posted just this month. It's great to hear social anxiety being highlighted at this time of year. Click here to read it.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Guest bloggers wanted! 12 Days of Mental Health.

I'm really excited that after a good response on Twitter, I'll be running a 12 Days of Mental Health starting Boxing Day with guest blogs!

Each day will highlight a different mental health condition, however, the catch is that they are ultimately positive. I want guest bloggers to find the writing itself therapeutic if possible, and realise that by sharing their story, they may be helping someone else realise they are not alone in the battles they face.

Blog posts will be about an individuals personal experience, and what they have achieved, regardless of this. No matter how big or small, every success should be celebrated.

There will of course be some informative stuff to help those who are unsure of why they are experience the symptoms they are, or to help understand the diagnosis of a loved one.

Would you be interested in taking part? I've already got a great response, but I'm looking for those who might have not ever blogged before. Don't worry - you don't need to be a hardcore blogger, there are no rights or wrongs. I just want people to share their story and recognise their achievements so that we can all celebrate together.

So far I have posts coming up on...
  • Anxiety
  • Social Anxiety
  • Psychosis (also touching on drug and alcohol misuse) 
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Post Natal Depression
Ideally, I'd like guest bloggers who are comfortable to share their experiences of OCD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, phobias, or anything else they would like to share. 

I feel incredibly honoured that my husband will also be writing a blog post about what it's like living with someone who has a mental health diagnosis. His post will be coming up first on Boxing Day so please grab a turkey sandwich and have a read. 

If you would like to get involved, you can contact me on Twitter (@Kimmobug), leave a comment on this blog post, or email me. 

There aren't really any requirements, but here's a basic outline of what I'd like:
  • A bit about you. No need for names if you don't want to. Whatever you feel comfortable sharing.
  • A bit about your diagnosis. What's it like to live with on a daily basis?
  • What have you achieved since being diagnosed? Did you face a fear? Do something out of your comfort zone? Help another person? No achievement is too small. 
  • What are your words of wisdom for those who have been through/are going through a similar experience? 
There's no word count as I would like bloggers to use the therapeutic process of writing. I may need to lop out a few words and put in trigger warnings if deemed necessary, but I will ALWAYS inform bloggers before publishing. 

It's also worth me noting that you will need to tell me if you would like to remain anonymous. Likewise, if you have your own blog, let me know, and if I deem appropriate, I am happy to link to this when posting your blog (I don't want anything too advertise-y, if that makes sense as I am trying to make this therapeutic for everyone where possible). 

Please also note that by sending me a blog, you give me permission to publish on my blog, the Hopeful Hummingbird. I reserve the right to remove the blog at any time, if I deem necessary. 

Sorry to sound boring, but it's important you are happy with the above before publishing. 

Thank everyone for your support, and let me know if you have any more questions. xxx

Things that are happening for the Hopeful Hummingbird.

Instead of constantly pestering you all on Twitter/Facebook, I thought I would do a little post about a couple of awards I've been nominated for. I would love your vote if you think it worthwhile. I am more than happy to accept there are some fantastic inspirational people out there who have produced some incredible blogs/vlogs, campaigns, or made a mahoosive difference in the mental health world who really do deserve your vote.

If you would like to vote for me, here's a little more information. First up is the WEGO Health Awards. I have been nominated for the "Best Kept Secret" category (I like that title..!) I feel really honored to have just been nominated for this. You can view my nomination page here - http://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/kimberley-1030. To vote, you'll need to "endorse" me (not quite sure what that means and how it works I'm afraid). I believe the closing date is 31 December.

Secondly, my blog has been entered in to the Young Persons Blog Award category in the UK Blog Awards 2014. This website/network is great to meet other bloggers, share ideas and see what else is out there, and I've learnt a lot from their Twitter talks they hold on a weekly basis. You can vote here if you'd like to - http://www.blogawardsuk.co.uk/blog-entries/the-hopeful-hummingbird/. The closing date is 13 January.

Thank you so much in advance if you choose to vote for me, it means more to me than you'll ever realise. I do try to put as much work as I can into this blog, and to have it recognised is an amazing feeling.

Thank you. xx

Sunday, 22 December 2013

This Week in Mentalists Awards 2013 - Runner Up!

Yippee! Cause for celebration indeed. :-)

I found out this week that my blog came runner up in the "Helpful" category in the This Week in Mentalists Awards 2013. I'm over the moon! I even got this fancy badge which I'm very chuffed about.

There are some amazing blogs that I highly recommend you read that were either winners or runners up in the awards. If you'd like to see a full list, you can see them all here: 

Thank you to everyone - to those who nominated me, to the judges, and to those who just read my blog every now and then. It's a wonderful feeling to know that my experiences are being shared with others in a positive light.


Monday, 16 December 2013

The after-hours imagination of Kim.

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed my sleep become quite poor again.

Ever since I was little, sleep has been an "issue" for me. I remember going for sleepovers and asking my friends "how do you manage to get to sleep so quickly?!" with their reply always being something useful like "well I'm tired." I used to be in awe at how they could be snoring to their heart's content within five minutes of their head hitting the pillow.

I've been a sleep-talker for years. My most commonly used phrase is shouting at my sister, telling her to get out of my room. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever actually had a dream about that scenario..! I get quite loud when I talk, and have often woken up the entire household while I'm still in the land of nod (oops). My talking and/or shouting will frequently wake me up. It's horrible when I'm chattering away and I wake up mid-sentence. I tend to feel really out of sorts, which I've always put down to it being a very blurred line between being awake and asleep. I've been quite lucky to have experience a few occasions of "dream giggling" and waking up to that - I must admit, that does brighten my day.

In the past, when I've been particularly low, or The Man is close, or I've been quite high on the anxiety scale, my sleep becomes disturbed. That could be not being able to drift off for hours on end, or waking up in the night due to anxiety for example. But recently, I've wondered if the reason I have been so tired is because of the dreams I've been having, and for the first time ever, I've decided to keep a track of them.

The Dream Dictionary & Record book I picked up from The Works for about £2 when I was on honeymoon. It has some basic dream interpretations at the back, and space to write about your dreams with really handy prompting questions.. You're encouraged to try and recall details like interiors and colours. The only downside of the book is that I can't write in something so small! The line spaces are minuscule and I have quite big writing, so I bought a cheap notebook and have decided to use the diary as a guiding tool.

I've only been recording my dreams for the past three nights or so, and therefore, I'm yet to decide what I'll do with the information. What I have found is that I really enjoy doing this. I have extremely vivid dreams, and being able to write every excruciating detail down is oddly quite comforting. I've even thrown in the odd doodle when I've thought it might help jog my memory at a later date.

What have I recognised so far? Well, a lot of my dreams seem to have something to do with control, for example not being able to fix a situation, or protect someone from getting hurt. And when I'm struggling in a dream, no one listens. People seem to ignore me completely, and I get the impression I deserve this treatment. I'm able to write down how I feel in the dream, which might come in use at a later date somehow. I can recall if I felt panicked or anxious, if I was tearful, in a rush, frustrated or scared. I think this is some way perhaps in which my anxiety is manifesting itself through my dreams.

I told my OT today that this was something I'd started, and he asked some good questions, most of which I didn't really have an answer for! He asked what I thought I might get from this, and how it might be useful, and I hesitated. What will this solve? I can't control a dream, as far as I'm aware, so what's the point in jotting essays about it down? The only thing I could think of at that moment was that it gives me something to do, a focus. For some unknown reason, I feel I should be doing it. Plus, I enjoy it. It's like a make-shift story I've created from scratch, which, however nasty and cruel they can be, is actually quite interesting to watch unfold.

Another thing I chatted to my OT about was that I'm not doing this for any spiritual reason. What I do believe though is that there is a "message" in my dreams of some description, but I think it's a way of my mind telling me I'm not looking after myself somehow and I need to figure it out. Maybe these dreams about control are indeed linked to my anxiety, and therefore, I need to establish what it is I'm worried about not being in control of. The upset/anger/frustrated parts of me in the dream seem to be a running theme, and I wonder if this is more of a mood thing. I'm struggling to bring myself up from lows at times, so what do I need to change to avoid me falling too low in the first place? Am I frustrated in my dreams because I'm frustrated with myself in "reality?"

I don't believe that my dreams will be the answer to everything, but what I do know is that they're some sort of reflection of my current state of mind, and it's like a little warning light that has come on to inform me to take care of myself. Perhaps this is a positive step - I'm becoming more active in keeping track of my moods in some ways.

Watch this space and we'll see what happens..! I'd love to hear from anyone else who has kept/keeps a dream journal and whether they have any hints or tips for the complete novice over here.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Minds Like Ours - 24 Hour Sponsored Talk. Get involved!

You might have read my previous blog post before about Minds Like Ours (read it here if not). It's been amazing to watch just a small group of like-minded individuals grow and blossom into something absolutely incredible in such a short space of time.

This non-profit organisation, headed by Bex Walton, has an ever-growing community with its online forum, social media groups (both open and private), and sharing of stories through blogs and videos. You'll always catch them getting involved with the health headlines of the day, and providing a fantastic support network for all those involved whilst also aiming to stop stigma and educate about mental health.

They recently held their first successful event, the MiLO Mad Hatters' Tea Party, in London. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it, but it sounded fantastic and they're planning to do more in the near future!

But they aren't stopping there - nothing seems to get in the way of this lot just getting bigger and better! This Friday (22nd November 2013) they're hosting a massive event...

That's right - a 24 hour sponsored talk, streaming live through YouTube. Incredible or what?!

You'll find the full schedule of the 24 hours right here - make sure you give them a look at and take note of the key. Triggering content is marked, so look after yourselves and be aware of what's coming up.

There will be quizzes, Q&A's, personal stories, discussions and a chance to learn about mental health and wellbeing.

I'm planning on getting involved, so why not come along and support? You don't have to stay the whole 24 hours, but if you fancy it, stay tuned in. The more the merrier!

Minds Like Ours are asking for any donations that you feel you can give to help them pay towards the cost of charitable status. Think of how far they've come already and just imagine what could happen if they had the funds to get bigger and better.

Please visit this website and donate what you can - every little penny really does help.

If you want to find out more about Minds Like Ours, visit their website: www.mindslikeours.co.uk

Friday, 15 November 2013

Winter is on it's way, time to "wrap up."

We all know that growing up, we'd be told to make sure we wrapped up before leaving the house during the Winter. I remember many occasions of being a woolen bundle arriving at school with vests underneath, never-ending scarves, mittens and of course a bobble hat. I was also lucky enough to have a frog umbrella which everyone was incredibly jealous of.

Anyway, you may have noticed there's a nip in the air. I HATE Winter for all sorts of reasons. I hate the illness that comes with it and the dark afternoons that drag me down with them. I have a shorter fuse, and seem to somehow get angry with the cold (not quite sure how that one works). I come home and feel completely unmotivated to do anything other than sit under a blanket and eating a biscuit of some description, along with a cuppa.

We try and look after ourselves physically in Winter. We turn the heating on, eat soul food, dress appropriately and try not to risk driving unnecessarily when it snows. We make sure we're stocked up on de-icer. We take vitamins to ward off colds and flu, and drink hot chocolate to keep us warm. But what do we do to look after our minds at this time?

Winter is a difficult time for many including the elderly, those in care, and those facing financial hardships, for example. Christmas adverts on the TV can make you feel like you're not earning enough to have the "perfect Christmas", and the short days make it seem like you're not seeing any daylight.

For me, I associate Winter primarily with illness, especially stomach bugs and the dreaded Norovirus. For an emetophobic like myself, hearing things like "yeah, there is a lot of it going around right now" and "it's that time of year" makes my panic levels rocket. Some people are quite open and graphic about their experiences of having a stomach bug, something I would personally rather they'd keep to themselves. I don't need to know how much weight you've lost, how you felt like you were at death's door and how everyone in your family is being struck down and none of you can move.

The darkness and cold are also incredibly detrimental to my moods. I'm naturally a cold person, and even in the Summer months I'll be wearing a cardigan 90% of the time. Come Winter when those temperatures hit zero, I wish I could run away and hibernate for some time with a hot water bottle.

Whilst it sounds like this type of depression will never pass, for some of us, it will lift again come Spring time. For some, this may not be applicable, but for those who suffer from SAD, they may get some relief from certain treatments and therapies.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is the term given to those suffering from a bout of depression during the Winter months. Symptoms might include lethargy, lack of concentration, difficulty in concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and despair, weight gain and disrupted sleeping. Symptoms can start any time from September and carry on for any period of time up until around April. This condition can be incredibly debilitating for the 3 - 6% of people living with the condition. There is a milder form of the condition often referred to as "Winter blues" or sub-syndromal SAD (S-SAD), with sources stating anything up to 20% of the UK population may be suffering from this level of SAD.

So how can you keep your mind warm and wrapped up safely?
  • Go back to basics. Natural light will do you the world of good. Take a friend or family member if you think this will give you a bit more motivation. Talk and share your feelings with loved ones - don't face it alone. 
  • Eat well. Get those five a day. The more colour on your plate, the better. Whilst it could be difficult, try and enjoy the time to eat comforting foods like good old pie and mash. I always finds this gives me a warm tummy and a bit of a smile. 
  • Give yourself something to look forward to, and make plans for Spring/Summer next year. Whether it's a holiday or a day trip out, give it some love and attention. 
  • Medication is an option. Of course you will need to discuss this with your GP, and every individual is different. What works for you might not work for someone else.
  • Try talking therapies such as CBT or counselling. Plus nothing beats a cup of tea and a catch up with someone you've not had the chance to see recently. 
  • Light therapy is another option. If you have the money, look into getting a light box specifically for those suffering with SAD. But take into consideration that it requires a level of commitment and time to work.
  • Exercise where you can. Some areas provide Winter walks, so investigate to see whats happening where you are. It doesn't matter if you can't run a marathon, walking the dog counts, or a walk to the shops will give you some time to get some of that vitamin D goodness. 
  • Consider practicing mindfulness meditation. There are apps you can download or see if there's a course in your area - it will get you out of the house too.
I'm not a professional, I can only take what I think is good advice and share it. 

I think for me, one of the most important things I've learnt over time is that it's alright to take a day out. Sometimes, getting out of bed is a struggle and the world can be a bit too scary some days. There's nothing wrong with that. You're not a bad person, you're not selfish, you're not going backwards in your recovery. In fact, in some ways, you're progressing. Recognising when you need to stop for a moment is vital, and something a lot of people (with a mental health illness or not) struggle to see. So when you feel it, make a note and keep your weekend free to take some time out, and enjoy every bloomin' minute of it.

If anyone else has any tips for getting through the Winter months, feel free to share. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Diagnosis - a helpful tool or a label to live by?

After a VERY busy few weeks, I'm back! Well, mostly. I still have an awful lot of college work to do, but I've missed my blogging, so, here I am.

I've been pondering recently with this whole concept of a diagnosis. I've never really had a "set" diagnosis for some of my symptoms. Anxiety and depression, yes, but I've never had a formal thing from a doctor saying who The Man is, or why I have the repetitive thoughts that I do. It does bother me, but I was thinking today - WHY does it bother me?

If someone was to walk in, listen to my symptoms, make an assessment and write down what criteria I fit from a manual, how does that benefit me? It won't change anything. I still might wake up tomorrow and have a particularly low day, or I might wake up in the night feeling anxious. Just because someone has said I have anxiety and depression, it didn't stop those things. Right?

So how does a diagnosis help? When I first got my depression diagnosis, it didn't change a thing. In fact, it made life more difficult for me. I was about 14, and suddenly told I had to take medication. It was a liquid form of Prozac and the most vile thing EVER. All of a sudden, I started feeling angry at the world. I'd be full of hatred one day, and completely unemotional the next. Now I can understand Patient Information Leaflets better, I realise these were common side effects, but I struggled at the time. Someone had thrust this label upon me, and I hated it with a vengeance. I didn't want to stick out anymore than I did, I didn't want people to have another reason to pick on me. This meant I actually ended up often skipping Prozac and not only having erratic mood swings, but also feeling unwell a lot of the time. No one told me what depression was, how it presents itself, and how I could look after myself.

But on the flip side, I look at my anxiety and I'm thankful for that diagnosis. I remember my first panic attack very clearly and I thought I was dying. I'm talking blue lips, loss of feeling in fingertips, and oxygen mask type panic attack. I was told I was asthmatic, given an inhaler and to be careful during my Thursday afternoon P.E. sessions. Cool! I can do that! EASY.

WRONG. Obviously an inhaler wasn't much of a fix to the problems I was facing. Panic attacks still played a massive part of my life. I thought it was just this asthma, it was just new, I had to get it under control and then I'd be fine, I'd be cured! But then I started to realise, especially after I left school, that my stomach was hurting a lot. I'd feel light headed, nauseous, shaky and out of control. I'd worry about the tiniest things, I'd want to fix everything, be in control, and I wasn't. It upset me that I couldn't calm myself down, everyone else seemed so normal, why was this just happening to me?

And when a doctor told me about anxiety, it was like a massive sigh of relief. I wasn't the only one. No, it wasn't asthma, and there's things we can do to try help. Medication, CBT, talking therapies. And all of a sudden, all these doors of opportunity were opened to access support. I started to recognise my symptoms of panic attacks and knew when I needed to get out into the fresh air. Of course, as I mentioned before, it didn't take it away, but I felt a lot less isolated and that was a comfort.

So labelling - good or bad? I'm not a professional, I can only speak of my own personal experiences. For me, I think the pros outweigh the cons. Having a diagnosis is tough, but now I'm older and more able to access information, I have a better understanding of my conditions. My anxiety in particular can be somewhat comforted when I know the way I'm feeling isn't anything I need to be overly alarmed about. Without that diagnosis, I wouldn't have tried to find more information. Labelling is down to you as an individual. If someone were to tell me I had a life-threatening illness, I'd want to know more. I'd want to know how I can get treatment, what's out there, am I the only one? And I'd want to make the most of my life where I could. For me, it's no different. Yes, I have a mental health disorder, but I am NOT my mental health disorder. It might be a part of me, but it isn't me. It's like a Christmas dinner. I'm happy to have a proper roast with all the trimmings, and my nanny will always put sprouts on my plate, even though I've detested them since the day I was born. That Christmas dinner is still awesome whether I eat those sprouts or not - they're just there. As my nanny says - "if you don't want them, just leave them." It sounds so simple and obvious, but its true!

I'd love to know what other peoples experiences of getting a diagnosis is. Did it help? Was it detrimental at first and then shaped itself into something better as time passed? Have you just let it go over your head and carried on life as you know it?