Sunday, 28 July 2013

Minds Like Ours - Join the community!

If you've been watching the BBC Three "It's a Mad World" season recently, you may have caught the "Diaries of a Broken Mind" programme, which featured a variety of young people sharing their daily lives whilst living with a mental health disorder. You can read what I thought about it all here.

The programme was a massive success, trending extremely high on Twitter and reached out to hundreds of people who could identify. One of the participants in the programme, Bex, wanted to make sure that these conversations were continuing to happen in safe community, and so she along with her friend, James, set up "Minds Like Ours."

This community is growing and growing - the feedback has been phenomenal and quite rightly so. A website has already been set up, along with a forum with a constant influx of members. It features stories from those suffering from a mental health disorder in the style of blogs and video diaries. The forum is a great community where questions can be asked, ideas proposed, and it also acts as a general wellbeing hub with plenty of information. There's also a private Facebook group where members can chat to one another for support and information.

I am lucky enough to be an Ambassador for Minds Like Ours for Emetophobia and Depression, and I am honoured to be a part of such a kind and welcoming community. Bex should be extremely proud of her achievements so far, especially since she suffers from mental health disorders herself. A YouTube "welcome" video has already reached over 30,000 views in less than a week, and has been spoken about my a number of celebrities on Twitter. Here is the incredible video if you'd like to take a look.

This community is not limited by location or age, and absolutely everyone is welcome. You can choose how much or how little you want to get involved, and you can do it anonymously if you wish. I have chosen to write a blog, and here it is if you want a gander.

The community also welcomes those who care for or know of someone suffering from a mental health disorder.

I urge everyone who feels comfortable enough to do so to get involved. Minds Like Ours can only grow by spreading the word, so if you can post a link on Twitter, share on Facebook or join the forum. This could really be something amazing if we all try and spread the word.

http://mindslikeours.co.uk/ - Sharing our stories. Raising awareness.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

A little something I don't mention much: Psychosis.

This blog post is a little bit difficult, but with the way it's affecting my life right now I believe is important to share to help break down the stigma that mental illnesses don't make me "crazy" "weird" and certainly not dangerous.

When I was about 14, I started seeing someone called The Man. It's a strange thing to describe, and oddly even harder to write about. The Man was a part of my every day life. I remember the first time I saw him, I was sitting on the computer, playing some of the Sims (of course), and I saw him to my right in between the gaps in the door where the hinges are. I'd felt someone standing there for a few seconds prior and when I turned, there he was. Obviously, I was scared, but I didn't shout or scream or immediately burst into tears. I looked away quickly afterwards and carried on, trying not to let it interfere with my day.

But he didn't go. He stayed. He went elsewhere eventually, but as the days went on, he'd be there when I woke up and he'd stay with my til I went to sleep. In my old house, we used to have a landing, and that's where he stayed most of the time when I was in my bedroom. But then, I started to get frightened of him. It's important to note I didn't hear what he was saying to me at any point. I knew he was trying to communicate with me, by the way his mouth moved. But when it moved, it moved quickly, so while the rest of him was still, his mouth would move at a million miles per hour.

Gradually, The Man was starting to interfere with me so much I couldn't sleep. At first, I tried sleeping with a lava lamp (I was freakin' cool) but it didn't light up the room enough. I ended up sleeping with my big ceiling light on, which of course in turn meant I didn't really sleep. Sometimes, it wasn't enough. He was too close to me, and I ended up having to move downstairs. I'd sleep in the lounge until I had to get up for school. Of course this was a disturbance to the rest of my household - people used to use it to watch TV while having their cereal, or for using the telephone sort of thing, and when I was soundo in there, it made it difficult. But I didn't have a choice - I didn't want to sleep there! I'd take my bed over a sofa any day, but The Man would sit by my bed and I just seemed to pee him off, whatever I did. He never told me this, I just knew what he wanted as we had that bond.

I must admit, I don't remember the first time I told someone about The Man. This went on for so long that it became a part of my life I tried to move on from and forget about. I knew something wasn't right when I went to CAMHS, and I just seem to have erased some memories. I remember (after plucking up a lot of courage from goodness knows where) telling the nurse I saw who was giving me my booster vaccinations, and that did start the ball rolling. I saw the counsellor, then the doctor, and then I got my CAMHS referral and that was where I got my diagnosis of Depression.

My experience with CAMHS wasn't perfect, and so I never really did get to the bottom of why The Man wanted to be in my life. He'd decided who he hated in my life and that made it tough. I tried so many different routes - I tried approaching him, my loved ones tried to approach him, I tried sitting on my own and talking to him, but I only got upset, frustrated and scared, and if my family approached him, he'd get angry, causing me to panic even more.

I lived with The Man for about four years. If I couldn't see him, I would feel him. I know this sounds odd to people on the "outside" of my brain, but he was real to me. It was like having my mum or my sister standing there in front of me, it was no different. It's the same as when you have a sense someone is close by - it's a natural instinct that you're certain of, and I was certain of where he was pretty much all of the time.

The same as I can't remember first telling someone about The Man, I couldn't tell you the exact time he went. It wasn't as immediate as he first came, it was more gradual. I think he was sad about leaving in some ways. I'd met James, and CAMHS had left me to it, maybe I just felt more grown up and he didn't like it, I'm not too sure. He didn't leave me altogether - he left me petrified of the dark, and still to this day I struggle with being the last to hop into bed, and will always get James to help me reduce the fear where possible.

The reason I've written this post is because unfortunately, The Man has been visiting recently. Not as immediate as last time, but I know he's around. I'm struggling to go upstairs on my own accord, and last night I had to turn around and come back down. It was hard telling my fiancé that I just couldn't do it. I'm worrying about doors being open too far or not enough. I'm getting angry because I don't really know what he wants, why he's here and why he just won't tell me. I have always had the sense he's trying to keep me in line (if that makes sense) but I'm not sure how he wants to do it.

The past couple of weeks have been tough - my depression has come back full force, worse than it has in a good few years, and it's scary. The Man hadn't been around for so long, I'd rather he didn't come back at all, even if it wasn't on such an extreme scale this time (he doesn't even like me writing that!).

I am lucky to have my man with me, James, who took me to the doctors yesterday to seek the help I so desperately need right now. I owe my life to him to be honest. If it wasn't for him telling the doctor what it's REALLY like for me, I don't think I'd have gone through with the appointment yesterday and got the urgent referral I need. Along with my beautiful friend Mariana, who also suffers from depression and anxiety, she promised me yesterday she would never leave my side, no matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets. She is amazing.

Let's hope this coming week is better. Whilst a referral is scary, I've got every finger and toe crossed that someone will hear me.

Love to everyone who's suffering right now. xxx

Thursday, 18 July 2013

"Diaries of a Broken Mind" - What I thought about it all.

As part of BBC Three's Mental Health season, the next programme to be featured was "Diaries of a Broken Mind", a documentary in which 25 young people film themselves living their daily lives with a mental health illness.

My other half had been a bit doubtful of me watching at first - I'd found other programmes in the season slightly triggering, but I had sworn I would watch all the programmes as I feature in one of the documentaries myself. So, as I sat down to watch, I suppose I did feel slightly anxious. "Broken" minds? Were we "broken"? What was their reason behind the title? I later came to realise that this title was better than a previous option, and I have tried to view it in the context that you would "break" your leg, so you'd "break" your mind? Or something like that.

Anyhow, with the slight concern that this would be a bad portrayal of mental health disorder sufferers, I grabbed a box of chocolates and prepared myself. I was soon not worrying about the title though - as we met contributors in the documentary, I realised this was actually a fantastic piece of work.

Whilst I couldn't name all the contributors (due to having a terrible memory!) I was amazed at firstly, how brave they all were. Each contributor let us in to their day-today lives, and I honestly admire their determination to break down stigma. With conditions from agoraphobia and anxiety, to bipolar and multiple personality disorders, the audience was there from the highs to the lows. I can see how certain aspects of the documentary may have been particularly triggering, especially when we see people like the gorgeous Tilly struggling with her meal plan, and when the lovely Bex has a panic attack whilst out with friends, but I truly do admire these individuals for documenting such a personal part of their lives. These lows need to be seen to help break down the stigma a little bit more.

A couple of stories really tugged on my heartstrings. The lovely warm-hearted Bex with her agorophobia and anxiety hit home with me. Whilst I have not suffered with the debilitating condition of agorophobia, I could empathise with her anxiety completely. Watching her push herself out of her comfort zone was incredible to witness, and I was glad to see how her friends commended her on just going into town. This kind of support and understanding is vital, and I'm glad we could witness this taking place for Bex's sake. I did find her panic attack after leaving the club ever so slightly triggering, and I could feel my heart starting to pump harder and faster in my chest, with my hands going clammy, just knowing the feeling of what she had been going through. But her determination was incredibly inspiring, and this in turn just really put a smile on my face.

When Sophie popped up on my screen, along with her condition, I remember shouting "NO.WAY." I couldn't believe someone on television was talking about emetophobia. First I was anxious to read the word, wondering what would be spoken about, and whether I would find it triggering, but I soon came to realise that it was important for me to listen to her story. She's suffered with this horrible phobia since the age of around nine, and in that time, has tried various different therapies and medication, something I could completely relate to. I felt my head nodding in agreement, looking at her family albums and thinking "this is me". And when we followed her journey whilst coming off of medication, it hit me hard. I have felt that anger, that loneliness, that hatred of myself just too many times. I've known for a few years now that other people have this phobia, due to forums and social networking, but I've never seen emetophobia in this light. It was being talked about, and what I felt and thought was okay and nothing to be ashamed of. I will always be greatful to Sophie for "airing" this phobia. In the past, I've thought "maybe it isn't real, maybe I am the only one and I just need to get on with it", but thanks to Sophie's bravery and intellectual story around this, I woke up this morning feeling generally more at ease with myself.

Thanks to the producers of this film, we also got a valuable insight as to what it was like for friends and family surrounding the contributors. In places, I believe it showed the lack of understanding around mental health illnesses, but in the light it needed to be shown. Why don't we talk about this more? Why do, for example, people understand what a broken leg is but they don't understand what depression is? We must educate people in order to create a society that will talk about depression like they do the weather, before this stigma takes over.

One of my favourite parts about the documentary was the thought-provoking questions. And of course the one that's still playing on my mind today is the one about whether I would get rid of my disorder if I could. I'm still not sure I have the answer to that one quite yet.

What would I change? Well I suppose I'd like to have seen other therapies that may have been used. There was a lot of focus around CBT, but not so much around Mindfulness, wellbeing courses, self-help, but maybe the programme was meant to be focused around the benefits of CBT. It definitely highlighted the urgent need for more care in certain parts of England, and it proved how much it differs from location to location. We need more consistency, and desperately. I couldn't believe the waiting time for Bex's CBT especially, and seeing the disappointment on her face when she was told the length of the waiting list just said it all. One of the contributors said something that may be seen as controversial but in face I have been thinking on the odd occasion myself: it's like you have to prove you're ill enough. Yet again it seems to boil down to the fact that if your problem is mental, then you have to sit it out. But we need to try and change this somehow.

The contributors in this programme were all creative, intelligent, articulate and beautiful in their own right. I hope that this morning they have woken up proud of their achievements, knowing that they have helped others realise it is okay to talk about mental health disorders. If I could give each and every one of you a hug, I would do so!

Find out more about the programme here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0377w9h



Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Despite the sunshine, it seems a bit cloudy in here.

We've had some incredible weather in this area the past few days. It's hit almost 30 degrees Celsius, with clear blue skies that last right up until 10pm. It's beautiful. The trees are green, the flowers have blossomed, and people are wandering around with sunglasses and flip flops. I love this time of year so much, and look forward to Summer days, and yet right now, it's like a little rain cloud has appeared in my head and the forecast isn't looking too good for a while.

The past couple of weeks have been very hectic and stressful. I won't bore you with all the details because there's not much need I suppose. But it's left me feeling very low, and to be quite blunt, I've not felt this depressed in quite a while. I'm writing this post today just for my own benefit to be honest - sometimes seeing all the issues written down helps and I can work out what I need to do going forward.

My depression has started causing more and more physical problems as well, and it's making me angry in turn. My panic attacks have become a lot worse, and all of a sudden, so I'm left feeling very tired and yet I have broken sleep and odd dreams in between which in turn triggers my anxiety for the next day. My heart is racing quite a lot of the time, and even when it's not, I'm feeling so low to almost the point of tears.

The most frustrating thing about all this is I don't want to feel this way. Living with this for 11 years has already taken a toll on me, and why should I live another 11 like it? My head's a bit confused about where I need to go next with this, and I'm frightened some days about where this depression will take me. My biggest problem is the feeling I have of guilt - particularly towards my fiancé who is incredibly supportive and has always stood by me. But I don't want our married life to start like this. I want to be bringing in an income so we can enjoy life a little more whilst we're still young, and so that eventually I can go to university and study Psychology. And yet right now, I don't feel like I'm contributing to anything at all in society.

Sometimes when I'm out and about, my mind clouds over so much it's like I can't see quite straight. I daydream, my mind is elsewhere, and I can't focus on where I'm walking, what I'm eating, what I'm watching on TV or who I'm listening to in a conversation. You know that feeling in your chest when you are about to cry? That heaviness? I get that, constantly, and yet I just can't cry sometimes. It's just this weight, this tightness, all over my body and I can't ease it.

I've also noticed this headache I've had for about a week now. It's not constant, and it's just about my left eye and shoots towards the back. It is painful, but not so much that I need to take painkillers for it, just enough to be annoying when I'm trying to focus. I've noticed it comes on when I'm particularly stressed, so I know my body is telling me to slow down and look after myself.

But the problem is - how? I've tried a range of therapies since I was first diagnosed with depression. At first it was therapy with a psychiatrist, then a whole load of CBT, counselling, and even hypnotherapy. And yet I come back to this feeling. And I don't want to anymore - I'm tired of being tired, and the struggle is too strong some days. I've also changed doctors so I need to build that trust up again, which I'm hesitant to do. A change of medication has been suggested but only in a few weeks in the hope that this depressive episode will lift slightly (although I'm not sure how that one quite works - if my medication isn't right, then I need to change, right?) and it was briefly mentioned about referral to a psychiatrist. I'm frightened, but I know it needs to be done.

So what do you do in the meantime? Here we are again - The Waiting Game. Do I go back to the doctors? Do I see about a local charity who might help? Do I refer myself to the Wellbeing Service (third time lucky?) ? It's difficult - and as my doctor said herself - there is NOT enough help out there.

All I can say is, watch this space.