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?