Monday, 17 November 2014

Anti-bullying Week - "Let's stop bullying for all."

I wasn't surprised to hear that according to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, studies have found that children and young people who have a disability (physical and/or mental) and/or special educational needs are more likely to be affected by bullying than other groups. That's why this year's Anti-Bullying Week theme is "Let's stop bullying for all" with the aim of tackling this issue and encouraging children and young people to celebrate diversity.



During your school years, it's common to hear about bullying. Whether you're being affected directly or know someone who is, most children and young people seem to have some experience of it. But when I read The Annual Bullying Survey 2014, I must admit that it hit home how much of an issue bullying still is in this country. The survey found that 45% of young people have experienced bullying before the age of 18. What I found even scarier is the impact this bullying is having on young people's emotional and mental health:. 83% reported bullying had a negative impact on their-self esteem, 30% of those who have been bullied have gone on to self-harm as a result of what they have experienced and 10% have even attempted suicide because of the impact of bullying. No one should feel or experience this and it's extremely concerning to think that despite these shocking statistics, almost 40% have never even told anyone they were being bullied.

Bullying can be hard to identify, which makes it even more difficult to provide support to someone experiencing it. If you have a disability or have special educational needs, communication may be difficult and therefore reporting bullying becomes incredibly daunting. As someone who has personally experienced bullying in many forms, and having had depression and anxiety at the time, I know how scary it is to speak up.

During my high school years in particularly, I was a target for bullies. Name-calling was the most common - several times a week a group of girls would tell me I was ugly. I was picked on for being skinny, being told that when I was older I would 'wake up fat' one day. I was spat at and shoved into in the corridor. Perhaps the worst thing I experienced was one evening when I stayed after school with a friend and we went to the toilets. A group of girls who had been bullying me for some time ganged up on us and one of them ended up physically assaulting me. I won't ever forget how the other girls stood there with smiles on their faces, some of them laughing as I was punched in the head and chest. Thankfully, a teacher spotted the end of the attack which backed up my story but the next day, the girl who had attacked me was in school like nothing had happened. She smirked at me as I walked past her on the stairs. It wasn't until my mum came up to the school that she was suspended for just two days. Even more surprisingly, I was taken into the office of my deputy head and I'll never forget his words. The school were aware of my depression and anxiety, and the fact I was receiving support for it and yet he had the cheek to say to me "Kimberley, you know how you have 'issues'? Well other people have issues too." They were trying to justify what this bully had done to me by comparing myself to her, urging me to not take the matter any further. I stormed out of his office and didn't speak to anyone for the rest of the day. This girl had assaulted me and yet because we were in school, because we weren't classed as adults in the eyes of the law, it was like it didn't matter so much. Despite the fact this happened almost ten years ago, it still haunts me now and it undoubtedly caused my mental health to deteriorate and knocked my self-esteem.

It's important to recognise that bullying comes in many forms: the Anti-Bullying Alliance describes bullying as 'the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.' Whether it be name-calling, physical abuse, teasing, threats, exclusion or cyber-bullying, all matters should be handled seriously, efficiently and with the victim's best interests in mind.

So my advice if you're being bullied - please don't be afraid. I have been in your shoes. I have cried myself to sleep, scared of what will happen at school the next day. I know that having a mental health diagnosis can make it even harder. But have faith in yourself. You deserve better than this. You deserve to feel and be safe. You deserve an education and to succeed. Your voice matters. No one else can replace you. Speak to someone, any one. It doesn't have to be a teacher. It can be a friend, your parents, your sibling, a youth worker, or if even that seems too much there are helplines and charities that can help you get through this. Do you find it difficult to say what you're feeling? Then write it down and give it to someone. Draw it. Write a poem. Do whatever feels comfortable but PLEASE speak up. Bullying is NEVER acceptable, regardless of who you are, where you come from, what you believe, whatever.

And if you know someone who is being bullied? Just be there. Ask how they are. Listen. Invite them to sit with you for lunch. Sit next to them in class. Just giving them a smile can be the most wonderful act of kindness. Don't be a bystander.

The amount of information, resources and help available is amazing so utilise it. Here are my top picks of places to go:

Anti-Bullying Alliance - A brilliant website which co-ordinates the national Anti Bullying Week. It's full of resources for children and young people and those who work with them, as well as parents and carers, plus it has a dedicated section for supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

ChildLine - ChildLine has lots of useful information about bullying on their website but you can also give their counsellors a call if you want to talk to someone. They also have options to talk to a counsellor online via a 1-2-1 chat or email.

Bullying UK - Part of Family Lives, Bullying UK has information for everyone, including information about cyber bullying at bullying at work. There is also a forum for parents and carers. They also have a helpline or you can talk to someone online.

Monday, 27 October 2014

BBC Free Speech – Can you love your mental illness?

Trigger warning: this post does discuss the topic of self-harm. 

Last Tuesday (21st October) saw BBC Three bring the topic of mental health and young people into the spotlight once again in their programme Free Speech. You may remember last summer BBC Three had a whole bunch of documentaries discussing different topic surrounding youth mental health for their It’s a Mad World season and the response sparked lots of conversation and debate, highlighting both the positives and negatives of the of mental health care for young people. Free Speech did not cease to have exactly the same effect, with their perhaps most controversial question being “can you ever like your mental illness?”

If you’ve not seen Free Speech before, it’s a lively debating show which features a panel of high-profile figures with personal, political or professional interest. This week’s guest panel consisted of Alistair Campbell, Dr. Sarah Wollaston, Zoe Hardman and Jon Watson. The show was aired lived from a mental health hospital in London with the audience being made up of those with personal experiences of a mental health issue, deemed to be the first time this has ever happened on British television. The show regularly uses social media throughout its duration to gather opinions from the general public. It’ s a great tool to encourage debate amongst young people and give them the platform to share their views.

They featured a personal story of one girl’s experience with the stigma surrounding self-harm, which whilst I found difficult to watch, it was done in a thoughtful way without stereotypical images and what I would personally consider ‘unnecessary’ information. Instead, they focused on how much of an issue self-harm amongst young people currently is and the reactions some people have towards it – a much more delicate and thoughtful way of raising self-harm as an issue in my opinion, without discrediting it yet still reinforcing how very real this issue is.  

The question that really got the cogs in my brain turning was “can you ever like my mental illness?” Apparently the reasoning behind asking this question is further to a number of celebrities speaking out about their own mental illnesses and declaring how they like certain aspects of their condition. I must hold my hands up and admit – when they first asked the question on the show, my first response was to laugh. Were they joking? Who loves their mental illness? They’ve just discussed the stigma surrounding mental illness and the astounding flaws in mental health care for it to then follow on to that question? Immediately, the pain and suffering that I have not only experienced on a personal level but have also witnessed in others sprung to my mind. I couldn’t count the number of times I have sat and imagined a life without my diagnosis, how different it would be and how much more I could do.

By the end of the show though, and after listening to how some people in the audience had recognised some positives from their diagnosis, I reflected and saw that my illnesses have perhaps given me some traits I’m happy to have. When I’m having a good day, I can recognise it and celebrate it for starters. I’m grateful for those days perhaps more than someone without the diagnosis I have and I try and make the most of them because I appreciate what it’s like to feel as though all hope as gone. Plus, what some people may class as being ‘overly emotional’ or sensitive is actually what makes me a good listener. I love hearing what other people have to say and will do anything and everything I can to help them with a dilemma. The people I love and care about know my door is always welcome with tea and cake waiting should they need it. I’m also slowly starting to learn how to say no because I know that it’s better for my health sometimes, whereas before, I’d perhaps have pushed myself to beyond what I should have done. Don’t get me wrong, I like to challenge myself and my illnesses, but I can recognise when I need to slow down and nest for a bit and I’m starting to realise that’s a good thing rather than something to feel guilty about!

So all in all, would I change my illnesses? Yes. Do I like them? Certainly not and I don’t have a shred of doubt about that! But they’ve taught me things and given me experiences not everyone else would necessarily have and that for me is a positive. I’ve gone places that I never thought I’d come back from and yet here I am. That counts for something, right?

If you missed last week’s Free Speech, you can watch it by visiting this link - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04m9twr/free-speech-series-3-episode-8.

I’d also love to hear what you think – do YOU like your mental illness?


Thursday, 16 October 2014

OCD - 'Cos it ain't all about the hand washing.

In light of it being OCD Awareness Week, I thought it appropriate (and important!) to tell you a bit about my OCD.

I'm gonna be honest - when I finally got my diagnosis earlier this year, I burst in to tears. Part of me was relieved - I had been experiencing symptoms of OCD since the age of 7, but I was also ashamed believe it or not. There's such a stigma and misunderstanding surrounding OCD that I saw it as a bit of a death sentence in terms of what I wanted to achieve in life. I envisaged the turning down of job offers, not making university or never meeting anyone who would be able to accept this diagnosis.

Now for those who know me, you'll know I'm not the tidiest of people. When I get ready in the mornings, make up brushes are everywhere, there will be several items of clothing laying on the floor because I can't decide what to wear and because I work early mornings, you'll probably find that I leave a half full coffee cup next to my hair dryer. But this does not mean that I do not have OCD. One of the most common misconceptions about OCD is that you must be cleaning your hands so many times a day or you like everything done a certain way, etc. Don't get me wrong - for some people this IS their life, this IS their reality, but this ISN'T the case for everyone. In the same way we experience the flu different to one another, people who are living with OCD can show symptoms in many ways.

For me, it's a combination. Hand washing is a big thing. I HATE germs. Actually that's not even correct - I'm frightened of them, the ones that can make me ill, hence the emetophobia. Washing my hands is a ritual and it has to be done a certain way. You might be saying "well... there's nothing wrong with a bit of extra caution," and sure, you might be correct in some ways. But imagine not being able to eat out with friends and family. If you do, you're limited before you even look at the menu. No meat (except beef), no salad, nothing that hasn't been cooked, including bread. Imagine seeing germs on your cutlery, despite them having gone through a goodness-knows-how-hot dishwasher. When you use the toilet in public, opening door handles with your foot. Scolding your hands until they're red raw(and paying the painful consequences the next morning). It might sound like nothing to you but if I can't do these things, I feel unbalanced, wrong, guilty, scared and I count down the hours of the potential window I could get ill in. It engulfs my entire concentration, even if I'm busy it'll completely cloud my focus and sense of judgement.

Another big part are intrusive thoughts that go over and over and over in my head. I'm not prepared to share them on this blog as I'm ashamed of some of them. These thoughts are NOT me, hence why they upset me so much. But there have been nights where I've laid in bed, sweating from head to toe, because my brain is telling me to carry something out or act a certain way or do "something" and it doesn't shut up. It's constant, I see the words, I feel them and my heart races. These thoughts are horrible. It's like they consume "Kim" and replace her with some other evil little girl. Now we all experience intrusive thoughts at points, but imagine this every day at some point. When you're in a meeting trying to concentrate, when you have someone you love trying to talk to you about something important or when you're sitting in a lecture surrounded by a 100 people. Then it's not so comfortable and easy to just get on with.

I have this obsession with balance as well. For example - if I don't get out of the shower a certain way, something bad will happen unless I do that bad thing to balance it out. Or if I say something positive about myself, I have to balance it out with something negative (and worse). Hence why recovery, for me, is difficult. Challenging negative thoughts means I have to do something to 'teach myself a lesson' as my brain likes to put it. Frustrating.

When I got my diagnosis, I mentioned before that part of me was relieved and I am slowly but surely coming to terms with it. Thanks to a wonderful doctor and the support of loved ones, I've been trying to learn more about my OCD and trying to understand the way it can control me. I'm not saying this in itself lessens the OCD but it certainly makes me feel less alone to know that there are so many other people out there just like me.

Which brings me on to my final point. So many people I know do not know of my diagnosis. I can hide it by hiding myself if necessary. Sometimes I am ashamed of it. Sometimes I am happy to share my story and talk about it and I hope in time as a society the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding OCD is corrected. I am still me, I am still Kim, I just have an extra 'bit' that some other people don't. So I ask that this week, you don't think of my rituals as 'weird', don't think me odd for liking things done a certain way and remember that my intrusive thoughts are not me. OCD affects individuals in all different ways but we should not be afraid to open up and talk to someone about the struggles we are having with it. That's OCD - we have to live with it and therefore so do you.



I urge you to find out more about OCD and make an effort to help OCD-UK work towards supporting those affected by OCD. They've even created a super duper website easily broken down t teach you about OCD and to understand the reality of this illness. Visit thatsocd.info for more information.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Hello stranger.

Hello and thanks for coming back to my little blog full of ramblings and rants! I've missed you all so much, and I'm hoping now things have settled that I'll quickly get back into the swing of blogging.

A lot has happened since my last post in May, more than I could ever imagine! Now I don't want to bore you with every single detail, but this post is an executive summary just to bring you up to date.

Now without wanting to start on a downer, I think it's important to address why the sudden stopping of blogging shenanigans. During May, my mental health started to deteriorate and I became quite unwell. Unfortunately, a combination of personal issues/college/general life stresses/being off of medication, etc, meant that I quickly tumbled into a pit that at the time seemed never ending. I'd also not long had my official diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Emetophobia which I didn't want to accept in some ways. My anxiety was at an all time high and I was also struggling with managing daily tasks. I remember spending many days in my pyjamas and not eating, showering or cleaning much. Days and nights jumbled into one and when I did manage to catch some Zzzz's I suffered with nightmares and often woke up bang in the middle of a panic attack.

Then there was That Day. I can't go in to detail, as I think it would be too triggering for some, maybe even for myself, but in some ways, whilst it was the worst day I've had in years, it was also the turning point. I was ordered to go and live with my mum by my doctor and so off I went to recooperate in the countryside. I turned off my phone, avoided the internet and started different medication. I was also having home visits several times in the week and while sometimes my anger did get the better of me on occasion, I noticed that a combination of this plus the love of family and friends was helping me come back to earth rather than getting lost in my thoughts.

Since then, things have taken a dramatic shift. I've met someone who has turned my life upside - down and given me a new lease of life. He not only supports me, but also knows when to give me a kick up the bum. My family have been incredible - my mum was (and still is) my rock and the reason I got through that particularly bad phase, along with my wonderful sisters, one of which even helped me to dry my hair when I wasn't able to! Even my wider family have been amazingly supportive and patient and I will never be able to tell them just how grateful I am to them all.

I've also started university! Yes, I know, I don't know how I've managed it either and to be honest, I can't quite tell which way it will go quite yet with my mental health but for now it's refreshing to be learning again and having a focus. My partner and I have moved away and we've started this whole new wonderful adventure together. Scary? Oh yes. Exciting? Without a doubt!

At the moment, my move has meant I am in a transition of moving mental health teams which is proving difficult (unsurprisingly). More assessments, more criteria and requirements I have to meet and more people I have to learn to trust all over again.

So what am I doing to stay grounded throughout all of this? Right now, I'm muddling through. I finally seem to be on a medication that works well for me. My support network is something that gets me through even the worst of days. The student support service at university has also proven to be beneficial and I'm even attending a self-esteem workshop which I'm learning a lot from.

And there you have it. It's all a bit higgledy-piggledy and right now, I'm taking each day as it comes as that seems to be the only way to work through it. I'm hoping that blogging again will bring with it the therapeutic relief that it did previously and of course, raise awareness of what it's like to live with mental illness on a day to day basis.

If you're returning to The Hopeful Hummingbird then I can't thank you enough for coming back and continuing with your support. For new readers, this is a hello! Please feel free to get in touch with me. You can contact me through my blog or on Twitter - @LittleKimmyJane.

I'll be posting a few more blogs shortly, especially with this week being OCD Awareness Week, and letting you know how my journey with university is going.

Take care,

The HH -x-

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Watch this space - The Hopeful Hummingbird will be returning to post more rambles about her life from 12th October 2014.  


See you soon
-x-

Monday, 12 May 2014

It's Mental Health Awareness Week!

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week!


From the 12th - 18th May 2014, it's Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is Anxiety. As you're probably aware, this is something very close to my heart, and therefore, I will be talking lots and lots about it on Facebook, Twitter and my blog this week. 

Since the year 2000, the Mental Health Foundation has raised awareness about many issues and topics relating to mental health, including stigma, fear, anger and friendship (plus many more). The week has encouraged thousands of conversations over the years that are working towards breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health. 

As someone who has suffered with an anxiety disorder since the age of 10, I was delighted to hear that the theme this year was anxiety. The problem with this mental health diagnosis is that many people still don't understand just how debilitating it can be and how it can affect your quality of life. From experience, I know how it can stop you living your life and how emotionally (and sometimes even physically) painful it can be to deal with. Because of this, I have decided to do a myth-busting blog post about anxiety disorders to hopefully combat the stigma just a little bit more. 

MYTH: Anxiety disorders are uncommon. 

Fact: Anxiety disorders are a heck of a lot more common than you may realise. According to a recent survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation (a link to the full report can be found at the end of this blog post), 4.7% of the UK population have anxiety problems, with 9.7% suffering from mixed anxiety and depression. Don't forget there's also the very well-known statistic that states that one in four of us will experience a mental health disorder in any given year. 

MYTH: Anxiety isn't really a disorder/illness/diagnosis

Fact: We all get anxious, and it would be unfair to suggest otherwise. We all know the feeling you get when you're about to go sit an exam, do a presentation, or face a fear. But anxiety disorders ARE real and ARE diagnosable. Anxiety disorders differ to 'normal' anxiety in the way that they are much more prevalent, consistent and in some cases, extremely debilitating. If left untreated, they can impact your quality of life and stop you from doing the things you'd normally do, whether that be work, school/uni, socialising, or even getting out of the house.

If you still don't believe me, have a look in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It's now on it's fifth edition and is used as the classification and diagnostic tool for all mental illnesses. 

MYTH: Anxiety symptoms are just all psychological.

Fact: Anxiety disorders have a very physical element to them, just ask anyone who's experience a panic attack! These nasty things which go hand in hand with many anxiety disorders can consist of shortness of breath, numbness in the fingers/toes, upset stomach, headaches, nausea, dizziness/light-headedness, racing heart, palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, hot and cold flushes, shaking/trembling, amonst others. Sometimes these physical symptoms may be so severe it might feel as though you're having a heart attack or something similar, and if you're unaware of what you're experiencing, they can be petrifying. So whilst yes, the anxiety is psychological in its roots, it also has very difficult physical symptoms at times too. It can affect your memory, concentration, sleep patterns, and can cause irritability, anger and even depression.

MYTH: People with anxiety are unable to cope with stressful situaitions and should try avoid them. 

Fact: This one really grinds my gears. 

Whilst there may be times those with anxiety disorder may need to take a step back from a situaition in order to look after ourselves and stay well, it doesn't mean they are any less able to cope with a 'difficult' or anxiety-provoking situaition. In avoiding these situaitions, it not only can make the anxiety a lot worse (as it's just an unhelpful short-term coping strategy) but it's also demoralising, lowers self-esteem and also puts individuals at a higher risk of developing other illnesses such as depression. There are effective treatments and therapies out there that can teach you how to manage your anxiety and live a life (both the stressful and good bits)  just the same as everyone else. 

MYTH: The only treatment for anxiety is medication. 

Fact: Some people find that medication is extremely useful in terms of managing their anxiety, but for others it is not an option or they simply do not want to go down the route of medication (both choices should be respected). Many people find that a combination of talking therapies and medication is the best thing for them, whilst other people have found solace in complimentary treatments. It would be difficult to list all the treatments available to people with anxiety, however, treatments may include CBT, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, exercise/healthy eating, self-help or counselling, for example.

MYTH: All anxiety disorders are the same. 

Fact: Even I have only in the past year come to realise that there are several mental health disorders that are categorised as anxiety disorders. These include: 
  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Phobias
  • Panic disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
Whilst there may be similarities between each anxiety disorder, each will have it's own set of 'criteria' for diagnosis and specific symptoms.

And there you have it. A few myths busted I hope!

Anxiety disorders are real, and whilst they can really affect an individual's life, there are success stories every day of people recovering and learning to live with and manage their symptoms. I've posted below where I've sourced all the above information from (although quite a lot of it is from my own experiences too) and I've also posted where you can access further help and support.

So are you Anxiety Aware? Get educated and don't be afraid to talk about mental health. Together we can end the stigma.

Further information, support and sources used

Mental Health Foundation - Mental Health Awareness Week - Get involved!
Mental Health Foundation - 'Living With Anxiety' Publication
Anxiety UK - Great for information, resources and accessing low-cost treatments
Anxiety United  - A social network for individuals living with anxiety disorders
Mind - Anxiety and panic attacks
Bupa - Anxiety disorders
NHS - Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Patient UK - Anxiety

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Living with Anxiety

Today I made a video about how my anxiety disorder affects my physically on a daily basis.
 
I am very nervous about this. 

Enjoy and be nice! x



Friday, 18 April 2014

Dear Kimberley,

Dear Kimberley,

Do you realise you truly are your own worst critic? And that the only person hurting you, is you?

Let's take a minute and contemplate exactly where your life is at right now. It is tough, tougher than it has been in quite some time. You're dealing with hearbreak, loss, a complete shift in your life as you've known it for a long, long time. On top of that you're still trying to manage a really intensive college course, a hectic (and passionate) job, and trying to fit in a social life somewhere too. Some people have sat across the table from you and asked "how do you do it?". Some have wondered why you're not in a heap on the floor. That doubt has gotten into your brain on many occasions, and you've started to ask yourself "what am I doing?" and "what is the point in all this?"

But have you looked in the mirror? Look at you, with your head held high, still standing, still breathing. What you're looking at right there is called 'resilience' and it is one of your most beautiful features. It really does suit you, y'know. Applaud yourself. It might not feel like you have a lot right now, it might seem as though everything is slowly drifting out of your reach, and that's difficult. But hold on to that resilience and don't you dare let it go.

Kimberley, you might be scared of anything and everything right now. Some days, it's hard to leave the house when you're feeling how you are. But every time you face that challenege, even if you only take the smallest of steps, you're actually taking a massive leap. Right now, it might seem as though the progress is so slow that it's actually non-existent, but don't be fooled. That's just That part of your brain that likes to tell you otherwise. Well listen to me - you have a choice not to listen to That part anymore. Listen to those around you, those people who love you who tell you how they can see you recovering. Look at their expression when they tell you how proud they are of what you've accomplished. Let their words of encouragement be music to your ears, and drink it in. 

It's easy to feel as though every setback is a lot worse than it is. A relapse is okay. Some days, you won't be able to conquer the world, and there's nothing wrong in that. You are human, just like everyone else. Your limitations are temporary, your fear will not shape your future, and you know this in your heart. Even when all you can do is cry, remember that it is just one day, and there's a chance to make tomorrow a better one.

Please, be kind to yourself, because how can you expect to love if you don't love yourself?

Your experiences have made you the person you are today. Your scars tell a story. Your weaknesses can be turned into your strengths, as long as you know how to use them correctly. Just think - if you hadn't of done everything you had, would you be where you are today? Of course not. Yes, it would be better if you didn't have to experience the pain, but this is just a part of a life. Everyone experiences this, and you need this pain to make you a stronger person. Just look at how you've coped with pain over the years. This time round, you're going to heal even quicker, I just know it.

You are on a weird and wonderful emotional rollercoaster, and most of the time, it's just so scary that you want to get off. But you know what? Even this rollercoaster has to come to an end at some point, and you'll get off it feeling stronger than you ever thought possible.

This new chapter coming up in your life is called Recovery. And here's a little spoiler - it's absolutely wonderful. I think it's going to be your favourite part yet.

All my love,

Me. 


Friday, 28 March 2014

Meds down, anxiety up.

I do apologise - it's been almost three weeks since my last blog post! I hate it when that happens, for some reason I feel this sense of guilt for not keeping up with it. After all, I do love blogging - the process of researching and sharing what's on my mind is something I find extremely therapeutic. But I'm trying not to be too hard on myself. The past five weeks have been extremely difficult, as I have faced this time completely medication free with little professional support. A positive, I think, but one of the toughest things I've done in a long time nonetheless. I've therefore decided this blog post will be a little jumble consisting of my experiences of coming off medication and my subsequent surge of anxiety (yuck).

Today, I am five weeks medication free. After having gradually weaned off of Sertraline for about eight weeks or so, I'm now free of the stuff completely. If you've ever been on any form of long-term medication, particularly an anti-depressant or something similar, you are probably well aware of the strenuous journey of going on it and them coming off of it - it ain't easy.

When I first completely stopped Sertraline, my emetophobia started working overtime, and I had constant worries about how I would manage, questions about if I was ready for it, etc. At first, I felt okay, thanks to weaning off gradually. My sleep pattern was a bit all over the shop at times, but it was just about tolerable if I made sure I took lots of breaks and rested when I needed to. Plus, I had the incredible support of family and friends, who would help me celebrate my achievements with tea and cake! But about two/three weeks ago now, since being completely free of Sertraline, I have undoubtedly felt the difference. It's worth nothing that personal circumstances in my life have probably heightened my anxiety anyway, but these past few weeks have almost amazed me in how different my anxiety levels have been.

Every day over the past fortnight/three weeks I have experienced AT LEAST one full blown panic attack a day. I'm not talking an anxiety attack, I'm talking I-can't-breathe-my-hands-are-sweating-I'm-going-to-die-type panic attack. A lot of the time there's no trigger, which is probably the biggest factor that upsets me. If I can't identify the source, I can't try and work towards changing my attutude towards it, right? I can recognise factors that certainly have a small impact - changes to temperature (going from a cold to a hot classroom, for example), eating too much food/not the right stuff and not getting enough sleep certainly makes me more vulnerable, but sometimes, I can be sitting at my desk, or sitting in class, and WHAM! It's like this tidal wave of nausea and "impending doom" washing over me, making me feel as though I am losing touch with all of reality. I'm no longer "Kim" in that moment, I'm just a body of nervous energy. And all I can do is run - I run out of the class, or leave my desk, and the next thing I know, I'm curled up in a ball outside, sitting on the concrete in the freezing cold as it's the only way I can "snap" back to reality. And these crippling attacks can last anywhere from 10 - 30 minutes, with the after-effects writing me off for the rest of the day. Take yesterday for example - two big attacks before 1pm that were so bad I had to come home from college and I ended up kipping for four hours (I don't sleep in the day, not ever, so I must have needed it!).


I apologise for the depressing nature of this next bit, but it's important that I'm honest with myself - this crippling, debilitating, awful experience with anxiety has left me feeling like a bit of a shell of myself to be frank about it. I'm starting to lose weight as I'm too scared to eat. I can't commit to anything "just in case" I can't manage it.

Let me give you some stats (nothing official, but everyone loves figures I guess) - my resting heart rate is around about 70 beats a minute. During a panic attack, this, for me, goes up to around 90 on average. Bearing in mind I'm not doing any physical activity during an attack, that's a big leap for me (it'll be different for everyone). It's absolutely exhausting having this two to three times a day, especially as my heart rate won't return to normal for sometimes a good couple of hours.

The worst thing is that my anxiety now feeds off my anxiety. The anticipation of another panic attack is enough to kick-start one, and no matter how hard I try and reason with myself, there's a part of my mind that just won't listen and will have a little freak out regardless. And of course those living with anxiety will know how this can trigger a low mood. I feel tearful a lot, my self-esteem is pretty darn poor, and I'm struggling to keep up with everything. Despite this, when I do try to knuckle down, my concentration and focus has gone out the window and I procrastinate. Cue Angry Kimberley. It's a vicious circle.
"Why am I finding this so tough?"
"When will this end?"
"Why can't I just get on with it?"
"Why am I such a bad person?"
I now ask myself these questions all the time, particularly during or shortly after an attack. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing friend at college with me today though during my most recent attack, who made me realise that my anxiety is also making me extremely critical of myself. As my friend said, it's only been five weeks! I've been on medication for years and five weeks isn't long enough for my system to "restore" yet. I must give it time to recover. She's right, these things can't be rushed, and all I can hold on to is those moments in between attacks and give myself more praise for those little conquerings.

And do you know what? Following that conversation with her today, I had my shortest panic attack in the past couple of weeks. Even though I had to jump up and run out the classroom and touch walls (don't ask, it's the only thing that grounds me sometimes!), the whole thing lasted about 30 minutes. I then endured the rest of my Sociology class - that's just not even been possible for me recently following an attack. So today, I'm going to hold on to that. I'm going to accept that today, I did bloody well and no one can say anything to make me feel different. 

Anxiety is hard. REALLY hard. I've learnt recently how it can devastate lives, how it can stop you from functioning, from living at all. It's so scary, and unless you've experienced it, you won't understand the amount of fear, shame and exhaustion that it entails.

But if you're reading this, and like me you feel as though sometimes you ARE your anxiety, and that there is nothing else to your life, then you're wrong, you are so wrong. There is hope. I'm not saying there's an overnight cure.  For most of us with anxiety, it's deep-rooted in such a way that digging it all up means things have to get worse before they get better. But we must hold on to those things that seem so small, as they mean so much. Today, my one positive is that I only had one full blown panic attack and a couple of mild anxiety attacks. For some people, that's not progress, but to me, it means the absolute world.

Please, if you are suffering from the effects of anxiety, don't do it alone. There is help and support available to you, and you are not alone. Anxiety makes you feel as though the whole world is against you some days, as though you're the only one feeling this, the only one going through it, but you're not. There are millions of people who do, and we must fight this together.

Please, stay strong. 


Further Information and Support

Mind - Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Anxiety UK
YoungMinds - Anxiety in Children and Young People


 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

UK National Emetophobia Awareness Day 2014

Today is the first ever UK National Emetophobia Awareness Day - yippee!

Unfortunately, I only found out about this yesterday, otherwise I would have pushed it a heck of a lot more on Facebook and Twitter, however, with it being the first ever day of its kind, I hope that more people will be made aware as time goes on.

I've decided that as an 'emetophobe' myself, posting a blog today was almost a necessity for me. Despite the fact I have about a 101 things I need to be doing right now (only a tiny exaggeration), it's important that more people are educated and made aware of this potentially debilitating phobia. 

Before I continue, please note that this blog post does use words which some may find potentially triggering. Always look after yourself first and foremost.

What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia is the intense fear of feeling or physically being sick and/or of other people around you feeling/being sick. There are also several 'subcategories' which you might come across upon researching emetophobia, such as the fear of being sick in public or the fear of being nauseated. 

Despite the fact that emetophobia is not commonly diagnosed, it is an extremely common anxiety disorder. Statistics vary, but most suggest it is between the 5th and 6th most common phobia. It tends to be much more common in women than in men. It can occur at any age, but many adults with emetophobia tend to report having experience symptoms of this phobia for as long as they can remember. 

What causes emetophobia?

There are many different reasons as to what the cause of emetophobia is. Most commonly, it can be linked back to a negative experience which involved vomiting. It might be that you were a child who was unwell quite often, or you may have had a bad bout of food poisoning. Perhaps you witnessed someone you care about being particularly unwell.  This snippet from emetophobia.com sums up the psychology behind it quite nicely (although it does tend to talk about it just in relation to a childhood experiences, the concept still applies I think): 

When a traumatic scene is witnessed as a young child (between the age of 1 to 6 years old in my experience) the subconscious mind as the body's 'protector' works out the best way to prevent the incident repeating itself. The way this works in practice is that the subconscious attaches negative emotions or feelings to vomiting and in future this teaches the person to steer away from 'dangerous' situations. Whilst the subconscious is doing all this 'protection', the conscious mind is struggling to find out where this irrational behaviour is coming from.
Rikard (2011) also theorised that emetophobia may come about as a secondary response to a negative situaition (in one presentation, Rikard uses the example of someone vomiting during a severe storm, and results in the individual associating the frightening events of the storm with the act of vomiting).

Evidence tends to suggest as well that if you have grown up with your parents or guardians living with emetophobia (or a similar fear or certain anxiety disorders), you are more likely to suffer from it yourself.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms will vary depending on the intensity of the fear and to what scale it has an impact on an individuals life. Here are some symptoms/behaviours which I've gathered from the internet and from personal experience:
  • Avoiding people who have been sick, sometimes for days or weeks at a time
  • Avoiding certain foods (the most common ones tend to be meat or hand prepared and uncooked foods such as salads and sandwiches)
  • Safety behaviours such as carrying anti-emetics (medication to prevent vomiting), hand sanitisers, mints/chewing gum, a plastic bag "just in case", tissues to open door handles, etc. 
  • For some women, they feel unable to have children due to fear of morning sickness
  • Avoiding doctors surgeries/hospitals
  • Feeling extremely anxious about long trips, for fear or not being able to 'get out' in case you're ill or in case someone near you is ill (may also avoid public transport for same reason)
  • Some individuals may become housebound through fear of contamination
  • Feeling anxious and/or panicked as soon as someone mentions anything about being or feeling unwell, often resulting in you being overly alert and almost 'listening out' for it
  • Excessive cleanliness 
  • Avoiding watching certain films and TV programmes 
  • Being unable to write or look at the words "vomit" or "nausea" for example, and feeling panicked when you do
  • Nightmares about vomiting
This is most definitely not an exhaustive list but I hope it gives just a small insight as to what an individuals with emetophobia might experience.

What impact does this have on an individuals life?

  • Women may avoid having children
  • 'Emetophobes' may avoid certain jobs and careers, and may struggle to hold down employment especially if they have a high number of sick days
  • Individuals may become housebound and socially withdraw
  • They may not receive the support they need through misdiagnosis - many people with emetophobia have been wrongly diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (due to the little amount of food they may intake through fear of contamination or nausea from too much food) or socal phobia, for example. 
  • Secondary mental illnesses may become apparent such as depression, especially if an individual feels that are not able to look after a loved one or a child when they're ill for example.
  • The constant anxiety can be extremely tiring, as many individuals with emetophobia are on constant high alert. This can result in a variety of other health conditions such as IBS, which then actually feed the emetophobia even more.
What are the treatments?

Emetophobia is often treated in ways similar to other anxiety disorders. It could involve CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) or gradual exposure therapy. This must be managed with the individual being in control of their treatment though, as understandably, those with emetophobia are unlikely to want to 'face their fears' and be exposed to vomit, no matter how gradual it may be. Evidence does suggest that this type of treatment DOES work though, so ensure you have a good therapist that you feel confident to practice this with.

Many people have also said that hypnotherapy can help with symptoms, but it can be an expensive form of treatment.

There are a growing number of self-help resources as well. Rob Kelly, the man behind the UK National Emetophobia Awareness Day, has an extremely popular self-help programme for emetophobia called Thrive. You can find out more about this programme by clicking here. (I hope to try this programme myself soon as the testimonials look incredible!) 

There may also be the option of medication for some people, and whilst this will not cure the emetophobia, it may help with someone of the physical sensations of the related anxiety.

Where can I go to find out more information and get help? 

Anxiety UK- A great information source, and if you join as a member, you get access to discounted therapies. Also have a downloadable fact sheet for a small cost.

Emetophobia Help - Anna Christie is a registered counsellor who has also recovered from emetophobia. Based in Canada, she is also able to offer therapy to anyone in the world via Skype.

International Emetophobia Society - Claimed to be the Internet's largest online forum for those with emetophobia, it's a great place to meet and speak with fellow emetophobes for information, support and advice.

Thrive Programme - The self-help programme mentioned earlier, put together by Rob Kelly.

My Story

I have a good idea of when my emetophobia started - I can't remember my exact age, possibly around seven or so, and my grandad got food poisoning. There were other things in my life happening at the time which I believe, in conjunction with my grandad falling ill, mixed up some associations in my brain and I was left with the fear of sick. My grandad is one of the strongest people you'll ever meet. He's covered in tattoos, and tanned from working outside for years and years. Seeing him fall so ill must have been incredibly traumatising for me, but at the time, I didn't realise that. As a little girl, all I saw was how just a piece of food had made him incredibly unwell and I was petrified by this. If it did THAT to him, what the heck could it do to little old me?

Growing up, I became more and more concious of people around me becoming unwell. If my sisters were ill, I would try and count down the hours until I thought I'd be 'out of the woods.' I remember the last time I was sick extremely well, but my phobia actually stops me from being able to share that experience. Just thinking about it for some reason makes my heart beat that little bit faster, and I worry that I'd be talking it up. Yes, to some that might seem a silly concept, but for me it is oh so very real. But I remember everything about that day. I remember the date, what I was wearing, what I had been doing that morning, what had happened that week. I remember the actual 'experience' and I want to cry just thinking about it, it frightens me that much.

I remember little things when I was in primary school - things like making sure there was a good enough gap in front of where I was sitting cross-legged in the hall between me and the person in front, in case I did the Deed. I even recall a time where I tried to make excuses to not have my meningitus vaccination because I was so scared of falling ill. Throughout high school, I'd go most of the day without eating as after all, they don't have refigerators at schools for packed lunches. Whilst I was at school, I didn't have to worry about cooking so much. I'd often get my mum or dad to check my food, and see if it was cooked, but I mostly went on their word and ate whatever was put in front of me.

As I've gotten older, my phobia has become worse, and I think I understand the reason for this.  When I left school, I had more time and freedom to explore the wonders of the internet. As an adult, I've learnt about the wonders of anti-emetics. I can even buy them online, it's that easy. I've educated myself on incubation periods, methods of contamination, and what does and does not kill norovirus.

I can't begin to describe how debiliating this phobia is for me. It means I'm pretty much tee-total, and if I do ever drink, I have to be feeling extremely confident that in the past week I've not put myself at risk of contamination, because if there is any risk, I won't drink alcohol in case I need to take an anti-emetic. This means my social life has suffered immensely over the years, especially as I'm only 22 years old (I've never even been tipsy let alone drunk).

If I don't have my hand sanitiser on me, I won't eat, even if I have already washed my hands with water so hot (for twenty seconds) that steam is coming off of them. I struggle to eat out in restaurants, and will only ever go for somelike like beef or pasta. Other meats are mostly out of the question (unless they're smoked) along with salads and sandwiches. 

The thought of having children is something that plays havoc on my mind. I love children, I've always wanted children, but I struggle with the fact that I am likely to have morning sickness and I'm even more petrified of the fact that I won't be able to look after my children when they inevitably catch a tummy bug or something.

My emetophobia heightens in the Winter months. Cue a lot of hibernation and sitting and waiting for the latest Public Health England reports on norovirus activity in the past week to be published. Give me a cold any day, but if you've had a stomach bug, I won't see you for at least a week. It's nothing personal, I swear, but for a few days of avoiding you, it's easier than having no sleep due to panic and feeling even worse because I can't eat 'just in case.'

Whilst the warmer months do tend to generally mean there is a decrease in the reported levels of norovirus and other tummy bugs, this phobia lives with me every day. I think about it every hour, of every day, without fault. Heck, I sometimes even dream about it. I am constantly concerned about contamination and every time someone even just mentions feeling off or the fact that their cousin from South America visited six weeks ago had a mild upset stomach just frightens the life out of me. I will think about it over and over and over again, until I end up getting myself in such a state that I end up crying my eyes out due to the unwanted anticipation of potentially falling ill.

The stranger thing that I have come to recognise about my phobia though is that I don't know how I feel about being recovered from it. Yes, that sounds daft, but I think it's become such an entrenched part of me that changing it would actually not only be incredibly difficult, but I am frightened of not having that safety net. I suppose the point of overcoming such a fear though would mean that I obviously wouldn't feel that way eventually, but for now, it's me and it's who I am.

So if you ever speak to someone who has a fear of being sick, please don't be judgemental. It's easy to respond with 'well just make yourself sick, then you'll be fine' or 'but no one LIKES to be sick' but please remember the impact of your words. Those with emetophobia can feel incredibly isolated and alone, and comments like these only build on stigma and ignorance through lack of understanding.

The one thing us emetophobes must hold on for is hope. We must remember that recovery IS possible, and this debilitating condition can be treated. Even in the darkest of moments, hold on to that tiny little ray of hope, because it is that that keeps us moving in the right direction, no matter how small the steps are.



Sources


About.com - Emetophobia 
Anxiety UK - Emetophobia  
Emetophobia.com 
Mental Healthy - Emetophobia: the fear of vomiting 
OCD UK - Emetophobia
Steve Rikard - Emetophobia causes and cures (SlideShare) 
Wikipedia - Emetophobia

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Students - mental health is just as important as physical health. Look after it!

Today is Uni Mental Health Day!

It's been great to see Twitter jam-packed with universities signing the Time to Talk pledge and raising awareness about students and mental health. As a student myself, it was great to see the stigma starting to be broken down around such an important issue. I decided that today would be a good opportunity to educate myself a bit more about the mental health of students.

It's obvious that going to university or college for the first time (and even school) can be extremely daunting. Students face massive life changes such as leaving home for the first time, living somewhere new, making new friends, finding themselves, managing workloads, balancing study/work/family/friends, and ever-growing financial worries. Therefore, many students are bound to feel vulnerable, and as a mature student returning to college, I know this feeling only too well.

Despite the fact that I'm now almost six months into my Access course, managing everything is not easy. Even now I'm worried that I'm wasting valuable revision time on blogging! I remember my first few weeks, worrying that no one liked me, that I wouldn't 'fit in' and that I'd fail like I had done before. What if I didn't get a uni place? What if I became unwell again? What if I hated the course? Thankfully, I have an incredible group of friends already, I love the subjects I study with a passion and I have four university offers. But managing the workload can be difficult, especially when I need to balance this with work, family, friends, running a house and actually having some time doing nothing.

We know that one in four of us will experience difficulties with our mental health at some point in our lives, and students aren't void from this statistic. What surprised me though is that there still seems to be a great amount of stigma attached to mental health for students. One recent study found that 43% of first year students didn't feel comfortable talking about mental health problems with their friends, and only one in ten make use of the counselling service provided by their institution. This is despite the fact that 20% of students consider themselves to have a mental health problem.

So how can we change this?

The University Mental Health Advisors Network (UMHAWD), supported by Students Minds and the Alliance for Student-Led Wellbeing, held their first University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day in 2012, with the aim to 'focus efforts that promote the mental health of people who live and work in Higher Education.'

Educational institutions need to work on creating an environment where students realise that it's okay to talk about mental health. Support services need to be accessible and made clear to students. There needs to be more done on how to help students recognise feelings of distress and what they can do should they want additional support. The stigma also needs to be broken down, and fast - in an NUS study, 64% of students reported that they had not seeked help from any 'formal' services in relation to their mental distress.

How can you look after yourself as a student then?

Seeking professional support is a personal choice. Whilst students may not want to have professional support, and this choice should undoubtedly be respected, there are plenty of ways in which you can help yourself and look after your mental wellbeing. Here are some tips:

  • Sleep - Yupp, sorry to say it, but despite the fact that you have a course deadline tomorrow, you've still got to catch some z's. Lack of sleep can severely affect your mental health, and too much of it could be a potential sign of depression. Whilst long lay ins and staying up late can be tempting, try and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day if you can.
  • Diet - What you eat and drink can have an impact on your mental health. Too much caffeine can heighten anxiety, and not eating enough (or eating the right things) can affect your concentration levels. There's some fantastic student cookbooks out there so grab one and get creative with your cooking skills.
  • Drugs and alcohol - I'm anti-drugs and I don't drink so I may seem biased here, but remember that drugs and alcohol can play havoc with your mental health. Alcohol is a depressive and can react to certain medications, whilst drugs may heighten paranoia or cause hallucinations for example. 
  • Physical activity - Exercising, particularly outdoors, can do wonders for your mental health. Many studies have proven that it can help with anxiety and depression, and boosts your confidence and self-esteem too. Look into university/college gyms, sports clubs and recreational activities. 
  • Do something you enjoy - Relax. Take a day off. Don't be too hard on yourself. If you're experience a period of low mental wellbeing, look after yourself and take a step back. There's nothing wrong with taking time out.
  • Talk to someone - If it's not a professional, then a friend or family member may be able to help. Perhaps they can offer practical advice and support, or just give you a much-needed different perspective on something you're struggling with. Remember that the little things can make the biggest differences, so stick the kettle on and have a natter. 

And if you do want help?

Speak to a member of staff at your institution, someone you can trust. Perhaps that's your tutor, your head of school or someone from the support services. Remember, they are there to help you. Many institutions provide free counselling services and can signpost you to other local agencies or specific services should you require/want it.

If you're struggling with your mental health as a student, try and get organised. Some people like to keep a mood diary that identifies triggers that cause mental distress. Work out a timetable that incoporates everything in your life, and make sure it's balanced so that you have some 'me' time.

If studying itself is causing you stress, try and plan ahead. Understand what is expected from you from your tutors, and if you're unsure, then ask. Having all the information allows you to work out what you need to do and when, and where to go should you need more help. If your struggling with deadlines, speak to your tutor. You may be able to get an extension or extra 1-2-1 support.

Don't forget as well that you might also be eligible for extra financial support. Contact your financial support service at your institution to see if you meet the criteria.

Being a student can be challenging, and for many of us, it is a life-changing experience that comes with both positives and difficulties. We need to breakdown the stigma of mental health in student environments, so don't be afraid to be open and honest - recognise that asking for help is actually one of the most bravest things you'll ever do and it is an incredible strength in itself.

Links

Priory research - UK students suffer in silence when it comes to mental health
Why is University Mental Health Awareness Week so important? - The Guardian
NHS Choices - Student mental health
NUS Student Mental Distress Survey
StudentMinds
 






Saturday, 15 February 2014

Happy (belated) Valentine's Day!

Afternoon everyone! I hope you're all having a good weekend and are staying well with this weird ol' weather we're having at the moment in the UK. We've managed to lose two fence panels so far... eek!

Anyway - as I'm sure you're aware, yesterday was Valentine's Day and so I thought I'd talk a bit about a little thing called lurrrrrve. But don't worry, this Hummingbird ain't going to go all soppy on you! Instead, I thought I'd look a bit about how mental health is affected by the 'most romantic day of the year.' We all see the 'perfect' Valentine's Day presents being displayed in shop windows, red and pink cards overtaking the stock pile at Clintons and those 'dine in for two' adverts on the tele. But what about if you're single? What about if life happens, and the day doesn't live up to your expectations? What about if you're living with a mental health disorder?

Valentine's Day is now extremely commercialised, and just like Christmas, this can put a great weight on our shoulders. We're bombarded with messages that suggest that love is measured by what you buy. Now before I go any further, I would never say no to a bunch of flowers, a meal out, or a thoughtful card (in fact, a lovely card is one of my favourite things), but I know my husband loves me every day of the year, not just the 14th February. For me personally, it's undoubtedly the thought that counts.

Being in love, or surrounded by people who love us, is good for our mental health, regardless of whether or not you have a mental health diagnosis. Physical touch, such as a hug or holding hands, has been proven to reduce blood pressure and lower your heart rate (NHS Choices, 2012). Ideal if you're experiencing stress and/or anxiety for example.

Let's consider the wonderful hormone, Oxytocin. When I was doing some research for this blog post, I got to learn all about this 'love hormone' as it has fondly been named. We release this hormone when we hug or touch someone, and is believed to be the hormone that allows us to trust and bond with one another. In women, the levels of Oxytocin increase during labour and when breastfeeding. There have even been studies that suggest those with schizophrenia who are artificially given Oxytocin experience less psychotic episodes.Dr David Fiefel, a professor at the University of California, has studied this in great detail, also looking at it Oxytonin levels relate to anxiety. You can see more about his publications by clicking here.

So, no excuse for a cuddle now, alright?

If you're single though, Valentine's Day can make you feel under pressure and perhaps feeling unworthy or unloved. But please don't fret - you can still get that boost of Oxytonin from being with friends and family. You can still get that 'feel good feeling' in other ways, such as volunteering, watching a favourite film, or treating yourself to a little something. There aren't any rules that say you can't buy yourself chocolates/flowers/perfume/a meal out, so do it if that's what you want! I'm a true believer that getting your self-care right, whether or not you have a mental health diagnosis, is the most important thing. If we don't know what we want, we can't necessarily expect others to know either.

Here are some tips for getting through Valentine's Day, no matter whether you're single or in a relationship, and regardless of if you have a mental health diagnosis or not:

  • If you're feeling lonely this Valentine's weekend, why not call a friend? Invite one over for a cuppa? Or go out with one for a meal somewhere? It's the small things that make a big difference, remember that.
  • Don't forget that Valentine's Day IS over commercialised these days, and it's not what you give, but the fact that you show your loved one how much you care about them EVERY day of the year. 
  • Show yourself some love. If you're experiencing low mood, stress or anxiety, why not use it as an excuse to have a pamper session? There's often lots of deals on this time of year because of Valentine's Day. Book a massage, have your hair done, or even transform your bathroom into a home spa for the weekend. Bubble bath and face mask = perfect. 
  • Get active. It's a great way to increase Serotonin levels, and just 40 minutes of exercise can boost our mood. So take the dog for a walk, go for a run, dance in the kitchen or hoover the house top to toe.
I know from first-hand experience that this advice might seem a bit wet, but it's true - remember that Valentine's Day is just one day. It's the same as Christmas, there's so much pressure to get it all 'right' but honestly, does it matter? In the grand scheme of things? In my opinion, no.

My husband and I agreed not to do presents this year, just cards. When I came home from college yesterday though, feeling exhausted, overworked and emotional, I was surprised with this incredible photo wall. As you can probably imagine, I was a blubbering wreck for about half an hour.

Want to know what the best thing was about this gift though? He didn't just do it for a Valentine's Day present. He knows I've been struggling again recently due to stress at college and the reduction of my medication.

He told me that he hopes that with it being the first thing I see when I wake up each day, it will make each day just a little bit brighter.


You can't really see from this photo, but he's pegged on the string of fairy lights lots of photos and quotes. The photos include ones from walks we've taken, our cats, holidays, all the good stuff. The quotes are from songs that mean something to both of us, from songs we played on our wedding day to songs from films we love. I know I am very lucky to have such a thoughtful, patient and supportive man in my life.

So wherever you are, whoever you're with and whatever you're doing this Valentine's weekend, I do hope that you're smiling that beautiful smile.





References

NHS Choices (2012) Benefits of love and sex. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodsex/Pages/ValentinesDay.aspx (Accessed: 15th February 2014).

UCSD Healthcare Dr. David Feifel's Publications. Available at: http://nbmu.ucsd.edu/Faculty/DavidFeifel/FeifelPublications.html (no date). (Accessed: 15th February 2014). 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

We're fighting the stigma, but are we fighting the shame?

This morning I woke up feeling really rubbish. Last night I knew I was coming down with something due to feeling hot and cold at the same time (how?!), stuffy, extremely tired and achy all over. I was also emotional, (which was probably not helped by the fact we'd just watched the Perks of Being a Wallflower) but it's often a tell-tale sign that my immune system is starting to struggle.

When I woke up today, that emotion over whelmed me. I felt achy, tired (despite a good nights sleep) and wanted to hide under the duvet with tea on tap. But I was meant to be going out, a family occasion, something I'd really been looking forward to. Cue the guilt.

Many people might say 'You have a cold/flu/something like that, why feel guilty? It's not your fault!" but my little brain works differently. When I spoke to my hubby, I felt overwhelmed with guilt. I tried my hardest to drag myself out of bed in to the shower, but my limbs didn't want it. I was so upset, knowing that my best option was to stay at home, admit defeat and write today off. But there was the niggle in the back of my head that I had let him down, let everyone down, let myself down. I had it in my head that I've used up my 'quota' of sick days, especially recently. Reducing my medication has been tough, and I've missed lots of events/social outings/family gatherings because of it. Some days, I can't face the world and I'm struggling to accept that it's alright to be like this right now. It feels as though I've had this 'excuse' for long enough.

When I read back what I've written and when I think back to how I felt when I woke up this morning, there's this part of me that is sad. Sad because despite how much we as a society are starting to get there with combating the stigma around mental health, there's still this underling problem of those who have the diagnosis feeling guilty or ashamed. What are we doing to tackle this problem? It's this issue that is halting the recovery of so many, and to be quite frank, it's putting a dampener on my recovery too.

We're taught from such a young age what is right and wrong. As we grow up, society, and the people around us, 'teach' us the norms and values of where we live. We learn what is acceptable and what's not. But why are there still such blurred lines when it comes to mental illness? I can't speak for anyone else, I appreciate that, but from my experience, I feel bad when I don't conform. If I need time out from whatever I'm doing, I feel like such an inconvenience, a burden, a weight on the shoulders of my loved ones. And yet why does it matter? If I can't commit to things for a few weeks, does that make me a bad person? Surely there are other more pressing issues we should be concerned about, right? Right. But why is it that I'm still left with this underlying heaviness of guilt?

I did a bit of research surrounding guilt, and found that from a cognitive perspective, guilt is experienced when an individual truly believes that have caused harm to someone/something, whether they have actually done something wrong, or not. If guilt is persistent for a long period of time, it can change how we decipher our thoughts, and we start to develop dysfunctional coping mechanisms.

So, how do we change this on a wider scale?

I don't have the answer to that, but I do know how debilitating guilt from a mental health disorder can be. It eats you up and you can't stop thinking about what other people think about you, and how much of a failure you are. You start to worry that loved ones won't put up with you anymore, which in turn just makes you feel a heck of a lot worse in the long run.

If you know someone is struggling with a mental health disorder, give them time. I'm not saying don't invite them out, or do anything with them, in fact I would encourage more of it, but also accept that everyone has days where they don't feel like taking on the world, and that's alright. Sometimes all we want/need is a cup of tea and a natter, and we need to let ourselves know this is acceptable. I'm learning this slowly, especially since the reduction of my medication has made me want to hide away from the world some days. And yes, today I had to write off to a physical illness rather than a mental one, but that's okay too. We don't have a maximum number of duvet days, it just doesn't work like that, and if we tried to enforce such a rule, we end up jeopardising our recovery, whether mental or physical.

One idea that I really love is sending someone an e-card. Time to Change has a good selection of ones you can send to a friend for free. Just click on this URL. http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/take-action/send-an-ecard It's these little things that let people know you're there for when they want to talk, whenever that might be.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hello from the Hummingbird.

Can you believe we're at the end of January already? The time seems to have slipped between my fingers this past month, and that probably shows with my sporadic blogging which I apologise for. I thought I'd just give a little update as to where I am right now as January has been a turbulent one!

The 14th January saw my 'big' assessment with my mental health team, something that had been playing on my mind since before Christmas. As the time approached, I must admit that I struggled. Weekends in particular seemed to be some sort of void for me that I just couldn't get through without a lot of tears and tantrums. At one point, I remember not even being able to put on my shoes due to this mental 'heaviness' that had clouded my head. I spent most of the day on the sofa, or in bed, and I'd only eat if James put something in front of me. My sleeping habits went completely out of sync again, and when I did get some kip, those nasty nightmares would always creep back in and I wake up in tears.

But on that Tuesday, with my man by my side, I had my assessment. Ever since I can remember, I've always found sessions (regardless of who they're with or how long they are) to be incredibly exhausting. I'm guessing that it's a mixture of the adrenaline from nerves that's built up over the prior few days alongside pouring your heart out to a bunch of almost-strangers in just one intensive hour.

I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of the appointment as there's not really a need to do so, but what I have learnt from the experience is that I feel in control of my recovery now more than I ever have.

Coming out of that assessment was overwhelming. I remember sobbing one minute, and feeling full of energy the next. I was switching from feeling angry to then feeling positive. This lasted a good few hours, and even hung over for a few days, on and off. I went to college that Thursday and going to classes was just a no go. I ended up doing some reading for my subjects instead, sitting in the café, whittling away the hours over books and tea. The thought of being around people just seemed confusing to me almost, everything in my head was too noisy and I needed it to quieten down before I could hold any sort of reasonable conversation, let alone sitting in a psychology class learning about methodology for two hours.

I went home that Thursday and I remember thinking how I hadn't accomplished anything that day, and I got frustrated. My course is incredibly fast-paced and has a huge workload attached to it. I couldn't afford to miss out on lessons, but I'd done that today. But then it hit me that I'd actually managed to go in that day. Sure, I didn't make a lesson, but I got up, I got dressed, I had some breakfast, and I sat in the college café near enough all day. I'd managed to catch up with my friends and spoke to a couple of tutors who were happy for me to miss the day. Why was I putting myself down so much? I'd done more that day than I'd done in the last week and a half. I know it might seem so minor to some of you reading, but that little switch in thinking was what I needed to realise that I am ready for things to change now. I'm ready to learn. I'm ready to teach myself compassion and self-worth. I'm ready to accept. I'm ready to commit. And even if things don't work out with plan 'A', there's still 25 other letters in the alphabet.

I'm not saying that recovery is a switch that we can decide to flick on whenever we like. I'm also not suggesting that it's black and white. But what I've learnt these past couple of weeks is that I am ready to accept that things might not necessarily go to plan. Some things in life will hurt me, sometimes I will need to take a step back, but also, there are going to be lots of times during my life that I am happy, that I'm content.

There's nothing wrong with recognising our weaknesses, but what a lot of us seem to forget is recognising what our strengths are, and being proud of them. It sounds so cliché, I know, but we are so quick to point out the flaws, especially within ourselves. We're focused, as a society, on what's wrong, what needs improving, what can be 'better.' But what about those things that are just... okay? And what about those things that are bloody brilliant?

It's time I learnt about me, Kimberley, every single bit of her. I didn't think I would ever find myself employed where I am, and being excited about the working day, but here I am. I never ever thought I'd manage going back into education, but here I am, with three universities offers already up my sleeve. I never thought I'd fall in love with someone who loves me as much as I do them, but here I am, newly-married with our three cats and a roof over our heads. By putting myself down all the time, what am I actually achieving? Because the only person getting hurt is me, and I'm not willing to accept that anymore.

I'm prepared for a very rocky, uneven, slippery journey on the road to recovery. I accept there will be times when I want to say 'sod it' to the world and hide under the duvet for the week. I accept that sometimes, my anxiety will be too much, and I'll need to just wait it out. And that, that is okay because I also accept that I'm getting there, however slowly, I'm still getting there.

Well, now you know what's been over-taking my life the past few weeks, and why finishing the 12 Days of Mental Health was so difficult for me. But we did it eventually!

If you're struggling right now, I want to remind you of something - go back to the basics. Sometimes, we become so focused on what is wrong with us that we forget what is so amazing about us. It's easy to feel as though you're the only person in the world with a black fog clouding up your mind, but the truth is, it will pass. Recovery is the hardest thing you may ever have to do, but remember, you are worthy of it.






Thursday, 23 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 12 - Living with, or caring for, someone who has a mental health diagnosis.

Well, would you look at that. We've come to the end of the 12 Days of Mental Health. Yes, it didn't go to plan, and yes it was extremely difficult to do! I've put lots of effort into research for each and every one of the posts that have been done, and I've learnt so much. I've even "met" some wonderful people along the way, and it just reinforces how important this blog really is to me.

Every single post has featured guest blogs from inspirational people who are trying to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. By sharing their stories, they are not only helping many other people who are potentially in the same position as them, but I hope they've also been able to recognise their own achievements and what they've managed to do despite their diagnosis. A diagnosis isn't a life sentence, it's just another little part of who we are - I have depression and anxiety. I also have brown eyes. I can't help either of them, and I'll manage to live with them both!

I'm very fortunate to have this last blog post from my husband, James. We've been together seven years (married three months!) and in that time, it's been difficult at times. I've had days where I haven't moved off the sofa (like right now unfortunately!) and I've left the housework all to him. I've been angry, frustrated, and tearful. My moods have gone up and down and back again before the sun has set. And throughout all of this, for some funny reason, he still seems to sort of like me. There are difficulties for both of us. Sometimes I feel as though he doesn't "understand", and in reality, I know he doesn't fully. My experiences are mine, not his - how can I expect him to understand? And on the flip side, he'll try to push me. Sometimes a kick up the bum is exactly what I need if I'm honest, and I'll accept it. Other days, well, I've told him to pop his motivational speech where the sun doesn't shine!

Either way, I love him. And I love him that tiny bit more for doing this guest blog today. First up, here's some other information about caring or living with someone who has a mental health diagnosis.

What do I do if a loved one gets a diagnosis of a mental illness?

So, firstly, it's going to sound obvious, but LISTEN. With a capital "L". Upon a diagnosis, some people may feel relieved. It might give them comfort to know that what they are experiencing isn't "wrong" or an indication of them "going mad." For other people though, a diagnosis can be extremely distressing and upsetting. It could indicate a time of great change in the form of a new treatment plan or medication, for example. Some people will even deny their diagnosis, which isn't uncommon, and is of course understandable. The best thing you can do is be patient, and be a listening ear where and when they need it. Don't force the topic on them.

I want to find out more about this diagnosis. What can I do?

We all know knowledge is power, so upon a diagnosis, look at further information. There are so many useful resources online (some are shared below) such as Mind, NHS Choices and Patient UK as more general websites. You'll also find lots of websites for individual diagnoses. Look out for leaflets as well in doctor's surgeries, or ask the mental health your loved one is working with.

Understanding symptoms can help you identify any changing behaviours, and can also help you understand the effects of medication.

Can I provide practical support? 

Yes, but be thoughtful. You might consider tidying the house as an act of kindness for someone with depression, but what about doing it with them? It's easy to go to the shops on behalf of someone with anxiety, but why don't you suggest doing the route in very small parts with them instead? I'm not suggesting you put people out of their comfort zone  unnecessarily, but independence is crucial to those living with a mental illness.

What else can I do? 

I think this bit is best left to my wonderful husband, James. I think he's pretty much nailed it after living with me for six years!

Living with someone who has Depression

Living with someone who has depression (or with any other mental illness) can be difficult. It can leave you feeling frustrated, guilty, angry or helpless, but I hope to share a few tips here to help your friend or relative, and also how to look after yourself.

These are things I've learned along the way, they may work for you they may not, but I hope they help!

1. Understanding

Understanding can be looked at in two ways. Firstly, just being understanding if the person you live with just doesn't want to do something. Sometimes it may be difficult for them to want to go out and meet with people, go to work or even sometimes just go to the shops. No one will be disappointed if you don't go to the pub that night, and just the same as if you had a cold - sometimes staying in with a blanket, a hot cup of tea and a good movie really does the trick! Understanding the need of when to say 'no' sometimes, and supporting your friend or family member when they make that decision is a big part of helping them through whatever they're feeling so they'll really appreciate it if you can look at a situation from their shoes.

Secondly, try and take steps to understand a little bit about what that person is going through. These things aren't taught in schools, so try and find out a little bit about the illness your loved one is facing. There's a wealth of information available online and whilst you may not be feeling the symptoms yourself, it becomes a lot easier to empathise with someone once once you have an idea of what's going on in their world. You will also be able to appreciate that this isn't a problem which will necessarily go away overnight, meaning you can have realistic expectations of the recovery process.

2. Encouragement

This comes with practice, it's certainly not an overnight thing! Sometimes, particularly if a person has been off work for a period of time for example, it can be hard to get back into gear and all too easy to fall into the 'sofa trap'. Sometimes what a person needs is a little encouragement to get out and about again and boost their confidence, perhaps a walk around a place you really like, or just a coffee somewhere. Little things really make a difference, and it's always a great feeling when your loved one says 'thanks for taking me out today, I didn't think I'd enjoy myself, but I did'.

As I said before this will be different for every person, but if you understand a little bit about the illness you're facing - you gradually start to identify times when it's best to be supportive and when it's best to be encouraging. There may be times it doesn't quite work out, but trust me when I say your relative or friend will appreciate the gesture.

Encouragement can also take the form of going along to Doctor's appointments as a second pair of ears and some moral support!

3. Don't Take Things Personally

Sometimes, living with someone who has Depression means if they're having a bad day you might be the only person they have to vent to and they may say things they don't mean. Remember, it isn't your fault, and it isn't theirs either! Listening compassionately and offering suggestions will go a long way.

You will learn over time when it's the illness talking.

4. Look After Yourself

Make sure you take time out for yourself. This tip could probably apply to a lot of people in a lot of situations, but it's true! It's good to remember that you need to take care of your own mental and physical health as well so it's important to continue with your hobbies, going to the gym or meeting up with friends, whatever it may be. This gives you time to process your own thoughts and emotions, and take stock of the wider world. Again, it's a learning experience because everyone's different.

Similarly, this can also help your partner. Say for example you really love movies, going to the cinema can be a great way for you both to get out of the house without too much pressure. Like Photography? Maybe a walk by a river or at the beach with some chips for an hour is just the ticket! Now what you're doing is continuing your normal life whilst also encouraging your partner to stop ruminating on their illness, even if just for an hour.

Finally, it's worth really stressing that no single approach will work for anyone but hopefully the tips I've learnt along the way will help.

If you'd like to follow my wonderful husband, just click here.

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There's not much else I can/want/need to say other than...