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.


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

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 11 - Schizoaffective Disorder

I know how long it's been, and I know how much time as passed since the 'official' twelve days, but I've not been too well so please forgive me! I'm really grateful for the support and the amount of views on guest blogs has been incredible. Those who have shared their stories deserve this recognition. I'd give you all an award if I could.

Anyway, I'm nearly there with finishing 12 Days of Mental Health. Today, I thought I'd talk a bit about Schizoaffective Disorder. Whilst I've not been able to get a specific guest blogger, I've been very lucky to have permission from the lovely Jonny Benjamin to use his incredible YouTube videos.

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

What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

If we break down the word 'schizoaffective,' the first part ('schizo') relates to psychotic symptoms, whereas the second part ('affective') relates to mood symptoms. It can be described as a combination of schizophrenia and depression, and some consider the symptoms to be similar to that of bipolar disorder. 

Schizoaffective Disorder tends to be more common in women than in men. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, less than 1 in 100 people are likely to have schizoaffective disorder in their lifetime. Bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder tends to be more common in younger people, where as the depressive-type tends to be more common in older people.

There are various theories behind the causes of schizoaffective disorder, including genetics, chemical imbalances, or traumatic life experiences. Individuals with this diagnosis may experience psychosis, such as in the form of hallucinations or delusions, alongside a mood disorder, such as depression (depressive type), or mania (bipolar type).

Psychotic symptoms and disturbances to the mood may occur at the same time, or they could alternate. Many people find they experience an 'episode' for a certain period of time and then feel relatively 'stable' in between. 

Research suggests that individuals with schizoaffective disorder tend to have better cognitive functioning than individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and whilst long-term treatment is usually necessary, individuals with this diagnosis have a positive prognosis. 

What are the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder?

Symptoms can vary for each person, especially due to the different types of schizoaffective disorder. However, here is a list of some more general symptoms.
  • Hallucinations - seeing, feeling, tasting or hearing things that aren't there
  • Delusions - strong beliefs and thoughts that other people don't share, such as feeling paranoid someone is controlling you for example, or having a sense of grandiose 
  • Symptoms of depression - such as feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, changes in sleeping habits, anger, thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide 
  • Symptoms of mania - such as racing thoughts, dangerous behaviour, talking faster than usual, and inflated self-esteem
  • Lack of emotion in facial expressions and when talking 
  • Lack of motivation
  • Slow movements 
If you have experience any of the above symptoms and are concerned, always visit your GP in the first circumstance. 

A diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder is established when someone has experience psychotic symptoms for two weeks or more, in the absence of depressive or mania symptoms. 

What treatments are available?

Depending on the symptoms being experience, there are a variety of treatments available. The most common form of treatment tends to be medication, particularly in the form of anti-psychotics (the same of which tend to be used for schizophrenia). This may also be combined with anti-depressants or mood-stabilisers, depending on whether you have a depressive or bipolar type diagnosis.

Talking therapies are also crucial, particularly in the form of psychotherapy, CBT counselling. Some find that family therapy is beneficial, especially for those who live with someone with schizoaffective disorder. This provides a great foundation for everyone to understand your illness better and know how best to support you.

Don't forget there are also some great self-help resources available both online and in books, especially for mood disorders. 

Jonny's Story

Jonny has a whole host of INCREDIBLE videos, and has quite the following on YouTube (and Twitter!) now. I was so lucky to have featured with Jonny in 'Failed by the NHS' last year, and thanks to him, he's allowed me to share his videos on my blog. It was tough choosing just one, but I thought I'd pick one specifically about his journey with schizaffective disorder. 

You  can view all of Jonny's videos on his YouTube channel - click here.
Follow Jonny on Twitter too, just click here.

Further Information

Friday, 10 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 10 - Borderline Personality Disorder

So you haven't had 12 consecutive days of mental health, and I'm mega sorry about that. Unfortunately, I've been experiencing some difficulties with my own mental health and found it difficult to focus, especially as I try and put a lot of research into each post. Hopefully you'll still enjoy the last couple of posts, especially as you've waited so patiently! :-)

Today's piece has a little different approach. Mel is a lovely lady who I am so happy could be a part of my blog. Whilst she has not had an official diagnosis of a personality disorder, she has in the past had concerns over her emotional regulation and wanted to share her experiences through the wonderful work of poetry. 

So here we go - Borderline Personality Disorder.

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

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), previously named emotionally unstable personality disorder, is normally diagnosed in adulthood, with symptoms having been present for, in some people, years previous. 

Individuals with BPD tend to have difficulties making and maintaining close relationships, and may fear abandonment. Self-image also tends to be an issue for those with BPD, and it is not uncommon for them to feel good about themselves one moment and incredibly bad about themselves the next. You can read more about the symptoms of BPD further down. 

The "formal" criteria, the DSM IV considers BPD as "A person who suffers from borderline personality disorder has labile interpersonal relationships characterised by instability.” Other diagnosis' such as OCD, depression, Bipolar, eating disorders and anxiety disorders can often co-exist alongside BPD.

According to the NHS Choices website, BPD tends to be more common in women than in men. The causes for BPD vary - some suggest it is genetic whilst others believe it is environmental factors, including childhood experiences and trauma. 

There have also been more recent studies which tend to suggest that some people with BPD may have less severe symptoms as time goes on, and the majority of people live reasonably "normal" lives where they are able to function day-to-day without too much interference from symptoms. 

What are the symptoms of BPD?

Personality disorders can vary from mild to severe, and so individuals with BPD may experience only some of these symptoms, for example. In the first instance, always speak to a GP or other healthcare professional first.
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Poor self-image
  • A "series" of unstable and intense relationships
  • A fear of abandonement
  • An overwhelming feeling of emptiness and worthlessness
  • Difficulty in regulating emotions (you may have intensive periods of anger or sadness, for example)
  • Self-harming and suicidal thoughts
  • Disassociation (feeling numb or not "real")
  • Experience delusions or hallucinations 
Remember, if you or someone you know is at risk of harm, always call 999 in a medical emergency or 101 if it's not an emergency but you still need medical advice fast. 

What treatments are available? 

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be given a CPA (care programme approach) with your community mental health team. This will involve you being appointed a  care-coordinator, that together with the rest of your CMHT will provide you with a care plan along with ongoing assessments and reviews, along with a plan in place for if you should ever experience a crisis.

Many people with BPD find that some form of psychotherapy is extremely useful in terms of treatment, along with more alternative and/or complimentary therapies such as art therapy, group work, or reflexology.

Medication may also be suggested to help you manage with particularly difficult thoughts and feelings.

Mel's Poem


If you could bottle up my emotions,
Surely they would have “toxic” written on the label?
"Please leave sealed, secured, unopened
To prevent the spread of something fatal”

For these emotions running through my system,
They are what make a pin prick feel like a stab wound
And persuade my mind to flirt with irrationality behind the back of wisdom,
So that to my ears, life’s melody is an incompatible tune

The emotions play tricks, they tease and they unfairly promise,
That his compliments represent a proposal
And they offer me no warmth or solace
When rejection comes from hearts so noble 

The emotions make me believe that candlelight is arson
So that I jump in headfirst
And with my suspicions duly triggered and sharpened
I am prepped with paranoia to think the worst.

They sometimes settle, but when so easily triggered
The emotions seem to survive on uncertainty
Cluttering, eroding, burning a body littered
Ready to declare the next heartbreak emergency

When the tear fights to halt its journey
The one called “self-pity” steps in and convinces…
…it to keep running into the wilderness of feelings drab and dirty
And darkness descends like the arrival of a thousand winters

But then the manic ones flow in with a manner sudden
Just like something unpredictable
And with inhibitions lost, free, unbuttoned
My face becomes a happy sunbeam, almost literal

This is the ritual, the rigmarole 
The everyday of internal chaos, confused and boisterous 
Sweet thoughts to clear them out, and turn them void and null

For I fear that these emotions are simply poisonous

Further Information

NHS Choices: Borderline personality disorder
Mind: Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
BPD World
BPD Central: For those living with or caring for someone with BPD

Saturday, 4 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 9 - Bipolar

Firstly, apologies I didn't get a second blog post up yesterday! I got a bit distracted and ended up having a tidying spree. However, I will try my hardest to get two blog posts up today instead.

You're extremely lucky today though, as our guest blogger is Chloe. You might remember Chloe from "Failed by the NHS", a BBC Three documentary we both featured in back in Summer last year. You can read my blog post about that experience by clicking here. We both got a lot from doing the documentary, and Chloe has gone on to do some pretty amazing stuff (plus she's just absolutely lovely).

So day nine - Bipolar. Chloe has even been so fabulous as to put some information together about what Bipolar is, so a lot of credit goes to her!

Please note this post comes with a trigger warning. It is vital to look after yourself first. 

What is Bipolar?

Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, compromises of extreme mood swings. These can be categorised as manic highs, known as mania and hypomania and also depressive lows. "Mania" refers to when you may feel extremely high and overactive, where as "hypomania" tends to refer to less severe mania. Between these episodes people feel ‘stable’, and this is a feeling most people with Bipolar aspire to achieve.

Most of us will go through mood swings because of everyday life, but it's important to note that the mood swings associated with Bipolar are a lot more extreme and more prolonged. In some cases, episodes can last for weeks.

During a period of mania, individuals may feel full of ideas, have incredible amounts of energy, think and talk faster than normal and make quick decisions. This does not mean to suggest however that mania is "fun" - those with Bipolar who are experiencing mania may spend too much money, not sleep and lose a sense of judgement. A depressive episode, individuals may feel worthless, have difficulty concentrating, and in some cases, feel suicidal.

There different types of Bipolar.

Bipolar I - Those with Bipolar I will have experienced at least one manic episode, along with episodes of depression. These episodes are usually on a cycle with one another.

Bipolar II - Those with Bipolar II will experience symptoms very similar to that of Bipolar I but manic episodes tend to be less intense. This is normally referred to as "hypomania."

Mixed Bipolar - A mixed Bipolar "state" refers to when an individual experiences symptoms of both a depressive and manic episode at the same time, or in a rapid sequence. So you might be in full mania and have lots of energy, but at the same time, also experience depressive thoughts, and feel angry or irritable, for example.

Cyclothymia - Those with cyclothymia experience "milder" symptoms of Bipolar. Depressive and hypomania episodes tend to be less intense.

What are the symptoms of Bipolar?

We've already covered some of the symptoms above but here are a few more symptoms of Bipolar.

During a depressive episode:

  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Thoughts of harming yourself
  • Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Self-doubting
During a manic episode:

  •  Having "grandiose" ideas
  • Feeling full of energy and elated
  • Talking and thinking faster than normal
  • Feeling irritable
  • Making serous decisions very quickly
  • Feeling important (some people report a feeling of superiority or being invincible)

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. 

What treatments are available?

With effective treatment, people with Bipolar can live life relatively "normally". 

Upon a diagnosis of Bipolar, you may be offered medication to help control the severity of episodes. For some, this might be a combination of antidepressants, anti psychotics (to treat experiences of mania) and mood stabilisers that are taken on a longer-term basis. 

For symptoms of depression, talking therapies such as CBT may be extremely beneficial. This allows individuals to try and tackle negative thoughts and replace them with more positives ones. There may also be other talking therapies that help you understand what your potential triggers are so as to know where to go and what to do if you recognise you are about to experience an episode. 

Having a good support network of family and friends is also crucial for those living with Bipolar, alongside learning about your illness so that you can understand and recognise symptoms. Many have also reported that increasing exercise and reducing stress also helps, especially for depressive episodes, and there have even been studies to suggest that Omega-3 supplements can help.

Chloe's Story

Some Common Misconceptions of Bipolar

1) Mania is fun! 
It is most definitely not. It is very dangerous and life destroying for the sufferer and the people around them. You barely sleep and your behaviour is not that within your character. You have ideas that are risky and bold when it comes to sex and activities that may break the law. You over indulge on alcohol and drugs and spending habits increase. I remember spending my savings (£thousands )in one night, which was in turn devastating. Mania manifests itself in psychotic thoughts and actions which are far from fun, let me reassure you.

2) It is just ‘mood swings’
Usually these are down to hormones and are short term. People do not lose control of themselves and their inhibitions. Bipolar mood swings lead to life destroying decisions that damage relationships and career paths. These can last for days, weeks, months and are of a psychotic nature. 
Bipolar disorder is not about ‘good’ moods and ‘bad’ moods. People cannot just snap out of it! They are far more extreme and life threatening. 

3) Meds are the answer. 
Many things are used to treat Bipolar, more commonly Lithium and other mood stabilising and anti-depressant drugs. However, these tend to help people sleep and do to a degree ‘level’ people out however they are not a cure or the answer, by any stretch of the imagination.Treatment needs to consist of compassionate support from friends and family and those in the medical profession. Regular counselling helps – people need to talk about their thoughts and feelings. It is healthy! The more educated people are the easier it will be to treat and support people with Bipolar. The condition produces some very intelligent and productive people and given the right support these people can do truly great things. Take Stephen Fry for example – need I say more? 

My Own Experience.  

When I was around 14/15 I knew something wasn't right. I had days where I couldn't get out of bed, I had no motivation to do anything and I felt worthless. I had no idea why I felt like this. Nothing had happened particularly, and to people that knew me it was not in my character to feel like that. 

There were other days were I felt elated. I felt on top of the world. Like nothing could stop me and usually nothing did stop me. My thoughts were rushing and I struggled to comprehend most of them. When I tried to speak I spoke very quickly and nothing I said made sense. No one could keep up with me. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't eat. I felt like spending extortionate amounts of money for no reason. To be honest with you, I felt like I was superior and could do no wrong, 

I know now that I was experience episodes of mania, hypo mania and depression. 

I struggled to deal with this. I struggled to retain friendships and I struggled with my school work. 

To be honest with you I thought it was part of growing up. I thought that all my peers were going through the same thing. Hormones are a dangerous thing and I just put it down to that, and so did my GP for many years.  

When I was 15 I went to see my GP and she prescribed me with anti-depressants. I took them for a while but I didn't notice a change in my behaviour, I didn't believe I was depressed. So I stopped taking them and I carried on with my life.

By the time I was 16/17 thing had deteriorated and I struggled to lead a normal life. I knew that I needed to seek help. 

I was referred to CAHMS by my GP. After many meetings, and much time spend on waiting lists I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder Type 1. I was prescribed a high dose of sedative medication and anti- psychotic drugs. This was extremely scary as I had never heard of the condition before. I was mentally ill. What did this mean for my future? Would I spend the rest of my life in and out of psychiatric hospitals? Would I be able to have the career is dreamed of? Would I be able to have a family? I had no idea.

What I have done despite my illness…

I was fortunate enough to contribute to a BBC3 documentary, alongside the lovely Kim Chastney. The BBC commissioned a season on mental health on BBC3 and we filmed a documentary called 'Failed by the NHS'. It was the main investigation of the season and we all shared our own, bad experiences of the mental healthcare as young people. 

I consequently held a mental health awareness evening locally to where I live and I was subsequently nominated in the ‘Outstanding Example of Bravery’ category at the Pride in Dacorum Awards 2013. One of my proudest moments of my life and some might say this was down to my Bipolar!

I am in my final year of a Law Degree at Nottingham Trent University. I am the President of Nottingham Trent’s LEX Law Society and I am a conference delegate for Nottingham Law School. I aspire to practice in Civil Liberties and Mental Health Law and I have more many goals and aspirations, especially when it comes to spreading the world of mental illness and trying to get people to talk about their own experiences.  
Bipolar Disorder hasn’t stopped my life; in fact it has accelerated it and made me more ambitious and courageous. I hope that everyone with a Bipolar diagnosis can one day say the same.

You can follow Chloe on Twitter by clicking here.

Further Information

Unfortunately I can't seem to get on to the Mind website today, but please visit them for information about Bipolar.

Friday, 3 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 8 - PTSD

Well in theory, this should be day nine, but I got a bit caught up and forgot to get a blog post for yesterday... apologies! Lucky for you, there are two blog posts coming your way to compensate.

Today's blog is from Charlotte, a lady I have recently got to know through Mark who did a guest post earlier this week on addiction. She's really lovely and I'm so chuffed she could put together such an amazing blog post in such a short space of time, so thank you!

Please note that this blog post may be extremely triggering for some. It is VITAL to look after yourself. If you're affected by this post, please do call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. 

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (often known as PTSD) comes under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, and can develop after a distressing or traumatic event (this does not include things like a job loss or exams, for example). In some, the symptoms may develop very quickly after the actual event, but for others, it may be weeks, months or even years before they start to experience symptoms of PTSD. For some, these experiences can cause PTSD - it's not completely clear why some people experience PTSD symptoms whilst others in the same situation do not. Some research suggests it is genetic, so if your parents have a mental health diagnosis, you may be more susceptible, alongside if you already have a pre-existing mental health diagnosis yourself. Other factors include the whether or not it was a natural disaster (terrorist attacks, violence and exploitation appear to increase the likelihood of someone developing PTSD rather than a natural disaster), whether or not you feared for your life, and whether you were conscious at the time of the event.

It's believed that PTSD could be linked to a natural coping mechanism to help you be prepared for if the traumatic event was to happen again.Studies have shown that the adrenaline/stress hormones in those with PTSD are still being produced a lot more than normal, even when there is no imminent danger, and it is the adrenaline that fuels our fight or flight response. The symptoms of this disorder can be extremely debilitating though, and it can really affect the quality of life in some individuals.

The types of event that make individuals vulnerable to PTSD include violent attacks, sexual abuse, military combat, witnessing violent deaths, road accidents, and natural disasters, amongst others. According to the NHS Choices website, around one in every three people who experience a traumatic event are likely to experience symptoms of PTSD.

What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD? 

It is not uncommon to feel no emotion at all immediately after a traumatic experience, or feel "numb". For some, PTSD symptoms may follow, and they can include:

  • Reliving the distressing event - this can come in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts/images, or being triggered by certain things that remind of of the event. 
  • Feelings of guilt 
  • Avoidance - not wanting to talk about the experience, or avoiding certain places/people
  • Experience symptoms of anxiety and feeling "on the edge" 
  • Insomnia and difficulty in concentrating
  • Becoming easily upset or angry
  • Feeling emotionally unattached or disassociating
  • Difficulty in maintaining close relationships
  • Experiencing symptoms of depression, and maybe thoughts about harming yourself
In the first instance, always visit your GP for a diagnosis. Depending on how recently you experience a distressing event, they may take a watchful waiting approach to see if symptoms subside or if they worsen. Otherwise, your GP may make a referral to your local mental health team for treatment. 

What treatments are available? 

They are various treatment options for PTSD, and they can vary in suitability depending on how long ago the traumatic event was, or the type it was.  

CBT is often used, and can be targeted specifically. There are event age-appropriate CBT sessions for children. Trauma-focused CBT has been specifically formulated for those who have experience a traumatic event, and can be incredibly effective, teaching individuals how to replace negative ways of thinking into more positive ones. 

You may also be offered EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) which has more recently been used to help those suffering with PTSD. It involves recalling the incident whilst moving your eyes side-to-side following the direction of your therapist. (There's more information online about EMDR). 

There is also the option of medication for some, whether that is in the form of antidepressants, anti anxiety tablets, or something similar. 

The support of friends and family is always recommended as well, so open up to them if you can. If you know someone with PTSD, let them talk about their experiences and just listen - it's free to do as well. 

Charlotte's Story

I've never worried about writing a blog post before, have never struggled over an article - I am a writer by trade, you see. People have described my ability to write as a talent, as my gift but sitting here trying to find how to write about my PTSD leaves me speechless and unclear on where to start.

I hear so many people talking about the moment that changed their lives, the moment that made their lives, the moment they are waiting for, they moment they will know - a whole world made of moments and yet mine is dominated by just one. I spend most days plotting and planning how I might escape my moment, hoping I might wake up with out it in my mind, there altering my perceptions of reality and opinions of myself.

My moment, which is defined by the two 38 ton lorries smashing into the coach my friends and I were traveling on, caused my 13 year battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When first diagnosed, at 16, I thought I would at worst, wake up in cold sweats after nightmares, perhaps struggle with concentration and cry often about the event, the papers, the court case and of course, the funeral of my friends.

I was wrong and it didn't take me long to face the harsh realities of PTSD consuming my life, my thoughts and my thinking. My moment did more than crop up every now and again. Every time it flashed through my brain, appeared in my nightmares and flooded my thoughts, my knees weakened, my stomach turned and my heart shattered just a little more.

That tiny little moment, over time poisoned my brain - like a mouldy piece of fruit turning everything else in the bowl to mush. I lost my self respect, I hated myself, I destroyed anything that might be positive in my life. I was unable to build or maintain any normal relationships. I became obsessed in trying to undo the past, bargaining with whoever created that moment, pleading with them to undo it. I drank, I ate too much, I didn't sleep, I couldn't concentrate, I had no pride in anything and whilst the world was collapsing around me the only thing that existed in my brain was my `moment'.

Just after I turned 26, and I realised eleven years had passed whilst I had been in a dark and painful haze, I tried to take my own life. It was New Years Eve and whilst others celebrated , loved, thanked and looked to the future, I hoped for freedom. 

Thankfully, I woke up and found myself in the care of a mental health team who were able to get me on some medication that gave my brain a volume switch and allowed me to press pause whilst I, initially, just slept peacefully for a few days. In the weeks that followed, I worked hard to address my past - pulling some of it out my brain and finding ways of simply file other parts of it away. I had the support of psychiatrists, care workers and my GP but also created my own tools and methods for coping. 

For example, I wrote myself a 'mind diet', listing activities, food and people that had a positive impact on my mental well being and those that had a detrimental effect. I kept a mind diary, noting what I had been up to and how it had made me feel. I had long and painful conversations with people around me, being painfully honest whilst giving them the opportunity to support me in my recovery. I drew mind maps, linking the details of the coach crash and the surrounding events and my fears, anxieties, ambitions so that I understood and objectified them and I forced my brain to accept and explore the most painful and tragic experiences I will ever face.

Yet somewhere, towards the beginning of Spring, I felt better and I found that hours and then days and eventually weeks passed without nightmares, panic attacks or destructive thoughts. I found motivation, aspiration. I began to have fun, I experienced freedom and have slowly but surely began to like myself and realise that life is made of many moments and with the right medication, the right people around you and lots of hard work and bravery, you can control the impact moments have on your life. I have learnt that pain can be transient rather than permanent but most, when you and your brain have a tough time, you must be kind to yourself. You must be honest with those around you so that they can understand and help and you need to accept that there will be good and bad days. I couldn't have done it without the medication to support me and certainly needed expert help and am eternally thankful to everyone that fought my stubborness, accepted my anger and cared when I cried.

I hope that from my journey, those stuck in their moment will find the strength to keep walking rather than giving in.

Further Information

If you require immediate support, please call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. They're open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 7 - Anxiety

Happy New Year! I hope you all enjoyed your last night of 2013, whether you spent it partying hard or like us, on the sofa with a cuppa, trying to calm down a slightly erratic cat. I do genuinely love married life!

Today's post is something quite close to my heart, having lived with anxiety for a good few years now. It's sometimes made me achieve a heck of a lot, but other times it has completely debilitated me.

Anyway, enough about me! Today's guest blogger is Ben, who shares his personal experience of living with anxiety. As usual, first here's some information.

Please note some readers may find this post triggering. It's important to always look after yourself as a priority.

What is anxiety?

Some anxiety, or short-live anxiety, is actually good for us. It allows us to use the "fight or flight" response, and remain focused, for things like job interviews and exams. This anxiety in most people will then eventually pass, but for some, this level of anxiety doesn't leave them. They might find they are overly anxious in a certain situation, or they become anxious for no apparent reason.

Anxiety is an umbrella term for many other conditions. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) is when you are anxious on most days, and you might not even know what you're anxious about or realise that what you're getting anxious over is actually quite minor. Sufferers can often feel as though they are out of control, or in some cases, they may fear they are dying in the midst of a panic attack.

Other anxiety disorders include OCD, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, or PTSD for example.

Some people may also experience panic or anxiety attacks, which, according to the NHS Choices website, can be defined as a "rush of intense psychological and physical symptoms." For those experience the symptoms of a panic attack, it can often mimic symptoms very similar to a heart attack, and sufferers sometimes explain such attacks as feeling like they're going to die.

There are many reasons why an anxiety disorder can start, with the exact cause being unknown. Some research suggests it could be do with a chemical imbalance, genetics, or environmental causes. And don't feel alone if you're living with an anxiety disorder - Anxiety UK suggests that more than 1 in 10 are likely to have a disabling anxiety disorder at some point in their life, and that at present, 40% of worldwide disability is due to depression and anxiety.

What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?

Depending on the severity of the condition, your symptoms may differ. But in general, those with some form of an anxiety disorder experience psychological symptoms such as:

  • Continuously feeling "on the edge" or constantly worried, sometimes for no apparent reason
  • Often feeling tense and/or restless
  • Becoming easily distracted and/or irritable
  • Catastrophic thinking 
  • An overwhelming fear of losing control
  • Avoiding certain situations, and in some cases, your anxiety may mean you feel unable to work or socialise
  • Constantly seeking reassurance from others
  • An inability to concentrate 
  • Difficulties with relaxing
  • Sleeping difficulties

There are also the physical effects of anxiety, some of them being intensified or only rearing when you experience an anxiety or panic attack:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilating (I've also experience pins and needles plus parts of my body going blue because of this)
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Digestive problems, and sometimes an urgent need to go to the loo
  • Pounding heart
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Dizziness/feeling light headed
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Muscle tension

Please ensure you always visit a GP in the first instance to rule out other illnesses. 

What treatments are available?

Anxiety is unique in each person, and therefore, what works for you might not work for someone else. Your GP might be able to refer you to have CBT, which helps challenge negative thoughts, with many sufferers finding this helpful, alongside other talking therapies. 

In some circumstances, medication may be prescribed. Some people find that just taking something as and when anxiety strikes is all that is needed, such as a beta-blocker, while others require something more long term. This may help if your anxiety has also caused some form of depression.

There are lots and lots of self-help options available to those living with anxiety. Just search for books on Amazon, and you'll have so many to pick from! I've even managed to get a couple for free on the Kindle app I have for my iPad. Your GP might be able to tell you about a "books on prescription" scheme where you can borrow self-help books from the library for an extended period of time. 

There are also alternative "remedies" such as mindfulness, which I highly recommend, or other meditation. Try exercising as well to release some anxious energy. 

Ben's Story

If you're reading this online you likely won't know me, but if you did, there's high chance you would be shocked to discover I have mental health problems. I know so many people on Twitter who understand what this is like, and it's helped me to meet those people and hear their story. So here is mine. 

My name is Ben, and I’m 28. It was in sixth form at school when I first was diagnosed with depression - suddenly I couldn't cope with life and I was crippled with panic and an inability to get beyond a sense of 'doom'. I’d lost all interest in studying after previously being accepted to study at St Andrews University, a total dream of mine, but subsequently I lost focus and didn't  the grades I needed. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, basically life stopped and it just happened so quickly. I remember being so scared and asking my mum if I was going to be like this for the rest of my life.

I began antidepressants and almost a year later, was well enough to start university closer to home. Fast forward two years into my course, and after muddling through several depressive episodes and having been on medication throughout, I reached a point where I couldn't cope at all and I pulled out of my course. Later, I went back to a college course and finished a qualification in a creative subject that I loved, and got a job. 

After some years of my depression and anxiety being well controlled, it all exploded again. I had anxiety like I'd never known- I couldn't breathe, couldn't rise above the dread of everything and without any apparent reason, I'd lost the ability to function normally. After seeing many doctors and consultants over the year, I know now I had a complete breakdown and I'm still trying to get back from it. I'm nowhere near 'normal', but I've started part time work again this autumn.

I've tried many different types of medication, I've now found one that works but at the cost of my ability to sleep. I've been having therapy for most of the year, and whilst I was sceptical, I now see that therapy has possibly saved my life. It's helped me understand better what is happening to me, and perhaps most valuably, that NONE OF THIS IS MY FAULT!

Through therapy, I’ve seen how long I tortured and blamed myself for the intrusive thoughts that are now very clearly part of OCD.  To find that my battle with my thoughts were a part of my OCD has been a relief in many ways, and has helped me to stop blaming myself for the state of my mind.

What I want to say is that there is no shame in needing help, or needing to step away from something. If I've learnt anything in the past 10 years, it's that only you really know how you're feeling and I’ve learnt to know when it's best to just pull away when things are too much.  I've learnt to manage things a bit better, but it's so true that 'recovery is not linear' - good days mixed with bad days... Mental illness is still so misunderstood, but I owe a lot to others who have experienced it and who have shared their story with me! Big love to you all!

You can follow Ben on Twitter by clicking here.

Further Information