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-