Summer Storytelling Challenge Week 4

It’s the final week of the Summer Storytelling Challenge and the topic is…

“What does stigma mean to you?”

Stigma can come in many different forms but the one experience which sticks out to me was when many years ago I went to see a doctor about panic attacks – I didn’t know what they were, I was young and mental health wasn’t really spoken about then. However when I saw the doctor she said “it happens to everyone your age” and that was it… I went away feeling confused and upset. My friends weren’t experiencing these and I felt alone and didn’t know what to do. That one instance stopped me seeking further help for many years until I reached a very low point.

If someone you know comes to you and says they are struggling in any way don’t defer them away – listen to them and yes it may be confusing and scary to hear but that person needs help. You may not understand what they are going through but don’t tell them ‘it happens to everyone’ or ‘ why can’t you just be happy’.

Stigma can stop people from reaching out for help or talking about how they are feeling. It can make peoples situations worse. If someone experiences stigma it can really affect how someone is feeling about themselves. When you have a mental illness it is hard, confusing and affects every aspect of your life – so when you experience stigma it doesn’t help the situation.

Of course since my diagnoses I am worried about what if professionally people don’t think I can do my job or think I’m ‘crazy’. However I try not to overthink these situations.. I think the more open I am about my own mental illness it helps me to ignore some of the comments and not let me affect me as much.

The more we talk about mental heath and mental illnesses the more we end the stigma.

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Summer Storytelling Challenge Week 3

Week three of the Summer Storytelling challenge and the topic is…

“How to support someone with a mental illness”

There are many ways you can support someone with a mental illness. It can be the small things that can really help someone.

Here are some other ways you can support someone with a mental illness:

  • Let them know you are there for them – Drop them a text, still invite them to places, they may not come but at least they know you care. At the darkest times it’s hard to remember that people care about you and want you around.
  • Ask twice – If someone says they are fine – ask again.
  • Let them be open – Sometimes hearing how a mental illness is affecting someone can be hard to hear and and scary but let the person say what they have to say. It’s hard to be honest about how you are feeling but being able to be honest and open to someone about such a hard topic can really help them.
  • Listen – Really listen to what they are saying, and wait to ask questions. Let them do the talking so they can get everything out.
  • Go to the doctors with them – It can be hard going to a stranger and talking about something so personal so offer to go with them to doctors/counsellors etc.
  • Don’t push them –  Don’t force someone to do something they may not want to do. You can’t snap them out of it – it’s an illness not a choice.
  • Let them aware of resources available – there many resources including charities and organisations that can offer free help. Let the person know that they exist and can help.
  • Research – Mind has a really good website where you can learn about different mental illnesses and understand more about what the person is going through.
  • Notice – Ask someone what their red flags are, that way you can start to recognise when someone is going through a rough patch.
  • Take them seriously – It’s hard enough telling someone you are struggling but it’s even harder when you’re not taken seriously.

Prepare yourself for a long journey of support, mental illnesses don’t just go away. It’s a daily war so make sure you look after your own health to.

Remember you don’t have to understand mental illnesses to support someone – just be there for them.

Also shout out to everyone who has supported me during my mental illness, without you I don’t know where I’d be.

Summer Storytelling Challenge Week 2

Week two of the summer storytelling challenge and the topic is…

“A significant conversation about mental health”

The most significant conversation I’ve ever had about my mental health was when I went to the walk in centre and had a breakdown when the doctor said “how can I help you today?”. This was the conversation that really impacted my life and my recovery journey. I knew for years in the back of my mind I was more than sad and more than nervous but I carried on because I was never taught how to look after my mental health.

The doctor I saw that day has no idea how he impacted my life and I am so grateful to him. He said that I had depression and anxiety and wanted to get me an appointment straight away to start the process of getting professional help.

This very first big conversation didn’t happen easily, it took me time to come to terms with the fact I wasn’t coping and that I was in a very dark place. It was like even though my mind didn’t want to continue it was like part of me did.

It was hard saying some of the things out loud to the doctor – it made it more real and I was worried he wouldn’t take me seriously but once the conversation was done I felt some relief that I had asked for help. I got home and I cried because I was in one of my darkest moments and it all became real – that I had this illness and at that time it was winning but I was also relieved because I had told someone.

That one conversation led me on a journey which has allowed me to:

  • get professional help from doctors and therapists
  • come back from a very dark place
  • made it easier for me to talk about my mental health to doctors
  • made it easier for me to talk to my family and friends about my mental health
  • allowed me to campaign to end stigma around mental health

By far that conversation was one of the most important ones I have ever had about my mental health and I hope that doctor knows how much he helped me that day.

 

Summer Storytelling Challenge

As part of my Time to Change young champion volunteering I have decided to take part in the Summer Storytelling Challenge. Each week we are sent a topic to focus on and talk about, whether this is using blog posts, social media or vlogs. I am going to try my best to be honest about each topic. Everyone experiences mental illnesses differently but I am just going to talk from my perspective. I hope by doing this challenge it helps people understand mental illnesses more or even help someone who is struggling. Please be aware before reading on that the content may be triggering.

So the first weeks theme is..: “One thing I want people to know about my mental illness”

‘But you have such a good life’…. is said to me quite a lot.

Yes – I have a job, I look healthy, I look put together, I have hobbies, I go to social events and from the outside my life looks ‘normal’.

What people may not understand is that just because your life looks ‘perfect’ from the outside doesn’t mean you are immune from mental illnesses. Depression is about what you can’t see – part of this is down to because it’s an internal illness and partly because sometimes I choose to hide it. When I have a bad day I am battling my own mind. I can’t escape it or walk away from it – it’s constant and exhausting. I think abut self harm and have suicidal thoughts and it’s scary.

Every single part of the day becomes a challenge – even the things you would think are routine and normal to do. My depression spreads to every single part of my life. Sometimes I struggle with daily hygiene like showering and brushing my hair. Sometimes I don’t want to eat or cook. Sometimes I don’t sleep at night and sometimes I go to social events and I don’t really feel like I’m there.

When people ‘but you have such a good life’ it makes me feel ungrateful for the life I have but I’m not – I don’t want to or choose to have depression but I have. Yes parts of my life are good but it doesn’t mean I am immune from mental illnesses.

 

 

NEW YEAR PRESSURES

Starting a New Year can be great to reset and start fresh but it can also bring a lot of pressures and anxiety for me. It brings pressure and a lot of expectations and it feels so overwhelming.

The start of the New Year means looking back at the year gone and for me that normally means focusing on the things I didn’t achieve/the things I did wrong and in the end making myself feel inadequate and making myself feel like a failure. I always get the feeling of dread – I think about how during the year I didn’t achieve enough or that I’m not doing as well as a I should be at my age or that I should be at a better stage in my life. The end of the year always makes me think about the worst and no matter what I end up feeling like a failure.

The few days between Christmas and New Year is a hard time for me – I end up thinking about how I should be more at my age and that I’m not doing very well. Between Christmas and New Year my mental health is very up and down and it’s a time where I overthink and worry about the smallest things.

I always feel a pressure that I need to make the New Year a massive deal and achieve massive things that are sometimes unachievable – I forget that the small achievements matter.

So this year I am trying not to make a big deal about 2019 coming – on New Years Eve I’m not going out and celebrating but instead I’m going to stay in and look after myself. There is always the pressure of doing the whole ‘New Year New Me’ thing which makes me feel pressured into thinking that I should be doing that to. This has meant over the past few years I have set unrealistic goals that I never really fully commit to. So for 2019 I am going to set myself small realistic goals so at the end of the year I hopefully will feel like I have achieved them. So my goals for 2019 are:

  • take my antidepressants everyday (I am really bad at taking them and miss days)
  • practise more self care (even if its just a bath or an early nights sleep)
  • do more of the things that make me happy (going for walks, reading a book etc.)
  • try and worry less

However you feel about 2018 I hope that you are looking after yourself and just know that small things are achievements to – don’t be hard on yourself.  Remember to take care of your mental health and do what is comfortable for you. Just because people are moving at different rates to you doesn’t mean what your doing is wrong – just do what feels right for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So whatever you choose to do for New Year take care of your mental health and do what you feel is best when i

#Storycamp

At the weekend I attended the Time to Change #storycamp as part of the young champions programme. The day focused on sharing our stories on media such as blogging, podcasting and video to help end the stigma surrounding mental health. It was great to see the many ways in which we can use our voices to change opinions and share our experiences to help other people.

For me it meant travelling down to London and staying over which I was at first worried about but what helped me was that I knew if I attended story camp I would get to see fellow young champions again and also learn so many things.

It was a long day filled with talks, quest speakers and activities. My favourite part of the day was hearing from talkers such as Cara Lisette, Pigletish and Paul Mcgregor – the way in which they all spoke about their own experience with mental illnesses and how far they have come was such an inspiration. All of them are people to look up to and admire because they have been through tough times but use their own experiences to help others. Their stories are moving and when they were talking it was hard to not get upset about what they have been through.

The day allowed me to think about how powerful and emotional stories can be and the way in which we tell them is important. It is important to include the bits where we have failed, the hard times, the struggles as well as including the beautiful, successful times. People can get lost in a story and they can picture and feel emotion from what they see or hear. The way a story is told can leave a lasting impression on those who hear it and if I can use my story to change stigma around mental health then that means the world to me. I want to continue to grow, develop and continue to build my confidence.

I am so proud of the other champions and those who use their story to help end the stigma surrounding mental health. It takes a lot of courage to tell the difficult times people go through so for those who are sharing their story – thank you and you are making a difference. Even if 1 person or 100 people see it – you are making a difference.

 

 

 

SUPPORTING SOMEONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS

One thing I say to people who offer me support with my mental health is that I don’t expect them to understand it – how can I expect someone to understand something which at times I don’t fully understand myself? All I ask is that they are supportive and be there for me – not judging me.

Here are some ideas of how you can help someone who is struggling:

  • Check in – one of the most important things that I can suggest is checking in.  A simple phone call or text just asking how someone is can make all the difference.
  • Still invite them – it can be hard when you have a mental illness to want to be social but knowing you are still invited to things makes a difference.
  • Listen – be an open ear for that person, when someone opens up to you it means they trust you.
  • Confidentiality – when someone opens up to you about their mental health it can be a huge step so please take it seriously they may not want their peers to know they are on medication etc.
  • Offer to help them get support – ask if they would like you to accompany them to the doctors, counselling sessions or therapy groups. Check out what local mental health support there is and offer to help them ask for help.
  • Don’t judge – you might hear things that may be uncomfortable, shocking and hard to hear but please don’t judge.
  • Take it seriously – when someone opens up to you it is a massive step. Please do not laugh at them or brush it off – that person is struggling and is reaching out for help.
  • Be patient – recovery is a slow process with lots of ups and downs, please try not to get angry or frustrated at them.
  • Be vigilant  – if you think someone is struggling with their mental health, look out for their red flags and signs that they are relapsing.

Thank you for reading.

MY FIRST TTC EVENT

This year was my first World Mental Health Day that I attended as a Time to Change a young champion. With he aim to help end the stigma surrounding mental health, inform people about who Time to Change are and start that conversation about mental health and let people know we want to make a change.

I was really excited when I received the email about the event, where it will be happening, what we will be doing – I was extremely happy. This changed as time went on as the event date got closer, I started to feel anxious and I kept overthinking it – what if this happens…what if that happens… and I was obsessing over it. I had to get the train to Chester and I was worried about possible outcomes about collecting my tickets and changing trains. You name it – I was obsessing about it, I was overthinking going on a train something which I’ve done so many times before.

At times like that I normally talk to my flatmate who helps me think logically and helps me realise I am over obsessing about something and don’t need to panic. So I started doing things step by step, instead about thinking about everything I needed to do I did a step by step list in my head. Step one: take a shower, step two: do my make-up and so on. I found that this is a way for me to try and cope with being anxious and just take it a step at a time.

I soon started to settle when I met the other champions and staff for Time To Change, everyone was really nice, helpful and made me feel supported. I didn’t have to talk/do anything I didn’t want to and they made me feel so comfortable.

During the day I spoke to people about who TTC are and what we do and by starting that conversation people opened up to us about their own experiences. It was amazing to hear what people have gone through with their own mental health or what their experiences they have had with supporting a friend or family member who have a mental illness. It was a privilege to have people open up to us and be so honest about their own experiences. A lot of the people we spoke to were interested in TTC and were supportive of addressing the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s great to see a lot of people want to end the stigma and be supportive of others.

At first I was nervous to speak to people but the TTC staff were amazing and supportive and showed us how calmly to speak to people. They are an amazing inspiration.

What I did notice was that towards the end of the day I was feeling quite emotionally drained and I realised the day had took a toll on me. That night I needed to take some time out for myself and practice some self-care.

I got to be apart of something which people all over the world were supporting, whether they were going to an event, posting online from home or even just having a conversation with someone. I am so proud of everyone who is helping end the stigma and making a change.

This was a great experience and I’m proud of myself for going to the event and trying to push myself in a new situation. I am proud to have received my first TTC t-shirt and I can’t wait for the next TTC event!

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ASKING FOR HELP

When I say asking for help what I really mean is that I was literally crying for help – to a doctor I’d never met before.

It was a normal day – I had gone to work and did everything I would normally do but I got to a point where I knew something wan’t right. What I was feeling and what I was going through wasn’t the norm for me. I was thinking things and doing things I shouldn’t.

I sat in the waiting room quietly waiting for my name to be called and I remember thinking whether I should just go home. If I went home I knew I wouldn’t have to actually admit what was wrong and I wouldn’t have to face it. I didn’t know what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. How do you explain that your mind wants to die to a total stranger you’ve not met before?

Before I knew it my name was called – I went in and the doctor politely asked ‘how can I help you today’ and that was it. That was when I went into a full breakdown about my mental health. In that moment I told him everything I was feeling – everything that I needed to tell. I  That was it – that was the moment of the start of my recovery journey. I had just done one of the hardest things someone suffering with a mental illness will have to do and that is to admit things and ask for help.

That day I made a decision to ask for help – for someone to take what I was going through and help me. It was like a weight had been lifted, I wasn’t going through this on my own anymore. Someone else was aware of what was happening to me and I didn’t have to go through this alone. It was by no means easy and in the months of going through my darkest moments to get there. The years previous was a few trips to the doctors for them to tell me I was fine and that it was something that happened to everyone but deep down I knew it wasn’t.

That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It wasn’t easy and it was something that took me months to do. At times I just wanted to have a breakdown and scream that I wasn’t well but my body wouldn’t let me. It’s like my depression held me captive and wouldn’t let me ask for help. It’s exhausting fighting your own brain every single day.

At that moment I started my own journey of recovery and its still not easy but I know that I’m the one who reached out – I made that decision, its like my brain didn’t want help but at the same time it did.

I have never regretted going to the doctor that day because I’m better than I was. I still have dark times and my bad days but I’m not doing this on my own anymore.

It made me realise that there is no shame in reaching out and admitting if you need help. There is so much help out there and whilst the stigma around mental health still exists there are people fighting to end it.

 

WHEN A SMILE IS A REAL SMILE

I wanted to try and write something that had more positive aspects. Even though living with a mental illness is hard, sometimes there is a little glimmer when you have a good moment. For example like you complete a task, have a good day out, do something you haven’t done in a while, spend time with someone who helps you and makes you happy or even see a picture that makes you smile. A good day with depression may not happen often but it’s something I’ve learned to cherish when it does. By no means does it mean my depression or anxiety have gone, it’s more like they are in the shadows – kind of lurking in the background and they can show at any point.

A full day of me not feeling anxious or depressive is very rare – even though I may look like I’m okay on the outside – in reality I’m not. I’ve realised that my depression will never fully leave me. It’s like a thing that’s now part of me, before I was diagnosed I didn’t know what it was but now I do and it’s there. I can’t pick and choose how I feel, how I will act, what I will do but I think the important thing to remember is that there will be days where I won’t be as bad.

There is another side to having the good times and good days that isn’t so positive. When I do have a time where I’m happy the days after that are a low for me. I go back to depression and anxiety taking over. It’s like it wants to fight back against me – telling me that I can’t be happy and that I don’t deserve to be happy. It’s like you reach the peak of a mountain then stumble all the way back to the bottom. These days are when I really struggle – in a way it makes me afraid of ever having a good day because I know what will follow is a spiral of my depression. I go back to telling myself the nasty comments and my brain wins again. I used to tell myself that there was no point having a good day because I would just go back to square one. It’s exhausting not knowing what you will feel like and when.

So I cherish the little wins and I cherish the times when my depression gives me a little break even if it’s for 10 minutes or a few hours. I value the moments when a smile is a real smile and a laugh is a real laugh because I don’t know when the next genuine one will happen.