Why I’m glad I had terrible mental health as a teenager

Today I logged back into my old Twitter account. This is the Twitter account that I made at age 13 (@heatherls_, if you want to give us a cheeky follow..).

As a teenager, Twitter was the place that I would rant, vent and express all my feelings – much to the dismay of my followers. I eventually stopped using this account in 2016, meaning that the content on this account is almost like a time capsule of me throughout my entire teenage life. From the age of 13 to 18, I used my Twitter account almost like a diary, and it’s crazy to see just how much I’ve progressed and developed as a person.

Reading back on the tweets, and looking at the photos on this account gave me a mixed sense of pity and pride.

This has to lead me to realise that my poor mental health has actually enhanced my life in ways that I never thought it would.

During my teenage years, whilst (unknowingly) fighting anxiety and depression every day, I never for a second thought “This is really going to benefit me in later years! I really appreciate these horrible feelings!!!” – rather, all I could think was “I hate my life” “I want to die” “This is shit” “Where do I get a normal brain from” Therefore, I hope the content of this blog post doesn’t deter from the fact that my teenage years were often excruciating, embarrassing and extremely isolating. I can confidently say that I spent at least three-quarters of adolescence feeling the lowest of low, and doubting that I’d ever feel contentment.

However, I’ve always been someone who likes a challenge. I like to get to the bottom of things, I like to achieve something and recovering from mental illness was something that I absolutely wanted to do. Therefore, I’ve always accepted treatment, I’ve always tried to force hopefulness into my life – whether this was successful or not.

Based on the content on my Twitter account, and my strangely detailed memory, I’m going to write a mini timeline of how my mental health declined and progressed, and how this has lead me to the point where I am now – which is the best I have ever been.

Age 13 – 14

There’s probably not anything overly remarkable to report on here. I was very awkward, but not in the shy sense – more in the sense that I never shut up and I thought I was absolutely hilarious. I was very insecure, and I would literally cry my eyes out at school if my hair didn’t look perfect. I would obsess over trying to fit in, and I guess this is common in many girls at this age.

Age 15

This is the age where I started to properly develop depression. Obviously, at the time I had no idea, but I just used to be very very very sad, comparing myself to other girls around me and feeling extremely inferior in comparison. This is also the point where I reached the highest weight I’ve ever been. December 2012 is the month when I can first remember being fully determined to do something about how shit I’d been feeling – and I figured that a diet/weight loss would help me to stop feeling so low.

Age 16

Ironically enough, a combination of low self-esteem, depression, weight loss and burning determination lead me to develop anorexia. This was the first time I was formally diagnosed with a mental illness, and the first time I realised that there was actually something wrong with me and that I needed to start working on myself, rather than treating myself like shit all the time. I received extensive treatment and a sort of half-arsed recovery. Being pulled out of high school also meant that I had to take a year off education, which forced me to grow up a bit quicker than others, and find a job.

Age 17

This is probably just the most awkward and weird year for me. I was convinced that I had recovered from my eating disorder, which I hadn’t. I was also just really depressed and hopeless, spending a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and moping around. I was still insecure, more so than before, and I thought that I was doomed to be at this shitty level for the rest of my life. I was in and out of therapy, but I was convinced that I didn’t need the help, and discharged myself from mental health services.

Age 18

I struggle to really differentiate between age 17 and 18. I remained in a limbo stage for such a long time. I felt trapped in my mental health, and I was unaware that my actions were feeding into my depression and anxiety. However, at this point, I was at college and I’d begun to expose myself to changes in routine, different people and different challenges. This caused me to change how I behaved in some ways, and see things from a perspective that challenged my own. My grades were terrible, which was a reflection of the minimal effort that I put into my life.

Age 19

I think age 19 is when things really changed for me. At 19, I’d passed my driving test, completed my A-levels with really good grades and been accepted into a well ranked University. I also managed to save up quite a good amount of money, through working.

Although these are standard events for an 18/19-year-old, I felt like this gave me the confirmation that I am worthy of achieving the same as everyone else, and that I can actually do things if I try. I started to do a lot more self-development, reading self-help books and unfollowing people online who were unhelpful for me, as well as disconnecting myself from relationships which held me back.

I really focused on learning the ins and outs of my mental health, and this was actually encouraged by studying Psychology at A Level, and developing a basic understanding of why and how mental health works. I would listen to podcasts and take part in more things that challenged my mind’s limitations. The big part of this was moving to University, which turned out to really force my anxiety and depression out of their comfortable little box

Age 20

At age 20, having “completed” teenager years, I think this was the year where the slow bubbling of poor mental health finally burst. I’ve spoken quite extensively about what happened last year so I won’t go into detail here. I challenged myself every single day, because I was determined to fully recover from my mental health.

I guess the stickler here is that I never realised that it’s impossible to fully recover, and I was too hard on myself too soon. I forced myself into situations which were out of my depth and made myself carry on without allowing feelings/emotions to be fully embraced. This lead me to hit rock bottom, and the problems I’d been trying to mask finally reared their head.

By holding my hands up and giving up, I managed to set myself free and allow my mental health to make me a better person.

Now

Over the last 7 months, I’ve accepted where I am. I try to improve where I can, but I am also really confident and understanding of where my mind and mental health currently stands. I don’t force myself to be a certain way. I don’t try to fit in with everyone, and I respect my limits.

I still have goals and ambitions, but I am a lot more flexible now.

My journey with mental health has to lead me to accept myself for who I am. I believe this has to lead me to become more understanding of other people, I know how to challenge myself in a healthy way, and disregard any negative input from others. I’m learning to treat myself with the same respect that I’d give others, and I believe that’s the most valuable part of life.

More importantly, I’m open about mental health in a positive way. I used to rely heavily on self-deprecating humour (Which is still true, to some extent), or completely denying that I ever had mental illnesses. Right now, I am confident and open in my experiences, as I know that they are not who I am, merely a part of my experiences in life.

Find your flow

Disclaimer: I wrote this at the end of a panic attack. I spent about an hour in a full panic, and I calmed down. I wanted to go on a run – but I have to wait for a delivery to my house (First world problems), so instead, I wrote about running. Hence why this post is basically just me talking about how much I love running, and writing. It doesn’t really make much sense, but it helped me to chill out. 

The very moment you recognise your own poor mental health or even the poor mental health of others; the first suggestion is to get help. This help can be defined as medication, talking therapy, self-care, distractions, support from loved ones etc.

There are many elements of “help” for mental health which are designed to assist you in coping with your illness. The most frustrating aspect about recovering from, or coping with a mental illness is that it never truly goes away. The symptoms can change, the impact on your life can become better or worse, and the outlook can become considerably more positive.

I’ve been receiving help for my mental health since 2013. I’ve been given countless worksheets, constructive advice, medication,  interventions and treatments. However I never really found that any of this helped – purely because I didn’t invest any belief into them, and I found it hard to actually utilise any of these techniques when the time came to it.

Think of it this way – whilst I was in the middle of a panic attack or feeling highly depressed; the last thing I wanted to do was to fill out a worksheet. Often I would seek distraction from my thoughts – whether this be from TV,  food, friends, exercise, cleaning the house, running errands or drinking. I refused to do anything which meant that I’d have to actually address my feelings and emotions. It was easier to mask the feelings or run off the adrenaline.

Meditation is recommended as one of the best ways to cope with your mental health. Interestingly enough, many people find meditation boring, difficult, hard to stick to, stressful etc. The most common complaint of meditating is that it’s hard to concentrate and stay focused. For some reason, people are lead to believe that meditating involves sitting cross-legged on the floor, thinking about absolutely nothing other than their breathing.

Running is one of the best meditation processes for me; particularly because it allows me to burn off the adrenaline that builds up with anxiety. I used to hate hate hate any form of running, and throughout 5 years of high school, I only competed in one sports day event – which was the 100m run, and I bottled it.

Treadmills seemed like the most torturous device possible – probably a thought which was conjured up from watching too many ITV shows about middle aged women on a treadmill to burn off the calories in a Muller Corner. I would rather watch paint dry than walk or run on a treadmill.

Running outdoors was an absolute comedy in itself. Why on earth would I go outside, and do something which I am terrible at? Do you know how many people would see me out of breath, tomato-faced, tangled up in my headphones and hiking my leggins up every 4 minutes? No way.

Spring/Summer 2018 was particularly stressful for me – as well as trying to recover from a very difficult dip in my mental health, I also had a lot of financial difficulties and potentially life-changing decisions to make. My head was constantly ticking over and I tried very hard to ignore any thoughts and feelings. I was also trying to shake off the extra weight that my anti-depressants had kindly donated to me, so I had started going to the gym – purely doing weights training rather than any cardio.

However, there was one day where I decided to warm up on the treadmill for 10 minutes. A song came on my phone, I think it was something by Calvin Harris, and it just put me in a really good mood. I also realised that the pace was quite fast, and it made me want to move faster. I decided to kick the speed up a bit on the treadmill and I was soon in a fast jog/slow run.

When I stepped onto the treadmill, my thoughts were along the lines of “how am I going to afford to do XYZ when I have no money?” “Will I ever get anywhere in life” “I’m a failure” “I can’t do anything” “I literally can’t do anything right” -which were all genuine thoughts, constantly rattling around in my head, 24/7 all the time.

As soon as I started to pick up the pace on the treadmill, my thoughts quickly shifted to “oh my god, this is horrible” “I can’t breath” “I am going to die” “I can’t breath” “my heart is exploding” – horrible thoughts, but these quickly shifted to “Wait, I’m actually running?” “I am actually running???” “I think I can keep going” “I could probably go faster” “I still can’t breath though”

At the time, it was an amazing feeling. I probably ran for a grand total of 8 minutes before my legs handed in their notice. But for 8 minutes, I wasn’t worrying my life. I wasn’t picking apart every minor detail about myself. I didn’t give a shit what I looked like. I forgot about my bank balance. I forgot about my massive to-do list, I forgot about what certain people think about me. I just focused on what was happening right now.

I don’t have twitter anymore, but I can remember when I got home, I tweeted something along the lines of “I never used to understand why people love running so much, but then I realised – it’s impossible to be anxious and depressed, when all you can think about is the fact that your body feels like its exploding”.

Over time, I started to make a beeline for the treadmill straight away. I made myself a playlist full of dance music (which I never used to listen to, as I didn’t understand how people could listen to *happy music*), I would run for as long as I could and listen to the most upbeat music possible. I started to develop a good pace, and eventually, I stopped feeling like I was exploding or dying. With regulated breathing, I started to chill out. I could allow my thoughts to come and go, and because I was running, I couldn’t become immobilized or actively distracted by thoughts. I was truly running away from my problems.

Thankfully, this happened over summer, and I started to build up the courage to run outside. I downloaded the Nike Run app, and could see my progress building up over time. More importantly, I shifted my focus from losing weight that I’d gained due to depression and started to focus more on being strong enough or fit enough to actually run properly.

I’m absolutely not a pro, I’ve been running for about 6 months – I think I’ve had food in my cupboard for twice as long as that. I don’t think I could ever run competitively, and I don’t even think my technique is that good. But it’s an escape for me, and it allows me to be in a flow.

The second form of “flow” which takes me out of my own head – is writing for my blog. This is another thing which I discovered over summer, and I found it to be greatly beneficial for my mental health.

I used to write in my diary, however, the problem with this is that I was the only one who read my diary (I assume so anyway…). Therefore, I’d write about two lines, and then think, fuck it – who am I actually writing to here? I couldn’t be bothered to continue, because the odds on me reading it back were as likely as me completing that 100m run in the 2010 Sports Day.

However, blogging is different – because I know that at least one other person is going to read this. It gives a sort of purpose to how I am feeling, and I like to help others, so I guess by writing and being honest with how I am feeling, someone else can feel a bit less alone.

I guess the take-home message from this post is to find your flow, find the thing that allows you to be in your thoughts, rather than running away from them.

All the best,

Heather x

 

What I Have Learned in 2018

Hello and welcome back to my blog!

If you’re reading this at the time of posting – I hope you’ve had an enjoyable December; whether that’s been heavily celebrating Christmas, or just taking time to chill out and enjoy the excessive amounts of bank holidays over the festive period.

I’ve taken a few weeks off creating any content for my blog or Instagram – as I found that I needed a month or so to just reflect on where I am currently, and place less focus on every feeling/emotion that I go through.

However, with it being the end of 2018, I thought that it would be quite fitting to come back to my blog with a post reflecting on the past 365 days.

When it all goes wrong

2018 has been the year where everything went catastrophically wrong for me – in my eyes that is. To the eyes of an outsider; it probably wasn’t that bad. However, I feel like 2018 was the year where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Yet this also proved that I can get through a heck of a lot of failures.

And whilst this was highly frustrating, demoralizing and traumatic at the time – on reflection, I’m actually glad that everything went wrong. I’m glad that my life took the wrong route on the sat-nav and ended up in a muddy ditch, because it proved to me that I can get over, and through, just about anything.

Pretty much everything that I feared failing, failed. Everything that I thought would go wrong, went wrong – yet here I am, still standing, having gotten through the events which I once thought were the worst things that could ever happen.

I’m only 20 years old

I feel like I’ve been alive for much longer than 20 years, yet when I really think about it – I’ve only just finished being a teenager. Being a teenager is one of the hardest times of anyone’s life. There’s so much physical and mental development – you can’t really be expected to wake up on your 20th birthday and go from being a 19-year-old hormonal mess to being a fully fledged adult-in-training-20-year-old.

As soon as I turned 20  last January, I put so much pressure on myself to be an adult. With a 2 in front of my age, I assumed that I was now a fully developed adult. Thus, I should now be able to rationalise, and behave sensibly and make every decision with the same meticulousness and level-headedness of a Cath Kidston wearing 45 year old woman – because we’re both adults right? However, at age 20, I was exposed to a lot of new emotions, situations and experiences that I had not yet tackled as a teenager, so my reactions to these events mirrored that of 16 year old me, rather than the Trademark Adult I thought that I should be.

In other words, I put too much pressure on myself to behave like an adult, and do everything in an admin, rational way – yet the confused and still not-quite-gone teenager within me overpowered this.

Not everyone wants to hear about it

A big realisation for me this year was that not everyone wants to hear everything.

This can be disheartening at first, but it’s actually refreshing to understand that some people just want a simple life, and they don’t want to be bombarded with your stresses and your worries.

This is a positive thing, as it means that you can have people in your life who are there for the good times, the good memories and light-hearted things – and you can also have the people who are down to talk about the nitty-gritty details of life.

And that’s okay. Provided that those who are important to you, and close to you are the ones who truly care about you, then you don’t need approval from everyone. It’s okay to be accepted by a strong small circle, rather than be loosely welcomed by a mass group.

Anxiety and Depression

I can’t do a blog post without mentioning the two words which almost became my tagline for a short period.

I’ve suffered from the two aforementioned mental illnesses since roughly 2013. But my ability to talk about and open up about them was very limited.

I spoke of anxiety and depression almost as though they were the mental health Salt and Pepper, Ant and Dec (Anxiety  and Depression?? ant n dec?? – no?? no). I only really spoke about the two illnesses when I really really needed to, and even then it was in hushed tones. I assumed that if I explained that I had anxiety and depression and left it at that, then people would just leave me alone.

In 2018, I first realised that I don’t have depression. I experienced depression. Depression happened to me, and it was awful. But it’s not something I own, I don’t have it in my possession and I don’t carry it around in my bag or in my coat pocket. It’s an illness which happens to me when I let anxiety take over my life.

In 2018, I realised that I was controlled by anxious thoughts and behaviours. Anxiety controlled the vast majority of my thoughts and decisions, and it has done so, without question, for over 5 years. Therefore, by realising this, I started to challenge the basis of my thoughts and feelings, and understand that anxiety was actually nothing but a scared part of me, fearing the worse.

In 2018, I separated anxiety and depression. I realised that they weren’t this dual grey cloud which continuously followed me. They are two separate conditions, both of which are different consequences to different situations. I could live my life freely without the two if I paid attention to how and why I was letting them into my life.

Emotions, Thoughts, Feelings and Reactions – they’re all different things

By far the biggest “ooooh that makes sense now!” moment for me in 2018 was understanding the difference between my feelings, emotions, thoughts and my reactions.

After completing CBT therapy between September and December, I finally understood the different processes that go on inside my brain.

For the longest time, I thought that a single bad mood meant that I was doomed to be depressed forever. I assumed that all of my thoughts were true – no matter how far fetched or irrational they were.

My emotions controlled my thoughts, which controlled my feelings and thus controlled my reactions. I lived very much as a constant ball of stress and anxiety, never knowing how to behave – as my reactions to everything were governed by thoughts and feelings – of which both changed depending on my emotions. This may not necessarily have been a bad thing, however, I had no idea what my emotions were. I tried to hide all of my emotions except for happiness – and even then I was cautious that I was being “too happy” sometimes.

With CBT therapy, I’ve learned to accept and embrace the different aspects of my thoughts, behaviours, feelings and emotions. It’s often quite interesting to see how simple it is to just let feelings pass, and how easy it is to remind yourself that your thoughts are very rarely true.

Accepting that I’m never going to be perfect – I don’t even know what perfect is

When I talk about wanting to be perfect or being competitive, I very rarely mean in comparison to others. The idea of “striving for perfection” often conjures up the image of a barbie type girl, with perfect grades and a perfect life and blah blah – nothing of which interests me.

At the start of 2018, and leading on up until about September time, I just wanted to be the perfect version of me. I have no idea what or who the perfect version of me is, but I was adamant that my present self was rubbish, and that I must work as hard as I can to reach this level of a perfect me.

I think I’ll always have an element of wanting to be a better person because of I know that I still have minor flaws, but I know for sure that the strive for perfection only leads you to become more imperfect – as the hyper-self-focus causes you to just become an all-around shitty person – someone who nobody wants to spend time around.

I was competitive within myself, wanting to have oneupmanship over my previous attempts at various things – which can be useful in very small doses, but it got to the point where I’d be disappointed at myself for the most minor things.

I’m a creative person

For the longest time, I’ve scoffed at the idea of me being a creative person. I’ve always liked art and drama at school, I enjoy putting outfits together and doing my makeup – but I considered that to be the extent of my creativity.

I’d put myself down a career path which was very much the opposite of the creative industry, and I convinced myself that any attempts at creative expression are embarrassing and pointless. I bottled my feelings up, and my only way of expressing how I felt was through destructive means.

I was only until I started writing blog posts and changing my degree to the media industry, that I realised that I am a highly creative person. Whilst I definitely cannot draw pictures for the life in me, I don’t understand contemporary art, and my drama abilities extend to playing the role of a grandma or a chav – my creativity lies within spoken and written words. I’m not Shakespeare. I doubt my writing abilities are even anything beyond average, but the fact is that I enjoy it.

This year, I’ve learned that I really can express my thoughts and feelings through words, whether that’s written or spoken. I enjoy comedy, I like to make others laugh, and I like to put humourous and unique spins on situations which are often seen as bleak or boring. I think this has been the real turning point for me because I’m finally doing something for the sake of doing it.

The little money making, whats-the-point-of-this, you’re-rubbish portion of my brain resents the fact that I’m putting time and effort into doing things on the creative spectrum, rather than doing manual work and being hyperproductive – but I know for a fact what I’d rather be doing, and I know what is going to make me more successful long term.

In short

2018 has been a mess. A terrible mess by all accounts.

But I got through it. I learned an awful lot about myself.

The only fitting analogy here is that I threw all my toys out of the pram – didn’t like them all over the floor – so I put them back and realised I prefer things where they’re meant to be.

They say everything will be okay in the end. I know this isn’ the end, and I know not everything is okay. But day by day, more little things are becoming more okay. And that’s reassurance enough for me.

 

 

Avoiding the problem – or worsening the problem? + an update

Hey, hope you’re doing well. 

Today’s post is going to be centred around something which I’ve recently had my eyes opened up to, and could potentially be revolutionary in the way I consider my own habits and coping strategies for dealing with difficult feelings and situations. 

distraction

Looking at the image above can create a bit of a headache, however, the irony is that this image is supposed to depict a mindmap of how to focus when you’re feeling distracted – yet the overwhelming choice of options is distracting in itself. 

Could distractions actually be making your problems worse?

We are so often encouraged to deal with our problems in healthy ways – go for a walk, eat a good diet, turn off social media, create a to-do list etc.

Yet these distraction methods can seem futile, as they don’t actually deal with the problem or allow you to navigate your way through an issue; they simply act as a blocker between yourself and the bad feelings. 

Example:

You don’t like being alone, so you take yourself out on a walk, do some studying or call a friend whenever you’re in the house alone. This helps you to feel better because you’re staying busy and not sitting at home thinking about how lonely you are.

Doesn’t seem like a problem, does it? This seems like a perfectly healthy way of dealing with feelings of loneliness and avoiding potential sadness. 

However, this means that there’s no chance for you to actually encounter the feelings that you’re avoiding. Because you’re so scared of feeling lonely, and the potential sad feelings, you are not allowing yourself to get through it

Getting through bad feelings and coming out of them is one of the most impactful ways of overcoming them, and teaching yourself that nothing bad has happened. 

All that being said, there is a place for distractions and healthy coping mechanisms, provided that it is helping you to eventually overcome how you’re feeling – rather than complete avoidance of uncomfortable emotions. 

Frustratingly, the more we avoid emotions, the more impactful and powerful they are when they eventually hit us (think of it like a debt which keeps gaining interest the more you avoid it).

 

The reason that this has been so revolutionary to me, is that a good 75% of my life has been made up of distractions.

I’ve always been very busy, I have a packed to-do list most days and I sometimes wonder why I’m running around like a headless chicken and always stressed, yet other people can comfortably chill out all day and have no worries.

It has been recently brought to my attention that my way of dealing with things is actually causing me to experience more volatile and stressful emotions because I avoid difficult feelings or situations for so long that they eventually build up and explode.

My way of coping with things is very much to think “If I do X then I’ll probably feel guilty. So I’m going to do Y instead, because then I can avoid the feeling of guilt” – What happens then, is that I repeatedly do Y, until I get into a situation where my only option is to do X, and then I have to encounter a feeling which I have avoided for a very long time, and I have no idea how to deal with it. 

Actual real-life examples of this in my life are:

“I’m not going to go to that event, because I don’t want to feel awkward. I’ll stay at home instead because I’ll feel better” – Outcome: Next time that I have to go to an event, I have to deal with the feelings of awkwardness, which I have no idea how to navigate, as they’ve been avoided for so long.

“I don’t want to buy [insert whatever here], because I’ll feel guilty about spending the money. Therefore, I’m going to do without it” – Outcome: Next time that I have to spend my money on a large purchase, the feelings of guilt will be stronger and I don’t know how to deal with it.

I think you get the point now. It’s funny because I’ve built a lot of my coping strategies on avoiding awful feelings when actually that could be the thing that’s making me feel worse?

However, I think this is going to be a very positive step forward, and will actually allow me to enjoy the things that I’ve previously been employing as coping mechanisms.

I guess the ultimate goal is things like:

  • being able to go to the gym without “having to do it because otherwise, I’ll feel guilty”
  • Going for a run just for the fun of it, rather than “I’m really stressed and anxious, I should just run it all off”
  • Spending or saving my money without it being a tool for feeling better about myself
  • Going to events and accepting that I am a bit awkward sometimes, but actually just embracing that rather than hiding from it

 

Are there any things like this you could apply to your life?

Thanks for reading,

Heather x

 

 

What it’s like to live with depression and anxiety – and how to cope

A quick google search of “anxiety” brings up the following definition:

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview.” – NHS England

A quick google search of “depression” brings up this definition:

“Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.” – NIMH 

Of course, both definitions are extremely loose and very broadly skim the severity and complexities of both illnesses. By their own rights, depression and anxiety can have very mild to extremely severe symptoms and consequences for the sufferer.

We are fortunate to live in an era where mental health is becoming more frequent in conversation, and understanding of these illnesses is expanding in the general public.

But what is it like to suffer both illnesses at the same time? We so often hear that people are diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and this can conjure up the idea that the depression aspect of the person’s mental health operates in a different way to the anxiety side of their mental health. But the truth is that the two work together as an evil, chalk and cheese duo.

  • Anxiety makes you worry and overthink the most simple of situations. A simple trip into the town centre can take hours of planning, with each step meticulously planned. Leave the house at 12:35pm, make sure you’ve got your keys, bank card, phone and headphones. Draw out £10 at the cash machine, get the 12:50pm bus. Get into town for 1:15pm, meet friend at 15:25pm. Depression can make you feel like a failure and worthless for no reason, or for the smallest thing going wrong. Missed your bus and had to text your friend to say you’ll be late? You’re a failure, stay at home and don’t bother going now. There’s no point. 
  • Depression is often completely unexplained and comes out of nowhere. This means that you can feel very low for a few hours, days or weeks. The more frequently this happens, the more you become aware of it and can understand when you’re starting to slip or become more withdrawn. However, having anxiety means that you overthink and over analyse why you’re depressed. How can I be sad? I was literally fine yesterday. Nothing has even happened to make me feel like this. What is wrong with me? Maybe I’m broken, maybe my brain is defective. I shouldn’t feel like this, I don’t want to feel like this. Maybe if I try I can just get over it. Or maybe it’ll get worse, maybe I’ll never be happy again. (Side note, this can also happen when you’re feeling happy or non-depressed. There are times when anxiety can make you question why you’re feeling happy, or why you’re not stressed about anything. This follows the same principle; overthinking your mental state and wanting an explanation, or jumping to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with you)
  • Fear of failure. Depression causes withdrawal and lack of enjoyment in most things. Anxiety attempts to predict the future and assumes that you’re never going to be successful because you’re always going to be withdrawing from things. This further accelerates the desire to withdraw and resign from things.
  • Anxiety throws your central nervous system into overdrive. Depression wants to sit in the same place and not move an inch. The very basis of anxiety goes back to pre-historic times when our ancestors would be on edge and wary of being mauled to death by a wild animal. Therefore, when necessary, their central nervous system would kick into action and propel them out of the cave with the scary animals. In 2018, our biggest fear isn’t a sabre tooth tiger – it’s waiting for a message back, finances, sitting exams, planning events, talking in front of a large crowd – or simply living a good life. This means that anxiety and central nervous activation is almost none stop, which is bad enough in itself, but this is made even stronger by the resistance of depression. Imagine if cavemen had no motivation to run away from the predators? Imagine if cavemen thought that they were better off dead than running away? Their body would eventually go into survival mode and cause them to run away, despite what their emotions were. Anxiety always tries to defeat the depression, meaning that you can be in a state of intense despair, yet still on edge and worrying, wanting to get up and move and be running away or dealing with your fears.

You may have gotten this far into the post and be wondering how on earth anyone is expected to get better. Unfortunately, both illnesses are very difficult to completely eradicate. Unlike physical health, mental health can’t be completely and 100% cured. There’s research into the biological basis of mental illnesses (the chemicals in your brain, of which are supported with medication such as anti-depressives or benzodiazepams). There’s also a psychological basis of mental illness (the stuff that happens to you in your life, e/g parents divorce, loss of a job etc) and these things cannot be controlled very easily. This means that nobody is immune or completely safe from developing a mental illness. Someone with a perfect cocktail of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) may encounter a very difficult situation in life, which can cause a mental illness to develop. Someone with a very easy and perfect life may have an unfortunate brain chemistry and develop a mental illness.

The good news is, that every situation is unique, and getting to know your own brains and your own symptoms is the most important step to recovering.

Therapy in the form of medication is often an option recommended to help initially, however therapy in terms of behavioural support, or counselling is a good option for long-term coping mechanisms. There is a range of lifestyle methods which can help someone to understand and cope with their mental illness, and finding out the methods which work best for you and coincide with your stressors/triggers takes time and a lot of trial and error.

If you do feel like you need support in managing your mental health, and learning to cope with the ups and downs, the first port of call would be your GP. However, simple things that could help in the meantime are:

  • Self-help books (I recommend ones written as a novel rather than those targetted at the health/wellness sector)
  • Turning off notifications on your phone
  • Having a handful of friends who you feel comfortable sharing things with, and just ranting any irrational stressors out to
  • Writing about it *aka me writing this blog post*
  • High-intensity exercise, such as swimming or running, as this can give an outlet for the pent-up anxiety
  • Reading about other people’s stories, and learning that you’re not alone

 

Thank you for reading, I hope this has helped in some way.

Do not hesitate to speak to someone about how you are feeling

Conversation is the most important thing.

 

Heather x

Accepting where you are – right now

If you’re reading this right now, then you’ve got a lot to be grateful for.

At the moment, there’s a lot of conversation surrounding mindfulness, gratitude, and living in the moment. But what does this actually mean? To the average person, it may all sound like flowery nonsense or something that requires you to sit in your bedroom meditating. However, whilst meditation is an aspect of mindfulness, it’s only a small aspect of a mindful and grateful approach.

By definition, mindfulness is “the state of having full awareness of the present moment”, which sounds pretty simple, considering that we are usually consciously aware of what we are doing – driving to work, reading a book, scrolling through your phone, eating a sandwich etc. However, the importance of living in the present moment and having full awareness of the here and now is a fundamental part of living a fulfilling life.

If you see a professional about any mental (or physical!) illness, you’re likely to be recommended a form of mindfulness; whether that be meditating, body stretches; or even sleep. There’s no denying that focusing your attention and mind on a certain aspect of yourself is a positive step towards understanding and healing it.

This post isn’t going to attempt to teach you mindfulness or explain all the benefits of it. I just want to highlight how important it is to stay fully aware of what is going on Right Now. 

I am writing this, as I’ve just looked through my Snapchat memories and seen photos from October last year. It’s strange because I look back and I initially see someone who looks happy, healthy; glowing even. Yet I know at the time I was stressed up to my eyeballs. Despite having absolutely nothing to stress over, I was so unhappy with my current life. I wanted to be better, better, the best at everything. I never come across as a competitive person; in fact, I’ll be the first to throw in the towel and say “whatever”, when it comes to actual competitive activities (unless its Mario Kart, in which case, I am going to win).

Yet in my life, I’ve always compared and competed with other people on a subconscious level. Wanting to be better than someone at something, all the time. Whether it’s the best grades, best figure, best hair, best job, more money, better aspirations, more friends… the list goes on.  I don’t think I’ve ever just been happy with what I have right here, right now.

It’s only after everything completely fell apart, that I had to scrape back to the basics and genuinely be grateful for having a roof over my head and oxygen filling my lungs.

It’s when I look back at myself this time last year, and I think of how much pressure I put on myself to be perfect; without even realising that I was doing it. The irony is, in terms of my goals for last year; I’ve actually failed at what Heather in 2017 wanted to achieve. I put myself through so much stress to be perfect, that I actually cracked and failed at said perfection.

But that’s okay, because whilst it caused a ridiculous amount of heartache and difficulties, I’ve reached a point now where I am grateful for everything that I have, and I know that I don’t need more in my life. It’s okay to have goals and aims for the future but don’t let the chase for other things take credit away from what you already have.

We live in a world where we are bombarded with advertisements and rhetoric surrounding improving yourself – buy these clothes (they’re on sale!), eat these foods, get a degree, get a job, get a boyfriend, get more friends, my body is better than yours, my car is faster, save your money, spend your money etc etc. Just take a step back and understand that what you have right now, at this very moment, is the best that you’ve got.

You don’t need to be changing all the time to reach a new level of yourself. You don’t need to have a boyfriend/girlfriend. Despite what Instagram and retailers may tell you; you don’t need to buy the on-trend clothes, have the current trendy body (which makes no sense), you don’t need perfect grades, you don’t need a fat stack of cash or to be travelling the globe.

Any goals you have will be completed in their own time. Stressing and pressuring yourself can’t and won’t make it happen – if anything, stressing over something usually makes it harder to obtain.

Managing your mental health – does it ever actually get better?

Throughout this post, I am using the term “mental health” rather than “mental illness”, as I want to make this accessible and applicable to a wide variety of people. Whilst only 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental illness, we ALL have mental health. This means that everyone can experience points of poor mental health, good mental health and potentially develop a mental illness. The two terms are different, yet similar principles can apply to general mental health, and illness.

Following on from the surge of posts online, due to #WorldMentalHealthDay, a common message being shared with very good intentions is “It gets better”. I have said this to many people, many times – as it is true; your mental health will get better. Your situation will get better, it always does and it always will. The great thing about saying “it gets better” is the instillment of hope to the receiver.

However, the issue with relying on your mental health getting “better” is that there is no specific way of measuring your progress. There’s no linear motion of going from poor mental health, straight towards good mental health. And the biggest problem is that for many, the idea of their mental health getting better suggests to them that they will one day get back to the point where their thoughts, actions, feelings, and emotions are back where they used to be; prior to their current struggles.

The reality is that, unfortunately, your mental health is unlikely to be 100% back where it used to be. The old cringeworthy metaphor of scars and wounds is applicable here. Your illness can be healed and you can come to a point of great mental clarity, yet you will always have the scars, memories, and associations with the low points in your mental health.

This means that you have to establish new ways and coping mechanisms for working alongside your mind, rather than fighting it. The lifestyle, relationships, experiences and behaviours which caused/contributed to your poor mental health will likely need to change. This is where people can struggle to believe that it ever gets better – because they hope that their mental health will improve and life will be back to normal; despite continuously living in the exact same environment that caused them to become ill in the first place.

I’m going to use two examples to describe my point here, and hopefully, it will make sense.

Joe is 22, a 3rd-year university student living away from home. He goes out drinking 2-4 times a week with his friends and usually completes his university work 2-3 days before it is due in. Joe has a part-time job working in retail both days of the weekend and has worked in the same place for 3 years. He doesn’t really like spending time by himself and feels best when he is around other people. One of Joe’s friends is Mark.

Mark is 21 and in the exact same position as Joe; same degree, same social status, same employment pattern etc. However, over the last 4 months, Mark has become more withdrawn and started to feel disconnected from those around him. Mark is aware of the fact that his mental health is fairly poor at the minute, and is looking for ways to improve how he is feeling. He realizes that he is overworking himself and some of his friendships/relationships are having a negative impact on him.

However, Mark refuses to make changes to his lifestyle or adapt his way of living to manage his mental health, because he has seen people – like Joe, who can live their lives in the exact same way and not experience any damage to their mental health. Mark continues to live his life the exact same way he was before, and each day he is losing hope that it gets better. The problem here is that Mark doesn’t want to adopt new ways to manage his mental health, or to work around situations to suit him and benefit him better. Mark believes that his mental health will just improve – just like that. This is especially perpetuated by the fact that one of his closest friends lives the exact same lifestyle, but has absolutely no mental health problems.

Managing your mental health and adapting your lifestyle to improve how you feel is sort of like taking medication. When I was recovering from an eating disorder, I was put on a meal plan by a dietician. I initially thought this was stupid because my happy and “normal” friends didn’t have to be on a meal plan, so why should I? It wasn’t until the dietician described it as a prescription, that I started to understand. I had to adapt my lifestyle, and make accommodations in my way of living – ie a meal plan, in order to help my mental health get better. It never became perfect, because I was 16 and following a meal plan structure – however, it was better. 

I hope this post made sense. It’s only very recently that I’ve realized I have had to make changes in my own life to accommodate my mental health and help me get better. I look at some of the choices my friends make, the lifestyles they have and wish that I could be like them, carefree and reckless, however, I know that those choices would cause me to become mentally unwell again.

If you’re currently going through a bad patch in your life, just look at the things around you that you can change. It’s a long process, but there’s always something which can make you feel better. Continue to have things in place in your life which can support your mental health rather than bash it down.

Thank you for reading and I hope this has helped in some way.

Heather x

 

Update

Hey! I’ve not written on here in a couple months, because I’ve not had the time to sit down and think about what to write, or how to get my thoughts across. However, friends and family have been asking me if I’m going to continue to write on here – which was actually nice to hear, as I wasn’t aware that anyone actually read what I’ve been writing!

I just read through my first post on here, which I wrote 4 months ago. It’s quite jarring to read through, as much of what I thought, felt and experienced at that time in my life was extremely cynical and hopeless. I’ve actually blocked a lot of it out because I truly cannot identify with the person that I was less than half a year ago. I can very confidently say that I am doing very well in terms of recovery, and my approach towards myself and my life is so much more optimistic and reasonable.

The quick turnover in the space of 4 months may give the impression that recovery has been easy for me – which couldn’t be further from the truth. As mentioned before, the time surrounding my breakdown has been majorly blocked out by my brain, because I wanted to forget how horrible I really felt. Over summer, I’ve worked on my mental health more than I ever have in my entire life – which I saying something, as I have had about 5 different therapists in my life. Frustratingly, I can’t list the different tips and tricks that I followed in order to get better, because there is no real method as such. Just a lot of determination and heaps of patience, because time is the most important part of it all. I only really have a handful of etheral, arty farty, yoga-y sounding tips and methods which have helped me.

  • Remaining hopeful, but also grateful. I had to remain hopeful that things would get better and that I could overcome the depression. However, I also had to be grateful for what I already had, as a key aspect of depression is the fact that you’re discontent and unhappy with your current life. Gratitude for me wasn’t about thanking the Lord every day for a roof over my head or blessing my Yorkshire Water supply. My method of gratitude was looking at my life in the here and now, and appreciating that I have everything in my disposal to make the best of my life.
  • A social media purge. It’s no shock that social media plays a massive role in the onset of mental health problems, and depression is so easily exasperated by comparison and exposure to other people’s seemingly perfect lifestyles. I unfollowed or muted all the Instagram accounts that made me feel crap about myself, which helped me so much. In this instance, being selfish is the most important part. Ultimately, the people who you follow are a curated selection of lifestyles you’re choosing to hyper expose yourself to. Therefore, unfollowing (or muting) your acquaintances or work friends, or influencers may seem like you are betraying them, but if seeing their seemingly lavish lifestyles makes you feel a bit shitty, then unfollow them! Unless you’re 12 years old, then they shouldn’t really care about their following “ratios” and you shouldn’t really care about whether they will unfollow you back.
  • Deleting Twitter. Following on from the previous point this one is very simple, and again, massively improved my mental health. Whilst Instagram is blamed for a lot of mental health problems, I actually find that Twitter is the bigger culprit, as the general premise of Twitter seems to be a highly negative and pointless environment. As someone who has had a Twitter account for longer than a driving license, and would have once considered my tweets to be a personality trait, it seemed weird a first to not religiously check the bluebird every morning. But my life is so much better without it. Previously, after a minor inconvenience, I would weet about it and be investing more time and energy into something which could have easily been moved on from. Now, when I’m feeling a bit shit, I either just let the emotions happen, or a physically talk to someone about it. No more #relatable #edgy tweets.
  • Reading books and listening to podcasts. Some self-help books, but also just general non-fiction books have really helped me to get a better understanding of life and different perspectives. Going for a run or a walk whilst listening to a podcast sounds like the hobby of a 45-year-old middle-class man, yet I am a 20-year-old student who enjoys it just as much as a night out. A few of my favorite books this summer have been Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Notes On a Nervous Planet by Matt Haigh, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haigh and Recovery by Russell Brand. At the moment my top podcasts are BBC Radio 1’s Life Hacks with Katie Thistleton and The Fit & Fearless Podcast.

In terms of my lifestyle, after leaving my nursing degree at The University of Nottingham, I felt lost and confused in regards to my future. I have always been passionate about learning and education, and I knew deep down that I am extremely capable of securing a good degree and a good future, just not in nursing. Therefore I bit the bullet and applied for a degree which I have wanted to do since the end of high school – Broadcast Journalism. I could go on for hours about how integral this change has been for me because I am genuinely excited to be studying something which I have been interested in for well over 10 years, but never allowed myself to pursue it, out of fears of failure or judgment.

I am aware I am getting to the point where I’ve been typing for so long and I’m losing track of what the point of this blog post is, so I’ll start to wrap it up now. There have been so many changes in my life recently, but also a lot of consistency in terms of finding healthy coping mechanisms and dealing with challenges in a way which benefits me, rather than pleases others. I am very much still a work in progress, and I know that I have to be careful because depression is sneaky and can crop up out of nowhere. But right now, I am making the right steps. I have a lot to look forward to, and a lot to be proud of, and I really do think it gets better.

Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to talk about in future posts!

Thank you for reading,

Heather x

 

How to help someone with a mental illness – The Do’s and Don’t’s

Some people are just annoyingly, frustratingly and enviably normal. We all know someone who seems to breeze through life, always positive and never phased by anything. Those individuals are often fortunate in the sense that they may never have to understand mental illness, and may sail through life oblivious to the brain demons.

However blessed these people may be; there is sadly nothing to prevent those close to them from developing or encountering a mental illness. By now, we all know the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will be impacted by a mental illness.

Image result for 1 in 4 mental health

With this in mind, it is important that everyone has an awareness of how to help, support and care for someone with a mental illness – whether it is your friend, partner, parent or colleague – whether it is Anorexia, Alzheimer’s, Anxiety or ADHD – there are a few basic steps or rules that you can adopt to support those close to you.

Do – Be available for support or a chat.

Conversation and communication is one of the easiest and most effective ways of helping an individual who is suffering from a mental illness. Often it is difficult for the person to reach out and seek interaction with others, so make sure that you’re messaging them often, engaging in conversation when and where possible, and making it known that you’re happy to have a sit-down and a chat. More often than not, you don’t need to give any advice or practical methods of solving their problems. Simply having a functioning pair of ears and an appropriate response is enough to help someone feel better.

Don’t – Allow them to become dependant on you.

Unfortunately, it is possible for the scales to tip in the opposite direction, and for the individual to become highly dependant on the interaction of one specific person. Of course, this is not the case with all mental illness, however, it is common for a vulnerable person to attach to one close person who they can share the depths of their thoughts with, and constantly refer back to for advice and support. This can become an issue when the dependency causes the individual to be unable to make their own judgments and losing their sense of independence. If you feel as though a loved one is highly dependant on you and your judgment, then you need to take the appropriate steps back. Depending on the severity of the illness, this could mean arranging a professional team to support your loved one, or merely encouraging the individual to make choices themselves and take small steps towards dictating their own lives.

Do – Encourage positive views and highlight their achievements

Often the sense of reality can be altered in the mind of an individual with a mental illness. This means that they may completely ignore their successes, and frequently come to you with their problems or things that they think they have done wrong. For example, someone with depression or a personality disorder may truly and honestly believe that they are a terrible person. As someone with a subjective perspective, you have the ability to remind them of how well they are doing on their journey. You have the voice to address their achievements and all of the amazing qualities which they may not even realize that they have. Let them know how and why you love them and be the voice of encouragement.

Don’t – Disregard their feelings of hopelessness, or belittle their sense of reality.

Whilst a positive perspective can really help someone in a dark place, ignoring or disregarding their negative feelings can make them feel as though they aren’t being taken seriously.

Image result for mental illness symptoms

“You’ve got nothing to be sad about.” “You’ve got an amazing life, why are you depressed?” “There’s nothing wrong with you, you just think there is” “You’re imagining everything, none of this is real” “It’s all in your head” “if you stop thinking like this, then you’ll be happier.” “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.” “You’re just paranoid.”

All of the above are examples of phrases which may be well-meaning and intended to help someone feel better or steer away from their distorted reality, however, all of the above are examples of phrases which can make a mentally ill individual feel marginalized and often feel worse. Whatever you do, do not try to convince someone that they have no reason to feel down, or that their feelings aren’t real. Whilst their rationale or basis of their feelings may not be accurate, their actual feelings and emotions are valid and must be taken as seriously as anyone else.

Do – Try to make plans and arrange dates for the future.

The case with many mental illnesses is that the individual can be stuck inside their own head and whether this is a depressed or manic state, they may not be able to think beyond the current day or week. Making plans with your loved one ensures that they have got some dates to look forward to, and this can range from sitting in their living room with a cup of tea for a few hours on a Friday afternoon, or a weekend city break. It all depends on the type of illness and the severity of the case. However, having something different from the everyday grind and pattern can really help the individual with motivation, an improved sense of reality if they are leaving their house, and the chance to focus on something other than their own mind.

Don’t – Be Offended if they push you away or turn you down.

Emotional difficulties and conflicts are prominent in a high amount of mental illnesses. Even though many people still love their friends and family, a common coping mechanism is to push them away and force people out of their lives. This is often the point where friends will leave, people can lose their jobs, families can break up and relationships can fall apart. Please, please persevere where you can. If they cancel plans, make more. If they ignore your phone calls, go and visit them. If they tell you that they don’t want to be your friend or that they don’t need you – then they do need you.

Of course, take this information with a pinch of salt, and do not put yourself or the individual in danger. If it is extremely clear that the relationship needs to end, then make the most appropriate decision. However, don’t allow the friendship, romance or companionship to be severed instantly. Mental illnesses can put people at their most vulnerable, and often the actions are irrational and not thought out properly. Do not take offense if your plans are repeatedly canceled, or they are pushing you away. Instead, try to understand why they are behaving like this.

Do – Watch out for unusual or dangerous behaviors.

There is a whole range of unusual behaviors and self-destructive patterns that an individual may start to engage in. Consider how the individual behaved when they were well, or at their most stable. Then, look out for anything that they are doing which strikes you as out of character. Examples to look out for are: Under/overeating, becoming obsessed with someone or something, making impulsive decisions, spending large amounts of money, refusing to spend any money, sleeping all the time, hardly sleeping at all, using drugs, changing physical appearance often, promiscuity, isolation, not leaving the house etc. etc.

Of course, those listed above are indicative of unusual or dangerous behaviors if they are new or something that the individual doesn’t normally do. This could be an indication of a manic episode, depression, self-neglect or a cry for help.

If you do notice any unusual or dangerous behaviors, try to gently address this with your loved one, and explain that you’re concerned about the impacts this may be having. Try to ask why they are choosing to behave like this – or if they are even aware that they are doing it at all. It may be at this point that professional help should take over.

Don’t – Make every interaction about their illness or make them think that you feel sorry for them.

Of course, this may be difficult if you are genuinely concerned for the well being of your loved one. However, try to remember what your relationship was originally based on. Are you best friends who loved to go to football games together? Then try to talk about football as much as you can, talk about the old times and distract them from their illness. Are you a married couple? Then continue to base your interactions on your love for each other and your family. Are you working alongside someone with a mental illness? Then ensure that you’re acknowledging their illness, but also still in a working environment.

Again, this step may be difficult, but the general basis is that you need to remain at the core of your relationship with the individual. Try to think about old times, and have a laugh and a joke where you can. Complain about boring everyday things, like the traffic on the way to work, or the fact that your cat woke you up at 5am. Sometimes, the smallest distractions from the individual’s mental health can help them to build up towards a stronger recovery. After all, as they get better, your friendship/relationship/marriage will be based less on their illness, and more upon the great future you’re going to have together.

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That’s all I’ve got for now.

It goes without saying, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a psychiatrist and I am certainly not a therapist. I am a 20 year old girl who dropped out of her first year of Mental Health Nursing. However, I am fortunate/unfortunate enough to have an extensive knowledge on recovery from various mental illnesses, whether that be myself or those around me. I have been the one in recovery, and I have also been the one supporting unwell loved ones. All I can say is, any effort is better than no effort, and as long as you’re doing the best you can, that will still mean the world to someone.

I’ll leave some links below for support services.

Hope you’re all well, and thank you for reading 🙂

Understanding Mental Illness

Mental Health Self Referral

Carer’s support

Local Support Groups for Carers