Open Up and Talk

Whilst I acknowledge that in some respects people are more open about mental health, I feel sad and concerned that the numbers of suicides I see reported or hear about is increasing. In 2018 according to the Office of National Statistics there were 6507 suicides registered in the UK. Three quarters of those suicides were male.

How many lives has suicide touched? It affects not only the immediate family, but the extended one as well, reaching friends and colleagues and acquaintances. It seems to have this ripple effect with a lot of people wondering why? Why didn’t they talk to me?

As a single mum of two teenagers, one of whom; a girl, has had significant mental health challenges and was hospitalised for suicidal ideation, I do feel we don’t always have the knowledge to initially realise there may be a mental health challenge with our children, never mind others. We love our children more than anything and would hope that we could see if there was a problem, but it’s not always that obvious. If we can’t see it in the people closest to us, how do we see it in someone else?

Although my daughter and I have an amazing relationship and always have, when she first began to struggle to kept quiet about how she was feeling. She did this in her words to “protect me”. She didn’t want me to worry and thought she could handle it.

I also have a friend who pretty much refuses to go to the doctors unless her arm is falling off because she doesn’t want to “be a bother”.

A lady I know has tried to take her own life because she “doesn’t see a way out and doesn’t want to burden anyone with her problems”.

Why do we think that if we keep the problem to ourselves it’s going to go away? Even when things are worsening, do we still stay quiet?

Is it because we don’t want to worry others?

Is it because we see it as weakness?

Are we ashamed, thinking that we are making a mountain out of a molehill?

Are we in denial?

Whatever the reason as a society we all need to be more able to open-up about mental health. No one should feel ashamed or as if they are a burden because they are struggling with something. I would rather someone told me they were having a difficult time than keeping it to themselves and becoming more overwhelmed and feel worse. I’m sure all the people I know feel the same.

Whoever you may be and whatever the problem is don’t make a permanent decision for a temporary problem!

If you are ever struggling with anything, reach out. Sometimes it just takes for you to speak the words to feel better. Say it out loud and you may just find that person who can support you and empathise with you. Pick up the phone and call someone, send a text, message a friend, call a counsellor if you don’t feel you can speak to someone close. There are helplines out there.

However, you do it, reach out. The people who love you would much rather you shared with them than suffered in silence or worse.

Who do you talk to? Do you have someone you can share your feelings with, your worries, your struggles?

Reach out and talk …. x

Truffles

They say that dogs are like their owners and ours definitely fits the bill! She is high maintenance, a bit crazy and loves treats, just like me.

She is also sweet and small and cuddly and gets very excited when she sees us. She has been with us for nearly 11 years, and we love her to bits. She likes to sleep on my bed, a lot.

Truffles has been through a lot with us, my anxiety and depression and my daughter’s depression and self-harm, and all the while it’s as if she knows we need comfort and there she is. Curled up by a hip or laying on top of us.

Someone once asked if Truffles was my daughter’s therapy dog. I didn’t know a great deal about service or assistance dogs, but it turns out there are lots of disabilities or conditions where a service dog is helpful.

Guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for deaf or hearing impaired people, mobility assistance dogs for people with mobility limitations or wheelchair users, seizure response dogs that protect and help a person with a seizure disorder or when a seizure occurs, diabetes assistance dogs that detect blood sugar highs and lows by scent and mental health service dogs.

Mental health service dogs are task trained to assist people with PTSD, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, autism spectrum disorders and much more, but …..”in the UK there are no ADUK (Assistance Dogs UK) accredited assistance dog charities at the present time that train dogs for people with mental health issues where this is the only disability.”

What? Given the increase of adults and children dealing with mental health challenges I would have thought that this would be of huge benefit to some of these people.

Our pets give us routine, something to look after and provide companionship. They can have a calming effect on us but can also be great for socialising (everyone asks about Truffles). Imagine though for people who are really struggling with their mental health as I did some years ago. If I had access to an assistance dog that was trained to assist with anxiety, where would I be today? Would my anxiety have lessened quicker? Would I have been off my medication years ago?

I am blessed to have Truffles and I wouldn’t change her for the world. She is always there for us, but I just wonder how life would be if she was specifically trained.

Do you have a pet? How does your pet improve your mental health?

x

Self-Harm

This is a subject I knew nothing about up until a few years ago when I discovered my daughter had been cutting.

I never saw it coming and to be honest I initially didn’t handle it well at all. I completely freaked out! I was shocked, upset, disappointed and afraid. I completely panicked and rang our doctor (I had no idea what to do). I got an appointment for that afternoon and bundled my daughter in the car. What was happening?

If I was shocked initially, I was just as shocked when we met the doctor. I can remember so clearly him telling me this was normal. What! Are you joking? How is this normal?

I couldn’t understand why my beautiful smart child would do this to herself. She had told me that people in school were doing it, but I never thought for a minute that she would. Then I wondered if it was a way for her to be the same as these other girls. I thought maybe she was doing it for attention, I just couldn’t get my head round it. I knew she was being bullied and I had been at school countless times to try and get it resolved but was this the reason?

Self-harm can be in the form of many behaviours including cutting, scratching, over-eating, under-eating, overdosing, poisoning and burning. I struggled to understand this, and in some respect, I guess I still do.

The self-harm has been going on for about 3 years and has included cutting, scratching and overdosing. The cutting was at one point an everyday thing. I had a constant supply of antiseptic, bandages and micropore tape. I hid all the sharps, but where there’s a will there’s a way and she would use whatever she could. She says this was because she was using it to deal with a lot of emotions she didn’t know how to deal with. These included anger, frustration, depression, anxiety and school stress. Self-harming felt like a release of all the negative emotions. She saw the blood and felt alive.

She would cut, arms and legs. All superficial cuts, but a lot of them. I tried so many different techniques, but it wasn’t until she met a counsellor, she really trusted did the self-harm begin to improve. Validating her feelings was huge for her. Someone saying it’s ok to feel this way was also huge. I could say this stuff till I was blue in the face, but a stranger saying these things must mean they were true! Understanding CBT also made sense to her and she slowly began to make steps towards a better way of managing her emotions.

I think she found it difficult initially to open up about her emotions for fear of judgement or disappointing me. This child could never disappoint me. She is amazing.

It’s been a difficult journey, but she is so much better now. She has been on medication for the last two years and after 16 months of therapy she is a lot happier. She has learned that she can sit and wait it out and the emotions will pass. She also knows that she has other options and usually goes for a walk, plays a game or texts me or a friend. She enjoys guided meditation and she loves the Buddhist centre and lots of holistic therapies.

She is much better at communicating and I’m lucky we have such a close relationship and she trusts me completely. Nothing she says freaks me out now, I have learnt coping techniques to deal with her actions and reactions to difficult situations. I know sometimes I need to take a breath before I deal with things because my initial reaction needs to be the right one.

The last time she self-harmed was 54 days ago and she can’t remember why she did it. Outwardly you wouldn’t realise there was a problem. We do have a plan in place when she feels as though she may self-harm, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. In the last year she has self-harmed 5 or 6 times.

Her message – To anyone thinking about self-harm – Don’t do it, don’t start it. It’s harder to stop once you have started. It’s like an addiction. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but there are other ways to get the release of emotions. Emotions are all normal and even if you think you are the only person feeling a certain way, you are not. To parents who have a child that self-harms. Find a balance between protecting and keeping the child safe and being overbearing. If you are over-protective or overbearing, it’s like being trapped and the child will struggle to escape the only way they know how. Through self-harm.

There is help there, although I know sometimes it’s a struggle finding the right help. I know for people who self-harm it sounds scary but please talk to someone. Someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling. Sometimes just taking the power of the thoughts away can help.

I am proud of the work my daughter has done to get to where she is. I know she tries her best every day and I hope and cross my fingers that she continues to talk to me and keeps moving forward. I do think she will speak up if she begins to struggle again because she doesn’t want to go back to where she was. All I want for her is to be happy and healthy and know that and I love her millions and millions x

Some helpful contacts in the UK if you need them

Harmless

harmless.org.uk
For people who self-harm, and their friends and families.

Lifesigns

lifesigns.org.uk
Self-harm help and support network.

The Mix

08088084994 (helpline)
themix.org.uk
Helpline and online support for people aged 16–25.

Samaritans

116 123 (freephone 24-hour helpline)
samaritans.org
Emotional support for anyone feeling isolated, distressed or struggling to cope.

Sane

03003047000
sane.org.uk
Support and information about mental health problems, including online support.

YoungMinds

08088025544 (parent helpline)
youngminds.org.uk
Information for parents and young people about mental health and wellbeing.

Balance

When I hear myself say to my friend, “you need to find a good work/life balance” what do I mean and how do we achieve it?

I know that I say this regularly and I do believe we all should have a balance within our lives that encompasses work, family, friends, hobbies and other social and personal interests.

As individuals we all have different priorities and things that we enjoy so how can we find the right balance for us as individuals?

I’ve mentioned before and I will say it again that I love my job. I know there are a lot of people who don’t, so I appreciate that I am lucky. I work in an environment that is compassionate, caring and worthwhile. We help others and maybe that’s one of the reasons why I find it so rewarding. We spend so much time at work so it’s important we enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy doing the job you do, can you change it?

My two teenagers have social lives, so I must book out some time with them, but I have an amazing relationship with them both and so when we do something together it is a lot of fun. We try to do family fun night at least once a week and that’s usually movies or board games which we really enjoy. We also enjoy escape rooms, eating out occasionally, cinema and nature. I love spending time with them both, either together or one on one. My other family is scattered all over the world so it’s just the three of us and the dog.

I have my friends, and I am trying to be better at arranging get togethers. I need to do more work on that!

I practice mindfulness, I go and have a facial or massage, I read, watch tv, I go to the local Buddhist Centre. I always have candles lit and fairy lights twinkling because they make me happy.

I am also about to start my training for my counselling qualification.

I like to think I have a good life/work balance. Sometimes it can be a challenge, for example if I am particularly busy at work and don’t feel like I put enough into my kids. I think that’s mum guilt though and I don’t think that will ever go away. I try and balance the following week out, but maybe doing something extra with the kids (if they are available).

Do you have a good work/life balance? If not, what do you feel is missing?

x

Friendship

What is friendship, and why do we need it? How many friends is enough? Are all friends the same?

People have different views on what friendship should be. I like to think that my friendships are based on the fact they like me as a person, and I like them. I guess it’s about honesty, trust, humour, respect, and similar morals and values. Some friends are like my family.

Friendships are a huge part of development in children and as parents we all want our kids to have a good friendship group as it helps the child with life skills and development. It can help with communication and listening skills, social interaction and resolution and it’s fun. That is after all what we want for our kids, to develop into happy healthy adults.

Friendships during adolescence are just as important. At this point it feels as though parents can become quite obsolete and your child will listen much more readily to their peers that they do to you. My daughter who is 16 has a few friends and is drawn to others who are similar to her. My son, who is 15 has a lot of friends in different friendship groups.

A lot of research is done into friendships of children and adolescents, but not so much for adults. Why is this? Do the researchers expect us to already have our friendships all worked out?

I think it’s just as important to understand friendships at all ages. Research says that if we are sociable as adults we will live longer. Lonely people are more likely to suffer mental illness due to isolation and they are more likely to die younger. It also states that loneliness has been shown to weaken our immune system. Who wants to be lonely – no-one, surely.

It is clear then, that we need good friends in our lives for many reasons. We choose to be with these people socially because they are fun, interesting, challenging (in a good way), inspirational and supportive.

I have a few friends that I really trust and that I chose to spend time with. I also have friends or maybe they are acquaintances that I may spend time with or talk to now and again. Do I have enough friends? I think so. And if I don’t how do I, as an adult meet new friends anyway?

I guess we find a new hobby, join a group such as a walking group or a book club, a yoga class or social networking. This is making me want to try a new activity!

How many of us will meet new friends this year? I hope we all have the friends we need, but if not then maybe it’s time to try something different.

x

Anxiety And Me – Where I Am Now

My anxiety continued to be there most days, but I could hide it and manage it. I was still on medication and had received some counselling. I was still able to go to work and take the kids to and from school, and I could go to local places if they weren’t too busy. Too many people had now also become a no no!

Then my daughter started struggling. She stopped wanting a relationship with her dad. She was angry at his lack of interest. She also started getting bullied in school (these two things may all have been connected).

My focus shifted immediately, and I wanted to do what I could for her.

For the next few years things got worse for my daughter (I will tell the story in another post with my daughter’s permission), but I knew I had to get my mental health as good as I could get it to be able to help her.

I participated in a mindfulness class which was enlightening, and I began to see a counsellor who was amazing. I went to the local Buddhist Centre and just felt peace. I participated in meditation and found that I enjoyed guided meditation or meditation to music. These things had always been out there, but I don’t think I was ready to heal properly up until this point. I had just been putting one foot in front of the other each day. I still use all of these tools and go to counselling and the Buddhist Centre as they all benefit my life.

I have learnt so much about myself over these last few years. I didn’t deal well with the bereavements in my family. I didn’t deal well with the redundancy or the break-up with my ex. I just got on with it as a lot of people do, I was functioning and not living. Experiencing any type of trauma; and there are many different types of trauma, leaves an imprint on your subconscious and so I know everything that’s happened in my life has helped shape me into the person I am today.

I now try to deal with things when they happen. I don’t want to feel so lost any more.

I have grown in confidence and self-esteem and people have commented that I am like a different person. I honestly feel like a different person. I know that my anxiety stems from loss and not being in control. I now know that I can’t control every situation and I accept that. I am more at peace within myself.

I still have anxiety at times (I had an anxiety attack this week), and I know that too much stress can make me feel anxious, but I know how to deal with that. Hopefully going forward I can improve even more as I continue to work on me. I know that I will always have things to work on and that’s ok. We can all do things to improve our lives.

I don’t want to feel the dread, the inability to sit still, the sweats or headaches. I don’t want to have a poorly tummy or feel the tension in my back or shoulders. All the things I feel when I have an anxiety attack! That complete loss of control. I know I need to talk about how I feel, ask for help when I need it. I am much better and improve all the time, but I still have goals I want to reach.

Anxiety sucks, and sometimes you feel like there’s nothing that will change it. Don’t ever give up. If I can make these changes after nearly 10 years, so can you.

x

Anxiety and Me – Part 2

Alone, a single parent. I was afraid and overwhelmed and this wasn’t how I imagined my family would turn out!

The first few months after my ex left were a nightmare.

My daughter was going into her second year of primary school, and my son was just starting. I had no job, not a lot of money and I was supposed to do this myself when I struggled to even get out of bed!

I knew I had to get a job, anything would do, but I knew I needed to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads.

I had a friend who lived next door and came in every morning to just check I was out my bed, and the kids were getting to school with their packed lunch. I managed the basics, but it was a struggle and I will forever be grateful for her empathy and kindness. I wouldn’t have got through that if not for her. (You know who you are)

I got a part time job working 18 hours a week, and again, managed the basics. I got there, did what I needed to do and left to go and pick the kids up. That was about as much as I could cope with. Some days it even felt like too much. (I have to say that 11 years on I am still there and I love my job).

My friend suggested I go to the doctor, who gave me medication for depression and anxiety. I didn’t ask any questions, I just took the meds. Anything to get through the day.

I think my anxiety got worse over a few months, but it lasted years. I was ok when I was home. I wasn’t jumping for joy, but I was able to do daily tasks, and I re-decorated the house a few times. Home was my safe space. The thought of leaving it would sometimes send me into mini panic attacks, although I could usually bring myself back before it was full blown. It did mean that I stayed indoors a whole lot though.

I continued to go to and from work. I got the kids to school, but it was a huge struggle. I missed some school events because I couldn’t physically get in the building. I went nowhere else.

For someone who had travelled all over the country with work, flown in aeroplanes, gone on trains, this was sad. I just couldn’t do it. I began to hate myself for being so rubbish.

I went to the doctors what felt like a million times because I was sure I was dying, having a heart attack, got cancer, something completely fatal. Doctors tried to reassure me, and I would be ok for a couple of days, then off I would go again. The anxiety dictating my life.

Anxiety is not logical. You can’t just make it go away. There is a reason for it, some subconscious perceived danger. As the years went by, I just adapted and some things got a bit better, but I knew I wasn’t living my life, not fully. Was I just going to accept this? I wanted things to be different, but was I even strong enough to heal myself and deal with whatever came up?

Could I change my life, would this ever go away or improve enough that it wouldn’t affect my day to day life.

To be continued tomorrow….

My Anxiety – The beginning

Anxiety Disorders include

Generalised Anxiety Disorder, OCD, PTSD, Social Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobias.

Each of them presents differently and each individual has their own symptoms, although some symptoms can be seen with all types of anxiety.

I have anxiety. The GP calls it generalised anxiety disorder, I call it frustrating!

When I was about 21 (28 years ago) I had my first panic attack and it came from nowhere.

I remember going into town during my lunch hour at work and browsing in one of the stores. Suddenly, I felt as though I was going to faint, my chest tightened, and I was sure I was going to die. The store manager called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital where they did lots of tests and found nothing wrong. It had been a panic attack they told me.

I thought they were just telling me that because they had no idea what was wrong. I couldn’t understand why this would happen to me. I just chalked it up to low blood sugar or something. I couldn’t have had a panic attack, that was ridiculous.

I didn’t have another attack for about 4 years, but this time it was different. This wasn’t like a panic attack but was more like days of butterflies in my tummy, headaches and not wanting to leave my bed. I made an appointment to go to the doctor who said it was probably depression. What, depression, I wasn’t unhappy! At least I didn’t think I was.

During the first and second episodes I had lost my gramps suddenly, right in front of me. A massive heart attack and he was just gone. I also lost my brother after a battle with leukaemia, he was 15 years old.

Looking back now, both losses which were huge to me had a massive impact on my mental health. At the time I thought I was dealing well.

I was ok again for another couple of years and then I really began to struggle. I was tired ALL the time, couldn’t get out of bed, just felt blah all the time. Felt dizzy and couldn’t drive. So back to the doctor. Blood tests galore and even a brain scan. This time they told me it was ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I was sick for about 6 months, then my work changed, and I was afraid I would lose my job, so I made myself go back to work. After two or three weeks I was fine again! Weird right?

A couple of years later I met someone and moved from Scotland to England and had my two kids.

After I had my second child, I was made redundant and that was a massive blow to me. I felt as though I had given my all to this company and they treated me like disposable waste. I felt completely useless. I didn’t think anyone would employ me ever again, so I became a stay at home mummy. I didn’t feel anxious or depressed, but I think I may have been in complete denial about my mental health. I didn’t want to be seen as weak, or as if I was a burden to anyone. Making a fuss about my feelings was an inconvenience to others, at least that’s what I thought!

When the kids were 4 and 5, I split with their dad and my world came crashing down around me.  This is when life became so difficult, I thought that giving the kids to their dad and running away was an option! I am so glad and grateful that I never did that, but in the moment when it feels as though there is no way to feel better you contemplate the most destructive things. I was ashamed for feeling the way I did. Ashamed and guilty and utterly miserable.

This was when I found out what anxiety and depression really was, and how much time it would take from me.

To be continued tomorrow …..x

To Judge Or Not To Judge

So far, I have only told 3 friends and my kids about this blog. Why? I think I am a bit afraid that people won’t like it, won’t connect or find it remotely interesting. Am I afraid of being judged!

Are we all afraid of judgement? Do we all judge others? Yes, and yes. Judgement from others is unavoidable and we can’t control it, but we can stop it negatively impacting our lives and we can learn to be less judgemental ourselves.

During my hypnotherapy training we were taught how best to build rapport. How initial impressions are so important as we hope people will trust us so that we can help them deal with any challenges.

Initial impressions can be made within seconds and are based on how we look physically, what we wear, our facial expressions and what we say. Our subconscious has a lot to do with this. We are more drawn to those we believe share the same values and interests. We each have our own internal morals and personalities built on the lives we have lived.

Rapport comes from connecting with a person and forming a relationship built on understanding their feelings and ideals. It is built through communication and trust.

But that doesn’t explain why I haven’t told people that know me, about this blog. They have already made their impressions about me, and they have known me for a long time. And if I am worried, they may judge me, why I am sharing my thoughts on such a public platform where inevitably I will be negatively judged by strangers at some point.

Maybe it’s about people knowing me as a whole person. The severity of my anxiety, the gory details about my depression. The losses I have had in my life and how these affected me? And how people will think of me as a mum whose daughter had such severe mental health challenges she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital?

How am I going to feel if someone judges me? Probably not good for a minute, but I will try not to take it personally. Everyone is entitled to their thoughts and opinions.  I just hope people offer constructive feedback, negative and positive and won’t just be mean because they don’t understand.  

If I post anything that needs clarification, please ask.

If you want to ask me a question, please do that.

Instead of being judgmental let’s take a minute… ask questions … be more compassionate … everyone has their own story … and as the saying goes, you never know what anyone is dealing with, so please be kind to each other.

x

Devastation Everywhere?

This was not going to be what I posted about today, but I really can’t get out of my head the shocking images and videos I’m seeing of Australia, or the growing tensions between the US and Iran.

Both these events and escalations are causing me to feel a certain way. Like butterflies in my tummy.

The fires in Australia which have been going since September (I only found this out in the last few days) taking the lives of people and animals and causing such devastation is heart-breaking. I have seen photographs and videos of animals lying dead at the side of the road. There are millions of acres of land and thousands of homes gone.

How do the firefighters and other emergency services workers cope with all they see? These individuals putting their lives on the line in what can only be described as apocalyptic conditions! Yes, I have donated a little money to the Animal Welfare League NSW, Red Cross Australia NSW Rural Fire Service and Lifeline, a crisis support helpline, but what now? I feel guilty just sitting watching the news.

In reality there isn’t anything else I can do, and I must be ok with that.  So, all I can do is keep the Australian people in my thoughts and hope that they can find a way to stop the fire spreading further.

I can’t believe I’m writing this on the same page, but the other news dominating now is the rising tension between the US and Iran! I’m still processing how people can act in such negative, destructive and barbaric ways intentionally!

As someone who doesn’t follow politics or understand it half the time, it seems to me there must be a better way to resolve things without resorting to full out war! This tension has been going on since 1979 I believe, where does it all end? I have done some reading on the psychology of war and one of the points made is that a war brings people together to fight for a single cause, be that race, religion, gender, sexuality or whatever. Whilst I understand that need or pride, I don’t understand the reasons to fight others who are not the same. It’s complete bonkers to me!

These events unfolding in the world makes me feel unsettled. I am uncomfortable with the feeling, but I will sit with it and hope things improve, or at least don’t escalate.

This is probably the most simplistic take on what’s going on out there, but I really felt I needed to talk about it.

X