Family

Let Down in Lockdown

Yesterday I got an unexpected phonecall. It was a private number. That always fills me with dread. What I really wasn’t expecting was that during a global pandemic, while my country is on lockdown, my mental health service would phone to discharge me. A lot of what ensued is a blur. I was on my back foot from the start and was just completely stunned that a stranger was calling me and trying to discharge me back to my GP. I’ve not been checked up on during this crisis so when this woman introduced herself and where she was calling from, I was immediately really pleased and impressed that they were phoning to see how I was. They weren’t. In fact, I don’t think I got asked any questions about how I am, how or if I’m coping or if I’m getting enough support. She went straight in for the kill and said they were planning on discharging me. I then spent nearly 20 minutes trying to find out why, what that would mean, how I can stay on their books, what criteria I have to meet, all the while trying not to burst into tears and have a panic attack.

More and more unexpected information came out during this phonecall including the fact that my psychiatrist retired in September or October which I’d not been told. I apparently should have been written to by him but even she couldn’t find a record of that letter on their system. He had, seemingly wrongly, promised to keep me on their books until I was well enough to attend treatment in the future. He’d apparently promised this to a lot of patients, all of whom I’m assuming are getting the same out-of-the-blue phonecall passing them back to their GP with no warning or support. It means that I’ll no longer be allowed to have visits from my support worker, the only professional involved directly in my care who actually sees me and knows what I’m going through and how damned hard I’ve worked despite the lack of visible progress or improvement and who continues to support and boost my confidence and self-esteem and treat me like a valuable human being. She has to work under a clinical lead and I’m not allowed one of those because I don’t fit the criteria and so she won’t be allowed to work with me either.

I know that mental health teams are increasingly underfunded. Before all of this, I worked in one. I know all too painfully the limitations of the services, the understaffing and the squeezing from all angles. I’ve tried to make myself as little of a burden as possible on the NHS and specifically on my local mental health team. I’ve not agreed to appointments unless I really believed I’d be well enough to attend. I stopped booking them when it was making me worse and I was becoming unreliable at attending because I didn’t want to waste appointments that could be given to other people. I didn’t agree to have therapy that I’ve previously had that I knew wouldn’t help me and that again, I wasn’t well enough to attend. All I asked was to see my support worker for an hour every couple of months and to be kept on their books, under a named psychiatrist, so that I didn’t have to wait weeks to be re-referred in the future by a GP surgery where I’ve met none of the doctors and the last doctor I was under kept me on a medication that my psychiatrist described as basically poisoning me with horrendous side effects.

Oddly, this phonecall came the day after I had a completely unexpected letter from the same team telling me that an appointment had been booked for me to have a telephone consultation with a new psychiatrist. I have no idea who booked this or why and the lady on the phone yesterday wasn’t aware until I highlighted it and she checked my records and even she didn’t actually know why it had been booked. I was already stressed and anxious because of this random appointment but it also really upset me and made me pretty angry because I begged to have telephone appointments 5 years ago so that I could still engage with support but not make myself really ill trying to go to appointments. I was always flat-out refused this and told that it was completely impossible. I know that we’re living through “unprecedented times” right now and that people are having to change and adapt their work in order to maintain services during this pandemic but I cannot for the life of me work out how it’s possible, doable, and acceptable to have telephone appointments with a psychiatrist now, when a few years ago it was completely impossible even though that meant that I had to stop having any support from a trained professional because I was too ill to do it in the way that they offered.

All I kept being told yesterday was that their service only offers time-limited, goal-specific help, none of which I’ve ever been well to engage with because the offerings are so limited and are all aimed at people who are much less ill than I am. All I’ve ever been offered (apart from medication which we’ve all agreed I can’t and shouldn’t take again) is 6 sessions of CBT and group art therapy run by a support worker, the same job role I had when I was working. Yesterday, I asked what people like me are meant to do, those of us who are too ill to engage with what they offer and she said there were community treatments, all of which she acknowledged required you to be well enough to physically attend. I’m severely agoraphobic. I can’t go out. So the upshot seemed to be that there’s nothing for me, no service, no treatment, no one to keep an eye on me or make sure I’m not spiralling. No one unrelated to me who I can talk to about how this is actually all making me feel or what it’s like to live like this which actually leaves me with no one to talk to about that because I just can’t bear putting that on people around me. My social network has reduced and reduced over the years of my illness and each time I’m struggling, there are fewer people to talk to and I feel further and further away from them and from normality. I’m good at getting through the day-to-day stuff, I’m great at ignoring my limitations and working within them to the point where I sometimes forget that I’m ill and often forget what I’m not capable of until I’m rudely reminded by circumstance and it all comes flooding back. I don’t have people to talk to about how frightened I am, about how much my belief and hope are fading as each month passes. It’s not because I don’t have people close to me, it’s because I can see how painful it is for them when I talk about these things and I know that what often keeps them going is my grit and determination and continuing belief that I’ll get better. I don’t have the heart to tell them that I don’t know if I believe that anymore and that although I mostly do think that I’ll be better, albeit not cured, one day, that image is increasingly vague and I’ve got no idea of how to get from here to there, what to do to make it happen or when it may occur. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be 6 months from turning 30 and still severely agoraphobic and unemployed. I know I achieve a lot and this isn’t meant to be a pity-party but it’s very hard to keep yourself going, day after day, year after year, when you have to fight for even the basics of medical support and then have that randomly threatened with being removed.

The only reason I’m not now discharged is because of this mysterious appointment that’s been arranged for me. She eventually agreed that I could speak to the new psychiatrist and see what he says and that we’d “discuss it”. So now, I get to spend the next month, waiting and trying to work out how or even if I should try and persuade them to keep me on their books. Because even if I manage to stay this time, how long will it last? It will always be hanging over me. They offer me next to no support and no treatment anyway so in many ways I won’t be any worse off without them. But it feels like I’ll be even more alone, even more adrift and cut off from reality, normality, and help. It makes me sad and angry that people like me are just abandoned. That we’re so ill we can’t function and are essentially punished for that by having accessible treatment denied. So many people have the opposite problem of needing help but not being so ill that it’s deemed necessary and having to wait until they deteriorate before anyone will treat them. Increasingly it seems that there’s a right way of being mentally ill and more and more of us are failing to do it that way and then get denied treatment. I can’t make my illness fit in with the criteria they set, I can’t get myself well enough to attend the treatment that they say will get me better and so rather than bring any of it to me or even keep it paused until a miracle happens and I can get myself there, they decide that I look bad on their books and need to go. I wonder how many people out there exist as I do? I don’t think we’re even counted. They know how many people have a diagnosis, how many people went through therapy, how many people had a psychiatrist. But once I’m discharged, I won’t exist anywhere as a statistic. I won’t be counted as one of the people they failed, I won’t be listed somewhere as one of the people who was so severely ill that they couldn’t be treated. I’ll just disappear. Even statistics for houseboundness don’t seem to exist. I’ve looked and looked over the years and never found anything that even attempts to give numbers to how many people are physically or mentally ill enough that they’re confined to the house. I know there are many of us. The sheer number of people who, well-before lockdown or Coronavirus, were arriving at my blog because they wanted advice or help to cope with being housebound, is huge and I’m just one blogger with a small following and a pretty small reach. There must be thousands of us. But we’re all hidden away and mostly we’re forgotten about and just left. Lockdown has shown just how hard living your life indoors is to the masses. People are going stir crazy. They can’t work out how to entertain themselves, how to stop eating every 30 minutes, how to work, how to get medical help. This has been my life for 6 years and I’ll tell you for nothing, there’s never been a better time to be housebound because of the sheer number of free resources that have been released. So many things have adapted and been made accessible so that life can continue despite us all being indoors and still it’s unbearable for many people. Spare a thought for those of us for whom this is our life permanently, who don’t get to do PE with Joe or have church services via Zoom or watch Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals in our lounge the rest of the time. The majority of the time, these things are completely inaccessible to people like me and now even mental health treatment, in the midst of a pandemic, is being withdrawn because I don’t fit into the box neatly enough. As yet, I’m undecided about what to ask for in this appointment and whether I’ll put the energy into trying to fight or just give in this time because as seasoned readers of my blog will know, absolutely every step of the way, I’ve had to fight to get any treatment or support and I’m so unbelievably tired of doing that and being let down. I always thought that I’d get through this on my own, in my own time and I have no idea if that’s true but it looks like that’s the only option I’m left with and I’ll just have to hope that one day, the solution will reveal itself and I’ll somehow get from here to “better”.

6 Years’ Agoraphobic – Coping with Social Distancing, Self-Isolation and being Housebound: Advice for COVID-19, Anxiety and Beyond

For 6 years, I’ve been virtually housebound suffering from severe Agoraphobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety. It means I’m in a fairly unique and experienced position to advise about the dos and don’ts of being indoors for a prolonged period of time. Below is a long list of suggestions that have helped me and that I hope will help you to cope and keep occupied.

Do remember that this will have an end point. Much as it’s not clear when that end point will be, there will indeed be one and it’s important to focus on that and not get too bogged down or pessimistic. For those who don’t know me, I’ll point out here that I’m not an optimist, nor am I a fan of most self-help stuff because I find it patronising and overly simplistic. I’m not involving myself in the medical side of things because there are plenty of articles already available on this and I’m not a medical expert, but I am an expert in how not to go stir-crazy when cooped up indoors for an indefinite period of time, for reasons beyond your control.

1. Create and Keep a Routine – Getting up and having a routine are absolutely key to keeping focused, motivated and having any sense of what time of day it is. You’d be amazed how quickly those things fade if you don’t stick to at least a few basic plans each day. The absolute musts are getting up, going to bed and eating at set times as those all help to regulate your body clock. Getting dressed and having activities planned for the day are also great for helping you be ready to tackle things and motivate you to get stuff done rather than lounging in front of the TV all day. Writing out a timetable can be really helpful, as well as a list of suggestions for activities and tasks to do if you get bored or can’t think of something to do at a specific time.

2. Limit Accessing of News Updates – It can be really tempting in times of crisis and uncertainty to want to be as informed as humanly possible, all the time. Stop. It’s SO bad for your mental health, won’t lead to you being more informed and is likely to just make you panic and feel sick. Choose your news sources wisely! Don’t take notice of the umpteen viral social media posts written by so-called experts that are constantly contradicting each other and spreading misinformation and worry. Pick one or even a few specific times a day where you will check on these reliable sources and then avoid the rest of the time. If you find this too much, then keep reducing down until you reach a happy medium of informed and calm-ish. If it’s all too much and you want to hunker down, then feel free to avoid all news and stay in your happy place. Do whatever it takes to stay sane and coping!

3. Be Prepared but Don’t Panic Buy! – We’re all well aware of how ludicrous the situation is in the shops right now (at least in the UK) and it’s important to be prepared and to have in the things you need for if lock-down happens or you have to self-isolate. Having enough food and supplies in is really useful but please, please don’t panic buy because it’s stopping everyone from being able to be prepared and causing widespread anxiety. If you’re able to get food in, then a great idea is to batch cook some meals to freeze so that if you become sick, you can eat nutritious food, won’t need to go shopping for a while and can just defrost and reheat instead of cooking when you really won’t feel like it. You do not need 1500 toilet rolls, they don’t taste nice or help your lungs! Make sure you eat healthily and regularly and stock up on some treats too – try to avoid eating all of them on the first day of quarantine!

4. Finances – Money is becoming a huge worry for many. Try to avoid burying your head in the sand and work out exactly where your family stand and look into what help is available to you. Making a spreadsheet of current expenditure and income can help you identify areas to cut back on, as well as showing you your budget. This puts you in the best position to act quickly and pre-emptively if things are going to worsen for you and could help you avert a crisis. The finance situation is different for everyone and changing daily so keep researching and applying for all of the support available to you and remember that even small changes can build up to make a big difference.

5. Social Contact – While we’re all having to avoid physical contact with people outside our household (and inside for those self-isolating), we don’t have to be isolated from all contact. Phone calls, emails, video calls and group chats are just some of the ways in which we can continue to socialise. Talk to people about how you and they are feeling, give each other tips of how to pass the time and talk about anything other than the virus when you can! Check in with others who you think might be struggling and rekindle friendships that fizzled out due to lack of time – there’s an abundance of that right now. Setting up cyber groups is another way of doing joint activities whilst being socially distant, things like film nights, book groups, cocktail evenings, lunch dates, debates and more can all be done via video chats or cyber groups to keep you involved and connected with each other, sharing activities and combatting boredom.

6. Plan for the Future – During scary times, it can feel all-consuming and never-ending but this will pass and there will be light at the end of the tunnel. In order to keep focused on that and to keep you getting through all of the difficulties and things you currently can’t do, rather than focusing on what you’re missing, put all of those things and the things you’re looking forward to doing once this is all over, into a list. Keep adding to it each time you think of something new and it’ll give you all sorts of ideas for how to fill your time once this period of isolation and restriction comes to an end. It’s highly likely to increase your enjoyment and gratitude for the ability to do those things once you’re finally able to again. I never get over the novelty of feeling the wind on my face having spent the majority of the last 6 years indoors.

7. Use this as an Opportunity – You’re likely to suddenly have a lot of time on your hands and while that might seem like a dream come true, the novelty quickly wears off. Rather than letting the boredom set in, use this as an opportunity to get tasks done that you’ve been putting off, to learn new things, to start something that you’ve always wanted to and even to re-evaluate your priorities and make changes to your life. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness of life and forget that we can change things we don’t like and put more time into the things we do and now is a perfect opportunity to start making that happen.

8. Look After your Mental Health – This is crucial! A lot of us who have mental illnesses, have strategies and coping mechanisms to keep our symptoms at bay and enforced time at home may be restricting your ability to do some of those things. Even those who don’t have mental illness may well have things they do that keep them calm, focused and able to cope well with daily life and being indoors for prolonged periods of time is likely to have quite a profound effect on your mental wellbeing. My key suggestions would be to talk to others and tell them how you’re feeling, share tips on coping and activities to pass the time and set goals together that you can help each other achieve. Being at home can be extremely lonely and isolating but you don’t have to be mentally alone, there are a lot of us out there all in this together so head to your contact list or social media to find others to connect with and you’ll realise you’re not alone in finding this hard and that might just make it a bit easier. If things get really bad then reach out for professional help, it’s still accessible especially over the phone and online, so don’t suffer in silence!

9. Help Others – If you’re feeling bored or have any skills, services or supplies that you could share with others in order to help them then do it! Helping others is a great pastime as well as building community spirit and connectedness. In times like these, even small gestures can make such a huge difference and they help us see the wider picture of us all being in this together. Obviously, maintain social distancing whilst doing this.

10. Be Creative – As you’re likely to soon find out, there truly are only so many hours of daytime TV and trips to the kitchen to check the fridge for snacks, that one can take before wanting to climb the walls. Therefore, creating, rather than consuming, is a great way of getting out of that cycle and making your day better. It doesn’t have to be drawing or painting, it can be literally anything from writing a poem to building a shed, taking photographs to making up a dance. Anything that involves you making something or changing it and using your hands and your brain to produce something, will do just fine and it’s great for giving you a sense of achievement too because you can see the result of your efforts at the end.

11. Keep Fit – You might have to get a bit inventive here and try not to annoy your neighbours (especially those of us in flats/apartments) but getting your heart rate up and your blood pumping is a sure-fire way to help clear your head and get rid of excess energy and anxiety. If you have home exercise equipment then use that, if you’ve got a garden then get out there and run, play with a ball or even skip. For those of us who only have indoor space we’re a little more limited but thanks to the wonders of the internet you can find free workouts, yoga and Pilates tutorials, dance classes and more. You could do strength training if you’ve got weights and if not, get out some of those stock-piled tins of beans and use them instead. If motivation is tricky, then get your friends involved and hold each other to account or even video chat whilst you all do the same workout and cheer each other on!

12. Avoid Substances and Bad Habits – It’s a really tough time for everyone and it can be all too tempting to look for ways of escaping difficult feelings but leaning on substances or bad habits will only harm you more in the long-run. Try to avoid alcohol, comfort eating and any other self-destructive behaviours and talk to others if you’re struggling to manage. Keeping busy is the key to getting through as unscathed as possible.

13. Free Activities and Resources – Companies and individuals are offering free services, resources and activities, with new ones popping up daily for kids and adults worldwide. There’s everything from fitness routines to tours of zoos and museums, education and language-learning resources for all ages and abilities, colouring pages, recipes, courses and qualifications and so much more. Now is the time to start looking into all of the things you always wanted to do and never quite made the time for, be it learning sign-language, pasta-making, or crochet, there are guides to almost everything, if you look.

14. Change your Environment – If your country allows and you feel it’s safe to do so, then go outside to an open area, staying 2 metres apart. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or a balcony then use that regularly. If, like me, you don’t have outdoor space then you have to be more creative. Watching nature programmes and documentaries is a great way of seeing outdoors without actually being out there and opening windows as often as possible to get fresh air in is really beneficial. Even just changing rooms or sitting down the other end of the sofa is better than staying in the same spot for days on end. You could redecorate or rearrange some of your living space to freshen it up and make it feel different and new. Keeping your curtains and blinds open and making sure you get enough daylight will help your mood, sense of time and your sleep pattern and although you may not notice the benefits, you’ll certainly notice the deterioration in all of those things if you keep the light out. Another great way of getting the outdoors indoors is to grow something. It’s very therapeutic to have a plant to look after, it’s good for air quality, and it can even be useful if you grow something edible – my personal favourite is chilli plants which grow pretty quickly and easily and can then be added to my cooking or saved up and made into chilli jam.

15. Working From Home – For those of you who are unexpectedly working from home, try to keep a distance between work and home. If possible, keep your work to one area of your home, keep it to specific times and outside of those don’t be tempted to check emails or do extra unless you absolutely have to. Psychologically, it can be hard to keep a mental distance when there’s little to no physical distance but our brains are really good at picking up on cues so setting routines and times that are similar to your regular work schedule and even changing clothes, eyewear or hairstyle so that you have ‘work’ and ‘home’ versions could make the difference between feeling like your work is never finished and being able to fully enjoy your free time. It requires discipline and it’s not easy but having separation really helps you to focus on the task at hand and then let it go when the time for that is over.

16. Tune Out – Although most of the things I’ve suggested involve ‘doing’ stuff to keep your mind and body occupied, you sometimes need to just ‘be’ and that’s just as important. Write a list of things that help you relax, calm down, and zone out, and plan those in so that you’re not exhausted from too much ‘doing’. Anxiety, stress and worry are exhausting, trust me, I live this every day and it’s really tiring and you’re likely to get a lot less done than you’re planning or hoping. Try to be ok with that. Plan in regular time to just ‘be’ and you might find that the rest of your time is more productive because of the breaks you’ve taken. Similarly, if you’re religious, spiritual, or have regular practices like mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation, then ensure that you’re still building that into your life, even if it means using alternative methods to access it. You’ll need periods of escapism too and reading, audiobooks, gaming and passive TV can all provide this and give your brain a much-needed break.

These are frightening and uncertain times but hopefully by following some of my suggestions, you’ll keep as calm, occupied and content as possible, until freedom is restored.

For specific, anxiety-related tips on how to cope with being housebound, you can find my post written 14 months in here.

New Year Update – January 2020

So, it’s 2020, my brain still can’t get used to that but hopefully it’ll catch on soon. Happy New Year! It’s been an absolute age since I blogged or vlogged. I had intended to update you all shortly after I moved but that was all just crazy and now here we are, nearly 3 months on. I’m never sure why I make these plans and goals because I know when I make them that I’ll never manage to stick to them and lo and behold, I haven’t! As ever, there ends up being so much to tell you all and so much happening that I often get overwhelmed or put off by the sheer amount of stuff to try and get out and so I put it off. But I’m finally here writing and hopefully making sense.

The biggest change and update is that Joe and I bought a flat and have moved. We bought at the end of October, I spent the whole of that week frantically decorating so that it was ready for us to move into and 8 days after buying, we moved in with help from family and friends. Unfortunately, we moved during a storm with 60mph winds and sideways rain so we did have a few casualties in our possessions but mostly it went fine, especially under the circumstances! It’s been quite a whirlwind since then. We’ve had various issues with the previous owner that have really taken the shine and excitement out of moving. We’re hoping that most of those major issues are now dealt with and we’re finally starting to calm down and enjoy the place but even on completion day we had some horrid news that we had to pay an extra £5200 that we were unaware of ahead of time thanks to various misunderstandings so we didn’t have a typical completion day at all and we spent a lot of that day in shock. It meant that we didn’t take any photos of us, no champagne to toast such a monumental day. I’m really sad that it all transpired the way it did because we’ll never get that back. It was completely understandable given that so much bad stuff was going on but it’s such a shame that we’ll never have those experiences at our first home again. We didn’t do it when we moved in together 6 years ago because we moved into the property on different days and this time it was because of shock. We completely overlooked our 8-year Anniversary the week after we moved in too because we were just so swamped with tasks to do in between Joe starting a new job and trying to navigate our way around the insane number of boxes that were piled up to head height in every room.

Since then, we’ve settled a lot more and although we’re not completely sorted out, we’re mostly unpacked and hopefully by next week things should be much more under control after a furniture delivery at the end of this week. We’ve had various issues to contend with including problems with windows that we weren’t aware of, various bodged jobs that we’ve discovered and bailiffs turning up at our door on my birthday, the week before Christmas, seeking out the previous owner. It’s not been the best and it’s meant that I’ve not really talked to most people about our move or shared anything on social media because most people are so excited and full of positivity in this situation and that’s not been the case for us. I’ve found it quite isolating to be honest because I had struggled so much in the lead up to the move after it was dragged out for an additional 2 months beyond what we were expecting. I was thinking I’d be sighing with relief as soon as my solicitor phoned and I could collect the keys and that was exactly what happened until 4 hours later when we found out about the huge fee we had to pay the following month. I was all ready to give the flat back and unpack our stuff at home and just live out our days there. Ultimately, it’s all worked out. At least I think it has, I say that quite tentatively currently because it’s not been that long and with the amount of random, unexpected curve balls that have been thrown our way recently, I’m not holding my breath that we’re beyond all of that yet. But hopefully we are and if so, then it was worth it and it’s worked out. Though it has put us off moving for a lot of years and it has made us less trustful of other people thanks to how much our seller has messed us about.

The positive things of living here are that the flat is larger so there is more space for our stuff and I feel much less claustrophobic and trapped. The space also means there’s more room for me to sort through my possessions and hopefully clear out some of those at a later point. I was able to decorate with the colours that we’d chosen ourselves and those have worked out really nicely and I’m really proud of the job I did and how homely and “us” it feels. It’s also so quiet here. I really struggle with noise sensitivity and we had pretty noisy neighbours at our last flat and it’s so much quieter here. There’s a real sense of community here too, our neighbour opposite is an absolute sweetie and really looks out for us – we were out for the day on my birthday and he heard the postman knocking and getting no answer at ours so he went out and requested the postman leave our parcels with him to save us a trip to collect them from the post office (he didn’t know it was my birthday and we have no arrangement with him for this, he just did it off his own back). We got 3 Christmas cards through our door from other flats having only lived here for 7 weeks; the same number we received in the 6 years we lived at our last flat. People say hello and talk to each other, it’s tidy and clean in the communal areas, almost everyone had a wreath on their door at Christmas. It’s just lovely! We have really nice views over a local park and we’re not properly overlooked in any of our rooms. We’ve got huge windows that let in lots of light, despite no longer being south facing and we have gas central heating, instead of night storage heaters and that’s just such a luxury! It’s hard to explain and probably doesn’t make much sense but despite my anxiety being worse at the moment, I feel calmer here. I don’t feel as stressed or unsettled in myself and I feel more able to keep on top of cleaning and tidying and managing the flat than I did before.

That being said, my anxiety is worse and in particular my agoraphobia. I don’t have any specific plans or reasons to go out and so often, I just don’t. I didn’t go out this year until the 12th and that was only because I realised I’d not been out yet and forced myself to go with Joe to collect my mum and her partner from the airport. I’m trying to psych myself up to go out more often but even when I think about that I can feel my brain pulling away and coming up with reasons not to. I’ve also hit my yearly period of questioning my life, my purpose and what on earth I’m going to do with myself and my time. As ever, I feel completely lost and useless as well as bored and I’m spending an inordinate amount of time trying to work out what direction I want to go in and if there’s any way at all of earning money and not feeling so rubbish about myself! I have various plans that I’m really hoping I might actually get on with this year and I’m desperately hoping that some of those might bring in some money. It’s hard not to blame yourself or lower your self-esteem when you see other people succeeding in so many ways and doing all of the things you want to be able to do and realising you’re nowhere near being able to do any of that. I spent time last week researching how to train in various types of therapy and realised that the chance of that happening without a lottery win is minute. It’s SO expensive and time consuming to train and my brain so often feels like complete mush that I have no idea how I’d ever go back to formal education despite absolutely loving learning. I’ve already mostly ruled out my dream career of becoming a Clinical Psychologist because it’s so competitive, high stress and difficult to get into but I had really hoped that I’d be able to become a therapist and now even that is looking further and further away. I’m a very goal-orientated person and find that life makes far more sense when I know what I’m working towards and how I intend to get there. I’m also very career-orientated, especially as I don’t plan to have children and so most of my goals are focused on work and how I’m going to spend my time and so when I have huge wobbles or my plans fall through or change drastically, I really struggle to make sense of that or catch up. It makes me feel really lost and very panicked because I don’t cope well with the unknown and I’m very aware that I’m turning 30 at the end of this year and my life is absolutely not how I’d hoped or planned and I seem to be drifting further and further from what I wanted. It doesn’t feel like my life is changing direction, it doesn’t feel like I’m now travelling on a different path towards a different goal. It just feels like I’m lost and drifting aimlessly but further away from all of the things I’d dreamed of. I keep hoping that my purpose will reveal itself, that I’ll stumble upon a career that’s meant for me, that doesn’t require thousands of pounds of investment or unbearable pressure and demands on my already frazzled mind. I’m not sure that I believe it’ll happen but I can’t keep torturing myself by researching things at the moment, only to find out just how unattainable my chosen options are so I’m trying to just focus on the present and do the best I can with that.

Another thing I’ve noticed recently is that my ability to start things is hugely diminished. “Well” me would be shocked at how much “ill” me changes and how differently my brain works. I’ve always been someone who thought it was better to start, and to try, than to not give it a go for fear of failing or not finishing. At the moment, I struggle to start most things because I’m so worried about failing or making a mess of them. A lot of this is down to lack of confidence which is an ever-present problem for me. I question myself about everything and it’s what’s stopped me from blogging or vlogging and what’s stopped me from reviewing, doing any of my hobbies or beginning anything new because I talk myself out of it all before I’ve even started. I’m never sure how to get beyond this. I try to just ignore it and start anyway but I end up freaking out and not doing it because there are so many ways in which I could mess up or regret starting. It’s infuriating but very real at the moment. I’m trying very hard to push past it and do the things that I can do in the hopes that I’ll work up to the scarier things at a later point. It’s still early days since we moved and I know I’ve had to deal with a huge amount of changes over the last few months. It always takes me a long time to process and catch up but it does feel very unfair to be plagued by so much self-doubt and lack of ability to ‘do’ things because it means I don’t have much distraction or much to show myself about my abilities or uses. Hopefully I’ll find a use and purpose for myself again soon.

All sorts of other stuff has been going on since I last posted an update but this is already massive and before I lose confidence and chicken out from posting this I’m going to take a deep breath, press upload, and send it out into the ether. I’m working on psyching myself up to post more often both about mental health and about colouring and I’m hoping to one day be brave enough to do a video tour of our new flat. I have no idea when any of that will happen; it always takes way longer than I plan or hope for but know that I’m working on it and I hope to be back soon!

* The photo was taken during the first week of owning our flat during a quick lunch break whilst decorating my bedroom

Confidence

This is a word that comes up on my blog time and time again and in fact in conversation with me too. I seem to somehow come across as this confident, extroverted person who means business and even in the throes of an anxiety disorder I exude this to others. I have literally no idea how. You see, deep down, in fact not that deep, you barely even need to scratch the surface most days, I’m a bundle of nerves, worries and self-doubt. I have absolutely no idea how I manage to cover this up and yet time and time again I’m described as confident despite feeling anything but. I don’t overly mind this but I do sometimes worry, especially when I’m doing videos, that people think that I’m somehow different from them because although I’m ill, I’m still confident, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although I’m good at talking and am known for my inability to shut up, ever, I spend a lot of time worrying about it, analysing what I’ve said afterwards and time just rolling my eyes at myself and wishing I’d said something different or just stopped talking altogether. I annoy myself often and yet somehow I can’t stop and carry on talking rubbish. Just because I talk a lot and am viewed as loud doesn’t mean that I have any self-assurance about the value of what I’m saying or my authority to say it.

You probably wouldn’t believe the amount of time that I spend comparing myself to others and wishing I was different. If I spent half of that amount of time actually doing something productive or changing myself in a specific way then chances are I’d be more like the people I so admire. But I’m never sure in what way to even change, what bits to add, what bits to take away, and so I just continue to compare and wish I was more like them. It probably sounds ridiculous and I always feel that way when I talk to people about it in my real life but I don’t even feel like I’m ill in the right way. There seem to be acceptable ways of being ill and unacceptable ways and I’m pretty sure that I’m mostly in the latter camp. I’m not half as productive or effective as the majority of people I know who are mentally ill and in terms of social media advocation, I’m really low down. I don’t have the energy, capacity or will power to stick to a posting schedule and I have literally no idea how other bloggers and mental health advocates manage to create the sheer volume of content that they do. I often look at the list of posts that I’ve published for ideas and come to a halt because I just don’t know what to write about anymore, I’ve done the big and obvious things like describing what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety, what my appointments with my psychiatrist have been like and sharing updates when I’ve had big positive or negative changes in my health but apart from that my ideas seem to have run out. For someone who absolutely always has something to say, I seem to have a lot less to write than I’d like to admit.

I often wonder why this is and I think it’s because of the topic of this exact post – confidence. So often, I’ll talk myself out of even starting a post because I question it or decide that no one will care or I won’t do the topic justice. I spend a colossal amount of time now wondering who the hell I think I am and why anyone would care what I have to say when I’m one tiny voice in a sea of much more competent bloggers. They are able to function, even to make a career out of this, to get paid for their publishing, create regular content to an actual schedule and even go viral! I know it’s silly to be competitive about blogging but I tend to wonder what I’m doing wrong and what I could change in order to reach more people or make more of an impact. I’m not interested in fame or getting rich from this but I’m desperate to make a bigger and more meaningful difference than I currently am and I can never work out an effective way of doing so. We all go through blips of low confidence and second-guess ourselves but I seem to be the complete opposite and have blips of belief in myself followed by weeks and months of not even wanting to try because I just know that I’m not capable and feel like I’ve got nothing valuable to say. Lack of confidence regularly goes hand in hand with setting the bar increasingly high and so now I feel extreme pressure to post something really valuable and worthwhile because it’s been such a long time between each post and so I really need to share something worthy of people bothering to read it. The more I think like that, the harder it is to conjure up an idea that could possibly match those criteria and hence I go for months at a time of posting nothing because nothing ever makes the cut. I even start posts and they just get lost in a drafts folder, often never to be seen again. I wish I wasn’t such a perfectionist and would just share more frequently in the hopes that doing so would help me get beyond this. I try to talk myself into sharing some of the posts that I don’t think are up to scratch or finishing off some of the half-written drafts that I’ve lost count of the number of. I get to the point of thinking that any video, no matter how random or disjointed would be better than sharing absolutely nothing but then I get whatever the YouTube equivalent of stage fright is and just can’t be coherent. It’s a real nightmare! I’m lonely, I’m isolated and I know I’m one of what must be thousands of people in the world who feel the same way. I want to be able to voice our experience, to shine a light on what it’s like and to get some of the thoughts that spend hours swirling round and round in my head, out and into the world in the hopes that it might quieten my mind just a little and have at least one of you reading or watching saying “hey, that happens to me too, I’m not alone”. But the lack of confidence renders me mute. You’re probably sat reading this half shouting at the screen that it clearly doesn’t and this must be a lie because there you are reading a post that I’ve written but this was actually written ages ago and it’s taken until now to muster up the courage to post it. This lack of confidence isn’t an act and it’s something that try as I might, I’ve not won the battle with for over a year and I see no end to that arriving anytime soon. I question myself constantly, I try to talk myself into posting something, anything, and yet the vast majority of the time I don’t even get as far as starting before I’ve talked myself out of it and decided it’s pointless and no one would be interested anyway. Once I finally have written something I usually feel that it’s not coherent, is far too negative or just sounds whiny and after getting a particularly hurtful comment from someone I know after sharing one of my last blog posts, my confidence is even lower and I second-guess myself even more.

My hope in posting this post, albeit quite late, is that it might spur me on with continuing rather than starting again. I continually try to not leave huge breaks between posts and then time just passes by and my anxiety about needing to post something spectacular increases to an unbearable point. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve opened this document and wanted to just post it on my blog and then chickened out. Normally when this happens I’ll get a friend or family member to read it and check it’s ok and get them to make suggestions for edits but I don’t even have the confidence to do that. I finally asked my partner earlier in the week to read this but he forgot and I’ve not been brave enough to ask him since. He never judges me and always tries to boost my confidence but I’m so worried this is bad or whiny that I can’t face getting someone to check. By the time this is posted I’ll have almost certainly had to psych myself up, hold my breath and mentally scream at myself to just hit the damn ‘publish’ button and I’ll probably feel sick for ages afterwards waiting to see what reaction it gets and whether I’m going to be criticised again. I think I’ll always be amazed when people describe me as confident when a constant stream of all of this is permanently running through my mind.

I normally try to end posts on a poignant note but I’m all out of those. I’ll try to be back soon with more posts and videos. If you have any suggestions or requests then do let me know in the comments or via the contact me tab where you can contact me privately. I don’t have any ideas for future posts at the moment so any ideas are gratefully received.

Two Years On – Two Years of Trying

You all know by now that I’m one for anniversaries. It’s not deliberate, I just have a really good memory for dates, plus this one is etched onto my brain because I’ve had to fill out so many forms declaring how long I’ve been ill and off work for that I’m not sure this date will ever leave my head. March the 24th 2014, the day I stopped coping with life. Dramatic isn’t it?! But that’s pretty much what it is. I don’t want to focus on that today though. My way of dealing with things, my way of looking at this condition, at my life, at the challenges and adversity I face each day has really changed, I can’t pinpoint when, why, or even particularly how, but it has changed and I’m going to take this post in a different direction from the one I’d have expected last year. I re-read my post One Year On – One Year of Fear, a few days ago and it was fairly depressing. Not what I wrote, though it certainly wasn’t cheery content, but it was depressing to read how I was then and what I hoped would be the case for today, one more year on. It was disheartening to realise that I’m actually worse than I was then in many ways. I can do even less, I go out even less, my social circle is even less. I thought I’d have improved by now, I thought I’d be getting my life back on track and for a while I did make some small improvements, I was able to go out a lot more regularly, I was pushing myself so hard to do more and more things that scared me, it wasn’t difficult to find things, almost everything scares me. Then I deteriorated in October after being put under too much pressure and my condition decided to fight back hard and I was the most housebound I’ve been, completely unable to take the rubbish downstairs, fearing anyone buzzing our door, having panic attacks before phonecalls and only being able to visit my grandparents once a fortnight (a place I’ve known my whole life with people who were at my birth) and suffering severe anxiety ahead of time. I was utterly trapped, not only physically by my condition and within the walls of my flat, but now almost entirely mentally too because for months I’ve had nightmares that include anxiety, I worry about anything and everything and even get anxiety for no reason where I’ll just feel anxious and have anxious thoughts about nothing.

Despite all of that though, despite all of the trapped-ness, the pain, the worry, the wondering, I’ve been doing something that has challenged me, that has forced me to face my anxiety head on and that has scared, overwhelmed and taken over my life more than I thought it ever would. Blogging was never something I wanted to do, I never thought I had something to offer or even write about, for those of you that don’t know, the only reason I started was to satisfy some particularly persistent and vocal (in a good way) relatives and friends who weren’t taking no, or my lack of assurance in the idea as an answer. So I eventually gave in. I will never be able to thank them enough for pushing me in this direction. The course of my illness, the course of my recovery has changed all because of them believing in me and believing I had something to say. Blogging has been an absolute lifeline for me. I have very little going on in my life in the real world, I don’t have an awful lot to look forward to, my progress in terms of recovery is almost non-existent, but online all of these possibilities have opened up. I can help make a difference, I can have a voice, I have a cause, I can do what I was put on this earth to do and help people, all with the aid of my laptop and an internet connection. It’s given me a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning and probably best of all after the opportunity to help people, it’s given me more friends. I’ve met so many amazing people who follow my blog, who share their colouring with me, share their stories with me, who comment on posts when I’m feeling rough or post pictures to cheer me up, I have a whole community of people who want to help each other and it’s wonderful to be part of that. I’ve also made 3 amazing friends who I hope to be able to call friends for life now. Two of them are reviewers and though we’ve never met, we have so much in common and their support, conversation, humour and friendship have been absolute lifesavers through the countless times I’ve considered giving up blogging and throwing the towel in. They’re probably sick of me thanking them and it’s probably lost all meaning but I truly can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me, they won’t even realise the extent they’ve helped but my family and friends do and we all thank you. I’ve also made friends with a fellow colourer who sends me a photo almost every day, we’ve never met but when I’m better we’re going to colour together, go button shopping and eat ice cream. Those sound like simple things but to me those things are the world because they’re currently so far out of my reach. Blogging has helped me connect with people who understand, who help pull me through and who give me things to look forward to in the future.

Two years on, two years of being predominantly indoors and I’m pretty used to it. It doesn’t upset me every day, I don’t pine for the life I had so much anymore because it now feels so far away, so distant, that I no longer remember what it felt like. I’m so used to being housebound, to being anxious and scared that I can no longer imagine living a ‘normal’ life because I have no idea how I did that in the first place. Despite living through it, I don’t know how I got from that functioning girl who was going to change the world, who grinned from ear to ear walking across the stage at her graduation, who worked in a high-stress job that most people wouldn’t even attempt doing, to this. This anxious creature whose first thought is to worry and wonder ‘what if?’, who fears almost everything and who can only just cope with everyday tasks and still can’t manage basic things like planning meals or working to a schedule.

Despite all of those things, all of those difficulties (most of which I’ve never even mentioned because I’m too embarrassed to admit them), I try to push through, to keep myself motivated, working towards something and being useful in some way. In the last year I’ve learnt so many things, talked to so many lovely people and realised just how widespread mental illness is. Despite having very little self-belief, I’m gradually starting to realise that I do have the ability to write and that this is something I can offer whilst I can do little else of use indoors. I’m starting to feel like I’m not wasting my time and I’m incredibly determined to have something to show for myself at the end of this period of extremely limited functioning, however long it may be. I will not become another unemployed statistic who can’t get a job because they were too ill to work for a time, I will not fit the hugely stigmatising stereotype people have of the mentally ill that we’re lazy and work-shy and don’t try hard enough to ‘snap ourselves out of it’, I try all day, every day and some days the amount of effort and determination it takes me to go for a walk or visit my family on rare occasions is the same amount of effort I have to muster to get myself out of bed and not just cry or contemplate suicide. None of this is easy. It doesn’t get easier over time. In some ways I’m used to this, I’ve adapted to it, but it’s still painful every day. Every day I have to fight with my own mind to not label myself as a failure, to not give up even though I’m running out of answers to the incessant question in my head “What’s the point?”. I make myself have a goal, I try to help people in whatever way I can and every time I get an email or a comment from someone saying they enjoyed my review, or the book they bought on my recommendation is their new favourite, I feel that little bit more hopeful and it becomes a little easier to get out of bed that day, to keep going, to keep doing, to keep living this groundhog day of repetitive worry and anxiety and lack of progress because if nothing else, at least I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life.

I’m not going to put myself through thinking about the year ahead, it’s too difficult to focus on the all-too-real prospect that I may get to year 3 and still be blogging about lack of progress. I’m also learning from my mistakes and I’m not going to put down hopes either, even small ones like I thought I’d done last year because even those I haven’t actually managed to achieve and that just sets me up for failure. I’ll leave you with my plan instead because I only make plans that I think I can realistically achieve. I plan to continue blogging, to continue trying to learn new skills so that I have a whole new section to add to my CV when I can eventually, hopefully, start applying for jobs again. My biggest plan is to continue trying to help people, to reach out to other people like me, who are struggling with their lot in life, and often with their very existence, and let them know that they’re not alone, that there are countless other people out there who are struggling too and that together we can help each other through until the days are a little brighter. I don’t know what the year ahead will involve, or what it will bring, the idea of another year, even another day of feeling like this scares me to the pit of my stomach, but one thing I can assure you of is that I will be trying. Trying all day, every day, striving forwards, pushing to succeed and taking each day, hour and even minute as it comes in order to get through to the next one in the best shape I can. Two Years On – Two Years of Trying.

If you’d like to keep up with my blog posts then click follow at the top or bottom of the page to receive an email each time I post. You can also follow this blog on Facebook here, or my Colouring blog on Facebook here. If you’d like to read more about how I got into blogging, what I’ve learned and how it’s helped me, you can read my post here. If you’d like to read more about my experience with mental health problems and my thoughts and feelings on the matter, all of my posts are arranged into date order here.

Relieved …. I Think!

Today I’m relieved … I think. To be honest, I’m actually numb, but I should be relieved and I think I will be when everything sinks in. I’m truly exhausted after under 6 hours’ sleep a night for the last week due to anxiety about today and only getting 3.5 hours last night and then being done in with drilling and hammering in our stairwell almost all day. To my friends and family who I haven’t told/reminded that I had a psychiatrist appointment today, I’m sorry, I only reminded my boyfriend, it’s nothing personal, I also didn’t phone any of you and I’m sorry about that too, I’m just burnt out and couldn’t deal with phoning anyone or answering questions, or anything really.

I didn’t attend my appointment today. I’ve been asking them since July to stop making me attend appointments that have been making me so unwell, I’ve written letters, had my Support Worker tell them, told them in appointments and until now, they’ve not got the message and keep telling me I have to attend one more to discuss it. I’m not allowed phone appointments, they don’t offer the treatment I’ve been requesting (previous posts explain this in detail but long story short I was lied to about it being offered, then categorically told it wasn’t, and then finally found out it is offered but not in our area and I can’t travel so it’s not currently suitable) which ironically I’m now way too ill to even contemplate, and the only treatment option they offered was going to groups, not group therapy, just groups of other mentally ill people talking about coping strategies we each have and doing arts and crafts – clearly ideal for a virtually housebound agoraphobic who suffers from panic, severe social anxiety and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I digress…. essentially they’ve continually offered the same unsuitable treatment for 18 months that I cannot attend, I’ve been practically pleading with them to stop making me go to appointments and threatening me with discharge if I can’t attend 3 (I’ve now missed 4 and postponed 3 – I’ve always given as much notice as I can, I’ve never just not turned up) back to a GP who told me to “try harder” on the meds she incorrectly put me on.

Today was a meeting between my psychiatrist, my Support Worker and the therapist I’m yet to be assessed by because I was too ill to attend the appointment in December or January. I was invited too but since deteriorating in October, after the last appointment with them, I’ve only been able to go out on a handful of occasions to places that I’m very familiar with so there was no way I could attend. I was fully expecting to be discharged today after being told so many times that I would be but I finally got some good news. They’re actually doing what I’ve asked and allowing me to be in charge of the care I receive and they’re going to leave me alone until I’m well enough to engage with the services they can offer. I’m still waiting for confirmation of this by letter so I’m not getting my hopes up too high until I have it in writing and have all of the ins and outs explained but it looks like I’m going to still be part of their patient list and everything they’ve offered is on the table for me to reinitiate when I’m well enough and I can contact them to do this when I’m ready. This will hopefully mean no more dates, no more appointments, no more pressure or stress from them to be well enough to attend and then not believed about how ill I am, and I can finally get back to focusing on what I’ve been meant to be focusing on – getting better.

Dates are horrid for me (more on this later in the week) because I can’t forget them because I have such a good memory so even when appointment dates are two months in advance like this one was, I still worry about it and obsess over it for that whole period of time. I’m also asked each time how I’m doing since last time and have to try and keep a mental diary of what I can and can’t do, in comparison to various different dates and periods of time to be able to relay back at any given moment. This is soul-destroying for someone who’s so achievement focused. I try so hard every day to do something useful, to achieve something, to improve, to get better, and the constant reminder that I’m essentially failing has been one of the things that I feel has kept me worse and definitely the thing that triggered my deterioration almost 6 months ago. I’m not getting my hopes up that this decision will suddenly cause some miraculous spontaneous recovery, but I am hopeful that without time pressures from doctors who barely know me, and left to finally listen to my own body and mind and do what I think is right instead of constantly being told that’s wrong, will at least give me the best chance of getting better.

I can’t think of anything else to say, I hope I’ve explained everything clearly and updated all those of you who wanted to know what’s going on and especially those of you who I should have phoned – sorry for the lack of contact. I’m spending the rest of my evening colouring, watching easy tv and hoping to maybe actually sleep through the night tonight, I’m exhausted and desperately need some sleep soon because I’ve been a shaking, nervous-wreck this past week. I’m not relieved yet, but I will be, I hope!

10 Ways to Help Your Mentally Ill Child

This week is Children’s Mental Health week and with 1 in every 10 children displaying symptoms of mental illness and a great deal of adults (me included) starting their mentally ill journey in childhood, I thought I’d tackle the problem head on and explain what ways you as a parent can help your child who is, or may become, mentally ill. Here are 10 things to do when talking to your mentally ill, or possibly mentally ill child.

1. Reassure them – The first thing that’s really important is to reassure yourself and your child that it’s really common to suffer from mental illness and it’s ok. People can and do recover from mental illness and many of us go on to lead perfectly normal lives either free from mental illness or managing its impact on us. We’re often perfectly capable of being at school, going to university, getting a job, getting married, having a family, and doing all of the things that are considered ‘normal’. 1 in 4 adults in the UK have a mental illness each year and 1 in 3 will in their lifetime – it’s really common and you can overcome it.

2. It’s not about you – The last thing your child needs is for you to blame yourself or start thinking about what you could have done to prevent it or how you might have caused it. If your child became diabetic or got cancer, you wouldn’t blame yourself, you’d just go into overdrive about how you could get treatment, this is the best way forward with mental health too – it’s an illness like any other. You’re not a terrible parent and having a child with a mental illness doesn’t mean anything about you. Keep focusing on them.

3. It’s not their fault – Their condition isn’t because of anything they have or haven’t done and no matter how much it looks like it, it’s not in their control. Telling them to cheer up, think positively, or just eat more, or telling them a list of all the things they have to live for won’t help them at all and will just alienate them further than their condition is already doing. Trust that they are doing their best to manage their condition and don’t EVER blame them!

4. Believe them – The most damaging thing I have experienced during my mental illnesses has been being disbelieved and accused of lying. Children do lie but it’s very rare that they’ll lie about mental illness for any length of time and if they’ve managed to pluck up the courage to tell you that they’re not ok, then you need to sit up and listen because they may not tell you again. Always believe them!

5. Take it seriously – This is not a phase. Mental illness is not the same as raging hormones or having a stroppy teenager. The things they’re going through may well not pass after a couple of rough months of sulking and door-slamming and you need to be prepared for this. Don’t play it down or dismiss it, listen to them and take action if necessary. Always take mental illness symptoms seriously.

6. Do something – If you notice changes in your child’s behaviour that you’re worried about, ask them about it. Don’t be afraid of discovering mental illness because the sooner you know what you’re battling, the sooner you can start fighting it with your child and the more likely they are to recover. Don’t wait, do something as soon as you have concerns!

7. Get help – If you or your child are concerned, go to your family doctor and make sure they believe your child and take them seriously. If they don’t listen, take them to another doctor until someone does. The sooner your child gets treatment, the better their chances of making a full recovery and learning coping strategies and management skills so they can go on to live a happy and fulfilled life. Children are often dismissed and fobbed off (I certainly was), don’t allow this to happen or treatment may be offered way too late. Don’t give up until they get the help they need.

8. Talk to them – Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and if your child doesn’t have someone to talk to, they may deteriorate faster. It is likely to be very difficult and painful for you to hear that your child is suffering and hurting, but it’s much better for them to be able to confide in someone and for you to be kept up to date with how they’re doing so that you can get more help for them if it becomes necessary. Mental illness is utterly isolating and this is made so much worse when people around you are scared of talking about the feelings that you’re struggling so much with. Try to put your own feelings aside and listen to your child in a non-judgemental way so that they feel safe and able to express themselves. Just talk to them!

9. Research – Read about mental illness and when doing so, ignore everything the media tells you, mentally ill people are not often rampaging serial killers, they’re not crying in a heap constantly, mental illness has many faces and takes many forms and media representations are almost always wrong. Read real-life accounts of mental illness so that you can gain understanding about what it’s like to live with on a day-to-day basis (you can read about my own experiences of mental illness here). Find out about the symptoms and warning signs of the most common conditions so that you can be prepared and know what to look out for (links to useful websites below). Research, research, research – knowing what you’re fighting make it so much easier to fight effectively!

10. You can do it! – Mental illness is scary and unknown, and when you’re thrown into the midst of it, it can be terrifying, but by talking to your child about it, you will empower yourself and them to deal with it in the best way possible, as quickly as possible. Your child will be equipped to help their friends who might start displaying symptoms or confide in them that they’re feeling something different and they will also know that mental illness isn’t a taboo subject in your household so they can talk to you about it if something’s worrying them about themselves or someone else. Most of all, remember that anything you do off this list will be better than nothing and you can become a team with your child to tackle this together. You may not believe it but You CAN Do It!

Please share this as widely as possible so that parents and other adults who children might confide in can be equipped to deal with it. One of my favourite quotes comes from Bill Clinton who said “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all”.

If you need more help, information or advice, please visit the following links.

http://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.rethink.org/

http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx

 

 

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

This is an update on where I’m at, where I’ve been and where I hope I’m headed and an apology for the lack of mental health posts. Firstly, I’m sorry for the lack of posts about mental health. It’s not deliberate and it’s not what I’ve wanted but I’ve just not had anything to say on the topic. When you eat, sleep and breathe a subject, as well as suffering from it, you become pretty overwhelmed and saturated by it and while I’m hugely passionate about it still and am desperate to do anything in my power to reduce stigma and increase understanding, I’m having to learn to not do that at the cost of my own health and to stop before I burn out. I keep thinking up posts to write and getting half way through writing them and then struggling to find the words or be able to focus long enough to make it coherent enough for someone else to read. I’m also struggling because much as I’m a very open person and I pride myself on being honest, that’s not always total. I will never lie, I will never make anything up but sometimes I go quiet so that I don’t have to tell the whole truth. I find it very hard to let people in to the very depths of my thoughts and feelings and most of the time I don’t even let myself go there for fear of getting stuck or lost and not finding a way of returning and regaining control. But this means that I feel I’ve lost my way a bit with my blog. I set it up to tell you all the truth about mental illness. And not just the truth I wanted you to hear or the bits I wanted to vent about or challenge or address. My aim was to tell the whole truth. To tell you all the good bits, the bad bits, the achievements and the deteriorations, the ugly days, the real, hard, gritty bits that almost no one ever tells anyone because it’s just too embarrassing or difficult or upsetting. My aim was always to blog about those things so that you could see inside my world, see that depression isn’t always controllable and also isn’t always crying in bed all day; to see that anxiety controls every fibre of your being but that some days you manage to tame it and overcome it and do something you never thought possible and then the next day return to not functioning again.

I haven’t felt able to be totally honest recently because to me, I’ve failed. I deteriorated a couple of months ago thanks, largely, to the extreme pressure I’ve been put under by my psychiatrist to attend treatment that I cannot possibly attend. I’ve been hoping and pushing and trying to work towards it, all the while fighting and ignoring the anxiety that has now taken over completely that was telling me it was too threatening to do. Consequently, most of the progress I had made over the previous months has been lost. It’s not lost forever, I know that, but at the moment it’s out of my reach and back to being incomprehensible and inconceivable again. This has been utterly soul-destroying for me. I’m a very vocal person and I’ve talked to the people around me and my blog readers about every step of this journey through the world of anxiety and mental health treatment but the last few months I’ve got quieter and quieter about it because I simply don’t know what to say. So I’m here, being as open and honest as I can cope with to try and restore order and balance and to get back to doing what I feel I should be doing and want to be doing on my blog. I’ve written about what my conditions are like to live with, I’ve described my diagnoses, disappointment after disappointment with treatment (or lack thereof) and have previously been very honest about my levels of functioning. I kept pretty quiet about most of my achievements and I hope you’ll all forgive this. I wasn’t trying to pretend I was worse than I was, I’ve never ever lied, I simply didn’t want people using the dreaded “I” word (improvement) prematurely, and then being ‘disappointed’ if I was no longer able to do those things. I have achieved things over the past year and was going outside more often, though without any regularity, and was struggling a little less with it. I was managing to do more things on medication and pushed myself really hard to do a few things that I was desperate to do but none of these things were able to be repeated again. Each time I do something and then can’t again it feels a little bit like I’ve failed. I’m my own worst critic, I know, but I try not to get others’ hopes up prematurely because when I’ve done that in the past I’ve been berated for not trying hard enough or choosing to stay ill if I then can’t do those things again. I now describe good things as achievements rather than improvements because doing something on one day doesn’t mean I can do it again, as I keep realising throughout this period of illness. I was managing to go out more often and more easily and I was definitely making progress and heading in the right direction and now, since October, I’ve deteriorated in my ability to go outside and have only left my flat once alone in over 2 months.

So why haven’t I told you this on the blog? Why hasn’t there been a post about my deterioration, my frustration, my lack of functioning? Here I go with the honesty again – because I’m embarrassed. I didn’t want to have to face the fact that I’d deteriorated, I kept ignoring it and hoping I’d be able to go out alone tomorrow, but tomorrow hasn’t come. I kept thinking that if I just tried harder, it would happen. Ridiculous I know! I, of all people, should know by now that trying hard is not the route out of mental illness, that you can’t just will it away or hope your way out of it and yet that’s what I’ve been trying, very unsuccessfully, to do for the last 2 months. I didn’t want people to be disappointed in me for letting my functioning slide, even though it’s not in my control and hasn’t been a choice and that it slipped overnight thanks to the appointment where I was put under so much pressure. I thought people would be annoyed, or judgemental or unsympathetic because that’s the experience I’ve had in the past when I’ve been in similar circumstances and so I’ve kept quiet and not really told anyone. I’ve tried to deal with it alone and not mention how much I’m struggling and how I feel unable to do almost anything on my own. I’m still fighting, I still keep pushing through and try to ignore how insecure I feel and how incompetent I believe I am at even the simplest of tasks but it’s all there if you just scratch beneath the surface. Yesterday, for example, I made biscuits with my boyfriend and even that was difficult for me. They only contain 5 ingredients and are beyond basic to make but I still had to check every step with him, double check the measurements every time and get his advice on when they looked ready to come out of the oven. I can’t bake on my own because I get so anxious and any little problems turn into catastrophic failures in my head so I have to be babysat for tasks like this. It’s so embarrassing to me – I have a degree, I lived away from home and looked after myself for 3 years and now I’m totally reliant on the people around me to help me with basic tasks because they’re so overwhelming. In terms of going out, there’s very little to speak of. I’m still pushing myself to go to my grandparents’ and my dad’s whenever I can but these visits are more anxiety-provoking again which is so upsetting because I’d really combatted that since the summer. As for going out alone – I can’t. I try, every day but I end up physically rooted to the spot and can’t even open my front door because I’m so paralysed by fear. I do occasionally go out with someone but even that is now back to being very challenging and infrequent. It’s such a huge step backwards and I’m back to feeling imprisoned. Part of why I’ve not written about it is because I try to keep myself busy all day, every day in order to ignore how trapped I feel and how upset I am about this deterioration. I try to keep pushing through, to do at least something useful with my time and to achieve something, no matter how small. But I do feel crushed inside, so disappointed and I try to drown out the failing feeling as much as I possibly can.

So, that’s where I’m at and where I’ve been recently, with as much openness and honesty as I can cope with. As it’s New Year’s Eve and the socially acceptable (practically enforced) time of the year to look forward and prophesise about where we’ll be in future years, I’ll simply say this – I’m working my socks off, every day, to fight this condition, to one day be able to beat it. There are good days and bad days and better periods and worse periods and I’m currently struggling to see how I can get back to the level of functioning I was at 3 months ago, let alone the level of functioning I was at before being struck down by these hideous conditions. But, rest assured, I’ve done it before, and despite not having a clue how to right now and being scared senseless, I WILL do it again! I didn’t want to admit to deteriorating because I like to come across as strong. I’m regularly told I’m strong and I try to be that, to stay strong despite going through adversity, being dealt a shitty hand (sorry Nana), and not being where I want to be in life currently, but I feel weak and defeated currently and that’s the one thing that I don’t let people see or hear, but it’s the one thing that also stops me asking for help, that stops me from expressing stuff and that stops me from showing how scared I am that this will beat me. People around me seem to ‘know’ that I’ll be ok, that I’m strong enough to fight this and logically, I can see that and I know it too but deep down I don’t feel it. Deep down I’m terrified that that’s just a ridiculous, naïve hope and that this is as good as it’ll get for me. I refuse to accept that and I refuse to give up but sometimes those thoughts and worries take over and my strength gets up and leaves. That’s happened for the last 2 months and it’s why I’ve not told you all because I felt weak and admitting that felt like admitting my conditions have won.

So, there you go: mental illness – warts and all. This is an ugly post about the hideous depths mental illness takes you to, the warped thought processes it creates and the shame that often ensues. But I’m hoping it’s also got me back on track to be more open, be more honest and to really, truly tell you all The Truth, The WHOLE Truth and Nothing But The Truth about my life with mental illness. Happy New Year to all of you and thank you so much to each and every one of you for your continued support, for reading, sharing, commenting, emailing, anything you’ve done to interact with me and my blog. Having this outlet has made me feel so much less alone and has given me a platform to be able to help people which is my sole aim and purpose in life. Thank you all and see you in 2016, let’s hope there will be more posts about achievements and eventually even a post with the currently banned “I” word in the title but in the meantime I hope you’ll continue with me on my journey, the good bits, the bad bits, the ugly bits and eventually, I hope, the improvement!

Living My Life Online: One Year Of Blogging

A year ago I finally caved to suggestion and set up this blog. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t really think anyone would be interested in what I had to say. I thought that my mum, boyfriend and a few of my closest friends would read it and eventually I’d get bored or distracted and stop writing. Little did I know that in my first month I’d get 1000 hits and that these weren’t just from people who knew me in real life and either cared about me or were being nosey, but would also be from complete strangers from around the world who were going through something similar to me.

When I created the blog I wasn’t really even sure where to start. I’ve learnt a huge amount since then and there are things that I would now change if I started all over again but you live and learn. Choosing a title for my ramblings was really hard and originally I wanted a quote about mental illness from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – my favourite book, but that was already taken so I went back to the drawing board. I wanted it to be obvious that it was about mental illness but I wanted to avoid stigmatising language like Crazy. Some of the titles that didn’t make the cut were: Cupcakes And Down Days, Don’t Call Me Crazy and Mental About Cupcakes. Finally, it ended up between two In The Midst Of Madness and Refusing To Be Invisible. My favourite was In The Midst Of Madness and luckily the few friends I consulted agreed and so In The Midst Of Madness was born! Next, what was I going to write about? What did I want to tell people? I wrote a list of things that I had experienced and things that I felt people needed to know and started creating titles for those posts so that while I was setting up I had a good list to choose from when the moment took my fancy to write something. As I’ve gone through the year, I’ve still not finished working my way through that list because new things have cropped up because of media coverage, fluctuations in my conditions, events and awareness days/weeks and the themes they’ve suggested sufferers should write about.

So what has blogging done for me? I won’t go as far as to say it’s been therapy for me but it’s certainly been cathartic. Being virtually housebound means that I often feel incredibly isolated and lonely. There are very few people who visit me or contact me and I often feel alone and misunderstood but having a blog which is mine, where I can write whatever I fancy, has been really helpful in allowing me to have a platform to reach a much wider audience. It means that I finally have a voice. Despite being stuck indoors, I can now be heard. I can help educate others, help explain what these conditions are like, help give a voice to those that aren’t able to communicate their thoughts and feelings and ultimately achieve my goal of helping raise awareness, increase understanding and reduce stigma.

Throughout my time as a blogger I’ve been contacted by numerous people who’ve thanked me for my words, who’ve offered support and encouragement and most of all people who have or are going through the same things as I am currently. I feel honoured each time someone contacts me and opens up or confides something in me, I feel honoured to be on this journey with some of the loveliest people around, most of whom I have never and will never meet. I’m not a believer that illness happens for a reason, I don’t believe that God only gives you what you can handle or that I had some life lesson to learn which involved being ill for two thirds of my life but I do believe that illness changes you and while so many of its effects are negative and life-altering in a truly terrible and devastating way, it also changes people in a couple of good ways. Chronically ill people are often the kindest and most understanding people you’ll ever meet, they’re much more grateful for the little things in life because they are painfully aware of how important they are and how quickly the big things can be taken away when taken for granted. They’re also some of the most sympathetic and caring people and I find that they often make the best friends. If you’re friends with someone who’s chronically ill then you should count yourself lucky and cherish that friend because chances are they’re ploughing their precious energy into a friendship with you because it means the world to them despite often tiring them out.

Blogging about my experiences of mental illness led me in a very unexpected direction at the end of April when the Adult Colouring craze hit the UK and then the world by storm. As most of you know, I was already on that bandwagon but was a secret colourer at the time and was elated when it became fashionable and so many of my friends started getting involved and I no longer had to colour in secret. However, with the release of so many books, how did I know which ones to get? I’m on a very strict budget because we’re living off just my boyfriend’s income (we receive no benefits despite what many people may assume or believe) so money is very tight and the last thing I wanted to do was waste it on a book I wouldn’t like. I scoured the internet for reviews to tell me what the paper quality was like and whether my beloved fineliner pens would bleed through but I found nothing that had enough detail for someone like me who couldn’t visit shops and flick through the books. I saw that other people were reviewing books and being sent copies by the publishers but that these reviews, whilst very well written, weren’t suitable for someone who was entirely reliant on them to make a decision about where their money would be spent and so my reviewing venture began. I contacted some publishers, not expecting to even get responses let alone have any of them be happy to send me books, but that’s what a few of them did and away I went. I set up a separate blog dedicated to all of these reviews which I named Colouring In The Midst Of Madness to allude to the fact that I was not only reviewing adult colouring books, but doing it from a mental health perspective and I wanted it to fit in with my “brand”. That blog has overtaken this one in terms of hits and visitors and last month I received a staggering 100,000 hits thanks to being the second person in the world to publish a review online for the long awaited release of Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford (Colouring Book Queen and worldwide bestselling illustrator). I’ve now reviewed over 70 books and products and have a huge waiting list of books piled up in my lounge all waiting to be coloured and reviewed. I’m slower than other reviewers but that’s because of the amount of detail in my reviews and the fact that I always colour a full page in each book. I also have bad mental health days where I have to take a day off and just deal with how overwhelmed I feel at being out of bed and awake, without the stress of analysing intricacy levels and paper quality and trying to colour within the lines.

Having this blog and becoming a reviewer has taught me that I can write. I’m not amazing at it but I’m good enough that people enjoy reading it and come back for more which is the biggest compliment I can get! I’m hoping to broaden my reviewing horizons and start reviewing other products and services from a mental health perspective and if anyone has any ideas on things they think I could review then please do let me know, I love hearing from you and ideas are always welcome! Mentally ill people are often overlooked and the difficulties we can have when using products are not often thought about but given that 25% of us every year are experiencing some sort of mental health problem, it seems like a pretty good group to review for, even if I do say so myself! Ultimately, I’m hoping that all of this hard work will pay off and that I’ll be able to land myself some sort of writing job, preferably that can be done from home while I’m recovering until I’m unleashed back on the outside world and can realise my full potential again. I don’t want to be a writer for the rest of my life – I have big, grand plans to try and take the mental health world by storm and get mental illness on the school curriculum, reducing stigma before it’s even become ingrained and ultimately change the way it’s viewed and treated in this country. But, in the meantime, I’d love to use my skills to write and reach a bigger audience than this blog currently does. I’ve never been one to do things by halves and despite being virtually housebound I have big plans and I push myself to my absolute limits. I’ve challenged myself and been interviewed live on radio twice and was interviewed for a couple of media articles one of which was published in Nautilus magazine and the other in The Guardian newspaper. I would certainly push myself to do those things again and would love to be on TV and reach an even larger audience (from my own home currently of course). If anyone out there would like to employ me to write then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you – click here if you would.

As you can see, the last year has been fairly eventful thanks to blogging and the opportunities it has created. I’ve not made an awful lot of progress healthwise but this post isn’t about that, it’s about what I’ve learnt, what’s helped and what I plan to do over the coming year and beyond both on my blog and generally with my future career. On top of all of this, I spent 8 months last year teaching myself to crochet and then setting up a business on Facebook selling my crocheted items which is currently on hold because I’m so busy reviewing but I am looking forward to getting back to it some time when I have a bit more free time and share my woolly creatures with the world again. The picture above on the left was everything I’d ever crocheted up until that point and was the cover photo of my first ever blog post so it seemed only fitting to show you what the same shelf in my flat looks like now after making well over 100 crocheted items that have been sent all over the world.

The last thing left for me to do is to thank you, each and every one of you for reading my blog, whether this is the first and last post you’ll ever read or whether you’re one of my true and avid fans who’ve read everything I’ve ever written (I salute the few of you that have done this, it’s no mean feat now I’m reviewing books constantly). Your support means the world and I read every single email and comment and I do always reply so do check back. I hope that my blog has helped each one of you in some small way, whether it be picking out the right pens or the perfect colouring book, or voicing the feelings you’ve never been able to express, or just helping you to realise that you’re not alone. I hope I’ve helped, because that’s all I really want in life, to help others and to make a difference so that when I’m gone, people will know I was here.

If you’d like to keep up with my blog posts then click follow at the top or bottom of the page to receive an email each time I post. You can also follow this blog on Facebook here, or my Colouring blog on Facebook here.

Dignity and Respect – Being Treated Like a Human Being (World Mental Health Day)

October the 10th was World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme was dignity. I originally thought this didn’t apply to my situation because I am, mostly, dignified whilst being ill and treated with dignity, or so I thought. I started this post by looking up the definition which I found to be as follows:
Dignity – The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.
As soon as I read that, I realised that I was wrong – while I may behave in a dignified manner, I’ve certainly not always been treated in a dignified way and have often not felt worthy of honour or respect because of the way I’ve been behaved towards.

Dignity is something that is often overlooked when treating people with mental health problems and we are often not given the respect we deserve. Sadly, this behaviour is often directed towards us by the very people who we have sought help from, who are trained to deal with our conditions and who we are reliant upon to offer or refer us for treatment. Is it any wonder then that it takes most people such a long time to even go to their GP when they suspect they may be mentally ill? Stigma is still rife within our society and while it is improving and openly stigmatic behaviour is starting to reduce, there is still a really long way to go and unfortunately, nowhere is this more necessary than within the medical community.

My experience of seeking treatment has been very varied and it’s often a very lengthy process. Even when I’ve gone to my GP about physical problems, I’m often disbelieved or it’s assumed that my symptoms are psychosomatic or even made up – all because I have a mental illness. I’m regularly talked down to, patronised and treated with condescension and this has very much put me off doctors and seeking help unless I really have to because I simply don’t have the energy to fight for someone, who should be understanding and sympathetic, to even believe me. Couple with this, the responses I’ve had from doctors when attempting to get a diagnosis or treatment for my mental illnesses and we’ve got one hell of a problem.

A month before I turned 16, circumstances in my life led to me feeling incredibly sad and low and unable to cope anymore, pretty much over night. Mental illness was not something that had featured in my life up until that point – none of my relatives or friends were ill to my knowledge and my only experience was that of over-hyped and dramatized portrayals in the media of violent offenders and people muttering to themselves and rocking whilst strapped into straight-jackets in padded cells. So when I started feeling low and it didn’t go away, I didn’t know what to do. I thought people would think I was silly and that I should just be able to cheer myself up because nothing terrible had happened, no one had died, I hadn’t been attacked, things were just going wrong at home. Eventually, after 2 months of never feeling better, I finally plucked up the courage to go to the doctors. I thought I was going to get sectioned or medicated but I didn’t know what else to do and the thoughts I was having were starting to scare me. I explained to my GP what was wrong and that this wasn’t normal for me. After 10 minutes she told me that it was “January Blues” and “every teenager in the country is feeling like this at the moment”. I said to her at the time that there would be a lot of suicides if that were the case but I was sent home and she did nothing. Two months later I went back, I’d started self-harming and was feeling suicidal every day, she took one look at me and referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service because I was very ill and needed help. The first doctor I met there was great, he treated me like a person and was very respectful and understanding about how bad I was feeling and that something needed to be done about it. I wasn’t so lucky with any of the other staff I met there. I was allocated a nurse who I saw once a week who spoke to me like a child and contradicted me every time I said I was feeling worse. I was put on medication more than once and never monitored properly and then told off and admonished when I took myself off it because it was making me suicidal and I felt unsafe. I felt like a naughty child, not a 16-year-old who clearly knew their own mind and felt in danger.

Fast forward to 18 months ago and dignity was thrown out the window by my new GP who decided that telling me to “try harder” whilst dealing with crippling side effects from medications that were later described by a psychiatrist as “virtually poisoning you”, was the best way forward. I practically had to beg her to even refer me to a psychiatrist despite having a history of medication-resistant depression because she felt that I didn’t need one and she was doing a “perfectly good job of treating me herself”. Eventually she conceded and I was able to see a psychiatrist. This has been a good and bad experience. I’ve been lied to, fobbed off, ignored, disbelieved and dismissed. At points I’ve been spoken to like the knowledgeable, well-educated adult that I am who is well aware of the limitations of the NHS and who has studied, worked in and experienced as a patient, the mental health services in this country. But that has been rare. Instead of treating me with dignity and respect, most decisions about my treatment are made without me, often without my knowledge and my very character is often questioned when it’s assumed that my conditions simply can’t be as bad as I’m describing. I highly doubt cancer patients are treated like this when vomiting because of chemo or dealing with hair loss – are they told by doctors to just “try harder” or “stop focusing on the negative thoughts”? I think not! So why am I? Why am I dismissed and treated with so little respect?

It’s clear that many doctors have never been mentally ill, and they’re very lucky. But for those of us that are, it’s hard enough trying to deal with the conditions we have and the things that go hand-in-hand with that like low self-esteem and self-worth without having to deal with doctors judging us, accusing us of faking it, exaggerating, or causing it ourselves. It’s so hard to pluck up the courage to even go to the GP and admit that there’s a problem that you can no longer cope with or hide, without fearing how they might react to you. In an ideal world, we would all be treated as human beings, with dignity and respect, regardless of what symptoms or conditions we have. But currently, this isn’t the case. Something has got to change. Medical professionals, especially those that don’t work in frontline mental health services, are vastly ill-equipped and under-trained to deal with mental illness and instead of seeing people like me as people who are ill, they just seem to see us as walking labels. They still seem to have hugely stigmatic beliefs about us being in control of our conditions and able to just “snap out of it” or “pull ourselves together” and we’re treated accordingly, with disdain, coldness and even aggression sometimes.

First and foremost I’m a human being. After that, I’m many many things – I’m Lucy, I’m female, I’m 24 years old, I’m kind and caring, I’m creative, I’m a great friend. I’m also mentally ill but I’m not those conditions. I’m not anxiety, I’m not depression – I have those, but I’m not them. I am a human being and that entitles me to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of what conditions I might have. The sooner I’m viewed as a person rather than a list of symptoms, the sooner I’ll be viewed as someone who is suffering and should be treated with dignity rather than a problem that needs to fixed or made to “see sense”. I might be mentally ill but I’m not mad, I don’t lie, I don’t make things up, I’m completely rational. If I say I’m ill, if I say I’m suffering then I’m not trying to gain another label or diagnosis for fun – I don’t get points for it, they certainly don’t convert to prizes. The only reason I seek diagnosis is in the vain hope that it might lead to treatment. Being spoken to in such a dismissive way has stopped me seeking help for most of my conditions and has had a major impact on my self-esteem because it makes me feel less of a person to have a doctor questioning me and treating me with so little respect.

Finally, while I’ve focused on the medical profession within this post, they are certainly not the only people that have not treated me with the dignity and respect I deserve. As you’ll have read in previous blog posts, I’ve been treated disrespectfully by a whole host of people throughout my time as an ill person and this has got to change. You can be that change. Next time you’re talking to someone who’s mentally ill, really listen to what they’re saying, don’t try to fix it, dismiss it, or make them see the positive – just listen. Then think about how you would want someone to respond if you’d just said all of that and were feeling that way. Chances are, you’d just want to be acknowledged, to be accepted and to feel heard. Most of all, you’d want to be treated with Dignity and Respect – you’d want to be Treated Like a Human Being. Be that change today!

N.B – A huge thanks goes to Steve “Squidoodle” Turner for his amazing Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon Colouring Page which I coloured in green for Mental Health Awareness. If you’d like to get a copy to colour yourself, he’s generously offered it as a free download on his Facebook Page which can be found here. Enjoy and help raise awareness!