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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.

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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!

How to Cope with Being Housebound – 8 Tips from a 14-monther

  1. Try to get a routine

I can’t emphasise this point enough and it’s the only thing that keeps me even vaguely on track. I don’t timetable every little thing, that’s too restrictive for me but I have a basic list of things to do each day. One of the main things is get up at and go to bed at the same time each day. Try and eat at set times and maybe set yourself a tv schedule or activities at certain times so that you don’t become disorientated about time of day.

  1. Get up

This is a hugely important point for anyone that doesn’t have to get dressed each day. Do it anyway! You may not think it makes much difference but you’ll be amazed how quickly your motivation disappears and your standards slip if you don’t get up properly each day. You don’t have to get dressed up, plaster yourself in make-up and curl your hair but do the basics of showering and dressing each morning (not in the evening before your partner returns from work) because at least then you’re starting your day right. When you’re out of work/sick/housebound it’s all too easy to stop caring, to stop bothering and to make your situation worse. These small things are so important to keep you functioning as much as possible so that you don’t fall into the depression pit.

  1. Eat properly and regularly

This sounds obvious but despite having a lot of time on our hands, many of us really struggle at getting our eating under control. For the first 6 months of being ill, thanks to the medication I was on and sheer boredom I would just graze throughout the day. I was never properly hungry for meals because I kept snacking and I just ended up eating junk food because I felt sorry for myself and wanted to cheer myself up. This is a huge reason why Western society is becoming so fat, because we reward ourselves and cheer ourselves up with food. Food is not a reward, it’s fuel. Once it starts becoming a reward you end up on the slippery slope towards obesity. The meds I was on gave me super strong cravings for food that were so intense they’d stop me sleeping. In 6 months I managed to gain almost 22lbs. This then leads to major problems because when you’re housebound exercising is really challenging so losing the weight becomes very difficult. Trying to stay out of the fridge when you’re inside all the time requires an immense amount of willpower but take it from someone who knows, you will feel so much better if you stay a stable, healthy weight. I’ve now managed to lose 30lbs and still need to lose over a stone before I’ll be back to being a healthy weight. All of that is having to be done through food restriction because I can’t do enough exercise in my flat to be able to burn off the calories. It’s really really hard but I’m steadily losing the weight. Don’t use being out of work or being ill as an excuse to gain weight because it truly does make everything worse and it’s hard to fight the condition and boredom and weight loss on top!

  1. Keep busy and learn new things

It’s all too easy to settle into a routine of waking up at noon, mooching about in your dressing gown, watching trashy daytime tv, snacking and not bothering to do anything but this is a sure fire way of maintaining and worsening your situation and state of mind. None of those things are good for your mind or soul and they’re a great way of becoming disillusioned, bored and unmotivated. Use the time you have to do something productive. Learn something new, contact friends and family, be creative – just do something! Since becoming housebound last year I’ve taught myself to crochet using youtube videos, I set up a Facebook page to sell my crocheted items and take regular commissioned orders, I started doing adult colouring, I set up this blog and very recently set up a second so that I can review adult colouring books for publishers, I regularly contact friends and family and try to arrange visits with them, I’ve been interviewed on the radio and I’ve learnt to bake lots of new things. There are days when I’m too ill to do anything and I just lie curled up on the sofa, watching tv, barely even able to make myself food or drinks, but on the majority of days when I don’t feel like that I make sure that I’m doing something useful and productive. It’s not the same as going to work or being the perfect housewife but at the end of each day I try to have something that I can show that I’ve done, something that I’ve achieved, something that I can tell my boyfriend about when he gets home from work so that I don’t feel completely useless and hopeless. My self-esteem plummeted when I had to stop work and I find it really hard to maintain my self-worth because I do just feel useless and worthless most of the time, however, being productive means that I can show myself that I’ve done something and that I’ve not wasted the day in bed. I’m not able to change lives at the moment like I hope to do in my future mental health career, but I will at least have things to put on my CV to show future employers that despite life being really tough, I still did my best to keep going.

  1. Write a list of your achievements no matter how small

I always used to hate posts like this because they were full of either common sense stuff that was really obvious, or ridiculously positive bullshit (sorry Nana) that just made me want to vomit. I’m not an optimist and I’m certainly not one to look for the silver linings of the clouds that seem intent on constantly raining on me. However, I also know that I’m incredibly good at ignoring all of the good bits about myself and all of the things I achieve. Throughout being ill I’ve thought about the things I can’t do, the things that others can and are doing, the burden I have become and how useless I feel now I can’t work but this all means that I overlook all of the ways in which I’m trying, the ways in which I’ve not given up and things I do to fight this condition each day. On one of my particularly good days I managed to go to my local charity shop and found a lovely cupcake shaped cookie jar (I collect all things cupcakey) and that jar now has bits of paper in with all of my achievements on. These include managing to go to the shops, taking the bins out, standing up to people, visiting relatives, all of the things that a week after the event I’ve forgotten about and discounted because I’m still not cured and able to be useful yet. It’s not changed my life and I doubt it’ll change yours but it does make me focus a little more on each small success I have and I now have a record of all the things I’ve achieved that I can read through if I’m having a rubbish day (providing I remember the jar exists).

  1. Be outside as much as possible

This sounds a little odd coming from someone whose biggest anxieties are focused on being outside and around lots of people but I’m also best placed to advise you that if you can go out then you should because being cooped up inside is unbelievably claustrophobic. If you can’t go outside, like I’ve often not been able to, then move rooms so you’re seeing and experiencing a different environment and if you can, open a door or window so that you can get some fresh air. I’m lucky enough to have a balcony so often when I can’t face going outside and being around people I’ll go and sit out there or even just sit inside next to the open door. These things really do help you feel less imprisoned which is a huge problem for those of us who are housebound.

  1. Keep in touch with people and make contact

This is really important because, in my experience, when you’re out of sight, you’re often, sadly, out of mind too. When you’re newly housebound people will get in touch to see how you’re doing and offer advice or support but as the weeks and then months go by, many of these people drop off your mailing list and get back on with their own lives. It’s vital to make the effort and keep in touch with the people you care most about so that you don’t lose all contact with the outside world. It can be really hard to make contact because when you’re housebound you can’t talk about your job, or what happened last week on your commute, or that new restaurant you tried out and you may often feel that you have nothing to talk about and nothing of value to say – I certainly feel like this very regularly. Keeping in touch with others keeps you rooted in the real world though and means you can stay up to date with what’s going on in your local area, what’s happening at work in your absence and on the latest gossip about that girl you went to school with. These conversations help keep you in the loop and stop you from being totally isolated. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand what it’s like to be housebound and don’t know how to help and so they withdraw for fear that they may upset you or be rubbing your nose in it by talking about what they’re doing that you can’t. I can only speak for myself here, but I can’t think of any time in the 14 months I’ve been housebound that I’ve been anything other than grateful and interested to hear about someone else’s life. The mundane things to you are so much more interesting to us now our world has shrunk and I’m more than happy to hear about how dreadful the commute has been, how work’s been grinding you down or about the latest argument with your partner because it means that I get to share in the normal things, the everyday things, the things that make up our lives that I often no longer experience. This contact may also lead to people offering to visit and while this can be very challenging, particularly for those of us who are housebound because of anxiety, it’s always worth trying to fight the demons and have people over because in my experience it lifts my mood for hours if not days afterwards. Human contact, both physical and psychological is vital for us to thrive and when you’re housebound this contact is drastically reduced. As an extrovert, I love to be around people and can talk to them for hours each day and it’s something that has always made me thrive. Now I’m housebound, I regularly go for days where the only contact I’ll get is a 10 minute chat with my boyfriend between him getting home from work and then having to go to bed or a quick facebook message to someone. Keep in touch with as many people as you can so that you don’t become too isolated or forgotten.

  1. Don’t give up – write a list of all the things you’re looking forward to

This can be a bit of a depressing activity because you’re reminded of all the things you currently can’t do and are desperate to. However, it can also be really exciting because we end up in a very special place where lots of mundane tasks that everyone else takes for granted become something we look forward to, work towards and cherish. Having your life taken away from you and being forced to live it within the confines of a few walls is really awful – it’s why we imprison criminals, it’s used as punishment and it often feels like you’re being punished or tortured when you’re housebound. But, you end up with a completely different perspective and I personally have an ever-growing list of things to work towards being well enough to do. Most people dread going food shopping each week but it’s something I’ve always quite liked doing, I can’t even express how much I’m looking forward to being able to take over the role of chief food shopper in my relationship again. I can’t wait to be able to browse in shops and take my time choosing fresh bread and comparing prices of tinned tomatoes to get the best deal. I can’t wait to be able to talk to shop assistants and train conductors, to be able to just jump on a train and visit friends and family. I daydream about spending the day at the beach, buying an ice cream, attempting to learn to run. I want to join a pilates class and go to a crochet group so I no longer have to crochet alone. Keeping all those things in sight keeps me pushing forwards and trying to improve and I’d really advise writing your own list so that you have things to look forward to and eventually, things to write down and put in your cupcake jar that you’ve managed to achieve.

Being housebound is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but doing the things listed above gives you the best chance of staying as sane as possible and coping as best you can. These things will help you get through each day and hopefully keep you going long enough to get out the other side and released back into the outside world. I don’t have any quick fixes, no magic cures, no advice about how to stop being housebound and be able to no longer be anxious outside the house, I’m still fighting those demons and the majority of days they still win but these tips will help you retain a sense of self, a sense of achievement and stop you going stir crazy so give them a try – I’d love to know how you get on and whether you found any of them helpful.

A Day in the Life – 10th May

Just to give you all a bit of background about this post – The charity Rethink Mental Illness recently advertised for people in the UK with a mental illness to participate in a nationwide project that they are running called A Day in the Life. They chose 4 dates over a year, 1 in each season, for all of us who’ve signed up to blog up to 700 words about our day. We were asked to say what we did that day, what went well and went badly, and what helped our mental health and what made it worse, so here’s mine for the third day, the 10th of May. Here you can find day one and two.

Today I woke up late. Only by an hour but it always throws me off kilter as I like to keep to my routine. I got up and weighed myself which I do every morning as I’m on a diet. I’d put on weight, only a little but still, my heart sank. I showered, dressed and made myself a cup of tea. I’m on the 5:2 diet, though in my case it keeps turning into the 4:3 diet because I struggle to lose weight when I’m so sedentary due to being virtually housebound. Every time I gain weight I get anxious and feel like I’ve failed. This is the instant reaction thanks to the leftovers of an eating disorder that I had when I was 18. I try really hard to not obsess about my weight and food because I know that’s my passport back to anorexia but it’s hard to keep those thoughts at bay, particularly when I don’t have much else going on in my life to distract me. I’d already decided that today would be one of my low calorie days this week so I drank lots of water and tea throughout the day and waited til dinner to eat. I kept myself busy enough and tried to ignore the fact it’s a weekend which means my boyfriend is working and there’s nothing decent to watch on tv. Weekends are so boring when you’re home alone all the time.

Anyway, I did what I could to keep myself busy. I’ve set up a new blog which I published today which I’m using to post reviews of adult colouring books. I’ve found them to be one of the few things that really helps keep me calm and my mind occupied and when the craze exploded a couple of months ago I was really pleased to see that so many other like-minded people were popping up online. It’s hard for me to choose which books I want to buy because I can’t leave the house and flick through them in bookshops and so I searched online for some reviews but couldn’t find anything detailed enough to be able to commit to buying them (money’s tight so the last thing I want to do is waste it on a book I don’t like). I’m reliant on the “look inside” feature on Amazon but many books don’t have that and it’s just not the same as going and looking at it yourself. So, I came up with the idea to contact publishers and ask if I could be sent copies of their books to review so that I can give an accurate portrayal to all of my mentally ill readers on my blog, particularly those who might be housebound and so far, a couple of them have agreed. I spent a lot of today colouring in one of my new books and then writing and posting the review which can be found here if you’re interested https://colouringinthemidstofmadness.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/the-cant-sleep-colouring-book-a-review/

I spent the evening having a lovely chat with my mum on the phone, putting the world to rights and having a really good catch up which really cheered me up and then had a delicious dinner and spent the evening watching tv with my boyfriend. I was very distracted and found it hard to focus on things because I’ve got a lot going on at the moment that I need to keep on top of with contacting publishers as well as lots of crafty projects and doctor’s appointments and other things I’ve probably forgotten. I felt quite wired in the evening but did manage to settle once I’d sent some emails, blogged and done some more colouring so I’m hoping I’ll get to sleep at a decent time tonight.

Colouring, blogging, my mum and boyfriend helped my mental health today. Boredom, as usual, was my nemesis as well as memory problems and general anxiety but I did ok and I kept on top of it all. The battle begins again tomorrow.

One Year On – One Year of Fear

This time 371 days ago I was interviewing for a job that I’d been trying to get for 9 months. It was a permanent role on the ward that I loved working on and meant that I would finally have job security, guaranteed hours, proper support and training.

370 days ago I was on top of the world after being offered the job. I was in work that day and the patients and staff were all thrilled for me and very excited that I was officially joining the team. I was filled with pride and excitement that I’d finally got to where I wanted to be and was one step closer to my dream career of Clinical Psychologist.

369 days ago and things weren’t as rosy. I felt strange all day. I was worrying a lot and felt a lot less confident in my ability to do my job and keep my patients safe. I started to doubt myself a lot and felt very insecure. In the evening I went out for a meal with my boyfriend to celebrate my new job and I deteriorated over the course of the meal. I couldn’t stop worrying and felt really on edge. I didn’t want to walk anywhere, even to the loo, because I felt like I was going to collapse and like everyone was watching me. On our journey home I was clinging to him and when a drunk sat opposite us on the train I could barely hold it together. I just couldn’t deal with it all. I burst into tears the minute we got through our front door and struggled to sleep that night because of all the worries going through my head.

The next day, 368 days ago, I got up for work and just felt paralysed by fear. I tried to work through it and make myself go in knowing that I’m obviously good at my job if I’d just been offered a permanent role but the fear took over and I had the first panic attack of what would soon be many and had to phone in sick.

Over the weekend I deteriorated further. I needed to do a food shop and simply couldn’t face doing it on the Saturday. I don’t remember the exact thought processes but I just felt unable to cope and unable to deal with that many people and pressures and how busy the supermarket would be. On Sunday I felt that if I didn’t go that day then I’d end up stuck indoors and frightened to leave. I don’t know why I thought that but it was a very strong feeling and I knew I had to try. It was awful, the train ride there despite only being 6 minutes felt like a lifetime and the shop was really busy. I got the bare minimum that we needed and more than once I almost abandoned my basket because I felt so anxious. The only thing that stopped me was the worry of what people would think if I just left it. I cried the whole way home and got stared at a lot by other passengers on the train who couldn’t understand why I was sobbing surrounded by shopping bags.

365 days ago I went to the doctors. It’s a 2 minute walk around the corner from where I live and I had to force myself to go because being outside was now terrifying. The noise, the brightness, the people. Everything was just overwhelming. I cried as soon as I started talking and was immediately prescribed medication and signed off sick for 2 weeks while I waited for the worst of the side effects to wear off and for the drugs to kick in. I haven’t returned to work since. The drugs didn’t work, the side effects never wore off. Neither did the following two medications.

I’ve been medication-free for just over a month and am still no closer to returning to work and my level of functioning has barely changed. I’m less physically ill now I’m finally drug-free but the anxiety is not shifting. I now realise that a huge amount of why I was feeling so bad was because of the side effects of the medications I was on rather than the condition itself. This has been very difficult to come to terms with – to know that for 11 of the last 12 months I’ve been made worse by the very thing that was supposed to be making me better. I still don’t have a diagnosis, I haven’t had a new psychiatrist allocated since mine left in October and I’m still not receiving any psychological therapy on the NHS. I’ve just been left to deal with this condition that has no name on my own.

Now my reality is that everyday mundane tasks are completely terrifying. I think back over things I’ve done in the past, things that were huge achievements like my degree, getting the job, moving into university miles away from home and it feels like a completely different person did those things. I think back to all of the small things I used to think nothing of doing like popping to the shops, going on the train to Brighton for the day, visiting my mum on the Isle of Wight, taking the bins out. Now, just thinking about those things makes me feel sick and tense. I can’t fathom how I was able to do them when I’m so frightened of everything now.

My existence is almost solely contained within the walls of my flat and my world has shrunk to be unimaginably small. The person I once was is (I hope) hiding, but it feels like she’s gone. All of the things I’ve done in the past, the small things right up to the huge things don’t seem to count towards my confidence because I can no longer associate with them because they no longer feel like something I did. I’m now the girl who’s scared of her own thoughts, who’s surrounded by wool and spends her days watching tv, crocheting and cleaning. I don’t even recognise the girl with the psychology degree who was going to change the world.

So here I am, one year on. One year and a week ago the world was my oyster and I felt excited about the future, my career, the lives I would try to help change. Now my world mostly consists of fear and distraction from fear. I’m not excited about the future, I’m fearful of it, I don’t know what my future will hold and it’s currently unknown whether I’ll get better, stay like this, or get worse. The biggest thing I have going for me though is that I’m determined, more determined than most and I fight, despite feeling weaker than I thought it possible to feel. I don’t give up and I carry on hoping. I try not to set time-limited goals because I fear failing and feeling even worse, so instead, I hope and I aim for things without setting a time limit. My hope is that my future will be normal, quite uneventful and that I’ll be able to recover, not relapse, and be able to help others because I truly believe that’s what I was put on this planet for. My aim is to get better and to stay well, to decrease stigma, to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness and most of all, to no longer be afraid to go outside and do normal things. Here’s hoping that one year on from now this will all just feel like a bad dream and I’ll be well, working and helping people, if that’s not doable then I just hope that I’ll be better than I am now and I’ll be able to look back and see the improvement. One whole year of fear has been exhausting and this has been one of the longest years of my life. I’m not sure I can face another year like this but at least I’m facing it medication-free and with a few really supportive people around me who cheer me on no matter how small the victory and cheer me up when the condition gets the better of me. Maybe this coming year can be One Year of a Little Less Fear!

Depression – Living a Life in Darkness

Trigger warning: The following is a very honest, descriptive account of what depression feels like and what it’s like to live with. There is also mention of suicidal feelings and thought processes. If you feel that this may trigger you in any way then please do not read on.

Having depression is like having a rock in your chest. The rock weighs you down all day, every day. It’s there when you’re happy, when you’re sad, it drags down the good days and makes the bad ones even worse. It physically hurts. It’s so hard to imagine how it feels until you’re unlucky enough to do so but imagine lying down on the floor with someone’s foot on your chest, every time you try to move or reach up, they push down a bit harder. Depression often feels like this. It’s why we get tired more easily and why it’s so hard to escape once it’s got a grip on you. It also makes us lose motivation and concentration because everything is so much more effort than usual.

One of the worst parts of depression, particularly for me as an extrovert, is being in a room full of people or with a group of friends and just feeling empty and detached. You desperately want to immerse yourself in the conversation, laugh, make others laugh, join in in some way, but you feel separated and like a spectator rather than a participant. You feel so empty and hollow that you daren’t open your mouth for fear of sucking the life out of the conversation or worse still, people realising just how bad you’re feeling and having to explain or cover it up. You often feel completely numb and during the time you’re numb you dream of feeling, feeling anything, to remind you you’re alive, human, a conscious being. When you’re no longer numb you feel things very intensely but it’s only the bad things that feel intense and everything else seems to pale into insignificance. Being numb is horrible because you just feel nothing but feeling such intense sadness is just as bad! We often spend hours or even days fighting back tears or not managing this and bursting into tears in public. People can’t even help us stop crying because there usually isn’t a reason, we’re just so overwhelmed by how bad we’re feeling that we can’t hold it in anymore. You may be thinking that this sounds very similar to grief and bereavement and in a lot of ways it is, that’s why you can’t get a diagnosis of depression within 6 months of a loved one dying because they are so similar and you are probably still grieving rather than having depression. The biggest difference is that depression continues, often doesn’t have a trigger and isn’t about one thing, it consumes your whole life and doesn’t improve even through the passage of time or through your life circumstances improving. Depression just is – regardless of other events.

In the darkest depths of depression it feels almost like your soul has been sucked out, like your personality is crushed and all of the light, goodness and happiness in the world has been squeezed out and you’re left alone in darkness. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope, no point. All you feel is numbness or sadness, so intense that it hurts. You feel crushed and broken but most of the time people can’t see this. They can’t see the pain you’re in, the darkness, the desperation. If you haven’t had depression then I can guarantee that you can’t fully appreciate what this is like but try to just imagine feeling like this every day for weeks and weeks with no let up, no break. It’s exhausting and just so painful! It’s this absolute darkness that leads people to consider suicide. Most people who haven’t experienced depression won’t be able to understand why a person would consider taking their own life, particularly not when from the outside, it seems like that person has many reasons to live. It’s not that we don’t see those things, it’s not that we aren’t grateful but the pain, the sadness and all-consuming darkness are just so intense and long-lasting that it seems like there is no way out. We have to live for ourselves, not for others, living solely for others actually leads to a very miserable existence because your happiness is based on theirs, your purpose is them, you can’t be you in your own right. When you feel so low and unhappy that you can’t bear to look in a mirror and can’t think of even one tiny little thing that you like about yourself and your self-esteem and self-worth are just non-existent, there is no point, no reason to carry on because you believe that you’re just taking from the world and whole-heartedly believe that it would be a better place without you. I’ve heard so many people over the years say that suicide is an easy option, that it’s selfish, that it’s cowardly but until you’ve experienced the utter depths of despair I’d ask you to keep your opinions to yourself. You cannot possibly say how you’d feel or react until you’re there. I never thought I’d ever get depression, let alone feel suicidal, I myself thought it was an easy way out to escape whatever you were finding difficult at the time. I was so wrong!

For 3 years – from the age of 16-19 I thought about suicide every day. And I mean EVERY day. I thought about methods, reasons, ways of hurting the people around me the least, ways to affect as few people as possible who might find me. I wrote letters to the people around me trying to explain why I was doing it, saying sorry and telling them what they meant to me so that they wouldn’t blame themselves or think they could have done something to stop me. I hated the idea of upsetting my family and friends and them blaming themselves when it wasn’t their fault but I hated the idea of living even more. It was unbearable getting through each day, trying to be normal and not fall apart, trying to get through my GCSE’s and A levels when I felt like my life was collapsing around me. I have no words of advice for any of my readers who are feeling suicidal currently because I don’t know why or how or even when I stopped feeling that way but at some point I did. My life didn’t suddenly get better, I didn’t have some religious epiphany, I didn’t have a failed suicide attempt that scared me into wanting to live. The thoughts just seemed to gradually fade and instead of them being all day every day they got to a couple of times a week and now I only think about it when I’m having a really bad day or a lot is going on in my life. There is hope, but you’re also not weak or selfish for thinking that there isn’t. I’ve been there and I know how dark and miserable life can be and if suicide were easy then I definitely wouldn’t be here today. It is a way out, but it’s certainly not an easy one. All I can suggest is talk to people and when you’re at your absolute worst just get through the next hour – that’s certainly what helped get me through!

Depression is a truly horrible condition, it is all-consuming and seeps into every thought process, every waking minute and even your dreams. It feels like you’re being tortured day in and day out. You have bad days, months or even years and then you have better ones but it’s always there, trying to drag you down and I personally have to fight every day not to be dragged down into those depths again. Please don’t tell us to smile, think positively or say “cheer up it might never happen”. These things are so dismissive and make us feel even more alone. You may not be able to see it but we’re often fighting for survival every day and putting a smile on our faces and saying we’re fine when you ask how we are might just be too much. Give us a hug, tell us you’re there and keep in touch even if we struggle to reply. Those things do reach us and often remind us we’re not alone, we’re loved and we’re cared for. You never know what that could mean to a person and how much that could make their day. The following is a quote spoken by Albus Dumbledore in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban – “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light”. When you have depression you have no idea how to turn on the light but small gestures from you can turn the light on for us and help us find a way through the darkness. Help turn on some lights for those of us Living a Life in Darkness!