Finding the Right Treatment 

I’ve wanted to write this for a while but I think I need to be careful in doing so, so I was a bit cautious. Then, last week’s #TalkMH chat was based on mental health services and made me want to write it even more, so I’m going to do so and try to be as mindful as possible.

I want to stress the importance of finding the right treatment for you and your personal situation. My own experience proves this, I feel. The last thing I want to do is put anyone off seeking help because I can assure you that it’s the best thing I ever did, but only because I found the right treatment. You are not a statistic, you are a person, and your specific needs must be catered for in order to get the most out of it.

When I first sought help I went to see my doctor and he gave me a number to call for NHS therapy. It took me a few weeks but eventually I called and gradually, my first session came around. I was given six weeks of talking therapy.

Now let me be clear. The NHS is a fantastic service that we are incredibly lucky to have and talking therapy works wonders for some. But my personal circumstances were not taken into account, which meant that talking therapy did no good for me, in fact, quite the opposite.

All of my mental health setbacks have been as a result of previous trauma and therefore going into a room and speaking to somebody about various things that had happened to me wasn’t ideal. I’d speak to her (and cry to her) on a Tuesday morning every week, for six weeks. We brought everything up that I’d been supressing for a very, very long time and did nothing with it. It was left, out in the open, for me to think about until next time we met. Until, my sixth session came and, once again, everything was out in the open and I left, never to see that woman again. There wasn’t a ‘next week’ for me to hold onto.

Shortly after this, things got worse. When things went awfully downhill on one particular evening – I may write about that separately but again, I’m not sure, let me know – I forced myself to seek further help. I knew I had two options: get out or get help. I chose to get help. I went to my doctor and I cried and shook and panicked at him and he prescribed me with Sertraline.

There’s a separate post on this so I won’t go into great detail but the long and short of it is that I didn’t get on with Sertraline at all. I was back to square one. I left it like this for months and months. I thought, I’ve tried therapy and it didn’t work, and I’ve tried meds and it didn’t work. What the f*c* do I do now?

My anxiety became worse than ever and I was regularly vomiting and having panic attacks. Eventually, my mum spoke to me and told me that she thinks I need to seek further help. I knew she was right. I lost it at work and became very emotional, I was panicking about a holiday that was coming up. My boss recommended a therapist to me, a private one, and I phoned her on the same day. She told me that she could see me that evening and my sessions started from there. Sure, the money adds up, but those sessions changed my life.

She found the right type of therapy for me – a trauma specific one – and created a safe environment. I had my last session about two weeks ago and I haven’t been sick or had a panic attack in months. In that time I’ve been to London, been on the tube, been on short breaks away, driven long stretches on the motorway, been to the pub, been to a pantomime, been out for lunch and dinner. All of the things I could never do without panic.

The last thing I want to do is put anybody off seeking help. Everybody is different and different things work for different people and that is the exact point I’m trying to make. Meds save lives, talking therapy saves lives, the NHS saves lives. In my case, private EMDR saved mine (amongst other things). Find the right treatment for you and you will start your recovery. If you’re unsure on your options, get in touch!

If you’re curious, you can read about my entire therapy experience here.

To My Brain

Hello brain.
You are a clever thing. Troubled, young, but clever.

Life has been tough on you from a very young age, I know that. What I didn’t realise is that you always got the brunt of it. We pay so much attention to physical damage and health, but you too have been overwhelmed, overworked and overexposed. For a long time I worked against you and for that I am truly sorry. It’s almost like I didn’t realise that you were really part of me, as strange as that sounds. More recently, I made sense of why you do what you do.

I learnt that you’re not a nuisance, you’re not punishing me, you’re not trying to make things difficult for me. In fact, you are my protector. You are working, daily, to protect me from harm. I can’t blame you for it, now that I understand why. It all makes sense and I can completely understand why you do what you do. You have every right to be over protective or on high alert. But it’s ok now, you can let go. Whilst I understand your need to protect the rest of my being, there really is no need to worry now. It’s all over, there is no need to work so hard.

When you think of the term ‘mentally ill’ there are so many connotations and stigmas attached but actually, I can fully understand why you became unwell. It’s like anything, when you spend so long fighting something or processing so much information, you burn out. You simply had too much on your plate.

But the bottom line here is that it’s like when you use a muscle. When you use a muscle lots it hurts, it feels weak, but in the long run it becomes stronger. Now, you are stronger.

It’s time for us to work together.
Come on, we have the rest of a life to lead.

EMDR | A Summary

As I’ve written a series about my recent therapy experience, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little summary post now that I’ve finished. This way, those who don’t want to read through every post (I know I waffle) may still get a good idea of what EMDR is and what it’s like.

For those who haven’t read any of the previous posts and aren’t sure what EMDR is, it’s a form of trauma therapy used to treat the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The therapy aims to reprocess traumatic events to encourage them to move over to the long-term memory, instead of staying in the short-term and causing symptoms.

When we sleep, our eyes flicker as we process the day’s events. EMDR simulates this process with eye movements, so involves following your therapist’s hand gestures with your eyes whilst recalling specific events, emotions, sensations etc. Sounds a bit confusing and strange, but I can’t recommend it enough!

Rather than going into a load of detail (which I’ve already done) and boring everyone to death, I thought it would be better to roughly outline what I thought of the experience and what I learnt.

  • Therapy is hard. Very hard. But it’s worth it.
  • Finding the right treatment for you and your situation is vital.
  • Every feeling that I’ve experienced relating to my mental health is valid and makes complete sense.
  • Recovery is not a straight line.
  • Being able to speak openly in a safe, non-judgemental environment is incredibly beneficial in itself.
  • Anxiety breeds anxiety.
  • Don’t underestimate yourself.
  • Brains are very, very clever.
  • Self compassion will save you.
  • Anxiety is a temporary state.
  • Having the right tools can put you in control.
  • People do understand.
  • Recovery is possible and it’s all worth it when you start to get there.

If you’re considering seeking help but feel unsure or worried, please feel free to get in touch.

The Mental Health Toolkit

I’ve decided that as I have lots of different tips and bits and bobs sprawled across my blog in various different posts, it would be good to put them all in one place. So I’m going to put together absolutely everything that has helped my recovery all in one post (it could be a bit long, you may want to grab a cuppa).

Mindfulness Meditation
When I first heard about this I thought it sounded really hippyish. I was like na I’m not into all that. Then, people kept talking about it on Twitter and I thought ok, maybe it’s not so bad? Maybe it’s not all floaty and ‘hmmmm’ sounds? Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s a very helpful tool that has helped me to deal with things a bit better as well as get a better night’s sleep. I’m currently using Calm – an iPhone app – each night before I go to bed. Here’s a separate post on meditation if you would like more info.

Self Care
I appreciate that this is quite a broad term and I think it can have different meanings for different people. Whatever ‘self care’ means for you, remind yourself that it’s not indulgent or selfish, it’s necessary. Make time for yourself to have a long bath, have a massage, movie night, reading, face mask, manicure, whatever. Remember, not indulgent, necessary.

I learnt fairly quickly that keeping everything to myself wasn’t beneficial. Quite the opposite, in fact. Whatever is going on for you, reach out to someone – anyone. Whether that be a professional, your parents, partner, friend, sibling, me! Just don’t keep it all in. Try – I know how hard it is – to verbalise what you’re experiencing or, if that’s too difficult, write it down.

A Hobby
As soon as I found something that I was really passionate about, my whole wellbeing improved. Not only is my mind busied by writing, it gives me a sense of achievement as well as inspiration from other people’s blogs. This is something that’s really important when it comes to keeping hopeful because it gives you something to look forward to and work towards, whilst being able to do it in your own time and at your own pace. Allow yourself to have a bit of fun and be inspired by yourself as well as other people.

Meeting Others
Meeting other people who understand what it’s like and forming genuine friendships has been so, so valuable to me. Not only online, but actually in person, too. Last week I went to #MHBSouthCoast organised by Mike and Mel and I had the most wonderful day. This sounds very odd, I know, but I could literally feel myself healing as I spoke to and hugged the people that were there. They got it. I’m not weird or crazy, I am, in fact, part of the most wonderful group of people. I can’t remember the last time I felt as content as I did on Saturday.

Whilst there are many things that I’ve done myself and really that’s what I want this post to be focused on – easy ways that we can help ourselves – it would be wrong of me to not mention therapy. I’ve had two different types: when I was first diagnosed I had talking therapy (NHS) and more recently, EMDR (private). EMDR has been very helpful in gaining an understanding of how my mind is working and, as a result, how to help it. I’d highly recommend it for those who have trauma-related difficulties.

Herbal Medications
After I decided that I couldn’t manage the side effects of my prescribed meds, I decided to take a look down the herbal route. I was very dubious, like can a herbal remedy really make that much difference?? But it did. I have found Lemon Balm to be brilliant for anxiety. When I went on holiday last year I knew I’d struggle so I took one of these every day and didn’t have a single panic attack. Then there’s 5HTP: 5HTP is a herbal antidepressant – it encourages your body to produce more serotonin on it’s own – and I didn’t have any side effects with either of these. Of course, it’s different for everybody and please please please check with a professional before taking these, if you choose to try them. Just because they’re herbal, that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe and side-effect-free for everybody. Do not take 5HTP with any other antidepressant medication.

Educating Myself
This ties in quite nicely with therapy. When I first got diagnosed, my symptoms worsened for a while because it was like shit I’ve been labelled and now I’m mentally ill and I haven’t got a clue what I can do about it but having therapy – and, I should add, a good therapist – I now understand why my brain does what it does. Actually, it’s all very logical. Working out why you’re behaving in a particular way or getting the symptoms that you’re getting means that you can work towards improving them because you know what the problem is. Also, the realisation that actually, it does all makes sense, made me feel a lot less ‘crazy’ and helped to remove self stigma.

To many this seems very minor but to me, it makes a big difference. I think it’s important to remember that my personal experience is that of a high-functioning illness and this isn’t the case for everybody. Personally, going to work each day has been very helpful in providing a solid routine and a bit of stability – I know what I’m doing and what’s coming next.

Breathing Exercises
This sounds ridiculous but believe me, learning to breathe properly is really important. As I mentioned at the beginning, meditation helps a lot with this as well as specific techniques like the triangle exercise.

Gradual Exposure
Ah. The hardest part. So you know when your whole body is telling you not to do something because you are so, so scared, and you physically can’t bring yourself to do it? That’s what I’m talking about here. Over the last few months I have deliberately done things that cause panic because the main thing I’ve learnt about anxiety is that fear breeds fear. The longer you put things off, the more scary they become. Claire Eastham writes about this in a much better way that I can in her book – We’re All Mad Here – where she describes the three different types of anxiety: the tiger, the bully and the frenemy. The frenemy rewards you for skipping activities or events by making you feel better for doing so, but actually, all this means is that next time you’re due to do that particular activity, event or similar, the fear will only be worse (separate post). Last year I made myself get on a tube, I went on holiday twice, I spent New Year away from home in a place I didn’t know, I travelled by myself, and now I know that I can do all of those things. By building up a little mental portfolio of things I’ve done, and nothing bad happened, now, next time I have to do them it will be easier. It will get easier every time.

Self Compassion
For me, this has been vital. It is very difficult to achieve – I completely understand and appreciate that – but I just ask that you try. I never really thought about it to be honest until I started therapy a few months ago and it kind of highlighted to me how negative I actually felt about myself. I learnt to appreciate the person that I am because of what I’ve been through, done, experienced, rather than penalising myself for it. From this point I realised that my body deserves to be treated right. It deserves to be fed, watered, etc, because it’s been through a lot. My mind deserves to be looked after. It’s fought battles resiliently and dealt with more than any person should have to deal with. For that, I credit my mind and my body. They’re still here despite everything and they deserve to be looked after. I feel like I’m waffling but I hope this makes sense?

A Sense of Purpose
This is a tough one, I know. I struggled a lot with feeling like there wasn’t really much point and I very often questioned what it is that I’m actually on the planet for. What do I bring? What is the whole point? Why am I here? These are very, very difficult questions to answer and I can remember forcing myself to not think about it because it sent me into episodes of very low mood (and consequently, panic). However. When I started blogging and writing about mental health, this became a lot easier. You may notice that many of these things link together and help each other, sometimes by accident, so some of these won’t be as difficult as they sound, I promise.

Cutting Out Caffeine & Alcohol
This is something that won’t be right for everyone and that’s okay. I stopped drinking about six months ago but it wasn’t really a conscious decision like ‘I must stop drinking’ – I’ve never really been a heavy drinker. I guess it just kind of happened. I don’t really like the whole feeling of being drunk and dizzy and getting a hangover etc. which made this quite easy but I just really don’t want to risk putting my mental health in danger again when I’ve worked so hard to build it back up. Caffeine is slightly different – sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. This is more a case of when I’m having a bad day I will avoid caffeine to prevent worsening of symptoms, but if I’m feeling ok I don’t even think about it anymore.

Prioritising My Health & Recognising When to Stop
Knowing your limits is absolutely vital, particularly for those who are high-functioning like me. Since I started my blog I’ve taken on quite a few different projects as well as trying to write regular posts and work full time. Recognising when to stop prevents burning out and enables you to stop pressurising and overloading yourself before it goes too far. Remember that no matter what it is that you’re trying to get done, is anything ever important enough to take priority over your health? Treat yourself like a human, not a machine.

Learnt to Manage (& Enjoy!) My Own Company
I used to really struggle being on my own and as I babysit every week, this is something that I really needed to work on for a while. When my anxiety was at it’s worst, I was in the house on my own, babysitting, and I had a panic attack. I hadn’t had one for a while and it felt like it had been building and building until it erupted. For some reason, I was just so scared of being by myself that night. I still don’t really know why. But I phoned Charlie who was playing tennis with a friend, hyperventilated at him for a bit and he came over and bought us pizza. After that I made a conscious effort to put a plan in place for evenings that I’d be on my own. I’d think to myself something along the lines of this: ‘ok, so if I get home at about 5.30, I can have something to eat and have a cup of tea, then have a bath and dry my hair. By this point it will be about 7.30. After that I can watch a movie/write a post, then read my book and get an early night.’ Even just knowing that I had this little plan of action in place helped a lot.

Time & Resilience
It doesn’t happen overnight. Recovery is a long and difficult process. Be kind and patient with yourself and always remember to look back at how far you’ve come. Celebrate small victories because within recovery, every single victory counts.

If you’ve made it to this point in the post, thank you, you are wonderful. Sorry for going on for so long, I just didn’t want to miss anything out that could potentially help someone.

Time to Talk Day 2017 | Conversations Change Lives

It’s Time to Talk Day! The theme of this year’s is Conversations Change Lives and boy, do they. It’s very important to consider the effects that a small conversation can have on somebody – good and bad – and being a Time to Change Champion, it’s my job to tell you all about it.

If you know somebody who is struggling with a mental illness, I urge you to send them a message. Right now. It’s as simple as ‘Hi, how are you?’ ‘Fancy a brew?’ and that teeny tiny message that takes you a few seconds to send, has the power to change somebody’s day.

So how can such a tiny chat have such an impact?

One of the things I remember most clearly is a feeling of isolation that was very hard to shift. You feel like you’re completely on your own, nobody understands, and this, accompanied by the feeling that it’s always going to be like this, was when I found myself in crisis. You have the power to help prevent crisis. If you suffer yourself, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the comforting sound of the words ‘me too‘ or ‘same‘ and understand their importance. This can be all it takes. As soon as I started talking about my mental illnesses, I started recovery.

What should I do if they confide in me?

If somebody wants to speak about their mental health or confide in you, firstly, don’t underestimate how bloody fab that is. The whole point of this is encouraging conversation and I assure you, that first conversation is the hardest. Trust is absolutely vital and if somebody feels that they can talk to you, let them. Try to understand how difficult it can be to speak about mental health and have a bit of patience. You may not even have to say anything, just listen to them and make sure they’re aware that help is out there, support is out there, and there are many other people out there. Many other people who know exactly how it feels. If you feel that somebody may be at the point of crisis or needs more urgent help, I would recommend pointing them in the direction of Samaritans which is a 24/7 confidential helpline. They can be contacted via email, telephone and text message.

It’s time to talk!