Don’t Call Me Crazy (Part 1)

I got rather excited when I saw a TV programme called ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy’ being advertised and I really wanted to take to twitter and post on here saying you should all spare an hour of your time to go and watch it. However, I wasn’t all that impressed. If you have the time and the inclination then do go watch it because it is something you probably won’t have seen before but read this first! ( I won’t spoil the stories – I promise.)

‘Don’t Call Me Crazy’ is a documentary (shown on BBC3) about an adolescent mental health ward of a hospital in Greater Manchester. Some of the patients have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and some are just there at their own free will because they’ve realised they’ve got a problem. Understandably,due to the circumstances that the patients are in the centre for the programme isn’t light hearted and it certainly isn’t a reflection of mental health problems as a whole. These are extreme problems where it’s not safe for the patient to be out in the world, this is normally for their own safety but sometimes other’s safety too.

As the introduction begins there are several clips of screaming, alarms ringing and teenagers fighting and being detained. My heart sunk a little. Not only did I feel a lot of sympathy towards the people within the centre for having the problems they have but also because they’ll have massive television cameras pointing at them! Having personally gone through mental health problems myself I can tell you that I couldn’t think of anything worse than having a camera anywhere near me, so I’m sure that some if not all of the patients felt the same. To make matters even worse one of the girls you are introduced to on the programme has an eating disorder. There are no full length mirrors in the centre so why a camera filming a documentary that is to be put on the TV for 60 million people to watch was deemed a good idea is beyond me. I really hoped that certain patients had agreed to be filmed and that was how they had managed to complete this programme, however there are only 15 patients on the ward at a time and I am almost certain I saw all of them at some point! However, as I am no mental health expert and have no idea what it takes to treat somebody with those problems, I will just assume that it was carefully thought through by the medical experts – or at least hope it was.

There are three main patients in this episode all with different problems. As I said I wouldn’t spoil any stories I won’t tell you much about them but one has an eating disorder, one is suicidal and the third has OCD which caused depression. None of these are things that I have talked about on my blog (as of yet) because these are mental health problems that people are far less likely to come across compared to something like Anxiety and Depression. These are problems I couldn’t really do justice on a blog post because I have never experienced them.

Overall, the narrative is very sympathetic towards the patients without the patronising undertone which would have been very easy to put in, so I’m very glad that’s not there! Also the programme is hard hitting and it shows things that you never think would happen. The first of the series has been shown and there are two more to come in the following weeks. It is worth a watch if you have the time but whatever you do don’t judge all mental health problems on this programme because many of these people have been sectioned so their problems are extreme and also every single mental health problem on every single person is different. Completely different.

The Socially Acceptable Drug

Alcohol. The substance that we have convinced ourselves we need to drink in order to have fun. It’s a drug, but a socially acceptable one and to be honest I’m not completely sure why! I have no doubt in my mind that a vast majority of the population will completely disagree with me but personally, I think you should hear me out first.

I’ve never been a particularly big drinker, I didn’t start until my 18th birthday when I got pretty hammered on Bacardi Breezers (yes I was just that cool). I then drank socially every so often but I was often the designated driver! The best way to describe my drinking habits was that I was a binge drinker. This has become a very dirty word in recent years despite the fact it describes quite a lot of you who are reading. Many people consider binge drinking as ‘healthier’ or ‘better for you’ than regularly drinking small amounts because you aren’t putting the substance into your body every day. Science has come up with every theory under the sun about how alcohol will cause cancer, prevent cancer, help sleep, prevent sleep, increase heart disease, reduce risk of heart disease ( you probably get the point). However whether you believe any of this or not, the fact is that it contradicts itself constantly, begging the question, what’s the point?!

When I came to university, I discovered the point of alcohol, clubs are rubbish without it! Fresher’s Week is all about getting drunk, going out and nursing an all day hangover before starting the whole process again the next night. In fact, the word Fresher has become so associated with alcohol that some universities call it ‘Welcome Week’. Drinking is a massive part of the university lifestyle and it doesn’t stop there, the amount of ‘drinks dos’ that people go to when they are in work fills me with dread as to what a working life is like.

I should probably make it clear that this wasn’t always my opinion, during Fresher’s Week I was just like everybody else and at my 20th birthday I was quoted saying that I didn’t want to open my eyes because “I could see two of everything and my head feels funny”. Alcohol was a part of my life just like any other student. From this you can probably guess my reaction to the fact that the tablets I was put on for Anxiety and Panic Attacks became ineffective when mixed with alcohol. I was not impressed at all. I celebrated the end of my exams watching a DVD in bed with a glass of orange squash while a lot of my friends were out getting absolutely hammered.

Three long months of not drinking followed this, until one night in Blackpool I decided that it might not be the worst thing in the world if I had just one drink. One drink became two. Two drinks became three. Four drinks became a Panic Attack. I was helped out of a club by security, I wasn’t being chucked out, in fact I went back in afterwards, but it looked like I was which was nothing short of humiliating. Since then I have realised that what I previously thought were Asthma Attacks when I was drinking and in crowded pubs or clubs were actually Panic Attacks. So now I have two reasons not to drink; the first being it’s a no no with my tablets and the second being that rowdiness and my Anxiety just don’t go well together ( I talked about this in my Panic Attack post.)

Back to the original point that I made; why is alcohol socially acceptable? Since not drinking I have been ‘lucky’ enough to see how people behave when drunk and to be completely honest it makes me glad I don’t drink because at least I don’t act like an absolute idiot. People falling over on the street, being sick, being abusive and these are the nicer side effects of alcohol! I cannot deny that alcohol is socially acceptable because it is what the majority of society deems as okay. However, just because something is seen as socially acceptable it doesn’t really mean that it is! It wouldn’t be acceptable to 49% of the population for people to walk around naked if 51% of the population thought it was, yet this is a majority in exactly the same way! (I almost but in a good old politics reference there but I think I’ll keep that for people who will appreciate it.)

Personally I take the view that you don’t miss what you’ve never had, therefore I wonder what society would be like today if we’d never discovered that it was fine to drink alcohol and the effects that it had. However, I obviously can’t change the past or ‘undiscover’ alcohol so it looks like I’m stuck living in a culture where drinking is cool, the best thing to drink on a Friday night and the centre of most social occasions. I say culture because this isn’t a worldwide thing; there are many places in the world that don’t drink alcohol, whole religions that avoid it and they are perfectly happy without it.

I realise that this may have been a slightly controversial point of view for a 20 year old student to put across but quite frankly I don’t care! Hopefully I won’t be on tablets long term and I’ll manage to keep control of my Anxiety in the future, but even when I do, I find it highly unlikely I’ll ever go back to drinking and I certainly won’t return to the heavy weekend drinking I used to partake in. So you may mock me for staying in and playing scrabble (I don’t actually do this – well not very often) or ordering a lime and soda but I’ll be the one laughing when you’re nursing that hangover tomorrow.

The Power of the Internet

I think I should start with my good news of the day: 450 people have visited this blog today…450! Seeing as it is normally a grand total of 10 people, maybe 15 on a good day, I’m sure you can see why I’m shouting about this a bit. So thank you Thorrun and Alastair Campbell for that magic you worked on Twitter! Even if one person has read this and has a slightly changed opinion on Mental Health Problems now, then I’m over the moon.

The second piece of good news today is that I got a lovely E-Card from somebody (not sure who though!) saying ‘Well Done’ and how they read every blog post I put up. This has made my day! No actually this has made my week, so thank you to whoever that was.

Finally, I need a little bit of help from all of you. Those of you that have read my first post on here will know that I originally set up this blog to raise awareness of Mental Health Problems, this is obviously still the case. However, from experience I know that a few people shouting out are a little bit more likely to be heard than one, lone person. It’s your turn now. It doesn’t take much to get somebody’s attention; a tweet, a Facebook status, a simple conversation with somebody about Mental Health is not seen very often which is why it can make such a difference. If you’re uncomfortable talking about it, because I do realise I’m very open about it, then just direct somebody over to your favourite blog post on here (I like to think at least some of them are a tiny bit informative).

Obviously a lot of people don’t care about raising awareness of Mental Health Problems as much as I do because it hasn’t affected many of you. Unfortunately though, this won’t remain true forever. 1 in 4 people will suffer from a Mental Health Problem in their life. That’s only just behind the 1 in 3 statistic for Cancer, yet nobody is afraid to talk about that.

It’s all about the small steps (a complete contradiction to my previous post but big steps aren’t always possible) and maybe one day Mental Health will be talked about without anybody feeling awkward, without anybody refusing to comment on it and without anybody thinking that they know nobody with this problem. So go and use the Power of the Internet!

Facing your Fears

Today I saw Fear Factor Live at Universal Studios in Florida. It’s based on a television show in America which is apparently very popular judging by the reaction of the audience this afternoon! Although the show is based around the idea of ‘facing your fears’, it is really just a few mad stunts that include being attached to a harness or eating live maggots (delightful isn’t it?!) The point is though that is got me thinking about fears, well fears and phobias to be exact!

I should probably start by differentiating between a fear and a phobia as the words are used interchangeably in everyday language. A fear is something that scares you, it causes some fancy chemical reaction in the brain (as I previously stated…biology is not my thing) that means you shy away from the situation involving the ‘thing’ that scares you. It becomes a phobia when it affects the way you live your life. This could be something as simple as avoiding going abroad because of a phobia of flying or something as debilitating as never leaving your house due to agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). A phobia is an anxiety disorder in the same way that panic disorder, anxiety and panic attacks are. The vast majority of you will have a fear of something (spiders probably!) but roughly 1 in 6 of you will also have a phobia of something. The good news is…all phobias can be cured!

Many of you will know that I used to be scared of dogs. I used to avoid going to parks in fear of a dog coming near me, I’d cross the road to stay out of the way of a dog and I would avoid houses with dogs as pets. I even distinctly remember sitting on the opposite side of a baby gate to a dog at my friend’s house for many hours! Looking back on it, this was probably a phobia but I didn’t know it at the time. I always hoped I wouldn’t be scared of dogs forever because nobody likes being scared but it was also very very annoying.

I’m no longer scared of dogs, I am actually a tad obsessed with them (well I say ‘them’, I really mean my dog). The way I got over my fear of dogs is a proven way of curing a phobia, however it wasn’t entirely my choice. My parents got a dog, so I had to live with it. The way I got over my phobia is called ‘exposure’. I’m pretty sure you can all guess exactly what this is; but in simple terms it is putting yourself in the situation you don’t want to be in! There isn’t much more of this story to tell apart from that 2 years ago I wouldn’t go near a dog and now I’ll lie on the floor next to one and let it climb all over me.

My life is definitely a lot easier now that I’ve got over my fear of dogs. I can go wherever I like outside without being scared and I make far more money babysitting now that I can look after dogs too (got my priorities right!) I would encourage anybody who has a phobia of something, or even just a fear of something, to ‘face’ it because you’ll never regret it. However, I know that it can be a lot easier having a helping hand, or somebody to push you into it when you try to back out (which you will). So if any of you need help ‘facing your fears’, give me a bell and I’ll happily help!

This blog post isn’t a step by step guide on how to face your fears and that is purely because different things work for different people. You can type ‘face your fears’ into Google and there are a million self help books out there or wikihows on all of this and finding the right way for you is the most important step to kicking that fear out of your life. Personally I’m a ‘throw yourself into the deep end’ sort of person so writing down, analysing and taking small steps to facing my fears would never work but for you it might! Every fear is different, everybody will face them in a different way but everyone’s life will be easier without them.

CBT

When I first went to the doctors about my panic attacks I was told I’d be referred for some counselling as this is the most effective way to treat mental health problems. My heart sunk. Those that know me will know that talking about feelings or problems or issues; not my thing, in fact I actively avoid it. I had a misguided view of counselling as having to go and sit in a room with an old patronising person who didn’t understand what was going on in my life and talk about everything that has happened in the past and all my present circumstances to try and figure out what had gone wrong! Frankly, I couldn’t think of a worse way to spend an hour of my time. However what I had actually been referred to was CBT, which in a kind twist of events I was actually able to do through a series of online sessions! If I’m completely honest I’m not actually CBT’s biggest fan but I realise that it is helping and can see how it could definitely help problems like mine!

For those of you that don’t know what CBT is, it stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it is a way of looking at thought and behaviour patterns that affect your mood. It then works on changing them so that they have a better affect on your life. Just to be clear, it is not a ‘cure’ for anything, it merely helps people to adapt to life with the problems they may have.

CBT is used to treat Anxiety and Depression mainly but can also be used to treat other problems, some of which aren’t even mental health problems. It has it’s advantages; it is a very proactive approach, it can be more effective than medication and it is something that can be applied for the rest of your life. However, equally it has a couple of disadvantages, the first being that it requires the patient to put in all of the effort and actively try, practice and adopt the techniques taught. This can be hard for somebody suffering from a mental health problem if they are lacking motivation and also needs you to set aside a bit of time to do it. The second disadvantage is that it does not find the root cause of the problem which some medical professionals think is the answer to helping those with mental health problems.

I know people that get on very well with CBT and others that do not, however there is no denying the powerful effect it can have on somebody that fully commits to the program. Finding the right way of dealing with your thoughts and behaviour is trial and error, but then again so is life! I said at the beginning of this post that I wasn’t CBT’s biggest fan; I’ve completed another session since I started drafting this blog post and my feelings towards it have altered slightly! It is very slow to get started but the techniques taught in it are amazing and I’m 1000% better at dealing with my problems now than I was!

‘Can it be cured?’

I was asked this today. I’m not sure whether it was a serious question or not, but that is really beside the point. The answer is quite simply….NO. Mental health problems are something that you have to adapt to having. You will always live with them but over time they will have less of an impact on your life as you become more experienced at dealing with them. One of the methods used to help this process is called CBT and I’m currently drafting a blog post on that but it’s taking a while!

A good example of how mental health problems are always around in your life is Bipolar Disorder. I don’t know a lot about this (yet – maybe another blog post?) but you go through periods of depression and periods of mania (sad and happy in simple terms). It is a cycle between the two and when one ends the other starts! This is a life long thing.

However, it is not just Bipolar Disorder that is a life long problem. Personally, I don’t like big crowds or rowdiness; therefore clubs are a bit of a no go area for me now. I might one day take a jump into the unknown and go into one again but it would be a really big deal for me to do that and it’s something I don’t really fancy trying anytime soon. As a student this obviously affects how I live slightly, but you learn to adapt and you put yourself into friendship circles that don’t revolve around going out clubbing!

Apologies for the fact that this sounds like a massive rant to answer a question, but I hope it got my point across that you can’t just ‘get rid of’ a mental health problem. It takes time to adapt. So never expect somebody to snap out of it and always be prepared for them to go through periods where their mental health problem affects them more than normal.

PS. There’s no photo today because my phone isn’t working properly! Maybe they’ll be two tomorrow!

Reactions

Many of my previous posts on here have focused on the similarities between a physical and a mental illness. Today I’m going to focus on the one major difference I have experienced between the two, people’s reactions. Telling somebody that you have the flu is the simplest thing in the world and the normal response is ‘Get well soon’. On the other hand telling somebody that you have a potentially life threatening problem, such as cancer, can be very difficult, emotional and overwhelming but once again the response is normally a very supportive one. Trying to tell somebody that you have a mental health problem can be one of the hardest things you ever do. This isn’t because it is any worse than something like cancer, it is merely because people are scared of them and they are scared of how people may react. The general perception of mental health is a lot better than it used to be and many people will agree with me on the fact that it should be treated like any other illness. However, there are some people that do not agree and I can only put this down to lack of awareness and naivety.

Personally I have had very supportive reactions in general but I know that some people have had less than pleasant reactions from others, even the people closest to them. I was worried about how people would react far more than I needed to be. Before I started this blog I had told my immediate family and a handful of my friends, it was more on a need to know basis. The last person that I told before I started this blog said to me that having anxiety didn’t make me crazy. This calmed all of my fears that I had about talking about this and stamped on the one opinion I thought people might have! This was one of the best reactions, others have included people asking me every day if I’m okay, being told to stop being dramatic, acting a little oddly around me afterwards and my personal favourite…treating me like there is no problem what so ever! (Reminding somebody of their problem isn’t really a good idea in my opinion.)

I like to think that everybody will react in the same way that the majority of my friends have, but the sad truth is that they won’t. There are people that I still haven’t told about any of this and there are parts of my problems that I haven’t told to anybody. Keeping this part of my life a secret from certain people isn’t done because I am ashamed or embarrassed, I simply haven’t told them because I don’t think that their reaction would help at the moment. Who knows, maybe one day I will tell them, maybe one day I’ll sit down with somebody and explain everything; but right now, everybody can have a little piece of information and this blog is slowly putting together the pieces of the jigsaw!

PS. Today’s photo is of one of my favourite reactions!

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Insomnia

Disclaimer: Apologies for any awful grammar mistakes because to keep with the theme, I’m drafting this at 2am while I can’t sleep!

Insomnia is a term that is thrown around in conversation much like ‘depression’ is. People who can’t get to sleep until 2am but then sleep solidly for 8 hours will say they have insomnia. I’m not denying that this isn’t annoying or frustrating, however there are people that have it a lot worse than one off night. Personally I had 13 weeks of solid insomnia, nights lying awake for hours, waking up early, waking up in the middle of the night. It became a regular occurrence for my housemate to find me in the kitchen in the morning with a cup of coffee having not slept at all that night. Now this was pretty bad but there are people out there who have it 100 times worse, they don’t have weeks of this, they have months, years, even decades of it. You may be wondering why I am going on about not sleeping when this blog is about mental health problems; well, insomnia is a symptom of many mental health problems, a side effect of a lot of medicines used to treat mental health problems and sometimes the cause of mental health problems!

Types of insomnia are defined by their duration as this is quite simple to measure. There are 3 types of insomnia:

1) Transient insomnia – This last for less than a week and the majority of you have probably had it! The best example of this is not being able to sleep very well during exams or when your sleeping environment changes. After the cause has worn off, everything gets back to normal with little to no effect on your life.

2) Acute insomnia – Problems sleeping that last up to a month. This will often have an effect on your life and the most common cause is actually stress; so once again exam period is a typical time for students to suffer from this!

3) Chronic insomnia – This lasts longer than a month and can cause some pretty horrible side effects such as double vision, hallucinations and lack of ability to function properly during the day. It is often associated with medical disorders rather than an event in life but can be caused by stressful events such as death of relatives.

As mentioned in the final point, insomnia can affect your ability to function during the day. For me this was the worst part. Although it was frustrating lying in bed at night and not being able to sleep, the fact that I then couldn’t concentrate long enough to go to lectures or even reply to a text sometimes, made me slip into a state which was later diagnosed as Depression. As I said, mental health problems have a strong link with sleep; Anxiety was the original cause of my insomnia, the medication I was on had a side effect of insomnia and in the end it caused Depression.

When I first went to the doctors for problems with my sleeping the first three pieces of advice given to me were: establish a routine, cut out coffee and try not to use a computer/phone/TV for at least an hour before going to sleep. For the students among you, you will realise that this was not going to happen! However, I tried because my lack of sleep was getting in the way of going to university and life in general! After 3 or 4 weeks of trying all this I went back to the doctors and I was greeted with ‘You look like you haven’t slept in a week’, well, that is because it was near enough the truth! I went through numerous suggestions for improving my sleep and the thing that eventually sorted it all was going back to work during the Easter holidays and having to get up in the morning for something!

I like to think that this post might be mildly useful for some people that may have suffered from insomnia or problems with their sleeping so I’ll tell you about my three trusty sidekicks in getting to sleep:

1) Chamomile Tea (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it)

2) Music, but not the radio, more along the classical lines!

3) A pair of socks. Yes, you may laugh but cold feet do not help you get to sleep!

I’m not suggesting that you should all plug in your iPod, drink chamomile tea and wear thick socks to bed but it’s all about finding the things that work for you! So if you’ve got insomnia, go moan to the doctor all you like or you could save yourself the boredom of sitting in the waiting room and give a few self help suggestions a try, because one of them (or three of them) might just work!

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