Just a Chemical Reaction!

It has been reported recently that between 2006 and 2010 unemployment for mental health sufferers rose by 5.5%. This is twice as much as the unemployment rate for anybody else which was 2.7%. You may ask why? Honest answer is, I’m not sure and I don’t think one single person anywhere knows. A mix of gaps within CVs and vulnerability probably had something to do with it but that is speculation. Although I dislike this statistic, I can’t say I’m surprised!

Somebody recently told me that I probably wasn’t the ‘right sort of person’ to do a stressful job. They then went on to explain that a stressful job, in their opinion, was anything with strict deadlines or a high pressure environment. In short; most jobs. They suggested that I take some time out to do some ‘mindless admin work’ just to earn a bit of money. To say I was offended (and most admin workers should be too) is a bit of an understatement. I know deep down that they were simply looking out for me and didn’t want me to end up in the same situation again. However, sometimes it is nice to think about the implications of what you are saying.

My mental health problems have taken over my life for the past 6 months, I’m the first to admit that, however they do not define me as a person nor do they change who I am. So in answer to this rather cheeky remark I’ve made a list of 5 reasons to employ people with a history of mental health problems:

1)      Our previous health problems have been nothing short of debilitating and we appreciate that a headache is no reason to miss a day of work. Nor is ‘Man Flu’.

2)      We may not have been very good at dealing with stress in the past, however in our recovery we’ve learnt techniques to help us deal with that. Therefore we’re probably better at dealing with deadlines and high pressure environments than most others.

3)      We’ve learnt how to get on with life and work despite struggling on the inside. There’s no need to worry about a break up or a bad day making us unproductive.

4)      If we’ve overcome suicidal feelings I’m pretty sure we can overcome anything.

5)      We may worry about things having to be perfect, so there is nobody better to produce the perfect bit of work for you!

I’m fully aware that some employers may answer back with 100 reasons not to employ people with a history of mental health problems but in my opinion it shows a complete lack of understanding of what they actually are. As I said above, mental health problems don’t define you as a person unless you let them and the majority of people don’t. The good old cliché of ‘they’ve made me stronger’ is true for a lot of people and proves all of the reasons I stated above. People who have suffered from any sort of Anxiety or Depression keep an eye out for early warning signs and many of us are actually on medication that controls the chemical reactions in our brain causing all this – because that is all it is!

This summer I’m working, revising and still managing to fit in some sort of social life around that all. A lot of people I know without the problems I’ve had are sitting on a sofa watching TV on their phones all day! There is nothing wrong with either of these. I’m making use of my summer to earn a bit of money and finish off the last of second year exams while others are having a break from a year of hard work. The one question I’d ask is, am I coping with life any worse than anybody else? No I’m not. One day I’m going to go and do a job just like everybody else and I’m hoping I’ll leave the last 6 months behind me and never have to revisit it. Realistically I’m sure it will come back to haunt me in some way at the most unexpected of times, however for now I can turn my back on it and just be another one of those graduates (to be) looking for a job.

The Apprentice that didn’t invent the light bulb

‘Courage comes in many forms. Stepping down for the unity of the team is courageous.’

Good old Jason being like every other Apprentice candidate and spouting complete garbage. I agree completely with the first sentence, courage does come in many forms and this is shown every day around the world or just in everyday life. After all courage is doing something that frightens you and most people get anxious or frightened about something quite regularly. However, the second sentence…there are just no words I can find to describe quite how much I hate and disagree with that sentence. There are a few reasons for this, the simplest being that he was scared of staying project manager with Luisa constantly snapping at him, certainly not stepping down from the important role and having an easier second day!

Anything that anybody says can be interpreted differently by different people and the way that I interpreted this quote from Jason was that giving up is courageous. Well…no. I think he was mixing up giving up on something and admitting you are wrong. The second is something that most people find extremely hard; mainly due to an inflated sense of pride which is why it much easier to admit you are wrong to somebody you know won’t judge you. On the other hand, giving up on something is more often than not a sign of laziness. I will admit that giving up on certain things can be very difficult but that is more the consequences that come from the act of giving up on something, not the actual action. The only consequence of Jason giving up was getting an earful from Lord Sugar and let’s be honest, all the candidates get that anyway.

Imagine a world where you gave up when things got a little bit tough, or gave up after just one day! You’d have failed all of your exams and would have had to leave school at 16 with no qualifications, you wouldn’t have stuck anything out and you’d probably be lying in bed at 3 in the afternoon reading this (if you could read) because you had nowhere else to be. Life isn’t easy and it will always throw some challenges in there for you but giving up as soon as one of these appears, it’s just not a good idea. Of course there will be some people with a completely different attitude to me and if that works for you then that is fine but it won’t work forever!

As far back as I can remember I’ve had an ‘I won’t give up’ attitude; I’ve never known anything different. I’m not saying I still do everything that I did when I was 5, I’m saying I never gave up something that was important to me because it got a bit tough. For example, when I was 13(ish) I went through a phase where I couldn’t really be bothered with anything. I used to go to a lot of dance classes and I was also playing the bassoon in two orchestras. I remember sitting down with my mum and saying that something had to go so that I could focus on the other and I chose the bassoon over dance because I hadn’t been enjoying dancing that much for the previous couple of years anyway. On the other hand, music was slowly becoming my life and when I was 16/17 years old I was playing in orchestras or practicing every single evening and was on some sort of music course during most of the school holidays. Music was my life at that point. I didn’t give up when my grade 8 pieces were a bit tricky or I’d forgotten how to read tenor clef, I persevered and now I have a grade 8 certificate, but more importantly a skill, to show for it.

My ‘I won’t give up’ attitude hasn’t really worked against me in life. It has pushed me to work harder or try harder at something and this always seems to have worked! Sadly, this year, that attitude has disappeared. I don’t know whether it caused my mental health problems or it disappearing is a result of my problems however I can tell you that life seems 100000000000 times harder without it. I’m slowly getting it back but it’s a long process, much like recovering from mental health problems. For me the two seem to go hand in hand. I won’t give up on finding that attitude again because life is grim without it. (Ironic sentence there – perhaps it’s coming back already!)

I realise that I’ve been lucky to always have that sort of drive and that some people just don’t, I think it’s a personality thing! However, what sort of example is giving up as soon as something gets a bit tricky setting to everybody around you. By all means, admit that you were wrong and change direction in life but giving up is just the first step to never achieving anything.

I’ll leave you with a quote that I prefer from Thomas Edison:

‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.’

All I have left to say is that Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb that is used every day and Jason got fired from ‘The Apprentice’. Enough said.

‘I Know How You Feel’

This is probably the sentence I hate most in the world. I understand the sentiment behind it but it is always a lie. Nobody ever knows exactly how you feel and them pretending they do often makes things a lot worse before it makes anything any better. It is a string of words that falls out of people’s mouths without much thought most of the time. I know this because if you had thought about it, I know you wouldn’t say it. So in order to save you some time in trying to figure out what I mean, I’m going to explain.

Imagine that one of your grandparents passes away (apologies for being morbid). You have lost a grandparent and so have your siblings and cousins. One of your parents has lost a parent and so have their siblings. Somebody else may have lost a husband or a wife and many others will have lost a friend. One person is no longer with us but many people are mourning, does this mean that everybody knows how each other person is feeling merely because they have all lost the same person from their lives? No, because every single one of those people has a completely different relationship with that person and everybody has a different way of coping with this loss. A much simpler example would be if one of your friends was suddenly single after being in a relationship for some time. You can’t know how they feel because you had no idea about how much they cared for their ex or what the circumstances felt like when they broke up.

The reason that I am writing a post on this isn’t to sound depressing by talking about death and break ups, it’s actually because when I tell people about my Anxiety or Depression and they say ‘I know how you feel’ I get very angry. The worst case is when somebody hasn’t suffered from the problem and just because they have had a bad day or got a bit stressed over something they imagine that that is how you feel. However, I’m not much more sympathetic to people who have had these problems that say it, because they should understand that no mental health problem is the same. Not only do mental health problems affect each person in a different way but they will also bring about a new set of circumstances. Having a mental health problem as a teenager living at home is very different to having one at when you’re out at work when you’re potentially living alone.

One of the problems faced by mental health problem sufferers is a lack of understanding by other people. However, next time you go to express your sympathy by saying ‘I know how you feel’, just think…do you really?

Leap into the Unknown

A quick post today because it wasn’t originally planned! Throughout my CBT I was asked, at the beginning of every session, a series of questions to determine my mood. The one that always stuck out to me was asking if I avoided social situations due to my Anxiety or fear of having a Panic Attack. It was the only question that I answered the same thing to every time. Yes.

However, I feel that the end of CBT should mark something significant in my life, therefore it’s about time I started taking a leap into the unknown. Personally I like to have everything planned out in advance, I want to know what is happening and when. Although this is a very sensible way of going about life, especially on holidays, it’s also a bit boring sometimes.

Having Panic Attacks took away that control from me but it also took away my ability to go out and have a good time without worrying. I’ve always said that having a mental health problem doesn’t define who you are, so maybe I should stop letting it and take that leap into the unknown…

Anxiety II

Everybody worries. It happens every single day. Everybody panics. Sometimes things get a bit too much for you. Everybody gets stressed. That’s just the way of life. Life just goes on and worrying, panicking and stress become feelings that motivate you to complete tasks; whether that is work, studying or everyday activities. I spent 6 months of my life where the only feelings I had were worry, panic and stress. They weren’t a part of my life, they were my life.

Most people will worry about something at some point during the day but within a few minutes it will have gone from their mind and they will be focussed on something entirely different. Anxiety is very different to that. It is when your mind won’t stop worrying; there is no distraction from it. In my experience I worried what people thought of me. It almost became an obsession not to upset anybody and I would think about everything I said very carefully before I said it. This may sound like a perfectly normal, even sensible, thing to do. However, the point is that these thoughts took over my mind. I stopped enjoying life and I also stopped sleeping.

If you’re having a bit of a tough time in your everyday life then the time that you go to sleep is the point in the day that you look forward to because the day is over. Sleep becomes your escape from life. Equally if you are having nightmares, which happens to everybody at some point, then waking up and getting on with your day is far more pleasant than being asleep. I got to the point where I hated being awake because my mind wouldn’t stop racing and I was depressed, however, sleep was just not something that came easily to me. Lying in bed for 4 or 5 hours not being able to sleep because my mind was going over every single detail of the day became a very common occurrence for me. I was tired and irritable but also extremely frustrated. The nights that I didn’t get any sleep made the days afterwards surreal. This was for two reasons; the first being that I’d have a 36 hour day and the second that I was so tired that I almost felt a tad tipsy. A lack of sleep inhibits brain function which meant concentrating on something for more than a minute became hard work. Consequently, I didn’t spend much time in lecture theatres or doing work during my bout of Insomnia. This only added to the frustration and some nights I would just sit on my bed and cry for hours. I have no idea why I was crying; probably out of frustration and lack of sleep but also out of loneliness because at 3am there is nobody to talk to.

The trickiest part of my Anxiety was keeping it a secret. I’m not entirely sure why I thought I should keep it a secret but at the time I only told the people that had to know. My family, my housemates, somebody off my course and the odd close friend who would notice something was wrong. As far as everybody else was concerned, I was just ill. This wasn’t a lie; in fact it was 100% the truth, but if you had the flu, you’d tell people you had the flu not that you were ill. I continued going along to a few social events, only staying for a couple of hours because that was as long as I could pretend everything was fine for. I would smile, laugh and join in conversations but in my mind I was fixated on the thought that everybody had something bad to say about me. This thought became an obsession and eventually I used to pop along to society socials merely to show my face and leave.

Looking back now I know that I didn’t need to hide what was wrong with me and actually telling people might have made things a lot easier. Just talking to people I was comfortable around about anything and everything (apart from what was wrong) is what kept me sane for weeks on end. The problem was that whenever I did talk to somebody, as soon as the conversation ended I would go over and over every detail worrying that I had said something to offend, upset or annoy them and thinking that they hated me. It could be something as simple as them bluntly saying goodbye or ignoring something I’d said that set off this reaction, when it was simply them just saying goodbye or not hearing what I’d said. This wasn’t reserved for people I didn’t know, I thought this about my closest friends. If you’re reading this and I’ve seen you in the last 6 months…I’ve thought that about you. Guaranteed.

I’ve been taking medication and have completed a course of CBT over the last few months. Both of these have allowed me to cope a lot better with the symptoms of Anxiety but it’s not been banished from my life forever. I have bad days and I have good days, and more recently I’ve had some pretty boring normal days, but what a welcome relief they are! If I was to go back 6 months and tell people what was wrong with me as soon as I knew I’m not sure if it would have changed anything but the fact that I was scared to tell people worries me. People with Anxiety and all other mental health problems often suffer in silence. This can’t go on. I’d known something hadn’t been quite right since I came to university and writing this right now is the first time that I’m actually admitting that. That makes it 18 months of silence and 2 panic attacks before I went and got help. Some of you have known me that whole time and some of you have known me for a period of that time; I think you’d agree I did a pretty good job at hiding it. I shouldn’t have had to.

I’m the happiest now that I have been since I started university. CBT has taught me some skills to help cope with any problems that may arise and if I’m feeling rubbish I know there are people that I can go and talk to. It’s just a pity this hasn’t always been true and that for some people it’s never true. I hope that one day in the future everybody will understand mental health a lot better than they do now and that NOBODY will suffer in silence.

One Girl and her Dog

I’ve mentioned previously that exercise can help your mental health and it doesn’t need to be trying out a new sport and straining every muscle in your body by trying too hard. It can be as simple as walking your dog (or just walking without a dog.)

I haven’t got much more to write on this topic as I have written all about it ‘here‘ so I just took some pictures while I was out walking Roxy this afternoon. Enjoy!

Here’s the star of the show:

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Nice and troublesome as always! However, on some occasions this comes in handy. For example, when she doesn’t read the signs and goes to ‘do her business’ on private land. I’m no rule breaker so I definitely read the signs and stay off their land!

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Spot the dog!

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Did I say above that I was taking her for a walk? Well apparently I went the wrong way so she trotted off in the other direction and started barking until I followed her. Think she is a little bit too big for her boots!

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I did actually take a few more photos but I realise that nobody loves looking at photos of my dog as much as I do, so I’ll stop here. My attempt at trying to get Roxy to look at the camera to say ‘Goodbye’ failed. So here is a picture of her looking annoyed that I haven’t opened the door yet instead! Bye for now!

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The Circle

I had a conversation a while back with a fellow Anxiety sufferer and  you wouldn’t believe how nice it is to be able to talk to somebody that actually understands, because without seeming rude, a lot of you, just don’t. This isn’t meant to sound insulting to those of you who have never had a mental health problem because I am genuinely happy for you, I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy, but it does make it extremely hard for you to understand. It is very easy to tell who the people are that don’t understand because they’ll make accidental comments that won’t sit well with sufferers of mental health problems or they’ll try to explain it back to you incorrectly. Understanding something is very difficult but it really is a vital step forward to smashing the stigma mental health problems have.

If you are revising for an exam there are two ways of doing it. The first is cramming. You sit there in the days before the exam and learn as many facts as possible. For a lot of exams this will work well enough and you’ll probably find you get a relatively decent mark on results day. However, it doesn’t stick with you for long and actually by the time results day has come you probably can’t remember any of it. However, the alternative, the second way, is to sit down for hours many weeks in advance and go through each section learning it thoroughly, completing all questions set and then applying it to problems or essays etc. This is hard work and you probably won’t do significantly better than the crammer in the exam but a week, month, even a year later you’ll remember a lot more than the first person has. The same applies to understanding mental health problems.

By typing  ‘Anxiety’, ‘Depression’, ‘Panic Attacks’ into Google you can find many pages that will explain the symptoms, medication, ways to adapt to life for all of these things. You could learn these facts off by heart but it doesn’t mean you understand, it just means that you might be able to tell if you or a friend starts to suffer from one of them. If you sit down with somebody who does have or has had a mental health problem and actually listen to them explain you’re going to be a lot closer to understanding what it is actually like. Hopefully, once you are a tad closer to understanding mental health problems your views on them will change significantly! Of course the issue we have with this is that a lot of people don’t want to tell people that they have had a mental health problem and do you know why this is the case with a lot of people….because they feel like nobody understands. That is what you call a vicious circle.

Personally, I think it is about time that this circle was broken. So my next post (after a cheerful, happy one of course) is going to be about Anxiety and when I say Anxiety, I mean my Anxiety. It has affected my life in a big way this year and only my closest friends really know to what extent. I’m aware that it’s not going to be an easy post to write or click the ‘Publish’ button on, mainly because this is a very personal thing to me. However, if nobody ever talks about their experiences then that circle I talked about above, it’s going to stay there for a very, very long time. Somebody once told me that if you break a circle you just get a line but a line is what is needed here! Gossip spreads down a line incredibly quickly so if talking about mental health could do that too then we’re going to grow up a generation that isn’t afraid to talk about it instead of a generation that tip toes around the topic.

PS. If you fancy a chat about mental health with yours truly then just ask because I will talk about it very openly and then you might just be a tiny bit closer to understanding!

Start of Something New

All good things come to an end. When one door closes another one opens. End of an era. Use whatever saying you like but today I moved out of the house I’ve spent a year in in Manchester and into a new house with some lovely new housemates. My parents keep saying think of it as a new start because all my memories of my old room are being depressed, staying in bed all day and having panic attacks.

This month also marks the month where some of my favourite people in Manchester graduate/go on placement/ leave for a year abroad and as happy as I am for them all I can’t help but saying ‘YOU’RE ALL LEAVING ME!’ However there are still some pretty damn amazing people left in Manchester and now I have numerous other places to visit in the country!

I think you can probably all gather that this year hasn’t been the best for me but things are really looking up and so I’m not focussing on all the sad stuff. It’s the start of something not the end. However that sounds all sicky and emotional and I need to keep up my cold hearted persona so I’ll stop with that for now.

The point I’m trying to get across is that a lot of good things come to an end but so many amazing new things can happen when they do. Life goes on and everyday is a ‘Start of Something New’. (Yes I did just quote HSM.) So the new thing I’m starting today is that every other blog post I put up is going to be focused on something that will hopefully make some of you smile! This is still mainly a mental health blog at the end of the day so I’ll carry on posting about that but my life, well mood really, is looking up therefore so is this blog!