Life Update

I have thought hard about whether this post should go up on my blog or not for two reasons; it’s quite personal and it goes against a couple of the blog posts I’ve previously written. However, despite that I feel that it’s an important post to write because my circumstances have changed and it’s all because of mental health!

I’ve left university. I completed two years of a three year degree and I got a decent mark at the end of those two years. I haven’t even taken an interruption, I have well and truly left.

I know that many people will be wondering why and I’m pretty sure that a lot of people will be judging me for it, and I don’t mean in a good way. The way that my family have reacted and supported me with this decision, that was not taken lightly and also not made quickly, has been amazing and I can’t thank them enough. My friends have had mixed reactions but I know that a lot of them don’t understand, therefore I’m going to explain it for you.

Returning to Manchester was never going to be an easy or happy occasion for me because I was going back to the place and situations that cause my Anxiety to rear it’s ugly head in the first place. Unless you’ve experienced mental health problems you’ll find it difficult to understand how much of an effect simple things can have on the mind although to some extent this is something that many can relate to. Within a few days I was on edge, miserable and dreading the next year of my life and by the middle of the first week of lectures I had spent 6 hours in bed in the middle of the day, missing meals and feeling depressed. This was the turning point. I was making myself ill by being in Manchester and putting myself back onto a course that brought such horrible feelings with it for me. Imagine coming back from every lecture all year with a splitting headache and a sore throat. Could you manage a week? A month? A year? I came back from lectures with a mind thinking that I’d never be happy again and knots in my stomach that made me want to curl up in bed and sleep all day. I survived two lectures before I broke down to my mum and my housemate.

Those who don’t see anything other than the Kerry that leaves the house and faces the world won’t understand. However those that have lived with me will understand. They understand because they’ve seen what it did to me. Equally, they understand that leaving university has been the best decision I’ve made in years because to quote my mum ‘Happy, cheery Kerry is back, she’s been gone for 15 months!’

I don’t regret this decision for a second and to anybody that disagrees, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success.

After so long, I’m finally happy. What will I do next? Who knows, but I cannot wait to find out!

Just Listen

Admitting that there is something wrong with your mental health is difficult; it often takes a long time and a lot of courage! When people reach out for help they aren’t looking to be patronised, told to ‘forget about it’ or told you know exactly how they feel. More often than not, being helpful means merely listening and gently encouraging them to find a way of dealing with their problems, be that seeing a GP or trying some self-help methods. The problem is that this isn’t what most people do! I’ve previously written about how much I hate the saying ‘I know how you feel’ and I know people who have been told to just forget about their problems or to just stop worrying. Not only are these comments insensitive, they’re also thoughtless.

One of the situations that I’ve found most difficult about living with Anxiety is trying to explain it to people who start off the conversation with no knowledge of it. Both Anxiety and Depression are feelings that people know of, we all worry about things and we all have those off days when you just feel a bit down. Unfortunately because so many people haven’t experienced these feelings on a continuous basis for extended periods of time, they find it hard to understand quite how bad it can be. For example, feeling a bit down one day isn’t too bad when you know that going to the pub that evening or going shopping that weekend will cheer you up. There is an end in sight to these feelings you are currently experiencing. Imagine there being no end in sight, imagine feeling like that but there being nobody around to cheer you up, nothing that can bring a smile to your face. It can seem a bit like walking through a tunnel that never ends.

The problem I’m currently facing is that I associate Manchester with how I felt last academic year, which is very different to what I associate with being at home. I can go from feeling terrible and on edge to perfectly fine and chatty in a 2 hour train ride, and vice versa when returning to Manchester. Now not only is it difficult to explain my feelings about being in Manchester to somebody, it’s even harder to explain it and be taken seriously when I’m perfectly fine when I’m telling them! I’ve been told by several people that I only have one year to go at university, that I can survive one year, evidently these people have never felt how I feel when I’m in Manchester. People have also told me that this is merely my mind associating a place with a feeling, they’re completely right, however if the last year has proved anything to me it’s that the mind is a complicated thing. Breaking this association is as difficult as just ‘not worrying’ when you have Anxiety; almost impossible.

It takes a lot of patience and you have to genuinely care about a person in order to understand their mental health problem and knowing one person with Anxiety, doesn’t mean that you understand everybody with Anxiety. One of my friends also lives with Anxiety, but theirs is set off my something completely different to mine and how we deal with it is very different as well. Once again mental health is very similar to physical health, if you’ve never broken a bone, you can’t even begin to imagine the pain it causes. Equally, if you’ve never had a mental health problem, you can’t even begin to imagine how it feels.

Speaking in public is a skill, it is one that many people don’t have, and it requires practice and a certain confidence to master. There are people all over the world craving the ability to master this skill; there are seminars run on it, it’s incorporated into education, it is something that people are in awe of. Personally, I think it is an impressive skill, however there is a skill I find even more impressive. Listening. There are so many people that think they are good at it, but they’re not. Inserting words into every awkward silence, isn’t listening. Telling people stories that loosely relate to what they’ve said, isn’t listening.  Staying silent throughout every awkward silence, taking in what the other person is saying and inserting USEFUL comments into conversation. That’s listening. Sometimes people don’t need speeches made to them about how much better things will get, sometimes they need you to just listen.

The First Step

Finally booking an appointment to see your GP is a big step for a lot of people who are having problems with their mental wellbeing. For many it is the first time they’ll be admitting to themselves or anybody else that they are having problems and asking for help can not only be embarrassing for a lot of people but also very daunting. There are numerous horror stories out there about how unsympathetic, rude or unhelpful GPs have been towards people reaching out for help. Unfortunately this has led to many people being too worried to go and get the help that it so readily available to many people.

I’m here to tell you it can be very different to all those horror stories!

Initially I didn’t have much choice but to go to my GP seeing as I needed a doctor’s note for a mitigating circumstances form at university. It was made a lot easier by having a friend who had received help from their GP and local NHS services for their own Anxiety problems. The first GP I saw wasn’t my normal GP as I had to book an emergency appointment; she was a tad abrupt and to the point, merely telling me exactly what she was going to do and handing me a prescription. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this but a week later I went back and saw my normal GP. I haven’t looked back since. He has being extremely helpful, explaining about Anxiety, referring me for CBT, offering me medication for physical symptoms of panic attacks and suggesting that I talk to my academic advisor about possible support. To this day I’ve never been on anti-depressants because I asked not to be, my GP has always managed to find an alternative for my problems.

I am very aware that this isn’t the story you normally hear about GPs and mental health but I’d liken it to the London Underground. Tweets, Facebook statuses and texts complaining about all the problems on the tube are a daily occurrence, leading people to think it is a completely inept service. However, if you have a decent commute on the tube you don’t put a tweet up saying ‘Had a pleasant ride on the Northern Line’ do you? Negatives are focussed on a lot within society which in itself doesn’t help mental health problems!

Back to my main point, I realise that the NHS gets a lot of stick from the press, once again focussing on the negatives, but my experience with them has been fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for anything else (apart from maybe an on time appointment!) Obviously it is personal preference as to whether you seek help for mental health problems but what have you got to lose? If the first GP you see is unhelpful, book an appointment for a different one. I appreciate that picking yourself back up after a useless, unhelpful appointment can be difficult but you have so much you to gain by doing a bit of trial and error!

Seeing a GP can be the first step to feeling better. Your first step as a baby is celebrated, your first step into education is celebrated (we all have the photo of our first day of school!), the first step on the moon was celebrated internationally and one day I’m pretty sure you’ll celebrate the first day of overcoming a mental health problem!

I Found My Way To Talk

During the summer I wrote a blog post about Time to Change and their Time to Talk campaign. Well now I’m writing to tell you all that I wrote a blog post for them! They have lots of blogs that are about a wide variety of mental health issues and I’m hooked on them! Hearing about mental health experiences from real people instead of just in a leaflet in the doctors is amazing. It’s gives the stories behind the problems so much more depth and it makes you realise that these are real people and real problems!

I’ll put a link to my blog post below and hope you go and have a read, while you’re over there maybe you could read a few more too!

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/blogging-about-mental-health-has-given-me-a-way-to-talk

Currently sitting on a train writing a couple more blog posts that’ll be up in the next few days so keep your eyes peeled for them!

Anxiety, You’re Not Winning Here

On 11th May this year, I decided that I’d had enough of all the awkward questions, lack of awareness and silence about Anxiety and other mental health problems. Spotty Sunflowers was born. My first post was the hardest I’ve ever written and the one I’ve never had second thoughts about posting. It was the first time that a lot of people had any idea about what had been going on for the previous five months in my life. To say I got an unexpected reaction is putting it mildly. And that was just the beginning.

Pretty quickly followed a post about Mental Health Awareness Week and then one about the amazing people who I sometimes forget to thank. Back in May I was useless at talking openly about mental health or emotions of any sort. It was hard for me to admit to myself, let alone other people, how bad things had got in the previous few months. However, now, after writing about Anxiety, Panic Attacks and CBT, I can talk about any of these in person.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog determinedly writing about how a mental illness is just as bad as a physical illness. There has even been a post as the answer to a question that a friend had asked me that I just couldn’t bring myself to answer in person! The more I blogged about mental health, the more I learnt and learning about Insomnia really helped me to understand ways that I could start to control it. Low and behold, days after I’d written a blog post on this topic, my sleeping improved dramatically!

The Socially Acceptable Drug is probably my favourite post that I’ve written, I’m not sure why but I’m just particularly proud of it. My most read post (probably by accident) is definitely My First Time, it’s been read by people in 28 different countries! Obviously being retweeted by Alistair Campbell, which sent my view count into triple figures for the day, was a particular high. However, nothing has quite compared to the reaction Time to Talk received. I wrote a post and within an hour my news feed on Facebook had gone crazy with people changing their cover photos and telling ‘the world’ that they weren’t afraid to talk about their problems. I’m not naïve or cocky enough to think this was all in relation to one blog post but that was one of my favourite evenings this summer!

Having written posts on everything from The Apprentice to my dog to little things that people say inconsiderately, I can safely say that I’ve had a lot of fun writing for this blog for the last few months. Spotty Sunflowers has become my safe place, the place that I can say things that I don’t want to talk about in person or more commonly things that people don’t want to have a conversation about. At almost 40 posts and 3000 views, I’m pretty glad that on that one day in May when life was looking pretty grim, I decided that talking about mental health online was a good idea! In fact it wasn’t just a good idea, it was the best idea ever.

Having received my results for my second year at university today and talking about how going back into third year is going to be a whole new start for me with so many people, I feel like this should really be the end of this blog. However, I suggested this to one of my friends and the reaction was ‘NO’ and them sending me this quote:

‘What appears to be the end may really be a new beginning’

This quote rang true in my ears because it encompasses everything that people have been telling me to believe in the lead up to results day. With that in mind, I’ll be back next week but I’m happy to say that Anxiety, you’re not winning here!

PS. Everything in bold is a clickable link to the relevant blog post. Please use them because it took me a LONG time to put them in!

WSPD

Warning: Do not read if articles about suicide are likely to provoke suicidal feelings. Contact your GP or call a helpline (Samaritans)

Over a million people die by suicide each year worldwide. That is one every 40 seconds. By the time you’ve got to the end of this blog post, 6 people will have committed suicide. The even worse statistic is that only 1 in 20 who attempt suicide, succeed. Every 2 seconds, somebody attempts suicide, that’s 120 people by the end of this blog post. 120 people that don’t see any reason to live.

Imagining having no reason to live is very difficult when you have everything to live for. Unfortunately many people that believe they have no reason to live; have exactly the same as you but they also have a mental health problem. 90% of suicides are linked to depression which is far more common than you could imagine. Suicide is one of those things that we put with cancer, heart attacks, car crashes. They are all something that will never happen to you or somebody close, they always happen to somebody else. Sometimes it is time to face reality and realise that 1 in 6000 people will die by suicide. Potentially 1 in 300 will attempt suicide. You probably have over 300 friends on Facebook. There might be 300 people that follow you on Twitter. You might be in a year group at school or university with almost 300 people in it. That isn’t many people.

Worldwide, somewhere between 10% and 14% of people have suicidal thoughts. That’s as much as 1 in 7 people. If you’re from the UK and you think that this can’t be right for places like this; 1 in 10 students at our universities have suicidal thoughts. That’s 1 in 10 that will admit to suicidal thoughts. You probably know a handful of them.

Little things make big differences. Both good and bad differences. Telling somebody that they’d be better off dead could have a far bigger impact than you ever thought it could. Telling somebody how much they mean to you, may just save their life.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. So why not send a little message to somebody you think has been feeling down recently. Cheer them up, because you may just put that suicidal thought out of their mind.

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