“Coping”?

If I had a pound for every time I have seen somebody suffering but also claiming there is no point going to the doctors because somebody else has it worse than they do, then I’d be very rich suitably well off. As nice as it is to live in a humble society where nobody thinks that they have the hardest life in the world, it doesn’t really help the individual in question with their problem. Suggesting that somebody else has a worse problem is almost definitely a statement of fact, however it is also no reason to blatantly dismiss your own problem, as life is not a competition. I repeat – life is not a competition.

Mental health problems come in all shapes and sizes, as they say, or a better way to put it would be that everybody has a different experience with them. Some people are claustrophobic and can’t bear to be locked in their own homes, others are agoraphobic and can’t bear to leave their own home alone. Both are forms of anxiety and both will have profound effects on the lives of the individuals – but different effects! When we start to compare one person’s mental health problem to another, we are only fuelling the problems themselves. Most mental health conditions have the horrendous side effect of wiping out most of your self-confidence. Which isn’t particularly surprising when you realise that everyday you are fighting a battle against your own mind.

Looking back at my own experiences, I realise now that I had a problem long before the panic attack in an exam. I’d had panic attacks before and passed them off as asthma, I’d had anxiety for so long that it was just normal for me and I’d felt terrible during some of my school years but just assumed that was how people felt. If I had sat back and thought for a second about what was happening during any of that time and got help at a much earlier stage of the problems, my life might have been very different. This may seem like a rather dramatic statement to make but my mental health problems changed my life forever. I will never be able to tell you whether it was a bad or a good thing, although I’m leaning towards the latter nowadays. In many ways I consider myself lucky, I had a support network around me that made sure I got through the tough times and I was at a point in my life where a decision like dropping out of university was big but not the end of the world (although I thought it was at the time). Things could have been so much worse.

There’s that comparison again, I’m even guilty of it myself.

Coping with a mental health problem is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I know I wouldn’t be able to have got it under control without help, even if it did take me a while to ask for it. There is a stigma around mental health where people think they’re ‘weak’ for admitting they have this problem or that they need help – yet by the time they eventually ask for help the problem has escalated to a level where without help, the effects are unthinkable.

To anybody that sits there suffering, blocking the problem out, comparing, hurting, ‘coping’, refusing to admit defeat – there is help out there for you in some form or another. I wish I hadn’t spent years just assuming how I felt was normal when I could have been enjoying life a hell of a lot more and if one person reads this and realises that’s what they’re doing then – my work here is done.

4 years on…

Today marks 4 years since I created this little blog. The long standing readers among you may know that it wasn’t until 11th May (Mental Health Awareness Week) that I built up the courage to actually press publish on the first post. Yes that’s right, I sat on it for 10 days. I spent those 10 days wondering what people would think of me if I posted about my mental health problems. Would they think I was attention seeking? Would they think differently of me? Would they call me crazy?

To this day, I can’t answer any of those questions. However, come day 11 when I pressed that post button and put the link on Facebook…I’d decided I didn’t care what the answers were. I was still anxious (the irony) about the response that I would receive but in that moment, it was more important to me to let the world (or at least my friends) know why I’d spent the last 4 months in bed – and it wasn’t just because I was lazy.

The response I got was not what I expected in the slightest. Over the following months, I received messages from people telling me about their problems, telling me how they wish they too could speak out about them. Some of them eventually did and some of them didn’t, both are ok. It’s ok to want to keep your problems private, in fact it is more than ok, it’s very normal. With a mental health problem comes a feeling of a lack of control and keeping that information within a circle of people that you’re comfortable with can be a way of keeping that control.

When I was diagnosed with Anxiety, I didn’t know what I could do about it and within a few weeks I’d given up wondering. If I’m entirely honest – all I felt was empty at that point. I didn’t feel sad or down, I just felt nothing. It took me a few weeks to even comprehend that what I felt was empty and once I did, I felt entirely out of control. Not because I was going around doing outrageous things but merely because the simplest tasks became chores. Getting out of bed and having a shower became an achievement for the day. Going into a lecture became an achievement for the week. The lack of control only fuelled the problems I had and by the beginning of May I had to start spending all of my time at home, 200 miles away from the university I was attending. When I started getting questions from people about why I wasn’t in Manchester, I decided I needed to start talking rather than hiding. For me, the way I could remain in control was to tell my story my way and not for everybody to hear it as a game of Chinese whispers. And so, this blog was born.

The most surprising aspect in the responses I received was that I started being called brave and courageous for speaking out about these problems. I felt anything but these things. Yes, I had wanted to raise some awareness of these problems that affect so many of us, but first and foremost I just wanted to talk. My blog became my way of talking and the more I posted the better I felt. Posting on my blog became my form of relief from my mind; once it was on the Internet I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. (Little did I know that 3 years later I’d be taught the technique of writing things down to put them out of your mind in CBT – but that’s a story for another day).

Almost 4 years on, I don’t regret pressing post on that first blog post. However, I am by no means perfect at talking out about mental health problems; I still find it hard to discuss mental health problems at work and the one time I dared to mention it in an interview I had the worst interview experience of my life (next week’s story). But, the one thing I try not to do is be ashamed of talking about these problems because if talking about them helps one other person feel like they’re not alone then it makes it all worthwhile.

Why I’m Back

I disappeared off this little corner of the Internet over 3 years ago, for many reasons, and it’s not until this weekend that I’ve felt the need to come back. I haven’t had 3 years of blissful ignorance of mental health problems, far from it, but everybody I associated with in my every day life had just seemed to have come round to the idea of talking about mental health problems as an every day topic. As far as I was concerned, my work was done.

Of course, along the way I’ve had moments of disbelief; at a comment that was made or a poorly written news article or even somebody’s response to my story. However, nothing quite motivated me to get writing again as much as sitting next to somebody on a train who was complaining about the fact that the London Marathon was all about mental health this year and not for something “that actually mattered to people, like cancer”. To say I was livid was putting it mildly and if we hadn’t been pulling into my stop – I’d have had half a mind to tell them exactly what I thought. Don’t get me wrong, I think fighting cancer is a fantastic cause, especially as it affects such a large proportion of the population…however, so do mental health problems!

I didn’t start this blog post to have a rant about somebody on the train, I started it because this one small comment made me realise that I stopped talking as soon as it was easier for me to talk to those around me. When I started this blog, I didn’t start it to make my life easier, I started it to break down some of the stigma associated with mental health and just because I have understanding family and friends doesn’t mean I should have stopped.

What I’m going to write about yet I do not know, although I’m sure it will come to me (probably at 2am when insomnia has struck). I’ll start with the last 3 years, but that’s definitely a story to start another time!

*Virtual High Five*

Image

Today, the 6th of February, has been my favourite day this year. I’m fully aware that there are still 328 days to go in 2014 but something pretty spectacular would have to happen to beat this one. I saw Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the news swarmed with people talking about mental health and as far as I’m concerned, the more people there are talking, the less there are not talking. Every single time I saw somebody post something about mental health, I smiled. So basically, I’ve been smiling all day!

Time to Change have done a fantastic job at spreading the word about mental health and today everybody that works within this campaign should be proud because people have certainly been talking! Such a miserable topic has been made into something that people can just chat about, something that people aren’t afraid to chat about. I’ve actually been surprised that I’ve spent the day talking about mental health problems yet I’m feeling on top of the world right now, ironic eh?

I’ve spent the day ‘spamming’ everybody’s Facebook news feed today so I may take a break from it all for a few days but that doesn’t mean the conversations should stop at midnight. Today, many of us decided it was Time to Talk so tomorrow maybe we should all decide to keep talking.

If you still haven’t had your daily dose of Time to Change then check out their live blog to see just how much has been happening:

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/talkday-liveblog

So many amazing things have been happening today and I think that everybody involved should give themselves a pat on the back because it’s not easy to talk about mental health problems, it should never be underestimated how difficult it is!

Time to Change, you’ve done fantastically. *Virtual High Five*. Same again next year?

One in a Million

You knew this was coming, we’re mere hours away from Time to Talk Day so it is time to get talking. Tomorrow is the first of it’s kind, there has never been a day dedicated to talking about mental health and the great thing about talking is that everybody does it! Tomorrow, Time to Change is aiming for a million conversations about mental health, and with over 60 million people in the UK I’d like to think that that would be simple. However, it’s only simple if people actually do it!

It doesn’t take much to read this blog post, in fact it take very little effort. However, it takes a lot of guts to actually start a conversation about mental health and this is purely because many of us feel like we would be judged for it. That is exactly the reason this day exists. You don’t need to have had a mental health problem to talk about mental health and even if you have had one then you don’t have to come out and tell the world. But wouldn’t it be easier that if you ever did have a problem, you were able to tell somebody without being judged, ridiculed, discriminated against?

On average, each blog post I write is read 100 times, so theoretically if every person who reads this started a conversation about mental health then that’d be 100 chats that probably never would have happened. However, I know full well that many people won’t talk about it, so let’s use the 1 in 4 statistic and say that 25 of you will start a conversation. Are you one of the brave ones?

Conversations are easier than ever to have due to social media, no awkward eye contact or stumbling over your words is needed. Something as simple as a status about mental health, a Time to Talk profile picture for the day or even just a tweet using the hashtag #TimeToTalk, really can make the world of difference.

If you’re thinking this isn’t something that affects you so not something you need to support then just remember the 1 in 4 statistic, I’m pretty sure that there is more than 4 people on this earth that you love, and nobody is immune to mental health problems. Tomorrow it is Time to Talk, so be one of the brave ones, be one in a million.

Time To LEARN!

I’ve had many discussions on the topic of mental health, too many to count. However, the one thing that always comes up is that so many people just seem to be completely uneducated on anything to do with mental health. So today, I have a list for you, and everybody you know, of some of the best websites on the topic. Most of these are mental health charities but there is nobody better to tell you about it!

The first one should be obvious coming from me, seeing as I go on about this campaign a lot! The first link is to the Time to Change website homepage. The second link has some great statistics and also a myth busting section. And last but not least, there is nobody better to learn about mental health from than those you have had problems with it in the past. Some of the blog posts on the Time to Change blog are amazing and really do hit the nail on the head.

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/mental-health-statistics-facts

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/join-the-conversation

The Mental Health Foundation and Mind both have A-Zs of mental health and I learnt a lot from both of these, easy to navigate, very concise, so there really is no excuse not to know about something like depression when you can read about it in 5 minutes.

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/mental-health-a-z/

The NHS, I’ve heard multiple times how they have failed to help people with mental health problems in real times of need, however, their website is very informative about mental health conditions. It’s also got information on services near you and some pretty good tips on how to stay mentally healthy, yes that is a thing!

http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx

Finally, I’ve included Beat’s website because eating disorders are often overlooked as a mental health problem. They’re very common, more common than you might think and this website is probably the most informative that I’ve found on all of the different conditions.

http://www.b-eat.co.uk/get-help/about-eating-disorders/

All of these websites are quick, easy and simple to navigate and very concise which is exactly why I’ve put them on here. I think that almost everybody would learn something by clicking on just one of these links and spending 5 minutes reading, I know I certainly do every time I look.

“Somebody has to do the stress free jobs”

Finding the silver lining in a situation can often seem not just difficult but almost impossible. However, I believe that from every negative comes a positive, it may not be immediately obvious but one day you’ll find it. For me, negative comments have come from those around me, mere acquaintances and my own mind. I felt like I was drowning in a pool of them at the beginning of last year. But today, I’m going to say thank you to anybody who ever told me that I couldn’t do something, because you’ve made me more determined than ever.

Growing up I was the competitive sort, never one to shy away from competition and always obsessed with winning. I haven’t actually changed all that much, however now, I don’t care about beating other people, I care about beating myself. Last year I got to the point where I thought, I’m never going to be able to sit these exams and get through the year. The summer came, exams were done and passed. I then dropped out of university and thought my life was over; I was destined to do something uninspiring for the rest of my life. In fact someone close to me even said to me;

‘Somebody has to do the stress free jobs’

This person hit me where it hurt that day, but today they inspire me. They inspire me to never be as cynical as that and to prove them wrong.

The last year has taught me a lot and I’ve learnt lessons I will never forget, been in situations I never want to be in again and started to appreciate people who I hope are in my life for a very long time. However, more importantly than any of that, it has taught me that there will always be a person out there who believes in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself. But when you start to believe in yourself, boy is that where the fun starts!

We all find ourselves in situations we don’t want to be in and negative thoughts or comments can darken the circumstances even more. I probably haven’t helped myself when writing some of these blog posts but today I’m writing a cheerful one. Today I am merely writing to say…Things will always get better.

#100HappyDays

Today, I stumbled upon this:

100happydays.com/

What a fantastic idea. Simply brilliant. I’m a big advocate of finding a reason to smile every single day and this is merely a photo version of it. I had previously seen the hashtag floating around Instagram and hadn’t realised what it actually was but if you do follow me on Instagram you may well find it appearing on your Instagram feed too!

All of the information is on the website, it is a really simple concept and one that I think should be a lot of fun to complete. If anybody else decides to have a go then make sure you tell me where to follow you on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, wherever you want to put your photos up!

Hello Again!

I lost touch with this blog a little bit in the final couple of months of last year and it wasn’t because I got bored of blogging or writing, it was merely because I was happy. The majority of my posts to date have been written in moments of procrastination, anger or when I needed something to take my mind off all the problems I was refusing to deal with. Sitting down and writing a post about mental health problems when they are the last thing you want to think about can be a bit challenging to say the least. HOWEVER, having said that, I’m back! Mondays and Fridays will be new post days (don’t shout at me if I miss a few – working, studying and all the other life essentials such as eating, sleeping etc take up a large proportion of my time).

Seeing as I am writing this in the final minutes of the first Monday of the New Year I’ll make it a quick one so I thought I’d tell you my most read blog posts of 2013!

1)      “My First Time”. This one has had a grant total of…532 views to date. I guess the misleading title probably plays a major part in this, I may be wrong, I don’t think I am!

2)      “Life Update”. The blog post that I posted on my 21st birthday, telling everybody I know that I’d dropped out of university 4 days previously. It is also the blog post that caused me to be swamped with texts and messages from numerous people asking a lot of questions and sending even more virtual hugs.

3)      “The Socially Acceptable Drug”. This is probably the blog post I am most proud of, if you can even be proud of a blog post, but I’m yet to put my finger on why. I just like it. So that fact that almost 200 people took the time to read at least the first sentence of it made my day.

Back to 2014 now! I might make a few changes to this blog this year; it might move away from mental health problems and onto mental health in general. Would love to know your opinions or comments on this or what you would like to see! So feel free to comment down below, send me a message if you know me or tweet me at @KerrySmith92!

See you on Friday!

Happy New Year!

While wasting a few minutes scrolling through Twitter I stumbled upon a conversation making fun of the people that say ‘It’s a New Year and a new me’. I think we are all guilty of using this cliché at some point in our lives even it is only in our internal monologues; however it got me thinking about the last year. Well a lot of you have been reading about my year since May so there isn’t a lot of point me recapping or reliving those low points of the year.

If you had told me 3 months ago that I’d be happy 99% of the time and enjoying everything I was doing in life by the end of the year, I’d probably have laughed in your face. Yet look at me now! I realise that some of you may not know me personally or may not have seen me recently but almost everybody I’ve seen in the last few weeks has said how different I seem, how much happier I am. And the best bit about all this is that I’ve realised it myself as well!

I don’t intend to write a list of all the things I’m thankful for this year (it’s not Thanksgiving after all) or all the hurdles I’ve overcome (it’s definitely not a therapy session). Nor am I going to list all the things that I hope to achieve next year (I don’t make New Year’s resolutions). However, I am going to say that 2013 is a year I will look back on, not fondly, but with great interest when I’m older. I will probably block out 6 months from my memory and tell stories of how 20 Conservatives went drinking in Blackpool, how more and more conversations became about houses, jobs and the future and finally how much closer I became to some of the people around me.

No. it’s not been the best year for me but it could have been a damn sight worse! Happy New Year!

PS. Here is a fun little fact; I’ve spent an extra 10 hours in this year due to being in Australia over New Year last year.