1000 Words…..

I’ve always believed that a picture can say 1000 words. In fact, a picture can explain something that is virtually impossible to put into words. When I stumbled upon LiberMetus’s Twitter and saw the amazing pictures behind his campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues I couldn’t stop myself from telling you all that you needed to go and take a look! These pictures are simply amazing and so that you all have to go and take a peek, I’m not including them in this post, so pop on over:

http://www.libermetus.com/mental-health-posters.html

The first picture that has been created is perfectly summed up by a quote from the campaign itself;

“In the age of information ignorance is a choice.”

With the internet at our fingertips there really is no reason to not know about something as simple as mental health. And yes, I did just say simple. At the end of the day these are health problems that we are talking about, not deep, dark, dirty secrets.

My personal favourite of the images is the second as it portrays the effect such a huge stigma has on people. The obsessive need for people to utter the words ‘I’m fine.’ Or to hide away so that nobody knows the truth is something that needs to end, and it needs to end soon. Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t expect everything to be quite as it seems…

If you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to relate to these images quite as strongly as I have for the simple reason that you may not have suffered from a mental health problem then look no further than picture number three. It can be difficult being the person on the outside, especially if you aren’t sure what is going on. However, education is key, not asking stupid questions or making flippant statements is something that many people are learning to do every single day. Maybe one day, it’ll be the majority rather than the minority.

For those of you that have read my blog for a while you’ll know that I’ve experience numerous panic attacks in the past. I’m 99% sure that those who surround me understand better than a lot of others that mental health problems aren’t just in the mind, there are physical symptoms just like any other health problem. Take a look at picture four, I couldn’t have put it better myself!

This campaign really is brilliant and although one of aims of the campaign is to raise money, I think the website and whole campaign is worth five minutes of your time even if it changes your thoughts on mental health problems for a second. I’ll leave all of the links below so please go and have a look because a picture really does say 1000 words.

WEBSITE: http://www.libermetus.com/mental-health-posters.html

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Libermetus

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Libermetus/444569555648611

Physical Symptoms

Although the signs and symptoms of many health problems are something that you’d have to look up on the internet, realistically you know that if something is painful then it is generally not a good sign. Equally if you see somebody who is very pale, limping or keeled over in pain then asking if they are okay will normally produce a rather obvious “No”. Physical illnesses are health problems that most people aren’t afraid to talk about, so suggesting that they may need to go home from work and rest is seen as sympathising, acceptable and generally the right thing to do.

In every work place, school and even places such as pubs and clubs there are trained first aiders to deal with simple problems. Why is it that first aiders are trained to deal with simple physical health issues but never mental health issues? You’re probably all thinking that a mental health problem isn’t a first aid matter. Let me say two words…Panic Attacks. I have had panic attacks on public transport before and all I’ve been met with is strange looks that can be interpreted as nothing other than “She’s crazy”. This isn’t even a rare occurrence; one in ten people have experienced a panic attack. That is more common than Asthma but most people can tell if somebody is having an Asthma attack.

Physical symptoms are often very easy to spot yet most people can’t even see them for mental health problems! A simple example is Insomnia, which isn’t a mental health problem itself but is a symptom of many. Lack of energy, dark circles under eyes, bags under eyes, distant seeming. We can all tell when somebody hasn’t had much sleep but not many people would ever suspect it was down to a mental health problem and why should they? Insomnia is very common, especially in students and people working in high stress jobs.

Depression, this one is far easier to spot in some people than you may think. Speaking or moving slowly, dramatic weight change and lack of energy are all physical symptoms. Many of the behavioural symptoms are even more obvious; suddenly not achieving what they used to achieve, withdrawal from social situations or being abnormally quiet.

Personally I find that the most frustrating aspect of mental health stigma is how unsympathetic most people are towards these kinds of symptoms. Most would be put down to laziness or going to bed too late. It is acceptable to call in sick to work with a cold, which normally you can work through; yet calling in because you’re feeling depressed having had a history of depression is not acceptable. Not in the slightest. (Mind you, mental health and work places is something I could go on about for some time so I’ll leave that one there.)

The lack of education surrounding mental health continues to prevent people from getting help as early as possible. I once had an argument on twitter with somebody because I dared to suggest that mental health education should be taught in schools the same way drug, alcohol or sex education is. Heaven forbid that young people should have the thought of mental health problems inflicted on their minds; there was no thought to the fact that some of them were already suffering from them.

Today’s society is a lot better at talking about and learning about mental health problems than it was 50 years ago but we have got such a long way to go. When the general public can’t even list a physical symptom of depression then we have a problem, a big problem. When first aiders aren’t taught about simple mental health issues we have a problem. But most importantly when the majority of the public doesn’t even want to learn about these problems, we have an even bigger issue.

Your Attitude Shines Through

Image

I log onto twitter and all I see is people complaining about various aspects of life. Be it public transport delays, rising energy prices or merely the fact that the postman woke them up early this morning. However, the one topic of ranting on twitter that never fails to make an appearance is people claiming benefits. Well I’m here to tell you that the more you moan about it, the less difference it makes.

Personally, I think there is one important emotion in life, happiness. Everything in your life will relate to you achieving this emotion, in fact I challenge you to find something that isn’t. Our brains are wired to do things that make us happy and avoid aspects of life that make us miserable, it’s a survival instinct! So when I see the various tweeters moaning about benefit claimers, three things come to mind.

The first is very simple. Why are you moaning when you don’t pay tax and you are using government money to fund your education? (Obviously this is only applicable to the students among us.)

The second is that your feelings are very much in tune with your attitude. If you have a negative attitude about everything then you’ll just feel angry, sad, aggressive etc all of the time. This is one of the problems with mental health problems, they often fuel themselves!

And last but certainly not least, if you’re happy and the benefit claimers are happier having some money coming in, then what on earth is the problem? Realistically nobody can deny that you are only ever taxed what you can afford on your salary and although it might be nice if you could set off on a around the world tour for six months, own a Lamborghini and have a personal chef, these aren’t really the things that matter in life.

Having a roof over your head, food on the table, healthcare and sufficient money for energy to make a home usable are what is needed for you to survive.  A nice home, food you like and all the little things in life that you spend your life using (television, laptop, make up etc) are things that make you happy. Unfortunately some people seem to think that everybody doesn’t even deserve the basics. If I’m completely honest I actually think this is very selfish and a cruel mind-set.

I won’t deny you that it is frustrating to see 10%, 20%, 40% of the money you earn go straight to the tax man but a lot of the time I think that people lose sight of the important things in life. We live in a society that is actually very lucky as a whole. Unfortunately this is something that passes over some people while they are busy being pessimistic and moaning about the tiniest details.

I’m not going to tell you that you are what you eat (even though this is true!) But I am going to say that the attitude you approach life with normally shines through. Being generous isn’t about doing something and then moaning about the time, effort or money it took you. It is about doing something because you want to, which in turn will probably make you happy!

So next time you moan about benefits or the fact that the postman woke you up early, just think about all the people you are helping or that the postman got up a lot earlier than you did today. 

5 Reasons…To Talk About Mental Health

Numerous people have sent me messages since I started this blog telling me how brilliant it is to know that there is somebody else out there, that they know, who has had similar issues to them. Although it is lovely hearing from all of these people, there are times when I sit there thinking, I know somebody that you know who has told me a very similar thing! Of course I never tell anybody about conversations I have with people about mental health without their permission but there are some people I know who could help each other so much!

Unfortunately due to the way society has worked for years there are so many people out there who just don’t talk about mental health for numerous reasons. In many ways I find this odd because there aren’t many other illnesses that you would hide from so many people. So today I have 5 reasons to talk about mental health!

  1. The more people who talk about it, the less people there are who aren’t talking about it.
  2. The support network you gain from being so open about mental health is tremendous, I’ve become much better friends with people merely because I decide to tell everybody about the problems I’ve had.
  3. Although I don’t believe that going and sitting in a recliner chair in a therapist’s office and talking for hours about your problems is a particularly effective way of solving all of those problems, I do think that talking does help. The weight off my shoulders when I hit ‘Publish’ on my first blog post was amazing; hiding a secret can be so hard!
  4. You may just find out that there is somebody you are close to who is having similar issues to you! Instant help.
  5. I have found out about new techniques to help deal with mental health problems since I started blogging merely from searching through the internet or talking to people in similar situations. I can honestly say that I’m better now than I would be if I hadn’t started this blog.

I am aware that there are some people that just don’t want mental health problems to be a part of their life or something they talk about. However, if for even a second you’ve ever considered talking more openly about it then I’d actively encourage you to. The advantages really do outweigh the disadvantages in my opinion and if anybody is rude to you then you know not to waste your time talking to them anymore!

The Overwhelming Sense of Guilt

Guilt. It’s a funny one, everybody know how it feels, however most people normally feel guilty because they’ve done something that they could have done a different way, a better way. So why is it that after I’ve had an off day, got overly anxious about something or had a panic attack, things that I can’t help happening, I feel this overwhelming sense of guilt?

Mental health problems changed my life entirely, I went from being a highly motivated student who was doing well (not wishing to be too cocky) to somebody I would describe as a bit of a mess. From there I went to living at home, working part time and trying to decide what to do with my life having left university early. This is obviously a big change, but it wasn’t just for me, it was a bit change for my parents, my friends and my family. I went from living away from home for 8 months of the year to being home all of the time and chatting to my friends became something that happened via Skype or text rather than face to face. Change is something I would consider a good thing but normally I’m more a gradual change person rather than a turning 180 degrees sort of person!

The pressure that has been put on the people around me over the last year is more than you can imagine if you’ve never been in their position. I’ve been fully aware of it, because I’ve been them before, but it doesn’t make anything any easier. Being aware of this pressure merely makes me feel guilty. There were days when I was simply foul to one of my friends for doing the slightest thing or when I rang up my parents from 200 miles away and cried down the phone to them (what on earth could they do?) or I’d ruin somebody’s evening by having a panic attack and have to be looked after or taken home. These people are my friends and family though, they can hardly turn round and say ‘sort it out yourself’, they’re far too nice for that!

I’ve always being the sort of person who wanted to do things for myself. I wasn’t the sort of person who would go and ask a teacher for help if I was stuck, I’d go online and find the answer myself! If I could do something on my own, why would I want to bother somebody else to do it for me or help me? Yet the thing that many people don’t realise about mental health problems is that you become heavily reliant on those around you. I’ve had friends have to come into my room and insist I ate something on days that I spent all day in bed! Being on your own constantly doesn’t help problems like anxiety and depression; you just end up dwelling on your problems. Having somebody around to take your mind off everything else is exactly what is needed. However, being that person who needs to distract me from something that ruled my life for months, is easier said than done and probably got a bit depressing!

Mental health problems can be linked, they can fuel each other, throw a constant feeling of guilt into that and you’ve got one massive mess. Sometimes I forget that there is no immediate cure for a mental health problem and that even when I’m feeling on top of the world, something can happen to bring it all crashing back down in a second. Everything is a bit of a constant challenge and once the balance has been found life starts to slip into place, people around you are no longer your rocks, and you can stand there, all alone, quite happily.

Do you regret it?

There are some things in life that you just have to do. You have to be in education until you’re 16 (or 18 – I’ve lost track), you have to eat and drink and you have to wash (well at least if you want people to come within 100 meters of you, you do.) Equally there are some things in life that you just don’t have to do and going to university is one of them. Unfortunately, many of us have convinced ourselves that this is one of those necessary things in life. When I dropped out of university I got a few judging comments and I’ve also been countless times;

‘Do you regret it?’

The simple answer to this is no. Not for a second.

It has now being a month since I have left university and although I’ve had some good days and some bad days, the thought of still being back there makes me feel miserable, so actually being there would be terrible. I keep in contact with people who are at university, in fact people on my course and all they do is moan! Essays to write, reports to write, early starts, lack of money, walking everywhere in the rain. Why on earth would I want to be in the middle of that? This isn’t just a theme in chemical engineering; this is a theme throughout life! All that people seem to do is moan about what they’re doing. Well I can tell you know that I’m not moaning, in fact I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

I have a job, I have time to do the things that I love doing, I have time to see the people I want to see and in February I’m going to start a degree that I actually want to do. So next time a negative thought of dropping out of university crosses your mind, just consider the fact that it has a whole list of positives to it as well. 6 months ago I thought that dropping out of university was the be all and end all of life, well it’s not. That is a fact. Some of the most successful people I know haven’t got a degree and they didn’t spend 3 years of their life getting drunk and complaining about 9am lectures either!

There is no right answer as to which is a better choice, university or no university? However, there is definitely a correct answer to the question; be happy or be miserable? I’m on the right side of that line now, are you?

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!