Tag: mental health

New Beginnings and Your Opinion

Endings and beginnings come and go whether we are open to them or not. Though you feel like you don’t want the end to come sometimes a new beginning can bring things you could never imagine.

There’s been a lot of endings and beginnings since I blogged last.

The placement where I was living didn’t go as planned and once again I found myself in a situation where my life was in the hands of social services. It was a horrible, sickening, few months of not knowing where I was going to end up and not really belonging anywhere. It felt familiar to when I couldn’t leave hospital because I had nowhere to go and so it brought up a lot of difficult feelings. I got a new social worker who literally pieced my life back together and then I was able to say goodbye to her. A happy goodbye, because she found me somewhere great to live and be. A home.

My psychiatric nurse of two years retired. That was a sad ending because she has been a massive support to me during some very turbulent times. She was a fantastic nurse and I really landed on my feet to be assigned to such a caring and committed professional. I’ve also met my new psychiatric nurse, which so far looks like another positive new beginning.

Among the new beginnings is a massive one on the horizon. I have an offer to study Occupational Therapy at the university I’ve desperately wanted to go to for years. It’s another new beginning on the horizon and it’s scary but I’m ready to grasp it. It’s time.

I don’t know where I’m going with this site at the moment. I feel very emotionally attached to Upside Down Chronicles still, but I don’t feel like sharing my mind online in times of turmoil is much use to anyone. During a few of the more recent dark times I have thought about writing it all out here, but then stopped because I don’t want to overshare. Instead I think I will blog about specific things that have happened in my journey, but with the clarity and abilities of hindsight. I think that there is great strength in personal narrative, but at the same time I don’t want readers to worry about me, in the way that I have often felt about other people on social media. So maybe a more reflective approach is the way I will go, hoping to raise awareness but also share practical things that can help people with mental health conditions cope. The message I love receiving every time is the one which says thank you for making me feel less alone. If I can make one person feel less alone with their mental illness using this blog then I’m a happy blogger. In my absence from here I have been doing a lot of mouse drawings on instagram @UpsideDownChronicles, which I think I will integrate into this blog as a lot of them are mental health related. But you, whoever you are reading this, are massively important in where Upside Down Chronicles goes. If you could answer the poll below I would be really grateful, you can choose multiple options then press vote.

Speak soon!


A cartoon mouse in a red raincoat and boots stands in front of a big sun on one side and a rain cloud on the other. Next to the mouse reads "Reminder: Good News Can Be Just as Stressful as Bad News"

The Yankee Candle Life Bomb

Sometimes Life thinks it is lighting a Yankee Candle… but really it is causing a major explosion. Oops!

The gang on my Facebook page said they’d like to see more of my original illustrations on both UDC and Facebook. So here we go.

This one is a bit symbolic of my life at the moment, things start okay or nice and then… boom. If there is anything that could go wrong it does. Hence the blog silence. BUT things are getting sorted slowly, which means when I’m up to writing a full blog post I’ll have lots to tell.

Mouse stands next to a small pile of explosives. ‘Life’, a character which looks like a blue and purple ghost, is standing next to Mouse. Mouse says: “Okay Life, if we stay very very still we might be okay.” In the next image Life is holding a pink candle in a jar and a lit match. “Yankee Candle?” Life asks. “No Life No!!!” Shouts mouse looking shocked. In the next image, after the inevitable explosion, blue and purple Life is lying on the floor looking forlorn. Mouse is standing looking at Life. Mouse says: “oh for crying out loud... let’s start again... “ Copyright Upside Down Chronicles

Thanks for reading 🐭x

Four Results Days, Four Realisations.

I’ve had four A level result days.

2014 was the first. Having been incredibly ill all year I knew I had failed. Everyone told me I hadn’t, but I knew I had. I hadn’t been eating properly or sleeping for weeks and had fallen asleep for part of two of my exams. The day before the results, my psychiatrist told me down the phone that I was having a major depressive episode and needed an ambulance immediately.

2015 was the results day where I had no results. I had been in psychiatric units for the entire year and was reflecting on the year before’s experience. I wrote a blog about it ‘FACED BUG – Some Results Day Rationale’, and ultimately realised that no exam result was worth being suicidal for.

In 2016 I worked hard on my AS levels all year and, despite still acclimatising to the outside world, I did well in English. I also got a very unwelcome ‘U’ in French. Obviously, being me, I internalised it and declared to myself that I was stupid. It was a couple of weeks later when my paper was sent back that my tutor realised that the awarding body had managed to lose the majority of my A3, neon yellow, exam paper. Instead of noticing that things were amiss the board merrily awarded me their lowest mark, a U. After a complaint I got a C grade based on the one questions they did manage to keep hold of.

This year I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t know what was going to happen. This year was different in that I had been in touch with my dream university and had asked about applying for 2018. I had accesss problems in one of my exams, which as always I worried would affect my grade. I arrived at college clinging to my Dad and softly hyperventilating. We went to the desk and got the envelope. The exam officer, a complete star, appeared at my side. “I want to be here when you open this!” She said.

‘Oh boy’ I thought. ‘She’s making sure she’s here to pick up the pieces. It must be bad.’

She smiled and opened the envelope. I got an A* in English and a C in a very hard French paper. I’d even got an A in my French AS resit. I couldn’t believe it. It’s the first year that anyone from college has been there when my results were opened, it’s the first time people smiled and the first time my Dad cried with happiness. It’s the first time I’ve been in disbelief because the news is good and the first time the conversations about ‘next steps’ have been positive.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that once I decided that my mental health was worth more than exams I was actually able to do better academically for it. That first year I stayed up all night studying for weeks on end. I was ill but wouldn’t stop. It did me no favours at all. Okay, my friends from high school are well into their degrees by now, but I now realise that I do things in my own time and in my own way. I’ve got my own beat and my own drum and I definitely dance to it. Your mental health is so important. Years of being mentally unwell can’t be retaken and they are so much more regrettable than a disappointing brown paper envelope. Look after yourself and take your time, good things do come to those who wait.

My dad and I hugging just after opening the envelope
Jim Poyner Photography

 

OCD Vs Perfectionism On The Mighty

If you ask people who have been diagnosed with OCD what the biggest misconception about their illness is, one thing comes up over and over.

We’ve all heard it: “I’m so OCD” people joke as they emerge from their wardrobe having spent a happy hour sorting it by season. They believe OCD refers to a quirk of character, a term for their perfectionism, even a synonym for high productivity. In reality OCD is very different and when the monster rears its ugly head compulsions made up of tiny and meaningless actions can consume hours. It’s far from efficient because, after all, tapping a desk or moving an object from side to side again and again in search of the ‘right’ feeling doesn’t cross things off your to-do list.

I think this video by The Mighty is perfect to show the difference between clinical OCD and perfectionism. The film shows two young women’s days side to side. If someone you know is a repeated offender of joking that they are ‘so OCD’ consider giving this a share and maybe they will learn something new.

I’m Twenty

Today I turn twenty. Most people will celebrate their 21st birthday as the major milestone, but I’m partying today. Well when I say ‘Partying’… I’m drinking tea and feeling grateful. Partying.

To put it bluntly: I’m here. My teenage years are over and I made it. I got through. I did it.

This may sound over dramatic, but there were times where it really was a close call. I was so ill that I was trying to end my life. It’s hard to look back, but I am proud of myself now, really bloomin’ proud. Ten year old me wouldn’t have been able to dream up all the things I am doing at the moment. I hit rock bottom, yes, but the only way to go from there is up. I live in fear that the lowest of low will return one day and I won’t be so lucky, but hitting the bottom of the pit turned out to be a catalyst for change.

I feel such relief. Relief that I wasn’t allowed to just die. I am so grateful to those who brushed the dirt from my face, inspired me and believed my life would change. They dreamed of what my life could be like when I couldn’t dream it for myself. They encouraged me no matter how many times I screamed at them to give up. I can’t thank these people enough. You saved me.

I don’t think anyone could call me mentally well, but it’s not terminal. My illnesses aren’t going to kill me anymore- I can think, do things and meet people.

The day I am editing this (may the 12th) is international nursing day. So from the bottom of my heart thank you to those nurses who gave friendliness along with professionalism. For the hours I’ve had them by my side and for the hours I’ve cried on their shoulders. I’ve met nurses who are unshakable: They can handle any combination of crises and chaos. They are rushed off their feet on busy wards but still pop in to check that you are okay. The best nurses I know give more than just medication, they give genuine love and care to patients.

Self Caring When You Are Self Hating

No one ever told me that self hatred would be the thing that stopped me functioning. We talk about depression and anxiety, but their most powerful associate hides in us all. If you have too much of it self hatred is potent. Hating yourself can stop you from getting dressed, eating healthy foods and it can make you punish yourself. The truth is that if you completely loathe who you are it becomes impossible to live in between the lines and complete basic tasks.

The only weapon you can use in combat against self hatred, I’ve been told, is a compassionate approach. It sounds straight forward but if you are a sack full of self deprecation it is really difficult to face the world. By making an effort to self care you can stop yourself deteriorating physically and emotionally.  So you have to make yourself do things that might help- like having a bubble bath or going for a walk outside. You’ve got to do what it takes to make your body feel loved; even if your brain tells you that it isn’t deserved and you feel drained

.

Self care can range from maintaining the basics of being alive (keeping yourself hydrated, fed and rested) to more creative methods (like putting on some nice moisturiser or buying yourself a treat). It can also mean doing things that simply need doing for the sake of your wellbeing- like tidying up, making phone calls or booking a GP appointment.

I’ve not mastered self care yet. Some days even doing something I really want to do feels painful. Sometimes I feel like I can’t be in my own skin. It doesn’t feel right treating myself nicely when my skin is crawling and I feel so disgusting. But it is a skill that I, and everyone else, should learn. So right now I’m going to try and look after myself until I feel a bit better. If you are feeling bad right now I challenge you to do the same.

A mouse sitting in a chair with her cup of tea and toenails painted. Copyright.

What things do you do to self care?

Motivational Tattoos 

I’ve been trying out these temporary tattoos from motivationaltattoo.etsy.com


They are reasonably priced and once on skin can last four days! They include affirmations like: “be strong”, “I am enough” and “love yourself”. Great reminders for mindfulness, self care and a good tool to use instead of self harm. They are shaped like plasters and come in colourful, patterned or clear. They are a little fiddly to peel the plastic from- though well worth it!

I got these as a gift, what a great way to remind someone, or yourself, that you care!


School Refusal Is Far More Complex Than Just Truanting

On Thursday I was honoured to be asked to speak to a group of young people who, for one reason or another, are unable to attend school regularly. They meet in a brightly painted bungalow ominously named as home of ‘The Prevention Services’. There were five young people all facing very different issues to do with school- bullying, anger, frustration and fear being the main reasons for not regularly attending. This general anxiety surfaced in the form of long absences and sometimes exclusions.

Talking to the group was great. As someone who had a lot of trouble attending mainstream school because of intense anxiety I knew what I would have wanted to hear in their position. I told them that they may be terrified of school but they should never, ever, be terrified of learning. Hatred of school does not equal hatred of learning, and if you keep learning there is a way through the tangle of school refusal. I hope I was able to be of some use to them.

It was hard to imagine these bright, quirky and talkative young people not thriving in school. We talked about the problems in the school environment; it is too big, with too many people and holds too greater focus on discipline. One young person spoke about anger problems and how in mainstream teachers would rile up the situation more by using discipline rather than redirecting or calming down the rage. Since moving to a specialist unit this young person has access to these strategies and enjoys learning much more. Before the unit they had been excluded a dozen times. Not everyone’s anxiety showed through acting out and anger, for some it caused them to turn inwards- too scared to speak to anyone or walk through the gates.

The young people’s idea of an ideal school was surprisingly achievable. A more college-like setting where staff respected students and vice versa. They would want to be treated as individuals with different learning styles. The classes would be small and with more hands on practical learning. There would be more support because, to my surprise, some of the young people had made it to year 9 without knowing if there was any pastoral care in their school at all.

The project involves making an animated film in order to explain to professionals the miriad of reasons why a young person might not be attending school. This sounds like it couldn’t be more needed. We started styling objects out of plastercine. We made a foreboding looking school gate and a young person contributed a skull on a stick to place next to the gate. Across the table a young person made a plastercine noose. I saw how not attending school could be both a necessity and an agonising decision to make as they are intensely aware of the pressure it puts on their families. They feel immensely guilty and sad. At the end of the session taxis pulled up to take the young people back to their education providers. One young person who had pre-arranged to go home instead due to an injury went wide eyed:

“Is that taxi for me? I won’t go. I’m not going. I can’t.”

“They’ll kidnap me.”

School refusal and low attendance is not straight forward. These are not ‘bad kids’. They have anxiety, precarious home lives and aren’t equipped with strategies to get through. School adds steam to the pressure cooker. School refusal is far more complex than many would believe.

Do Mental Health Awareness Days Actually Work?

Do they raise awareness or just give an opportunity to talk about how ill we are?

This year during a tsunami wave of Awareness Days for various mental health causes I found myself conflicted. As a blogger I feel almost obliged to write a summary of my story, list diagnoses and maybe share a selfie in aid of the cause. It’s what I’ve done previously along with many other bloggers, so why not this year?

This year I feel a bit sceptical over how much good some of the awareness campaigns are doing. In particular I think any social media campaigns on such days should be looked at carefully. I see a lot of people sharing their stories of mental illness in statuses and people who also suffer commenting on or sharing them. The mental health Twittersphere is enormous and very tight-knit. Sharing makes individuals with mental illness feel less alone, which is fantastic, but the message is not reaching far outside of the mental health community itself. Online communities are so important for supporting those with mental illness. On events like World Mental Health Day how do we spread the message to those who aren’t looking for it?

According to TV Licensing 68% of the UK usually eat their evening meal in front of the TV. I’m really disappointed to not see any major documentaries shown to mark World Mental Health Day. A documentary on a major channel during prime time that someone not clued up on mental health might catch on a whim, would be really effective. Assemblies in schools which all students, mental health savvy or not, have to sit through. Big public events that  a stressed or distressed passerby might stumble across. These are great examples of awareness raising events. It is so important that we target those who don’t already know about good mental health.

There seems to be confusion in distinguishing between ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental health’- with some even using the terms interchangeably. On a mental health awareness day surely we should be stressing the health. Mental health and illness are not the same thing, in fact they are opposites. On an awareness day of mental health we should ideally see more articles and posts about how people keep, or try to keep, mentally healthy. Messages of encouragement, things that helped during struggles, symptoms you might feel too ashamed to seek help for, resources, support services. There is, after all, much more to gain from learning how to be mentally healthy than sharing what happens when you are not.

On social media are we being a little bit self serving? And is that a bad thing? Several Mental health tweeters responded to my call for a discussion on whether these days actually do what they say on the tin. Some even find the days overwhelming due to the influx of mental illness/health posts.

@bordeline_OK: "I worry that any "x day" ends up highlighting difference, not improving parity of care/esteem, not destigmatising, not removing barriers."@OCPDme: "On this account, the tsunami of MH awareness tweets was overwhelming."

@gerbillady: "Maybe on social media it enables people with mental health difficulties feel less alone. Depends what you mean by work."@WhiteCaneGamer: "If it takes a million tweets just to help one person who needed it, then let the tweets fly."

@AshleyCurryOCD: "Overall does it make impacts on improving access to right help and support from local servicesI think @AshleyCurryOCD sums the situation up well. Does it make an impact on improving access to services? In most cases no. I think our attention needs to shift to this as a goal. We should push for mental health to be a subject everyone knows about and make sure there is help so that everyone can gain it. We should support those with mental illness and treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health. People should be able to share their stories whenever they need to. There should be a day for mental illness awareness and visibility for people to learn compassion towards people with mental health problems. Days for awareness of individual mental illnesses are a fantastic idea and they should be just as well supported as the bigger events. Mental health is so important, and how to gain it should be public knowledge.

Mental Health Communication Cards

A few months ago I did some work with Hannah Ensor of Stickman Communications to design some communication cards specifically to help people with mental health problems.

Hannah is amazing and one of my favourite people to throw ideas around with. She is very patient and willing to consider anything no matter how ‘Out There’ it may be. I was honoured to be consulted about these cards.

The new cards in the Mental Health range include:

  • “I think I need a hug”
  • “I don’t feel able to talk right now”
  • “I have depression…” (+description)
  • “I don’t feel safe right now”
  • “I have an anxiety disorder…” (+description)
  • “I have a condition which means I see the world differently…”
  • “I don’t feel able to talk right now”
  • “Please may I talk to you?”

Plus the poignant: “Cuppa Needed!”

These cards are incredibly handy and provide a quick way to indicate how you feel or what you need. I find that they are really useful if you want to discreetly make someone aware that you need some extra support. They are also great for explaining what would help on an ‘off’ day. I have a lot of cards from Stickman Communications split between two lanyards, one for home use and one for in public. Hannah has so many amazing cards in her shop that are helping people deal with a huge variety of different medical conditions.

I’m hoping that this could be the start of a great partnership between Stickman Communications and Upside Down Chronicles to get helpful products out there for people with mental health problems and other invisible illnesses.

What would your ideal card say?