Tuesday, March 3, 2020

First Blog of 2020

I’ve been struggling. That’s not news to anyone that follows my Twitter feed. I don’t even know the reason life has been so hard for me lately. But, when life gets hard on me, things start falling by the wayside, and one of those things has been writing. I’ve mostly been featuring guest posts on my blog just to keep it active, while I’ve sat by and wished it was me who wrote every single article. I will say one thing that I do know for certain; losing our cat Hayley has had a profound effect on me. I knew it would be difficult when that day came, but I didn’t realize it would hurt like this.

So, it’s been hard to come up with topics when my brain is only stuck on that one tragic event. My health hasn’t been great, and family issues are never-ending, so all of that factors in as well.

The biggest struggle for me right now is watching my friends, peers, other advocates making an impact with their blogs or books or just overall advocacy. I feel like I’m running in the slow lane, and everyone is lapping me on the left. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy for anyone that is finding success, especially in the mental health field. I just thought I would be farther along than I am now, and it’s really stressing me out.

I want to write meaningful and impactful pieces once again. My brain seems to think that I’m all done with that. I cry most nights, just trying to find that one thing that will drag me out of this funk and back into the world. It’s pathetic to feel so envious of the people that I care about. I had hopes that once I sat down and started writing, I could create a masterpiece. I think that’s going to take more than one of these painful “come to Jesus” moments. I want to write for other publications again. It would help to have writing prompts I think. I don’t sign up for these projects because I’m afraid of letting everyone down, especially myself.

I didn’t want this to sound like I’m broken down and feeling sorry for myself, but it appears that’s how it’s coming across. My apologies. I’m just in a tricky place right now, and I’m hoping that someone will read this and perhaps take a moment to offer a few words of advice. Thank you so much for listening (reading, I should say). Wish me luck!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Guest Blog Post - Sasha Greene - Why I banned the word “should” from my life

A few years ago I used the word “just” when speaking to someone, and they told me that it’s actually a weasel word. I had never come across the concept of weasel words, and I had to ask what they were. Wikipedia has a great definition if you want to see the full description, but the basic concept is that they are words that generally mean nothing, and are added to evade a full disclosure of the actual situation. For example: “Could you just finish off that stock take before the end of the week?” is a statement that makes it sound like a simple task when in actual fact it probably isn’t.

I started to notice how often I used the word just, and it got me wondering whether there were any other words I used a lot. I realised that the word “should” was one of those. It didn’t really surprise me, as I was brought up as a kid to be conscientious and always do my chores before I went out to play. This ingrained a pattern in me where I was hardwired to do the things I “should” be doing before the things I “wanted” to do.

This attitude is fine if you’re a kid and your chores merely consist of doing your homework, keeping your room tidy and helping out in the back yard, but for a lot of us when we get to adulthood the list is never ending. On top of whatever work we do many of us have other people to take care of, either kids or other relatives; instead of a room to keep tidy we now have to make sure the bills are paid, to buy and cook food, to do our own laundry... it just goes on and on.

I was using “should” with all these tasks, and it was wearing me down. I would say things like “I should really cook a proper meal tonight” or “I should get off the sofa and do my laundry” or “I should be writing instead of watching TV”. On top of all that there were all my aspirational uses of the word, such as “I should have finished writing this book by now”, or “I should have handled that better”. When I was suffering from post-viral fatigue it often took the form of “I should be able to do more with my day”. I see so many “shoulds” in others too; people who think they should be thinner, should be making more money, should be achieving more with their life, should be in a relationship, or should be a better parent.

I decided to see what would happen if I replaced the word “should” with “want to”. This had several interesting effects. First of all, it helped to stop me obsessing so much about things that had happened in the past. I found that I was translating statements like “I should have handled that better” into “I want to handle that better next time”.

Secondly,  it helped me understand my own motivations better. I would have conversations with myself like this:

Me: I should do the laundry, it’s really piling up.

Other me: Don’t use that word.

Me: (sighing) Okay, I “want to” do the laundry. But I don’t want to do the laundry. I hate doing laundry. But I also hate it when the house looks untidy.

Other me: So, what you really want is the house to look tidy.

Me: (more sighing) Yes. I love it when it’s all nice and clean.

I learned a lot about myself this way. I also learned that I really wanted a cleaner and a personal chef, because I hate doing things around the house. The only way I can motivate myself to do it is with some good eighties music or a podcast to listen to; with that I can happily scrub away for a while because it doesn’t quite feel like so much of a chore. (By the way, if you haven’t listened to it already I really recommend Rebecca’s podcast. She and Joe make a great team.)

However the main bonus I experienced was that instead of a list of things I should be doing, I now had a list of things I wanted to do, which led to a totally different conversation with myself and a shift in the way I weighed things up. Did I want the house to be clean more than I wanted to watch the next episode of The Good Place? Did I want to have words of my book written more than I wanted to go for lunch with a friend? So rather than a list of chores versus a list of nice things, I was weighing up one positive outcome against another. And when my fatigue crept in to the equation, the conversation became, did I want to take care of my health more than I wanted to go out and do stuff? Seeing it like this made it a much easier decision to make, and much less like I was just giving up on things.

I say easier because I don’t get it right all the time, of course. I still try to pack too much into my life and am constantly telling myself to leave more space just for doing nothing. One of my main goals for this year is actually to do less and by focusing on that I am getting better at leaving myself more downtime. So if you find yourself using the word “should” a lot, try swapping it out for a while and see what effect it has on your life. I’d love to hear if it works for you.

(For those of you who are like me and still make endless lists of things you want to do, I recommend Dr Pragya Agarwal’s brilliant article on how she got rid of her to-do lists. You can find it here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/feb/03/i-stopped-writing-to-do-lists-and-learned-to-enjoy-what-id-already-achieved)

Sasha Greene is a writer and computer programmer who lives in Scotland. Her novel, Something Like Happy, is available in eBook and paperback, and is a love story set against a backdrop of mental health and suicide. Sasha is also an adaptive snowboard instructor, which involves passing on her love of snow and going fast down a hill to people with physical and mental challenges. You can find her website at www.sashagreene.com, or follow her on Twitter @sashagreeneauth.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Guest Post - Mental Health, What's Missing? - by John Arenburg - The Road To Mental Wellness

When we discuss mental health and ways to improve it, we oftentimes end up speaking about the shortage, the wait times and the lack of professional services. But through my extensive journey, both the process and attempts at therapeutic healing, I have discovered what I have come to learn is a very key element to healing; sadly though, it's mostly overlooked.

In many health services that deal with all things physical, there is a multitude of things put in place to maximize the recovery period. For example, after one has been in a motor vehicle accident; there is a well-regimented recovery plan that is followed by a whole host of healthcare professionals. They include your GP, your surgeon if necessary and a physiotherapist. All these services are offered because we want our fellow citizens to be able to live the best life that can possibly be afforded to them after such a tragedy.

While I'm sure there are improvements to be made within the physical medical system, it is nonetheless more cohesive, and team orientated then mental health services. For example, if you are going through mental health and addictions, your family doctor does not have access to your mental health record. This creates a roadblock as it systematically severs communication between two relevant mental health professionals charged with your care. As one might well imagine, this can lead to some pretty serious consequences. It relies on the patient to relay information that may be best communicated by the experts.

Although I am sure that there are many other areas that need to be re-evaluated, one of the most important things that I find missing from the patient's perspective, is resources available for a more comprehensive treatment plan. For example, and this is fundamental, the system’s fragmented approach to mental health treatment is so dire that is unable to provide new ways forward that will maximize patient outcomes. What I believe is the most overlooked is the benefits of exercise and the lack of professionally qualified persons in this area to administer of a fitness plan.

I am, of course, talking about a fitness trainer.

There are mountains of evidence showing a correlation between exercise and mental illness. Physical fitness reduces symptoms of depression, anxiety and many other mental health conditions. Yet, despite good solid science, you will not find a fitness trainer as part of your recovery team. I suspect that it's largely because of budgetary restraints, but I also believe that it is not yet recognized to the degree in which physical exercise is advocated by therapists, insurance companies and compensation boards.

So, I guess until physical fitness is recognized as an essential and effective treatment for mental illness and they put the professionals in place to maximize success, we will have to take the matter into our own hands. Even a brisk 30-minute walk 3 times a week can do wonders for one's mental health.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Guest Post - It's Not Easy to be Bipolar - by Anja Burcak


“…People walk on their tippy toes not to say anything cruel to you and everything that’s been going on.”

At first, when you made ignorant statements about my bipolar disorder, I let it slide. I tried to justify it by saying that you didn’t have the background knowledge regarding what it really means to be depressed, manic, or even suicidal. Maybe, you didn’t know better. You didn’t realize how hurtful the remarks you made were to me. But, now, after three years since my first bipolar episode, it seems like you aren’t even trying to understand.

It’s easier to see depression as someone not even trying anymore rather than a devastating illness that impacts everything from concentration to sleep to “will to live”.

It’s easier to see self-harm or suicidal ideation as “attention-seeking” behaviors than as symptoms of severe, suicidal depression.

It’s easier to see full-blown mania as controllable periods of being reckless, irresponsible, and impulsive, rather than as the course of the illness that I have not been able to control at all.

It’s easier to see medication non-compliance as stupidly being stubborn rather than a result of severe side effects that impacted my ability to see, eat, or even walk.

It’s easier to see my mental health and suicide prevention efforts as a silly waste of time rather than efforts which have already led some people I personally know to seek help.

It’s easier to stick to the false sense that you know what it means to have a bipolar disorder diagnosis than it is to actually educate yourself on the manic, depressive, and mixed features of my illness.

It’s easier to blame me as a person than it is to acknowledge that I have a mental illness that is terrifying, one that some research suggests is progressive and even neurodegenerative in nature.

It’s so easy to have a stigmatizing view on mental illnesses. That view is on display everywhere, from news headlines to tabloid covers. There is “us”, the normal ones, and “them”, the “crazy” ones. Maybe you don’t appear to take my mental illness seriously because it’s embarrassing to have a family member with mental illness, especially one who publicizes it on social media and through multiple online platforms. It’s not easy to hide me.

I hope one day you will be proud of me, rather than ashamed. I want you to understand what I am battling on a daily basis, not judge me for my illness. You wouldn’t attack someone for their battle with a physical chronic condition, so I wish you wouldn’t do it for my mental chronic illness. This isn’t a phase. This is my life now and we all have to accept the changes, none of which are easy.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Then and Now

A lot of time has passed since my suicide attempt in 2013. Many things have changed. Some for the good, others for the bad. I’ve struggled with hard days, sometimes becoming hard weeks. However, I haven’t been quite as low as I am right now. Days have gone by without me even noticing. Sometimes I don’t even leave my bedroom. I keep it dark and stare off into space with the same TV shows or movies playing repeatedly in the background. I’ve cried, I’ve raged, I’ve even wanted to throw in the towel. This much pain is very difficult to carry.

Quite honestly, after two months of feeling this badly, I’m about to lose hope. I’m forcing myself to keep writing about my feelings so I can perhaps make sense of them.

Everyone always wants to look for a reason when I feel this way. Are you taking your medication? Did you see your doctor? Have you tried yoga? In looking back I realize that I do have a reason for the depression to start, just not necessarily to last as long as it has. In the first week of August, we said goodbye to our beloved cat, Hayley. She was by my side for 18 years. I know I’m still grieving, but there is a difference between just grieving and a major depressive episode.

I miss her so much, I’m not even sure how I’m going to get through this without her. Not being able to wake up to that beautiful face every morning has made my days unbearable.

The heavy burden that is bipolar depression feels nearly impossible to carry. I can’t seem to do it, I’ve tried. I’m not even sure what else to do.

Recently I posted on Twitter that I don’t want to be left behind; I want to stay relevant. I know that probably seems silly considering the battle I’m facing. It’s not silly to me; I worked very hard to try to become a positive influence in the mental health community. We’re taking a month-long hiatus from our podcast so I can recharge, and even that terrifies me. This is the first time I’ve been able to write anything in months.

I’m desperately shrugging off the urge to call this garbage and throw it all away. Still, maybe it will help me…maybe it will help someone reading it. After all, isn’t that the reason why we put ourselves out there like we do? I hope being honest about my struggles lets others know they’re not alone in this fight. Still, I would love to find out how I’m going to climb out from under this dark cloud. Perhaps all it takes is time, and maybe I’m doing everything exactly the way I should be. Maybe I’m not failing as my depression likes to tell me.

One day, I’ll be able to look back on this and be grateful I didn’t give up. Until then, I’m going to have to force myself to stay the course. Remain calm and take it a step at a time. I’ll get there; I just wish I knew when.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Guest Post - The Story of Losing and Finding Hope - by Hope Nash

Hello I am Hope, I'm 28 years old and this is part of my story.

First off I would like to say, even though I have diagnosis', they do not define me they do not rule over my life and they do not make me a bad person because they are simply a part of who I am, they are me. I am human, I am empathic and my past created who I am today,

Some who take the time to read this, who know me, may disagree or dispute some of the things I will share, but please remember these are my memories, my outlooks, and my experiences. Despite the fact you may remember it differently to your own knowledge, please don't take offense or mock my words. I am not seeking attention or sympathy, I just want to tell my story. My story of losing and finding Hope.

I guess the first point of my story is where did it begin? Well, I was the result of a young girl mixed with the wrong crowd and a young rebellious guy, both not ready to be parents or give up their youth despite them trying. But, without them I wouldn't be here! 

I was taken away from them when I was around 2 or 3 years old. Social Services placed me in foster for a short while until my grandparents took me in, I spent some lovely years growing and learning and nurtured by them. My father was still around and my mother was turning down further dark tracks during those years. Then, when my grandparents split I started going back and forth to my mother's home, a place I always wanted and fought to get to, even though she had missed so much. 

So, not learning or becoming away just how to be a mother but more a friend I guess, I didn't know, I was young. I got moved around between my mother's, my grandad's, my father's with his wife and my half siblings. I was never settled, so I found it hard to deal with all the changes and I missed a lot of school. Weirdly enough for a while, school became my safe space, until the bullying began. Then I found no peace in a lot of the places. 

Don't get me wrong, I had good times and created some good memories with family and friends. But, I was never truly settled from fear of how long until I would have to move again. Each time I was with my mother, I tried to ignore the fact she was taking a lot of drugs, because she was my mother. I actually tried help her as much as I could. When I was with my grandad, I felt a sense of stress because as much as I loved my grandad and still to this day love him and appreciate the fact he took me and saved me, he didn't know how to deal with a young girl growing up without my nanny there. So, I think he struggled with me, that's the feeling I got anyway. 

When I was at my father's home, I argued with my step sister a lot and the was a lot of drinking and other not so nice things to see there. I wasn't comfortable there, but social services forced me to stay, despite my first ever attempted overdose and outburst. I actually ended up being removed by police officers one night and they overruled social services order, I got back to my mother's that night, but she was just as much into drugs as she had been previously. 

When I was at my auntie's, who was amazing and still to this day, gives me inspiration, direction and makes me feel safe, I was difficult and I guess a lot to handle. She already had her two boys, my fabulous cousins who I am so proud of, they are amazing gentlemen who have done so well in their lives. I was already unsettled and I didn't want anyone but my mother at that point. I often look back and wish I had stayed, but then I wouldn't of become the person I am today.

I am a survivor of uncertainty, change, loss of a lot of my childhood.

At one stage, my mother had a boyfriend who took a shine to me in a way I didn't at the time see. It was the wrong way; he bought me things and told me secrets. He made me feel special while I felt so alone in my surroundings. When eople would argue and confuse me, he made me feel safe, but boy was I wrong. I wasn't safe and I didn't know any better at the time just how unsafe I really was. While others were distracted he took advantage of me, and I was only saved when he got arrested for stealing and was sent to prison. Even then he would send me things, tapes of him reading me stories and cards he handmade. 

Oddly enough, it wasn't until years later watching a TV soap story line that I had actually realized what had happened to me. It made me so angry. I held on to what had happened to me for along time. It wasn't until I was 18 years old that I told my mother what had happened. She was sober at that point. Her first comment was " Is that the truth or are you just saying it to hurt me?" That was a kick in the teeth, to even think I would lie about something that heinous. I am a survivor of child abuse.

From 13/14 years of age, I knew something in my mind wasn't correct. The emotions I felt weren't just sad feelings, they were something more. Doctors told me I was just sad and I would be fine with some antidepressants. I wasn't just fine, I felt crazy because I couldn't understand my own emotions or mind. I had strong feelings of wanting to die and numbness and a loss in direction. I couldn't imagine a future where i was in it; I started sinking lower and lower as i got older, trying to hide it to those around me. 

I got really good at keeping a mask on for everyone, so good, sometimes I would forget for just a moment, but everyday I was fighting with demons inside. It wasn't until my early 20's that I really lost myself and I started blacking out and self harming and taking overdoses. I didn't know how to ask for help and even when I did beg my mother to get me help for my mind, while sitting punching myself in the face, she would panic and not know what to do and leave me to it. After an outburst of emotions, I felt a slight release and better for a little while. It took me a long time to get myself back from this breakdown period. 

I had a specific paramedic who would hear my name on the call out and come see me. She would always talk to me and have a cigarette and she calmed me so much before taking me into the hospital to be checked out and monitored. I was never sectioned or offered mental health help, still i was told I was just depressed. It wasn't until I was 24 years old and 3 breakdowns later, I finally got a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder!

I am a survivor of Suicide attempts and a failed system, I am a BPD Warrior

Let's skip a few years, there was a couple of failed relationships, my past had me feel unwanted and lost a lot of the time. I was drawn to people who gave me attention and promised me they would never walk away, whether it was a healthy relationship or not, it filled that hole inside me that I longed for, for a short while. My relationship choices never seem to end well. I have had some toxic, manipulating, controlling, abusive, some boring, some settled, some good of course, some damn right heartbreaking moments in my relationships but they all have something in common, they were all people who had just as many problems as I did. I've found that never goes well, but I feel I've learned a lot from them and can now look back and see where I was going wrong. Now I can avoid those markers and focus on myself as a person. I spent so long looking for someone to love me, I forgot the most important person, me, I need to love me.

I am a survivor of mental abuse

A few years ago now, I have been getting chronic pain attacks in my neck. It progressed further and further, with doctors giving me paracetamol and telling me it was just a frozen shoulder. Three doctors later they sent me to a specialist who confirmed I had been failed, a simple shoulder problem that was left untreated had damaged nerves further along which caused me misfiring nerve shocks and attacks. I was put on a lot of different medications, my mental health of course started to suffer. 

I lost my dog who was part of my soul which pushed it down even further. I lost a piece of me that day, and being in constant pain, to the point I would sweat and have to lay in the fetal position multiple times a day. Within a few weeks I had tried around 12 different medications to try stop the pain, none even touching the sides of it. I couldn't plan anything, I would go to the shops and have to suddenly get a taxi home from fear of passing out with the pain. Slowly, morphine patches and a few other medications, creams, CBD started helping slightly, but then we had a loss in our family and my pain returned at a new level I had never felt before. 

It moved from my neck to my chest, down my back, my arms, my legs, my hands and feet, every part of me hurt more than I care to remember, we had to get in to see a specialist again, waiting for that referral to the pain clinic and rheumatologist felt like a lifetime. I finally got a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and was referred to a pain management course which teaches you to live with the pain. I mourned my old life and the one where I could be care-free. I took for granted how a pain-free day felt, unfortunately there isn't enough funds and research to find out causes, cures for Fibro. It is thought one way to get it is from bad trauma, it is progressive and is incurable, but during my pregnancy it subsided, which is has been linked to do with many cases, so I have had pain free days again. I can run and play with my son, I try appreciate the freedom of pain while it is at bay, I am trying to get healthy and keep exercising and I wont lie, some days I feel a creeping pain and I try my best to ignore it and focus on the good,

I am a pain survivor, Fibro Warrior

Overall, I am doing well and I have myself together. I have a wonderful little boy who is my world and amazing friends and family around me. I am posting and interacting with new people and trying to reach out to those who need help. Don't get me wrong, I have my bad days but I have learned and I'm still learning how to pull myself back up and how to recharge myself. I learned that if I stopped fighting with my demons, and learned to work with it, to accept it and to use it to my advantage, things run a lot smoother in my mind and my heart. I am keeping positive and currently on the beginning of a new journey to be able to help others with my experiences, my words, my knowledge. I want people to know they are not alone, they can get through the bad times and find the good,

These recalled moments, are a few of the bad parts of my history, a brief look into my past, the things that changed me and shaped me. I have had many good times and many amazing moments too, they aren't all bad. I look forward to creating many more memories and using the knowledge of my experiences. I know a lot of things to do and also what not to do too! I currently have a good relationship with my father which is lovely and I enjoy his company. I get to see my grandad and to spend time with him again is wonderful. He dotes on his great grandson. My auntie is just down the road, and I love that I can see her and speak to her whenever I want. I still learn so much from her, she's my guardian angel. I wish I could say my mother is in a better stage of her life but unfortunately not, which makes me sad, but I have to focus on myself and my son now. I spent a long time trying to help her, but I forgot to help myself along that journey and now I am a parent, its my life to break the chain and give him the best life I can and show him the beauty of the world!

I shall leave you with my quote, "we are just human beings trying to understand our own minds, stop trying to fit in and start loving every part of who you are"

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Saying Goodbye

There’s a myriad of emotions that person experiences when they lose a beloved pet. For some, it’s not just your run of the mill sadness, it’s a deep-rooted grief that completely cripples you. You always know deep down in your heart that one day you aren’t going to have them anymore. So, you spoil them and cater to their every whim. All because one day you won’t be able to. Especially once they start to get older.

Coping with the loss of my cat, Hayley after 18 years has caused a whole new set of problems. The first being massive panic attacks. Hayley wasn’t technically a therapy pet, but she would have passed with flying colors had I tried to certify her. She checked on me if I coughed, let alone a full-blown panic and crying. So, I’m feeling more alone than I ever thought I would, and having bipolar disorder isn’t helping the situation. I was thoroughly depressed before any of this came up with Hayley, so this piled on top is just too much weight to carry.

I know there are people out there that don’t treat their pets the same way…don’t treat them like they’re one of the family, but that’s not us. Every day, I found myself thinking of her and it immediately launches me into a panic attack. It’s only been 2 days since we said goodbye. I’ll never get that image of her passing out of my head. I considered closing my eyes for it, but when it came down to it, I was more worried about Hayley possibly feeling scared. Then the Vet listened and said, “Her heart has stopped. She has passed away”.

That cat meant everything to me. I don’t work out of the home, so I am usually home with all the cats every day. Hayley has been sick off and on for 2 years, so I feel like I have been caring for her all of that time. She was 18!!! She lived a good, full life but that’s not enough. 

She loved us and we worshipped her. She was the most beautiful cat I have ever seen. She was smart and knew exactly when her mom needed her.

Since this past Tuesday, I’ve experienced 11 different panic attacks because she wasn’t there and I expected her to be. Here are the steps in the grieving process:

Grief typically has five stages;

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I am most certainly in the denial part. I keep telling myself that if I don’t think about it, I’ll be fine.

Here’s a quote from the Bipolar Lives website:

It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, family member or pet. The loss of a loved one can be especially devastating if you are bipolar.

I can’t comprehend what the next year or so is going to be. I keep thinking about her Christmas stocking. I don’t think we’ll put it up. I’m having trouble seeing photos of her too. They instantly cause anxiety. It’s like this feeling like somebody has two hands wrapped around my windpipe and it hurts to breathe.

So, is there a way out of this? For me personally, I don’t stop grieving until my brain tells me that it’s safe. I can’t do yoga or write down my feelings every day, etc. None of those things are helpful to me. My plan of attack is to talk to my doctor and see what she can do for me.

In the meantime, I’ll deal with this pain and heartache. The next stage of grief is anger. I’m not looking forward to that one.

Wish me luck.

First Blog of 2020

I’ve been struggling. That’s not news to anyone that follows my Twitter feed. I don’t even know the reason life has been so hard for me l...