Posted in Managing Mental Health, Mental Health

How to Support Someone With Mental Health Issues

It can be extremely hard to watch someone you love and care about going through a tough time regarding their mental health. It can also be painful if someone close to you discloses their mental illness or mental health struggles and you had no idea about it. You may feel like a failure yourself, like there’s nothing you can do, like you are useless. Essentially it may start to impact your mental health as well. That’s why the most important thing to remember when supporting someone with mental health issues is that you need to look after yourself as well. You have to.

1. Look after yourself

Sometimes we want to rush in and save the whole world – fix everything – but this simply isn’t possible. Perhaps at first it may seem like a good idea to try and take on the other person’s issues entirely as your own, without giving yourself the space needed to process your own emotions. In fact for a short while this may actually help the other person – but that’s not sustainable; long term it will lead to you burning out, struggling yourself or becoming resentful, likely making the entire situation worse. That’s why it’s so important to look after yourself, even if this is just journaling at the end of the day to help you sort out the feelings of the day, or doing a hobby once a week, the possibilities are limitless and you have to find what works for you. The important thing is that you do find it. And putting in boundaries with the person you are supporting can also help this, and most likely will help them in the long run too.

2. Listen to them

Many people with mental health issues, especially when they are first opening up about them, doubt themselves, feel ashamed or invalidated. By listening to them with an open mind you can help lessen these feelings. And by listening, I mean just that. Not everyone wants (nor even needs) advice or solutions all the time, sometimes they just need to be heard so they feel a little less alone. When having a conversation about their emotions/ experience it can be really helpful to ask the question ‘would you like me to offer advice or just listen to you?’. Validating their experience through listening to them can have a huge impact for someone struggling and give them confidence and reassurance. Remember that they are the one that lives in their brain, and they know what they are going through better than anyone else; it’s not your job to dictate to them what they are undergoing. However, linking to my last point, it is important that you don’t take on all of their feelings for yourself, so placing boundaries can be really helpful – for example requesting that before they talk to you, they ask you if you are in a place to have that conversation.

3. Involve them

Going through a tough time mentally can feel very isolating, and our brains can make us feel very lonely and rejected. That’s why it’s important to continue to involve someone who is struggling mentally. This could mean continuing to invite them to social events while making clear there is no pressure or expectations placed upon them to attend. If they accept and invitation, it might then mean making some accommodations for them, like helping them order food if that’s a point of anxiety for them or giving them some space if they need it for example. It might also mean offering to meet them one on one for a while if that’s easier for them, or talking with them about plans to keep them safe and checking in with them regularly. To relate to my last point, if you’re unsure of what to do, you can always ask them if they have any ideas or if there’s a way you can accommodate them better. This is a huge sign that you care for and accept them still.

4. Research their experience

If the person you are supporting has a diagnosis or has disclosed to you specific symptoms, it can be helpful for your own knowledge to research this. A quick google search will bring up symptoms lists and examples of how these might affect them, but I would also encourage you to look beyond this and read up on the personal experience of different people from different walks of life to get a clearer picture. This can help you understand the person you are supporting better without the worry that you are prying to much, and it can help them to feel seen as this informs how you support them.

5. Make them a happy kit

I’ve made a previous post on this, which you can read here. A happy kit is essentially a little collection of things that can help someone process their emotions, get through a crisis moment, or just generally cheer them up. It can include some things that they find calming or cheering, and maybe a list of distractions and mini coping exercises to try. Distractions are also a really great way to help someone with a mental health issue – it’s not a long term fix but it can help them escape their brain for a minute and feel more ready to face the day. If a distraction is creative it could also be a way of helping them to express themselves, and feel less alone if you’re doing it together.

6. Help with small tasks

Small tasks such as cleaning, ordering food, or remembering deadlines can become seemingly impossible for someone experiencing a mental health struggle. If you feel up to it you can offer to help them with these small tasks, even if that’s just by doing it with them (for example cleaning together one afternoon, or going food shopping together). As always, asking them how best to help is always a good idea, and if they’re not sure offering something specific – such as sending them a reminder text – might appeal to them.

7. Show them you care

It’s simple, but one of the most helpful and meaningful things anyone has ever done for me during my own struggles has been showing me they cared. This could mean writing someone a supportive letter, or making them a playlist. Just something simple that lets them know you care.

7. Be patient

We all have mental health and it can be a long term challenge to face for many. Someone in the midsts of a struggle isn’t going to overcome it overnight, but with amazing people like you willing to support them, they can find their way through. Keep in mind that you need to be patient – one of the reasons why looking after yourself is so important – and that their struggles are not a comment on you, ever. Eventually the sun will come shining through!

Posted in Advocacy, autism, Personal Growth

Autism is My Superpower

I’m autistic. Having autism in a neurotypical world is not easy because generally the world isn’t built for us and proves to be confusing, but for anyone struggling with their diagnosis/ symptoms (and any neurotypicals unclear on the individual nature of autism) I want to make it clear that having autism isn’t a defect. Nor is it a mental illness. In fact, it can be a bonus in many situations, and when accommodated to autistic people can provide new perspectives and skills to the benefit of others. I, for one, like to think that my autism is my superpower, and this is my personal experience:

I learnt to ‘mask’ my autism – consciously learning how to act and react from other people’s behaviour; having to put effort into learning social rules that came naturally to others. Masking can be exhausting, so I know it’s essential that I take breaks and find time for myself, but like a superhero in a costume, it can also be powerful. How? Because my passion is theatre, and when I become the character I act out on stage, I am easily able to slip myself into their shoes – I know how they would behave and why. It comes effortless to me. The misconception is that autistic people are like robots and can only slot into certain careers. In reality we are varied like everyone else, and our uniqueness is incredible. We exist in every identity there is: every race, every gender, every sexuality, as parents and children. Our variety is often overlooked.

My increased sensory input is a key feature of my superpower. I observe more, hear more, taste more. This translates to a benefit in so many situations. You don’t know your train time? Don’t worry, I glanced at the board quickly and noticed it. You’re lost and don’t know the way back? Don’t worry, I spotted landmarks along the way, I know where we’re going. You’re trying to remember where you put your glasses? Never fear, I spotted them. And if we’re thinking about sound and music, my greater sensory input comes to my aid once again – that along with my ability to spot patterns as part of my autism, and my synaesthesia (which is far more prevalent among autistic people than the general population). When I hear a piece of music, it is alive to me. It is full of colour, I hear every layer of the rich instruments, and I can see the patterns the notes are forming. If I want to then play that piece on piano, I need only translate the pattern onto the keys – give me a bit of time and I can paint the picture I hear all by myself. This is my superpower. 

Not to mention the fact that I am quite simply neurodivergent. I think experience the world in a way that is different to ‘the norm’, or rather the majority. Why is this a feature of my superpower? Because I can come up with new ideas and perspectives that may have been overlooked or not thought of at all. In certain situations this can become the way I overcome challenges or help others to do so; in the right combination my divergent thinking could be innovative. Us autistic people have a place in this society, no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum, and if we are accommodated we may even be able to offer solutions, certainly valuable contributions at the least. 

Like a superhero may have an emblem, sign, or symbol, I have my stims. By stims I mean self stimulatory behaviour. Why is this so amazing? Well, it indicates to me how I am feeling (different stims, like tapping my fingers on my palm or twirling my ankle, correspond to different moods). Not only this, but should I start to feel an uncomfortable emotion, stimming freely can help calm me down. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have something so simple in their toolbox, so this is powerful to me. It’s also such a pure form of expression, and can even help me release my creativity, tapping into my flow. Furthermore, my stims evolve over time – hitting my head morphed into covering my head and now I need only put on a hat to feel at home. How awesome is that? 

This barely scratches the surface of my positive autistic experience, but I hope it has enlightened you. Autism is not a bad thing – quite the opposite. And the beautiful part of it is that no one autistic person’s experience is the same as another. We have a place in this world, and we’re not going anywhere, so the more that neurotypicals begin to understand and help us meet our needs, the more we can give.

Posted in Advocacy, Happy Notes, Mental Health, Notes, Personal Growth

What is positivity?

This post is inspired by I note I made for my Instagram – @our.happy.notes – which read: ‘For me being positive doesn’t mean being happy or positive all the time, it means allowing myself to appreciate the moments that I do feel positive, and allowing the possibility of hope to exist’. I wrote it because being the inquisitive person I am and being active on social media brought the thought into my mind – what is positivity? What does positivity mean to me?

I’m a person that tends to find myself living in extremes. There either is or there isn’t. I am all or nothing. So with positivity and a mood disorder, I found that I either lived in a state of overwhelming optimist or complete lack of any positive thought at all. What I have found interesting, and beneficial to my mental health, is exploring the space in between. The idea that even in positive moments I can accept that it won’t last forever, and in the times where I lack such I can acknowledge that it doesn’t mean that positivity has disappeared.

I think sometimes even in well meaning spaces, there can be such a pressure to be positive and see the good in life. Unfortunately this simply isn’t possible all of the time, and when we put pressure on ourselves to feel one way or the other it can lead to us feeling even worse. The reality of the situation is that all emotions on the spectrum are valid. Yet the lack of positivity or hope in one moment does not mean it will never return; that it has ceased to exist. Nowadays this is something I like to remind myself – writing it out helps me to absorb it.

So, what is positivity to me? Positivity is not the blind belief in a bright future, but the acceptance of the fact that a bright future could exist. It is allowing the possibility of a good day for someone else happening, even if it isn’t for me. It is embracing the small, joyful things in life – the most minute parts of the world that make me a little less down, even if only for a moment. It is an intangible thing, an emotion, an idea – a beautiful prospect.

However I recognise that in moments we really can want to increase our positive thoughts and feelings in life. I am no expert on this, though I do have some tools that have helped me. In the morning I write down affirmations for the day – ‘Today can be a good day’, ‘I am enough’, etc. In the evening I write a gratitude list – ‘I have a roof over my head’, ‘someone smiled at me in the street’. I list the small things in life that bring me joy. I allow myself to dream wildly, but remind myself that whether or not these dreams materialise, I will be ok. I smile; sometimes I simply sit there and I smile. And when I feel that positivity is disappearing, that hope is waning, I repeat aloud and write on paper that they are not gone forever. These might seem a little silly, but they are some of the most healing things toward my mental health.

Sending love and support to anyone who needs it today!

Love, Millie x

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Small Steps

Hey there! 

I’ve been thinking recently on how I can help myself to maintain a better state of mental health, when I’m already feeling a bit better in myself, but also how I can make it easier to lift out of those darker moments. Through some conversations, therapy, and self reflection I have come to appreciate how important the small steps we take to support our mental health are.

However, when you’re feeling particularly blue it can be difficult to even begin to do the smallest things; people can often get annoyed at us for this as well. For me one way of overcoming this is by breaking them down into even smaller steps. For example if my aim is to take my meds, then I’ll start by walking to the drawer, then opening the draw, taking them out, laying them out etc etc. It may seem silly at first – I know for me it almost felt like I was patronising myself – but it might just be of use to try this, and it is a huge thing to take any of these steps so you deserve congratulating for that! 

So what are some of the small steps I’ve come up with to help maintain my mental health? Writing my diary; gratitude and affirmation lists; meds and vits; drinking enough water; walking; allowing myself downtime; using planners to keep on top of work; reading (to make learning fun); making my happy notes; doodling and using fiddle toys; playing piano; meditating and more…

I hope you can find some small steps that will help you maintain your mental health! We all have it and we all need to look after it 

See ya later 🙂

Posted in Mental Health

Reasons to Stay Alive

When I was at one of the lowest points of my life, six months into a crushing depressive episode, I made a list of reasons to stay alive. My mind was plagued with suicidal thoughts, yet there was something inside of me that told me I didn’t want to die – I just wanted the pain to stop. So I sat down to write a list of reasons to stay alive. This list could also be called a list of where to find hope in life, and where to find some happiness. I started small and gradually I built up the reasons to bigger ideas. I am so thankful that I made it through that time because though I continue to struggle, I am stronger and more appreciative of the things around me. Below is a list specific to me in parts, but one that I hope might remind someone that there are some things in this life worth living for, even if just for a moment more, and the list only keeps growing the more we look around:

The feeling of flying on a swing
  • Cold water on a hot day
  • The top of an ice cream tub before someone takes a scoop out
  • A smile on someone’s face
  • The sound of laughter
  • The smell of new books
  • The smell after it rains
  • The feeling of flying on a swing
  • Soft animals
  • The possibility of discovering a new song that speaks to you
  • Soft fur on a cat
  • Sunsets and sunrises
  • Hugs
  • How satisfying some dates look on paper (eg. 20/02/2020)
  • The possibility of a blank notebook
  • The click that headphones make when you put them into the jack
  • Frozen mango
  • Christmas lights
  • The satisfaction of knowing you bought someone the right gift
  • You didn’t finish watching that show
  • There are so many places you haven’t been to yet
  • There are so many people you haven’t met yet. Some of them are going to love you and support you and become wonderful friends
  • Daisies close up at night and go to sleep
  • The shape of trees
  • The colour of the sky
  • The feeling of dipping your toes into the sea
  • Making snow angels
  • Laughing uncontrollably until your stomach hurts
  • You’ve made it through every worst day of your life so far; you can make it through this one too
  • Melted chocolate
  • There was a time, no matter how long ago, that you were genuinely happy and hopeful, and therefore there will be a time in the future
  • There are people who want to help you and so many different ways to try to help
  • Your dreams may feel impossible, but if you aren’t around, you’ll never know. Maybe you’ll find an even better thing on the way – you can find out
  • Someone loves you. Your pain only transfers to them
  • You haven’t performed on a west end stage
  • The feeling of being clean after a shower
  • When you smell something or see something and it transports you back into a good memory
  • Making snow angels. Or grass angels when snow isn’t available
  • Your friends and family; their love
  • Crunching leaves under your feet
  • You haven’t seen all of Shakespeare’s plays
  • You haven’t read all of Audre Lorde’s poetry
  • There are actually a lot of books you haven’t read and some of them are going to have some wisdom in them that you want, and some of them will make you laugh
  • Dancing in the rain
  • Late night adventures
  • That cozy feeling when it’s cold out but you’re all tucked up inside
  • Your struggles will make you uniquely able to help someone else one day, and it is possible to grow stronger and more compassionate from them. You deserve to see that day and be there for others
  • Charity store shopping
  • To prove anyone who doubted you wrong
  • To give love into the world
  • Late night drives
  • Spontaneous plans
  • Learning new things
  • You make a difference. You are important. Think about it logically – six degrees of separation means your life really does have a big impact
  • Cherry blossom
  • Flowers in spring
  • Libraries
  • The theatre curtain coming up
  • Finding a monologue that encapsulates what you are feeling
  • Crazy dreams you can’t quite remember after waking up but you know where really special
  • So one day you can look back and say to yourself how incredible it is that you survived and are still here.
Sunsets

This list only begins to scratch the surface. Please add your own and share. You are never, ever alone. 

Suicide hotlines: 

  • England: 116123
  • America: 1-800-273-8255
  • Canada: 5147234000 (Montreal); 18662773553 (outside Montreal) 
  • India: 8888817666
  • Mexico: 5255102550
  • Philippines: 028969191
  • Malaysia: +603-79568145
  • South Korea: 1577-0199

As far as I know these numbers are up to date. If you are not in one of these countries, a quick google search will bring up appropriate resources. You can get through this!

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Letter to My Mental Illnesses

Hello, 

There’s no need to introduce myself, we know each other well, don’t we? As such I know that you have a habit of finding new ways to creep into my life – you’re always going to be here I suspect, so I suppose it’s time I had a proper conversation with you. Embraced you. Accepted that you are, and always will be, a part of me. 

Well I’d rather not start with the negatives, so let me thank you. You have taught me strength in ways I could never have imagined just a few years ago. You tried to break me – hell, you still do – and yet my scars hold power as a consequence. So thank you for that. And thank you for teaching me kindness, empathy and wisdom. If it wasn’t for you I never would have known what to say to my friends in distress. I never could have overcome issues unrelated to you. If you’re going to stick around you might as well teach me some more of those lessons, because I appreciate them, I really do. And thank you for showing me how lost I was. Thank you for teaching me who I am. Do not mistake me, I am not you. You are a part of me yes, but in realising that I have seen some of the other parts of me that I failed to notice previously. Pretty amazing really. 

Now if you were a physical person I would probably beat bloody at this point. I would scream at you until my throat was raw. I would cry at you, how dare you try to take me away, how dare you try to take my friends, how dare try to cause my family such pain. I would shout at you for every opportunity you took away from me – I wanted to go on that trip. All those days I missed. I actually wanted to be able to go to lessons and focus. I wanted to be around my friends. I wanted to be able to be a stupid teenager for just one day without there being the constant reminder that at any moment I could be struck with the feeling that my heart might explode, or the knowledge that addiction is in my blood.

Yet note I speak in past tense. For in the end, whether you taught me, or I found ways to learn it through necessity to survive, I realised I didn’t really want those things. For every opportunity I missed, I was presented with something else that formed me. And the ones I didn’t miss were golden as a result. If I could let go in the ways I wished, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be able to see the world in the ways I do. 

Still, know this, if you were a person I saw you run at someone else – god forbid someone I love – I would not hesitate to put myself between you and them, for no one deserves that pain, and my dear we are not done fighting yet. 

Seriously though, you are just made of hopelessness and chaos. Some days I think, surely my mental illness must be exhausted because I sure am, but no, there you are again. So come at me. Come at me with everything you’ve got and watch me rise, because I have come too far to give in to you. I will take the creativity from mania and your chaos and I will make something beautiful. I will take the desperation of your darkness and the shaking mess from your anxiety and I will use it to cling to the others who are suffering to make sure we get through. To ensure that you never have such a grip over another person’s life. Come at me – I think you forget that you are a part of me. We have to find some way to live in harmony or we will destroy each other. Come at me old friend, and watch me grow.