Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Reducing Mental Health Stigma

I have been fortunate that I have not personally come up against too much explicit stigma throughout my mental health journey so far – and when I have, there has been an incredible amount of supportive people surrounding me. However just a quick trip online reveals how much stigma still exists around mental health, and backhanded comments such as ‘just snap out of it’ or ‘you don’t look mentally ill’ are far too common. Sometimes I am afraid that I will be left out from job opportunities or educational experiences in the future because of my struggles. And so it is important to me, for my benefit and the benefit others, that I do what I can to reduce stigma in my advocacy. For me that means sharing my story, educating myself (especially on the intersectionality of mental health in society), and being open in conversation. Here is my quick guide on what anyone can do to reduce mental health stigma.

  1. Change your language

It might insignificant, but language holds power. What I mean by this is avoiding calling someone who is mentally ill ‘crazy’, and instead validating their experience. Another way to adapt our language is to avoiding using conditions as adjectives. For example instead of saying ‘I’m a bit OCD’ say ‘I like things to be tidy’, and instead of saying ‘She’s so bipolar’ say ‘she’s a bit moody today’. Changing our language can signify a shift in how we approach topics, and encourages us to be more mindful of how what we say can impact someone.

2. Educate yourself

Education is a powerful tool. Educate yourself on the warning signs of mental health issues, different conditions, and the reality of the lived experience of those struggling with their mental health (they’re not the dangerous, horrible people that some media may lead us to believe they are). And educate yourself on the fact that everyone has mental health, and everyone deserves to look after it. Furthermore, educate yourself on how mental health is intersectional with identity and social issues. Here is a post from my instagram that has some basic statistics on this.

3. Listen

When someone speaks up about their mental health, listen. Actively listen. Do not try to shut them down or tell them to toughen up. Listen to what they need and what they are experiencing.

4. Speak up

If someone says something ignorant in a conversation about mental health, try to gently educate them. If you are able to, speak up in your workplace or school to ask for better training for employees on mental health, and policies to support employees/ students.

5. Speak to power

Sign petitions that lobby for better and more inclusive mental health support nationwide and in our communities. Write an email to your MP (or other political representative) about improving mental health systems.

8. Support mental health charities

Whether this is by donating, sharing their campaigns, or engaging with their programmes, their work is so important.

7. Carry openness in your life

Include people in your workplace; continue to invite friends with mental health issues even if they don’t always come along. Treat everyone with dignity and respect, and offer them encouragement in their day to day life and when seeking professional support. Never blame anyone for their struggles. Be kind.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. All of my love and support to you today,

Millie xx

Posted in Notes

It Doesn’t Have to be a Merry Christmas

There is a lot of pressure put on the holidays of what they should be and feel like – they must be joyous and magical and a time for family. But the thing is, we can’t force happiness, and many people don’t have a traditional family setup. This year more than any other year the majority of people have had to adjust to a new way of doing the holidays, and that’s not easy. And for many people with mental health issues this is even harder, on top of the holidays often being a challenging time – for example with food relationships. So here’s a very short reminder that it doesn’t have to be a Merry Christmas, and a few affirmations to, hopefully, brighten up your day if you are struggling:

  • You deserve space if that’s what you need; your needs are worthy and important, even at Christmas
  • You are not alone, even if you feel it
  • Comparison can bring a lot of negative feelings to us, so remember that you don’t need to do it
  • You deserve to eat. Your body is an incredible thing, but you are so much more than it
  • It’s ok not to be ok
  • Your feelings are valid
  • This won’t last forever
  • You are so strong
  • You are so brave
  • You are magical
  • There is always good in the bad

I hope that all of you have the best time you can. Sending you all love and support this Christmas xx

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Letters to my MP

This is the first of five letters to my MP regarding the mental health system, sent originally in May – it is not even worth me posting the others because they are all very repetitive following evasive responses. However I thought I would post this one as it gives a comprehensive overview of how I regard the mental health system in the U.K. and I’d like to say is a reasonably interesting read. If you’d like to read any of the others or responses please do get in touch.

Dear Mr ****,

My name is Millicent ****, I am 15 years old, and I am a resident of the **** district. I am writing to you today concerning the topic of the mental health system in the UK, particularly regarding young people. This is of great personal and nationwide importance since the mental health of citizens is an intersectional issue impacted by and impacting most aspects of society. You may be aware of many of my concerns already, however there is so much still to be done and these issues need highlighting, especially in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic which will no doubt influence the mental wellbeing of the population. I firmly believe that investment into the improvement of support in the UK will aid the return to life following this pandemic. I will also send a copy of this to you handwritten. It is my hope that you will take the time to read this email in full, as it is a comprehensive display of the complex problems within the system, and that it may open a discourse with you about what can be done to improve the system, and therefore society. Essentially – how will you, as an MP, push for change?

In this email I will cover:

– Personal experience

– Statistics and widespread perceptions of the system 

– The intersectionality of mental health 

– Issues with the diagnostic process 

– My questions about the system, what can be done, and ideas for what could be improved 

– Summary for your convenience 

In the last three years I have been diagnosed with high functioning autism, anxiety disorder, cyclothymia (a subtype of bipolar disorder) and disordered eating. To say I have struggled would be an understatement, and in terms of intervention from mental health services I have struggled alone. I only received these diagnoses after reaching breaking point, and through the private system funded by charity money after being consistently failed by CAHMS. Even then I faced long waiting lists and inadequate support. I will raise my concerns within the context of my own experience. 

When I was first referred to CAHMS I saw a counselor who I did not connect with; when I asked for a change of treatment, I was denied such. A year later – after a sharp downward turn in my mental health which meant I could no longer partake in a full school timetable – I was referred to the service once again. I had an initial assessment which left me confused, and they brushed aside my difficulties with my moods. I was offered group therapy, which intimidated me, and a check in with the eating disorders unit. I was not consulted about my treatment. After a panic attack in the office and a month of complaints I was offered CBT – but only 3 sessions; this is completely inadequate by any standards, including the NHS NICE guidelines, to make any change. When I raised concerns unrelated to my anxiety in these sessions, they were brushed aside as unimportant or not relevant to their unit. I was told by the eating disorder unit that I was ‘not light enough’ to qualify for in depth treatment – despite having lost a stone in the space of three weeks and being unable to eat more than five-hundred calories a day at the time. At the end of my CBT I was let go of by the service as they felt they had nothing more to offer me. I was told an ASD assessment would take eighteen months. Four months later I was struggling with suicidal tendencies, self harm, bulimia, and other issues. The overarching theme here is that I was continually told I was not ‘bad enough’ and by the time I was ‘bad enough’ I had no support systems in place. 

So my first questions are these: how can we change the system so that the needs of individuals are taken into consideration? How can we improve communication across units within the system so that the individual’s struggles are dealt with at all levels? How can we ensure that all the patient’s concerns are being taken into account, without ridicule? How can we create better measures to support people at all levels of the system, so that they always feel valid and the preventable outcomes do not occur, which often leaves people alone or the system overwhelmed? A simple answer would be funding – the system needs better funding to be able to cope with the influx of patients coming through, and approach each one with compassion. However this is not the singular solution, which I will come to later, and would require a shift in the focus of government by essentially making clear that it puts the wellbeing of its citizens first, and is not afraid to invest in long term solutions and improvements. 

I am not alone in my experience – a quick survey on my Instagram provided me with several answers, all of which backed up my perceptions of the system; I have heard conversations about the same problems repeated over and over again. Here are just a handful of responses from my Instagram: 

‘I’m sure mental health problems could be caught and helped earlier with better funding’ 

‘Mental health services for young people are woefully underfunded’ 

‘I’d say more funding for counselor programmes as there are massive waiting lists for them’ 

‘Private services are so dear, and many slip through the net because they can’t access help in time’  

‘Not enough work is done to prevent mental health problems and when there is a crisis, the systems are not properly equipped to deal with them’ 

In terms of statistics, the Community Mental Health survey 2019 by the Quality Care Commission reports ‘many of those areas identified as in need of improvement in 2018 have declined further, continuing the negative trend of results consistently declining over the 2014 – 2019 period’. This follows the publication of the government’s ambitions in the Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View (2017) and the NHS Long Term Plan (2019). As reported by the charity Mind, this weekend also marked 18 months since the Mental Health Act review – and we are still waiting for the government to make vital changes. Some key statistics from the survey are: 

– 31% of all respondents said they did not know who to contact out of office hours within the NHS if they had a crisis 

– One in five respondents that did know who to contact, and had done so in the last twelve months, reported they did not receive the help they needed during a crisis 

– Less than half (42%) of respondents said they had ‘definitely’ seen NHS mental health services enough for their needs. This is five percentage points lower than 2014 

– Almost a quarter of people (23%) were not involved in agreeing their care with NHS mental health services.

– Only 52%, of those who agreed their care, felt they were involved as much as they wanted to be in that process

– 29% of people had not had a formal meeting with anyone from the NHS mental health services to discuss how their care is working in the last year 

This barely scratches the surface of the 92 page report, which shows quality of care throughout to be below expectations and satisfaction, and many of these issues may also be exaggerated further within CAHMS which presents the challenge of dealing with those under 18. I think you can agree this is simply not good enough. 

While I am on statistics, here is an introduction to why the mental health of the country is important: 

– Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (Mental Health Network, NHS confederation, 2016) 

– In the UK and the Republic of Ireland there were 6895 suicides in 2018, a 10.9% increase (Samaritans). That is 6895 lives lost, futures lost, family and friends in mourning 

– The rate of suicide among under 25s increased by 23.7% in 2018 (Samaritans) 

– The rate of suicide in the last quarter of 2019 hit a 19-year high, at 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people (ONS)

– Mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost each year and costs £34.9 billion each year (Thriving at work: The independent review of Mental Health and Employers, 2017, Stephen D, Farmerson P), although some other reputable studies reckon this to be as high at £74-99 billion (Business in the community, Mental Health at Work 2019: Time to Take Ownership)

– One in eight 5 to 19 year olds had a mental disorder in 2017 (Government Statistical Service) 

The figures above are just that – numbers. However they represent the pain of millions of people each year, the tragic loss of life; the prevalence and therefore importance of mental health issues. We all have mental health; at any time we could be forced to rely on the system, therefore we must ensure it is properly equipped to support us, and allow us to return as functioning and contributing members of society. In the last three months three of my friends have attempted suicide. Thankfully they are all still alive today, but as they were all already involved in the system before this and had been failed by it invariably, I also live in fear for them, and others – like myself – grappling with mental health issues. This affects all of us. 

The main support I received for my mental health came from my school, simply because I was lucky enough to have understanding and empathetic teachers who always looked out for me. They kept me safe during manic episodes, kept me going during depressive episodes, and constantly took it upon themselves to educate themselves and offer me suggestions. However the level of care which they gave to me was not required of them, nor should it have been, and they are not professionals in the field. As the majority of young people spend most of their time in schools, however, it has highlighted to me the important role that schools play in supporting students’ mental wellbeing.  Furthermore, stress is well known to have a negative effect on mental health, and the stress placed on students in competitive atmospheres only increases as they move up the educational system: how can we alleviate some of the pressure on students and make it part of the curriculum to provide them with coping skills? This is one example of how in improving the NHS system, we must also involve coordination across other aspects of society that support the wellbeing of our citizens.

I know that my teachers were unsure who to contact when I had a mixed episode (undiagnosed at the time) which left them bewildered and in fear for my safety. In improving the system we must raise awareness, and education is key to this as it allows us to reach so many young people. How can we ensure that teachers – all teachers – are trained to recognise early warning signs, and create a structure that would mean they are aware how to approach with empathy, knowing what their next steps would be? Within schools, how can we promote the tolerance and awareness of mental wellbeing in a dynamic, informed manner that fosters compassion? Perhaps required teacher training and reforms in PSHE would be a good place to start, alongside establishing schemes of referral and counselling in educational settings. However, we must also recognise the impact that a teacher’s role may be having on their mental health, and therefore I suggest that it should be the norm that educators are offered easily accessible support to help them, which would not only allow them to offer better assistance, but would also make them better teachers. Mental health is an intersectional issue that requires a multifaceted approach; I hope you will appreciate this, and start formulating ideas on how we can put this into practice. 

Again I reference some quotes from my Instagram survey:

– ‘More investment in mental health training for teachers’ 

– ‘Talks for young people. They feel too’

– ‘Primary schools need to be more aware of mental health in my opinion’ 

– ‘Education beyond anxiety and depression because nothing else is talked about’

In terms of intersectionality, there are also clear trends among different demographics which should be addressed in formulating a plan for improvement. For example, the current protests have brought to my attention the disparities faced by BME communities in receiving mental health treatment: 

– Risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly seven times higher than in the White population (Mental Health statistics for England, Briefing paper 6988, Baker C., 2018)

– Detention rates under the Mental Health act during 2017/2018 were four times higher for people in the ‘Black’ or ‘Black British’ groups than those in the ‘White’ group (NHS, Mental Health Act Statistics, Annual report 2017-2018)

– 29% of Black/ Black British women experienced a common mental disorder in the past week, higher than for White British women or Other White women (NHS, Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey) 

Once again this only scratches the surface, but the trend is clear. Research suggests that racism can have a very negative effect on overall health and mental health, and as BME communities are often more likely to be economically disadvantaged – and mental health issues more prevalent among lower income communities –  this is sure to have an effect on these figures. Therefore in facing the problems with the system, we must also look to where we can alleviate stress elsewhere, by educating young people through schools and the wider population through schemes about racism and how to be anti-racist; by aiding those economically disadvantaged and perhaps putting further funding into the services in areas with lower average income; by actively reversing racism and increasing understanding of issues faced by BME people within the service. However, it matters what is then done with this funding as well – there should be clear cut structures that direct where the funding should be applied. For example – community programmes, hiring more nurses and psychologists, further research into the effects of medication and disorders, training/ encouraging the training of the next generation of mental health workers, improving training structures to implement the values of NICE that should already be put in place. We need to not only pledge to look into it, fund it, but also how the process should be guided, surely? 

I could delve further into the intersectionality of mental health among LGBT+ communities (more susceptible), disabled people and their access needs, the workplace – but I feel by now you have gotten the picture. To finish I will cover the topic of diagnostic issues. 

The process of my autism diagnosis was fraught since I was being assessed under a criteria developed based upon the experience of white males of a certain economic background. This is the case for the diagnosis of many disorders, for which the criteria is based upon outdated research of particular demographics. How can we work to reverse this and therefore provide a smoother process for all by being represented in research? Not only that, but I found that without a diagnosis, my concerns were brushed aside as ‘just a teenager thing’. Yet the diagnostic system is not clear on what should or should not be diagnosed in teens, so my diagnoses were almost impossible to achieve, and still I was left feeling that regardless of labels I should have been validated anyway. I then found that after each diagnosis, there was a definite lack of explanation to me and guidance on my next steps. 

The end goal of psychiatry shouldn’t be diagnosis; all aspects of a person should be taken into account; those receiving such should be provided with clear understanding and guidance. Diagnosis also raises the issue of stigma in society – we are still afraid of labels, and yet invalidated without them. As already shown, mental health problems are so prevalent in our society that the very idea of them being a ‘disorder’ is arguably wrong and very damaging, causing divides where there needs to be acceptance and compassion. What can we do about this? There is a clear gap in the understanding around mental health that needs to be closed, which again brings me to the topic of education, and a supportive system at all levels so that the patient feels their individual needs are being heard and the preventable outcomes do not occur. Could research and community schemes help to bridge this gap? 

From my Instagram survey:

-’They don’t do enough for people who have only recently been diagnosed with mental health and therefore it allows their mental health to get worse’

-’It’s important because young people’s lives are being ruined by lack of access and explanations’

– ‘STOP TELLING PEOPLE IT’S JUST HORMONES/ A TEEN THING it’s not helping anyone!’

Mr Holloway I thank you deeply for taking the time to read this email. I hope that you will understand the importance of what I am writing about and receive these points with an open mind. I look forward to receiving your reply. You are a leader, and I trust that there is the possibility for tangible change in opening discourse with you. In conclusion:

  • How can we improve communication across the mental health system and other sectors? 
  • How can we use funding to improve the system?
  • How can we address individual needs?
  • How can we address the intersections of this issue to create a better society?
  • How can we improve the mental health system in conjunction with improving the educational system?
  • How can research help to overcome issues, and how do we ensure action is taken from it?
  • How do we overcome issues with diagnosis and stigma?
  • What can you do to lead this change?

If you would like me to clarify any points or forward my sources please do not hesitate to ask, 

Kind Regards, 

Millicent

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 Advocacy, Mental Health

Funding Mental Health – An Introductory Question

Today’s post is inspired by @jcss.c (insta)

I’ve spoken about funding for mental health systems here before, but I wanted to write a bit about what we want to fund. The mental health system as it is is flawed – I am certain of this – and while extra funding is needed and would help, it won’t fix everything. That is whey when I talk about improving the mental health system I use the word reform.

When we talk about funding the system we need to consider what we are funding. Do we want to pump money into a fundamentally broken system (because it’s been getting worse for quite a while) or do we want to use that money to reform the way the system works, promote independent person led treatment, and then provide resources to help make that happen? 

Here’s some examples of areas that need to be changed: 

  • fatphobia within ED (eating disorder) treatment. That means not having to be under a certain weight to be validated, the mental side of an eating disorder taking precedent, and providing space for people who don’t fit the ‘typical’ ED profile you might expect 
  • Medical racism. This needs to be tackled at all levels and in all areas of society – they all influence each other
  • Inability for medical practitioners to see individuals rather than symptoms. The individual patient matters; they should have a say in their own treatment; all of who they are should be recognised and celebrated. There’s a difference between having to tick boxes and refusing to see anything outside of those boxes 
  • Inappropriate medication/ sedation in inpatient. There should be more resources and a better system of action that doesn’t lead to drugs so quickly, especially if that is against the patient’s wishes 
  • Criminalisation & lack of human respect for people with substance use issues. 
  • Staff who always validate the experience of the patient, don’t rush patients through, tell them they’re not ‘bad enough’, aren’t rude, aren’t tired etc etc etc 
  • Voluntary treatment truly being voluntary. Rather than ‘admit yourself or we’ll section you’ (which happens far too much) 
  • Language changes. Being labelled as compliant or non-compliant, for example, and threatened with no help at all or penalties on freedom in inpatient, when in reality the reasons behind each person’s choice should be explored and respected. They should be helped to be motivated, and if the treatment isn’t working for them, there should be other options 
  • Space for alternative treatments. For example art therapy, drama therapy, animal therapy – just using other methods to get through to patients can be pivotal in their treatment. There should be the ability for this to happen on a wide scale 
  • Recognition of the wider factors impacting and maintaining mental health. Such as money, identity etc

There’s so much more I could discuss and it’s not like I’ve studied this for years, so this is just the opinion I have developed, but I know I am not alone in this. I’d also like to say that I respect any professionals that want to make a difference for someone struggling with their mental health, but I recognise that in such a strange system, it’s often hard for them to do so, and after time that motivation may just disappear. 

If anyone wants to add anything, please comment below, would love to have a discussion on this topic.

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Lessons from Bipolar

I have struggled, and continue to struggle, with my mental health for quite a few years. At first it felt like I was going insane all on my own – a very isolating experience. Slowly, I am learning to manage my mental health, understand myself, and vocalise my experience; it would be untrue to say that receiving the diagnosis of cyclothymia (a subtype of bipolar disorder) did not aid facilitate this. As I continue to battle with my mind, I’ve realised that being in opposition to the reality of my experience does nothing to help me. I am learning to embrace and accept this part of me, and to change my attitudes towards my challenges. Now I try to – though is is difficult – find positivity and gratitude for what I go through; one way I do this is by reflecting on the lessons I have learnt along the way while dealing with this disorder.

So here are some of the lessons I embrace from bipolar: 

First and foremost, there is always good in the bad, even if we can’t see it at the time. Along these lines, when I felt that I had lost myself (as I frequently did) I was actually growing the most, almost like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. And the things I had struggled with most became my greatest sources of strength. Not only this, but what I have been through can actually help other people – for them to feel less alone, for me to share some small wisdom, etc. 

Looking back, I know nothing is too big or difficult for me to overcome. Nothing. I used to live in such fear of the next episode or the next ‘thing’, but each time I survived, and came out stronger – if a bit exhausted. It may take a while, but I will find my path; just because there are bumps along the road doesn’t mean the road has ended, sometimes the bumps make the end result so much more worthwhile. 

Nonetheless, I couldn’t do this alone. The great thing? I don’t have to. I know that now. And asking for help is a brave thing to do, not a weak thing. Anyone living with a mental illness is so strong, not weak or broken. Asking for help has led me to some of the most amazing, kindest people out there, and it was worth the time it took to find them. There are masses of people out there willing to support someone. 

Along the way I’ve made many mistakes; misdirected attempts to cope. But recovering from these (recovery: a journey) has taught me that I am more than my mistakes – I am a nuanced person and neither my slip ups nor my illness define me. The most important steps and changes I make in recovery are the little ones, because they add up and make a huge difference. One day at a time. 

However, I’ve learnt that sometimes I need to do the things I don’t want to or think I don’t have the energy to in order to help me in the long run, for this is certainly a marathon not a sprint. Still, just because I have this difficulty doesn’t mean that it’s a defect. I have learnt that I can face any challenge so long as I approach it with creativity, and from my struggles I can find inspiration. For example, turning my hypomanic experience into poetry. 

For anyone grappling with their diagnosis, keep going yet. This too shall pass, and you are not alone.

Posted in Mental Health

Creativity and Mental Health

One of my favourite ways to look after my mental health and deal with a crisis is through creativity – in many different forms. I truly believe that we all have creativity, and the beautiful thing is that it looks different for each of us, a product of our own expression, imagination and original thought. Since we all have mental health as well, it only goes to say that using creativity to look after our mental health is a viable option for all of us.

For me, writing as a way of expression, and sometimes performing what I’ve written,is a go to when I experience difficult emotions. It not only helps to distract me, but allows me to externalise my thoughts and feelings in a non harmful way. Writing, drama, and art therapy now exist as alternative forms of therapy. Many people report success using these forms; Alzheimer’s sufferers have been helped by art therapy as it can enhance communication, brain function, and social interactions – it can even trigger dormant memories and emotions! This shows how powerful the creative arts can be.

Not everyone will want to engage in full art/ drama therapy, or therapy at all, but we all deserve to look after our mental health (even if we’re feeling good in ourselves currently) and so being creative can still serve us in many ways. Maybe you would like to try picking up a pen, doodling, and just seeing what happens. Maybe writing or acting to express yourself. Perhaps you’d like to try origami as a way to focus, painting as a way to relax, or using writing prompts for a fun activity (having fun is vital for feeling good).

Flexing our creative muscle can also be really helpful in our every day lives as well – we may find it easier to balance tasks and find ways to overcome challenges. Plus if we’re using creativity to look after our mental health, we might feel better and brighter, giving us the energy and stability to get through the day.

Using creativity to approach difficult topics for us that we might find difficult to open up about otherwise – even to ourselves – can be super healing. And we can use our imaginative minds to overcome any difficulties we may face in doing so!

Looking after and facing our mental health doesn’t have to be boring or scary – life offers so much more than that.

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Another Letter to My Mental Illnesses

A version of this letter spoken to camera can be found on my Instagram @our.happy.notes

Last night I dreamt of you. And it’s hazy, in the way that memories of dreams often are, but I remember the premise. You had disappeared. I had woken up one day and you had disappeared. And whenever anyone asked me what I wanted, at a restaurant or in life, all I could reply was that I wanted you. 

You see, I used to be so afraid of you. I’m not anymore. Not like I was. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone the other way, or a different way, and now I’m obsessed with you. Maybe you’re obsessed with me. Whatever it is I know you take up far too much of my time, and the dream – well it made me think perhaps we were due another conversation.

Here we go again, aye? You just couldn’t give it a rest, could you? I mean it’s partly my fault. Or our fault. No, my fault, or – well sometimes it’s hard to separate us out really. The things you say to me, have the nerve to say to me, they are something else. Living in my thoughts, daring to breathe the air that I do, rent free – well, not anymore. I will not allow those thoughts to become my emotions and my behaviours anymore. And now I sound like a therapy book! Spitting out these promises that really mean nothing without the actions you try so very hard to impair. Screw it, that’s a good thing. It means I’m learning. And the more I learn, my friend, the less power you have. You wouldn’t believe how much the thought of that thrills me. 

Now look, ok, look, I’ve wondered for a while now, been turning it over in my mind, so I’m just going to have to come out and say it – I wonder if secretly you’re on my side. Our side. Humanities side as a whole. And don’t, because I can feel you laughing at me, and I know you’re far too vain, devilish, frankly destructive to admit it, but hear me out. The best people I have ever met are the ones you have brushed against. The strongest, and most courageous people. The kindest. What’s more, the ways you alter our brains, force us to work to move beyond you, I’ve seen first hand how that can change the world – how it revolutionises through our daring to move outside of the box. And on those occasions, many occasions really, that you happen to take those wonderful people away (you lying bastard) – it shows the rest of what needs to be changed in the world. So maybe, just maybe, you’re not all that bad. Then again, maybe it’s just our fighting spirit, the one you highlight in us. Either way, I refuse to believe that your hopelessness breeds only more darkness – my dear I will transform you into light, like I already am, and I’ll marvel at that process every step of the way. 

Tried to tell me this one was a solution didn’t you. And god I want to kick myself sometimes for being so naïve, for not seeing your tricks earlier, because I know, I know, that’s the way you work. And yet I also know it’s not too late. It’s never too late. I see the beauty in you. And I really do enjoy annoying you by saying that. Let me thank you again for all your lessons, your opportunities to grow, and this time for your chaos. From that fire I fashion creativity, hope, and… so much more. In an almost paradoxical way, the part I appreciate most in myself is you. You make everything else worthwhile. You make every other bit of me stronger. I mean, I hate you, I loathe you, I battle with you every day, and let’s not fail to mention that I am exhausted, but I am not finished yet. 

Well I don’t really have much else to say today. I guess I just wanted to check in with you. I hope you’re struggling, like I do. That would mean we’re growing. Because this is the time. This is my time.

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!