Friday, 30 January 2015

January Blues: I need help now!

So far this series has looked at identifying depression and anxiety, knowing where to get help and the types of help that are available. Mainly concentrating on depression or anxiety in relation to a life changing event and depression that you may struggle to identify a cause for. Most of the information has been in relation to the onset of the illness and relatively mild to moderate in severity.
Today I want to talk about mental health crisises. How to recognise that you are in crisis; and where you can access help.
How to recognise that you are in crisis:
A crisis can occur whether you have previously been diagnosed with depression or other mental illness such as bipolar, schitzophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Or it may well come out of the blue and you were otherwise previously healthy as the first episode of a mental illness.
MIND the charity says that Mental health crises include:
suicidal behaviour or intention
panic attacks/extreme anxiety
psychotic episodes (loss of sense of reality, hallucinations, hearing voices)
other behaviour that seems out of control or irrational and that is likely to endanger yourself or others.
In a mental health crisis help is needed more urgently. However where as the majority of us know what to do in a physical emergency most of us wouldn't know where to get help if we or someone else is in serious mental distress. And the NHS infographics, such as the one below, don't cover mental health either.
Please note the above photo mentions NHS Direct which has since been replaced by 111. You can read more about this new service below.
I know I have mentioned helplines in most of the posts in this series but that's because they have a real role to play and are recommended by doctors and mental health charities. If the crisis is a part of an ongoing problem you may already be receiving care from a crisis team (which I will talk more about in my next post) and have numbers to ring for those directly responsible for your care. However if it falls out of those contact hours or you do not currently recieve crisis care the best helpline and one that is manned 24/7 is The Samaritans. Contact them on 08457 90 90 90 
Your GP or Out of Hours
During the day you may be able to contact your GP surgery for an emergency appointment or phone call consultation. However this might not be guaranteed and you might have to wait longer than you feel you can. In which case the receptionist might be able to advise you where to go.
Outside of surgery hours you can contact your nearest out of hours service for an appointment.
I would say both above situations might be most beneficial in slightly less of a crisis, where you are worried but can wait longer. For example you might have self harmed and feeling a bit calmer but still want to report it and get extra help. As long as you can stop any bleeding. If however it is more severe or you have a more serious injury or burns then seek more immediate help, such as those listed below.
Dial 111
111 is the new service that replaced NHS Direct. It is to be used in more urgent circumstances where you cannot access your GP but where the situation is not presumed life threatening. In which case of course you would ring 999. They can also inform you of what action to take and where you can access the level of help that you need based on the information that you present them with. Whether it be for yourself or if you need to take action on behalf of someone else. From there they can  make direct appointments for you or put you through to more specialist services such as A&E, out-of-hours doctors (and others depending on the case.) In some cases they can also send for an ambulance.
Ring 999
If you have seriously harmed (bleeding profusely or severe burns) yourself through self harm, injury or overdose or come across someone that is unconscious or unresponsive as a result of their actions then dial for an ambulance.
Go to A&E
Going back to those NHS info graphics they are designed to help stop unnecessary use of accident and emergency services because there are too many patients attending that could have been treated elsewhere, which in turn reduces waiting times and how quickly those in real need get treated. However like I mentioned they only cover physical health. Just like you would a physical emergency going to A&E if you are experiencing a mental health crisis is a real option and Accident and Emergency units do have policies and procedures in place for patients that present with the symptoms of a mental health crisis. In some cases if you have previously sought help from a doctor or NHS 111 they might even have told you to go to A&E. Go to A&E if you are also in need of physical treatment as a result of your mental state, such as deep self harm, injury or overdose.
There they will assess you and sometimes check for any infections that might be causing any symptoms (such as hallucinations) through a blood test and urine test. As well as treating any physical symptoms if you have any. If you're symptoms are beinv made worse by the waiting room environment (which are never easy to cope with anyway) ask if you can wait somewhere quieter. In some cases they will do this automatically. They will also keep a note of your clothing and physical description for security purposes. Should anyone in severe crisis leave the department. You should also be assessed by the psychiatrist on call, alongside a mental health nurse. Unfortunately crisis care at A&E can vary. Sometimes depending on how busy they are. I always used the same one but the experience differed on each ocassion. Ideally you should be treated as stated above. Put in a safe place and treated with compassion and understanding. You can be waiting a long time too to see a psychistrist depending on the time of day and how much other work they have with inpatients etc. But know that you are entitled to be assessed by a psychiatrist and that you have every right to be there. Even if you have no physical injury. Knowing your rights and where to get the help you need is really important

I remember during the times that I was in crisis and although the thoughts to do harm were overwhelming, on most occasions there was also a real fear. I was just so scared of these feelings. Personally, I saw that fear as a ray of hope, which might sound strange, but I kept telling myself that as long as that fear was there it meant that a part of me was fighting back; saying get yourself some help, get yourself 'somewhere' safe. However I also know that that fear also escalated those feelings of anxiety making my symptoms even worse. Panicking that I would totally lose control. But I am glad that through that I could say "I need help, now!" In hindsight I can see that the really scary times were those of total clarity and intention. The actual planning of 'I am going to harm myself.'
If you ever feel like that or come across someone that does then I hope this post has helped inform you of what you can do.
In my next post I'll talk about what care options are available for more severe cases.

Monday, 26 January 2015

January Blues: What help is available?

In my previous post on where to get help if you think you may have depression I referred to a questionnaire that your GP should supply you in order to form an assessment of how much depression is affecting you. You can see an online copy of the questionnaire here  It is important that you fill it out honestly and that you can provide as much other information as possible in order for your GP to suggest treatments they feel will most help you.
Possible Treatments
See how it goes:
If your depression is relatively mild then after your initial talk with your GP you may feel a bit more empowered and much lighter for having got things off your chest. If this is the case then make a follow up appointment for a week or two to see if this continues. But remember if you continue to feel worse then go back to see them sooner. Furthermore speak to someone that you can trust and open up to regularly. Also remember if you are feeling at the end of your tether with it all then seeing how it goes might to you sound like a cop out. In which case work with your doctor to come up with a more proactive care plan.
Self care:
Your GP may also write you a book prescription for a self help book about depression/ anxiety that they recommend. You simply take the prescription to your local library and they get a copy of that book for you to lend for a few weeks. It doesn't matter if you are a member of that library or not. You may find it difficult at times to  concentrate but take it bit by bit. Alternatively they could recommend good websites to use that have detailed and useful information. Sometimes just knowing you are being that bit more pro active can lift your mood slightly.
Other tips that may help you is to try and see a bit more day light and get more fresh air. To do gentle excercise. Eat more healthy foods. Even just pampering yourself a bit. Having a bubble bath, putting on a face mask or painting your nails. Listening to your favourite songs or watching your favourite tv show or film. Many a counsellor will tell you to avoid the news and soap operas as they can often make you feel worse. They might sound trivial but they can work to help boost your self esteem and also as a distraction technique, to prevent you thinking as much about your troubles. I would also recommend keeping a diary to help you rate your mood and to notice if anything helps to improve your mood. Even if you simply write:
Mood before activity (going for a walk):
Mood after activity:
Assigning your mood a number. 1 being the lowest mood imagineable and 10 being the best mood.
Talking Therapy:
As mentioned in my former post counselling is one of the most recommended forms of treatment available for all kinds of patient and problems. It can help you to gain perspective and to make you feel that you are not alone in dealing with your emotions, feelings and problems. You may benefit from talking to a friend or family member however the added advantage of receiving counselling is that you can talk to someone who is trained to listen and have specific advice to help you cope with this difficult time. Plus, because they don't know you they do not have any preconceptions of you nor pass any judgement. Usually counselling is one on one but there is also the options of relationship counselling, family counselling and group therapy depending on your needs. I spoke in more detail on what types of counselling are available and where you can find counselling that is right for you in my previous post (linked above).
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Or CBT as it is known, whilst controversial for it's choice as a treatment for physical illnesses, can be an effective treatment for mental health problems. It may be used alongside counselling or often combined with it in each session. It is a way of analysising the way in which you think about things and how we form patterns of thought. It looks at ways to prevent some thought patterns that lead to feelings of depression and anxiety from occurring.
For example I found CBT extremely useful in helping me to stop negative thoughts from escalating into depression or anxiety and panic and each time it did I would automatically think about self harming. So through using CBT in my counselling sessions and other help I recieved I was able to identify triggers to these feelings and with time learn to rechannel those thoughts. And I can honestly say now, 5 years later I'm still very grateful for each time I can feel down in the dumps or alone etc etc and not have thoughts of self harm. So I think this is a good treatment for anyone that as a consequence of their feelings wants to harm themselves (or others) in anyway be it through cutting to starving yourself. Obviously the greater the feeling to do harm is CBT may only be part of a treatment plan and combined with other treatments.
It is also a good treatment for anyone that is having real difficulty in coping with change in their lives. Be it feeling lost after retiring to having to cope with being diagnosed with a long term illness. It won't improve the symptoms of a physical illness but it may help you to have the strength to adjust to having your life uprouted. For example if you feel that as a result of your illness that your life no longer has meaning. In some ways I think had I not learned to have greater control of my thoughts (even though it was a while before being diagnosed with M.E) I would struggle more emotionally and be at greater risk or relapasing into depression.
Many people have opposing views on the use of medications such as antidepressants and benzodiapozines (such as xanax and diazapam) to treat depression or anxiety. Some will say they disliked them, that they gave them a false sense of reality and simply masked their emotions; leaving the feelings unresolved and likely to return. While others, myself included, will say that they were a big help in winning back the emotional fight. That they help calm things down so that you can deal with the emotions and any triggers that you identify through talking therapies. Either way using talking therapies too will allow you to deal with any triggers to the way you are feeling that antidepressants alone can't solve. Of course it is entirely your own choice if you want to go down that route. And I do not wish to influence anyones choice as everyone is different.
It's a decision that should be made solely between you and your doctor. You might be worried that by taking antidepressants your problems seem to be much more frightening. A kind of "well I must be really bad if I need loony pills". Or you may be scared in case someone sees you taking this medication and will therefore associate you with being mad. Another fear may be that you are worried about the side effects, which some patients may experience. However each patient will react in different ways. The same goes with fear of the withdrawal process, which can cause it's own problems. It can be helpful to reassure yourself that it is your body readjusting to less chemicals and not be filled with fear that you are adjusting. Be sure to thoroughly discuss likely side effects with your doctor so that you can be fully aware of what to expect. And when the time comes that you feel you could cope without them your doctor will advise you on how to do so gradually and safely. But be aware that it may take some time. It could even be years in some cases (I'm still on a low dosage, 5 years later.) And if you want to make the decision about proceeding with medication at a later date then it's up to you.
Types of medication
There are several types of antidepressants. However they are all designed to act on the same brain chemicals. I won't go in to chemical speak but basically they work on prolonging serotonin, the chemical associated with good mood, as people suffering from depression can have low levels. These are known as SSRIs. More modern antidepressants also work on norepinephrine another chemical that is responsible for energy and alertness. These are known as SNRIs. These may also have less side effects.
Tricyclic and tricyclic-related antidepressants were invented in the 1950s and work by prolonging the action of seratonin as well as noradrenaline in the brain. These can cause a few more side effects.
There are also Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) however these are less common, mainly after other types of antidepressants have been tried and are only prescribed by specialists.
Benzodiazepines are sometimes used to help manage anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorders and sometimes during alcohol withdrawal. They work on the chemical in the brain that helps us to feel calm and to help the cells pass on the message that we are not in any danger, that has been triggered with an anxiety or panic attack. However they will only ever be prescribed for short term use due to their association with addiction.Also because they do not help with the route cause of anxiety nor help you to feel better in the long term. They're only effective for a short time when your body is at peak distress. Other treatments such as counselling, CBT or antidepressants will be recommended as more effective ways to stop the anxiety from building and help you cope more long term.
Other Treatments
Arts therapies
Arts therapy is a less intrusive more complimentary treatment. And is designed to allow people that have difficulty in expressing their feelings to do so in a different way. It is often used when treating children, for example to help them come to terms with grief or divorce. It can be useful with this age group due to them not having the learned the right words to express how they feel or how to process the new information. But can also be effective for people of any age. Different art forms such as   music, art, dance or drama can be utilised to help the sufferer to express their feelings in a way that does not feel like therapy. Each session will be run by a trained therapist who will help you to interpret your work and be there if you want to talk about the emotions it has conjured up. Your GP, specialist, counsellor or local MIND centre should be able to tell you where you you can locally access this kind of therapy.

Alternative medicine
Depending on your beliefs you may wish to try alternative medicine or treatment. It will also depend on the GP that you are with what information they have about this. Some way have recommendations and others won't because it doesn't necessarily fall within their remit. However like with anything you undertake be sure to know how it will impact you and whether it will interfere with any medication you take. Just because something is natural or alternative does not mean it won't give you side effects (again it differs with each case). I would recommend that anything you do try you disclose to your doctor as a way to regulate how the treatment is going. Also remember that you will need to pay for any medication or treatment yourself.
The treatments I have mentioned here are for relatively moderate depression or anxiety. If your condition becomes worse or you become more at risk of doing harm to yourself then there are further options available. Also if you are diagnosed with another type of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, paranoid schitzophrenia or Obsessive Compulsuve Disorder then more specialized help is available. But in the most instances most depression or anxiety patients will be treated with one or a combination of the above treatments and will find them effective. And if any time you feel you are getting worse or experience nasty side effects then be sure to get back to your doctor as soon as you can.
Of course what is important to remember is there are no quick fixes, getting better will take time. And that may be incredibley frustrating at times. Try to have patience and think that each day is a step in the right direction. Think of it like a physical illness or injury if needs be. If you broke your leg or had appendicitis you would need at least 6 weeks to be heeled again. Having a mental health problem is no less real and the mind is a much more complex place.
* The information contained within this blog post is for self education purposes and should only be used in conjunction with that of a doctor that understands your personal circumstances.  All information in this blog post has been researched from MIND's website and the NHS website. With some personal experience. Please note that every patient is different  and all medical choices are best decided between you and your medical professional. I do not wish to influence anyone's choices, as it is down to each individual. This post only stands to point out what help is available out there.

Monday, 19 January 2015

January Blues: Where can I get help?

Firstly I want to say a very big thank you for all the comments and support I've received so far about this mini series. I'm glad many of you have appreciated it. This post is going to be a point of reference of sorts, should you ever need the information. Actually the post was getting so long I've had to split it into a few posts. One that's more general (which is this post) and another for more of a crisis situation (which hopefully will be published soon) and a post on what treatment options are available.
When you are battling with your mental health the hardest thing it can seem to do is to ask for help. Because it can be really difficult to actually admit that there is something wrong. Especially bad enough for you to need help. And of course the thought of needing help can also fill you with fear. Thinking that if you actually told someone what you are feeling then they may think you're crazy, mental or those horrible names nutjob or psycho. And consequently that you will be locked away and sectioned under the mental health act. However in reality this is very rarely the case.And what you are experiencing is something many others are also going through. 1 in 4 people will experience some kind mental health problem at any one time. So try to reassure your self that you will not be locked away.
However when you feel like that asking for help is the biggest step you can take. You may have had people telling you that you need help for some time. And perhaps you dismissed them. However deciding to get help needs to be very much your own want and recognition that you need that help. If you are concerned about a friend or family member there is a specific page on the MIND website for advise
But where do you turn to when you want help? Would you know? Would you know how to help someone else that is suffering or in crisis? Below I have shared some options of where to get help in the early stages.
Talk to someone- firstly you might just want to talk to a friend or family member. Think who will understand and will listen without judgement. If there have been people who have been wanting you to seek help then they might be a good place to start. As long as you feel that they will listen and genuinely care about you. It may be that that is all the support you need. Just getting things off your chest and maybe thinking up solutions with a friend can be a big help.
Talk to your GP - when you have a mental/ emotional problem you may think that going to the GP is a waste of time. That they can only help for physical problems. However, in truth GP's see a large number of people with mental health issues each day. One GP once told me (after I had said that I felt that I was wasting his time) that it was actually about 80% of his job. That being said you need the right GP. One that you feel comfortable with and one who you feel actually really listens to you. Those 2 factors are very important. So if you feel uncomfortable with a certain GP or that they haven't treated you with compassion then ask to see another GP in your surgery. Do not let a bad experience affect your right to be listened to and to get the help that you need. And if you burst out crying in there don't worry about it. They should get you to complete a questionnaire that they can use to assess how you're mental health is, you can find an online copy of it here Fill it out honestly. That way they can help you on a course of treatment that is right for you. I am preparing a separate post on what help and treatments are available.
Counselling- Counselling is one of the course of treatments that could be suggested for you. But as it is not exclusive to needing to see your GP first I wanted to mention it in this post. Counselling on the NHS can have long waiting lists due to the high amount of people that need it. The NHS are trying to put more counsellors into GP surgeries to reduce waiting times for this much needed service but wait times can still be long. Especially for a service where the sooner the better. However if you feel you cannot wait that long then there are other options available.
If you are employed then your employer may be able to get you a counsellor through occupational health. And this in no way should affect your standing at work or make you feel less employable. It is a service they can provide to look after the wellbeing of their staff. So if you are experiencing any problems, even ones that are not work related, then ask your boss if an appointment can be made for you. You don't have to tell them the reason either unless you feel you want to.
If you wish to see a private counsellor then you will need to pay.As with most service providers nowadays a simple search on Google can tell you where there are local counsellor's in your area. Along with a pinpoint to their location and contact details. I simply typed in "where can I find a counsellor?" and a list of local places came up on my phone.
The following site also has a list of directories that you can use:
Mental health charities do such a fantastic job for raising awareness of mental health issues and also offering services to help sufferers.
MIND is a mental health charity that not only is an organization that fights for the rights of those with mental illness but also has thousands of branches across the UK. Each branch offers a number of services available to each community. On the link below you can see what services they offer in your area. Some even offer free counselling, which can sometimes be accessed sooner than through your GP surgury.
Other services include:
supported housing
crisis helplines
drop-in centres
employment and training schemes befriending
You can seek lots of information about different conditions and issues surrounding mental health on their website or their infoline 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 or email 
Other charities and organizations that offer specific help for different issues or clearer groups of society are:
Calm (Campaign against living miserabley)
Free support and information for young men in the UK between the ages of 15-35
0800 585858
Women's Aid
Is a charity for women and children experiencing domestic abuse.
0808 2000 247
Cruse Bereavement Care
Offers specific support to anyone following the death of a loved one.
0844 477 9400
B-eat (Beating Eating Disorders)
Offers advise and information on eating disorders.
0845 6341414
Youth line 0845 6347650
Offers support and advise to anyone affected by brain injury.
0808 800 2244
For advise and counselling for any type of relationship and the problems that can occur within them. They have centres around the country. Visit their website for all services they offer.
0300 100 1234
Helplines and other contacts
When you are in distress phoning a helpline can be useful. Your GP or your local MIND centre will have access to local helplines. However these might have limited hours. If you are in a more desperate need to talk to someone, then The Samaritans is a 24/7 service. Their helpline is 08457 90 90 90 or if you don't feel up to using the phone you can also email them More information can also be found on their website 
In my next post I will be talking about what types of treatments are available for moderate depression and anxiety. Then a post on where to get help in more of a crisis situation.

Monday, 12 January 2015

January Blues: Why do I feel so bad?

When you feel so down and depressed or anxious and panicky it's only natural you will ask yourself "why?" Why do I feel like this? And a lot of the time the answer will be "I don't know".  Which will frustrate you all the more. It's frustrating because your logical brain is screaming "but there must be a reason!" But all you can do is cry "I don't know" some more. And this might be the case for a while.
If your symptoms are a reaction to an event, such as losing a family member or friend, a relationship breaking up or losing your job, then that can be reasoned. It's in no way easy but at least you can say "I feel this way because..." . You have a clearer idea about why you feel as you do that can be worked on to help you start to feel better.
There are many different forms of depression that can stem from an event, or time of year such as:
* postnatal depression
* grief
* post traumatic stress disorder
* seasonal affective disorder
All of which can seriously affect your mental health and are recognised conditions, that some form of treatment can be sought. I will get on to treatment in another post but know that they're is help that you can get for these conditions if they are having a more chronic affect on you.
However in many cases people can really struggle to find a logical and explainable reason that they feel so bleak. Made worse by feeling numb and empty. Really not knowing what is the matter at all. Only that you feel so hopeless and shut down and even the simplest of things like getting out of bed or getting dressed feel unachievable. And this can lead to thinking it's all your fault you feel that way or even that you deserve to feel as you do. Well, you don't. Furthermore you may feel that you must be a bad person; that you must have done something wrong. Which in all likelihood is also false. Only the darkness inside of you will have you convinced otherwise.
What can be even more difficult to comprehend is if you feel depressed at a time in your life when you are 'supposed' to feel happy. For example my own experience of feeling depressed when I graduated from university, which you can read about in my introductory post to this mini series. And another story that I often reference is that of Olympic cycling gold medalist Victoria Pendleton, who was self harming even on the night she won her Olympic gold medal; an achievement she had worked so hard for years to achieve. But the outside world only sees a projection of ourselves not all the darkness that we are struggling to ward off.
Most of the time there will be answers as to why we feel as we do, but they can be very deep set. Chances are we're reacting to something. In some cases this could be something from years back. Something that has been locked up for too long and finally needs to come out. Or in some cases (and not wanting to scare anyone) an undiagnosed illness that is affecting our neurology or hormomes. I remember during the time I was at my worst it was found that I had really high levels of prolactin, which although wasn't the main cause of my condition was certainly a factor in making it worse.
Whether you have a clear idea of what is causing your condition or really struggling to find one the best thing that you can do is to seek help. If you have friends or family that understand speak to them. But your gp is a good first point of call, and they will not find your problems trivial (well they shouldn't.) They will be able to suggest a course of action to help you find out what is causing these feelings. My next post is going to be one with more information on where to get help. But if in the mean time you require help do visit your gp or you could ring the MIND helpline on 0300 123 3393 or texr 86463.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

January Blues: Signs and Symptoms

Often our mental health can be neglected and actually it can take a long time for us to realise that something isn't quite right. Unlike our physical health where we will pick up on symptoms much sooner and take action. Where as with our mental health we will carry on as usual, trying to keep up with this fast paced world we live in. Telling ourselves it's nothing. That we need to buck up or get a grip. We haven't got time to contemplate being depressed. Likewise we don't want to be stigmatised or considered weak and incapable. Or those awful labels nut job, crazy, fruit loop. Only the more you try and brush it under the table the bigger the problem is going to get. There is a reason people say "don't bottle things up" . And it's because it's true. Or we may not start to realise something is wrong until we get physical symptoms that we might not attribute to being a consequence of our mental health. And it's usually these physical symptoms that will lead us to our doctors.
Sometimes other people, those that are closest to us, may even start to notice before us. And consequently become concerned. However the biggest step is in noticing for yourself and in actually admitting that something is not quite right. Sometimes you'll only start realising when symptoms start affecting your day to day life or again when you experience more physical symptoms.
To help you know what the signs and symptoms are the following list I refer to MIND's symptoms page, which you can see here as it's very comprehensive and they are one of the best places to go for help and advice regarding mental health.
* I am low-spirited for much of the time, every day
* I feel restless and agitated
* I get tearful easily
* I feel numb, empty and full of despair
* I feel isolated and unable to relate to other people
* I am unusually irritable or impatient
* I find no pleasure in life or things I usually enjoy
* I feel helpless
* I have lost interest in sex
* I am experiencing a sense of unreality
* I’m not doing activities I usually enjoy
* I am avoiding social events I usually enjoy
* I have cut myself off from others and can’t ask for help
* I am self-harming
* I find it difficult to speak
* I am having difficulty remembering things
* I find it hard to concentrate or make decisions
* I blame myself a lot and feel guilty about things
* I have no self-confidence or self-esteem
* I am having a lot of negative thoughts
* The future seems bleak
* What’s the point?
* I have been thinking about suicide
Physical symptoms
* I have difficulty sleeping
* I am sleeping much more than usual
* I feel tired and have no energy
* I have lost my appetite, and am losing weight
* I am eating a lot more than usual and putting on weight
* I have physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause
* I am moving very slowly
* I am using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual
People suffering from depression may also suffer from anxiety. They are both different conditions but can
Anxiety and Panic attacks
* feeling like your mind is full or busy
* having repetitive thoughts
* difficulty concentrating or remaining focused
* not wanting to go out as much
* losing interest in things you used to enjoy
* feeling self conscious
* the thought of going out or being in a crowd makes brings on physical symptoms for example sweating or feeling like you're struggling to breathe.
 You can see more of the physical symptoms associated with anxiety on the image below:
*  difficulty relaxing or getting to sleep
* headaches
* aching muscles
* sweating dizziness
* feeling as though you can't breath
* tightness in your chest
* gastric problems
* tiredness
* feeling generally unwell
If you are severely depressed: (again this information is from MIND)
Psychotic experiences
* You may start to have experiences or thoughts that others around you do not share. For example, you may hear voices, see visions, believe that you are evil, or are influencing events in a way that is harmful to others.
* You may believe that you are a bad person and you deserve to feel as you do. These are false beliefs and may be part of the depression.
Suicidal thoughts
* You may feel that life is not worth living and start thinking about ways of killing yourself.
If you would like more information you can find it on the following websites linked below. I will be doing a post on where to get help soon if you are worried about your mental health or that of a friend or relative. But if you are worried in the mean time or feeling desperate be sure to visit.
infoline 0300 123 3393
or text 86463
or email
The Samaritans
contact them on 08457 90 90 90
or email 
Or contact your local gp.
Until next time. Take care.

Monday, 5 January 2015

January Blues (a mini series)

I have said it a few times in posts but I'm going to say it again I'M HAPPY! In spite of being chronically ill I really am. But there was a time when I wasn't. Really wasn't infact. At the time what was hard to comprehend was the fact that it was a time where I should have been really happy. And there are times when I fear I'll go back there.
To start off this series of posts on mental health issues I thought where better to begin than my own story. I have posted a few times about my past struggles with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and self harm but I want to reitterate some of it for the purposes of this series, to show that this topic actually means a lot to me. It's something that I will carry around with me for the rest of my life. And I'm not the only one. Mental illness of some kind affects 1 in 4 people at any time. Yet how often is it talked about? So let's start talking...

Look at the photo above. What do you see? A young woman on her graduation day. One of the biggest achievements of her life. Well sometimes photographs can be deceiving. I really wasn't sure at the time if I could even attend the gradution ceremony. Wasn't sure I wanted to. Because behind that photo was a woman who was fighting a battle against her own head. A scared shadow of myself and all that that photo should represent. Take off the layers of concealer and you'll see eyes puffy from constant tears. Look at that hair, only clean because my Mum had to wash it for me as I shook so much. Peel back those sleaves and you'll see the fresh cuts and the healing scabs that begged to be itched and scratched. The bare legs that my Mum helped do with an electric razor to stop my brain from feeling temptation.
So no I've not always been happy. I've suffered a few bouts of depression and anxiety since the age of 14. However the period after I left university and graduating was certainly the worst. It's a place I never want to be again. Sometimes I feel that I am running scared from mental illness hoping it will never catch me again. Unfortunately I can't guarantee that. However I'm extremely grateful for every day I have where I'm not battling my own mind. I'm lucky I learnt to control it. Luckily the physical scars are not too visible but the emotional ones will last far longer. I will never forget that time. 
I try to use that experience as a way to try and remain positive now, to be more grateful for what having a healthy mind means. Sometimes I even say to myself that if I can get through that then I can get through anything. Within reason of course. That has been tested a few times during turbulent flights. And of course regularly gets tested during particularly bad health flares or relapses. What's more I've learnt that mental health needs to be talked about more. That it's all too taboo and hush hush, which considering how common it is is ridiculous. And so I try to talk about it when I can in a bid to raise awareness. 
To go back to the graduation photograph to the outside world no one would have guessed what was going on in my head. And it's the same for millions of people. Sometimes though it's important to see behind those masks. To say actually my mental health problem is more real than what my photograph documents. And if I can help just one other person by blogging about my personal experiences and by doing this January Blues series then that's something positive.
If you have any suggestions for topics or conditions that you would like to see covered in this blog series then please do leave a comment. Likewise if you would like to share your story through a guest blog post. To any of you that are suffering or if you know someone that is then I hope this series will help somewhat. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Memory Jar

So here we are; at the beginning of a new year. A time when we all get reflective, thinking back on the year that has passed, and often boldly claim that next year is going to be better. 

If only we had such control. If there is one thing life has taught me it is that we cannot control it all of the time. Life happens. And if you'll excuse me... shit happens. Living with a chronic illness this is often one of the hardest things to come to terms with. But what life has also taught me is that we can to some extent control how we deal with life and the things it throws at us. 
Having lived with a chronic illness since the age of 14 and with M.E for nearly 4 years now I have always tried to be as positive as possible. And when I could to make things happen for myself. But at the end of last year I pledged that I would actively appreciate life. I thoroughly accepted that life can be hard and that overall the situation I am in being chronically ill is one that can easily make you despair. However that's no way to live your life. A quote that I try to live by is...
So to help me do this. Last year I did a memory jar. A memory jar is where you write down any good/ lovely/ amazing/ funny things that happen. Whether it's an achievement; something funny your child says; a nice day out; a great quote; tickets to events you've been too; cards or letters you receive. Then you place them inside the jar and at the end of the year you open it and read through them all. You can use any jar or box and of you like to be crafty decorate it how you wish. Or get your children to decorate it so it's extra special.
My Memory Jar
Personally I use a cookie jar in the shape of a house. I'd like to think that it's a symbol of housing my memories but actually it was just something that happened. I read through all of my notes on New Years Eve and it made me feel really appreciative of what I have done this year. Some of my highlights were:
* Welcoming twins (a boy and girl) into the family. My heart melts every time I see them.
* Going on holiday
* Organizing Team Princess and raising over £4000 for charity as well as much needed awareness
* Going to watch Pasha from Strictly Come Dancing and meeting him afterwards
* Meeting up with a friend I had met online, Ali and her family and our friendship growing stronger
* Having a lovely birthday party with family
* Some lovely "spa days" (it's in brackets as wasn't whole day
* Making more friends 
I've even learnt a new skill in learning to make jewellery and have enjoyed being able to make pieces for friends, family and even for charity.
Then their were smaller achievements, that actually for me were quite big considering my health. Like:
* Making a cup of tea/ food
* Getting downstairs for 4 days in a row
* Leaving the house
In a year in which my health has got worse and I've seen the house fill with more mobility aids and adaptations, being able to see what I have achieved written down. It's about living life one day at a time and not generalizing a year. Because if you classify your time into years chances are you'll focus mostly on the negative. 
I would recommend starting a memory jar to anyone. Too often we can forget about things that have happened that at the time made you really happy. Whether they get swept away with the busyness of life or totally overridden by a sad event that happens that year. It's about learning to live in the moment or one day at a time and not generalizing a whole year all together. Because if you classify your time into years chances are you'll focus mostly on the negative. And yes sadly there are years that are going to be worse than others, and you may spend a lot of the year feeling sad. However in general if you live life from day to day you can learn to say 'well today was not good, but hopefully tomorrow will be better.' One quote that I like to bear in mind during the roughest of days, and one I have passed on to a few friends when they have been struggling is: 
Or a funnier version is this one:

So although we cannot always have control there are little ways in which we can try to live a more positive life. To appreciate the things that are good. And learn to think more objectively about the things that you can and cannot control. 

I look back on that list above and through all the notes that were in my memory jar and I'm amazed. I've achieved so much. The bigger achievements have required better health and a lot of rest and recovery time but there are things that I've also managed when I was stuck in my room, like making jewellery and raising money for charity. It makes me think how great that list would be if my health was better.  So, just think how fantastic your list could be? What's particularly important to me is that I'm happy and as someone that has struggled and can feel that they are trying to stay a step ahead of mental health problems that to me is priceless.

I now keep all the notes from 2014 in a box as a keepsake, as shown below:

So now to start on filling my 2015 jar. I'm also going to try make more notes in my diary to see daily achievements and track my progress. 

Will any of you be starting memory jars?

Sian x

* For the rest of the month I'm going to be blogging about mental health and then in February I'll be blogging about some more ideas on ways to promote more positivity. So if a memory jar doesn't sound like your cup of tea you might find something else then that does. *

Friday, 2 January 2015

My 2014 book picks

Hi everyone. I hope you have all enjoyed the festivities. At this time of year curling up with a good book is just even more of a treat. Well I say that but I do love to read at any time, especially if it involves a sun lounger. Back in January I wrote a post about my favourite books of 2013 so I thought I would do one for my 2014 faves too. They aren't all necessarily books that were released in 2014 but are ones that I have read throughout the year. There's a mixture of  genres too. And I won't give too much away as that's a pet hate.

Chick lit

An easy to read chick lit book but that wasn't too predictable and had laugh out loud moments. Great for something light to read but that isn't run of the mill.

.....and the whole shopaholic series. Being a fan of Confessions of a shopaholic the film I can't believe I've only read the series of books this year. And for all that I love the film and still do even after reading the book (because that doesn't happen often) I have to say I love the books even more. Why? Because they're way more Becky and Becky is just hilarious. Reading these in the Greek sunshine was divine.

Another, not your average chick lit read that makes you want to travel to India and have an adventure all of your own.


In an instance our lives can change forever. This book has you constantly questioning which version of the story is true and how a significant event can fracture our lives, braking it up into what was and what could have been. 

It took me a while to muster the strength to read this book. I think it's because it tackles something we will all at some time wonder. That of where do we go when we die? Do we really look over our loved ones. But actually I'm really glad I read this in the end. Although tragic it's also hertfelt and beautiful.

Jojo Moyes makes my list again. How could she not? She sure knows how to tell a story. I like how she writes from the perspective of all her characters to add even more depth. What is great about this book too is that the characters are very real with real problems making them all the more relatable.

And another Jojo Moyes book to add into the mix. This book really captured my heart. It's historically interesting, set at the end of the Second World War. And you really feel as though you are taking a journey with all these young brides. And although it's a romance novel I think the history and again the multi perspectives of both male and female characters makes it a great read for anyone. I passed it on to my Dad who used to be in the Merchant Navy and he seemed to enjoy it too. 

This book had me laughing out loud. Don is just so hilarious and all without meaning to be. He reminded me of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Join this unlikely romantic hero as he faces the challenges of the world with Aspergers. Not that he knows it.


I've not read any classics that have had that much of an impact on me this year. I've pushed myself through reading Dracula and Anna Karenina but both felt like a chore. More of a now I can say I have read them. Which was probably a waste.

However I did read this contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice, which I did enjoy. It's told from the perspective of the servants at the Bennet house, Longbourn. Offering a different perspective to a much loved and familiar story.


The books that had be gripped and I would recommend to any fiction fans.

Dan Brown sure knows how to get you believing his stories are real. They are so well researched and packed with facts that the story and reality are interweaved. You literally question why you didn't see it on the news today. This book also makes you question your own morals and the way we think about the world. And there is no clear cut definition between what is right and what is wrong.  It really is an epic read.

The books that became films

This book was one of those just one more chapter reads. It's so gripping from the very outset. It will be interesting to see how the film compares. I think sometimes when they cast big stars in these films it can sometimes lose the impact as you know them from so many other films.

I read this a few months ago and was charmed. Again it's a story set during the Second World War but told from a completely different perspective. Over the Christmas holidays I recently watched the film and have to say I liked it just as much as the book. 

I feel I need to mention this. It has had such an impact on so many readers this year. And let's face it a story about two teenagers dying of cancer and falling in love is a storyline that you'd have to be cold hearted not to be affected by. On a personal level this book affected me because although I don't have cancer I still live with a chronic illness and face similar issues. I think this book will open peoples eyes to what it's like to try and live without being defined by your illness. No we're not all heroes. Or brave. What we want more than anything is to be normal. I've not watched the film yet but I have a feeling it will probably make me blub.

Non Fiction

When you see that Ruby Wax has written a book it's likely you'll think it will be comedic. Yet here is a book that's hard hitting, non fictional and full of knowledge. Did you know she actually went to Harvard to study psychology? Telling them although she was not their usual applicant that she would work harder than anyone because she wanted to understand and educate herself about the mind and the mental health issues that had plagued her. And this book is about that journey. As well as helping others to understand how the mind works in a way that's easy to understand and comical at times in a way that's pure Ruby Wax. I really enjoyed reading this. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in psychology or have mental health issues of their own. It's fascinating.

You can take a look at what else I've been reading this year on Goodreads. In all I've read 70 books this year, which is very good going. I'll be creating a bookshelf on Goodreads for my 2015 reads too.

What were your favourite reads this year? Did you like any of my recommendations?

Sian x

Thursday, 1 January 2015

2014: The year of good friends

Just a quick post today, on this the last day of 2014, or it was when I started this post, and it's now the first day of the new year. I hope that you all enjoyed the holidays and wish you all the best for the New Year. 

If I could sum up this year in one word it would have to be 'friendship'. Okay that's not a descriptive word but it's one that encapsulates my year as a whole. When I look back on 2014 it is with happiness that I have come to be friends with some truly lovely people; who I feel honoured to call my friends. 

On New Years Eve 2013 I decided to let go of a 'friendship' that was dragging me down. In fact it was making me more ill. Part of me was scared as I had been used to turning to these people for comfort. They were probably my closest friends. However I soon realised their friendship actually more than anything made me feel needed. That actually it was me who was putting in all the effort and always to be there when they had problems. And of course being chronically ill you're limited enough as it is. I think my logic was 'if these people who I do a lot for do not treat me as friends should then what hope is there?' So in a way although I knew they weren't good for me I still felt scared to let them go.

Well turns out a lot of hope. By the time I was coming to this decision I had already began to get to know people in the online chronic illness community. Talking regularly to some of them; and not just about our illness either. Here were people that despite having plenty on their own plate would also take time for you too. To ask how you were. To cheer you on when you achieved something. People that understood that getting downstairs or having a shower were big achievements not mundane 'well I do that every day... what are you so excited about?' things. I'd even received cards and little gifts, which I found so increcibley thoughtful.

Of course you're not going to get on with everyone you come across, whether they have the same illness or not. That's just a fact of life. You won't share the same interests, same sense of humour. You might just simply clash. 

However this year the friendships I have made that I know are completely genuine and have come to treasure has been the most welcome gift. I know I'm never truly alone. I know people will be there for me when I need them and will celebrate with me when I achieve something. My wall is covered in cards. My hands ached from writing many christmas cards. And I feel truly blessed.
And in return I do my best by them, listen when they need to talk, offer them support when times are tough, celebrate their achievements and feel proud of them, and make them laugh. These friendships are no less real because of where you met. 

When I looked through my memory jar, which I will do a post on very soon, a lot of the memories involved these friendships. Many of us became closer when we teamed up to raise money for charity for ME awareness day. Together we raised over £4000, which considering we raised that from our sick beds felt like even more of an achievement. Another was getting to meet one of the friends
I've made online. It felt as though we had been friends for years. Certainly not like we were meeting for the first time.

Hopefully we'll have the chance to meet up more in the new year and share plenty more laughs. I hope to meet some others too, health allowing.  
Sadly two of my online friends passed away last year and although I had not met either of them their passing still really upset me, as it did many others. Regardless of whether we had met or not, we still spoke as often as we could; cheered eachother on, offered support. Exactly like any other friendship; only our circumsatances meant that we did most of our socialsing online. I have spoken more about this in this post. And I feel thankful that I got to know them.

So here's to all the people that have made 2014 a brighter place. Who have supported me through the rough times, cheered with me when I managed to leave the house and given me some good giggles.