Reflections on Winter Mental Health: by Eleanor

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(image: Undepress)

I’m in a time in my life right now where I am finding things hard, which includes public speaking about my book. I have come to the conclusion that however painful that is, I can still do my freelance writing and social media work and I can still communicate with my book and blog readers. So all is not lost.

Public speaking induces fear in me, so I am going to start by making some videos when I feel able and sharing online. I also hope to be supporting my Dad at a talk he is giving on our story with bipolar this weekend, more on that after the event.

I am going through a period of depression at the moment (probably part of my bipolar, the winter and long nights/dark days and a reaction to life circumstances). As I am medicated, its not terrible, but I do experience heightened anxiety. I also freeze in fear and going out can sometimes be a challenge. The book was a blessing but I didn’t realise how exposed I would feel sharing it with the world.

This will get easier and I know how lucky I am to have a warm home, food on the table, a husband and family who love me and some very good friends. My sister has been my personal cheerleader too and we are helpful to each other too- she is wonderful.

I am now 9 weeks into therapy and I feel like its going to take a while to deal with all the trauma I have been through. Last week, I made a timeline of events for my therapist and we ranked traumas in order of how painful they are. Eventually, in the new year, we will start to process them in a safe space. EMDR (rapid eye processing) works in this way and will hopefully clear the blockages, fear and pain away so I can thrive again.

I am learning to be kinder to myself. To take time for me. To take breaks. To try not to feel guilty or selfish for working part time from home- I am learning that depression and anxiety are difficult but I am incredibly grateful for my blessings.

There are good things. My book being featured in Happiful Magazine this week and looking forward to Chanukah, Robs birthday and the Christmas break with family/friends. I also continue to be paid to write from home and am working on future plans. However, I am slowing down in order to recover from a very busy year!

How are you feeling this Winter? What helps you?

Eleanor x

 

 

 

 

Taking care of your child’s mental health: Guest blog by Chloe Walker

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(image: Power of Positivity)

Mental health is extremely important and has a significant impact on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. According to a recent survey by the NHS, one in eight 5 to 19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed. As a parent, you play a crucial role in your child’s mental health. Fortunately, you can help improve your child’s mental health by creating a supportive family environment at home and learning the early warning signs of common mental health disorders, for example. With this in mind, here are some top ways to care for your child’s mental health. 

Develop a good bedtime routine 

Sleep plays a vital role in a child’s mental health. Research shows that there is a strong link between sleep problems and an increased risk of developing certain mental illnesses. In fact, one study found that four-year olds with sleep disorders have a much higher risk of developing symptoms of mental health conditions as six-year olds, when compared with children without sleep problems. Experts at Little Lucy Willow add – “Sleep keeps you calm, your mind alert, and recharges your body to enable you to get up and face each day.” For that reason, you must try and get your child into a good bedtime routine from a young age. Here are some top tips to help your child sleep better:

  • Create an ideal sleeping space by providing a comfortable bed, installing blackout curtains, and minimising any outdoor noise. 
  • Encourage your child not to use electronics like smartphones before bed. 
  • Get your child into a consistent routine where they go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Try to keep this the same on school days and weekends. 
  • Make sure that your child avoids any caffeine in the afternoon or evenings. 
  • Visit your GP if your child has been experiencing sleep problems for more than two weeks, or if the symptoms are interfering with their daily life. 

Exercise as a family 

Exercise plays an important role in a child’s overall health. Along with the physical benefits, regular exercise can greatly improve mental wellbeing. This is because physical activity releases endorphins in the brain which creates feelings of happiness and alleviates stress and anxiety. According to advice on the NHS website, children should get at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.

To give you an idea, examples of moderate intensity exercise include walking to school, riding a bicycle, and playground activities. Exercising as a family is an excellent way to encourage your child to be active. It also allows you to spend quality time together as a family and build closer bonds. Playing games in the garden, going for a walk in the park, or going on a bike ride, are all fun ways to exercise together as a family. You could also encourage your child to start playing a team sport they’re interested in, such as football, rugby, or hockey. 

Encourage open communication

You must create a welcoming family environment that is built around trust and understanding. This will help your child feel comfortable telling you about any issues surrounding their mental health. Encourage open communication in your family and make sure you check on your child if you notice any changes in their behaviour i.e. they become distant or their eating habits change.

Remember that children tell people how they are feeling in several ways, not always verbally. A sudden change in behaviour may signal that your child is struggling and needs support. Always listen to your child and empathise with their feelings. Let them know that it’s natural to feel down from time to time and offer support in any way you can.

If you’re still worried about your child’s mental health, then speak with your GP or contact a mental health specialist for further advice. 

Final thoughts 

Mental health illnesses in children are becoming increasingly common and can lead to several serious long-term effects. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for you to care for your child’s mental health. Encouraging healthy habits is a simple yet effective way to improve your child’s mental well-being. This should include exercising regularly, getting enough quality sleep, and following a nutritious diet. Along with this, you should also educate yourself on the symptoms of common mental health conditions in children and create a warm, trusting home environment that encourages open communication. Speak to a medical professional if you need to.

This guest blog was written by professional writer Chloe Walker.

 

6 Tips to lift you out of the slump of Seasonal Depression: Guest blog by Anita

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(Image: Pixabay)

If you are feeling the pinch of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you don’t have to wait until next spring to get relief. There are several things most people can do to improve their mood and shake off seasonal depression. Check with your doctor about any of the following that may be a change in pace from your usual routine.

Take a Walk

Basic exercise like walking, biking, or swimming is not only good for people physically, but also helps to lift their spirits. Typically it works by improving circulation, getting the body in motion, and connecting them with the gym or the outdoors, all of which can improve the brain’s function and help to enhance your mood, reducing stress.

Listen to Positive Things

Being around good-natured people can also make you feel better. Anything that lifts you up and makes you feel good, even momentarily, is perfect to listen too. Enjoy music with positive lyrics and an energising beat. View comedy films and television programmes.

You might also want to listen to motivational things. Lectures on self-confidence and self-empowerment can help you learn ways to get to and keep yourself in a better mood. If you’re on the go, try listening to positive podcasts with inspirational or motivational messages. Continuous exposure to these will encourage ideas that can influence your mood and help you feel better.

Eating Healthily

With your doctor’s approval, follow an eating plan that will make you feel good as well as look good. Typically this involves three regular meals daily that total about 2,000 calories or however many your doctor recommends as well as a balanced approach with foods from all five basic food groups: dairy, grains, protein, vegetables and fruits, and healthy fats, unless your doctor stipulates otherwise. Avoid eating too much sugar, caffeine, and salt; eaten in large amounts, they may raise your blood pressure or cause bodily inflammation, which may negatively impact your mood.

Get Enough Sleep

Experts generally recommend getting between seven and eight hours of sleep each night, or sometimes as many as nine hours. If you are unable to get that much rest, take short afternoon naps of about thirty to forty-five minutes. Inadequate sleep can contribute to depression, while getting enough rest can help you to feel your best.

Try a New Hobby

When you feel down, sometimes it just means that you’ve fallen into a rut of routine, so try something new if you are able. Find a new hobby to exercise your creativity, whether that’s with dance, painting, photography, or sculpture. You could also take a noncredit class to learn more about a favorite interest or pastime. The goal is to exercise your brain and steer it away from negative thoughts while enjoying fun and different activities. 

Just make sure that whatever hobby you pick up is something you really are interested, not just something that you think you should learn. If you’re not truly interested in your new skill, you likely won’t maintain it in the long term.

Stay in Touch

Often, when we’re depressed, we isolate ourselves. However, while it may feel better in the short term, isolating from loved ones will actually worsen depression. Reconnect with distant family members or old friends. Take care of your current friendships, and be open to meeting new people who share your interests. 

Take a proactive approach to your mental health and reach out for help and support from a medical professional, should you need it. 

 

This blog was by Anita, a freelance writer from Denver, CO, USA. She studied at Colorado State University and now writes articles about health, business, family and finance. You can follow her @anitaginsburg on Twitter.

 

 

5 Ways that Spending More Time Outdoors Can Improve Your Mental Health: Guest post by Katherine Myers

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(image: Shutterstock)

Self-care is a topic that often comes up when discussing mental health. Whilst taking a bath or reading a good book might provide a short term boost to your mood, a bit of self-care will rarely provide long-lasting improvements to your state of mind. 

Spending time in nature is one of the most effective ways of boosting your mental health. In fact, the benefits of the outdoors for your mental wellbeing have been scientifically proven in a range of different studies. Something to consider if you’ve been suffering from consistent low mood recently is whether you’ve been spending enough time outdoors. 

Especially during the winter months, it’s easy to miss the few hours of daylight whilst in the office or at school. It may not seem like a big deal, however, not getting enough sunlight exposure can be very detrimental to your mental health and over time, you will start to feel the effects. Some common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, sore bones and muscles and low mood.

Simply getting outdoors for a bit of time every day can have a profound effect on your wellbeing. Here are just some of the ways you’ll see your mental health improve by spending more time outside.

You’ll Feel More Creative

Creativity is often sparked by putting yourself in unfamiliar environments, which is the perfect excuse to get outside the next time you find yourself in a creative rut! Being in the outdoors is a great way to get away from other distractions to your creative process such as TV or social media, so you can properly focus on coming up with those brilliant ideas! In fact, one scientific study showed that being immersed in nature can boost your creative problem-solving abilities by 50%. 

Better Concentration

If you are someone who tends to have your head in the clouds, getting outdoors is a brilliant way to improve your concentration. Science has shown that the effects of a natural environment are huge for concentration. In fact, being in a park for as little as 20 minutes has been proven to help ADHD children focus. 

If you’re ever struggling to concentration on studying or work, maybe consider taking your work outside and see whether it’s easier to get your head down. Not only will there be fewer distractions, but the calming effect of your environment will put you in a more positive state of mind.

Better Memory

Our brains are very receptive to the natural environment, making it easier for us to memorise information. One scientific study showed that participants in a memory assessment who had been in nature prior to taking the test performed 20% better than those who hadn’t. The next time you have a big test coming up or need to memorise something important, spending some time outdoors could be a great way to focus your mind. You’ll be surprised by how much it helps!

Reduces Stress Levels

Being in a stressful environment will increase your blood pressure, anxiety and stress whilst being in a peaceful environment ha the reverse effect. For this reason, a natural setting such as a forest, the beach or park is one of the best places to relax because it completely removes you from the distractions of modern society. Being in nature lowers your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Studies have shown that even just a view of nature is often linked to lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction. 

Regular Sleeping Pattern

We need natural light and darkness to regulate our circadian rhythm (natural waking and sleeping patterns). Using our phones and computers exposes us to artificial light components that interfere with our ability to sleep. Getting a good night of sleep is critical for your mental health and factors such as stress can quickly make it difficult to maintain a good sleeping pattern. Spending time in nature is the best way to reset your natural circadian rhythm and get a better night of sleep.

If you’ve been feeling down or anxious, it can be even more difficult than normal to find the motivation to get outside. However, here are a few ways that you can fit some time in nature into your schedule without making too much effort. We promise it will make a huge difference!

  • Take a walk on your lunch break
  • Get out for a run in the morning
  • Go hiking with friends
  • Take a book to your local park
  • Try and walk to work or school if you can
  • Try and spend your day in a room with lots of natural light or large windows 
  • Try and incorporate more plants into your living space

 

This guest post was written by freelance writer Katherine Myers. 

Anxiety, Low mood,Winter and Me. By Eleanor

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(image: Istock)

I have sat down many times in the past few weeks to try and compose this blog and I havn’t felt able, the weight of it felt too much to put down on ‘paper’. The past month has been a lot more challenging for me, I have had an increase in my anxiety, particularly the social anxiety, fear of judgement and the world in general.

This has meant I have had to cancel media appearances and my book launch for friends and family and I sadly missed an old friend’s beautiful wedding and another old friend’s hen weekend 😦  (as well as missing going to the theatre to see Waitress with a wonderful friend). I have been having panic attacks again about socialising when feeling so vulnerable. This has been really, really hard because I hate letting anyone down, I have just been feeling ill at times and having to cope with the heightened anxiety and its ‘fun’  accompaniment (insomnia, racing thoughts, negative thoughts and chest pain).

My book got published and while that was amazing and a lifelong dream, it also felt exposing as I revealed a lot about my life that many wouldn’t know. So I felt like hiding away because it felt scary (social anxiety again).

Additionally, I started therapy 7 weeks ago to give me tools to a) understand but b) deal with the underlying anxiety about life and while it is helping (I am doing a type of trauma therapy called EMDR), I think it might be bringing issues I have buried to the surface from past trauma. This could be why I am getting triggered in social situations at present. I have a fear of negative judgement and also of crowds. I am working on this in therapy as I have been through a lot so far in my 31 years on this planet!

This time of year is also not helping me at all- the nights drawing in and the gloomy mornings. I struggle with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I start feeling lower this time of year. I am well medicated so my depression is mild in comparison to what it gets like when my medication doesn’t work but it is the anxiety I need to work on and expose myself to feared situations slowly.

To my friends, thank you for your kindness and for trying to support me (and coax me out) through this difficult patch again- you know who you are. If anyone wants to come round for a Disney night with chocolate- please do! 

Despite the negatives, there have been some successes in the past few weeks- seeing family, going to the cinema with Rob to see Last Christmas, going to the garden centre with my sister and bro in law, attending my therapy sessions, promoting the book online, job applying (exhausting but I’ve been doing it), speaking to friends regularly and trying to socialise even if I don’t always make it. I am working on that.

Oh and I have been volunteering for Christmas4CAMHS charity- that provide presents for ill children on mental health wards. I have been helping them gain awareness and raise funds via social media. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have managed to do in the past 2 weeks. Thank you Ro for letting me be involved and giving me some purpose to help others.

Social anxiety and depression are hard things to live with, but I know it will pass again in time and to reach for support if I need it. I am already on anti depressants and anti anxiety meds (as well as the therapy), so will have to wait and see what helps. I have an SAD lamp so need to use it when I wake in the mornings. Perhaps I should push myself to go for walks, although I am currently enjoying being a doormouse. If anyone else is struggling, please reach out- we are stronger together.

 

Christmas for CAMHS Campaign to brighten up Children’s Christmas in Mental health wards: Guest post

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(image: Christmas for CAMHS charity)

Christmas for CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are a registered charity providing gifts each year for children and young people who are in mental health units in the UK over the Christmas holiday. They say,

Our aim is to make as many children and young people who are inpatients over the Christmas holidays feel thought-about, special and included.

We have been hugely supported over the past few years by generous donations from the public and have received much gratitude as a result from inpatient units. However, we are only able to provide gifts with your charitable donations. ‘

Christmas For CAMHS was originally set up because volunteers saw a huge disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated over the festive period compared to other NHS services for children and young people. They wanted to do something to change that and say,

‘Children are admitted to CAMHS units to receive support and treatment for mental health issues. There are no official figures for how many children will spend the festive season in CAMHS units across the UK. While many members of the public and corporate donors give Christmas gifts to Children’s hospitals or children’s wards in general hospitals, CAMHS units, which are usually based away from other services, are often forgotten, or not known about.’

Ro Bevan, doctor and founder says,

‘Five years ago I worked in a children’s hospital at Christmas time and there were many presents donated, mostly from corporate donors. There were so many presents that there was enough leftover for patients’ birthdays until June of the following year. A year later, I was working in child and adolescent mental health. We had no presents donated. Our patients had one present each, chosen by the therapy team, paid for out of the ward’s budget – saved from the NHS budget that is meant to cover therapeutic activities, and other expenses. I posted about the inequality on Facebook and before I knew it, my post had goneviral with 1,032 shares and so many supportive comments. It inspired me to start a group the following year and together we have raised over £1,000 to help children who would otherwise be forgotten by the generous public.

‘We don’t know whether this disparity is because people just don’t know that there
are children in mental health hospitals, or whether it’s indicative of the stigma that
society attaches to mental health issues. Regardless, we’re hoping to raise
awareness and address the balance. Although this project started with a simple
Facebook post, it has already gone further than I ever could’ve imagined possible
and reaching units across the UK which is a dream come true.’

This year, a special advent calendar has been designed by Sam Barakat, featuring  positive quotes every day, rather than chocolate. As well as this, there will be 32 windows, one for every day from December 1st to January 1st. 50 will also be donated to mental health units via Christmas for CAMHS. Sam says, ‘For many, Christmas is a joyful time that is spent with friends and family. For others, it can be the hardest time of year. This could be due to past events, trauma,  loneliness  or mental illness. ‘

I (Eleanor) feel this is such an incredible campaign that will touch the hearts of many. I was in a CAMHS unit aged 16 over Christmas and think this will help many people.  

You can donate and buy a calendar here for someone struggling : https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-mental-wellbeing-advent-calendar?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1

To donate to Christmas for CAMHS and give presents to ill children click here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/
CAMHS2019

Website and more information: www.christmasforcamhs.org.uk

 

The difference between Psychotherapy and Counselling: Guest post by Aaron James

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(image: Weheartit)

In our age of information, choice and variety, there are hundreds of different types of therapy and counselling available. As a starting point, one of the most common questions asked is, what is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

The answer is much debated as the boundaries are not always clear, especially in the UK.  However, it is generally stated that counselling is typically a shorter undertaking that focuses on the present and on current behaviours. On the other hand, psychotherapy addresses deeper, longer-term issues by exploring all experiences including those from childhood and with clients undergoing therapy for longer periods of time. 

To get a fuller understanding, it helps to look at both the similarities and differences.

 

Blurred lines

The terms counselling and psychotherapy are frequently used with overlap and flexibility. Certain therapists offer both. Some psychotherapists choose to use the term ‘counsellor’ simply as a softer, more approachable title, some use counselling as part of a psychotherapy process. There are also counsellors who adopt psychotherapeutic approaches. You can see where the confusion arises.

There are many individuals and practices offering counselling, but less that offer a full range of therapies including in-depth psychotherapies (for example, Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy who also happen to discuss this topic on their site).  Reputable practices share the interests, approaches and qualifications of their therapists and will be happy to discuss their compatibility with clients.

The similarities – what you get from both

Counselling and psychotherapy are both focused on creating an open, non-judgmental, safe space to help people improve their mental wellbeing and to remove distress from their lives. The majority of therapies across the board are talking or communicative therapies where participants aim for a better understanding of themselves, and often their relationships with other people, through guided discussions with a therapist. 

In talking therapies people explore their feelings and thoughts and often look at their choices. Both counselling and psychotherapy have different branches and specialisms and  both can work with individuals, families, groups or particular focus areas. But there are some general distinctions that can help people decide which is most appropriate for them.

Counselling

Counselling addresses present problems and current personal issues such as a relationship breakdown, anxiety or confidence or behavioural issues. Often with some kind of structured process, the counsellor helps alleviate symptoms and current behaviour patterns that are causing distress. It may offer practical tools to break down negative feelings and habits, and it can often be goal or action based.

As it generally deals with more surface level ‘life’ issues, clients are usually involved in therapy for shorter timeframes. The Counsellor’s Guide is a good source of information for those wanting to know more.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a deeper and longer term approach. It looks not only at the present situation, but how someone’s childhood and past may be affecting and shaping emotions they have now. The therapist may help someone delve into their past to reveal hidden experiences that have affected them. Psychotherapy looks to identify the roots of an issue as part of the process. 

As such it can address more complex mental health problems. It is a much more in-depth exploration of a person’s emotions aiming to bring buried issues to the surface to deliver a more profound understanding of who they are and their relationships.

Training

The training a therapist undergoes is often stated as another key difference. A counsellor or psychotherapeutic counsellor requires a diploma or degree, along with a number of hours of work placement experience. Psychotherapists are required to undergo postgraduate level specialist training of around 4 years. It is often noted too, that most psychotherapists are required to undergo therapy themselves as part of their training and so that they have experience from both sides.

However, counsellor and psychotherapist are not legally protected titles and further specialisms may often entail more training for both. A good therapist will openly share their training details and should be a registered member of one of the appropriate industry bodies such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Which therapy is right for me?

The distinctions made here are broad ones to give a general guide. There are counselling and psychotherapy options to suit different types of problem, different types of people and different levels of previous experience. The therapies on offer will vary and some people undergo counselling for a long time, and some find a psychotherapy that offers a shorter solution. 

It depends massively on the person seeking therapy and their needs, and the important thing is for a client is to find a therapist that they feel comfortable with. Many experts say that much of the healing comes from the positive experience of the therapist to client relationship and this can be down to a personal match. 

 

This guest blog was written by freelance writer Aaron James, based in the UK. 

Why I wrote my book, ‘Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety’ by Eleanor

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(image: Trigger Publishing)

This blog has been a long time coming. I have been so busy promoting my book on social media and in the press that I havn’t actually sat here and told you WHY I decided to write this book. So, here goes.

Firstly, can I just express so much gratitude to this here WordPress blog because without it, I would not have got commissioned at Metro.co.uk (thank you Yvette) or for other places online. This blog gave me the confidence to write and to expand my writing’s reach and for that I will be forever grateful.

In 2013/ early 2014, I sat on the couch, crying and living with a suicidal depression. My bipolar was unstable and all over the place- I felt so low and like there was no way out. However, as I sat and cried- a friend of mine’s face peered up from the newspaper. He was looking for the man that saved him from suicide and was launching a campaign called Find Mike to find him. That man was Jonny Benjamin (who now has an MBE). I had known Jonny for many years as a teenager through friends, but he became my inspiration and my hope that I too could do good things despite having mental illness. He very kindly has provided an endorsement too for my book- thank you Jonny!

With the help of my psychiatrist, I recovered temporarily from the depression but then spun very fast into mania and psychosis (possible due to a large dose of anti depressant). I was sectioned and in hospital for 4 months as an inpatient and a further 4 as an outpatient.

Throughout this time, I could not think about writing because my mind wasn’t stable enough. But as I pieced my life back together, started taking a new mood stabiliser to help control the bipolar episodes and started to recover slowly, I found the power of blogging about my social anxiety due to trauma of the bipolar, to be so helpful. I found that others would share their stories and would reach out to me about their mental health too.

Although life is not perfect and I am still living with an anxiety disorder, I have found a way to write and speak about mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar at 16 and there was a lot of shame for me about it back then in 2004. These days, I tell my story for other scared 16 year olds newly diagnosed but also to break down barriers and stigma against mental illness. To explain you can have bipolar or be sectioned or have psychosis but you can recover and you don’t need to spend life in hospital forever. To explain that while this cruel illness runs in families, that with the right healthcare, staying more stable is possible.

I started writing my book with Trigger Publishing because they believed in my story when I sent them my proposal. They are part of the mental health charity the Shaw Mind Foundation and royalties go towards the charity as well as some to me.

I hope that when you read my story, you won’t see it as a despairing ramble- but rather a story of hope, of life, of light triumphing over the darkness- but the darkness making the good times shine brighter. I also bring my bipolar to light, I share it with the world- as scary as this is, so that others can also tell theirs.

I wrote this book too provide a place to talk, start conversation and help heal myself through writing it but sharing that feeling of hope with others too. The book cannot change things that are so needed like urgent mental health funding of the NHS so we have parity of esteem. Yet, i hope it is a starting point about how important mental health treatment is for people to move forward in their lives.

Bring me to Light is out on 5th November 2019 in the UK and is available worldwide. It will be out in the USA in 2020. It can be purchased on Amazon, in book shops and at triggerpublishing.com

I will be sharing press articles and more about the book as it happens, but I hope this blog explains why I wrote my book. Thank you all for your ongoing love and see some of you at the book launch!

Love,

Eleanor x

 

Guest Interview with Mark Simmonds: Author of ‘Breakdown and Repair’ mental health book.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

 

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What inspired you to write a book about yours and your daughter’s journey with mental health?

It was July 2017 and I was attending a summer party, hosted by the Marketing Society, the organisation that brings together business people working together in the areas of marketing and advertising. Gemma Greaves, the CEO, was delivering a speech, during which she announced that the Society was going to join the mental health crusade. This seemed odd, slightly incongruous. But then it dawned on me that times had changed. Mental health was no longer the taboo topic it was when I suffered my mental breakdown back in 2001.

Everyone was talking about it now. I also had another 16 years’ experience under my belt, including caring for Emily, my daughter, who suffered from anorexia from 2012 until 2018. So, I had no excuse but to come out of the mental health closet and leave a legacy of sorts to the world. And even if that book helped just one person, then it would have been worth the effort.

 

How did you manage to recover from your stress, anxiety and break down, what helped you?

It was the 19th July 2001. Extreme stress at work had brought on the panic attacks, which were soon followed by a mental breakdown and the onset of severe agitated depression. I was no longer communicating with my wife or my three young children, even though we were all living under the same roof. That morning, I went cycling down a country road. My brain felt like a jumble of spaghetti when I collided with a 10-ton truck. It appears I tried to take my own life.

That’s how I recovered from the breakdown, because when I woke up in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford a few hours later, the dense fog seems to have lifted. From that point onwards, I began to behave like a normal human being. No idea why. The physical impact caused by the accident to my brain? The awful realisation that I had come within a whisper of losing my life, my wife and my kids. There are far more conventional ways of recovering from breakdowns, but that was mine.

How did I recover from stress and anxiety? To be honest, I haven’t! I have simply learned to manage it over the years. I have put banisters in place that help keep me on the straight and narrow: I pick the right working environments, I manage my own expectations and set realistic goals. I satisfy my needs as an introvert. I take medication. I sleep well, eat well, exercise enough. But like all mental illnesses, be aware that it’s always lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce at moments you don’t expect.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

Did you find that Emily received good care and how did you help support her?

Yes, Emily received excellent help and support both from the NHS (Buckinghamshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the Highfield Unit and Cotswold House, Oxford) and from the Cardinal Clinic near Windsor. The dedication and professionalism of all the staff was outstanding and they did their absolute best to help Emily through the illness. But here is the thing. The quality of the support and the hours spent coaxing a patient back to health have little effect or impact until that patient wants to recover.

It took Emily 6 years to decide that she had had enough of anorexia. and it was only then she finally got better. Anorexia (or Ana as we ‘affectionately’ called her) was a brutal enemy, unforgiving and merciless. More than a match for even the most qualified, most experienced doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors.

 

As a father, what was it like to see Emily struggle with anorexia and to try and save her at the time?

I have suffered from depression at various stages in my life and have experienced living at the bottom of the dark pit where Emily found herself. So, it was painful to watch her suffer because I knew exactly what she was feeling. The upside was that I was able to empathise and sympathise with her. I got it. And the way in which I talked to my daughter and tried to support her was more in line with what she needed. People who are suffering from mental ill health don’t respond very well to rational or logical arguments because their brains are temporarily ‘broken’. The neurotransmitters are not connecting with one another. They need lots of hugging, hand holding, being listened to and loved. An irrational and emotional approach is more effective than a rational one.

Where are you both now in terms of recovery?

As far as my daughter was concerned, it was just 12 months ago when the full-blown Anorexia Wars came to an end. We are all fully aware that war could break out again sometime in the future. As a good friend described it, all we could hope was “that Ana will get incarcerated and gagged in small section deep in Emily’s brain, a high security area from which she can never escape.”

Thankfully, at the moment, our daughter is flying high. She is living and working in London for ITV, eating well, drinking alcohol in moderation (trust me that is a positive thing!), firmly back on track.

As far as I am concerned, life is great. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I don’t think that you ever escape fully from either stress or anxiety, but I am determined not to let it get in the way of doing great things, trying new stuff, taking risks, saying things that you might regret, taking on people with whom you don’t agree. I want to make sure I end up under the right tombstone.

 

How has reaction to the book been and how was the writing process?

The writing process was a joy! I loved more or less every minute of it. Working closely with Kasim, my editor at Trigger to agree the overall shape and structure of the book, researching stories and expert perspectives/points of view to add colour, collaborating with the wonderfully talented graphic designer, Lucy Streule, around the illustrations. And spending hour after hour with my wife and family editing, tweaking, improving the book. A wonderful experience.

The reaction has been great, both from friends and from people I have never met.

Alastair Campbell comes into the latter category and he kindly agreed to endorse my book. This is what he said: “I loved this book and devoured it in a single day. Whether on his own illness, his mother’s or his daughter’s struggles, Mark writes clearly and without sentimentality. He is brutally honest about the reality of mental illness across the generations with important insights about how to survive it. Though it is filled with sadness and heartbreak, ultimately his story is a testimony to the power of love and of the human spirit.”

 

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Mark Simmonds published his first book, Breakdown and Repair, with Trigger Publishing, in March 2019 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Repair-Fathers-Success-Inspirational/dp/1912478994). It provides a full account of his daughter’s struggle against anorexia and is illustrated by Lucy Streule. It also talks candidly about his own experiences with mental ill health.

You can also follow Mark on Instagram (mentalhealthmark).

 

How to keep your loved one’s memory alive after their passing: Guest blog by Nat Juchems

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The passing of a loved one is one of the hardest things most of us will have to go through. A huge element of the grief you feel is attributed to the worry that your late friend or family member will no longer exist in your life. 

The fear of losing the connection you once shared is a devastating prospect. But in reality, you simply need to realize that the power to keep your loved one’s memory alive is in your hands.

Although they may no longer be here physically, their legacy and your connection with them can live on. To a certain extent, letting your loved one go and acknowledging their passing is healthy but so is allowing yourself to remember and maintain a connection with them.

Creating a special way for you and others to remember your loved one member can go a long way to helping cope with grief. While it may be too painful to think about being proactive about keeping their memory alive in the immediate days and weeks following their death, when you’re ready, these ideas will help.

 

  1.     Include them in special occasions

After the death of a loved one, special occasions sometimes just don’t feel the same. You often feel the sense that someone is missing. In reality, they are missing and you don’t need to pretend that they are not. Instead, acknowledge their absence by making an effort to include them in celebrations like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Creating a new tradition in their honour is a great way to do this. For example, if your late loved one liked to jog, go for a family jog on Christmas morning. Alternatively, you can visit your loved ones’ memorial as part of your celebrations.

The key here is to remember that you are including them, rather than dwelling on missing them. The first time, it will likely be harder than any subsequent occasions, but in time you will be able to do this with positivity in your heart, rather than extreme sorrow.

 

  1.     Celebrate their birthday

One surefire way to help keep your loved one’s memory alive is to celebrate their birthday. Unlike certain other events, their birthday is the one day of the year that is a celebration of them, and only them. You don’t need to throw a party but doing something small, like having an intimate dinner or buying a birthday cake and singing happy birthday as a family can really create a wonderful sense of remembrance.

 

  1.     Continue doing the things you loved together

So many people simply stop doing things that they used to do with their loved one, but it’s so important that you continue. If your loved one was still here, they would likely still be doing it. By carrying on for them, you help them live on through you. Not only that, doing this acts as a way to soothe your soul and help with your own grief; many happy memories will come up, reminding you of times you did the activity together.

 

  1.     Set up a memorial

Realistically, the very foundation of keeping your loved one’s memory alive relies upon you actually remembering them. Now, that’s not to say that you would ever forget them, but as time passes, you may forget to remember them. As unlikely as that may seem now, the frequency of flashes of them in your mind decreases with the passing years. By creating a permanent memorial to them, you will always have somewhere to go, to celebrate them, to remember them.

Your memorial site doesn’t necessarily need to be in the place where they were laid to rest, you can set up a special area in your home or even plant a tree in your garden. If your loved one was cremated, you can give a cremation urn pride of place within your memorial, or you can simply include their picture and other personal items.

 

  1.     Embrace their passions

One of the best ways to immortalize your loved one is to continue their passions or projects for them. If they were a volunteer, you could start to volunteer. If they loved the theatre, you could take some theatre classes. If they wanted to visit a certain destination, you could take a family vacation to that location. These gestures don’t have to be grand, but by acknowledging their passions and taking action to continue them to some extent in their honor, you will be actively creating a powerful way to help them live on.

Losing a loved one is never easy but keeping their memory alive can give you some semblance of peace. While it may feel that simply remembering pales in comparison to actually having them with you, it is vital that you don’t remain in that negative mindset. Grief manifests in a number of different ways and the ‘stages’ vary in length and intensity for each of us. Just remember, when you’re ready, the best way to remember them is to do the things which honor their memory and keep them alive within your heart. 

 

Nat Juchems is the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved find the right memorial to cherish.

Before becoming the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials ecommerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.