The Book of Hope- 101 Voices in Overcoming Adversity by Jonny Benjamin MBE and Britt Pfluger. by Eleanor

To readers of my blog,

(image: Pan Macmillan/ Jonny Benjamin)

I don’t really know where to start! I have been keeping this secret for almost two years.

Nearly 2 years ago, my friends, mental health campaigner/author Jonny Benjamin MBE and author and editor Britt Pfluger, approached me to be a part of their second book entitled ‘The Book of Hope: 101 Voices on Overcoming Adversity‘ (published with Bluebird/ Pan Macmillan in April 2021!).

They asked me to write a piece on how I found hope and recovery after being unwell and my (ongoing) journey with bipolar disorder that I wrote about in my own book Bring me to Light.

I won’t give too much away about the piece I wrote, but it does include my Dad’s story too and talks about life after being sectioned for a manic episode in 2014. It talks about hope, healing, recovery and living with mental illness. It talks about being afraid of the future, but finding light in the darkness.

Heres what Macmillan say about the book which is available for pre order on Bluebird Pan Macmillan website and Amazon. It also contains anecodotes from famous faces including Lemn Sissay, Zoella (Zoe Sugg), Joe Wicks and Dame Kelly Holmes.

There is always hope, even when we cannot seem to seek it within ourselves.

The Book of Hope is an anthology of 101 key voices in the field of mental health, who share not only their experiences with anxiety, psychosis, panic attacks and more, but also what helps them when they are feeling low. Compiled by award-winning activist Jonny Benjamin and author Britt Pflüger, the inspirational contributors in this book range from the likes of Lemn Sissay, Frank Turner and Zoe Sugg, to Elizabeth Day, Hussain Manawer and Joe Wicks; from authors, poets and musicians to charity workers, activists and psychiatrists.

Jonny Benjamin is known for his book and documentary film, The Stranger on the Bridge, which fought to end stigma around talking about mental health, suicidal thoughts and schizoaffective disorder. When his campaign to find the man who prevented him from taking his own life went viral, Jonny was one of a wave of new figures lifting the lid on mental health struggles. In this book, he brings together a range of voices to speak to the spectrum of our experiences of mental health and the power of speaking up and seeking help.”

It is a real honour and privilege to be a part of this project. A dream come true and I am so thankful to be able to share my story on this platform with truly important voices! We all have mental health and our voices deserve to be amplified.

The Book of Hope is available to pre order now and published in 2021.



My Book Bring me to Light turned 1!



Yesterday, on 5th November, my book Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety (with Trigger Publishing) turned one!

Today, I got this lovely review from a Twitter follower Robin so I thought I would share it here:

It is an amazing book, really enjoyed reading it. An honest and open account of life with bipolar, your strength of character shone through. Thank you for being so open and writing it. – Robin Josephs

I wrote my book to help others and dispell the stigma about severe mental illness. Everyone is human and everyone has mental health. Whether you have never suffered or whether you have depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar, OCD, BPD or EUPD, self harm, addictions, PTSD etc- I would love everyone to be more open if they feel able.

I hope my book explains what being in hospital can be like but that you can recover.

You can get your copy on Amazon and in all good book shops now 🙂

Happy bookversary to me! Thank you to YOU for supporting my blog, reading this and helping get my book deal. To everyone who has bought a copy and to my fab editors Stephanie and Katie.


We are a Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog 2020- Thanks Vuelio!

Today I received the most amazing news that top PR and communications company Vuelio have listed us as a Top 10 UK Mental Health blog for the second year in a row!

It is such an honour to make this list with other amazing blogs- everyone who runs them works so hard to provide content and keep updating them. Congratulations to everyone else on this list 🙂

We are at number 6 and you can check out the list here!

Thanks Vuelio!

Bereavement, PIP, Promotion and Panic by Eleanor

 

 

Hi lovely readers,

So much has been going on that its been a little overwhelming so I didn’t feel able to sit here and type out my feelings. But today, I feel like I can share so here goes.

My dear father in law passed away from brain cancer at the age of just 67 last month. This was expected, after a two year battle, rounds of surgery and chemo and radiotherapy and being told they could do no more treatment as he had two aggressive tumours and they couldn’t operate further. However, it was still immensely painful when it happened (although we were all with him at a nursing home) and we had the funeral and week of mourning (shiva) as per Jewish tradition. I moved in to my in laws home that week to be there to support my husband, brother in law and mother in law.

We will all miss him terribly- a truly wonderful man and it was a privilege to know him.

Despite this sadness in our family, some positive news has followed. I had applied and been awarded a disability benefit called PIP (Personal independence payment) and been awarded it due to my bipolar disorder and panic attacks impacting on my mental health and ability to work outside the home. This greatly helps our situation and means I can work alongside it too in my role at the Body Shop from home and around my writing (my book Bring me to Light is available here) . We also found out that Rob is being taken off furlough and returning to work on the 1st September- he has been furloughed for 6 months and this was a huge relief for us, as you can imagine.

Additionally, a few weeks ago I got promoted to Area Manager of my Body Shop team, team Hope. This means I manage a team of consultants/ manager in training and help them to develop their businesses too. I feel incredibly lucky to do a job that I love from home and be so supported by my manager Sarah and all my wonderful team mates too. I truly love this job and hope to make it my full time career eventually. The products are so good for self care too.

Now on to my mental health. My anxiety has returned with a vengeance these past few weeks. One night I was up til 5am with panic and insomnia (feeling tearful, restless and pumped with adrenaline) so took some prescribed anxiety medication. I also use a lavender pillow mist which helps me to sleep better too. I have had to cancel and reschedule things. I am not good with change and my anxiety is being triggered. I have a wonderful therapist and so I will definitely book in another session with her soon because I can feel myself dipping a little.

The guineapigs are adorable and good for cuddles and I have had a lot of support from friends and family, so thank you for that, and from Rob too.

How is everyone?

Eleanor xx

 
Infographic by Mindful Urgent Care

On DBT, Art and Healing: A Joy That’s Mine Alone: Guest post by Violette Kay

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When I was little I wanted to become a violinist when I grew up. And I could have done it, I was actually really good, but unfortunately mental illness robbed me of that dream. I had my first bipolar episodes right when I started studying music in college, failed a bunch of classes, wronged a bunch of people, and watched my music career crash and burn before it had even begun.
It’s been almost a decade now, and I have a whole new life in which I’m stable and happy, yet I still can’t help but wonder if I could have done it. If I wasn’t bipolar, would I be a professional musician? This question haunts me, it follows me wherever I go, and no matter how far I run it always brings me back. A few years ago I bought a music school in a hypomania-fueled delusion that it would bring me closer to my childhood dream. It did not.
I’ve also written a play about violin teachers and nostalgia/regret, it was very therapeutic, but it didn’t fully heal the wound of my failed music career. Perhaps nothing ever will.
The first thing they teach you in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy is called the “Wise Mind”. It’s supposed to be this balance between your reasonable mind and your emotional mind, and that’s the place you want to be making decisions from. You want to consider both the facts and your emotions, and not ignore one or the other. For example, let’s say you have coworker who is making you angry, and you want to yell at them, throw things and storm out, that’s just what your emotional mind wants. So if you bring in a bit of reason and use your wise mind, you can probably come up with a better solution.
When I was learning this in DBT group I noticed that all the examples we were given involved using the Wise Mind to avoid acting on our emotional mind, so I asked the instructors if they could give me a situation where it’s the other way around, an example where your reasonable mind is what’s leading you astray. They gave some roundabout unclear speech about… something, I don’t remember. Basically they didn’t have an answer for me.
Well, it’s been over a year now and I think I finally found one: I should quit music. I should completely cut it out of my life, sell my violin, recycle all my sheet music, unfollow/unfriend everyone I met through music, and stop self-identifying as a musician. Music has caused me so much pain, and landed me in some impossible situations. So logically, if I want to stop feeling that pain I should just quit, right?
That’s my reasonable mind talking. But if I did quit music I would be ignoring my emotional mind, who likes music and has a lot of very meaningful music-related memories both good and bad, memories I wouldn’t want to lose.
So what’s the middle ground? I still play sometimes. I’ve gone busking during periods of unemployment. I record backing tracks for my singer friends. I take on background music gigs sometimes. And I bring music into my theatre and writing practice all the time.
I’m still shocked every time I get paid to play music, and though I do on occasion mourn the violinist I could have been, I’m also incredibly grateful that I still get to live out my childhood dream in small ways. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s still a good life.
My latest project is a film inspired by my experience of having bipolar disorder and buying a music school, and a first for me: a project born entirely out of self-love, rather than pain. I am so grateful I got the opportunity to make it and to share it with others.
I’ll always have bipolar disorder, it will always be a part of me, but it’s just one part. And I’ll always be a musician. That’s also just one part of me. Maybe they’re the same part.

violette1

This guest blog was written by film maker and musician Violette Kay. Her film the Joy thats Mine Alone about life with art and bipolar disorder, can be viewed at : 

The Road to Recovery: On PTSD, Trauma and the Future… by Eleanor for Mental Health Awareness Week

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(image: Eleanor Mandelstam (Segall))

 

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, details of assault and severe mental illness

 

Hi everyone,

Its been a while but I thought I would put type to keyboard and write a blog for more mental health awareness.

Since my book was published, I haven’t written many follow up personal blogs, purely because the launch of my life story into the public domain felt overwhelming and scary. 6 months on, I am used to it being out there but I have been working hard in EMDR trauma therapy to help myself.

See, the truth is that right now the Bipolar Disorder for me is stable and under control on my medicines. I still get side effects- weight gain, dry mouth and thirst, but my mind is generally healthy in terms of the Bipolar- no mania or depression. Anxiety and panic yes but Bipolar, not really at the moment.

Yet, almost lurking unseen after I left hospital in 2014 and began my recovery was the fact I was traumatised by my experiences of going into psychosis (losing touch with reality via delusions, false beliefs) and my experiences when being sectioned. I will just give an overview as the rest is in my book- but this included- being restrained, being attacked by other patients and seeing them self harm, being injected with Haloperidol (an anti psychotic) in front of both male and female nurses in a part of the body I didn’t want, being chased round A and E by security men in genuine fear of my life, dealing with lawyers and going to tribunals while ill, thinking I had been abused by family and was locked up by a criminal gang and fearing my family were against me. My bipolar mind could not cope.

Just before this all happened, I was very vulnerable and was sexually assaulted by a man I knew through friends and all of this trauma stayed with me.

I did what most of us with severe mental illness and assault survivors do- I tried to rebuild my life. I tried to work in schools helping children with special educational needs. I tried to work for a mental health charity as a peer support worker for people like me. I began to blog and write and share as therapy- from charities to national newspapers. Bit by bit, as I wrote out what I has been through, I started to slowly heal. But, the symptoms of the extreme panic remained. I lost jobs because of it. I became depressed. I started dating but I often had to cancel dates- (before I met Rob, my husband who listened to me talk about it all and didn’t bat too much of an eyelid.)

I was in a state of flux, a state of transition. I knew I had trauma still living in my brain and body. I had been physically and sexually assaulted, I had been mentally violated- I had been sectioned twice in a few months and now I was sent home to try and rebuild my life as a 25 year old single woman.

I share this important blog, not to share that I am a victim- because I am not. I want to share that I believe for about 5 years, I have been suffering with some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My therapist believes the same.

The panic attacks that grip me with fear before work or the day ahead when I have to leave the house. The fear of going out or travelling at night alone. The fear of being taken advantage of and having to trust men again (thank you to my husband for helping ease this pain). The fear of exploitation, of losing my mind, of not trusting mental health professionals any more.

My panic attacks get triggered by certain events- it could be having to speak about my life or book, or seeing people I don’t feel comfortable with, of feeling exposed, of worrying about others judgement. I am still healing from all I have been through and experienced. The PTSD means that I have to take medication (Propranolol) to function sometimes. It means that I experience flashbacks in my body- I feel gripped with fear, I get chest pain and shallow breathing and I start to cry. I had one the other day at 4am….. thank the lord for meds so I could calm down and sleep.

My therapist is incredible and we have been working since October to process the roots of my trauma and panic disorder. We use a combination of rapid eye processing with talking therapy which helps to tackle each and every trauma- and we are still at the tip of the iceberg. It takes time to process the deep rooted experiences in my brain- we are getting there slowly.

For me, in many ways my future is uncertain. My medicines have long term physical side effects. Motherhood will be more of a challenge due to medication and my mental health- I am still processing the choices I will have to make, which I will write in another blog.

I want to end this blog by saying- if you know someone with anxiety, PTSD, another anxiety disorder or something like bipolar or schizophrenia- Be Kind. You never know what someone has gone through.

The NHS waiting lists for help are too long, services are too underfunded- all my treatment has been private provided by my family due to being stuck on a list for years. I am lucky, not everyone is. 

I hope this blog gives some information about my experiences of PTSD since leaving hospital 6 years ago. It is by far the most personal thing I have posted since publishing my book but I hope it helps you feel less alone.

Positivity and Hope are key.  Meeting my husband and my therapist changed my life for the better as I slowly rebuild and find an equilibrium again.

Love,

Eleanor x

Maintaining a Healthy Work Life Balance, Why it Matters: Guest blog for Mental Health Awareness Week by Loveitcoverit

loveit2

(image: Unsplash)

 

When establishing and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, the overarching goal is clear; an individual should not feel as though their professional life is intruding on their personal time or vice versa. However, it’s always easier to explain than it is to physically manage – which is why it’s important to fully understand the implications of a poor work-life balance and the proactive steps we can all take to minimise any negative impact – such as poor mental wellbeing.

Although this challenge is known to many, you may not be fully aware of how prevalent it is across the entire nation. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation has commented that work-related stress costs Britain 10.4 million working days per year!

Now, as you would expect, the emergence of modern technology – such as smartphones – has drastically transformed our professional lives and, as such, it can be difficult to create concrete boundaries. Many of our devices can now take on the features and responsibilities of a larger computer system and so our working lives are available at just the touch of a button. So, how do we assess whether this detracts from our free-time and if this impacts our mental health?

Well, in recent months, this very topic has been investigated by mobile phone insurers, loveitcoverit.   

Their research found that an astounding 80% of workers identify their smartphones as a tool for their professional responsibilities, clearly demonstrating that they have surpassed the singular, social use that spurred their beginnings. So, whether it’s to communicate with colleagues, access working documents remotely or utilise organisational platforms, our mobiles have become an integrated part of professionalism on a wide scale. As such, it can be difficult to imagine the two in separation – but is this a good thing?

Overusing our mobile devices can be detrimental to our work-life balance as they create an access channel that is available to us at every hour. So, whilst leading mental health organisations emphasise the need for distancing measures – such as short breaks, time off and established social environment outside of work – our smartphones may act as a reminder of our professional responsibilities. In turn, this can lead to individuals feeling pressure to work outside of their agreed working times and intrude on their personal lives. 

Due to the sheer number of smartphone users across the country, this could mean that millions are facing the challenge. In fact, less than half of workers claim to have a ‘healthy’ work-life balance! 

Of course, this isn’t to say you should never complete a professional task in your free time, it simply means that you must actively monitor and manage how often this happens. This might seem a menial task, but it’s vital.

If you often find yourself feeling stressed due to your working life, then you could be at risk of developing illnesses such as anxiety or depression.

However, luckily, there are further actions we can take to ensure our balance does not tip!

 

Setting tangible guidelines

 We’re not saying that you must ignore your phone if a professional emergency arises, but it is important to make sure your working correspondence doesn’t intrude on your personal life. So, start with something simple – like enforcing a rule of no work related phone use after six on any weekday and perhaps not at all on the weekends.

Ultimately, it’s your decision to make, so find out what works within your routines and go with it!

 

Communicate with your employer

No one wants to be seen as a ‘complainer’, but if your work responsibilities are damaging your mental health it is important to speak up. Set up a meeting or informal chat with your manager to discuss how you’re feeling and why you feel that way. From there, you can work in tandem to better the situation and make wider improvements that benefit others too!

 

 Better understand your own situation

There is normally a tangible reason for any feelings of stress or anxiety but it might not be clear at first glance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break and try to dissect your situation.

If you can understand what is causing your stress, you’re in a wholly better position to try and improve it, whether this is in reorganising your routine and methods or in talking to someone else at work!

 

Creating a healthy and sustainable work-life balance is imperative for our mental wellbeing, so we all must take the time to figure out how to best achieve it. Remember, the working world existed before smartphones did, so it’s a durable environment, and taking the time to figure out positive and progressive ways of moving forward will never be a waste.

 

This guest blog was written by loveitcoverit, mobile phone insurers in the UK at www.loveitcoverit.com 

Mental Health Blog Awards 2020- Vote for Us! : by Eleanor

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(image: Mental Health Blog Awards)

Hi friends,

Voting is now open (first round) for the Mental Health Blog Awards 2020 and we have been nominated in the Blogger of the Year Category.

We would love you to vote for us, to recognise all of our hard work- including that of our guest bloggers, in battling mental health stigma.

I started the blog 4 years ago and it is an honour to be nominated.

You can vote for us- listed as Eleanor at Be Your Own Light here and please also vote for others in other categories if you are aware of their work! There are some incredible people nominated.

From Mike Douglas, founder of the awards:

“I am delighted to welcome you to the Mental Health Blog Awards. 

I look forward to continuing to celebrate the amazing work, effort, energy, emotion and so much more you all put into raising awareness, supporting, signposting, explaining and comforting in 2020.”

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(image: Mental Health Blog Awards)

First round voting closes on 1st May and you can vote here: https://s.surveyplanet.com/bG5vzH_q

 

With love and thanks,

Eleanor 

x

Im not coping perfectly right now, but that’s OK: Lockdown Life by Eleanor

hopenikki

(image: Pinterest)

Hope will carry you through. At the moment it feels like fear is taking over at times! Everything is so uncertain with the current global pandemic and routines changing, being unable to source certain freelance work, having to stay indoors a lot, not being able to see friends or family in person. People dying and being hospitalised. Everything is scary. Add to that the fear of death, the fear of the virus whenever I go out and you have…

Anxiety overdrive!

I was in self isolation a few weeks ago for what could have been mild Covid 19- I had a dry cough, sweats and fatigue. I recovered and am fine and still don’t know if it was Coronavirus or something else.

Then, the UK went into a form of lockdown.

I am not coping perfectly with all this. I’m trying my best to put routine and structure into my days. Some days I am so tired from it all, I need an afternoon nap in order to be more productive. I wake some days feeling anxious about what is to come, it all feels so surreal. One night, I sat and cried as everything felt too much with trying to balance work and life.

But, I wiped my tears, talked it out with family and felt better.

One thing I have started is a project called Corona Cards which sends handmade cards to people feeling lonely or needing cheering up in isolation. I now have 3 other team members (Bex, Donna and Abigail) making cards and its been really enjoyable. We send them by post to UK residents at no cost to them and you can follow us on Twitter @corona_cards and Instagram @coronacards1.

We have sent about 30-35 cards already and you can request them by asking me or messaging our pages. We hope it helps people’s mental health, particularly anyone very low or suicidal.

Crafting and focusing on the project has helped me a lot, I go for a short walk to the postbox to post them and therefore have a purpose to my walks! To know it is helping people also means a lot, and I have had 2 back in return which is lovely.

Thankfully, I can still have sessions with my therapist by Zoom and I have family support too. It is such a strange time in all our lives and it is understandable that anxiety and fear will creep back in. Especially if we have loved ones who are ill or we have existing mental health conditions.

I have learnt that life is a long game. Obviously, simply telling you to think a particular way isn’t helpful, but if you can slowly train your brain with help , then you’ll get a much better perspective on everything surrounding life and Covid. By no means does this suggest that we should all look miles away in the future and think about retirement properties or what your grandkids will be like, it simply means that you should take stock of the most important things around you and prioritise those.

I am thinking of those who are ill, particularly the ones I know about personally and wish them a full recovery.

A wise friend of mine told me this week that it is OK to take time for yourself. To just be, to look after your mental health. She is right.

So right now, despite feeling like I should be constantly working or busy with Pesach cleaning, I will be looking out for self care and I hope you will too. Keep focusing on gratitude.

Wishing all my Jewish friends a happy Pesach and everyone else a good Easter break.

How are you feeling?

Eleanor x

Covid 19: Positive and Negative for Mental health and Work? Guest blog by Danielle Strouther

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(image: morefamousquotes.com)

 

For anyone that’s suffering from anxiety, OCD or other mental health conditions, living through a pandemic is not a walk in the park. 

A time of crisis is enough to cause panic in anyone. If you’re already struggling with a ‘normal’ day, the added stress means it’s even more difficult to keep your head above water. 

But, it might not all be bad news. Using mental health data commissioned by Adzooma, there may be some light at the end of this tunnel. 

 

Why we should care about mental health

COVID-19 is a pandemic, with just under 500,000 people affected around the world as of March 26th 2020. 

To put things into perspective, mental health currently affects 676 million people worldwide. It’s not a pandemic, it’s an epidemic.

Mental health isn’t contagious. You don’t contract depression from shaking hands with someone that has it. But it is a crisis that’s often overlooked. In fact, 70-75% of people with mental illness receive no treatment at all, choosing to remain silent. This is particularly true in men, who make up 75% of all suicides. In the UK, men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in the country.

 

Mental health caused 44% of all sick days 

1 in 5 employees have called in sick to avoid work. And no, this wasn’t because they simply didn’t want to go. It’s because their mental health had become too much for them to do their job. 

Rather than be honest, 90% of people lied about it, using another reason for their absence. 

In 2019, there were 602,000 total cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK. That’s 44% of all health-related sick days.

The cost of this is projected to be between £39.4 billion to £99 billion each year for businesses. If you break this down, it can cost employers £1,300 per employee if they don’t have the mental health support in place for their staff. 

“My mental health has impacted my work. It’s caused me to leave jobs, to call out some days when it’s just too much for me to do normal day to day activities. I also have tried to go into work on days where I’m not 100% and my quality of work and productivity have suffered.”

Rhea – Via Adzooma. 

 

69% of people say working at home helps with mental health

Here’s the light at the end of the tunnel. According to research, 69% of people believe that working at home improves their mental health.

Around the world, offices are shutting en-masse, sending entire workforces to complete their jobs from the comfort of their own homes. If there’s ever a time that people needed space to focus on their mental health this would be it. 

Its given employees the space they need to recover mentally. Beyond that, it’s showing employers that their business is capable of functioning remotely.

The positive outcome of this is that hopefully after the COVID-19 crisis, we can set up a world where employees aren’t needed in an office every day. A world where employees are free to work at home and care more for their mental health – reducing office-based overheads and the cost of sick days. 

 

Astonishing mental health data

The data on mental health was complied by interviewing employees of a range of digital marketing and technology companies, including Google, Facebook and The Independent. It revealed stark information about the current state of mental health, such as: 

  • 67.9% of people state that their mental health has impacted their work. 
  • 57.5% of people state that work has a negative impact on their mental health. 
  • Only 32.1% of people have told their employer about their mental health. 
  • Of the 67.9% of people staying silent on mental health, 83.3% of them don’t plan on ever telling their employer. 
  • 66% pf people feel that their work is understanding about their mental health. 
  • But 46% of people feel like they don’t have enough mental health support at work. 
  • 90.4% of people believe working flexible hours can help with mental health. 
  • Only 24.4% of people have mental health first-aiders at their work. 
  • 91.7% of people believe there should be more services for mental health.
  • 89.9% of people think the government doesn’t do enough to support mental health. 
  • Only 28.6% of people currently access mental health services. 
  • But if more services were available to them, 66.7% would access them. 

Access the full data here. 

 

A push for positive change 

One of the best things to come of out the COVID-19 pandemic is people working together. 

Communities are being brought closer and we’re showing compassion and offering help in brand new ways. If you’re ever unsure of that, just watch a video of people coming together to applaud everyone who’s working to stop the virus every single night. It’s a wonderful show of camaraderie. 

It’s a global crisis and we’re in it together. Now, hopefully, we can carry on this momentum to help with mental health and continue the fight for better mental health support. 

With support, we can get better. We can push for positive change to help the crisis. Without support, it will only get worse.

Together, let’s take action and break the silence.

 

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This guest blog was written by Danielle Strouther. She is currently writing lots of words about all kinds of unique subjects at Adzooma and searching for a word she likes more than discombobulated. She has a masters in Film and Television, so can tell people she knows what’s good on Netflix.