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).

 

Mental Health Awareness Week: The Mental Health Foundation: Body Image 13th-19th May 2019

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(image: Mental Health Foundation)

This week, starting today is the Mental Health Awareness Week by the UK charity the Mental Health Foundation. Its theme is looking at Body Image, how we think and feel about our bodies.

Mental Health Foundation say ‘Body Image can affect us all at any age- during this week we are publishing new research and campaigning for change’    .

They continued,

Last year we found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost 1 in every 3 people.

Body image issues can affect all of us at any age and directly impact our mental health.

However there is still a lack of much-needed research and understanding around this.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week:

  • We will be publishing the results of a UK-wide survey on body image and mental health.
  • We will look at body image issues across a lifetime – including how it affects children and young people, adults and people in later life.
  • We will also highlight how people can experience body image issues differently, including people of different ages, genders, ethnicities and sexualities.
  • We will use our research to continue campaigning for positive change and publish practical tools to help improve the nation’s relationship with their bodies.’
  • The good news is that we can tackle body image through what children are taught in schools, by the way we talk about our bodies on a daily basis and through policy change by governments across the UK.’

For more on how you can get involved see : https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

 

Loving Yourself: 4 Tips for Living a Body Positive Life: Guest blog by Emma Sturgis

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(image: Emma Sturgis)

Starting to live a body-positive life all begins with you, the individual. It can be challenging with so much pressure from society trying to dictate our lives. It becomes easier when you block out all negative forces and decide to start loving yourself and your body no matter what others have to say.

Loving yourself no matter what will increase your happiness and your overall peace in life. Here are four tips to help you down the body-positive life and feel total peace of mind about your body and physical appearance.

Work on Self-love

A significant number of girls have been through the trauma associated with body shaming, especially in high school. Some have taken the weight of the shame to our adult life where we lose our confidence and tend not to love ourselves as we should.

Many women and girls suffer from poor body image for years, or even through their entire life. The first step into living a body-positive life is by loving yourself first. We all come in different shapes and sizes, and no one is perfect. You just have to own your flaws and flaunt your strengths.

This can often be easier said than done, especially with years of social conditioning. You can achieve self-love through daily practices that make you feel your best physically and emotionally. Tell yourself every day that you appreciate your body and all it does for you.

Eat Instinctively and Respectfully

You don’t have to starve yourself to fit into that wedding dress within an unrealistic time-frame. Diets don’t work and neither does overfeeding any time you are stressed, sad or angry. Stop for a moment and ask yourself what your body desires to look great.

If you feel that you are struggling to keep an eating routine and your mental health is worsening, accept the problem and seek inpatient eating disorder treatment. under a psychiatry team or your local doctor.  

 

Change Your Perspective on Exercising

Most of us quit taking exercise and going to the gym because we hate working out. Exercise can be fun when we redirect the focus from it being a weight loss challenge to treating your body correctly and healthily.

You don’t have to attach any pressure or targets to your daily workout routines. Do exercises that are fun to you and even make it a social event with your friends. Once you start viewing exercise as healthy for your body , you will begin to love it. You will enjoy exercising because of how it makes you feel, endorphins from it will make us feel happy. You may even feel proud after a work out!

 

Pamper Your Body

After all the stress and pressure that your body endures, it deserves to be pampered and treated right. Get some good fitting outfits, wear the best lotions, go for therapeutic massages and take frequent hot tub baths. Fall in love with every curve while you look straight into the mirror.

This will allow you to connect with your body instead of feeling detached and negative toward it. You can make these things part of each day. Carve out some time from your busy schedule to pamper yourself, even if it includes simply putting on your favorite perfume. It will give you a simple confidence boost to carry through your day. Always take time for yourself and don’t let your daily tasks take priority over caring for your physical and mental health.

Once you change your mindset, the journey to living a body-positive life will be so much easier. You don’t have to lose 20 pounds to start loving yourself and your body. You are much more than your physical body.

Knowing your worth is a gift to yourself and your body. Eventually, it helps you rediscover your true self. You will be able to go forward in the world with confidence and give your amazing gifts and what you have to offer, to the universe.

This blog was written by freelance writer Emma Sturgis from the USA 

5 Tips for a Mental Health Emergency Plan: Guest blog by Emily Bartels

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(image: http://crmhfoundation.org/self-care/)

 

When it comes to emergency plans, usually we think in a more physical sense, but did you know that mental health emergency plans are important?

Mental health emergencies can be quite stressful, and if you’re in a mental health industry or have any personal concerns about your own health, providing the right help is important.  Here, we will outline important tips to help you create a mental health emergency plan that will suffice.

 

Have a Support system

If you tend to get overwhelmed when an emergency happens, a big way to help reduce the trauma from it is to have a support system. Whoever you are and whereever you work, your own personal triggers and issues are still there. If you’re having issues coping, find a support system- a friend, family member or therapist that can help.

You may want to come up with a plan to help your  responses to situations, especially when disaster strikes. If you do have anxiety and depression, do make sure that you have people that can help around you or reach out for help from a doctor or therapist.

 

Prepare For Emotional Reactions

Another big thing that emergency evacuation plan Melbourne  (in Australia) does point out, is you need to make sure that you have the right idea of what might happen.  You should know when you have chaotic reactions, and what you struggle with when disaster strikes.

Focus on what will help, what might happen when you do suffer from an incident, and make sure to communicate it to others.

Processing information is quite hard in a stressful situation, such as fear, anxiety, depression, or even a panic attack, and you should make sure that, with the group of people you trust or the medical profession, you do speak about what happens. It’s also important to make sure that you properly communicate to others.  While panic attacks and sad emotions do happen, you should know that you probably will be upset about whatever will transpire. But that its OK to feel this way.

 

Be Prepared to communicate

A large part of a mental health plan is to make sure that you communicate your needs. If you need to, make sure that you explain any mental health needs, such as medication you might need, in an emergency, with loved ones.  Its vital to your wellbeing  even when stressful to communicate. Letting others know can help them and you prepare for the worst and take action if needed. You aren’t alone.

 

Keep Contact information on hand

Pharmacies can help you get emergency medication, but making sure that you have the contact information for your provider, any diagnoses, and dosages of medication are important.  Make sure to let some people in your support system know, and also keep those phone numbers on hand in case if the emergency lines are overloaded.

 

Create a Recovery Bag

If you have extra medications, a comfort item, and anything that you can use to help in the case of an emergency or crisis, put it in a small emergency kit, which you can use if you need to attend hospital or appointments.  Remember, emergency kits aren’t just for physical health aspects, but also for mental health.  You need to make sure you’re prepared both physically and mentally for any issues that might transpire so that you’re not suffering.

Mental health during an emergency often isn’t focused on as much as say other aspects of your health. Depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts don’t always go away, and you need to be prepared for that, and reach out for help so you can recover well.

Creating a plan to try and prevent or reduce this from happening with your medical team will help if a mental health emergency comes about. From there, you can get the help that you need in order to stabilise yourself, look after yourself and recover again.

 

This blog was written by Emily Bartels, freelance writer with an interest in mental health and wellbeing.

Finding Purpose- my journey to survive Anorexia. Guest post for World Mental Health Day by Spela Kranjec

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(image: Spela Kranjec)


Please note; Trigger warning, this post discusses Anorexia and thoughts during it. Read with care.

Do you sometimes feel useless and unneeded? You wake up in the morning, lethargic with the thought that you truly don’t know why this upcoming day would be important? You watch other people, everyone with some task of their own, busy and running around with determination. How is it that the world is passing you by? “Is it my fault?” you ask yourself. You become bogged down with these thought, only making the situation worse. You unintentionally focus on the thought that you’re not worth anything! And you forget about everything that you’re good at, things that make life worth living.

You have destroyed yourself. You pushed yourself down into nothing. What’s worse is that you believe others see you as such, too. That’s why you need something that has a purpose, as otherwise you soon lose a will to live. The human mind is a very complex thing, and when it wants something it’s willing to take it by itself if you fail to provide it. But it takes the thing that it finds first. It doesn’t choose. As the whole body is surrounded by negativity, it latches on to that – and that’s how I developed anorexia.

Yes, I was a young girl who couldn’t find her way in this big world. I tried to fit in, but I was rejected. I thought I was intelligent, but I had to try much harder than others at school to get an A. I believed a good job was waiting for me, but was disappointed to discover that there are so many other people in greater need. I constantly trained, but never made the team. I looked at myself in the mirror, but I never became a beauty. I saved money when others were spending it, but they now probably have more than me.

In all my drive to become something, to be something, I started disappearing. And I wasn’t even aware of it. My mind convinced me that I would be appreciated, desired, only if I were thin. Very thin. As I was willing to do anything to be accepted, I started starving myself. Very quickly, scales become my only friend, and the only daily task was to exercise and reject food. The more I succeeded in this, the greater power I had over my own life. I was becoming something. Finally!

It didn’t take long before I heard the first comments, “Špela, you’re so thin!” My heart leaped! All my hunger and the dizziness during excessive exercise finally paid off. Obviously, it really was my own fault. Obviously, all I had to do was try harder. With this victory, I really couldn’t stop. So I kept going. I wanted to be even skinnier, just in case I ever gain back some weight, so that things didn’t change back to their old ways.

But as I never really defined this limit of losing weight, this “just in case”, I never knew when to stop. So I didn’t. There was one other boundary line. A sort of point of no return, before which I could still come back. Back to that old Špela, still knowing that I matter, that I belong somewhere. I’ve passed that point some time ago, and I wasn’t even sure that old Špela ever truly existed.

I was suddenly in a situation where everything was confusing and unclear. Before, I never belonged anywhere, then the world was in the palm of my hand, and now everything was falling apart, even more so than at the beginning. And I fell apart… Anorexia finally conquered me.

Now I faced a truly difficult task, which required from me a tremendous amount of mental and personality changes. A task that would be completed once the world stopped passing me by, and I would walk in step with the world. A task to find recovery.

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I wrote a book about my mission to save myself. And for this book, my brother and I are launching a Kickstarter campaign, NOTICE ME: My 9-Year Struggle against Anorexia.

Why? Because I know there are too many like me in this world, and this has to change. And because we want to show that we matter, that we have a mission in this world, even though I believed otherwise for many years.

Because I want to help you, I’m giving you opportunity, to start reading my book totally for free on this link: https://www.notice-me.net/free-chapter/.

Spela Kranjec is a mental health writer, documenting her 9 years of living with anorexia.

‘What its like wedding dress shopping as a curvy bride to be’ (focusing on mental health and body image) for Glamour UK by Eleanor


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(image: Glamour UK)

Here it is, my GLAMOUR UK article on being a curvy or plus size bride.

 
This one is understandably a very personal one but I wanted to investigate about body image, self esteem and how it affects mental health. As women we get taught what is ‘correct’ in terms of body shape and what isn’t- especially with the rise of social media.
 
I have put on weight over the years due to medication for my bipolar and its not easy. I am yet to go wedding dress shopping (going soon) but the brides I spoke to often had.
 
Thank you to the brides Rachel, Emma, Lauren and Reva for telling me their own courageous stories.
Thanks to the expert psychologists Nicola Walker and Jessica Valentine and Karen at Smashing the Glass wedding blog. And to my editor Bianca London at Glamour.
 
Happy reading, click here: