My story of recovery from Alcoholism and Mental illness: Guest blog by Allen

recoverme
(image: https://www.rehab-recovery.co.uk)

My name is Allen and this is my recovery journey from alcoholism and mental illness.

On 12th October 2005 I had my last drink of alcohol and the following morning I was admitted to a psychiatric unit.  On reflection I didn’t know what was happening and had no clue what was happening emotionally, physically or mentally just that I was going into hospital for a short stay to get better.

Better from what? Whats happening to me? When can I go home? It was like a constant conversation in my head and I couldn’t turn it off.  Little did I know that I had been admitted because I was a risk to myself and others and I was going to be detoxed from alcohol and drugs.

I was never the world’s greatest drinker but I loved everything about alcohol and now know that since my teenage years,  alcohol was a constant in my life at home, in pubs, on the train to work, in the park, in the toilet, in secret or in the open and it had been that way since teenage life.

So I stayed in that psychiatric unit for 6 ½ months and I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 (a mood disorder) and prescribed medication to deal with that.  Since that time, I have experienced two courses of electro convulsive therapy, Cognitive behavioural therapy, one to one counselling, 12 step programmes for drugs and alcohol,  taken anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and  read numerous self help books.

This week I will reach 13 years of sobriety- a great achievement considering I couldn’t go a day without alcohol. However,  2018 has seen me admitted into another psychiatric unit, following numerous suicide attempts and thoughts.

I received an additional diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and a dawning realisation that I need to go way back to my early years to start to really understand me. Childhood / teenage trauma, bullying, substance and alcohol misuse, relationship problems, low self-esteem and lack of confidence, financial woes and debts mounted up.

The past 13 years have enabled me with the help of a twelve step programme to manage life, be as good a father as possible, to be a son, brother and uncle, and a friend.

I have been able to hold down a job and  study a degree in Psychology and Counselling,. I became a Mental health first aider and I suppose now I need to look at me and listen to others as to how I can manage my mental health and addiction. I can learn to be the best father I can be to my son and daughter, and focus on what I need to do to alter the cycle of mental illness that has plagued me for so long.  

Long term therapy seems to be the best option and I hopefully begin this process with an assessment very soon. I am so proud to be miles away from where I was in early 2018. Then, I asked a member of the Home Treatment Team (for crisis care) if I could go into hospital. I also shared for the first time that I have heard a voice for most of my life and the voice has made me harm myself.

I am now doing so much better and hope that therapy helps me to heal even more.

Allen is a writer, mental health first aider and mental health worker.

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Being a parent of a child taking GCSE exams and looking after wellbeing: Guest Post by David Welham

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(image: http://thesprout.co.uk)

Millions of parents would have experienced the stress and anxiety this summer in the UK with their children taking GCSE’s.

As a parent I was no different and wanted to share my experience. Exams are so different from when I took them. There are more, they take place over just a weeks and in my opinion changes to GCSE’s have been rushed without thinking about the effect on our children’s mental health. 

It seems that they were changed because employers were feeling that they were too easy.

As if my son didn’t have enough to occupy his mind, his future, should he do an apprenticeship, or should he go to college and not to mention the intense revision and preparation for exams.

I remember talking to other parents who also felt the same and expressed real concerns that their children would struggle to cope. They all said what happens if he or see is struggling I am not sure where to go or to talk to. We agreed that if I as a parent appear anxious how can I expect my child to cope.

Its fine just saying things will be OK and not to worry but I did worry, and I secretly just wanted the three weeks to pass as quickly as possible. 

My son decided that Xbox would be too much of a distraction and that it can be put away. I thought that this was mature and the right decision. He worked out a revision plan and we thought about his downtime, but I could still see anxiety and worry.

So I made a plan to make sure that he looked after his wellbeing. Checking in that he was alright and that he looked after his physical health and mental health. I was aware that it was important to take time out from the revision and as advised by school not to stop doing what he likes and change his routine. 

He went to the gym and out with his friends to maintain his relationships. We also planned things as a family as well in-between revision. This broke up the daily grind but there were still periods when I was concerned that he wouldn’t get through it.

I read articles in the news and spoke to school but talking to my son there were children who really struggled. He said that they were really not coping with their mental health. I worried when I heard about children crying, running out of the exam room and parents being called to take them home.

This can’t be right and is something that more research should be undertaken into the effects during exams as I can’t help thinking that we are setting them up for serious problems with their mental health further down the line.

I have suggestions on how to lessen the stress and anxiety during exam time.

Spread the exams over a longer period to give teenagers a bit of breathing space and allow them to take a break. If the exams were spread out there would be less intensity and time to do other things in their lives. I would also suggest there is less focus on the results and outcome and that children can just be children, without such a great amount of stress.

David Welham is a mental health writer from the UK

Why Writing therapy helps : Guest Post by Amy Hutson, Counsellor

writing therapy
(image: Amy Hutson)

I first started using writing therapy without really knowing what it was when I was having a tough time at school. There was something valuable about getting my thoughts down on to a page, instead of spinning around my head that helped to make sense of everything.

Since training as a counsellor many years later, I came across writing therapy and took some training in how to use it with clients. I’ve found it can be very powerful, alongside therapy or even on its own.

But what is writing therapy?

Writing therapy or expressive writing is basically writing as fast as you can without worrying about grammar or whether it makes sense. It might sound a bit odd, but it taps into your unconscious thoughts and can be cathartic writing things down, as well as helping to come up with answers to something you’ve been struggling with.

In the 1980s James W. Pennebaker was the first person to research how writing therapy helps and he set the challenge of asking people to write about their most traumatic experiences over four consecutive days. The results of the study were staggering, people felt much better both mentally and physically. So much so that people made less visits to the doctor at about half their usual rate, after the experiment.

So how can you use writing therapy?

There are lots of different techniques I use with clients, depending on what issue it is we’re discussing or what I think might be helpful to them. But here are a few things you could try at home and if it ever feels a bit too painful what you’re writing, you can stop at any time or write about something that feels safer.

Journalling

If you’ve never tried writing in a stream-of-conscious style of writing in a journal, I’d recommend starting here. Some people like to buy a lovely notebook and find a quiet space to write, sometimes at the beginning or at the end of the day. Then the idea is to write about whatever comes to mind. Even if you start by just writing ‘blah blah blah’, you will probably find something insightful will come up if you just keep writing and don’t stop to think. If writing every day feels too much, you could try writing whenever you feel you need to – it could be you’ve had a really rough day and want somewhere to vent or maybe something incredible happened and you want to record and remember it.

The unsent letter

The unsent letter can be powerful when you want to say something to someone but feel you can’t. It might be you’re angry or upset with someone and you’re holding on to those strong emotions, because you feel unable to share them. So, you simply write everything you want to say to this person in a letter without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings, because it’s not going to be sent. Writing it alone can really help, but it can also be used as a way of getting your thoughts together before confronting someone in a less emotional state.

If you want to take this one step further, you could write a letter back to yourself from the other person. The results can be surprising, as they can offer another perspective to the situation you might not have thought of.

Quick lists

Writing lists quickly and without editing them can be helpful and used in lots of different ways. Say you’re feeling anxious, you could start a list like:

I’m really anxious about:

  • My new job
  • Lack of sleep
  • Bad diet

Rather than just focusing on the anxiety, writing a list can sometimes help uncover what might be causing it, which you could then explore further in a journal, with a friend or a counsellor.

Another example of a quick list which can help if you’re feeling low is:

Three good things that happened today:

  • I got through the day at work despite little sleep
  • I met a friend for coffee
  • I went to the gym

Writing therapy really helps my clients and it could help you too!

 

Amy Hutson is a counsellor and writing therapist, who offers therapy in Hove and worldwide on Skype. For more details visit www.amyhutsoncounselling.co.uk

 

Why I am fundraising for women in Ghana at Gigdev for my 30th Birthday.

gigdevghana
(image: E Segall)
In 2010, I set off for Tamale, Northern Ghana in West Africa, with the Jewish development charity Tzedek. There were 8 of us volunteers including three of my best friends from school- Anna, Katie and Hannah- and we were all placed at different NGOs and organisations to learn about sustainable development- and make a small impact on the communities we volunteered with.

My fellow volunteers were placed at Morning Star primary School, NGOs working in rural communities- some went into villages or wrote funding applications and I and my fellow volunteer Rachel were sent to Girls Growth and Development NGO known as GIGDEV.

Girls Growth and Development was set up by the mother of Ms Selina Iddi Abdulai, in order to help combat the poverty and disadvantages that are often found in the Northern region of Ghana- and to focus on women aged 15-25 who are at risk of abuse and exploitation. Many women leave the Northern region to go to the more prosperous Southern capital of Accra in search of work- known as ‘Kayaye girls’.

However, they often become homeless, do not find work to financially support them and are at risk of exploitation by others. A lot of the women at Gigdev fall pregnant in their teens and are ill treated by men (and family members).

‘ GIGDEV offers an integrated approach towards achieving self reliance for adolescent girls at risk for exploitation by offering lessons financial literacy, leadership, and health into their vocational training program. In addition to their vocational training program, GIGDEV also runs an early childhood education program as well as an advocacy and mobile outreach program on reproductive health, good governance, and human rights.’

Gigdev gives these women hope by teaching them a trade such as dressmaking, giving them education, shelter, food and child care.

I arrived in Tamale in July 2010, after a six hour journey across potholed roads feeling very sick, but amazed by the beauty of Ghana- lush green palm trees, cities, street sellers and the women selling food and cosmetics on their heads. A totally different culture- yet so incredibly beautiful.

We were staying in a village outside Tamale called Fuo, which has mud huts and goats roaming free. I and Rachel started volunteering at Gigdev, teaching basic literacy and grasp of English and Maths to groups of women. We used Ghanaian textbooks but also used our own knowledge to help. We also taught the women basic ICT skills so they could prosper in the future and we played with their children in the nursery, while they were studying dressmaking and hairdressing.

As I began to teach the women spellings, verbs, numbers, multiplication, division, English phrases and songs- we all began to bond. Some women would sit in my classes with their babies, others would compete to see who could get their sums right the quickest and there was a lot of laughter and jokes between us all.

ghanalaugh
(image: E Segall)

All the women were so different and I got close to them – and didn’t want to leave them by the end of my 7 weeks of volunteering. I remember two particular girls- one called Zubaida and another very cheeky one whose name escapes me (in photo above) and her friend Mama.

Zubaida loved to learn and was exceptionally bright, top of all my classes and had a real thirst for knowledge. She was especially good at Maths. A lot of the women found Maths easier to contend with than English, even though English is one of Ghanas official languages, a lot of them spoke in the local dialect Dagbani or in Twi.

I had been teaching Zubaida for weeks and we formed such a bond. I never fully knew her full story- but she was bright and kind and eager to learn. When I had to leave, we were both so sad.

I was so honoured to know this woman and all the other incredible bright lights of women I met. I had several very funny and cheeky women in my class (as you can see by the photos) who used to crack me up with their jokes and fun nature. The woman in the photo above would joke around with me and her friends- I have so many pictures of them all laughing. They loved taking photos on my camera too.

I think this is what touched me so much about these so called ‘Kayaye girls’ who had been at risk but who Gigdev was looking after. That they had hope. They had passion. They had joy. And they embraced me as a privileged white woman- I feel like they didn’t see colour and neither did I.

zubaida

(image: E Segall)

I remember them plaiting each others hair and putting new weaves in.  I remember them singing and dancing and laughing. One day at the end of the class I taught them the penguin dance – ‘Have you ever seen a penguin come to tea?’, which they loved and we all stood in a massive circle and did the actions. They found it brilliant because it  was new to them and they could just spend time laughing with their friends.

They supported each other and loved each other. I saw their strength. And their desire to have better lives.

Because of them and their positivity and the amazing staff at Gigdev- I became a better and more informed person.

They taught me far more than I could ever teach them.

And this is why for my 30th birthday, as I enter a new decade- I want to help new women to have the same opportunities, care and help that Selina and the Gigdev team provide.

Please give whatever you can towards building a shop which will sustain the GIGDEV project. The women will sew clothes to sell and sell water bottles too- as an Income Generator for the NGO.

You can donate here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fundraising-gigdev-ghana-shop-for-girls-education

Here is a snap shot of of Ghana experience from my diary back in 2010:

‘I am working at Gigdev as a literacy, numeracy and IT teacher for women aged between 15 and 25. I also worked in the nursery for the womens children ‘Kiddicare’ for three weeks until it closed for the summer, assisting the teachers and looking after the children. 

I am finding teaching the women at Gigdev so rewarding, and I hope they are benefiting even on a small level. To be able to teach and build relationships with women around my age (i am 22!) and of a different culture, is very special and something I will treasure for the rest of my life. It is so interesting to see their reaction to what I teach them, whether that be a song as it was today, or reading, english verbs, to fractions…. which confused them at first but they soon picked up. I wish however I had more time to teach them and not only one hour a day!

I learnt that the education I have recieved is a luxury…that I can use a computer to communicate, that I am literate and numerate and can read books (let alone buy books) . I learnt that despite not having much and gone through so much, the human spirit in the women I worked with was strong, and BRIGHT and incredible……..and I hope that they go on to live good lives

Coming home from Ghana has been a very odd (and nice!) experience. At first it was so hard to acclimatise back to a culture so alien to African life, particularly in a fairly rural village surrounded by mud huts and goats where people get up with the sunrise and go to bed when it gets dark (6pm there). I found myself being confronted with contrasting lifestyles. It is hard to explain but I found a simplicity of life in Africa- without gadgets or material influence… people spend more time face to face talking together and there is a huge emphasis on community. ‘

 

ellieghana

 

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fundraising-gigdev-ghana-shop-for-girls-education