Mental Health Tips to get you through Coronavirus Lockdown: Guest blog by Chantal Shaw

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(image: Self Care Pursuit)

If you’re stuck at home during the Coronavirus outbreak and need some tips to help with your mental health, you have come to the right place.

Being on lockdown can make us all feel depressed and more anxious. Self care for ourselves and our families are more important than ever.

Here are some suggestions of things to do to help your mental health and self care at the moment:

– Follow an exercise video- Listen to guided relaxation (I recommend channels ‘Relax for a while’ and ‘Michael Sealey’ on Youtube).

– Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal- this helps to clear your mind.

– Nourish your body with healthy food and stay hydrated, so important to get help with groceries if possible and drink lots of water.

– Have a bath to help relax you and keep you feeling good.

– Watch stand up comedy on Netflix, Amazon Prime or on TV. 

– Do a puzzle, if you enjoy them.

– Play a board or card game.

– Limit your exposure to the news to once a day if you are able to stop anxious thoughts. 

– Bake/ cook – good for being mindful and creating something delicious, with a sense of achievement.

– Read a book and let your mind imagine.

– Go for a walk in nature (responsibly and if your country’s guidelines allow you to!).

– When you get up- make your bed and don’t stay in pyjamas all day, to get you into a good routine and positive mindset.

– Have a phone or zoom chat with positive influences in your life.

– Tidy your home as best you can.

– Play upbeat music (and dance or sing).

– A few drops of pure lavender oil in your bath or a lavender pillow spray to help you fall off to sleep and help reduce anxiety.

– Learn a new skill- many online courses are being offered.

– Break down the tasks that are overwhelming you in to small achievable chunks.

 

If you are having persistent overwhelming negative thoughts or feelings please tell someone- speak to a trusted friend or family member, your GP, the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK- you can also email them if you prefer), a counsellor.

Things can and will get better.

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, look after it.

 

Chantal Shaw is a guest writer from the UK and the sister of our founder Eleanor.

5 Ways Therapy Can Heal your Family: Guest blog by Samantha Higgins

5 Ways Therapy Can Heal Your Family (1)

Therapy can be very helpful for families, and your family could benefit from therapy, too. Professional counselling is a proven method to help with all kinds of issues impacting families, and any issues plaguing your family could also be addressed.

To help you pinpoint just how therapy could help your family, you should look into the various situations where therapy might be useful. In particular, you should consider these five ways therapy can heal your family.

1. When Having Marital Issues

You can get assistance with all types of marriage issues when you get help from a therapist. If you have entered a new marriage, you can learn how to adjust to the roles that come along with that. If your marriage is on the rocks, you can get assistance, too.

If cheating has become an issue and you need an infidelity therapist, professional help is without a doubt a good idea. Therapy can help you deal with all of the emotions, assist you with any grieving, and provide guidance on how to move forward.

2. Dealing with the Loss of Loved Ones

The loss of loved ones can impact your family to the point where professional help is needed. If your family has lost someone, you can have short-term effects and long-term effects. When your family loses a loved one, you always run the risk of issues developing further. This is especially the case if it was your family member who died.

You will not be the only one to benefit from help. Children can learn to grieve and deal with the new family structure. Parents can learn how to better take on leading a home by themselves, and other family members can sound off and get feedback, too. Often a loss of a loved one requires people to take on new roles and responsibilities. Therapy can help your family if dealing with those situations.

3. Help with Children with Behavioural difficulties

If you have a child or children that are struggling with poor behaviour, you should consider therapy. Not only can bad behaviors be stopped and corrected, but they can also be prevented from impacting your family in the future.

Your children will be assessed by a therapist and reasons for their behaviour can be identified. Then, your family can heal. You all will be able to prevent more poor decisions from taking place, and you will have all kinds of resources to make sure this happens.

4. New Family Dynamics

If you have introduced a new dynamic to your family eg a blended or step family or new sibling or spouse, you might need some professional help. Failure to make sure there is a smooth transition could have horrible consequences for you. You run the risk of family members feeling lost in the new dynamic. 

Whether you have a new spouse or a new child, these changes could cause issues for your family. Seek out professional services through therapy to mitigate issues from harming those you love. Your family can morph into the new family you know it is capable of becoming. You all deserve this.

5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Substance abuse and mental health are issues that definitely warrant therapy at times. Both of these issues can ruin your family’s well-being. If you are dealing with substance abuse or mental health matters impacting your family, you do have options for help. Therapy will help you unlock those options.

Did you know that around 20 million Americans deal with addiction issues? And did you know that almost 44 million Americans deal with mental health issues? If you and your family are dealing with either or both of these problems, you are not alone whether you live in the USA or not. You should consider turning to therapy to help your family overcome these issues.

Your Family Can Indeed Heal

If any of the five issues above touch close to home for you, you have a way out. You do not have to let these issues tear apart your family that you love. Your family does not have to hurt so much anymore.

Each of the aforementioned five areas can be assessed, addressed, and improved when problems are there for your family. There is hope for your family with therapy, and your family absolutely can heal.

 

This blog was written by freelance writer Samantha Higgins.

 

We are 4! On Be Ur Own Light’s Fourth Blog Anniversary by Eleanor

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Its Today- 1st March 2020 and Be Ur Own Light is 4 years old! (cue the streamers!)

I still remember starting this blog as an outlet for my fears, thoughts and emotions dealing with my bipolar and anxiety. The blog started as a way to tell my friends and family how I was feeling and has evolved into working with guest bloggers and now brands/ partners on sponsored wellness posts too! Writing the blog and sharing thoughts has been so therapeutic and it has taken me on  a journey that I could not have imagined.

In November 2019, I published my first book Bring me to Light with Trigger Publishing which is the book of my life story with bipolar disorder, anxiety and my life in general (travelling, going to drama school, starting a career as a writer). The blog has also grown so much this year and is currently nominated in the Mental Health Blog Awards for Blogger of the Year, thank you to our nominee!

Additionally, Vuelio awarded us as a Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog for the second year running and interviewed me (Eleanor) about working as a blogger!  Thanks also to Feedspot.com and My Therapy App for listing us in their mental health blog lists too for social anxiety and bipolar!

This year, I have written about World Bipolar Day for the Centre of Mental Health, about my search for EMDR therapy on the NHS, living with depression in winter, about writing my book and new life changes (getting married) and 2020 new year round up with hopes for the future. We also promoted mental health campaigns such as Shout UK text line (founded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and Meghan),  Christmas 4 CAMHS, Time to Talk Day and Mental Health Awareness Week. Additionally, I spoke in Essex with my Dad about our joint story with bipolar for the Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat and we also spoke at Limmud Conference in Birmingham!

This winter I did some interviews for the book which can be seen on the Book tab above and also received some lovely reviews. It was amazing to appear in Happiful Magazine’s bonus wellness Mag this January (edited by campaigner Natasha Devon) and to write for Glamour and Bipolar UK. I also enjoyed being interviewed for the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle! Hopefully at some point I will do podcasts about it too and more interviews.

From March 2019-2020, the blog has attracted wonderful and talented guest bloggers wanting to spread their messages about mental health and wellness.

We have also worked with the following brands on sponsored and gifted posts and hope to work with many more this next year :  YuLife, Nutra Tea, Essential Olie, Loveitcoverit on mental health apps, I-sopod floatation tanks, Core Wellness Maryland, Wellbeing Escapes Holidays.

My guest bloggers have written about their recovery and living with mental illnesses, as well as advice on how to improve your mental health. There a posts for whether you are going through a divorce, a bereavement, are stressed or have anxiety. We also had posts with people’s first hand experiences of mental illness including a brave post about being a sibling of someone with mental illness and one of living with an eating disorder. Furthermore, Be Ur Own Light has also covered World Mental Health Day and Time to Talk Day this year, featuring personal mental health stories as a way to raise awareness and fight misconceptions.

We have also covered new books coming out, a mental health fashion brand and a song about social anxiety, as well as posts about different therapies to help you.

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Thank you to my amazing guest bloggers (non sponsored) March 2019-2020 for your fantastic content:   

Ashley Smith- How Massage Therapy helps Anxiety Disorders

Emily Bartels- 5 tips for a mental health emergency plan

Dale Vernor- Understanding PTSD by Gender 

Tan at Booknerd Tan- How audio books and walking has helped anxiety

Emma Sturgis- Loving yourself, tips for a body positive life

EM Training Solutions- How to maintain mental health at work

David Morin- On social anxiety and talking to others

Lyle Murphy- How equine therapy can help those with mental health issues

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust- Best of Musicals event

A Time to Change Hypnotherapy-  Hypnotherapy for self esteem

Nu View Treatment Center- The connection between anxiety and substance abuse

Shout UK- Royal family launches mental health text line

Mental Health Foundation – Mental Health Awareness Week  May 2019 Body Image

Emerson Blake- Coping with the stress of becoming a single parent

The Worsley Centre- A guide to therapies and finding the right one for you

Byron Donovan at Grey Matter – How I recovered from depression to form a fashion brand 

Luci Larkin at Wooley and Co Law- How to reduce stress and maintain mental health during a divorce

Nat Juchems- How to keep your loved ones memory alive after bereavement

Emily Ilett- on her book ‘The Girl who Lost her Shadow’

Mark Simmonds- an interview about his book ‘Breakdown and Repair’ with Trigger Publishing

Curtis Dean- 5 facts about music for stress relief

Robert Tropp- How quitting illegal drugs helps anxiety in the long term

Aaron James- the difference between psychotherapy and counselling

Dr Justine Curry- 4 ways to help a friend with bipolar disorder

Christmas 4 CAMHS campaign for children in childrens mental health wards

Ani O- 4 ways to ease the fear of doctors appointments

Katherine Myers- Ways that spending time outdoors can improve your mental health

Anita- 5 ways to lift you out the slump of seasonal depression

Chloe Walker- taking care of your child’s mental health

CBT Toronto- how to deal with social anxiety and depression

Katy- a true story with anorexia and OCD

Vanessa Hill- Life changing habits to bring into the new year

Rachel Leycroft- Expressing social anxiety through songwriting

Shira- Living with a sibling with mental illness: the meaning of normal

Capillus- 10 signs you may have an anxiety disorder

Brooke Chaplan- When therapy isn’t enough 

Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat 2020 

Mike Segall- Time to Talk Day- 9 years undiagnosed, my story with bipolar disorder

Jasveer Atwal- Living with PCOS and managing mental health

Leigh Adley at Set Your Mind Free- How CBT helps children with anxiety

Lizzie Weakley- How to heal and move forward when you have an eating disorder

Sofie- Living with an eating disorder

Thank you so much to all of you and I am excited to see what 2020-21 brings for the blog!

Be Ur Own Light continues to be read globally and I love receiving your messages about the blogs and finding new writers too.

Heres to a 2020 of positive mental health, of fighting the stigma against mental illness and creating a positive and supportive community here. 

Happy 4th birthday Be Ur Own Light!  ❤ May this be an enlightening year of growth for us.

 

Love and Light always,

Eleanor    

xxx

How CBT helps Children deal with Anxiety: Guest blog by Leigh Adley, therapist at Set Your Mind Free

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(image: Pinterest)

As we know, children are also vulnerable to anxiety. Unfortunately, many parents believe that this type of mental health problem will only be temporary in nature. For example, they may think that their child’s shyness will disappear as they grow older. However, if this shyness is increasingly interfering with the child’s life as well as their family’s, then obtaining help is of paramount importance. If left untreated, a child’s severe anxiety will in all likelihood deteriorate as they will choose to avoid situations that make them anxious.   

People suffering from anxiety, including children, are often treated with medication, particularly antidepressants. However, there are alternatives available, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help children deal with stress.  

Two decades of research has shown that CBT has been successful in reducing the symptoms of severe anxiety. This therapy also provides children with the tools to identify situations that trigger their anxiety. It also helps them manage the symptoms themselves.

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to help people manage their way of thinking and feeling. For example, it can help change distorted thoughts and dysfunctional behavior in order to alter an individual’s emotions. For children, therapists will often focus on getting them to unlearn their undesirable behaviour.     

 

Exposure and response prevention

This is the technique most therapists use for children with anxiety. It is a basic idea whereby a child is exposed to the situations that make them anxious. However, this exposure is structured and incremental and takes place in a safe environment. The goal is to make them accustomed to the triggers so their anxiety response is reduced. 

Exposure therapy has little in common with traditional talking therapy. CBT sessions generally involve talking to the patient to explore the root causes of their anxiety, and they then use this knowledge to alter their behaviour. Once they modify or change their response, the fear also disappears.

Exposure therapy is used for various types of anxiety, such as:

 

Treating anxiety as a person

It is helpful to go to a cognitive behavioral therapist as they will enable a child and their parents to think of the anxiety as an entity that is separate from their identity. The child may consider his or her anxiety to be a bully. To treat the anxiety as a person, the patient may give this bully a name, such as ‘Bossy’. Once the anxiety has been given a form, the CBT therapist can then teach the child how to control this ‘bully’. 

Children are also taught to recognize that anxiety can negatively affect their lives. By letting their fears control them, they miss important events such as:    

  • Sleeping in their own bed
  • Visiting their friends’ homes or going to a restaurant
  • Sharing meals with family or friends

It is also essential that the therapist gains the child’s trust so they can encourage them to face their fears.

 

Steps involved in exposure therapy 

The CBT therapist will firstly identify the triggers. The child will then confront a “pyramid of fears”, namely a sequence of incremental challenges. Every test that the child successfully accomplishes will help build their tolerance to the anxiety.

Before taking the challenges, the child will be asked to consider the degree of difficulty when encountering an uncomfortable situation. For example, a child who is afraid of touching dirt will be asked how difficult it would be (on a scale of 1–10) to write the word ‘dirt’. If they say ‘3’, then saying ‘I will touch dirt today’ could be a ‘5’, seeing a cartoon where a character picks up dirt may merit a ‘7’ and seeing an actual person touch dirt may go up to a ‘9’ on their difficulty scale.

By letting the child rate the scale of difficulty for their various fears, they can distinguish between the easy and extreme levels.

The first exposure trigger should come in its mildest form until the child’s anxiousness subsides. Fear is similar to any sensation; it decreases over time and the child will soon gain some control as the anxiety they feel goes away.

Depending on the severity of the child’s anxiety, a CBT session can take place several times a week, lasting several hours. The exposure often takes place in the CBT office, and then once the child feels comfortable, in an outside environment. For example, children with social anxiety may go outside wearing a funny hat. If they are afraid of germs, the exposure may involve:

  • Riding a bus or train
  • Shaking hands with strangers
  • Eating food without washing their hands

Once they have undergone several vulnerable situations and are feeling more confident, they can try some of the exposure sessions on their own. Parents have a vital role to play in this process. They should encourage their child to tolerate their anxious feelings rather than shielding them.

 

Duration of CBT sessions

It can take 8 to 12 sessions for a child to handle mild to moderate levels of anxiety. In addition, medication can help them reduce their stress while enabling them to engage in the CBT sessions.

 

Conclusion

CBT is a good way of helping children deal with their anxiety. CBT utilises various methods to overcome anxiety, and the exposure and response prevention techniques are particularly suitable for children. The child will confront their fears in increments until they can handle the stress on their own.

However, both the child and their parents need to understand that exposure therapy can be difficult. Nevertheless, once their fears diminish, the family can participate in activities that they previously found difficult.  

 

Author’s bio:

This blog was written by Leigh Adley, Hypnotherapist/Psychotherapist at Set Your Mind Free, based in the UK.

9 Years Undiagnosed: My Life with Bipolar Disorder, for Time to Talk Day: Guest blog by Mike Segall

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(image: Time to Change)

*Trigger warning: discusses thoughts of suicide and mania, please read with care *

This blog has been courageously written by my Dad, Mike, about his journey with bipolar disorder and the hurdles he faced in getting a diagnosis. For those of you who have read my book, you’ll know some of this. This is the first blog that Mike has written for us and I want to share it on today, Time to Talk Day by the charity Time to Change.  So here is Mike’s story….

 

My experience of Bipolar 1 Disorder was that I was undiagnosed for 9 years. I was never sent to a psychiatrist and was put on the wrong medication (I hadn’t heard of mood stabilisers and seemingly neither had my doctor).

So- What is Bipolar Disorder? (formerly known as Manic Depression)

To me, Bipolar symbolises the two extreme poles of mood- mania and depression. The North Pole is Mania. Mania is wonderful for me- you think you can be anyone, you think you can do anything, achieve anything, You are flying. You think ‘why can’t everyone be like this and experience everything?’. You are much more uninhibited. You may shop more, you spend more money, You think you can FLY!

But you can’t fly and you fall, you fall off a cliff into varying degrees of  deep, dark depression, which can last for months.

Bipolar disorder is  a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood, mania. The elevated mood is significant, known as mania or hypomania depending on its severity and whether symptoms of psychosis are present. Psychosis means when your mind lose touch with reality, with delusions or hallucinations.

During mania, someone feels abnormally, happy, energetic, irritable and not requiring sleep they often appear to be bouncing off the walls, starting new projects, trying to achieve too much. In some cases, addictions during mania may also present.

During depression, someone with bipolar disorder may be crying, experiencing negative thoughts and giving poor eye contact. You will notice this if you ever have a conversation with someone who is depressed. They may also be suicidal or talk about self harm.

My Story:

My first manic episode occurred in 1991 and I went to the doctor and was prescribed Valium (an anti anxiety calming medication), which was handed out like sweets in those days.

The Valium didn’t do me any harm but they certainly didn’t do me any good. In the next 9 years, I had three manic episodes followed by three increasingly devastating depressive and suicidal episodes, the last of which lasted 5 months.

In my first manic episode I was going out a lot late at night to clubs and bars and spending too much money. My second and third manic episodes were much more controlled as I recognized what was going on but I was still much more outgoing than usual and spending too much money.

My depressive episodes were serious and eventually suicidal and lasted 3, 4 and 5 months respectively. I often stood on the edge of a London Tube platform thinking about ending it all. I would drive down the motorway at speed not turning the corners until the last possible moment. I would stand in the bathroom with hands full of tablets thinking about overdosing and ending my life. Mostly, I was at home in bed doing nothing but sleeping , eating and surviving.

The person you would meet today is not the person you would have come across at that time.

Looking back there was no real connection made between these episodes and I wonder 1. Why I was never hospitalised and 2. Why I wasn’t diagnosed more quickly.

First of all, 30 years ago far less was known about Bipolar Disorder so the doctors weren’t quick to diagnose it. Secondly, it was only after 9 years that my GP reviewed my file and noticed that I had never been referred to a psychiatrist.

This was the breakthrough that changed and saved my life.

I went to The Priory hospital to see a psychiatrist, describing my episodes. Within 45 minutes I had a diagnosis,

”You have a mental illness. It has a name, It is Bipolar 1 Affective Disorder. You have it for life and it is treatable with the drug Lithium.”

Lithium balances out the chemical imbalance so you end up between the poles and mood is then stabilised. I am pleased to say that in the past 20 years, the medication has worked for me and has stabilised my bipolar disorder, so I no longer get episodes of mania or depression.

I am also pleased to say that as quite an emotional person I still experience the normal feelings and emotions that come with everyday life.

Starting on Lithium is not easy as you have to be weaned onto it. There are side effects, the most common being weight gain and you have to have regular blood tests to make sure the level of Lithium in your bloodstream is correct (non toxic) and it is not affecting your kidneys.

I do wish that I had been diagnosed earlier and not had to suffer manic and depressive episodes as I did.

These are the 4 takeaways I would like you to have from reading this, this Time to Talk Day:

1. With mental health it’s good to talk about it , It’s good to fight stigma and it’s good for your own healing.

My journey started in 1991 and I would hear things like ”you’ve got a weakness. Why don’t you pull yourself together?”, which were unhelpful

2. Think about how you can help people in your community by recognizing the signs that someone has depression or mania.

3.  Live a positive life- I am an example of a bipolar sufferer who can maintain a positive life. Bipolar is an illness that needs treating. It is treated with medication but it can take time for the medication to be right as each person has individual brain chemistry.

4. Listen to those who are struggling. Most of us listen to reply. If you watch two people deep in a conversation or you are in one yourself your focus will be very much on the other person and you will be listening at 90%.

But if you are listening to understand and you are feeling and sharing their emotions then you are truly listening at 100%. Check out the Samaritans help line too.

 

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(image: Mike Segall)

Mike Segall is a professional speaker and mental health advocate, sharing his lived experience with bipolar disorder to groups in the UK. He is also the father of the founder of this blog, Eleanor.

‘The Meaning of Normal’: Living with a sibling with mental illness : Guest post by Shira

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(image: Thought Clothing)

It hasn’t been normal for so long that sometimes I forget what normal should feel like. When I try to think about it, it feels like a glimpse into someone else’s life, and I am an invasive stranger, trying to reach something that doesn’t belong to me.

What is normal?

Sometimes I think I remember it.

Sometimes I think that normal is that time when I was six and you were three and we didn’t fight. When we played hand in hand like every other child, and our entire world was pink and purple, and the most important thing to us was that our dolls had shiny blonde hair.

And we would play every game under the sun, from barbies to dollhouse to the convoluted imaginary ones that only we knew the rules to, and even then did we ever really know the rules?

I was a witch and you were the princess. We were both witches. We were both princesses. I stole your magic time machine but you found another one, and our living room became the entire universe as we ran through it, believing wholly in the pictures we created, the way that only children can.

But did we ever really exist like that? Were we ever those idyllic children, the children that every parent wishes to have?

Maybe our normal is all the times when I was ten and you were seven and we would push and shove and slap. You were my younger sister who could do no wrong and I was the older one, always blamed for both our shares of misdemeanours.

“You should know better!” They would shout

“But she started it!” I would pout.

“It’s not true!” your bottom lip would stick out.

I think we all know that I probably did start it.

We would fight and yell and cry and shout, never giving in, never admitting that we were wrong. Because we weren’t wrong. We were both right, all the time, every time, and the other was always painfully mistaken. And we roared and yelled and scratched each other, but knew only to cry when a parent was looking. And if nobody was looking, well then nobody would see if we punched back just one more time.

But were we ever really like this? Two demonic screaming children who were never silent and never content with just each other? Were we really the children that every parent dreads to have?

Maybe our normal is the way we grew apart as we grew older. When I was 15 and you were 12 and I would pretend not to know you as I walked past you in school. And maybe our normal is the way we would come home from the same school at the same time separately, both of us walking different routes from the bus because being seen with one another would be unacceptable. Maybe that’s what all teenagers do. Maybe that really was our normal.

Maybe our normal was what came next.

Maybe the years we didn’t talk to each other was what we were always heading towards. Because one day we would put down the dolls, and one day we would run out of things to fight about and we would just…exist.

One next to the other.

Sitting in silence.

Neither speaking.

Neither bothering to reach out first.

Because now I’m 18 and you’re 15 and I don’t remember the last time I spoke to you. The house is thick with anger, so thick that it poisons every interaction, and I couldn’t even tell you what I’m angry about. Because the sister I played with, the sister I happily fought with but would jump on anyone else who dared fight with her is in pain. So much palpable pain, and for the first time I couldn’t just make it go away.

Was I angry with you?

Yes.

Was I angry with myself?

Yes.

And so I let this become our normal. A normal where two siblings exist side by side, but don’t even know how to speak without offending. Where everything I say hurts you and everything you say angers me.

So we made this our new normal.

And I don’t care.

I don’t care.

I don’t.

I care.

And now I’m 20 and you’re 17 and I’m 3000 miles away. But this is our normal now. We don’t speak. We can’t speak. But it doesn’t even matter because there’s nothing to speak about anymore. How can I ask how you are when I already know the answer, and I know it’s not an answer I want to hear. How can you ask how I am when you’re too focused on making it through your own day without worrying about mine?

And anyway, it’s been a long time since we told each other how our day was. Not since I was 14 and you were 11 and we would awkwardly walk home from the bus stop together, backpacks moving up and down and up and down as we compared notes about school, neither of us loving it, neither of us willing to admit that out loud.

But we are not those children anymore, and we don’t have any shared experiences to talk about anymore.

I wonder if you miss me like I miss you. I wonder if you count down the days to my birthday too, hoping that we will both make it past 17 and 20, willing time to hurry up even though maybe all I really want to do is turn back the clock.

And then you are 18, and it’s been 18 years since I sat by your tiny cradle in the hospital and cried when we left, maybe because I wanted another chocolate bar from the hospital vending machine, or maybe because secretly I don’t want to leave my baby sister in a cold hospital far far away.

But now you are 18 and I’ve still left you in a hospital far away and it’s still just as hard to leave you there as it was all those years ago. But a 21 year old can’t lie down on the floor and have a tantrum so I keep going and keep going and this is our normal now.

A normal where you’re there and I’m here. A normal where we won’t speak for months on end but then I text you and tell you I miss you and now you answer me too, and I think you miss me too. A normal where we joke and laugh at stupid posts we see on Instagram,  tentatively, both of us till remembering when you were 14 and I was 17 and we ripped each other apart with words until neither of us said anything at all. Is this our normal now?

What is normal?

I looked it up for you.

 

NORMAL:

  • Conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected

 

But who gets to decide what that standard is? How do we know when something that once wasn’t normal now is, and if what was once normal is now anything but? Do we decide that? Or do others who stand by and watch get to decide that for us?

I’m sure someone could tell you the scientific answer. I’m sure there is a video out there with a detailed and meticulous answer laid out for us to study.

I’m sure somebody could tell us the answer. Maybe we haven’t even been normal, maybe we always were.

Maybe the imaginary games of our childhood were always meant to turn into imagined grievances causing real rifts. Maybe we were meant to grow apart and then come back together again, a little rougher but a little kinder. Maybe none of it was normal, or maybe all of it was.

Sometimes I wish I could change all of it. If I hadn’t said what I said that one day, or if I hadn’t slammed my door that one time, or if you hadn’t called me that name under your breath, things would all be different now.

But sometimes I know I can change none of it. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe if we hadn’t played all those games as children, if we had never walked down the road together from school, if I had never sent the texts you eventually answered, things would all be different now.

Normal isn’t for us to decide, it isn’t for me to determine. All I know is our normal is all we have, and I wouldn’t change us for the world.

About:

Shira is a writer living in Israel, drawing on every day life experiences. Her sibling lives with a diagnosed mental illness and she has bravely shared their story here.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

A guide to Therapies and finding the right one for you: Guest blog by the Worsley Centre

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(image: Quotir)

If you find yourself at a point in life where you think you might need to seek some professional help, then the decision as to which therapy is right for you can be a daunting one. At its worst, depression and anxiety related disorders can take away our ability to make rational, informed decisions, so how could you possibly know which one is right for you? 

There’s no definitive way of knowing, and even if you start one course of therapy, only to discover it isn’t for you, it’s important to remember it’s not a one-size-fits all decision. If you’re trying to take a long-term approach to taking care of your mental health, then you need to take the time and effort to find the appropriate course of treatment to meet your needs. 

So here’s a basic guide to some of the most common therapies, and how they might be able to help you (although it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list). 

Counselling 

This might sound like a catch-all term to describe all of the therapies below, but actually counselling is subtly different from other types of therapy. Counselling can often be a useful short term strategy to cope with events in our lives which can, quite understandably, cause mental health stresses. These can include bereavement, miscarriage, sudden redundancy, relationship problems or problems with infertility. Counselling sessions normally last for 6-12 weeks, though they can of course be tailored to every individual person’s needs. 

Psychotherapy 

Psychotherapy is primarily a talking therapy, but may also utilise art, writing, music or drama. Psychotherapy can help with a range of conditions, including anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder. This therapy aims to teach you to manage painful emotions and relationships more successfully. 

Psychotherapy basically involves talking with the patient, discussing strategies to solve problems and changing behaviour. 

It’s worth noting that most of the other therapies in this post are forms of psychotherapy. 

Psychodynamic therapy 

This is a form of psychotherapy which focuses less on the patient-therapy relationship. Patients are told to speak freely and openly about any issues that come to mind, whether it be fears, anxieties or desires. It is a more short-term incarnation of psychotherapy. It’s often used to treat people with serious depressive disorders, or who may struggle to forge meaningful relationships in their lives. 

Interpersonal Psychotherapy 

Interpersonal psychotherapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy treatment. It’s very structured, and includes a lot of homework and continuous assessment. It primarily looks at ways depression can be triggered by changes in relationships to others, such as bereavement, or relocation. 

It will usually start with a 1-3 week assessment of symptoms, as wells as social history and the patient’s relationships. The therapy aims to come up with treatment strategies to deal with problem areas in a patient’s life; over the course of the treatment the emphasis of these problem areas might change, as will the therapist’s strategies. IPT is a relatively young form of psychotherapy treatments. 

 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy which puts its focus on problem solving as a way of breaking certain thought patterns and modes of behaviour. It’s very much a therapy which focuses on the here and now, as opposed to trying to look for explanations of present day behaviour in past events. CBT has proven to be effective in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

CBT works on the concept that a person’s perception of a certain situation determines their and feelings, and hopefully break free of unhelpful patterns of behaviour. 

Mindful Based Cognitive Therapy 

This is another form of cognitive therapy which incorporates mindfulness strategies and breathing exercises into courses of treatment. Mindfulness techniques use breathing and meditation to place people in the present moment, and MBCT uses these techniques to encourage patients to deal with overwhelming or stressful situations.  Again, it aims to break unhelpful thought patterns which can lead to recurrent episodes of depression or anxiety. As well as mindfulness, patients are taught to understand the relationship between how you think and how you feel. 

Neuro-Linguistic Programming Therapy 

Neuro-linguistic programming focuses on behaviour modification techniques to help improve a client’s sense of self-awareness, confidence and communication skills. Again, it helps people to understand that the way they operate in the world is in turn affected by how they view of the world. 

It’s often used to treat phobias, help people deal with self-esteem problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and is designed to help patients understand the workings of their own mind. 

Couples and Family Therapy 

The title of this therapy is relatively self-explanatory, but basically it encourages individuals to resolve problems in the context of family units, or as part of a couple. This helps people to better understand their role within a group dynamic, and how their actions affect the other person within a family or couple. 

During the therapy, family members are encouraged to work together to solve a problem which may be directly affecting a family member, with each person encourage to express their thoughts and feelings in an open and supportive forum. Family and couples therapy is geared towards making different family members empathise with one another, understand each other’s point of view, and switch roles where necessary. 

The ultimate goal of family and couples therapy is restore healthy relationships. This branch of therapy essentially believes that family life is like being part of a system, which is only as strong as the individual within it. Family and couple therapy ultimately aims to restore balance to this system. 

These are, arguably, the most well-known and high-profile forms of therapy. As outlined at the beginning of this article, it’s not an exhaustive list; there are many more specific types of therapy which may prove to be the right one for you. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s perfectly normal to try a few of the therapies on this list, as it might take a few referrals before you find the right one for you. 

The Worsley Centre offers counselling and psychotherapy sessions for couples, individuals and groups in the Greater Manchester area. 

https://theworsleycentre.com/