Letter to my MP: On Mental Health and Talking Therapy Waiting Lists

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(image: Imperial College)

I have just responded to a letter that my MP replied to me today. The other day I wrote to my MP here in London about the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill which aims to stop dangerous restraint in mental health hospitals. This was a campaign through the charity Rethink Mental Illness.

I was sadly less than impressed with the response I received even though it was quick, my MP quoted a lot of figures at me. Now, one of these figures, ‘750,000 more people accessing talking therapies since 2009/10’ really got to me. In 2015, I had a short course of NHS cognitive behavioural therapy which was useful but didnt help my anxiety. However, since late 2015/ early 2016, I have been on the therapy waiting list for talking therapy to help me process the trauma I have been through, Almost 2 years later, I am still on the list and have had to go privately which is less than ideal as you will see in my letter below. I hope it resonates with you and that my MP will use my case study in parliament ( one can only hope):

Dear MP,

Thank you for your swift response to my letter regarding the Mental Health Units Use of Force Bill. In your letter to me, you stated ‘more people accessing mental health services every day….as well as around 750,000 more people accessing talking therapies since 2009/2010’.

As someone with Bipolar disorder who was hospitalised (and sectioned) in 2014 for 4 months, with another 4 months in day hospital due to psychosis and mania, I have been on the waiting list for talking therapy since 2015- almost 2 years ago. When I recently went to a review with my psychiatrist, he said he would speak to psychology for me but that because the service is over stretched I may have to seek therapy via local charities or go privately. Being that I am currently waiting to start work and on ESA, I couldn’t afford private therapy without help from my family and I have had to go private which is grossly unfair due to the trauma I have faced. However, as you state, more people are accessing mental health services meaning that even in someone with a case such as mine, I have had to wait for talking therapy and effectively given up on NHS support in that regard.

I hope you will use my case study as an example in parliament when discussing mental health with Theresa May and your party and would appreciate a response. 

Yours sincerely,

Eleanor Segall

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Living with Bipolar Disorder: my True story- for Counselling Directory Website

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Be Ur Own Light author Eleanor tells her story for Counselling Directory. 

Article: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/experience_236.html

I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder at just 16 years old. I had been admitted to hospital after a year of depressive and anxious episodes, followed by a hypomanic episode (a lesser episode of mania). People with bipolar have a mood disorder which means our moods can become extreme and oscillate between low and high.

After a year of not understanding what was happening, I finally came to accept the diagnosis. You see, bipolar runs in my family. There is evidence it can be genetic but, as I was so young, no one suspected that my depression and hypomania could be bipolar disorder. I was hospitalised as a teenager in 2004 due to a mixed state of depression and psychosis (where your mind loses touch with reality).

Luckily, with medication and support, I was able to live a fairly ‘normal’ life for several years. Despite having to go down a year at school, I made it to University and completed a Bachelors and Masters degree. I went travelling with friends to India and Ghana, regularly took my medication – mood stabilisers and antidepressants – and was supported by various psychiatrists and therapists, as well as my wonderful family and friends.

But the trauma of what I went through caused an increase in my anxiety levels and I developed social anxiety, fearing what others thought of me. I also became slightly agoraphobic and suffered from panic attacks. Bipolar is such a complex disorder and sometimes anxiety can be a part of the depressive side of the illness.

Over time, I believe that my main medication stopped working. This coupled with several life events, meant I became unwell fast. In 2013, I began to sink into a very low depressive state which led to suicidal thinking. I became very unwell, but supported by my family and upped dosages of medicine, I got better again. However, this was short lived.

In 2014, I spiralled into the worst manic episode of my life. I had racing thoughts and pressured speech, was very fearful of those around me and began to experience delusions (false beliefs about the world). I was incredibly vulnerable and unwell. Unfortunately, the episode happened very quickly and although I hadn’t been in hospital for 10 years, suddenly I found myself there, waiting to be treated.

Being in hospital this time was hard; it took a while for the psychiatry team to bring me down from the manic state. I was in hospital for four months, attending therapy groups (I loved art therapy) and working with occupational therapists, nurses and a wonderful psychiatrist who believed I would get well again.

I did get better again in time. I had a further four months of support when I left hospital, where I was put on the correct mood stabiliser for me – Lithium – which has helped keep the moods at bay. I attended day therapy sessions on anxiety management, recovery, art and social groups and I slowly came out of my shell again. I was in shock and quite traumatised at what had happened to me. However, over time and with support, I accepted it and began to recover.

Since that difficult time, I have worked for and volunteered with mental health charities and supported communal projects. I also started my blog, Be Ur Own Light, in 2016 to explain to family and friends about my mental health. It has been read worldwide and its aim is to tackle mental health stigma and share real-life stories.

I also began to write for the Huffington Post UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change and Bipolar UK, amongst others. Writing is therapy for me.

My message would be that the right medical team, coupled with support networks, psychotherapy, medication and doing things you love to do, can help you feel much better and find recovery. I, like so many with mental health issues, am still a work in progress but to reach any form of recovery is a big milestone and I will fight to remain well. You can too.

Be Ur Own Light is One year old!

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I can’t believe my blog, Be Ur Own Light – started on March 1, 2016 is 1 year old today.

My journey with blogging has been so exciting, inspiring and wonderful. It has reached every part of the world and a huge number of countries in UK, Europe, USA, Canada and South America, China, India and other Asian countries, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia. It is such a blessing to be read world wide!

When I began this blog it was a diary to explain and help recover from my anxiety disorder. However, over time it has evolved into so much more!

As I grew in confidence and found other kindred spirits in my writing, I began to write for other organisations and also receive and upload guest posts on mental health topics.

This year I have written blogs for Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change, Bipolar UK, Self Harm UK, Phobia Support Forum, Counsellors Cafe, Monologues Project and the Bossing It! Academy. I have written 4 blogs for Rethink and have loved collaborating with each charity and organisation. Special mention to Louie Rodrigues at Rethink.

I have also received amazing guest posts from these wonderful charities and writers who shared their hearts in order to battle stigma. Thank you:

– Breathe Life
-Ashley Owens at Generally Anxious
– ISMA stress management
– Stephanie at Making Time for Me
– Adar (PTSD)
– Deepdene Care
– Joshua (bipolar article)
– Michael J Russ
-Richie at Live Your Now
– Megan at the Manic Years
– Quite Great Music psychotherapy
-Lystia Putranto and Karina Ramos
-Eugene Farrell at AXA PPP
-Marcus at Psychsi
– Paradigm Centre San Francisco

I can’t wait to receive more guest submissions over time!

In the past year Be Ur Own Light has grown into a #lighttribe of thousands. On Twitter we are now 2,287 , Facebook 265 of my friends and family, Instagram is 2156,  and we have 127 dedicated WordPress followers. Thank you to each and every one of you for following, commenting, sharing and reading and for helping fight stigma through talking..

This blog has also raised money for Jami mental health charity and I am excited to be starting work for Jami soon.

Its been an incredible year of sharing, writing and breaking down barriers. Its OK to talk about mental illness and mental health. Its alright to feel lost or broken or ill. Seek support for recovery and you can get better. You are not alone.

With gratitude and love on our first birthday 

Reflections- Being Bipolar is not the end.

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This blog post was prompted by a blog I had written a few months ago for Rethink Mental Illness about living with Bipolar 1 disorder. I received a message from a mother whose teenage daughter was suicidal and very unwell and was receiving treatment from CAMHS child and adolescent mental health service . This same mother has stayed in touch with me and updates me with her daughters progress.

I was the same age as her daughter is now when I became unwell. I was only 16, still a child but on the brink of adulthood, at a time where teenage life can be confusing, even without a mental illness!  Being diagnosed at 16 changed my life in many ways. I had to come to terms with having a chronic illness, with being ‘different’, with taking medication daily for the rest of my life, with not drinking alcohol, with feeling insecure about my own mind and self for a long time. Its a lot to take in, at that age in particular.

Being Bipolar is not the end. Yes it can cause havoc and play with your sense of self, cause insecurities about your mind, make you psychotic or manic/ hypomanic, make you depressed and suicidal, make you anxious and terrified and many other symptoms. But it is not the end. With help from support networks and professional medical teams, you can recover. You can get better. You can achieve.

What changed everything for me was taking Lithium. It has stabilised my moods and they don’t fluctuate as intensely, so I am not symptomatic. It was a gamble taking it, as is taking most psychiatric medication, its trial and error. But, as Bipolar runs in my family, I knew having the right chemical balance was key because my moods were all over the place.

I still have bad days and panic and anxiety from time to time. However they are no way near as bad as when I was on the wrong medication.

At 16, I had a very uncertain future. The Doctors told my family I wouldn’t get my A levels (despite having got good grades at GCSE) or go to university. I proved them wrong. I went to university and got my BA, I went travelling to India and Ghana where I volunteered and I went to drama school to do a Masters degree which I attained, despite the difficulties in my mood and the stress it did create. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support network and amazing family in my life. And of course, my need to do things despite the illness!

Achieving these things made my self esteem increase. There are times when I am not confident but having a severe mental illness is not the be all and end all. You can live with it, there are times which can be hell- but these make the sweet times better. I am back at work as well after being in hospital in 2014 and have tried to rebuild my life.

So today I am thinking of the teenage girl who is currently unwell at 16 and her family. And praying for her as we go into Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath).

Drawing my sanity: Art during hospitalisation (for Rethink Mental Illness)

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My latest article for Rethink Mental Illness about how art therapy healed me when in hospital. I hope you like reading:

https://www.rethink.org/news-views/2017/2/art-therapy

Rose is the blogger behind Be Your Own Light blog, which provides great articles about living with mental illness, from both herself and guest bloggers. Below Rose talks about art therapy and the impact it had on her whilst she was in hospital. 

I am 28, and with diagnosed bipolar and anxiety disorders, I have tried many forms of psychotherapy and creative therapies in my life. These have included various talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, meditation, therapies for anxiety disorders and more. However, today I would like to discuss a therapy that was key to my recovery from bipolar psychosis in hospital, on the ward and on the after care day unit – Art.

It sounds simple right?

In 2014, I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act with a manic bipolar episode, including psychosis. I was very unwell and needed medical treatment to stop the psychosis and racing thoughts/actions. In all, I was in an all-womens psychiatric unit for 3 months. While 3 months doesn’t sound like a long period of time, it felt like it.  Every day was spent on a ward where I was away from friends and family and had to get used to new routines, new nurses and doctors, and new patients being admitted – at times the ward was a very chaotic place. I was also in chaos in my own mind due to my mania and psychosis – at times I couldn’t sit still.

Gradually over time, as the medication prescribed by my psychiatrist kicked in, I was able to be a bit calmer and join in with the activities on the ward. One of these was art therapy. My favourite thing to do, in particular, was to sit by myself colouring and rip out images from magazines brought to me – to make them into collages. These were then backed on sugar paper to decorate the clinical hospital walls of my room. When I realised I would be there for months, I set about making my room as homely as possible. I made collages with celebrities I admired, on themes and calming pictures on my wall. The ward had colouring sheets and I would often colour in pictures and I found sometimes it helped with the boredom and would calm me down.

I sat in on a group art therapy session on this ward, which I did find challenging, due to the fact that the therapist was analysing our pictures in front of other people. I felt more comfortable taking myself off and creating pictures and collages in my room or with my friend on the ward, than having that level of analysis at that point.

Indeed, when I was well enough to leave that hospital ward, I spent a further 3 months on an acute day treatment unit – a hospital  day unit with group therapies and classes. When there I would often take myself off into a quiet room to colour with colouring pencils. I found colouring so soothing.

It was during this point when I had come home (from the trauma of all I had been through), that my anxiety levels rose. At one stage, the only thing that would focus me at home and would bring my anxiety level down was colouring in pictures or patterns, so  I bought colouring books to do it in. The world seemed frightening but I was able to reduce it down to the page and picture I was colouring in – a sort of form of mindfulness art therapy.

I have found that creating positive art or the act of colouring in a serene (non triggering) picture, has been pivotal in my recovery. In combination with a new mood stabiliser and courses of talking therapies, I have found that art has healed and soothed me at times when I have felt overwhelmed, anxious and unable to cope. I am now fully well and looking towards my future – but I will always be grateful to those therapists who left out colouring pictures for me to do, who lent me card, glue and glitter and said – “if you want to do it, create.” That creation helped me heal.

 

Monday Update: Rethink and Thank You

This is just a short update post- I just want to thank everyone who visited my blog as a result of my Rethink article and everyone who read the article and found it useful!
It is always a pleasure to write for such an important and caring charity and I love writing and partnering with Rethink.

I have also been receiving some brilliant guest posts to my inbox which will start going up soon.

Thank you for making the Be Ur Own Light community the shining light that it is and is becoming.

Love from a cold, grey London but with warmth 🙂

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Surviving Depression and Suicidal thoughts: a blog for Rethink Mental Illness

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https://www.rethink.org/news-views/2016/12/surviving-depression-and-suicidal-thoughts

Thank you to Rethink for publishing my blog under a pseudonym, for the graphic and sharing my story of hope over adversity.

Rose is the blogger behind Be Your Own Light blog, which provides great articles about living with mental illness, from both herself and guest bloggers. Below she talks to us about how she has dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts. 

When I was 15 years old, I experienced my first depressive episode. I felt unable to leave the house or see friends as the depression brought about an increase in anxiety . My parents looked after me as best they could and I was taken to see an adolescent psychiatrist who put me on anti depressants coupled with therapy. I gradually got better again with time and managed to do well in my exams.

I was eventually hospitalised voluntarily after more periods of illness and at 16 years old, diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. Understandably, the diagnosis changed my life. I am now 28 and have been taking medication since then. Not long ago, I survived a suicidal depression that I had in the winter of 2013, 6 months before I went into hospital.

At this time, It was apparent that for several years my medication was not controlling my low moods. I would get really depressed very quickly, feel overly emotional when stressed and felt like I had to hide myself away. I began sleeping too much to escape the inner turmoil and to get respite. Sleep became my balm and escape.

However, it was when I began sleeping from 9-5 pm with a quick break for food, not getting washed and dressed or answering my phone and not being able to get in to work, that the psychiatrist was called to the house to see me.

I remember crying and crying- in such pain in my mind. For me, the depression felt so chemical- I knew I needed to change my medication but I didn’t know why everything felt like ‘wading through treacle’. Why couldn’t I find the joy in life anymore, I asked myself? I just couldn’t cope with the painful negative thoughts and feelings and started thinking irrationally that I would be better off not here in the world.

These suicidal thoughts were extremely challenging to deal with.  I was so scared by them that I would tell my parents constantly how I was feeling. I wanted to get the thoughts out my head and so telling people became my salvation- I believe if I had bottled it up, I may not be here today.

Eventually, over time, my medical team worked together to put me on the right  medication- Lithium. The Lithium has changed and saved my life. My brain chemistry is stable, I no longer feel suicidal or depressed. I get up early in the morning and I want to do things with my day. This took a long time but to anyone feeling suicidal- please reach for help.

You can get better- it is your brain playing tricks on you with an illness. I want to spread a message of hope, recovery and survival- life can be dark but if you hold on there is hope. 

Guest Post by Richie: Dealing with anxiety, Live Your Now

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(image:weheartit.com)

I was honoured to be asked to write a piece on anxiety for this wonderful blog.  I’m Richie, and I’m a mindfulness coach – one who happens to have had anxiety for as long as I can remember.  The thing is, I didn’t always know I had it.  I’ve been researching positive psychology methods etc for many years, but I wasn’t coping so headed to see a counsellor who referred me for a course of CBT after having pointed out – Sir, you have bad anxiety.

Me?

Yes I’d had panic attacks, people would describe me as quite reactive, amongst other things – and after all these years, to discover it was my “fight or flight” mechanism going into overdrive & attaching to situations in had no business being in, well, I was not impressed to say the least! How did I miss this? I felt initially extremely put out by this, I saw myself as a “fighter” – I got on with things, my panic attacks were just “stage fright” (I was in radio/music performance etc), my OCD a quirk of creativity and all that jazz! Right?

Wrong.

This is when I began to understand more fully the stigma associated to “mental health”. A somewhat wishy-washy term to people not familiar, or plain ignorant of the facts (as I myself was), as it’s often attributed to needing to just “chill out” or, “stop being so depressed” etc. At some point in life, many people will experience bouts of some kind of mental illness – after traumas, disappointments, or for some no seeming reason at all! But then, even the most healthy people can catch a cold.  And that’s the issue. Mental Health is a physical issue, that cannot be seen, and therefore for some is like trying to see oxygen.

My advice is simple on this matter; for brevity.

Acceptance & ownership

Firstly, accept it’s a physical thing, and take ownership and understand the physical things in the mind that are taking place. This helps separate you from the thought that you ARE your anxiety/depression etc. This is simply not the case.

If you catch a cold, you don’t say you ARE your cold. CBT helped me understand the mechanics of it, and have useful approaches, but for me (and we’re all different), I find mindfulness to have been the most helpful because it teaches to not identify as “being” depression/anxiety etc. This begins a process of dissociation of identifying as “being” depressed/anxious, and instead acceptance of what it is, how it functions, learning how it feels, and gradually gaining a level of understanding and feeling of when it’s occurring – and how it can shape/affect our feelings/emotions and therefore behaviours/reactions.

Experiment with techniques

Secondly, experiment with ways that can help you day to day – of course, seek professional help, but there’s also much that you can do independently. Breathing exercises (massively effective!), reminding yourself that the depression/anxiety doesn’t make you who you are, try things like mindfulness which teach us to detach from thought.

I also personally use meditations, guided or technological, hypnosis, even things like “EFT” (emotional freedom technique – or tapping), reading positive books, listening to uplifting music, and actively managing thought processes as and when I can.  Using mindfulness to compliment allows for being more in touch then, with which techniques are being more effective for you in the moment.

Is anxiety still there? Oh yes! But the more I practice these techniques (and you will find what works for you) and indeed, share them with others, the more aware I become of “anxiety”.

Reframing

Lastly; I have also reframed my anxiety, because without that fight or flight mechanism, our species would not likely still be here! So it’s important! It’s evolved in our species to protect us – and there are times that flood of adrenaline etc is critical. We certainly would not wish to be without it, but the chances a tiger is going to jump out and eat us are hopefully not too prevalent in your neighbourhood…

My experiences prompted me to begin @LiveYourNow & @Rmindrs on Twitter where I post daily mindfulness reminders, engage, and encourage others to talk – and hopefully create a few laughs too! (Laughter releases great neuro-chemicals!)

Be forgiving of yourself, understand you’re on a journey, and when you find things that help you, share them with others. The more we speak openly, the less stigma is attached, and the more others who may be suffering in silence may feel comforted and confident to speak out and seek assistance.  I have been witness to that now multiple times, and it’s truly a wonderful thing when we accompany each other, in compassion, on our healing journeys.

Thank you for reading! I hope it brings even just one person comfort/hope.

To your greatest life,

Richie – @LiveYourNow

Gratitude to you: with thanks

Recently I have been having the opportunity to grow my little blog here and it is amazingly being read around the world. From the UK to Israel, The USA and Canada to Australia, Italy, Germany, Spain,  Norway, Finland, Croatia, Monaco, Indonesia, India, Peru, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, South Africa, Uruguay, Nigeria and Sudan.. I am amazed each day by where people are reading from and I am so so thankful. I write this not to brag but just because its so wonderful for me to reach people from different cultures. 🙂

We now have almost 60 dedicated WordPress followers, over 1,000 followers on Twitter, almost 700 in Instagram and 130 of my close friends and family on Facebook. This week, inspirational acid attack survivor Katie Piper liked one of our posts on Instagram about positive affirmation which was incredibly exciting!

We hope to grow the blog to spread light around the world for those suffering with mental health issues. I love receiving your supportive comments and sharing in online conversations with you all.

Today I am feeling so happy and thank you for engaging. I am also excited to announce a blog collaboration with Counsellors Cafe UK website, which will hopefully be posted in the next few weeks  and  Jewish Association of Mental Illness, who may be using my blog posts in the new year.

I am also thankful to Louie Rethink Mental Illness and Tim at Time to Change for getting me published before I even started publicising my blog.

With love xxxthankyou1

From Depression to Light: Life Lessons

For those who are new readers or don’t really know, I have been journalling for a long time- maybe since the age of 14 on and off. I have always sought to write and get my feelings down on paper. I was looking through some boxes the other day and came across the following ‘Future letter to myself’ from September 2010. I was 22 and reflecting on life and the journey I had been on from being diagnosed bipolar at 16, to falling in love and having my heart broken and travelling around the world. I had also been struggling with anxiety for a long time.

This ‘I have learnt’ list was partly inspired by the introduction to singer India Aries album ‘Love and Relationships’. The words are my own. I hope if you are feeling sad or if you are contemplating things in your own life that these words give you strength.

A letter to my future self, I have learnt (From 2010)

‘Dear future me

I sit here as a woman who has survived trauma and illness, travelled to 3 continents and got a university degree. I sit here as a woman who has survived a severely broken heart.

I have learnt that love is not enough.

I have learnt that just because everyone else does something doesn’t mean I have to.

I have learnt that I have inner reserves of strength.

I have learnt that a supportive family or network is everything.

I have learnt that loneliness is painful- but is part of life experience.

I have learnt that life is joy and pain and mundanity.

I have learnt that some people are meant to leave your life physically but leave an impression on your heart.

I have learnt that facing life takes a lot of courage.

I have learnt that we need the love of others. A person is not a person without other people.

I have learnt to assess character.

I have learnt not to fall too easily.

I have learnt that having a shattered heart or mind is painful but not the end.

I have learnt that the mind is incredibly powerful and we have to learn to master it.

I have learnt that food is good.

I have learnt that fears are blessings because by pushing through them we grow.

I have learnt about the power of the soul.

Be strong. Believe even at your saddest moments.