Extract from my article for Metro UK: How to Improve on-screen depictions of Mental Illness

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This is an extract from an  article our founder Eleanor Segall wrote for Metro.co.uk. To read the full article click here:

http://metro.co.uk/2018/02/21/how-to-improve-on-screen-depictions-of-mental-illness-7315828/

As someone with bipolar disorder, I am often intrigued by depictions of mental illness on TV and film. For many years, mental illness has been stigmatised, and this has been reflected on screen. Thankfully, this stigma is beginning to be broken down, but it is still present.

In her award-winning article, Mental Illness in the Media, for the International Bipolar Foundation, Hosana Tagomori, who was a high school student when she worked on the piece, wrote: ‘The media often portrays characters with mental illness as incomprehensible, tortured and convoluted… the entertainment value often gets in the way of an accurate portrayal. ‘Patients are perceived as dangerous or insane, due to the inaccurate portrayals in media, where the character is almost always hopeless, deranged, and dangerous.’ ‘It is quite easy to subconsciously absorb these misconceptions.’

Indeed, this is a challenge that those of us with mental health issues face. We want our illnesses to be portrayed correctly and accurately on screen, without having to watch stereotypes. Depictions of mental health can be disappointing

Tagomori wrote: ‘In the television series Homeland, the bipolar character always seems to be the pop-eyed, insane mess who is constantly going ballistic: ranting, drinking and screaming’. While this can be true for some people with bipolar in the middle of a manic episode, it is not a balanced approach to the illness. We know that people with bipolar disorder can often be stable and well on medication and that a long time can elapse between episodes.

Portrayals of those with mental illness as ‘insane messes’ raises dangerous misconceptions, including that people with mental health problems will never get well. For me, a brilliant representation of bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis appeared on EastEnders in 2015.

This centered around a story line for pregnant character Stacey Fowler (played by Lacey Turner), who has the disorder and experiences a psychotic episode after giving birth. Before watching the scenes in which Stacey has psychosis, I was concerned how it would be shown on screen, but I needn’t have worried. Sensitive, accurate portrayals of mental illness on screen can help to educate viewers EastEnders worked directly with the charities Mind and Bipolar UK to create the story line, so the script and performance were as accurate as possible.

In 2015, Dominic Treadwell Jones, producer of the story line spoke to the Radio Times, he said: ‘EastEnders have worked closely with Mind, Bipolar UK, other experts in the field and women with personal experience to show a story that is true and painful, while also filled with the usual twists and turns viewers have come to expect from EastEnders. Lacey is one of the most raw and intuitive actresses on TV.’

Also speaking to the Radio Times about the EastEnders story line, Clare Dolman, vice chair of Bipolar UK, said : ‘As the national charity supporting people with bipolar, we’ve been glad to work closely with the BBC on Stacey’s storyline. ‘There is a very high risk that women with bipolar will become ill when they have a child and 20-25% of them will have a postpartum psychosis, so it’s fantastic that EastEnders are raising awareness of this devastating condition.’

In the scenes where Stacey is experiencing psychosis, the character believes she is the Virgin Mary and that her baby is Jesus. She experiences delusions and auditory hallucinations. I was concerned about how I would feel watching it, but what I most felt was a sense of pride that British television was portraying bipolar correctly, sensitively and appropriately.

Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2018/02/21/how-to-improve-on-screen-depictions-of-mental-illness-7315828/?ito=cbshare

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MetroUK | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MetroUK/

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‘Time To Talk: I hope my story can help others feel less alone’: for the Jewish News UK on Time to Talk Day

Today is Time to Talk Day, Time to Change charity’s annual day to talk about our mental health. This year, I decided I wanted to share my story with a local newspaper to my community, the Jewish community in the UK and beyond online. This is also for people who aren’t Jewish and so I am sharing it here. I havnt shared the full article due to SEO reasons but there is a link at the end to the full article!

Remember- its ok to talk about mental health… to loved ones and beyond. It took me a long time to share my story and sharing publicly is not for everyone. I hope the article helps you feel less alone:

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(image: Eleanor Segall)
Time To Talk Day, marked on 1 February, gives everyone the opportunity to open up about mental health. It’s a subject close to my heart, because it took me 11 years to talk openly about the fact I have bipolar disorder and anxiety.

My story begins in 2003, when, aged 15, I experienced an episode of depression, anxiety and psychosis, where your mind loses touch with reality.

I wasn’t sleeping, my heart would suddenly race, I would cry and have regular panic attacks and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was incredibly frightened and exhausted.

My parents, as well as teachers at Immanuel College, were hugely supportive and understanding and I sought help from a psychiatrist for the first time.

But that year, while on Israel Tour with my youth group, I also experienced a manic episode and had to come home early. I felt so ashamed, even though it was not my fault that my mind wasn’t well.

My madricha (youth leader) was an incredible support to me and I thank her to this day for all she did to make sure I was safe and well.

Months later, when I started studying for my A-levels, I had a further severe depressive episode.

For the next four months, I was kept in hospital and, aged just 16, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar affective 1 disorder (formerly known as manic depression), which causes both depressive and ‘high’ manic episodes.

The disorder can be medicated and therapy helps, but it’s about finding the right medication and support, which can take a while for each person.

For the next 10 years, I managed my condition and in that time achieved A-levels, went to university and travelled.

But when I turned 25, I again found myself spiralling into illness with a bipolar manic episode.

People suffering with this can have racing thoughts, reckless behaviour, increased activity and movement and delusions, which can, in the worst cases, turn into psychosis. This is what happened to me.

Through no fault of my own, I was back in hospital again. It was extremely frightening. Owing to the severity of the mania, I couldn’t see how ill I was and felt incredibly vulnerable.

At that time, I had no idea if I could recover and get back to some kind of normal life again. It affected everything and even when I began dating, I felt I had to hide my condition.

READ FULL ARTICLE: http://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/time-to-talk-i-hope-my-story-can-help-others-feel-less-alone/

Reflections on 2017 and Festive Greetings from Be Ur Own Light!

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(image: Harrison Greetings)

Here at Be Ur Own Light, it has been a brilliant year in terms of writing, getting the message out there, engagement and gaining a new following. As well as regular blog posts on her life with bipolar and anxiety, I (founder, Eleanor) have written this year for other charities and media outlets. These include : Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change,  Self Harm UK/ Youthscape, Brighton Wellness Centre, The Counselling Directory, Counsellors Cafe, ISMA, World Union of Jewish Students, Equilibrium Magazine and Happiful Magazine. There are upcoming collaborations to be published soon so stay tuned! I also hope to publish more for the Huffington Post in the new year.

The blog has grown into a strong following and particularly we have seen the growth from fellow bloggers on WordPress and Twitter which has been brilliant! Not to mention my loyal following on Facebook and other social media (and email). I have loved doing some Facebook Live videos and discussions too. Thank you everyone who regularly reads, comments, shares and for the awards given this year from fellow bloggers (Liebster, Sunshine, Mystery and of course being a Top 30 Social Anxiety blog and Top 100 Bipolar blog by Feedspot.com). I have also entered the blog into the UK Blog Awards and thank you to everyone who has voted so far.

I have hosted many incredible guest bloggers this year and thank you to all who have submitted high quality and excellent articles (in brackets is what they wrote about:

Lucy Boyle (Burnout Syndrome)
Quite Great and Helen Brice (Music Psychotherapy)
Bailey Chauner at Redfin (Seasonal affective disorder)
UnitedMind Laughter Yoga (Jobs and wellbeing)
Christina Hendricks at mentalhealthzen.com (PTSD and veterans)
Reviews Bee (Child Mental Health)
Mental Health and Money Worries  (Mental health and money)
Stephen Smith nOCD App (OCD)
Arslan Butt (Mental health)
Tony Weekes Unity MHS (his story)
Ellie Miles (Health anxiety)
Hope Virgo (Anorexia recovery/ book by Trigger Press)
Ann Heathcote Worsley Centre of Psychotherapy
Adar (PTSD and relationship abuse)
Marcus (Bipolar disorder)
Diamond E Health Informer (Mental Health and Technology)   
Lystia Putranto and Karina Ramos (Anxiety)
Paradigm San Francisco (Internet and teen mental health)
Juno Medical (Anxiety infographic)
Jasmine Burns (Binge eating disorder)
Bill Weiss (Opiate withdrawal)
Jessica Flores (Bipolar 2)
Jimmy Vick (Meditation)
Jay Pignatiello (Mindfulness and Meditation)
David Baum (365 Challenge for PTSD and Mind)
Karen (Anxiety as a mental health professional)
Dr Stacey Leibowitz-Levy (Online CBT) 

I have also written a lot about my journey with bipolar disorder and anxiety and hope to continue to do so in the new year!

Be Ur Own Light will be celebrating its second birthday in March 2018 and we can’t wait to see what next year holds.

We wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year period- Festive Greetings to all!

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

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.