Anxiety, Low mood,Winter and Me. By Eleanor

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(image: Istock)

I have sat down many times in the past few weeks to try and compose this blog and I havn’t felt able, the weight of it felt too much to put down on ‘paper’. The past month has been a lot more challenging for me, I have had an increase in my anxiety, particularly the social anxiety, fear of judgement and the world in general.

This has meant I have had to cancel media appearances and my book launch for friends and family and I sadly missed an old friend’s beautiful wedding and another old friend’s hen weekend 😦  (as well as missing going to the theatre to see Waitress with a wonderful friend). I have been having panic attacks again about socialising when feeling so vulnerable. This has been really, really hard because I hate letting anyone down, I have just been feeling ill at times and having to cope with the heightened anxiety and its ‘fun’  accompaniment (insomnia, racing thoughts, negative thoughts and chest pain).

My book got published and while that was amazing and a lifelong dream, it also felt exposing as I revealed a lot about my life that many wouldn’t know. So I felt like hiding away because it felt scary (social anxiety again).

Additionally, I started therapy 7 weeks ago to give me tools to a) understand but b) deal with the underlying anxiety about life and while it is helping (I am doing a type of trauma therapy called EMDR), I think it might be bringing issues I have buried to the surface from past trauma. This could be why I am getting triggered in social situations at present. I have a fear of negative judgement and also of crowds. I am working on this in therapy as I have been through a lot so far in my 31 years on this planet!

This time of year is also not helping me at all- the nights drawing in and the gloomy mornings. I struggle with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I start feeling lower this time of year. I am well medicated so my depression is mild in comparison to what it gets like when my medication doesn’t work but it is the anxiety I need to work on and expose myself to feared situations slowly.

To my friends, thank you for your kindness and for trying to support me (and coax me out) through this difficult patch again- you know who you are. If anyone wants to come round for a Disney night with chocolate- please do! 

Despite the negatives, there have been some successes in the past few weeks- seeing family, going to the cinema with Rob to see Last Christmas, going to the garden centre with my sister and bro in law, attending my therapy sessions, promoting the book online, job applying (exhausting but I’ve been doing it), speaking to friends regularly and trying to socialise even if I don’t always make it. I am working on that.

Oh and I have been volunteering for Christmas4CAMHS charity- that provide presents for ill children on mental health wards. I have been helping them gain awareness and raise funds via social media. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have managed to do in the past 2 weeks. Thank you Ro for letting me be involved and giving me some purpose to help others.

Social anxiety and depression are hard things to live with, but I know it will pass again in time and to reach for support if I need it. I am already on anti depressants and anti anxiety meds (as well as the therapy), so will have to wait and see what helps. I have an SAD lamp so need to use it when I wake in the mornings. Perhaps I should push myself to go for walks, although I am currently enjoying being a doormouse. If anyone else is struggling, please reach out- we are stronger together.

 

Christmas for CAMHS Campaign to brighten up Children’s Christmas in Mental health wards: Guest post

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(image: Christmas for CAMHS charity)

Christmas for CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are a registered charity providing gifts each year for children and young people who are in mental health units in the UK over the Christmas holiday. They say,

Our aim is to make as many children and young people who are inpatients over the Christmas holidays feel thought-about, special and included.

We have been hugely supported over the past few years by generous donations from the public and have received much gratitude as a result from inpatient units. However, we are only able to provide gifts with your charitable donations. ‘

Christmas For CAMHS was originally set up because volunteers saw a huge disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated over the festive period compared to other NHS services for children and young people. They wanted to do something to change that and say,

‘Children are admitted to CAMHS units to receive support and treatment for mental health issues. There are no official figures for how many children will spend the festive season in CAMHS units across the UK. While many members of the public and corporate donors give Christmas gifts to Children’s hospitals or children’s wards in general hospitals, CAMHS units, which are usually based away from other services, are often forgotten, or not known about.’

Ro Bevan, doctor and founder says,

‘Five years ago I worked in a children’s hospital at Christmas time and there were many presents donated, mostly from corporate donors. There were so many presents that there was enough leftover for patients’ birthdays until June of the following year. A year later, I was working in child and adolescent mental health. We had no presents donated. Our patients had one present each, chosen by the therapy team, paid for out of the ward’s budget – saved from the NHS budget that is meant to cover therapeutic activities, and other expenses. I posted about the inequality on Facebook and before I knew it, my post had goneviral with 1,032 shares and so many supportive comments. It inspired me to start a group the following year and together we have raised over £1,000 to help children who would otherwise be forgotten by the generous public.

‘We don’t know whether this disparity is because people just don’t know that there
are children in mental health hospitals, or whether it’s indicative of the stigma that
society attaches to mental health issues. Regardless, we’re hoping to raise
awareness and address the balance. Although this project started with a simple
Facebook post, it has already gone further than I ever could’ve imagined possible
and reaching units across the UK which is a dream come true.’

This year, a special advent calendar has been designed by Sam Barakat, featuring  positive quotes every day, rather than chocolate. As well as this, there will be 32 windows, one for every day from December 1st to January 1st. 50 will also be donated to mental health units via Christmas for CAMHS. Sam says, ‘For many, Christmas is a joyful time that is spent with friends and family. For others, it can be the hardest time of year. This could be due to past events, trauma,  loneliness  or mental illness. ‘

I (Eleanor) feel this is such an incredible campaign that will touch the hearts of many. I was in a CAMHS unit aged 16 over Christmas and think this will help many people.  

You can donate and buy a calendar here for someone struggling : https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-mental-wellbeing-advent-calendar?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1

To donate to Christmas for CAMHS and give presents to ill children click here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/
CAMHS2019

Website and more information: www.christmasforcamhs.org.uk

 

4 Ways to help a friend with Bipolar disorder: Guest post by Dr Justine Corry

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(Image: Etsy)

Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a condition involving chronic changes in mood. It oscillates between a manic high, a depressive low, and a normal functioning state. People with this condition often find themselves at the mercy of extreme changes in mood.

However, it is worth noting that this condition is far from untreatable. In fact, with the help of a good clinical psychologist, medication, and a healthy lifestyle, a person with bipolar disorder can lead a happy, productive life.

If you know someone living with bipolar disorder, it helps to be mindful of offering them your care, understanding and support. Here are four things you can do.

Knowing the Facts

Learning about bipolar disorder is the first step in helping a friend with the condition. This is the best way to understand what they are going through.

Like other mental health concerns, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding bipolar disorder. Differentiating the truth from the false assumptions can add to your knowledge and understanding and, ultimately, help you in providing the right kind of support that your friend needs.

Here are some of the common myths about bipolar disorder that have been debunked by experts:

 

Myth #1: Bipolar disorder is a grave mental illness

In the past couple of decades, experts have established that there are mild forms of bipolar disorder which are, in fact, much more common than severe conditions.

The two main types of this disorder are bipolar I and bipolar II. Bipolar I is characterized by severe episodes of depression and mania while bipolar II entails severe depression but milder manic attacks. 

Beyond these two, a bigger group of people experience other forms of mania that occur in shorter periods.

 

Myth #2: Mood swings automatically mean a person is bipolar

Experiencing extreme mood swings is believed to be one of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder.

This is completely false. Mood swings can be caused by several different circumstances, such as a woman’s menstrual cycle, use of drugs and other substances, and even the weather. In some cases, hormonal imbalances, neurological issues, and autoimmune diseases also wreak havoc on a person’s mood.

What sets bipolar disorder apart from these reasons for moodiness is the significant change in a person’s attitude, behaviour, and personality over several days at a time.

 

Myth #3: Bipolar disorder is difficult to cure

It may seem so, but not really. In fact, there are many different kinds of treatments that are effective for individuals with bipolar disorder, including antidepressants, mood-stabilizing drugs, and psychotherapy.

 

Showing Compassion, Not Pity

Compassion is crucial for your friend’s recovery. However, many people find it hard to differentiate compassion from pity.

Avoid showing your friend that you feel sorry for then. Instead, recognise the challenge of living and let them know that you are always there for them no matter what.

 

Not Telling Your Friend What to Feel or How to React

Saying “cheer up” to a person with depression, or “calm down” when manic highs occur, are not the correct approaches to communicating with loved ones with bipolar disorder. In fact, telling them what to do may only cause them to feel antagonized.

Instead, ask them what you can do to help, or offer to do things that can help them feel calmer or happier. When they are no longer feeling distressed, talk about potential strategies that you can try together to help them get better next time.

 

Lending Your Ears

Listening to a friend in need can do wonders for people living with bipolar disorder. Lending your ears means you should listen sympathetically.

Let your friend know that they do not have to put on a brave face in front of you and that you are ready to listen whenever they need you. You should also take their words seriously, especially if they speak about self-harm or suicide.

 

Being There for a Friend in Need

Admitting that you need another person’s help or support is not always easy for everyone. It may be especially difficult for people who are being treated  for psychological conditions. If someone close to you is living with or has a history of bipolar disorder, make sure to let them know that you are always ready to be there for them.

 

AUTHOR BIO

Justine Corry is a clinical psychologist and enjoys helping people get to the heart of what is not working in their lives. Along with Dr. Gemma Gladstone, she is co-director of the Good Mood Clinic in Sydney and has 10 years of experience within private practice.

The difference between Psychotherapy and Counselling: Guest post by Aaron James

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(image: Weheartit)

In our age of information, choice and variety, there are hundreds of different types of therapy and counselling available. As a starting point, one of the most common questions asked is, what is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

The answer is much debated as the boundaries are not always clear, especially in the UK.  However, it is generally stated that counselling is typically a shorter undertaking that focuses on the present and on current behaviours. On the other hand, psychotherapy addresses deeper, longer-term issues by exploring all experiences including those from childhood and with clients undergoing therapy for longer periods of time. 

To get a fuller understanding, it helps to look at both the similarities and differences.

 

Blurred lines

The terms counselling and psychotherapy are frequently used with overlap and flexibility. Certain therapists offer both. Some psychotherapists choose to use the term ‘counsellor’ simply as a softer, more approachable title, some use counselling as part of a psychotherapy process. There are also counsellors who adopt psychotherapeutic approaches. You can see where the confusion arises.

There are many individuals and practices offering counselling, but less that offer a full range of therapies including in-depth psychotherapies (for example, Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy who also happen to discuss this topic on their site).  Reputable practices share the interests, approaches and qualifications of their therapists and will be happy to discuss their compatibility with clients.

The similarities – what you get from both

Counselling and psychotherapy are both focused on creating an open, non-judgmental, safe space to help people improve their mental wellbeing and to remove distress from their lives. The majority of therapies across the board are talking or communicative therapies where participants aim for a better understanding of themselves, and often their relationships with other people, through guided discussions with a therapist. 

In talking therapies people explore their feelings and thoughts and often look at their choices. Both counselling and psychotherapy have different branches and specialisms and  both can work with individuals, families, groups or particular focus areas. But there are some general distinctions that can help people decide which is most appropriate for them.

Counselling

Counselling addresses present problems and current personal issues such as a relationship breakdown, anxiety or confidence or behavioural issues. Often with some kind of structured process, the counsellor helps alleviate symptoms and current behaviour patterns that are causing distress. It may offer practical tools to break down negative feelings and habits, and it can often be goal or action based.

As it generally deals with more surface level ‘life’ issues, clients are usually involved in therapy for shorter timeframes. The Counsellor’s Guide is a good source of information for those wanting to know more.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a deeper and longer term approach. It looks not only at the present situation, but how someone’s childhood and past may be affecting and shaping emotions they have now. The therapist may help someone delve into their past to reveal hidden experiences that have affected them. Psychotherapy looks to identify the roots of an issue as part of the process. 

As such it can address more complex mental health problems. It is a much more in-depth exploration of a person’s emotions aiming to bring buried issues to the surface to deliver a more profound understanding of who they are and their relationships.

Training

The training a therapist undergoes is often stated as another key difference. A counsellor or psychotherapeutic counsellor requires a diploma or degree, along with a number of hours of work placement experience. Psychotherapists are required to undergo postgraduate level specialist training of around 4 years. It is often noted too, that most psychotherapists are required to undergo therapy themselves as part of their training and so that they have experience from both sides.

However, counsellor and psychotherapist are not legally protected titles and further specialisms may often entail more training for both. A good therapist will openly share their training details and should be a registered member of one of the appropriate industry bodies such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Which therapy is right for me?

The distinctions made here are broad ones to give a general guide. There are counselling and psychotherapy options to suit different types of problem, different types of people and different levels of previous experience. The therapies on offer will vary and some people undergo counselling for a long time, and some find a psychotherapy that offers a shorter solution. 

It depends massively on the person seeking therapy and their needs, and the important thing is for a client is to find a therapist that they feel comfortable with. Many experts say that much of the healing comes from the positive experience of the therapist to client relationship and this can be down to a personal match. 

 

This guest blog was written by freelance writer Aaron James, based in the UK. 

Two Book Reviews: ‘Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety’ is out tomorrow!

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This week is publication week for my book ‘Bring me to Light’!

I can’t quite believe that it hits the shelves tomorrow! I started writing the manuscript in early 2018 and now here we are! I am lucky to have had my book reviewed by two great bloggers this week.

The first is by Rachael Stray, a UK based blogger. Rachael received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review and she said:

” Eleanor is extremely honest as she tells her very personal story of being diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and her journey from adolescence to adulthood. In this book we are taken through Eleanor’s struggles with her mental health and what a profound impact it has had on her life.

She really opens up about her struggles with her mental health and the inner turmoil she was facing. Eleanor clearly has a great support network of family and friends who have been such a support for her which she acknowledges.

I found her honest account of struggling with medication, institutionalisation following hospital stays and feeling lost in her own life extremely difficult to read but so educational and inspirational.

Eleanor hasn’t let her mental health stop her from being successful, finding a career she loves, she’s got such a strong faith, a great network of family and friends and now a loving husband.A lot of what she talks about within this book really deeply personally resonated with me.” (Rachael Stray https://rachaelstray.com/bring-me-to-light-review-ad/)

 

Thank you Rachael for your kind review. The second was by Nyxie who is based in Northern Ireland and is also a book blogger (at Nyxie’s nook). She also received a free copy in exchange for an honest review:

 

Eleanor began blogging while in outpatient treatment as both an outlet for her thoughts and to provide education to others. Like many of those with mental and physical illness, Eleanor’s writing became like therapy. When the words are placed on page or screen, they’re less likely to be bouncing off the walls of our brains. It’s a perfect example of how art, of any kind, can release built-up tension.

She has also successfully worked with mental health organisations such as Time to Change, Mind and SANE, and has even written for publications such as The Telegraph, Glamour and Happiful Magazine.

Bring Me To Light is a wonderful and brutally honest account of living with Bipolar Disorder. For anyone who lives with any illness, chronic or mental, should read this book. Like me, you’ll find yourself identifying with parts of Eleanor’s past.

I found it quite difficult to read some chapters as I empathised quite a bit with her emotions and thought patterns. With that being said I do love a book that makes me feel strong emotions, as many memoirs usually do.”  (Nyxie at Nyxies Nook: https://www.nyxiesnook.com/bring-me-to-light/)

 

Thank you both for your kind reviews.

Want to order a copy of my book? Click here for Amazon (but also in other book shops):

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https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bring-Me-Light-Embracing-Bipolar/dp/1789560365/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=eleanor+segall&qid=1558346142&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

Love,

Eleanor x

Why I wrote my book, ‘Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety’ by Eleanor

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(image: Trigger Publishing)

This blog has been a long time coming. I have been so busy promoting my book on social media and in the press that I havn’t actually sat here and told you WHY I decided to write this book. So, here goes.

Firstly, can I just express so much gratitude to this here WordPress blog because without it, I would not have got commissioned at Metro.co.uk (thank you Yvette) or for other places online. This blog gave me the confidence to write and to expand my writing’s reach and for that I will be forever grateful.

In 2013/ early 2014, I sat on the couch, crying and living with a suicidal depression. My bipolar was unstable and all over the place- I felt so low and like there was no way out. However, as I sat and cried- a friend of mine’s face peered up from the newspaper. He was looking for the man that saved him from suicide and was launching a campaign called Find Mike to find him. That man was Jonny Benjamin (who now has an MBE). I had known Jonny for many years as a teenager through friends, but he became my inspiration and my hope that I too could do good things despite having mental illness. He very kindly has provided an endorsement too for my book- thank you Jonny!

With the help of my psychiatrist, I recovered temporarily from the depression but then spun very fast into mania and psychosis (possible due to a large dose of anti depressant). I was sectioned and in hospital for 4 months as an inpatient and a further 4 as an outpatient.

Throughout this time, I could not think about writing because my mind wasn’t stable enough. But as I pieced my life back together, started taking a new mood stabiliser to help control the bipolar episodes and started to recover slowly, I found the power of blogging about my social anxiety due to trauma of the bipolar, to be so helpful. I found that others would share their stories and would reach out to me about their mental health too.

Although life is not perfect and I am still living with an anxiety disorder, I have found a way to write and speak about mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar at 16 and there was a lot of shame for me about it back then in 2004. These days, I tell my story for other scared 16 year olds newly diagnosed but also to break down barriers and stigma against mental illness. To explain you can have bipolar or be sectioned or have psychosis but you can recover and you don’t need to spend life in hospital forever. To explain that while this cruel illness runs in families, that with the right healthcare, staying more stable is possible.

I started writing my book with Trigger Publishing because they believed in my story when I sent them my proposal. They are part of the mental health charity the Shaw Mind Foundation and royalties go towards the charity as well as some to me.

I hope that when you read my story, you won’t see it as a despairing ramble- but rather a story of hope, of life, of light triumphing over the darkness- but the darkness making the good times shine brighter. I also bring my bipolar to light, I share it with the world- as scary as this is, so that others can also tell theirs.

I wrote this book too provide a place to talk, start conversation and help heal myself through writing it but sharing that feeling of hope with others too. The book cannot change things that are so needed like urgent mental health funding of the NHS so we have parity of esteem. Yet, i hope it is a starting point about how important mental health treatment is for people to move forward in their lives.

Bring me to Light is out on 5th November 2019 in the UK and is available worldwide. It will be out in the USA in 2020. It can be purchased on Amazon, in book shops and at triggerpublishing.com

I will be sharing press articles and more about the book as it happens, but I hope this blog explains why I wrote my book. Thank you all for your ongoing love and see some of you at the book launch!

Love,

Eleanor x

 

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).

 

The Girl who Lost her Shadow: Guest blog by Author, Emily Ilett.

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The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow is a story about sisterhood. It’s about being there for each other when everything feels like it is falling apart.

Gail and Kay used to swim every week, but everything had changed after their dad left. Now, Kay never left her room if she could help it. She hardly ate, and if she looked at Gail, it was like she was looking all the way through her, as if she was invisible.

When Gail’s older sister, Kay, becomes depressed, Gail doesn’t understand what is happening. The two sisters used to do everything together – they dreamed of being marine biologists and swam in the sea whenever they could. So when Kay becomes tired, sad and distant and won’t swim with Gail anymore, Gail feels abandoned and is furious with her sister.

But after Gail’s own shadow disappears on her twelfth birthday, Gail kicks at her sister’s shadow in frustration and it’s then that she begins to understand how Kay really feels.

Her feet prickled as Kay’s shadow gathered around them, silken between her toes. She gasped at the force of it. She felt emptied of everything she cared about, hollow like a clam shell cast up on a beach. Was this how Kay felt?

Kay’s shadow ripples under the bedroom door and out of the house, leaving Gail alone with this new understanding. And so Gail becomes determined to get her sister’s shadow back. She’s sure that if she brings it back, everything will go back to the way it was before Kay became depressed. But the journey she does go on turns out to be quite different.

As she follows Kay’s shadow across the island, she meets Mhirran, a girl who can do Morse code, a storm, and two bird shadows. With her new friends, Gail learns that she is stronger than she thought, and that even though Kay feels so far away, Gail can always find a way to reach her again.

This is a story about the impact of Kay’s depression on Gail, and how Gail finds the courage to be there for her sister, just as Kay has looked out for her so many times before. I think children’s stories about mental health are so important; at a time when everything can be painful and confusing, stories are a way of seeing ourselves and understanding how we can ask for support and give it to those we care about.

Kay said too many people try to do things by themselves – she couldn’t understand it. It’s a brave thing to ask for help, she said. The bravest thing.

When I was a child I struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and at the time I didn’t understand what was happening or that it was a shared experience. As an adult I recently read The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, a beautiful and sensitively written children’s book about a boy called Matthew who has OCD who solves a mystery in his local neighbourhood. It was such a poignant experience reading this book and I am so happy it exists for the next generation of young readers, so that they feel less alone and can find the words to put to their experience or the experience of friends or family.

I hope that The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow will help young people and families talk about depression and mental health, and this tale of magic and adventure provides companionship to young people and supports them to ask for, and give help, themselves.

In this extract, Gail is trapped inside a tree’s shadow and she is looking at a photograph of Kay in the hope that it will give her the strength to escape the shadow.

Gail ran a forefinger down the photo, following the curve of Kay’s cheek. Kay had always been the strong one, not her. She remembered the time when she’d broken her arm and Kay had drawn

twenty-three octopi on her cast so that she had all the arms she needed, and when Kay had spent hours explaining the tides because Gail was afraid of not knowing when the ocean would shift or shrink. She remembered when her sister had taken the blame the day Gail had turned their mum’s umbrella into a jellyfish with pink tissue paper and superglue, and when she’d squeezed Gail’s hand and distracted her with stories of marine biologist Asha de Vos while Gail had her first terrifying injection.

And she remembered one day after Kay had started sinking, when she had turned to Gail in the sticky silence, and said softly, “Do you remember the time we went swimming last October? We stayed in for ages and when we came out our lips and fingers were blue. You squeezed my hand and I couldn’t feel anything at all.” Gail had nodded and Kay stared at her own hand, flexing her fingers. “I feel like that now, Gail. Everything is numb. It’s like I’ve been swimming for hours. But I don’t know how to get out. I can’t get out.”

Gail had stiffened at Kay’s words then. Kay was the strong one. She needed Kay to be the strong one. And so she had tightened her mouth and tapped at the window and shrugged and said nothing at all.

Twigs broke behind her. They crunched in a creature-like way. Gail held her breath; she slipped the photo back in her bag and tried once more to wrestle her feet from the tree’s shadow. It was beginning to convince her that there were leaves growing from her nostrils and in between her teeth: Gail had to touch her face to check that there weren’t. She tugged her hair behind her ears, and shifted her rucksack higher on her back.

Leaves crackled to her right, followed by the scuttling of insects disturbed.

“Hello?” Gail whispered. “Who’s there?”” 

(The Girl who Lost her Shadow)

 

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This blog was written by author Emily Ilett. ‘The Girl Who Lost her Shadow’ is out now with Floris books and on Amazon. 

Looking to the future: Life and Positivity by Eleanor

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(image: Pinterest)

‘The only thing constant in the world is change‘- India Arie

In the past few weeks, it hasn’t been the easiest of times. My anxiety has come back on some days, leaving me feeling pretty low and unable to do certain tasks. However, as each day passes it is slowly improving and I am looking towards the future, both in my life and career.

I am making the transition again to being self employed. For me, this is difficult to blog about- but as we look towards the Jewish New Year, I am holding on to hope.

Hope that all will improve.

Hope that good things are on their way.

Hope that the light is coming back again.

My book will be published in just over a month’s time and I am so excited to hold the paperback in my hands! Thank you everyone who pre ordered the book and made it into a best seller.

I am grateful for every blessing that has come my way. I also have more writing projects planned, stay tuned for further details :). I know it all will lead to good in the end.

I’m currently looking into therapy and further support- EMDR therapy if possible, which helps to process trauma through rapid eye movements and images.

Everything will work out for the good, just some days it is hard to see. A note to self: keep positive and keep going. Good, happiness and dreams are on it’s way even if temporarily hidden.

 

How to reduce Stress and maintain Mental health during a Divorce: Guest blog by Luci Larkin at Woolley&Co

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(image: https://sasforwomen.com/divorce-quotes-inspirational/)

Going through a divorce or relationship breakdown can be one of the most stressful situations a person can find themselves in. You lose your friend, partner, confidante and have to adapt to living as a single person, often as the primary carer of children. 

This is a time of extreme and mixed emotions made more complicated by the stresses and worries of legal and financial considerations as well as having to support and counsel any children that may be involved and suffering too.

With mental health problems on the rise and divorce being listed as one of the leading contributors, Luci Larkin from Family Law Solicitors, Woolley & Co, explains how you can reduce stress during such a turbulent time in your life.

“If you have decided your marriage is over you will most probably want to make the whole process of divorce as painless as possible. Contrary to public perception not all divorces have to involve outright war leaving a trail of destruction and despair.

Every individual going through a relationship breakdown will deal with this in their own way. Some prefer to carry on as though nothing has happened, others find it cathartic to talk to someone about their problems.”

It’s fair to say that anyone going through a separation or divorce is going to experience a series of emotional stages post-breakdown. These could range from anger and depression to fear and frustration. All perfectly normal feelings and reactions to an emotionally difficult situation. It’s important to recognise these feelings but to try and stay positive. 

Sometimes the support of friends and family is enough to see a person through, others may need more help such as counselling or medical advice.

With the right divorce lawyer you should be able to resolve a divorce sensibly enabling you and your children to move on with your lives in the most amicable and constructive way.” 

So what is the secret? 

Divorce lawyers’ tips for a less stressful divorce

Luci explains, “As tempting as it is to take advice from your best friend or the “know it all guy” in the pub it’s really important to seek proper professional advice. Couple this with my 5 tips below:

 

  1. Talk to a family lawyer who is ideally a member of Resolution committed to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational way.
  2. Listen to the professional advice given to you and try to act upon it. Always negotiate before you litigate. Compromise is the essence of any agreement.
  3. Inevitably there will be disagreements with your spouse but try to keep emotions under control and avoid verbal abuse and threats. This will simply lead to them becoming difficult and inflexible. You do not want a war.
  4. Try to avoid involving the children or using them as a pawn. They are innocent in this situation and they will need the love and support of both parents. Ideally sit down and agree a parenting plan.
  5. Think about timing. You may have been thinking about a divorce for years whereas your partner may only have received the news a matter of weeks ago. Expecting your spouse to discuss future living arrangements at a time when they are still reeling from the news that you want to end the marriage, may be unrealistic. You might have to slow down for a while, be patient, and wait until they are ready to move things forward.”

Whilst getting a divorce is clearly not an ideal situation it does not have to be a time consuming, stressful, unpleasant money pit.

Sensible advice coupled with calm cooperation can help to ensure the experience is as painless and cost effective as possible but more importantly that you and your children can move forward with your lives in the best possible way.

Luci is an experienced and approachable divorce and family solicitor with Woolley & Co, based in Barnet, Greater London.  Her working mantra is to establish what clients want and move towards achieving that outcome as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.