Winter blues, Depression and Social anxiety by Eleanor

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(image : http://www.caring-crate.com)

In the past few weeks, I have found that all I want to do is stay inside, under a cosy blanket in my little nook on the couch, reading lots of good books or watching something good on TV (by good I mean my favourite reality shows at this time of year!). I have been practising a lot of self care activities as I havn’t been feeling at my strongest or happiest this week. I think I may have seasonal depression but I am not sure if its the winter blues – probably the winter lack of light combined with my bipolar brain chemistry.

Sometimes I  will phone or whatsapp my friends, I will take long bubble baths and sing in the tub (feeling like some kind of surreal movie like Amelie) , I have discovered a new love for the Body Shop seaweed clay facial mask (it leaves my skin so soft and moisturised and helps my spots). I have wrapped myself in my pink, Beauty and the Beast blanket (without make up on) and just enjoyed the freedom of being. Of resting and being in the moment. Of being more mindful.

There have been times when this has become a bad thing. I’ve spent several nights this week on my own and there have been days where my anxiety has increased and I havn’t wanted to go outside. This is because its cold and dark (winter here in England), I don’t want to interact with random people or I just don’t want to be out in this weather when I could be warm and cosy at home.  I am an introvert (who also loves people). My introvert side craves time on my own but this is also part of my social anxiety.

However, every anxiety win.. like going to a gig in Holborn with my Dad and using the Tube (I forgot about the lack of personal space) or hanging out with my fiance or friends without cancelling on them, has been good. In truth though, I have had to cancel a lot of plans this week and luckily have very understanding people in my life. I hate letting people down but sometimes I can’t cope- the adrenaline pumps and things feel too much for me, too overwhelming.

I have felt overwhelmed and mildly depressed this week. However, I am coming to the slow realisation that this is OK. Its alright to struggle and to want human contact but also to find it overwhelming too.

I do need to get more fresh air though, exercise more and be healthier. Part of the lure of being inside is that its relaxing and ‘safer’ but the outside world is not as scary as my head decides it is when its cold and dark in winter.

I think I have mild seasonal depression- so its really important I do all I can to work with that and go outside my comfort zone- when all I really want is to be a doormouse surrounded by those I love and sometimes curled up on my own!

I am going to start talking therapy again soon as theres been a lot of stressful things going on, so hopefully that will help too.

How do you help your seasonal depression?

  Eleanor x

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We are a Vuelio Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog! 2018 Award

Today I got an email from the lovely people at Vuelio to say they have listed us as Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog.

We are number 8, alongside some incredible blogs and organisations such as the Mental Elf and Mental Health Foundation as well as blogger friends of mine- check them all out .

Thanks so much Vuelio! This award is important as it is about being influential in our industry so am so happy to recieve it.

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See the list here: https://www.vuelio.com/uk/social-media-index/mental-health-blogs-uk-top-10/

Womens Health Awareness and Taking Action: Guest post by Sarah Cardwell

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(image: Sarah Cardwell)

I remember wanting to start my periods when I began secondary school. I had no idea what to expect, but it just felt like it would be the first step in growing older, becoming an adult. Within 6 months of starting I hated it. I had horrifically heavy & painful periods since the age of 13 and my mum always suspected I had endometriosis, the same condition she had been diagnosed with.

I never struggled to get pregnant with either of my two children, but with a heavy first natural baby of 10lb 7oz, it was decided after many scans that I would have a planned caesarean with my second daughter. She was only 7lb 11oz. When my periods returned after my second baby, I knew I had to do something.

After months of pursuing issues, and aged just 30, I eventually took my mum along to my appointment  and was referred for a laparoscopy. It was then that my mums suspicions were confirmed & they found signs of endometriosis.

On average it takes 7.5 years from onset of symptoms to get a diagnosis, according to Endometriosis UK (https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/endometriosis-facts-and-figures). It has taken almost 17 years for my diagnosis. The cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no definite cure.

It was then I asked for a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) & was rejected.

Hysterectomies are known to treat endometriosis well:

• With mild endometriosis, the chance of needing further treatment is 4 out of 100 women

• For severe endometriosis, the chance of needing further treatment is 13 out of 100 women within three years and 40 out of 100 women within five years.

https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/sites/default/files/files/Information/

And I’m in good company, with many celebrities having hysterectomies for many reasons, Angelina Jolie and Michelle Heaton to be two of them. Lena Dunham too had her hysterectomy due to endometriosis. 

I was told I was too young and was offered a range of treatments from the coil to the pill, I even was treated with hormones to replicate the feelings of the menopause to see how my body would react, gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues.

After six months it reacted brilliantly, no periods, no pain. I thought I was cured, but they said I couldn’t continue on the treatment due to risks of osteoporosis . I was in pieces and soon back to having periods spending days of my month in bed unable to move.

It was another 2 years of trialling medications & eventually changing my gynaecologist, before I was finally booked to have a hysterectomy operation. I was ecstatic. It was booked in February for the June of 2015 following my family holiday, I couldn’t wait.

However, things were about to take a turn for the worse. In March (the following month), my mum was informed that they had found a tumour where her ovaries had previously been, and within six short weeks she had passed away. It was the most awful time of all our lives, although thankfully she was surrounded by her family as she passed away. She had made me promise to go through with the hysterectomy, but to request and ensure they removed both my ovaries, even though they were healthy. So I did. In June 2015 I had a Bilateral total hysterectomy.

I knew I was very young at 32 to lose everything that made me a woman, but this was more than pain relief now, it was about survival and securing my future with my children.

The procedure went well and I recovered quickly, I was back at work part-time within 2 weeks, probably due to being a younger patient, but it didn’t have the same impact on my menopause symptoms. I suffered and still do, with every possible symptom, night sweats, hot flushes, weight gain, moodiness, although I think those closest to me would say that had always been there it just worsened.

Whether it was connected, it was then that the rest of my health deteriorated. I was never super fit or thin since my teens, but over the next year I gained almost 3 stone, started with severe anxiety and following an asthma attack after a serious lower chest infection, I was finally diagnosed with adult onset asthma. These of all could also have contributed to my recent spiral in mental health illnesses, but I still believe it was the right decision.

At 35 years old, I am on HRT and more medication than most pensioners, but I’m still here. I’ll be on most of my medication for life, but my HRT for a minimum of 20 years until I’m the average age for a natural menopause.

I wish my mum was here, as she too went through early menopause after her hysterectomy and I’m sure she’d have some tips that beat ice cubes down my top and lining my bed with ice packs to keep me cool in the night.

She’d hopefully have some advice on last summers rare heatwave in the UK, but sadly she was only 54 when she passed away and she inevitably saved my life and helped preserve my life so I can live beyond that she and be there for my children. And this hysterectomy added another layer of protection!

For more information please check out the resources above.

This article was written by writer Sarah Cardwell- who also experiences anxiety alongside her other health conditions. Check out her blog here: www.sarahsthinkingagain.blog

Coping with the lows and Celebrating the highs by Eleanor

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(image: the chic life)

I have been wanting to write about everything for the past week but felt like I have been swept up into a hurricane. There has been a lot going on- some good, but a lot of bad in my life and I have been trying to process it all.

As most of you know, my article on bipolar was published in the Telegraph with thanks to an amazing editor who believed in my story. The Telegraph is a high profile newspaper here in the UK and this was a big platform for my story to be given. So I am grateful. I will put the link to it in the articles tab soon.

I received many positive messages from people with bipolar and psychosis- who could see themselves in my experience and were pleased and appreciative that I shared it. Also those who are carers for people with it got in touch too. I had a lot of support from friends and family, which was important because I started to feel quite vulnerable in revealing so much of what had happened back in 2014 when I was hospitalised. It isn’t easy- even though I want to share it to help people.

As well as the positives, I did receive a few unwanted and negative messages- mainly from ignorant people who don’t know me. I don’t want to give the Trolls any air time here, except to say that the Telegraph were fantastic and stepped in. The comments that were sent weren’t nice but it is a risk when  revealing such a complex mental illness to the world- its an emotive topic and some people can be cruel too. However, the positives outweighed the negatives.

My article was published when I was in Portugal visiting my grandparents with my Dad, Aunt and Uncle so having them  around to process it all was really helpful. Portugal was lovely to have the family time but hard to see my Grandpa unwell, though I was so pleased I got to see him. We also went to a very beautiful beach at Sesimbra, near Lisbon which was good to get some sun in November!

I have two close family members who are unwell at the moment with serious illnesses. As such with all the pressure of it all, I am finding that my mood is dipping and I have to practise a lot of self care- sleeping, reading, pacing myself. It could be that its approaching winter and less light, but I am feeling mildly depressed at times and sleeping more in the mornings, so I am watching my mood and trying to cope as best I can.

If it continues for a long period, I may see the doctor or my counsellor but I think its a reaction to everything happening.

Yesterday I received some really good news– which I will share in a few weeks time. I am so grateful for all the good happening and still planning for my wedding which is something positive to focus on too. Thank you to everyone who has been and continues to be there.

If you are feeling like me right now, a bit low/ depressed, tell people you trust. Don’t keep it in. Remember it can pass. And get support and help if you need it. My fiance, friends and family are helpful to me- confide in someone you can talk too.

I am trying to focus on the positives and celebrate the highs, while dealing with the lows. Thats life I think. Its not always easy but I will get there and so will you if you feel the same.

Eleanor x 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental health, work and the realities of freelancing: by Eleanor

 

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This article was voted for on my Facebook group last month but as always, there has been a lot going on and I wanted to give this one the time it deserved.

Mental health and work is a huge topic. Mental ill health affects peoples ability to work at times- depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other symptoms can stop us from working and disrupt careers. It is one of the biggest causes of sickness, with people being signed off work by their doctors- from stress or other mental health issues. However, some  people are able to manage their health symptoms and work through it. For me, and many others, I had to switch to self employment, in order to work more effectively.

I started off at uni studying English Literature and Drama at Goldsmiths here in London, got a 2:1 degree and then worked for a year as a teaching assistant in a primary school. I decided then that it may not be for me and I applied to study a masters degree in Applied Theatre at the Royal Central drama school. This was amazing and eye opening- but I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks (possibly part of my bipolar disorder or just general..).

The anxiety attacks were debilitating for me at times- but I managed to get my Masters. However, I have often found that certain work places are far less forgiving of people with mental health issues- if they are still symptomatic.

I always thought that I would work as a teaching assistant and become a Reception teacher. I worked in several schools and I loved working with the children. I also tried working for a mental health charity. However, I found that my anxiety was getting worse and worse (despite taking medication and having therapy) and that the career just wasn’t working for my health.

So,  I decided to go self employed and become a freelance writer. The perils of freelancing can include: late payment of invoices from clients, having articles pulled at the last minute because the editor changes their mind, clients wanting you to write for free, waiting months for work to be published and some clients only paying on publication- so you don’t get a regular ‘salary’. Income is less stable, its harder to trust people and that you are often sending out pitch emails for writing work- only to get ignored, as editors are often busy with their in house team and work.

The pluses of freelancing: some regular gigs (Thank you Metro!), being featured in Glamour UK is a huge honour and in Happiful and Cosmopolitan/ Elle. I have written a lot this year and I am grateful every day for the editors who have taken a chance on me and commissioned my work.

However, its a balance. Yes working from home is great. Yes setting own hours is good. But, it means that income is less stable for sure. I have far less anxiety and panic working like this. Thats a major plus.

I often feel bad for not earning enough. Or because you have to develop a thick skin to deal with rejection.

In terms of mental health at work- there is SO much that needs to be done. Sickness records mean employees are still penalised, despite their genuine need for a mental health day. Each work place should be trained in signs to spot and have a mental health first aider. Some work places are disability friendly, but many just see you as a worker and if you have a mental illness, will only tolerate so much time off.

I don’t really know what to suggest if you are also in my position. In the UK, we have the benefits system which has been very important for me due to my illness. However, I would love to get to a stage where I can earn enough not to need it.

If you are struggling with your mental health at work, speak to a trusted colleague. HR will not always be supportive – it depends on the organisation, but don’t suffer alone. Just be aware that if you are off sick a lot, some companies will see you as unreliable. This may be 2018, but outdated attitudes at work still exist unfortunately.

There are positives and its important to know  there are good, wonderful people out there. I have met many. 

What is your experience?

Eleanor x

On Complex PTSD and my recovery: Guest post by Lydia for World Mental Health Day

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Hi there, I’m Lydia a 20-year-old youtuber and film maker, I’ve been battling my mental health conditions for a little over five years. This article is about C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how I’ve found recovery, but first, what is C-PTSD?

C-PTSD, is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from repetitive exposure to a traumatic experience, it is also commonly diagnosed alongside BPD (borderline personality disorder), I was diagnosed with C-PTSD around 3 years ago after witnessing a suicide and multiple suicide attempts, without going into too much detail it was really hard, and has taken me until this year (2018) to even begin to process what happened.

So, let’s talk about recovery, there a massive misconception that it isn’t possible to recover from any type of PTSD, however it totally is possible to  find recovery. My recovery really got started this year when I made the decision to privately access EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which was without question the most beneficial type of therapy I’ve tried.

Following this there was a major incident in which my mental stability declined rapidly I was subsequently detained in a psychiatric hospital for a little under a month, following my release, I decided to take control of my mental health and help myself.

The first thing I did to help myself was cut off from everybody negative, which I realised I had to do, because I really was at a point where I could have reached crisis point if things didn’t change. I moved from one end of the country to the other, I blocked everybody’s number, Facebook and Twitter, it was a drastic move but so important and to anybody who struggling with their mental health I’d wholeheartedly recommend doing this, just cut yourself off from everybody negative, you don’t have to justify it, your health and welfare should be the most important thing in your life.

The next thing I did was go to my GP and re-start my medication. Sometimes you just need an extra push, psychiatric medication can’t change your life circumstances, but it can help you heal. This was a pretty big decision but it was one I needed to make.

The final thing I did was to take a break and find a hobby.  I went on holiday with my family, I started creating more positive content on YouTube while also documenting my recovery which has been one of the most helpful things I’ve done/ This is because I’m a part of a really supportive community on YouTube, and just reading comments like “you gave me hope” means so much.

The big move I made this year was to write and release my own book on the journey I’ve been on, and I wouldn’t change it because it’s made me who I am today.

After a few years of complete hell, I’ve turned my life around and I’m certainly in a much more positive place, things change and life changes for the better. My overall message for you all would be to never lose hope, just hold on because if you put in the time and work things will change, however don’t expect people to change things for you. Hold on and find recovery.

 

Lydia is a youtuber and film maker, talking about her mental health. You can see her channels here:

www.youtube.com/lydiisadinosaur

www.twitter.com/Lifewithlydia

 

How Meditation can improve our Mental health and wellbeing: Guest post by Jennifer Bennet

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(image: Erriko Boccia at Unsplash )

Ahead of tomorrows World Mental Health Day, we are publishing articles focusing on our mental health.

Meditation has long been a tool used in mental health counselling and it is one that has been proven to be highly effective with coping with stress and anxiety as well as depression and other mental health issues. Medication is often a vital treatment for mental health issues, but meditation is also an ideal practice to integrate into a daily routine to help as well and the benefits of meditation are outstanding.

A great deal of our lives in general are spent lost in our thoughts and dealing with our personal feelings. Why not use that time for meditation instead of dwelling on negative thoughts and behaviours?

Besides the fact that taking time for meditation opens your mind to a little peace and quiet, there are so many benefits of meditating that can help mental health issues. Here are five of the best reasons to start meditating today so you can have a happier mind to help with mental health issues.

 

  1. Meditation helps clear your mind so that you can sleep better at night. A well-rested mind is better equipped to handle the stresses of life and keep a good reign on emotions during the waking hours.
  2. Meditation helps manage unhealthy behaviors by helping a person focus on viable solutions to problems. When we focus on just one issue and take time to carefully think about it in a positive way, it is easier to find a solution than it would be to randomly try numerous things to no avail. Mindful meditation allows a person to take time to delve deeply into a situation while focusing on how to resolve an issue wisely.
  3. The production of the hormone cortisol, which is known to weaken the immune system in the body, can be slowed down through meditation. When you have a better immune system, it’s easier to feel less stressed and be able to enjoy life better.
  4. Sitting down to meditate at least once every day can lead to having a better grasp on emotions. When you focus on objective ways to solve problems and face things in life, it is easier to control anger, depression and other emotions.
  5. Meditation helps keep your mind in the present instead of revolving to the past where you may have faced a bad relationship or other hardships. When you let go of the negative things that have a grasp onto your thought process, it is easier to move forward and face life with a renewed sense of self. This can have a profound impact on every aspect of your life including work, relationships and home.

 

How to Meditate

Some people believe that you must have scented candles, incense and soft music to meditate and while those things can certainly help ease your mind to help you find a peaceful calm, they are not at all required to find your way to inner peace and meditation. Here are some simple steps provided by the Taylor Benefits Insurance blog that you can follow to begin your journey into meditation and a firmer grasp on your own mental health and well-being.

 

Set a time

Let’s face it, when we don’t set an alarm to wake up in the morning it’s easy to oversleep and miss out on work and other important things in life. The same goes for meditation. This is an important step to take and once you decide to start meditating, it’s a good idea to try to set a time to do so each day. If you need to set a physical alarm, then get that alarm set and plan to sit down to meditate for at least 10 minutes each day. Consistency is key when you are meditating and it’s a good idea to make time for it every day. This will help keep your mind focused, so you can find your inner peace and start focusing on your problem-solving skills to lower your stress and find a little happiness that you may have forgotten about.

 

Breathe

When you meditate, take time to breathe deeply. From a siting position, sit straight and tall and breathe slowly but deeply. Be sure to wear clothing that won’t restrict breathing, so you can breathe freely during your meditation time.

 

Comfort is Key

No matter where you choose to meditate, try to make it as comfortable as possible. Whether you have a little space in your bedroom or even in the kitchen, pile up some comfy pillows or sit in your favorite chair and let yourself relax completely.

 

Choose Your Thoughts Wisely

Before you sit down to meditate, take time to choose one thing and only one thing to focus on during your meditation time. Meditation is not the time to let your mind wander in circles. When we can face one issue at a time and clear them from our mind, its easier to take steps to move forward with life with a sense of peace.

 

Pick Your Mantra and Focus

Now this is where you are going to take a slight step back and say, “What?” Something common to chant as a mantra is simply, “Om” which sounds like you are saying “Oooooooommmmmm” repeatedly. If that one does not work for you, then find a different mantra to chant during your meditation time. What you choose should help you feel relaxed.

While chanting your mantra, find a spot to fixate your eyes upon so you can focus clearly. This can be a candle if you have one, a spot on a wall or even a tiny flower placed across from you. The key is to stay focused throughout the meditation time.

While chanting your mantra, think positive thoughts such as visualising yourself winning a marathon (if you run), earning a promotion at work, completing a major assignment or whatever you feel you need to accomplish in your personal life.

Some people choose CD’s that have been prerecorded with slow, relaxing music on them. A great choice if you want to hear soft sounds would be a nature CD playing sounds of the forest or the ocean. Others prefer silence during meditation. Make some positive affirmation cards to place in your meditation area to help motivate you. These can include simple poetic phrases or even small sentences to help bring your inner peace. You could even listen to a prerecorded meditation CD or a YouTube video to help guide you throughout your meditation.

There is no set way to meditate and what works for one may not work for another. The most important thing is that you take time to meditate, get to know your true inner self and as you move forward you will soon find your way onto the healing path of inner peace and renewal as you learn more about yourself, your feelings and the strength of your own mind.  

 

Jennifer Bennet is a writer on wellbeing and an expert on meditation.

The Social Anxiety Diaries by Eleanor

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This blog started as a way for me to express my innermost thoughts and feelings, the state of my mental health and write it all out on the page. I would like to continue this and so asked people on my Facebook group what they would like to hear about.

This blog on my social anxiety was voted for and here it is.

I must start by saying that I am quite a social person and love my friends. A lot of us with social anxiety are. I have lived with this form of anxiety since I was about 18 years old. It essentially is an anxiety disorder that is hard to control- and where you begin to fear being around people, crowds, small talk and socialising for fear of being exposed or judged negatively. This has impacted how I work too and sometimes how often I leave the house.

My anxiety disorder started in my teen years because my unmedicated bipolar disorder led me to act in ways I didn’t recognise. I became hyper, everything was heightened and I wasn’t my usual self. And so the fear of acting like this again or being judged for it, was what triggered my social anxiety.

11 years later, a lot has changed for me for the better. I am finally on the right medication. I have a loving partner, family and friends. However, yes I do still have social anxiety. It does cause panic attacks, especially in the mornings and it can stop me from attending work or social events. .

It is frustrating to admit this. As I have been in a lot of very helpful therapy and I have learnt what coping mechanisms can help me- but they are often hard to implement mid panic. However, I do think I will always have a certain level of panic which will restrict certain parts of my life. This is why I work freelance and from home. Writing has helped me heal.

What I do know is on the good days, I make sure to keep busy and see people/ go out as the more I do this, the fear lessens. If I am feeling low, the anxiety rears its head too. When I am depressed, I can become slightly agoraphobic and won’t want to leave the house. Its something I have to monitor and work on. Set myself achievable goals eg walk down the road, see a friend, call someone etc.

Some of my friends have been so kind and understanding about living with this and having to cancel certain arrangements. There are times I  have to force myself into doing things although it takes so much energy and can also make me have more panic attacks so its a fine line. I have to do whats best for me and my mind. If it is spiralling into panic, the rational self finds it hard to drown it out.

In general, I am doing OK but I have to do what is best for me in order to manage my anxiety disorder. If that means a night in or less time seeing people then sometimes this is what is needed.

However, I will continue to be an anxiety warrior and do all I can to expose myself to any feared situations when possible. It takes lots of energy!

What have I tried to manage this?

– Group sessions on managing anxiety, meditation and journalling
– Talking therapy for 6 months (which worked) and CBT three times (which didn’t stop the panic attacks)
– Exposure therapies with those I love helping me

Do you have this and how do you cope?

Love, Eleanor x 

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

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(image: Amy Hutson)

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

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

But what is writing therapy?

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

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

So how can you use writing therapy?

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

Journalling

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

The unsent letter

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

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

Quick lists

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

I’m really anxious about:

  • My new job
  • Lack of sleep
  • Bad diet

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

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

Three good things that happened today:

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

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

 

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