Guest Post: ‘Don’t count the days it may take for Recovery, make the days count’- On PTSD by Christina Hendricks at www.mentalhealthzen.com

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(image: PTSDscreening.org)

Trigger warning: contains descriptions of PTSD symptoms

“Don’t count the days it may take for recovery, make the days count. Seeking timely professional help boosts healing, instills hope and ensures recovery,” said 51-year-old Michael Hughes (name changed), a highly decorated firefighting veteran from New York as he stepped out of the therapy room after an intense session of trauma-focused psychotherapy. “Mental health issues are just like any other disease where recovery takes time. You need to have faith, be positive and stay strong,” he said with a smile.

Michael revealed that his job gave him post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that he got the problem from what he had seen. His 25-year stint as a firefighter with the Homeland Security and Emergency Services fetched him multiple laurels, but at a great price, which he continued to pay for years. After 22 illustrious years of service, he was diagnosed with PTSD because of which he was discharged from service.

Years of attending innumerable incidents of horrendous fire and fatal high-rise blazes gave him nightmares later. Frequent flashbacks of infernal flames engulfing entire blocks of buildings, scenes of the injured and dying being pulled out of the debris, and thick, choking clouds of black smoke adding to the mayhem became an inevitable part of his life. The impact of his job was so powerful that even watching television shows involving fire accidents would send shudders down his spine, waking him up in either cold or hot sweats.

Soon the mental agony made him feel as though the entire world was crashing down on him. Moreover, the fear of becoming an object of scorn and ridicule was so overpowering that he hesitated to express what was going on in his mind. He feared what seemed very real to him, may seem illogical or unreal to others around him. He knew that each traumatic experience of the past was gradually taking its toll on his mental health. The truth was the post-traumatic stress was wreaking havoc on the inside, while he still managed to look seemingly fine on the outside.

But it was a matter of time that he reached a stage when he completely lost all control over his emotions. Even the smallest of fire sparks or the sight of someone hurt or injured would make him upset and depressed. Nevertheless, what was controllable once, had become uncontrollable. Even the smoke coming from a cigarette would trigger a series of vivid flashbacks of a major fire accident, evoking painful memories of the past.

However, it was one ear-deafening Fourth of July, which blew the lid off. The non-stop pompous bright flashes and earth-shattering aerial fireworks all around him became unbearable. The petrifying sounds brought gut-wrenching scenes repeatedly to his mind. The ghastly flashbacks unleashed chronic unrest and panic attacks. He felt so low he contemplated his own life and what it meant. But as fate had ordered it otherwise, a well-timed intervention by his wife Amy (name changed) made him rethink his decision. “Sometimes it’s okay not to feel okay,” were the precise words she used. Her comforting words encouraged him to fight his condition by seeking support. He finally felt assured that his wife wouldn’t view his vulnerability as a disgrace.

Michael’s involvement with numerous emergency situations in both natural and man-made disasters during the course of his career compelled him to bottle up an ocean of emotions, anger, sadness, losses and grief. Finally, on hitting rock-bottom, it was in the mental health rehab that he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, in addition to PTSD. Besides, the most important lesson which he learnt was to speak his mind. He realized that his family needed to know what he was going through so that they could help in some way or the other. Secondly, he realized that any mental problem should be viewed as a chronic mental health condition, requiring regular visits and check-ups, monitoring of treatment adherence, effectiveness and tolerability, and spreading awareness about the disorder.

The mental health specialists at the rehab, recommended Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), in addition to a PTSD K9, to help Michael cope with his condition. Additionally, he was advised to workout with a personal trainer six days a week. Michael knew that it would take a long time to heal the scars of more than two decades, but he was confident that soon the damage will no longer be able to control his life.

Factors that prevent individuals from seeking help

“The brave men and women, who serve their country and as a result, live constantly with the war inside them, exist in a world of chaos. But the turmoil they experience isn’t who they are; the PTSD invades their minds and bodies” – this excerpt from Robert Koger’s 2013 bestseller Death’s Revenge is probably what Michael experienced during a significant chunk of his firefighting years. Apart from the existing confusion and lack of awareness, other reasons that force most individuals employed in emergency services battling similar mental conditions to not seek professional help are:

  • Seeking help could lead to undesirable consequences: The fear of being denied promotions or being ignored due to the stigma surrounding mental health could be a major reason for many to keep quiet.
  • Avoiding any form of discreditable dismissals: Studies suggest that being branded as mentally ill could lead to dismissal, negatively impacting the benefits of such individuals, including their chance to secure employment elsewhere.
  • Being cut off from access to treatment: Postings of emergency services staff across isolated locations worldwide could be another reason.
  • Screening for mental health is viewed in poor light: Popular notions of stigma, guilt and shame that surround mental disorders can prevent many individuals from seeking the required support.
  • Facing problems is a manly thing: “PTSD affects only non manly men,” is one of the biggest misconceptions nurtured by most men in uniform. This attitude need to change completely or else things could blow up to devastating proportions.

Acknowledging mental disorders is the first step to recovery

Living in a socio-cultural set-up where any symptom of mental problem is viewed as a sign of weakness often tends to reinforce the stigma surrounding mental ailments. In fact, even near and dear ones, including family members, don’t seem to prioritise mental health disorders as they would other physical illnesses. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), around one in five adults (approximately 43.8 million people) in the United States experiences mental health disorders in a given year. Moreover, one in 25 American adults (approximately 9.8 million) is also known to experience a chronic mental health problem, interfering with major life activities.

But the support of family members can work wonders in eradicating the stigma linked to mental health. In fact, studies suggest mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, have their own way of hoodwinking even the most cheerful of people into believing that their existence is good for nothing and disgraceful. It can drain energy and happiness, shatter sleep patterns, eat up vigour and vitality, disrupt concentration and hamper functioning, leaving the individual in a constant state of dejection.

Mental health professionals insist on managing mental illness just like other chronic physical health ailments like hypertension and diabetes. The need of the hour is to encourage family members to stand with their loved one’s in providing the support and strength. Acknowledging the truth that there is a serious problem, and that their loved one is fighting a battle within is the first step to recovery. In fact, it is another way to direct people to professional mental health care services.

This article was written by mental health blogger Christina Hendricks at www.mentalhealthzen.com . Featuring case studies of real people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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Guest Post by Reviews Bee: How to Prevent the Negative Impact on Child Mental Health

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(image: http://acelebrationofwomen.org/2015/02/childrens-mental-health-matters-take-action/)

The physical health of children has always been an important aspect. Nowadays with the increase of stressful situations, modern medicine is concerned about the importance of childrens mental health, as it plays an important role in their personal development, upbringing and growth into adulthood.

There can be negative impacts on a child’s mental  health, which can be demonstrated as depression, anger, addictions or other mental health conditions.  If you notice behavioural changes in your child, you should take important steps to reach out and help them.

First, identify the reasons.

Everyone faces daily problems and children are not an exception, but in contrast to adults, they are not always able to cope with the relevant issues or take steps to get out of the situation. At times, they may be unable to properly express their feelings appropriate to the situation.

It should be noted that psychological health is formed by the interaction of internal and external factors, including environment. Amongst the most common situations causing mental disorder are tense situations in the family, problems at school such as bullying or low grades and sometimes internet bullying via social media.

As soon as the problem is identified, you, as a parent, should go forward and help your child as much as you can . The following steps are good approaches to the problem:

  1. Communicate with your child

Always have time to talk to your child. Be interested in their problems and show that you care, ask them to tell you about their day and try to understand troubling points in their daily life. You should be able to give advice, but understand their rights to make their own decisions and respect their opinions. Learn to treat the child as an equal partner, so they will share their sincere feelings and problems- so you can help.

 

  1. Help your child with their lifestyle

If home or school is a difficult environment, try and make it as calm as possible for your child. It is good to balance work and relaxation for the child. Make sure that they sleep on time, as proper sleep is required for their nervous system to calm down. You can even help the diet of the child with good nutrition and include more food rich in protein, vegetables and fruits. It is also good to encourage positive activities and hobbies.

 

  1. Teach positive thinking

Help your child to find and see sources of positive emotions. Positive thinking will also help the child to find inner peace in different situations. Encourage the child to build plans for the future, set goals and develop ways of reaching them. Being a role model for your child is so important with this.

 

  1. Boost the childs self-esteem

You should help your child to increase self-esteem, as this can be at the core of unhappiness or mental health issues at home or school. Your task is to prove their worth and how good they truly are. You should assist the child in finding their confidence and improving their self esteem so they can thrive. If you struggle with this, it may help to contact a therapist to help them.

 

  1. Work with a psychologist.

Many parents decided to get their child referred to work with a psychologist. If your child is truly struggling, this can be helpful. Some tips and guidance granted on the specific needs of your child may prevent future problems and boost their mental health.

This article was written by Reviews Bee at http://www.reviewsbee.com/

Guest post: How nOCD App helps thousands with OCD- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Stephen Smith

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In the summer of 2014, I was tired of struggling with OCD, Obsessive compulsive disorder, so I decided to do something about it and begin my app, nOCD. nOCD, standing for “No OCD”, is an online platform that I believe would have helped me during the worst of my struggles and that currently is already helping thousands of others with OCD today. The platform is designed to help people with OCD during all four phases of treatment: 1) coping with the onset of OCD symptoms, 2) selecting a care team, 3) actively managing OCD treatment, and 4) maintaining OCD treatment progress.

My team and I at nOCD are able to address each phase of treatment using a unique combination of highly vivid content and 21st century technology. For instance, people with OCD can view our content on Instagram or Twitter at @treatmyocd and download nOCD for free on the App Store (m.treatmyocd.com/saveslives).

People with OCD say the app has been a major difference maker. It gives people guidance in the moment of OCD episodes, a structured platform to do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) exercises, a community to talk with others (in beta), and real-time data 24/7. Here is more information about how it works:

  1. SOS Guidance: nOCD offers members clinically effective guidance in the moment of any OCD episode, using OCD specific Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. During an episode, members can hit the button “SOS” on their phone, which tells the app to immediately provide Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (Response Prevention). For instance, if the member is obsessing, nOCD will ask questions such as: “Are you experiencing an Obsession or a Compulsion?”,  “What Obsession are you experiencing?”. “What triggered the Obsession?” And “How intense is your anxiety?” Then, based on the answers, nOCD will offer specific Acceptance Based Therapy guidance, to help the member effectively respond to the obsession without doing a compulsion. We believe the SOS feature can empower people with OCD to live their lives fully, knowing help is always in their pocket.

  2. Structured ERP ExercisesnOCD provides members with the tools and organization needed to consistently do planned OCD treatment exercises regularly and effectively, acting like a mental gym. The main challenge with doing these planned mental exercises is that they instigate anxiety. Since the anxiety alone can reduce OCD treatment adherence rates, the app attempts to remove all pain point. It offers members the ability to create loop tapes, scripts, and drawings. It also has built in exercise reminders and educational tips.

  3. Custom Therapy : nOCD customizes the entire treatment process to each member, helping augment therapy with licensed clinicians. Patients can customise their hierarchies, their compulsion prevention messages (acceptance based messages), their ERP schedule, and more.

  4. 24/7 In-App Support Group :Inside the nOCD app, people with OCD can join different support groups and anonymously post to each groups wall. We’ve created a platform where people can support each other through treatment and learn quickly that they are, in fact, not alone.
  5. Real-Time Data Collection: It collects real-time data about every aspect of the patient’s condition and treatment. It also longitudinally displays the data for every patient and clinician to see at any time. nOCD protects each users PHI data to the highest degree possible. For example, it uses a dedicated (encrypted) Ec2 instance on Amazon Web Services, SSL connection, Touch ID login access, LastPass Password security, and new, monthly, VM keys. nOCD is a HIPAA compliant commercial enterprise.

 

Life Mental Health Update and the Liebster Award!

Its been a really interesting week for me. I firstly decided after not getting the right NHS therapeutic support that I had to take life into my hands in two ways. Firstly, I needed to see if I could get funding for private therapy to help my anxiety and panic attacks about work. I was able to and then I have booked an appointment to see a recommended psycho-dynamic counsellor. I am hoping that my counselling sessions will help the anxiety and fear around certain things.

Secondly, I decided that if I want to live my dreams and have a life that is fulfilling and true to myself, I have to pursue them. Obviously I have to make my dream achievable too so I have been applying for jobs that feel right for me. My dream has been to be a teacher and I hope to get there one day. I have been interviewing for various positions in schools and hopefully the right one for me will come up soon. I will leave it to God and the universe to decide and do all I can.

So, its been quite a whirlwind for me this week and definitely being pushed a little outside my comfort zone, putting my heart and dreams on the line. However, I am really proud of myself for doing this. I have wanted to seek therapeutic help for years and while its a shame I can’t get it for free on the NHS, I hope it helps me to change my life. My family are a great support for me with this. I am starting this week and will see what happens.

So I have been going to job interviews and its really scary being asked so many questions and waiting for feedback. I know though that I can do it and make myself and my family proud (I hope anyway!)

As well as the above, I am very excited to be going to see Aladdin the musical at the theatre with my boyfriend for our anniversary. He is a wonderful support to me and I love disney!

Lastly, a blog friend, the Happiness Hunter https://thehappinesshunt.wordpress.com   has nominated me for the Liebster Award which celebrates new blogs. My blog has been going almost 2 years but I feel so thrilled to receive the award. Thank you so much! Due to time constraints I can’t nominate other blogs for the award but dedicate it to all my blog followers who are battling mental health stigma and writing so amazingly.  

Go and visit the above blog too, its wonderful! Thanks again 🙂

liebster

Guest Post by Arslan Butt: The Invisible Crisis: College/ University students coping with Mental Illness

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(image: EFTO)

“College/ university life,” young, enthusiastic individuals freshly out of school are either excited for this new phase of their lives or tend to think of it as another societal hurdle they need to overcome.

There’s a lot of stress that new students end up experiencing because they’re going into a different educational setting and they want to prove themselves.

Whether it’s worrying about academics or their college-related social life, college/university affects everyone in different ways and thus, comes with its own set of pros and cons. Students are subject to varying levels of stress and other mental illnesses that need to be addressed.

There’s just so much pressure when you’re a first year student. You have this drive to prove yourself but at the same time you don’t want to stand out the wrong way. There’s nothing more stressful than being the student everyone jokes about,” said Stacey Wilson (Film and Digital Media student at Santa Cruz, California).

“Dealing with college/university life is tough enough. Add in the drama that goes on at home and everything just gets tougher for any student,” said Janene Secor (English Major from The Ohio State University)

Youth Are Vulnerable to Mental Health Issues

Parents and students might not have mental illness on their mind when they start college; however, such a period of young adulthood is a crucial one for mental health. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 75% mental illnesses are triggered by the age of 24. Some are triggered in adolescence and some start in college/university.

Furthermore, in 2012, one in five people from 43.8 million adults experienced some type of mental illness. That’s why knowing about mental illness and how it is triggered is important especially when it comes to students.

Around 95% of the directors of the college counselling centre have stated that the number of students with psychological problems in an increasing concern on campus. About 70% of the directors also believe that the number of students who are a victim of major psychological problems has increased in recent times.

Similarly, the rates of depression and anxiety have also increased compared to the previous decade. According to a survey involving college students, being conducted in 2013, found that 40% of men and 57% of women experienced overwhelming anxiety while 27% of men and 33% of women experienced episodes of severe depression that made functioning difficult for them.

Studies also suggest that almost one-third of students fulfill the criteria for depression or anxiety while they are in college.

The Importance of Mental Health Awareness

Depression is stated as the biggest reason of disability across the world which affects around 300 million people globally. Yet, mental health is still stigmatised greatly in our society.

When people talk about their mental illness in society, they can face stigmas although these are starting to fall.

Many studies also agree that to end the discrimination against those with mental ill health, it is important that people are provided with the right education about mental health conditions. 

Furthermore, increasing the accessibility of treatment and screening of psychological problems is crucial for college going students.

In some cases, children that are diagnosed with mental health disorders end up with poor educational outcomes and thus, poor economic outcomes as well. This varies from person to person. 

Offering Students the Support They Need

Research quite clearly states how strong behavioural and mental health supports can improve the life of a student.

When the students get help for psychological problems, then counselling can have a big impact on personal well-being, retention, and academic success.

 

Offering Mental Health Facilities in Colleges

It is being observed that students have started to utilize the counselling services provided by colleges/universities in a much more positive manner and more frequently. However, there has been a stigma-based backlash from a few college administrators and professors that call their students less resilient and needy because the students use these services.

This attitude is the reason why a majority of students refrain from asking for help, and this is what colleges exactly need to eradicate.

Many colleges/universities have started introducing programmes that directly challenge the prejudice and ableism by not discriminating against students that are struggling with mental illness. Colleges should aim to make mental health care accessible to everyone just like UCLA in America has.

Colleges should aim to provide free mental health treatment and screenings for all of their students. UCLA has started off their efforts of educating their faculty and students about mental illness by holding a voluntary sessions for students to determine if they need help with their mental health.

If a student shows signs of depression, UCLA will provide them with therapeutic services for free, according to the chancellor Gene Block. UCLA has also decided to provide their students with an eight-week programme on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is  a goal-oriented, focused, and short-term therapeutic treatment that asks for collaboration between the therapist and patient. This doesn’t work for everyone, but is a good start. 

Due to the kind of burden a lot of students feel by starting college, it is important that those vulnerable students with mental health issues have the tools and resources they need to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or other psychological issues.

The treatment program, as well as the online screening, is considered as the first campus-wide screening program for mental health conducted at any university. By catching depression in the early ages, officials of UCLA hope to significantly reduce the damage that the illness does in the early-adult years.

Garen Staglin, the co-chair of the leadership council of the Depression Grand Challenge, hopes that the efforts made by UCLA encourage other institutions and businesses to also focus on mental health issues.

The efforts made by UCLA in Los Angeles, USA have not been futile; Larry Moneta, the vice president of the student affairs at Duke University is quite interested in how UCLA will help its students.

I’m incredibly glad about UCLA’s mental health screening initiative. Mental health issues need to be destigmatized, especially in academic settings so students can comfortably seek the help they’re in need of. I hope other’s implement such programs too,” said Katherine Bracken (English and Theatre student at The Ohio State University)

 

Sources:

http://time.com/4473575/college-mental-health-guidebook/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201402/the-college-student-mental-health-crisis

https://hpi.georgetown.edu/agingsociety/pubhtml/mentalhealth/mentalhealth.html

http://www.apa.org/about/gr/education/news/2011/college-campuses.aspx

https://www.bustle.com/p/ucla-will-offer-free-mental-health-checks-to-students-heres-why-its-so-necessary-2360904

https://www.thefix.com/all-incoming-ucla-students-receive-vital-mental-health-assist

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/ucla-to-offer-free-mental-health-screening-treatment-to-all-incoming-students

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Arslan Butt currently works for https://www.CanadianPharmacyWorld.com, has a passion for keeping up-to-date regarding the latest health and lifestyle trends. He likes going on long walks, trying out new healthy eating regimes, and working out.

Monday Motivation: Update on Mental Health Life

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(image by blossom and leap via Pinterest)

Last week, I saw my new psychiatrist. He is the kindest man and so helpful. He signposted me to several private mental health services as I very much need therapy for my anxiety disorder. What was sad to see though that these services are not provided by the National Health Service NHS- they are provided by charities, as the NHS service where I live is at breaking point. This is because there are so many people needing psychological input and not enough staff and money. Ultimately it comes down to funding I think. In the past, I have had excellent NHS therapy- although it did not seem to help with the anxiety long term.   So far, I have been on the waiting list for therapy for almost 2 years and I have realised I can’t rely on the NHS for therapy, which is sad.

However, I am grateful I was able to sit down with my new consultant (and Mum) and discuss my life and where I go from here. I am looking into various options for my health and which psychotherapy can help me move forward, get back to work and feel good again.

I am trying to be as positive as I can and think about a happy future. My priority is working on myself so that I can truly thrive. Have a great Monday friends.

Looking after Mental Health as a Student and Beyond: for World Union of Jewish Students on World Mental Health Day

This blog is one of a series of blogs that Eleanor, founder of Be Ur Own Light, wrote for the World Union of Jewish Students- www.wujs.org.il/blogs . It was prepared for World Mental Health Day written by young Jews about their experiences dealing with mental health.

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In 2007, when I was 19,  I started my BA (Hons) in Drama and English Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Goldsmiths is a quirky, art school with an area of excellence in the arts. It was the perfect place for me to study, despite the distance to South London!

Having grown up and gone to primary and secondary school in Bushey, Hertfordshire in a close knit Jewish community, leaving my comfort zone behind was both nerve wracking but exciting. I was thrilled to be studying what I loved and being on a new journey. In my first year, I lived in halls and made lots of new friends .

However, it had only been 3 years since I had been diagnosed (at the age of 16) with bipolar disorder. Bipolar is a serious mood disorder where you can get low, depressive moods and at the other end of the spectrum- high, manic moods. Bipolar can be medicated with mood stabilisers and anti depressants, and I was very good at keeping to my medicine regime and of course avoiding alcohol, not so easy in a student environment!

Throughout my 3 years at Uni, although my Bipolar symptoms were largely kept at bay, I did suffer from social anxiety which impacted slightly on my Drama degree. Anxiety is something that I have lived with for a long time. When you are diagnosed with a mental illness as a teenager, you don’t want to be different. As I had been in hospital as a teen due to a bipolar episode and had to go down a year at school to catch up, getting to university was a victory for me. In fact, just three years before I began my degree, doctors had told my parents that due to the severity of my illness, I may not make it to university. I was so pleased to prove them wrong!

Yet, I did still feel different and although I loved my course, I did have times when my anxiety impacted. Studying Drama was (and is) a love and passion of mine. I loved creating characters, learning acting theories and forming performances with my fellow drama students. However, when I was feeling at my worst throughout my 3 years at Uni, there were times when I felt I couldn’t perform on stage.

In those times, my university tutors were hugely supportive and I disclosed to them that I was struggling with my anxiety disorder. I only ever had positive support and was set an alternative writing assignment instead, which meant I could still get my degree.

My advice if you are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions at university is to do the following:

  1. Disclose your condition to your tutors (and particularly a supportive form tutor) if your illness is impacting on your work. It is not weakness to disclose, rather if you do, then the University can help. University has a duty of care to you to make sure you are safe and well. Once disclosing, you will often find that you will be highly supported by staff. Sometimes too, the University pastoral department can get involved to help you and refer you to counselling If needed. You are not alone.
  2. Be honest and kind to yourself. If you are living away from home, there is temptation not to tell your family or friends what is going on. You may think that you will be worrying them but actually having a strong support network really helps, so speak to those who are supportive and get some advice as to what you should do.
  3. If you are really struggling and cannot continue on the course, speak to University about it and see if you can defer a year. Also, make sure you make a GP appointment to discuss what is going on with your mental health- or if you are under a psychiatrist- go and see them.
  4. Try not to isolate yourself. At uni, I found strength from joining Goldsmiths Jewish society and later becoming President of it, working with local Rabbis and meeting Jewish students from all over the world. Its important if you can and are feeling well enough, to make new friends and try out new clubs in the Student Union. In London, we have UJS- Union of Jewish students, which I found really helpful to join. In my third year, I was on the events committee and organised a bar night, Booze 4 Jews London. Having those connections was really helpful to me and I enjoyed my time at university even more.
  5. Remember there will be times when Uni can be challenging. Whether its being away from home, meeting new people, having difficult assignments and lots of independent work, writing a long dissertation… know you can and will get through it but make sure you have the right support in place.
  6. If you are really struggling ie feeling very depressed, suicidal or want to harm yourself- please do share this with your doctor, family or someone you trust, so you can get the right support. You can also call Samaritans and various helplines.  It may help you to take time out of university to get well.

In my experience, my universities (after Goldsmiths, I did a year at Royal Central drama school) really supported me with my anxiety and mental health. Remember to speak out, get help and support and know you can still get your degree despite your health challenges – you are not alone.

Eleanor Segall is a mental health writer, blogger and advocate. She went to Goldsmiths University from 2007-10 and did her masters at the Royal Central School from 2011-12. She lives and works in London, England.

http://www.wujs.org.il/blogs/looking-after-mental-health-as-a-student-and-beyond-eleanor-segall

How I’ve Learnt to Fight my Health Anxiety: Guest Post by Ellie Miles

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(image: Natalie Dee)

Imagine the scene: you’ve woken up with a banging headache, a sick feeling in your stomach, and a fever. You take a paracetamol and return to bed with a strong cup of tea, and decide to make the classic mistake of Googling your symptoms. You know you shouldn’t do it, you know that an Internet search engine can’t give you an accurate diagnosis, but it’s just so easy and tempting! You put your symptoms into an online checker, and read through the dozens of conditions that could be causing them. It could be a cold, a stomach bug, some kind of virus, or… malaria?! Brain cancer?! That’s it. This is the end. You’ve somehow contracted a rare but swiftly fatal disease, and should begin saying your goodbyes. It must be true: the Internet said so!

At this point, a neurotypical person would probably question the logic of the I’m-going-to-die thought train They’d dismiss the fear, accept that they’ve probably just got a cold, and move on with their day. However, when you have health anxiety, it’s not that simple. The kind of panicked thoughts outlined above refuse to budge, and obsessive worry can take over your mind for hours on end.

I’ve suffered from health anxiety for as long as I can remember, relating to both myself and others. For me, symptoms of illness can’t possibly be the result of a mild ailment: they must signal cancer, or sepsis, or some other severe and life-threatening condition. The same goes for the people I love. I’ve spent nights sobbing because I’m convinced that my nearest and dearest are facing imminent death. Just last week, I was hit by a crippling fear that my boyfriend had a brain tumour because he’d been suffering from sickness and a headache for four days. This morning, I decided that my cat was clearly on the brink of death because she didn’t use her litter tray overnight. Looking back, these thoughts seem ridiculous. At the time, however, they were gripping and all-consuming.

While health anxiety still hits me pretty much any time I or my loved ones fall ill, I’ve got a lot better at dealing with it over the years. What used to be days of endless worry has been reduced to maybe a couple of hours of panic that I can eventually fight off. I’ve learned techniques that tame this distressing and frankly irritating beast. The first of these is avoiding the previously aforementioned trap of Googling my symptoms. Nothing good is EVER going to come of it, because the Internet is utterly obsessed with convincing everyone they’ve got cancer. Why would I put myself at risk of seeing this when it’s only going to increase my anxiety ten-fold? It can be pretty hard to resist the temptation to hit the search engines, especially when I’m feeling really rotten, but it’s for the best.

Secondly, I’ve come up with certain rules for myself when I feel ill to stop me from freaking out and needlessly heading to the GP. If my symptoms are minor, I only go to the doctor if they persist for a few days or start to worsen. If I feel myself starting to panic, I seek the opinion of someone rational, who usually confirms that whatever I’m suffering from probably won’t kill me. If I am genuinely poorly, I of course go to the doctor and get any medication that I need. However, I try not to pander to my anxiety by telling my GP about every little twinge or sniffle I experience. It only wastes their time, and it’s a temporary fix that only serves to reinforce rather than break my vicious cycle of panic. It’s important for me to address the source of the anxiety, rather than use my doctor as a mental and emotional crutch.

Finally, I try to remind myself that I can’t control the health or the actions of other people. When I get health anxiety about the people I love, my first instinct is to frogmarch them immediately to a doctor, whether they want to go or not. However, I’m trying to teach myself that I have to leave others to make their own choices regarding their health. Freaking them out by telling them I think they have a tumour isn’t exactly going to help them to feel better- in fact, it’s probably going to have the opposite effect. While acknowledging a lack of control seems terrifying to my anxious brain, it’s necessary. While I would love to be able to constantly protect everyone I care about, I can’t. Trying to do so is only going to leave me- and others- stressed out. Relinquishing that responsibility can actually be quite liberating! I’m not saying I don’t acknowledge when my loved ones are ill: I just try to give them the support they want, and not the smothering attention that my anxiety demands.

I don’t know if I’ll ever fully be free of my health anxiety. I think the only thing that could completely cure it would be my loved ones and I never getting sick again, which isn’t very likely! However, I’ve managed to minimise its impact on my life by challenging my anxious thoughts and stopping them from controlling my actions. I’m sure my poor, long-suffering doctor will be thrilled!

 

Author bio

elliemiles

Ellie Miles is a freelance mental health writer and blogger based in the United Kingdom. When she isn’t writing about her experiences with depression and anxiety, she’s probably playing with her cat. You can find more of Ellie’s work at www.elliemileswrites.com, or follow her on Twitter (@elmiles_) for life updates and copious cat photos.

On being kind to myself: Mental health update

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Life at the moment is much slower than normal as I am not in full time work. I have the time to write and blog and pitch articles, and to work on social media. I have the time to read and I have started a book blog (bookstagram) on Instagram. I can see friends and catch up with family.

However, for me, I am waiting to see my Doctor next week to discuss ways they can support me better with my morning panic. I desperately want to be working and be doing all I love. Its quite exhausting if I am honest, because I so want to be applying for jobs and doing and feeling 100 percent .

The key is being kind to myself and practising self care. I know I can get better again from the anxiety and be productive again but I need proper and sustained support from my medical team. I hope I can get it soon and that they will really help me. I have so much support from my family, boyfriend and friends but they can only do so much.

Life with this is not easy at all- but I know, like my other mental health challenges, that I will overcome this again. I just must have the support in place from my medical team and the right therapy. So lets hope that my almost 2 year wait for therapy will end soon!  I am reading self help books too in addition and trying to do all I can. I just hope that help for my anxiety disorder will finally arrive.

Nobody’s Perfect: An Update on life with Anxiety

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I have put off writing for several weeks just because its so hard to make sense of everything going on in my brain, in terms of my anxiety disorder.

I have had so many good things in the past few weeks but I am also battling anxiety around work. I love my job but past events relating to employment have made me afraid subconsciously. I very much need to unpack these fears with a therapist- I have been on the therapy waiting list for a year and a half. In a few weeks, I will be seeing my new psychiatrist (roughly the 12th/13th one in 13 years due to high staff turnaround!)  and I hope that he will escalate my therapy. I desperately need help with this as I get morning panic attacks around these fears. Despite using self help methods like meditation, these fears can be all consuming and stop me from going into work.

It is incredibly difficult for me to write about this because its so personal and because I love what I do. However, I have been struggling and I hope by writing that yes, I do get panic attacks about my fears, I can also make others feel less alone.

I did get some respite from these fears and work have been very supportive of me. I was able to go with my friend for a week on holiday to Madeira, a Portugese island off the main land near North Africa. Its a beautiful island, filled with terracotta roofed houses, turquoise seas, dolphins, whales and  turtles, friendly people, bright sunshine and palm trees. We went on a boat trip and got to see some spotted dolphins and relaxed in and by our hotel swimming pools. Not to mention the love for Cristiano Ronaldo on the island, as he is from there and the airport is named after him! It was a really restful and fun trip. I wasn’t anxious all week- as it seems to get triggered by specific fears and situations.

I just hope to get back to full health again and get some extra support around the fears that are fuelling my panic.

I tend to beat myself up about having an anxiety disorder and feeling ‘incapable’ of doing certain things. I am learning self love and to be calmer and to just see my anxiety as a hurdle to be overcome. I may be a perfectionist who hates letting others down
– but I am learning, like the Jessie J song, that Nobodys Perfect.