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).

 

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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. 

You can pre order Bring me to Light, my book on mental health, now!

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Hi friends, its now August and my book is out in the UK on October 30th and November 5th in the USA! I tell my life story with being hospitalised for bipolar disorder episodes twice, most recently in 2014 and how I found a form of recovery and have become a writer on mental health.
My book is called ‘Bring Me to Light’ because I found light in the darkness, hope where there was none. It took many years and this time was a challenge. I hope that reading my book will make you feel less alone. It talks about bipolar, psychosis, depression, anxiety and mania.
It also talks about my wonderful family and friends who have helped me along the way and teachers, doctors, psychiatrists and nurses. Team effort.
the Trigger website (my publisher). USA people you can order it on your Amazon too.
Book launches to follow later in the year, stay tuned for details!

The secret is out: I’m writing a book and am going to be an Author!

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I can’t fully believe that I am typing this as its a dream I have had for my entire life. I had been asking God for this to happen when I was ready and for me to be able to write to share and help others.

At my lowest ebb, I dreamt that if I survived the depression and mania that I would like to help others in similar places. Writing has become my therapy and I hope it helps others too.

So… the secret is out…

I am going to be an author and my life story with bipolar disorder and anxiety and how I have overcome adversity will be told in a book written by me for Trigger Publishing.

Trigger ‘the voice of mental health’ are an independent publisher whose work I have followed for some time now,. They are the publishing arm of mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundation.

In 2016, The Shaw Mind Foundation set up Trigger, a global trade publishing house devoted to opening conversations about mental health. They say ‘We tell the stories of people who have suffered from mental illnesses and recovered, so that others may learn from them.’

In order to get my book published, I had to write three chapters and work with an editorial team. I had admired many of their books, especially those by Hope Virgo, Karen Manton and Terri Cox about their lives with mental illnesses and how they overcame them. I knew Trigger was the right place to share my story of recovery.

My book may not be out til late 2019/ early 2020 but I will keep you all updated. The title will also be revealed at a later stage.

With thanks to the incredible people at Trigger: Stephanie, Katie and James for believing in me and for Hannah for all your help!

Now I just have to get writing! I will write further blogs (or share vlogs) to update on how writing is going.

Love,
Eleanor x

Achieving positive change in Mental Health: Guest post by Tony Weekes of Unity MHS

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My name is Tony Weekes. I feel honoured to have been invited to post on Be Ur Own Light. I have witnessed at first-hand the mental suffering of close family members. In trying to ease their suffering, I have tried, sometimes succeeded, other times failed, to surmount the problems – which they have faced – caused by the current care system’s serious lack of funding and the resulting lack of cohesion.

I am not a professional in the field of mental health but I could not sit back and do nothing. So, I founded Unity MHS, a grassroots movement to revolutionise mental health care in the United Kingdom through education, recognition and intervention.

As a not-for-profit Company limited by guarantee (not a charity), Unity has no shareholders. Therefore, our driving force is the commitment we maintain on our mission rather than personal or financial gain. Our mission is two-fold:

  • To challenge the way society views mental health.
  • To facilitate vast improvement in access to ongoing care and socio-economic empowerment for those suffering with any kind of mental ill health.

I strongly believe that when mental health is viewed with the same level of importance as physical health, the funding necessary for the care system to operate as one unified force will be made available in an instant. Additionally, considering the component parts of the current system, I believe that most of the logistics required for UK mental health care to shine already exist. It is the consistent lack of investment which has allowed the system to show great strain under the pressure it faces.

The general-public are only now becoming aware of the possible mental health crisis we face as a country, or even as a planet. The conversations are becoming increasingly more open. However, it is only a widespread shift in public opinion, which will give the greatest burden of illness in the UK the priority status and corresponding national investment it desperately needs.

Hence, I set-off on my mission by writing In my right mind – a book which seeks to tackle this crisis from angles which may never have been considered in the public domain – to instigate that shift in the public’s perception of mental health.

Moving onto the second part of our mission, we aim to facilitate improvements through ongoing education, recognition and intervention in mental health. How can this be achieved?

Education:

There are two social entities which represent what should be the front line on a proactive approach to mental health. These are our schools and our families. The teachers at the school which my children attend actively promote working in educational partnership with parents. We believe this should and will also be the case with their mental well-being. Schools and parents will be given the tools they need to build resilience and notice signs of mental distress in youngsters at home and in the classroom. This will also give us all the knowledge to observe and act accordingly in the case of adolescents or even adults showing the signs of mental illness.

At Unity, we have developed a program with this aim and are in talks with a number of schools about implementation.

 

Recognition:

The earlier that the possibility of any form of illness is recognised, the sooner it can be diagnosed and the more effectively it can be treated before it gets more serious. The importance of early-  recognition for the whole system, cannot be over-estimated. Once we have the knowledge required to notice what may be the early signs in any setting, with a good treatment plan in place then arguably any form of mental illness can be managed over time with persistence.

 

Intervention:

In many instances, in-patient care will be necessary. Arguably, this is the area where the current system is showing the greatest signs of strain as there are simply not enough beds available. This results in patients sometimes being discharged before they have received the level of care needed or in other instances, people being admitted for care hundreds of miles from home, away from their all-important support network.

For any form of serious illness, varying degrees of rehabilitation are needed to ensure that recovery from the illness can be sustained once a patient is discharged. Our greatest challenge is to generate all the resources necessary for these beds and the other resources necessary, to be made available sustainably. With the right treatment, for the right amount of time, followed by ongoing care and support in the community, social and economic empowerment would make positive long-term recovery more likely and hopefully minimise the risk of relapse.

The NHS is a world leader, Unity will also make mental health care here world renowned.

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Tony Weekes is a mental health activist and founder of grassroots movement Unity MHS and author of the book, ‘In My Right Mind’. He campaigns for better mental health and can be found at www.unity-mhs.org  and his book at www.unity-mhs.org/book. Tony can be contacted at progress@unity-mhs.org

Guest Post: Hope Virgos amazing story about Anorexia and reaching recovery.

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You are fat’

‘you are worthless’

‘No one really cares…’

‘You can’t possibly be going to eat that…’

…     I am not entirely sure when that voice in my head began to dominate me the most and when I stopped enjoying the company and the value that she brought me. She definitely was my best friend when we were 13 and she was ace. She helped me switch off from the real world. She gave me purpose and I loved her for that. She was my best friend, there when I needed her, and reassuring me when I felt lost or alone. The bond we had was incredible… or was it. After three years of being best friends I no longer seemed to do what she wanted. I wasn’t trying hard enough and I wasn’t losing enough weight. The cycle of happiness I had been living in for so long had disappeared. Instead of wishing I could do better and please my anorexia more I felt trapped. I would lay in bed for hours wishing that I would not wake up. Wishing my life away not knowing when I would feel better again. I hated what I had become and I felt lost and so afraid. Maybe that’s why part of me was secretly happy when my pre CAMHs routine got disrupted.

Every Tuesday my Mum would come and get me after registration to take me to CAMHs to get weighed and have a therapy session. I would get registered and then head to the locker room where I would have about 3 2 litre bottles of water. I would stand in the locker room downing the water. Stars in front my eyes, my head spinning as it took all my strength to keep drinking and full up on water. But one Tuesday she turned up and I hadn’t had time to water load. I felt agitated on the way to the hospital and as I reached inside my school bag to pull out the weights I realised that I had forgotten those as well. As I sat in the waiting room I felt in a complete mess and then I got weighed. My weight had dropped.

Two weeks later I ended up in hospital – my heart had nearly stopped and this was the last resort.

I spent the next year of my life recovering from anorexia. It was hard work and made harder that my weight seemed to go up and up and my mind couldn’t keep up. I had to learn the important of eating and the importance of talking about how I felt – both of these things seemed aliened to me. As I put on the weight, feelings that I had never felt flooded back through me. This was terrifying at the time and at times I do still panic when I feel too much. But learning to cope with my feelings in hospital helped me. I learnt the power of the words ‘I am not okay’ – and I gradually realised that people did care and want to help and sharing my feelings was much better than not eating. Like seriously, what had not eating ever done?

I spent a year getting intensive treatment and I was equipped with the resources to help me keep well but the reality was the battle was not over yet. I had to keep well and manage my recovery. I had to keep managing those voices in my head telling me I was fat, worthless and only good at anorexia.

Managing my recovery got easier. I had less fat days and began to switch off at meal times. I gradually began to accept that anorexia does not make me feel better or give me value but that I can get that value from those round me. I also realised how much better life is when I am not letting anorexia consume me. Yes, I didn’t think this was an issue when I was best friends with her but it was so true. I never could have gone travelling had I been friends with her still and I never could have done marathons or even had a more normal life. I was so lucky that I was given a second chance at life to conquer anorexia and start living again.

Please give it ago. If you are living with an eating disorder, please do seek help. Give beating anorexia a go.

I guarantee you it will be worth it – yes hard work but the best thing you decide to do.

Hope Virgo suffered with anorexia for 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year and since being discharged, has fought to stay well. Hope now lives and works in London, runs marathons and has a keen interest in exercise and maintaining good mental health. She is in a whole new place, taking each day as it comes and living life to its fullest. Hope has recently written her first book, Stand Tall Little Girl (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stand-Tall-Little-Girl-Inspirational/dp/1911246151)

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