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. 

Book Interview for Bring me to Light: ‘Recovery is possible’ by Kat O’Connor at Shemazing

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My interview with Kat O’Connor at the wonderful Shemazing over in Ireland was published today. Thank you so much!

Here are some small extracts:

‘Eleanor Segall has penned a book about what it is really like to live with bipolar disorder. The inspirational author’s book Bring Me To Light is bound to open your eyes about a disorder that affects so many people across the globe.

Eleanor spoke to Shemazing about mental illness, becoming a published author and opening up about her personal struggles and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 16.

Having dreamed of being a writer since she was a kid, seeing her book for sale is a true pinch me moment for Eleanor. “I couldn’t dream that I would write a book of my life story or its circumstances at 31. When I was ill in 2014, I knew I wanted to share my story to help people with bipolar disorder and mental health conditions. Helping others is the reason I have written the book and why I kept going with it. I want to break the stigma bipolar and particularly psychosis has. It is such an honour to be published and Trigger seemed like the perfect home for my book.

Read the full interview here: https://www.shemazing.net/recovery-is-possible-i-have-bipolar-disorder-but-it-is-not-the-end/

My first review and Book tales.

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“Bring Me To Light by Eleanor Segall is published on November 5. The eye-opening and beautifully honest read will become one of the most beloved books of Winter 2019.”Kat O’Connor at Shemazing

Today, the lovely Kat O’Connor at Shemazing.ie, based in Ireland, wrote and published this early book review of my upcoming book ‘Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety’ (with Trigger Publishing). You can read her review here

Thanks so much Kat! Since coming home from our honeymoon in Italy, me and fab marketing manager Beth at Trigger have been promoting my book, which is out in November. Thank you to all who have preordered the book so far and helped it go up the bestseller lists for hot new releases and in depression biographies/ psychology categories on Amazon. It is all so exciting and I feel so grateful that people are getting behind the book. I can’t wait too to hold the paperback copy!

This is a short blog to say thank you to everyone who is supporting Bring me to Light and me as I embark on this new journey with my debut book.

With gratitude,

Eleanor x

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!

Mental health and the juggling act: New Job, My book and Wedding. by Eleanor

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(image: Trigger Publishing)

Nearly a month ago, I started my new job at a big Jewish charity here in London. I work in a small but lovely team in PR and Communications- helping run social media, write and distribute press releases and copywriting. I am enjoying it but its totally different from my other work and I am far less immersed in the mental health world than I was a few months ago. It is a juggling act. Trying to keep up with changes and all that’s occurring though. Hopefully soon I will find time to write articles again for my friends at Metro.co.uk and Happiful.

This has brought its own challenges as I havn’t been blogging here as much either, due to writing my book. My book  ‘Bring me to Light’  will be released in the UK on November 5th and the USA shortly after, with Trigger Publishing. The title references going from darkness to light, as I have done with my bipolar and anxiety since I was 16. I have written most of it (50,000 words!) but my very kind editor has extended the deadline for it so I can write everything I need too, whilst also doing my day job and wedding planning (!). I am really excited to see a printed copy and to promote it later this year- the hard work will be worth it I hope. I also hope you enjoy reading it and thank you all for your ongoing support.

So, wedding planning, we are 5 weeks away now until I marry Rob, my fiance. It has come round so fast especially as we have had a year and few month’s engagement, I am counting down the days until I am under the Chuppah (Jewish marriage canopy) and we are officially married in presence of those we love! This week I had my final dress fitting and it was super emotional. I still can’t believe its happening. Rob’s dad is recovering slowly at home but his condition is still serious as he has cancer.

Naturally, you will be wondering- how am I staying sane with my bipolar with everything going on and with Robs dad not being well? Firstly, as we know, stressors can make bipolar worse and trigger episodes. At the moment, my main mood stabiliser Lithium keeps me very grounded and stable. Despite the stress, I am not dipping down into  deep depression as I would have done in the past. Yes-  there are times when I might feel stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted or tired and just want to sit in my pyjamas watching Made in Chelsea or First Dates. There are also times when I am too tired to cook or do laundry and need support with those. I am lucky to have a very supportive family who look out for me too.

My work colleagues have been super supportive when I have been overwhelmed or anxious and I am finding the flexibility of my work helpful too.  I am having less anxious days now I am working too due to exposure therapy and going out a little more (taking the bus and cabs and talking to new people).

For me, I really need self care time, time to switch off and unplug. As we go into Shabbat  now is the perfect time to read and be quiet, come off my phone and computer and just be. I really promote looking after you and taking time to sleep and rest for optimum mental health and to feel better again. Sometimes it can help to let others know how you’re feeling too.

I have two weeks to give in my first book manuscript and five til my wedding day. These are dreams I have had for years and I can’t quite believe they’re happening. Staying sane while planning a wedding without a planner can be hard but we have worked as a team. Having a good cry has really helped also at times, when things get too much! But generally happy, wonderful things so not to complain. Everything at once can get a lot for anyone. Life at the moment is hectic but I am pacing myself as much as possible.

If you would like to preorder my book, you can do so on Amazon or the Trigger website and I would love to know if you do :).

Thanks for being there for me and for supporting my work too. I hope we end the stigma against mental health by talking, sharing and explaining.

Love,

Eleanor xxx

Love and Remission by Annie Belasco: Book review

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(image: Trigger Publishing and Annie Belasco)

I only tend to review books that make an impact on me and that really touch my heart.

I ordered Annie’s book ‘Love and Remission’ , about her life recovering from breast cancer in her twenties and finding the love of her life. Annie and I have been connected on Twitter and she is signed to the same publisher as me so I was super excited to read her inspirational story.

When reading, I found a person of immense strength and an amazing sense of humour. Annie was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer aged just 25 years old. Her entire life was falling apart but she found a way through treatment, through the chemotherapy and radiotherapy-to put it back together. She describes what it was like for her to lose her hair and buy wigs, and to go through a masectomy and trying to feel womanly again- which she succeeded in doing. She was scared that the treatment wouldn’t work but she is now incredibly,  in remission.

Annie also had mental health issues due to the trauma but talks about how she slowly overcame her anxiety to live again.

The ‘love’ part in the title refers to her now husband, who she met while undergoing treatment and who stood by her against all the odds.

I don’t want to reveal any more than that- but this book was so inspiring, so moving, so well written that I read it in just two days!

I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about cancer and mental health whilst being a young woman. Annies story truly blew me away- with her strength, courage and unique take on life- she is so fun loving- and really loves her friends and family.

I was so touched by this book and her story. Thank you for writing it.

 

(You can buy the book now by Trigger on Amazon and in bookstores).

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