I have written here before but I am so excited to say that the Book of Hope, which features my essay ‘Of Hope and Sunflowers’ and put together by my friends Jonny Benjamin MBE and Britt Pfluger is out now! Happy Publication Day!
It is such an honour to be in a book with so many incredible people in their own fields talking about overcoming their own adversity and mental health issues.
As I write, the book is currently 16th in the bestsellers chart for all books on Amazon.
Hugely thankful to Jonny and Britt for including me in such a great project.
I really wanted to write today because the sun is shining, apple blossom is on the trees and Spring is finally here! I always feel more hopeful and happy once Spring is here but living with bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder can mean that some days are harder than others.
This week, I have really struggled with low mood and social anxiety. I’m an optimistic person and sometimes I pack too much into my days and end up having a panic attack because I can’t cope. This is what happened to me yesterday when I decided it would be a great idea to pack in too much, including going across London and delivering many Body Shop orders to my customers and friends. My social anxiety was so high (I think largely due to being in lockdown) , I just wanted to hide and I ended up sleeping to escape my feelings and feeling super low. I am lucky that I understand what to do when this happens and I have a husband and family who support me too. I am still in therapy for my panic disorder and it has improved a lot but there are times when it gets triggered like this week.
I have also found that I am worrying more about what people think of me- if I have said the right or wrong thing or upset anyone. Its so silly but due to past rejection I get scared and those fears bubble to the surface.
On Friday, I had a really productive therapy session. There are a lot of worries about the future that I still hold and being able to unpack them in therapy is really useful for me. I am doing EMDR trauma therapy but a lot of it is talking out and facing those triggers one by one. I have a very good relationship with my therapist and having a session often calms my mind.
In positive news, last week I became an aunt to a beautiful baby girl, Cara Harriet who is the sweetest little baby. She is a joy and light in all our lives and I feel so lucky to have a little niece! My sister and brother in law are amazing 🙂
And in other good news, in April, my essay in the Book of Hope by Jonny Benjamin MBE and Britt Pfluger will be published alongside many others I look up to (Dame Kelly Holmes and my friend Hope Virgo). So there are good things as well as bad!
I am doing a lot better- I dont rapid cycle, I havn’t had an episode of mania or hypomania since 2014. My brain seems to like Lithium and Quetaipine (a mood stabiliser and anti psychotic). I have to learn to be kind to myself and practise self care, because my social anxiety is a fear response from the past.
Being kind to myself is of utmost importance. Heres a list of what I do when I am having a bad day: take a nap, have a bubble bath, read a book, hug the guineapigs and Rob, talk to Rob, a friend or family member, put on a face mask, cry, breathe and listen to calming music, watch a good TV show (I have been watching First Dates Teens), book in a therapy session, eat something nice, put some make up on, wash my hair, wear an uplifting perfume.
We have a lot of mental health awareness in the modern day. Barely a week goes by without it being mentioned that mental health is important, and that it’s “OK not to be OK”. By now, for sure, we’re all quite aware of mental health. What might be needed more from this point on is mental health understanding, because while people and organisations are more than ready to acknowledge the existence of conditions like depression, fewer are forthcoming with any practical help.
One of the problems that we have right now is that mental health issues were ignored and mocked for so long that – now we have some acceptance of their impact – a lot of people don’t have the language to deal with them. Well-meaning people might say “depression is an illness, just like X”, and not really understand that it can be seen as an unhelpful statement. It would be helpful for people with depression if the following facts were widely known.
A good day with depression doesn’t mean the problem is gone
A lot of the language used around mental illness, and particularly depression, portrays it as a steady, relentless grind – and it sure feels like that most of the time. As a result, when someone who has been suffering opens up, has a laugh and is “more like their old self”, their loved ones might see light at the end of the tunnel. Depression is a complicated condition, unfortunately, and even that brief spell of happiness might trigger a period of guilt, which deepens a depressive episode. This complication is part of what makes it so insidious.
“Looking on the bright side” isn’t a productive strategy
It’s easy to understand why people try to talk around someone dealing with depression by pointing to all the positives in life. It would seem like a productive strategy, because if they see a bright side, they will surely feel better. Right? Unfortunately not. While there are plenty of useful tips for dealing with depression, this is not one of them. Reminding people of how life is good and could be worse is more likely to make them feel like, on top of all the bad things they are feeling, they’re also ungrateful. It doesn’t help.
Depression doesn’t come from any single source
Some people believe that depression is a response to negative life situations. Others argue that it is a result of underproduction of serotonin in the brain. Both sides are right, and both are also wrong; depression isn’t solely chemically-driven, nor is it purely down to circumstances, and this means that you can’t fight it with medication alone. At the same time, it may not be possible to fight it without medication. Finding the right combination to beat depression (or at least sideline it) isn’t an overnight thing, but it is achievable.
The best advice you can give someone with depression is that, in time, things will get better and that’s all you want for them. Acknowledge that it will take time, and that you’ll be there for them, but don’t ever try to argue them out of it.
It is no secret that life has been tough for many people lately. Having to deal with circumstances that are out of your control can be especially hard to handle. But, in the most difficult times, it is more important than ever to focus on a brighter future. Spending so much time at home may have got you thinking about your plans for the future and how you want your life to look in years to come. Considering what you want from life can be so helpful and give you a focus to aim for. Having a focus can be particularly helpful in challenging times, such as the current situation.
Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself now is an investment in your future and the bedrock for everything else in your life. Looking after your health now can reap huge benefits for the future. Having good health will enable you to live life to the full and experience it fully.
Being out of your usual routine can make it harder to remember to look after yourself and to stick with good habits. Self-care is essential for good mental health, so you may find it helpful to try and stick with a routine and incorporate healthy habits into your day.
Take Care of Your Finances
Money worries are an issue that many people experience. Finding ways to improve your financial situation can help you to feel positive about the future. Taking control of your finances now will help you to plan for the future with confidence. If thinking about retirement is something that worries you, then researching ways to alleviate these concerns now could be beneficial. You may want to consider a Reverse Mortgage for Seniors or setting aside more money now to prepare for the future. Preparing your finances now will help you to gain the peace of mind to live your retirement to the full.
Focus on Your Goals
Everyone likes to have things to look forward to, so setting yourself goals for the future is an excellent way to stay focused and enthusiastic about life beyond this challenging time. It is essential that your goals are things that make you happy and don’t put you under an unhealthy amount of pressure. Overcommitting yourself to goals that you don’t feel comfortable with can be a source of anxiety and worry, which could impact your mental health. Instead, it is far better to consider goals that you will enjoy working towards and will bring you a real sense of achievement.
Reconnect with Yourself
When planning for the future, it is vital to make sure that your plans are yours, and not a result of other people’s expectations. Making plans for your future should be about reconnecting with what you want from your life and fulfilling your own ambitions. Checking in with yourself to make sure that you are planning a future that works for you and not just for others is essential to helping you to live authentically.
If you need to talk to someone about your mental health call Samaritans 116 123
It’s okay to need to spend some time renewing your confidence now and then. Confidence is often seen as a brick wall that stands the test of time once it’s built, but often, it’s more like a flame, one that must be fed, and felt with quality fuel, in order to keep going. Even the strongest and most audacious people on Earth can be knocked back by life, and they regularly are. This is humbling, because it shows that no matter how good things are, we can always find struggle. However, this also shows an opposite and no less important truth, that no matter how bad things are, we can always improve and come to love ourselves again, building that confidence necessary to moving forward.
This is the essential principle shown by the famous symbol of the yin-yang, the white has a little black in it, and the black a little white. So – if confidence is more of a fire to be kindled than a wall to be built, how can we re-fuel it? Let’s consider that, below:
Finding New Opportunities
It can be worthwhile to find new opportunities in life, even if they’re self-directed, and even if they come straight after an intense experience such as a life setback, trauma, bereavement or a divorce settlement. Taking stock of what your new situation means, how you can use it to your benefit, and what exactly it is that you want can help you move forward with confidence, resilience and a patience that not everyone has. The primary thought to keep in mind is this – new opportunities are always there. You just have to dig for them.
Going For Gold
Going for gold is important, once you have your opportunities or ideals prioritised. It might be that you invest completely in a new hobby or practice, or that you do something you’ve always wanted- a dream, travelling to a new place or something you’d never do normally such as getting a new tattoo. Going for gold- making things a reality , can also help you feel expansive, generating your purpose from one day to the next. No matter if this is getting back in the dating scene, trying to go for a new job, or finally enjoying your freedom, don’t forget to go for gold.
It’s important to be unapologetic about who you are. Why is this? Well, what do you have to apologise for? Your sense of style? Your sexual orientation? Your dreams and desires? Absolutely not, and actually, you should take complete and total pride in these things. This is what makes you, even if, as an individual, you are more than these designated labels. Being unapologetic helps you realize that you have dignity too, and that you’re worth expressing it. Having that mindset can help you curate your best attitude, which may or may not help you become a better, less bitter and more empathetic person. We all need to learn this lesson in life. It’s good to learn it now.
We hope you can develop that newfound confidence in yourself you truly deserve.
Your mental health is precious, and you’ve got to look after it as much as you can. We know sometimes this isn’t the easiest thing in the world as there are so many things that are beyond your control. We also know that even when things are okay, sometimes it’s still difficult to control the way that we feel. But, that’s why we’ve written this article, so that you’ve got some ideas as to the things that you can do to better your mental health. Keep reading if you would like to find out more.
Try To Relieve Whatever Stress You’re Holding
The first thing that we’re going to recommend is that you try to relieve whatever stress you are holding onto. We know that this isn’t easy, and we’re not saying it is, but it’s something that you’ve got to do if you want to recover. Your mental health is not going to benefit if you are constantly stressed. But, the only way that you are going to be able to relieve stress is if you know what is causing it. It’s for this reason that you’re going to have to think yourself or speak to a therapist and figure out what is causing most of the stress. From there, you can work out the best way to destress and take control, and this should ultimately end up improving your mental health.
Hypnosis Might Be Worth A Try
Have you ever given much thought to trying hypnosis? Professional hypnosis involves interaction with you and the therapist to heal mental health issues going on in your life. For example, you can get hypnosis downloads that will help you to do whatever it is you’re aiming for. Hypnosis will involve your consent and its worth a try- Your mental health is worth it. Search for a recommended therapist.
Try Taking Up A New Hobby
The final thing that we are going to suggest is taking up a new hobby. Your mental health will always be worse if you are not distracting yourself from negative thoughts. You’re going to get too deep into things and you may spiral into anxiety or depression. Instead of doing this, find something that you enjoy doing, thats a positive focus. It can be a sport, or a game, reading, watching TV, completing some arts and crafts, whatever you want to do as long as it takes your mind off of your thoughts for a little while. Become immersed in whatever you are doing, and leave the rest of the world behind for a while.
We hope that you have found this article helpful, and now see some of the things that you can do to better your mental health . Something on this list should help, and if it doesn’t, there are also plenty of other things that can be done as well. Make an appointment to see your GP or therapist if your mental health worsens and take care of yourself- self care is vital.
I havn’t done a personal blog for a while because things have felt pretty…. the same. We are all going through such a difficult year where we feel in limbo, stuck with the dark, cold nights and little to distract ourselves- we can’t travel, go on holiday, see friends indoors in person . It can all feel bleak and frustrating with Covid 19 and this new world we find ourselves in.
I am lucky that my mental health hasn’t taken a nosedive, although there have been days where I have felt low, anxious and overwhelmed. I love my work for the Body Shop and my writing, but there are times when I just want a break. We were planning on maybe going away somewhere in the UK, but then Tier 3 restrictions hit London, so we will be at home over the Christmas break. Instead, I have made sure I have taken time for myself and rested- so that things don’t get too much.
I opened my book Bring me to Lightthis morning- I don’t often read it as I wrote it. But, it fell on this page- a poem about Bipolar that a fellow friend and patient wrote when we were on the hospital day unit in 2014. She also had bipolar disorder and was in there for her recovery.
She kindly let me keep her poem- at the time, I needed hope, healing and faith- that I could get better. That Bipolar wouldn’t ruin my life.
I did get better. I have been so much better on my new medication. I met an amazing man who is now my husband. I found a career I am able to do with my PTSD and new friends and a team of people around me who are wonderful. Life is good.
However, a small part of me is scared. Scared to get ill again or be hospitalised. Scared of the psychosis that wrecked my life. Scared of whether or how I can become a mother whilst on Lithium or whether we will need to look at surrogacy as the meds can cause birth defects and there is a strong risk of post partum psychosis and pre or post natal depression for me with my bipolar. I am scared that if I carried my own child, I could end up on a hospital ward again- but a mother and baby one. I don’t want that to happen.
In my book Bring me to Light I wrote, ‘ Sometimes I still feel like the scared sixteen year old, sitting in that psychiatry room at the Priory North London, being given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. …I have learnt that thanks to Lithium and therapy, bipolar disorder does not have to be my life.’
But knowing Lithium’s impact on my physical body too is scary. Weight gain. Acne. Water retention. Potential issues with kidney function/diabetes in future. Not being able to breastfeed on it or possibly carry a baby due to the severe risk – I have the most acute form of Bipolar and become very ill without medication.
These issues are so personal and I and Rob have been processing them for a while. We lost Robs dad to brain cancer in July and I didn’t feel able to blog about children before now. But, when the time is right and we speak to a perinatal psychiatrist and plan for a child, I want to write about it- maybe even a new book.
In the mean time, I am excited for new births in our family and I am just living and enjoying being well, being healthy.
I never see myself as someone with a disability- I always look for the Light. But, there are limitations and drawbacks to having this illness, even when it is in remission. It is biological and impacts on things I never realised when I was diagnosed in 2004. At the age of 32, these are becoming more real than ever and its scary. But, I want to smash the stigma and so I will write about what I can.
I wish you all a wonderful , relaxed festive season with good mental health- Happy Chanukah and Christmas.
I don’t really know where to start! I have been keeping this secret for almost two years.
Nearly 2 years ago, my friends, mental health campaigner/author Jonny Benjamin MBE and author and editor Britt Pfluger, approached me to be a part of their second book entitled ‘The Book of Hope: 101 Voices on Overcoming Adversity‘ (published with Bluebird/ Pan Macmillan in April 2021!).
They asked me to write a piece on how I found hope and recovery after being unwell and my (ongoing) journey with bipolar disorder that I wrote about in my own book Bring me to Light.
I won’t give too much away about the piece I wrote, but it does include my Dad’s story too and talks about life after being sectioned for a manic episode in 2014. It talks about hope, healing, recovery and living with mental illness. It talks about being afraid of the future, but finding light in the darkness.
Heres what Macmillan say about the book which is available for pre order on Bluebird Pan Macmillan website and Amazon. It also contains anecodotes from famous faces including Lemn Sissay, Zoella (Zoe Sugg), Joe Wicks and Dame Kelly Holmes.
There is always hope, even when we cannot seem to seek it within ourselves.
”The Book of Hope is an anthology of 101 key voices in the field of mental health, who share not only their experiences with anxiety, psychosis, panic attacks and more, but also what helps them when they are feeling low. Compiled by award-winning activist Jonny Benjamin and author Britt Pflüger, the inspirational contributors in this book range from the likes of Lemn Sissay, Frank Turner and Zoe Sugg, to Elizabeth Day, Hussain Manawer and Joe Wicks; from authors, poets and musicians to charity workers, activists and psychiatrists.
Jonny Benjamin is known for his book and documentary film, The Stranger on the Bridge, which fought to end stigma around talking about mental health, suicidal thoughts and schizoaffective disorder. When his campaign to find the man who prevented him from taking his own life went viral, Jonny was one of a wave of new figures lifting the lid on mental health struggles. In this book, he brings together a range of voices to speak to the spectrum of our experiences of mental health and the power of speaking up and seeking help.”
It is a real honour and privilege to be a part of this project. A dream come true and I am so thankful to be able to share my story on this platform with truly important voices! We all have mental health and our voices deserve to be amplified.
The Book of Hope is available to pre order now and published in 2021.
Readers of this blog know all too well that life can sometimes take a turn for the worse at times. You can start the year with high hopes, only for things to go catastrophically wrong later on.
Many people go through tough times and wonder whether upping sticks and moving away might help. They think that moving to a new country will give them a fresh start and allow them to leave the past behind where it belongs and move forwards with their lives.
But is that really what happens? Well, it depends.
Seeing The New Location As A Fresh Start
One type of person sees moving to a new country as a blank slate – a fresh start. They’re not the kind of person who spends all night getting angry about what went wrong in the past. Instead, they accept what happened and choose to move forward with their lives. They never look back.
This type of person can get on well with moving to another country. The change of location isn’t the important thing. That’s just a backdrop. The primary decision is to take control of one’s life and move forwards. When you go to another country, you’re proving to yourself that you can make major life changes, and you have control over your life. You’re no longer tethered to a situation in your home country. You’re free to conduct your business as you choose. Self-mastery is the name of the game.
When you go to a new location with this mindset, it colours everything that you do. It’s a decision you’ve made. And so it feels like you have ownership over the situation. Even though things have been tough, you’re moving on with your life and doing the things you have to do to reestablish control. It feels natural and healthy. You’re a master of your destiny. Moving away has nothing to do with trying to escape the negatives. It’s about embracing the positives. You look for a studio apartment for rent, and you start a new life. It can be a challenge, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
Seeing The New Location As An Escape
But there’s a dark side to moving to another country. If you think moving is a way to escape how you feel, you’re sadly mistaken. You might be living in a different apartment building in a foreign country, but that doesn’t mean that your memories and feelings disappear. Yes – you might find yourself in a totally different culture. But that’s pretty much irrelevant if you’re bringing all the same feelings and emotional baggage with you.
Seeing the new location as an escape is a trap. You think that by moving, you’re doing something to alleviate your experience. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, you’re changing location and dragging all the old feelings with you. It’s not moving that gives you the sense that you’re escaping your problems – it’s taking control. When you feel like you have some sort of autonomy, that gives you the mental space to create a life for yourself on your own terms.
But if you’re feeling homesick and still thinking about your country of origin, that’s a recipe for depression. You’re not looking forward – you’re looking back. And you inevitably feel hopeless and futile.
Your World Becomes A Lot Bigger
Moving countries should be about making your world bigger. It can help you to leave your past behind, but it is not all that’s required. You can move to another country, but if you don’t process what happened to you, then you’re not really leaving your problems behind. Paying different government taxes is no substitute for emotional understanding.
When you allow your move to fill your life with new opportunities, things suddenly become more clarified. Everything opens up, and you’re suddenly able to pick a direction and go with it. It can be a frightening experience sometimes, but it is essential for living a rich and fulfilling life.
Usually, people leave their country of origin to escape past unhealthy relationships. Going abroad offers a degree of safety. But it also takes you out of a dysfunctional network of friends and family. You’re able to breathe the free air and start afresh. You’re no longer tied down to a particular social group. And you don’t have to observe its traditions or customs. It’s a liberating experience.
Sometimes, that feeling alone is sufficient to make the move worthwhile. But, ultimately, that’s a choice that you need to make. The question of whether you should go to another country is a personal one.
Yesterday, on 5th November, my book Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety (with Trigger Publishing) turned one!
Today, I got this lovely review from a Twitter follower Robin so I thought I would share it here:
‘It is an amazing book, really enjoyed reading it. An honest and open account of life with bipolar, your strength of character shone through. Thank you for being so open and writing it. – Robin Josephs
I wrote my book to help others and dispell the stigma about severe mental illness. Everyone is human and everyone has mental health. Whether you have never suffered or whether you have depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar, OCD, BPD or EUPD, self harm, addictions, PTSD etc- I would love everyone to be more open if they feel able.
I hope my book explains what being in hospital can be like but that you can recover.
You can get your copy on Amazon and in all good book shops now 🙂
Happy bookversary to me! Thank you to YOU for supporting my blog, reading this and helping get my book deal. To everyone who has bought a copy and to my fab editors Stephanie and Katie.