Tag Archives: Mental illness

Anxiety Gremlins: Panic, Exhaustion and everything in between

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This post is probably the most honest one I have written (and as you all know I am pretty open about my mental health struggles).

I am completely and utterly exhausted, tired and fed up. I have been experiencing daily morning panic for 5 days, where leaving the house to go to work feels incredibly overwhelming.

This has happened to me before and I have got through it with exposure therapy and excellent support networks and medical team. I am incredibly lucky also that I work with supportive colleagues/ teams in my job, who go above and beyond to make sure I can be OK.

I am vulnerable to certain life stressors which can trigger my panic attacks and in particular morning anxiety. Due to the adrenaline and cortisol that is triggered during the panic, I feel like I have run a marathon but equally don’t want to sleep too much during the day so I am at home resting, recovering and recuperating. This may mean watching Love Island religiously, but I digress….

I feel like I am constantly on an emotional tread mill. The anxiety gremlins keep rearing their heads. This week has been particularly challenging due to the fact I have had panic attacks every morning. For me, my attacks are more emotional- I don’t tend to get palpitations or hyperventilate, I freeze like in fight or flight and then avoid. The avoidance temporarily stops symptoms but….

Avoidance is the worst thing you can do when you have an anxiety disorder. The worst. And yet we do it to feel ‘safe’ when really the feared event or trigger is not fearful at all.

I know that with support, I can get through this and feel much better. I have been recommended to the charity No Panic by a friend and yesterday I did the Yoga Nidra relxation meditation which calms the mind and body . I will keep trying to conquer the fears triggering my panic disorder- I have tried so much in the past but will have to keep going. I have been on the NHS waiting list for therapy for over a year. So I am having to do a lot of self help methods in the mean time.

Thank you everyone who has offered advice and support. Off to rest but will be back soon.

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Guest post by Karen: Being a Mental Health Professional with Anxiety, my Recovery

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Working in an outpatients’ mental health service in the NHS I was well-placed to recognise the signs and symptoms of a mental health problem. I have seen most ends of the spectrum from working in a secure men’s forensic unit, treating people experiencing psychosis in a clinic and in their homes, to treating outpatients with mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Yet none of this prepared me for my own mental health crisis that crept up on me suddenly and unexpectedly last year.

I have experienced anxiety in my life on many occasions before. I developed a fear of panicking and losing control going on the tube and was starting to avoid taking tubes and trains and places I felt I could not escape from easily. Later on I realised this was panic and agoraphobia and since I was considering dropping out of my Masters degree because it involved travelling long routes by tube, I knew I had to get some help. I had a course of CBT privately using graded exposure therapy which I had to get on board with and be committed to, and was incredibly effective for me. My CBT therapist was a real lifeline for me and we had an effective rapport which really helped.

I have since moved out of London and abroad. In September last year I started a number of new part-time teaching roles (not in mental health) in my relatively new European city. I was really worried about my ability to speak the language and to be able to communicate if there was a problem. In fact, I had pretty much spent my entire summer holiday dreading, worrying and catastrophising about all the things that could go wrong, and didn’t really tell anyone exactly how I was feeling.

I started in one of my jobs and it seemed to be going just fine the first week. I did experience a lot of worry after each class and before the next one. I was really concerned about how other people would perceive and judge me, particularly as I was not yet fluent in the language and could not understand 100%. I continued to be anxious about how other people thought I was doing my job for the next few days and had consistently negative thoughts that would not go away which were concerning as they seemed to upset me more and more. I remember that on the last day of that first week, I had been introduced to my new colleague, a really lovely lady who seemed really helpful. She was really experienced and obviously had a lot of knowledge and I started to feel inadequate in that moment. That was the moment everything spiralled out of control.

I went home and over the weekend I experienced constant racing thoughts of things going wrong and worst case scenarios. My husband and I were watching TV in the evening and I just could not focus on anything as my mind was racing so much. What surprised me the most was how physically I felt the anxiety this time and how different it was to any anxiety I had before this. I felt hot and cold every few minutes, had the sweats and could not sleep for days. I could not seem to regulate my emotions and rationalise them. I retreated to bed to warm up and calm down and called my mum for moral support. I lost my appetite and could physically not put anything in my mouth apart from forcing some sugar down me.

This pattern continued the closer it came to Monday. I found it really hard to get out of bed – I was heavy, anxious and tired due to lack of sleep. It was hard to sit up straight and I forced myself to have breakfast. I have never felt before the way I felt that day. I was inconsolably crying, paralysed with terror, and curled up on the sofa. I called in sick to work and spent the best part of the entire day on the phone to my parents who flew out the next day to be with me. All of this was entirely alien to my husband. He knew I worked in mental health but I guess I never realised that he totally didn’t understand what I did and what mental health looks like. He had no idea what was going on with me and had to learn how to support me.

I am really lucky to have found a supportive and really competent GP when it comes to managing mental health. I wanted to be put on a course of medication as I know that medication is a key part of the treatment equation and the SSRIs I am on have helped tremendously. My GP also gave me a temporary course of benzodiazepine very closely monitored by her to help me with the initial stage of going to work, coping with the anxiety and helping me sleep initially.

All in all, this was a really acute depressive/anxious episode and I did go back to work the following week with a LOT of positive self-talk, support from husband and family, and a chill pill. My recovery was gradual and I guess I realised that we are all vulnerable at one time or another. My parents have both experienced anxiety and depression over their lives and I know that having a depressive episode makes it more likely that we will experience further episodes.

Recovery means making your mind your priority and this is what I’ve tried to do. I have regular follow-ups with the GP every few weeks as I’m still taking medication. I am concerned about how coming off the medication might affect me but I have a good relationship with my doctor and trust that she will manage that process with me in the next few months. When I’m feeling anxious and restless I know I need to up my exercise to channel my adrenaline elsewhere. I try to facetime friends and family more often and say what I’m feeling more. My friends have been so supportive and didn’t judge or change their behaviour towards me when I told them- I found it really hard to tell them though. Having a good night’s sleep helps too- going to bed and waking up at regular times. I have also found Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) self- help reading to be extremely helpful too and highly recommend “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris- a refreshingly easy way of managing difficult emotions and learning to live with them.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who is struggling with negative thoughts, depression, anxiety, stress, is to tell the people closest to you what helps you. Sometimes it’s the fact that our family’s, partners, friends don’t know what helps or what to say which causes more stress or potential conflict. Tell them what you would like them to do or say to you when you are feeling a certain way. I told my husband that every time I start to feel anxious, inadequate and catastrophising about my work, to remind me of how much enjoyment I have had at work and the positive things I say when I get home from work.

I don’t believe that a cardiologist should have experienced a heart attack to make them more capable of treating a patient effectively, but as a Mental Health Professional, I do have that bit more compassion and understanding of the vulnerability that we all have, no matter which chair you are sitting in.

 

 

Guest post by Lucy Boyle: What you need to know about Burnout Syndrome

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Stress and pressure are a part of everyday life. Our jobs often bring a fast pace; we may have to meet deadlines, complete projects in a certain timeframe, or put up with stressful environments. No matter who you are or what you do, there’s a certain amount of stress that just “comes with the job”.

However, there are times when the pressure gets to be too much. You may have been dealing with days, weeks, months, or even years of too much work and not enough downtime. The stresses of the job may be piling up with the stresses at home. Eventually, you run the risk of what is known as “burnout syndrome”.

Burnout syndrome, also known as occupational or job burnout, is defined as “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” The symptoms of burnout include:

  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Frustration and negative emotions
  • Lack of motivation
  • Attention and concentration difficulties
  • Reduced performance on the job
  • Lack of personal care, unhealthy coping mechanisms (eating, smoking, drinking, etc.)
  • Interpersonal difficulties, both on the job and at home
  • Preoccupation with work, even when you’re not working
  • Chronic health problems
  • Illness (the result of chronic stress)
  • Headaches
  • Decreased satisfaction with the quality of your life

If you’re noticing these symptoms in your life, you may be suffering from or getting close to burnout.

But what causes burnout syndrome? How does it get from “I’m having a bad day at work” to the feeling of being overwhelmed, overburdened, and emotionally drained? There are a lot of things that can contribute to the feelings of burnout.

  • Interpersonal relationship problems at work, with coworkers, employees, or employers.
  • A lack of control in your life, feeling like you have no say in anything that goes on at work or home.
  • A lack of clarity in your job description or burden of responsibilities.
  • Monotony or chaos in your job—both can require a lot of energy to remain focused.
  • Company ethics, values, or methods of handling feedback, grievances, or complaints that are not aligned with yours.
  • A job that doesn’t fit with your skills or interest.
  • Isolation at work or home; you may feel like your social support is lacking.
  • An imbalance in your work-life routine, usually too much time spent at work and not enough at home.

All of these factors can add to your feelings of stress and anxiety. Over time, they simply INCREASE until you feel like the burden of your job is too much to bear.

The truth is that occupational burnout is incredibly common, especially among human service professions. ER physicians, nurses, social workers, teachers, engineers, lawyers, police officers, and customer service reps are all at a very high risk of burnout. The high-pressure environment and occupation add to the emotional demands of the job. Eventually, everything becomes too much to bear and you suffer from burnout.

So what can you do if you’re feeling burned out? How can you cope with the mounting stress and pressure that may eventually become too much to bear?

Engage socially. Social interaction and connection is one of the most effective antidotes to depression, anxiety, and stress. Spending time with family, friends, and coworkers can help you to feel better. Making friends at work can change the environment positively, making work seem less stressful because of you have a social support framework in place. Open up to people and share your feelings. It can release some of the pressure building inside you and encourage better connection with others.

Reframe your perspective. Instead of seeing work as a bore, a chore, or a stressor, try to find value in what you do. Your job benefits someone, so look at what you do as providing an invaluable service.

Evaluate your priorities. What’s more important to you: work or home life? If your career is important, find ways to focus on it without adding to your stress. Work on a better work-life balance. Take more time off work, even if it means someone else gets the promotion you wanted. Set boundaries on your time and availability. Set aside time to relax and unwind, both in the middle of and at the end of the day. Stop rushing around so much—from home to work and back home again. Focus on what matters: your health and happiness!

Change your lifestyle. Get more sleep. Eat better. Exercise more. Drink less coffee and alcohol. Read more books. Walk in the park more. Take a nap in the middle of the day. Move around more. Quit smoking. Improve your lifestyle, and you’ll find your body and mind better able to cope with the feelings of stress that could lead to burnout.

In the end, YOU are the one in control of your life. Make the decisions that will reduce stress, not add to it. Take care of your body, mind, and emotions, and you’ll avoid those feelings of burnout!

Lucy Boyle (@BoyleLucy2), is a full-time mother, blogger and freelance business consultant, interested in finance, business, home gardening and mental health.

Peer Support Work: A New Adventure

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I very much felt inspired to write today because its Friday and on Monday I begin my new job role as a Peer Support Worker for a mental health charity here in the UK.

Peer support takes people like me who have lived experience of mental health issues and are in recovery, and able to promote or assist wellness and recovery in others. This can be done through therapeutic groups, talking to service users and working in a collaborative team of occupational therapists, social workers and mental health coordinators. A lot of the work I will be doing is confidential so I won’t be able to disclose it here.

Its such an amazing- yet strange turn of events to be on the ‘other side’ (i.e. not a service user myself). I am embarking on a very new and exciting journey and very thankful to be able to help others.

I also just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who reads, likes, follows my blog. I will continue to blog and share mine and others stories.

Guest Post by Diamond EhealthInformer: Can some Mental Health Problems be treated with Technology?

As we move into 2017 going full steam ahead, we can see how far technology has come in recent years. I wanted to set myself the task of finding out how far this tech had come in terms of treating mental illnesses, as there is some speculation and fogginess to the science and results that people are supposedly getting.

It turns out that there are multiple useful and FDA approved technologies that do indeed help treat mental health problems. In this article, I aim to uncover some actionable, useful data and solutions that will aid sufferers of various mental health issues.

Crisis Centres

This solution may surprise you, but it utilizes technology and has proven to be very effective in serious circumstances. When people feel pushed to the end of their tether with anxiety and depression, they need to be talked to, supported and experience a sense of connection to alleviate the feeling of alienation. Sometimes your best friends and family members aren’t available or you don’t feel like talking to them. You want something completely confidential, which is why text and call centres are so effective.

They’re always open and running, plus the staff are fully trained for both mild and severe cases of anxiety and depression and other mental illnesses. You can always rely on someone picking up at the other end that will know how to talk to you and do their best to bring you back to a state of calm through grounding techniques.

Having the option to text message or call is also beneficial for those who prefer to communicate in different manners. Some sufferers may not feel like talking, but texting will work for them and their mood at that given time. On the contrary, hearing a soothing and reassuring voice on the other end of the line may be more effective for certain sufferers. Both options are there to use, whenever and wherever a person may need them.

Using Apps for Improved Mental Wellness

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There are thousands of mental health apps available for both iOS and Android phones. That being said, it’s important that before you download anything, that you do your research. Given the fact that there are so many apps to choose from, you can take an educated guess and see that a lot of them won’t be very effective.

Also, be sure to check the privacy settings for the apps you’d like to download, as you’ll most likely be entering personal information and data into them. You can always protect your information using privacy tools, removing some of the worry and stress from using specific apps.

Apps such as Pacifica help to monitor and alleviate stress levels so that individuals can work out and reduce anxiety symptoms through cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques. By using an app such as Pacifica, you can prevent your symptoms from worsening and control your stress levels to produce a healthy state of mind.

Spire

 

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Spire works through wearing a clip-on device that measures your emotions, sending signals through to your smartphone which will alert you as to what your body is currently experiencing. I know this may sound a little “out there,” but Spire has been proven to reduce stress levels by up to 50 percent in certain scenarios. When emotions are detected, the device will send signals to your phone, which then pop up on your screen telling you how you can improve your mood and emotional well-being.

The nifty device is easily clipped to a belt or bra for completely anonymous use. Repetitive high-stress levels can lead to physical health issues affecting the digestive and reproductive system (as well as other areas of the body). Stress can leave you feeling drained and lethargic, so having a device that alerts you to your emotional wellbeing and gives you advice and tips on how to reduce those stress levels is very useful.

 

Conclusion

I set out to discover whether technology really could help to treat mental health problems and to see what some of the most effective and accessible treatments available are. I think it’s fair to say that there are many ways in which technology can aid sufferers of various mental illnesses. Using apps, crisis centres, and body measuring devices we can stay on top of our stress levels, and use signals to prevent our conditions and symptoms from worsening.

I feel that using these technological solutions will work best in collaboration with any existing treatment a sufferer is undergoing- with a supportive medical team. Through using medication and counseling, these modern alternatives can provide additional beneficial results that could  boost the recovery of a patient.

Living with Uncertainty- Life and Journeys with Mental Illness

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*Trigger warning- talks about severe depression. Please be careful when reading*

There is so much I want to write on here that I havn’t yet written. Some topics  are too deep or painful for me to address- particularly surrounding certain aspects of previous hospitalisations. I hope one day I can share these with you. However, as a writer, I often get into the flow and just want to spill whats in my heart. So, this blog is about what living with mental illness can mean- its uncertainty and coming to terms with my own brain.

As most of you know, I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, a mood disorder, as a teenager. I was poorly with depression and a mixed state in hospital when diagnosed and I don’t think fully came to terms with what the diagnosis meant until a few years later.

Being diagnosed so young instilled a lot of fear in me and a lot of avoidance. I decided not to drink alcohol or try drugs- as I didn’t know their effect on my brain and I was already  pretty anti drugs for many reasons. I knew my illness meant that the chemistry in my brain wasnt the same as everyone else without it- I had either too little seretonin causing depression, or too much causing hypomania and manic episodes. I felt often that despite taking mood stabilising medication and anti depressants and tablets to help PMS- that everything was uncertain. I had no idea when the next episode would strike- or if I would  be well enough recognise it.

I am lucky. My illness is very severe when it happens. Yet, I went 10 years without a manic episode or hospitalisation, though I suffered from acute depression that got truly so bad I didn’t want to be here anymore- which is quite a common side effect of being depressed. I was able to be supported at home and with my psychiatrist. I knew it was my depressed thoughts and not me- but this uncertainty  was incredibly stressful to myself and my family. I spent years being depressed and anxious and trying (and failing at times) to function- because my medication wasn’t holding me and my brain correctly.

Despite the uncertainty of so many things- dating, the effect of stressors in my life, work, etc- I am doing well at the moment. However, the uncertainty of the illness makes you worry that you could suddenly get ill again.

I practise a lot of self care- try to get to bed early, eat well, take my medication, tell my family or friends if feeling low etc. However, I always live with the knowledge that my Bipolar may pop up at different times in my life- and important times.

Due to having had this for 13 years- I am used to living with the chronic nature of my mental health condition. It can still be frightening and distressing and down right annoying. Yet, with the right support network and medical team, I know I can stay well for as long as my brain allows me- and I can get well and recover.

Recovery makes you stronger, Living through the pain makes you stronger, Surviving an episode makes you stronger.

You are not alone.

Full Circle- From Bipolar and Mental Illness to Recovery

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It was summer 2014. I sat on a sadly impersonal green NHS couch in a quiet side room , my feet dangling over the edge, holding my wordsearch book and counting down the hours until I could leave the Day Unit. I had been feeling exhausted from my new medication, wobbly, teary and lacking in confidence all day and I had just started taking Lithium as a therapeutic medication. As such I had weekly blood tests as the Lithium level in my blood fluctuated between 0.4 and the optimum dose of 0.8, where you start to feel much better.  Lithium has to reach a certain amount in the blood to work on your brain (where it stops or tames mania and mood disorders).  They also had to check it didn’t become toxic in my blood and so weekly tests were needed which were exhausting at the time.

I had just received test results that day informing me that I was feeling a bit fragile because the Lithium was only at 0.4 in my blood. All I wanted to do was hide away from the rest of the therapy group in that little room, peacefully colouring in photos and doing wordsearches to keep me occupied. All I really wanted to do was go home, to where I felt safe and I didn’t have to face the reality of being ill.

This was at the beginning of my recovery journey in 2014. I had left hospital as an in patient after a manic episode and was a voluntary patient at an Acute Day Unit specialising in group therapies. Eventually, I grew to love it and the other people there- although I always wanted to leave faster than the Doctors thought I was ready! I stayed there 3 months in total and some people stay there 2 weeks. I very much needed the healing nature of the therapies even though I didn’t feel it at the time.

I realised these past few weeks how far I have come in my journey- from ill service user needing the support of my psychiatrist, nurses and OTs, to not needing that support currently (on 6 monthly psychiatrist meetings) and helping others in a similar setting in my new job.

I really have come full circle. There may be times when I am ill again in the future or not feeling at my best. I may need more support again. I may get panic attacks or mania or depression. However, for now I am feeling positive and hoping I stay well for a long time on my medication.

Recovery is possible. I am so thankful to all who have helped me on my journey and continue to provide guidance and love.