Christmas For CAMHS- Helping Children in Mental Health Units this Christmas.

(image: Christmas4CAMHS)

Many of you know that I support a charity very close to my heart- Christmas For CAMHS. I volunteered with social media and raising awareness. A few years ago, it got charity status and this is so exciting but it still needs your help and donations, so read on as to why its so important to me and those children in hospital!

In 2004, when I was just 16, i was admitted to an NHS CAMHS (children and adolescent mental health unit) at the Priory Hospital North London for depression and psychosis- part of my bipolar disorder on Christmas Eve. Even though I am Jewish, I remember opening a wrapped present (can’t remember what it was) that the staff had organised for us out of their budget. The other patients also left me notes and cards. But the truth is there was no charity giving us presents and we were away from our families, all very ill- so the staff just did the very best they could under the circumstances.

Then, in 2018, I heard about a charitable enterprise set up by a lovely doctor and trainee child psychiatrist called Ro who wanted to do something about the lack of equality children in mental health units had. She and her volunteers were sending presents to children on CAMHS wards across the UK and asking for donations.

Christmas For CAMHS is a registered charity who provides special Christmas gifts every year for children and young people who are inpatients in child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) wards across the UK over the Christmas holiday period.

They want to make children and young people who are inpatients over the festive season feel thought-about, special and included – our individual gifts for each young person to keep, as well as gifts for their ward, help us to do this.

They have been hugely supported over the past few years by generous donations from the public and have received much gratitude as a result from inpatient units. However, they are only able to provide gifts with your charitable donations.

To find out how you can donate money or gifts please visit their donations page to see the Justgiving page and Amazon gift list.

They say:

Christmas For CAMHS was originally set up because volunteers saw a huge disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated over the festive period compared to other NHS services for children and young people. They wanted to do something to change that.

Children are admitted to CAMHS units to receive support and treatment for mental health issues, such as psychosis or depression or eating disorders like anorexia. There are no official figures for how many children will spend the festive season in CAMHS units across the UK, though we often give gifts to over 1500 young people. While many members of the public and corporate donors give Christmas gifts to children’s hospitals or children’s wards in general hospitals, CAMHS units, which are usually based away from other services, are often forgotten, or not known about. We don’t think this is right.

Every year they talk to every CAMHS unit in the UK to see what gifts their young people would like. Then, with your generous donations, they buy beautiful and thoughtful gifts for young people in almost every unit across the country.

We also include, where possible, some small fidget toys, a gift for the ward like a board game or sports equipment, some activities to do during the festive period and extra gifts for particularly vulnerable young people who are looked after children or who have a refugee background. We also send them an advent calendar full of inspiring quotes and pictures of cute pets. Sometimes we’re able to include a homemade card or two too.

The gifts are assembled at a packing weekend in Bath by our volunteer elves and then whizzed around the country in plenty of time for Christmas! As a charitable organisation, we rely 100% on fundraising and your generous donations. Each penny goes directly to making the magic happen.

(image: Christmas4CAMHS)

So please, support Christmas For CAMHS- if you can donate a gift or money that would be incredible. As a former child patient, the loneliness you feel is unbearable-lets work together to stop the inequality and forgotten children!

see: https://www.christmasforcamhs.org.uk/

Lockdown, Sleep, Anxiety and Mental Health: In Association with TEMPUR®

(image: Eleanor Segall Mandelstam)

Living with an anxiety disorder can be hard and part of it is insomnia, lack of a good night’s sleep. It can be really debilitating to be up at night, sweating, pumped with adrenaline and feeling awful and then not feel comfortable enough in my bed to drift off to sleep. My anxiety did get worse during the Covid 19 lockdown too due to the uncertainty of the situation and I had been worrying as I had just started a new career, changes can make us more anxious! So that would keep me up at night as well. I found that the more tired I would get, my memory became affected too.

I was so tired and walking around in a bit of a daze, feeling foggy! I needed to rest and recharge. Sleep is so important to all of us, to help us recall memories, refresh and learn new things. Poor quality sleep negatively affects our health and I have learnt how important it is to have back support and neck alignment- to have proper sleep posture and feel well rested.


Then, I found the TEMPUR® Comfort Original pillow (above in my white pillowcase) with memory technology that helped me, amongst other self care, to get a good night sleep. It has special memory foam material by TEMPUR®, who are the original patented memory foam company.  The Comfort pillow is a traditionally shaped pillow, with a medium feel and is classic and rectangular shaped. It also has a soft, textured cover! The inside is described as containing thousands of TEMPUR® material micro cushions, to provide plush comfort while maintaining pressure relief.

The memory foam inside was originally developed for NASA astronauts and the pillow (and their mattress material) provides proven pressure relief, to give your body total comfort and support. Incredibly, It also responds to your exact weight, shape and warmth!

(image: Tempur/ Eleanor Segall Mandelstam)

The pillow and mattress reduces tossing and turning and also absorbs motion from your partner ,if you have one, so you don’t disturb each other. It helps you sleep better, longer and deeper- so that you feel rejuvenated and restored!

I began trialling this new pillow and the more I use my Comfort original pillow, the more I really love it and it helps me to drift off more comfortably these days too. Its so soft and I feel less anxious and more cocooned in bed, ready to take on the next day! My neck and back feel supported and my mental health and memory have improved too – sleep is so vital to good health.

I felt that the pillow moulded to my body shape well too. At the end of a working day, I often get stiffness in my back and neck, and this definitely relieved that pressure as I got some shut eye under the duvet. I know that as we now move forward from the Covid lockdown, that I will continue to have less stressed nights and a good nights sleep.

This sponsored post (paid partnership) is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts are my own. I received a gifted pillow and trialled it for review.

5 Tips and Tricks to Help You Fight Addiction by Lizzie Weakley

(image: Disha Sheta : Pexels)

When the term addiction is mentioned, most people only think of drug addiction. However, there are also behavioural addictions, including; gambling, sex, exercise, eating, and shopping. When people start developing such behaviour, they never know they can be addicted until it gets too late. Once one is addicted to such behaviour or even drugs, coming back from it takes a while. It may even be years for some. Regardless of what you are addicted to, you may need to follow a particular path to ensure that your recovery is successful once you have decided to quit. Below are some tips that can help you in fighting any addiction.

Find the Right Support System

Addiction recovery is never an easy journey. You may, therefore, require all the help you can get. You can try contacting your family and friends and explain to them your situation. Ensure that those you reach out to for help will never judge you when you relapse. Instead, they will help you get on the recovery path once more.

Change Your Past Friends

When you were mid addiction, you may have found a clique of people who enjoyed the same activity, whether drugs, shopping, or gambling. It is vital to inform them of your new venture. If possible, you may need to stop associating with such people for a while, as they may be the source of your trigger.

Cut Off What Supports the Addiction

When you are a gambler, shopping, or drug addict, one thing that supports your lifestyle is money. You may need to ensure that you cannot have access to such finances. Therefore, you can talk to your bank or even spouse to ensure that the only money you can have access to is those you need for your bills. Having no cash to support your lifestyle may be a significant step towards recovery, but speak to a trained mental health professional about this too.

Join a Self-Help Group

If you are struggling with addiction such as gambling, drugs or sex, you may want to join self help groups. Self-help groups are composed of people who are going through the same journey as you. As such, they understand what you are facing and are there to support you on your road to recovery.

Avoid Triggers

There are those things that may constantly remind you of your addiction. For instance, when trying to recover from sex addiction, it would be wise to get rid of anything triggering. You may also need to avoid hanging out in drug-related areas when you are trying to quit drugs.

Having an addiction is a tricky thing. Luckily, there are people like Awakenings Health and Wellness Centre out there to help you out on your journey. When recovering and having a hard time with your addiction, you may need to check on the above tips to help you stay on course.

Lizzie Weakley is a freelance writer.

Treatment Options for Recovering from an Eating Disorder by Kara Masterson

(image: Pexels)

Treatment for an eating disorder depends on the type of disorder you are suffering from (such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder) and can vary with each individual. In most cases, treatment will include therapy, education about nutrition, and monitoring. There may also be medications prescribed that can help address a disorder as well as treatment for any health concerns that may have been caused by the disorder. 

Therapy for Eating Disorders 

The first step in treating an eating disorder is therapy sessions that may last just a few weeks or many years, depending on the severity of your illness. Therapy is designed to help you develop a good eating pattern and exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones. Therapy will also help you understand how eating is connected to your mood as well as how to cope with stressful situations. You will be given the chance to develop problem-solving skills that are more constructive and that can better serve you going forward.

There are three types of therapy used to treat eating disorders and you may enter one, two, or all three of these types to manage your disorder. They include: 

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy – this therapy focuses on behaviour, thoughts, and feelings as well as how to recognise and change distorted thoughts 
  • Family therapy – this therapy is designed to help your family help you establish healthy eating patterns as well as how to cope with a loved one who is living with an eating disorder 
  • Group cognitive-behavioural therapy – therapy conducted with others who are dealing with the same type of eating disorder in order to address thoughts, feelings, and behaviours 

Nutrition Program 

Another part of your therapy will include a nutrition program. You may work with a registered dietitian or other nutritional experts to help you better understand your disorder. They will create a program designed to help you work toward a healthy weight, practice meal planning, and take steps to avoid dieting or binge eating. As part of the treatment options for eating disorders, they will also help you recognise how your eating disorder negatively impacts your nutrition and health while helping you establish a realistic eating pattern you’ll be able to follow. 

Eating Disorder Medications 

There is no medication that can cure an eating disorder, but there are medications that are used in conjunction with therapy that may lead to better success. Antidepressants are the most commonly used, especially if your eating disorder includes binge eating or purging. Another drug that is sometimes used for binge eating disorders is Vyvanse which is thought to help impulsive behaviours that can lead to bingeing. 

Suffering from an eating disorder can be debilitating and it is an illness that is not only difficult for the person suffering from but also their loved ones who feel helpless. There are treatments available and it is critical that you get help for your eating disorder as soon as possible- reach out for support.

This article was written by freelance writer Kara Masterson

Believe In Progress, Options, Laughter and Recovery: Some Thoughts on Bipolar and Life.

(image: Hannah Blum)


Hi everyone,

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 Light this 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.

It said,

Believe

In

Progress

Options

Laughter

and

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.

Love,

Eleanor x

Identifying the Source of your Eating Disorder and Finding Recovery by Anita Ginsburg

(image: Mindful Eats Nutrition Counselling)

Few of us follow a healthy eating plan all the time. While you should try your best to keep a healthy diet, due to mental ill health and/or life trauma, some people go on to develop eating disorders as a result (such as anorexia and bulimia). 

There are a wide range of eating disorders that sprout from a wide range of mental, emotional, and environmental issues. If you have an eating disorder, it is important to get to the root of the psychological aspect and take steps to move towards recovery.

Here are some things you can do.

Keep a Journal

You may have already tried using a food journal to track everything you eat, your calories, your macros, your weight, your water intake, exercise, or any combination of the above. Unfortunately, many people feel that this type of journal causes them to obsess over what they’re eating. This can actually be detrimental to recovery unless carefully supervised by a doctor or therapist. 

However, journalling can still be helpful. Instead of focusing on calories or other factors in your food, take a look at yourself and how you feel about your food instead. For example, you might notice trends in your eating habits. Are there some foods or meals you’re avoiding altogether? Why? You can write about how you felt before, during, and after eating. This could include how you felt physically—hunger, pain—or emotionally. Finally, you might notice certain triggers that affect your eating habits.

With this information, you can get a good idea of whats going on, what might be causing the disorder, and what to do to help your mental health. Your journal should feel safe and supportive in your journey towards good health again.

Avoid parts of food journalling that make you feel unsafe. You may need to talk with your therapist to find a good balance.

Consult a Therapist

As mentioned above, a therapist can be very helpful in helping you provide insight and guidance in overcoming your eating disorder. If you can, try to find a therapist who specialises in eating disorders. They can help you identify emotional or environmental issues that may be triggering your eating disorder. Additionally, they will likely be able to recommend certain steps to help you break unhealthy eating habits. Not every tip or idea will work for everyone, so you and your therapist will have to work together to identify what works for you, what doesn’t, and what is counter-productive.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you don’t already know what category your eating disorder falls under, your doctor may be able to advise you. They will look at factors like your medical history, family history, and associated factors. The doctor might recommend certain types of testing or procedures to learn more about your eating habits- including blood tests and your BMI. They may also recommend certain diet changes or plans to help you reach healthier eating habits and improve your mental wellbeing.

Explore Treatment Options

As you learn more about your situation, you can look into possible treatment options for eating disorders that could help you to deal with and overcome the problem. Nutritional guidance, weight management programs, and support groups are common ways of helping people to recovery.

Eating disorders can cause many difficulties especially when you are feeling low or your mental health is declining. That is why its so important to find out the source of your eating disorder so it can be effectively treated and overcome. Learn all you can, consult professionals, and if it is available for you, join an eating disorder treatment program to achieve your goals back to health.

This article was written by freelance writer Anita Ginsburg

The Road to Recovery: On PTSD, Trauma and the Future… by Eleanor for Mental Health Awareness Week

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, details of assault and severe mental illness

Hi everyone,

Its been a while but I thought I would put type to keyboard and write a blog for more mental health awareness.

Since my book was published, I haven’t written many follow up personal blogs, purely because the launch of my life story into the public domain felt overwhelming and scary. 6 months on, I am used to it being out there but I have been working hard in EMDR trauma therapy to help myself.

See, the truth is that right now the Bipolar Disorder for me is stable and under control on my medicines. I still get side effects- weight gain, dry mouth and thirst, but my mind is generally healthy in terms of the Bipolar- no mania or depression. Anxiety and panic yes but Bipolar, not really at the moment.

Yet, almost lurking unseen after I left hospital in 2014 and began my recovery was the fact I was traumatised by my experiences of going into psychosis (losing touch with reality via delusions, false beliefs) and my experiences when being sectioned. I will just give an overview as the rest is in my book- but this included- being restrained, being attacked by other patients and seeing them self harm, being injected with Haloperidol (an anti psychotic) in front of both male and female nurses in a part of the body I didn’t want, being chased round A and E by security men in genuine fear of my life, dealing with lawyers and going to tribunals while ill, thinking I had been abused by family and was locked up by a criminal gang and fearing my family were against me. My bipolar mind could not cope.

Just before this all happened, I was very vulnerable and was sexually assaulted by a man I knew through friends and all of this trauma stayed with me.

I did what most of us with severe mental illness and assault survivors do- I tried to rebuild my life. I tried to work in schools helping children with special educational needs. I tried to work for a mental health charity as a peer support worker for people like me. I began to blog and write and share as therapy- from charities to national newspapers. Bit by bit, as I wrote out what I has been through, I started to slowly heal. But, the symptoms of the extreme panic remained. I lost jobs because of it. I became depressed. I started dating but I often had to cancel dates- (before I met Rob, my husband who listened to me talk about it all and didn’t bat too much of an eyelid.)

I was in a state of flux, a state of transition. I knew I had trauma still living in my brain and body. I had been physically and sexually assaulted, I had been mentally violated- I had been sectioned twice in a few months and now I was sent home to try and rebuild my life as a 25 year old single woman.

I share this important blog, not to share that I am a victim- because I am not. I want to share that I believe for about 5 years, I have been suffering with some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My therapist believes the same.

The panic attacks that grip me with fear before work or the day ahead when I have to leave the house. The fear of going out or travelling at night alone. The fear of being taken advantage of and having to trust men again (thank you to my husband for helping ease this pain). The fear of exploitation, of losing my mind, of not trusting mental health professionals any more.

My panic attacks get triggered by certain events- it could be having to speak about my life or book, or seeing people I don’t feel comfortable with, of feeling exposed, of worrying about others judgement. I am still healing from all I have been through and experienced. The PTSD means that I have to take medication (Propranolol) to function sometimes. It means that I experience flashbacks in my body- I feel gripped with fear, I get chest pain and shallow breathing and I start to cry. I had one the other day at 4am….. thank the lord for meds so I could calm down and sleep.

My therapist is incredible and we have been working since October to process the roots of my trauma and panic disorder. We use a combination of rapid eye processing with talking therapy which helps to tackle each and every trauma- and we are still at the tip of the iceberg. It takes time to process the deep rooted experiences in my brain- we are getting there slowly.

For me, in many ways my future is uncertain. My medicines have long term physical side effects. Motherhood will be more of a challenge due to medication and my mental health- I am still processing the choices I will have to make, which I will write in another blog.

I want to end this blog by saying- if you know someone with anxiety, PTSD, another anxiety disorder or something like bipolar or schizophrenia- Be Kind. You never know what someone has gone through.

The NHS waiting lists for help are too long, services are too underfunded- all my treatment has been private provided by my family due to being stuck on a list for years. I am lucky, not everyone is. 

I hope this blog gives some information about my experiences of PTSD since leaving hospital 6 years ago. It is by far the most personal thing I have posted since publishing my book but I hope it helps you feel less alone.

Positivity and Hope are key.  Meeting my husband and my therapist changed my life for the better as I slowly rebuild and find an equilibrium again.

Love,

Eleanor x

Lockdown and Dealing with Mental Health: Guest blog by author Graham Morgan MBE

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(image of Ardmore, Scotland by http://scotlandwildlife.blogspot.com/2011/07/tobermory-to-ardmore-bay-isle-of-mull.html )

My name is Graham Morgan. This is my story of how I’m coping under lockdown.

I have just got back from walking Dash the dog round Ardmore. There was not a person in sight; just the sound of the curlews and the crows, the roar of the cold wind in the trees and the sound of the waves on the seashore. It gave me a chance to think and ponder on this first day of lockdown. It blew my tiredness away. As I reached the point; I looked along the Clyde to Dunoon; where my sister works as a midwife and hoped she was ok and thought about my brother, a medical director and psychiatrist;  having to make decisions about the future that no one should have to make.

Driving the two minute journey home I passed the post office van ; strange to see the postie with his mask and blue gloves. I felt slightly guilty for being out and had to remind myself that we are allowed one exercise session a day; that walking the dog counts as that.

I am so lucky compared to others. My friend phoned last night to say he had just managed to get home after breaking the news to his friend’s sister that that friend had killed himself days ago. Back to an email saying he was sacked from his job and that his tenant. who he shares his house with, was leaving the house as London, feels too unsafe. To deal with that?

I found out recently a Twitter friend was passing round my book on a psychiatric ward. The thought of being back in hospital but with no visitors and all the restrictions that happen now, fills me with horror; makes my last hospital stay feel pleasant. 

Yesterday a young man contacted me on Facebook to say how much he enjoyed my book START and how he was now in self isolation. I remembered he had been in hospital for months and months; was just getting used to his first flat; getting back to education, finding joy in his creativity. I remembered the loneliness I felt when I lived alone; those days when there was no one to speak to, to share a smile with. How it tore at me! Slapped me to the ground with sadness. I think of so many friends who are already lonely; lost in their lives, lacking the energy to even make a cup of tea.

I am indeed lucky. So far in our tiny household we have got over the twin’s meltdowns when we took them out of school last Monday. How frightened they were and how much they miss their friends. Home schooling for the moment is fun, I imagine, as the weeks go, by it will get harder. We are lucky we still have perspective; not to get angry and argue because of our own anxiety.

I am used to being awake in the early hours, yet somehow I am sleeping OK at the moment and have decreased my drinking. 

My understanding of the world (due to my beliefs at the moment) is that I am evil and bringing about its destruction; I think I am partly responsible for the fires and floods; the wars but, for some reason, coronavirus seems to have nothing to do with me. I have no idea why, but it is a relief.

I have more realistic worries, like the special care my Mum made to get a long tight hug when I left her in England to go back up to Scotland. 

We have been working from home and have been more or less self- isolated since Monday because my partner has asthma and yet her separated husband is a key worker  and looks after the kids too. There is relief that these are ‘real’ worries that I can grasp; not my usual ones.

The most pressing concerns are how to work from home as well as home schooling the children; how to get bread and eggs. The biggest inconvenience has been having to queue outside the chemist for my anti depressants; thankful that my GP realised I was taking them too infrequently and that now I am back up to the required dose I feel so much more relaxed.

I have one quandary; a minor one. I went to get my jag (injection) yesterday for my mental illness. The CPN (community psychiatric nurse) who gave me it had no more protection than normal. It was quick and painless.

He said he didn’t know where the community mental health team would be soon; they may be based with another more urban one by my next appointment. He said that if I, or anyone else near me, got any symptoms I was to phone in but that he had no idea what they would do if I did; that I might have to take oral medication.

At that I was lost because, of course I would have to;  not doing so at such a time would cause so much trouble but, at the same time; I am on a community section because I cannot make myself take medication, how can I agree to that, if it happens?

I have my work, I have food, my lovely family and Dash the dog who cuddles tightly up to me every night. I have my writing, my books, my music. So many people I know have nothing approaching that. 

I think I am glad I don’t have the imagination to see the scale of what is happening and am not torturing myself with the ‘what ifs’. Good luck to all of you who may not be in such a good place. Let us all help each other as best we can over the coming weeks.

 

Graham Morgan has an MBE for services to mental health and is the Author of START (by Fledgling Press) a memoir of compulsory treatment, love and the natural world. Available from Amazon and Waterstones on line.

He can be found at @GrahamM23694298 on twitter and at Graham Morgan – author; on facebook or at the Scottish Booktrust Live Literature database at https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors/graham-morgan

 

‘The Meaning of Normal’: Living with a sibling with mental illness : Guest post by Shira

mayaangelou2

(image: Thought Clothing)

It hasn’t been normal for so long that sometimes I forget what normal should feel like. When I try to think about it, it feels like a glimpse into someone else’s life, and I am an invasive stranger, trying to reach something that doesn’t belong to me.

What is normal?

Sometimes I think I remember it.

Sometimes I think that normal is that time when I was six and you were three and we didn’t fight. When we played hand in hand like every other child, and our entire world was pink and purple, and the most important thing to us was that our dolls had shiny blonde hair.

And we would play every game under the sun, from barbies to dollhouse to the convoluted imaginary ones that only we knew the rules to, and even then did we ever really know the rules?

I was a witch and you were the princess. We were both witches. We were both princesses. I stole your magic time machine but you found another one, and our living room became the entire universe as we ran through it, believing wholly in the pictures we created, the way that only children can.

But did we ever really exist like that? Were we ever those idyllic children, the children that every parent wishes to have?

Maybe our normal is all the times when I was ten and you were seven and we would push and shove and slap. You were my younger sister who could do no wrong and I was the older one, always blamed for both our shares of misdemeanours.

“You should know better!” They would shout

“But she started it!” I would pout.

“It’s not true!” your bottom lip would stick out.

I think we all know that I probably did start it.

We would fight and yell and cry and shout, never giving in, never admitting that we were wrong. Because we weren’t wrong. We were both right, all the time, every time, and the other was always painfully mistaken. And we roared and yelled and scratched each other, but knew only to cry when a parent was looking. And if nobody was looking, well then nobody would see if we punched back just one more time.

But were we ever really like this? Two demonic screaming children who were never silent and never content with just each other? Were we really the children that every parent dreads to have?

Maybe our normal is the way we grew apart as we grew older. When I was 15 and you were 12 and I would pretend not to know you as I walked past you in school. And maybe our normal is the way we would come home from the same school at the same time separately, both of us walking different routes from the bus because being seen with one another would be unacceptable. Maybe that’s what all teenagers do. Maybe that really was our normal.

Maybe our normal was what came next.

Maybe the years we didn’t talk to each other was what we were always heading towards. Because one day we would put down the dolls, and one day we would run out of things to fight about and we would just…exist.

One next to the other.

Sitting in silence.

Neither speaking.

Neither bothering to reach out first.

Because now I’m 18 and you’re 15 and I don’t remember the last time I spoke to you. The house is thick with anger, so thick that it poisons every interaction, and I couldn’t even tell you what I’m angry about. Because the sister I played with, the sister I happily fought with but would jump on anyone else who dared fight with her is in pain. So much palpable pain, and for the first time I couldn’t just make it go away.

Was I angry with you?

Yes.

Was I angry with myself?

Yes.

And so I let this become our normal. A normal where two siblings exist side by side, but don’t even know how to speak without offending. Where everything I say hurts you and everything you say angers me.

So we made this our new normal.

And I don’t care.

I don’t care.

I don’t.

I care.

And now I’m 20 and you’re 17 and I’m 3000 miles away. But this is our normal now. We don’t speak. We can’t speak. But it doesn’t even matter because there’s nothing to speak about anymore. How can I ask how you are when I already know the answer, and I know it’s not an answer I want to hear. How can you ask how I am when you’re too focused on making it through your own day without worrying about mine?

And anyway, it’s been a long time since we told each other how our day was. Not since I was 14 and you were 11 and we would awkwardly walk home from the bus stop together, backpacks moving up and down and up and down as we compared notes about school, neither of us loving it, neither of us willing to admit that out loud.

But we are not those children anymore, and we don’t have any shared experiences to talk about anymore.

I wonder if you miss me like I miss you. I wonder if you count down the days to my birthday too, hoping that we will both make it past 17 and 20, willing time to hurry up even though maybe all I really want to do is turn back the clock.

And then you are 18, and it’s been 18 years since I sat by your tiny cradle in the hospital and cried when we left, maybe because I wanted another chocolate bar from the hospital vending machine, or maybe because secretly I don’t want to leave my baby sister in a cold hospital far far away.

But now you are 18 and I’ve still left you in a hospital far away and it’s still just as hard to leave you there as it was all those years ago. But a 21 year old can’t lie down on the floor and have a tantrum so I keep going and keep going and this is our normal now.

A normal where you’re there and I’m here. A normal where we won’t speak for months on end but then I text you and tell you I miss you and now you answer me too, and I think you miss me too. A normal where we joke and laugh at stupid posts we see on Instagram,  tentatively, both of us till remembering when you were 14 and I was 17 and we ripped each other apart with words until neither of us said anything at all. Is this our normal now?

What is normal?

I looked it up for you.

 

NORMAL:

  • Conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected

 

But who gets to decide what that standard is? How do we know when something that once wasn’t normal now is, and if what was once normal is now anything but? Do we decide that? Or do others who stand by and watch get to decide that for us?

I’m sure someone could tell you the scientific answer. I’m sure there is a video out there with a detailed and meticulous answer laid out for us to study.

I’m sure somebody could tell us the answer. Maybe we haven’t even been normal, maybe we always were.

Maybe the imaginary games of our childhood were always meant to turn into imagined grievances causing real rifts. Maybe we were meant to grow apart and then come back together again, a little rougher but a little kinder. Maybe none of it was normal, or maybe all of it was.

Sometimes I wish I could change all of it. If I hadn’t said what I said that one day, or if I hadn’t slammed my door that one time, or if you hadn’t called me that name under your breath, things would all be different now.

But sometimes I know I can change none of it. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe if we hadn’t played all those games as children, if we had never walked down the road together from school, if I had never sent the texts you eventually answered, things would all be different now.

Normal isn’t for us to decide, it isn’t for me to determine. All I know is our normal is all we have, and I wouldn’t change us for the world.

About:

Shira is a writer living in Israel, drawing on every day life experiences. Her sibling lives with a diagnosed mental illness and she has bravely shared their story here.

 

 

 

5 Ways that Spending More Time Outdoors Can Improve Your Mental Health: by Katherine Myers

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(image: Shutterstock)

Self-care is a topic that often comes up when discussing mental health. Whilst taking a bath or reading a good book might provide a short term boost to your mood, a bit of self-care will rarely provide long-lasting improvements to your state of mind. 

Spending time in nature is one of the most effective ways of boosting your mental health. In fact, the benefits of the outdoors for your mental wellbeing have been scientifically proven in a range of different studies. Something to consider if you’ve been suffering from consistent low mood recently is whether you’ve been spending enough time outdoors. 

Especially during the winter months, it’s easy to miss the few hours of daylight whilst in the office or at school. It may not seem like a big deal, however, not getting enough sunlight exposure can be very detrimental to your mental health and over time, you will start to feel the effects. Some common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, sore bones and muscles and low mood.

Simply getting outdoors for a bit of time every day can have a profound effect on your wellbeing. Here are just some of the ways you’ll see your mental health improve by spending more time outside.

You’ll Feel More Creative

Creativity is often sparked by putting yourself in unfamiliar environments, which is the perfect excuse to get outside the next time you find yourself in a creative rut! Being in the outdoors is a great way to get away from other distractions to your creative process such as TV or social media, so you can properly focus on coming up with those brilliant ideas! In fact, one scientific study showed that being immersed in nature can boost your creative problem-solving abilities by 50%. 

Better Concentration

If you are someone who tends to have your head in the clouds, getting outdoors is a brilliant way to improve your concentration. Science has shown that the effects of a natural environment are huge for concentration. In fact, spending as little  as 20 minutes in residential parks has been proven to help ADHD children focus. 

If you’re ever struggling to concentration on studying or work, maybe consider taking your work outside and see whether it’s easier to get your head down. Not only will there be fewer distractions, but the calming effect of your environment will put you in a more positive state of mind.

Better Memory

Our brains are very receptive to the natural environment, making it easier for us to memorise information. One scientific study showed that participants in a memory assessment who had been in nature prior to taking the test performed 20% better than those who hadn’t. The next time you have a big test coming up or need to memorise something important, spending some time outdoors could be a great way to focus your mind. You’ll be surprised by how much it helps!

Reduces Stress Levels

Being in a stressful environment will increase your blood pressure, anxiety and stress whilst being in a peaceful environment ha the reverse effect. For this reason, a natural setting such as a forest, the beach or park is one of the best places to relax because it completely removes you from the distractions of modern society. Being in nature lowers your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Studies have shown that even just a view of nature is often linked to lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction. 

Regular Sleeping Pattern

We need natural light and darkness to regulate our circadian rhythm (natural waking and sleeping patterns). Using our phones and computers exposes us to artificial light components that interfere with our ability to sleep. Getting a good night of sleep is critical for your mental health and factors such as stress can quickly make it difficult to maintain a good sleeping pattern. Spending time in nature is the best way to reset your natural circadian rhythm and get a better night of sleep.

If you’ve been feeling down or anxious, it can be even more difficult than normal to find the motivation to get outside. However, here are a few ways that you can fit some time in nature into your schedule without making too much effort. We promise it will make a huge difference!

  • Take a walk on your lunch break
  • Get out for a run in the morning
  • Go hiking with friends
  • Take a book to your local park
  • Try and walk to work or school if you can
  • Try and spend your day in a room with lots of natural light or large windows 
  • Try and incorporate more plants into your living space

This contributed post was written by freelance writer Katherine Myers.