Coronavirus Thoughts: Acts of Kindness and Mental Health by Eleanor

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(image: Readers Digest)

Dear friends,

This has to be the strangest time in all our lives. Not being able to leave the house for fear of passing on a deadly virus, all the family working from home, worrying that symptoms are indeed Covid 19.

This outbreak has already infected friends and potentially family. I think I may have had a mild version and have been isolating for at least a week already, and now until the danger passes. Thinking of all my friends who are affected and anyone who has the virus or whose life is being disrupted because of it.

There are good things happening- acts of kindness, communities pulling together, sunshine and flowers and spring blooming. Supermarkets opening for NHS workers and the vulnerable, the homeless being housed in hotels, financial help from the government (although can we please help our self employed workers more?).

I do worry though about the impact the virus will have on those with mental health conditions. My appointment with a psychologist to help me with my PTSD has been postponed and no new date given. I can’t go to see my therapist either but I think will organise a Skype call so that we can continue the EMDR trauma therapy I have been having. Medication supplies are so far unaffected.

I am lucky to live with family at the moment and have the support of my husband, mum and step dad and wider family too. For those living alone, having to buy groceries and navigate this new and scary world alone is terrifying for them. I was heartened to see this week, the Jami appeal for the vulnerable in the Jewish community. Mental illness does not discriminate and with all the pressures at present, suicide remains a real risk. We can combat this through checking in on friends and family regularly and signposting them to emergency support such as the Samaritans or crisis teams.

It is a scary time but we all must pull together and reach out to each other, by video call, phone call, whatsapp message or more and try, from our homes, to look after the vulnerable and our neighbours.

Most importantly, we must look after ourselves and our households and try to stay well.

How are you coping?

Love,

Eleanor x

9 Years Undiagnosed: My Life with Bipolar Disorder, for Time to Talk Day: Guest blog by Mike Segall

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(image: Time to Change)

*Trigger warning: discusses thoughts of suicide and mania, please read with care *

This blog has been courageously written by my Dad, Mike, about his journey with bipolar disorder and the hurdles he faced in getting a diagnosis. For those of you who have read my book, you’ll know some of this. This is the first blog that Mike has written for us and I want to share it on today, Time to Talk Day by the charity Time to Change.  So here is Mike’s story….

 

My experience of Bipolar 1 Disorder was that I was undiagnosed for 9 years. I was never sent to a psychiatrist and was put on the wrong medication (I hadn’t heard of mood stabilisers and seemingly neither had my doctor).

So- What is Bipolar Disorder? (formerly known as Manic Depression)

To me, Bipolar symbolises the two extreme poles of mood- mania and depression. The North Pole is Mania. Mania is wonderful for me- you think you can be anyone, you think you can do anything, achieve anything, You are flying. You think ‘why can’t everyone be like this and experience everything?’. You are much more uninhibited. You may shop more, you spend more money, You think you can FLY!

But you can’t fly and you fall, you fall off a cliff into varying degrees of  deep, dark depression, which can last for months.

Bipolar disorder is  a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood, mania. The elevated mood is significant, known as mania or hypomania depending on its severity and whether symptoms of psychosis are present. Psychosis means when your mind lose touch with reality, with delusions or hallucinations.

During mania, someone feels abnormally, happy, energetic, irritable and not requiring sleep they often appear to be bouncing off the walls, starting new projects, trying to achieve too much. In some cases, addictions during mania may also present.

During depression, someone with bipolar disorder may be crying, experiencing negative thoughts and giving poor eye contact. You will notice this if you ever have a conversation with someone who is depressed. They may also be suicidal or talk about self harm.

My Story:

My first manic episode occurred in 1991 and I went to the doctor and was prescribed Valium (an anti anxiety calming medication), which was handed out like sweets in those days.

The Valium didn’t do me any harm but they certainly didn’t do me any good. In the next 9 years, I had three manic episodes followed by three increasingly devastating depressive and suicidal episodes, the last of which lasted 5 months.

In my first manic episode I was going out a lot late at night to clubs and bars and spending too much money. My second and third manic episodes were much more controlled as I recognized what was going on but I was still much more outgoing than usual and spending too much money.

My depressive episodes were serious and eventually suicidal and lasted 3, 4 and 5 months respectively. I often stood on the edge of a London Tube platform thinking about ending it all. I would drive down the motorway at speed not turning the corners until the last possible moment. I would stand in the bathroom with hands full of tablets thinking about overdosing and ending my life. Mostly, I was at home in bed doing nothing but sleeping , eating and surviving.

The person you would meet today is not the person you would have come across at that time.

Looking back there was no real connection made between these episodes and I wonder 1. Why I was never hospitalised and 2. Why I wasn’t diagnosed more quickly.

First of all, 30 years ago far less was known about Bipolar Disorder so the doctors weren’t quick to diagnose it. Secondly, it was only after 9 years that my GP reviewed my file and noticed that I had never been referred to a psychiatrist.

This was the breakthrough that changed and saved my life.

I went to The Priory hospital to see a psychiatrist, describing my episodes. Within 45 minutes I had a diagnosis,

”You have a mental illness. It has a name, It is Bipolar 1 Affective Disorder. You have it for life and it is treatable with the drug Lithium.”

Lithium balances out the chemical imbalance so you end up between the poles and mood is then stabilised. I am pleased to say that in the past 20 years, the medication has worked for me and has stabilised my bipolar disorder, so I no longer get episodes of mania or depression.

I am also pleased to say that as quite an emotional person I still experience the normal feelings and emotions that come with everyday life.

Starting on Lithium is not easy as you have to be weaned onto it. There are side effects, the most common being weight gain and you have to have regular blood tests to make sure the level of Lithium in your bloodstream is correct (non toxic) and it is not affecting your kidneys.

I do wish that I had been diagnosed earlier and not had to suffer manic and depressive episodes as I did.

These are the 4 takeaways I would like you to have from reading this, this Time to Talk Day:

1. With mental health it’s good to talk about it , It’s good to fight stigma and it’s good for your own healing.

My journey started in 1991 and I would hear things like ”you’ve got a weakness. Why don’t you pull yourself together?”, which were unhelpful

2. Think about how you can help people in your community by recognizing the signs that someone has depression or mania.

3.  Live a positive life- I am an example of a bipolar sufferer who can maintain a positive life. Bipolar is an illness that needs treating. It is treated with medication but it can take time for the medication to be right as each person has individual brain chemistry.

4. Listen to those who are struggling. Most of us listen to reply. If you watch two people deep in a conversation or you are in one yourself your focus will be very much on the other person and you will be listening at 90%.

But if you are listening to understand and you are feeling and sharing their emotions then you are truly listening at 100%. Check out the Samaritans help line too.

 

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(image: Mike Segall)

Mike Segall is a professional speaker and mental health advocate, sharing his lived experience with bipolar disorder to groups in the UK. He is also the father of the founder of this blog, Eleanor.

Mental Health Awareness Week: The Mental Health Foundation: Body Image 13th-19th May 2019

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(image: Mental Health Foundation)

This week, starting today is the Mental Health Awareness Week by the UK charity the Mental Health Foundation. Its theme is looking at Body Image, how we think and feel about our bodies.

Mental Health Foundation say ‘Body Image can affect us all at any age- during this week we are publishing new research and campaigning for change’    .

They continued,

Last year we found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost 1 in every 3 people.

Body image issues can affect all of us at any age and directly impact our mental health.

However there is still a lack of much-needed research and understanding around this.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week:

  • We will be publishing the results of a UK-wide survey on body image and mental health.
  • We will look at body image issues across a lifetime – including how it affects children and young people, adults and people in later life.
  • We will also highlight how people can experience body image issues differently, including people of different ages, genders, ethnicities and sexualities.
  • We will use our research to continue campaigning for positive change and publish practical tools to help improve the nation’s relationship with their bodies.’
  • The good news is that we can tackle body image through what children are taught in schools, by the way we talk about our bodies on a daily basis and through policy change by governments across the UK.’

For more on how you can get involved see : https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

 

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust puts on a ‘Best of Musicals’ Event in Londons West End: Guest blog

I love theatre and mental health, so what better than to combine them!
The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, an incredible UK mental health charity are putting on a spectacular Best of Musicals event in London, to raise money for their vital work educating about depression and suicide prevention.

Amazing talent from both West End and Broadway and hosted by Tim Rice at the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo!

 

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CWMT was set up in 1997 in memory of Charlie Waller, a young man who took his own life whilst suffering from depression. CWMT raises awareness of depression and other mental health problems, and provides education and training to schools, universities, GPs, nurses and employers, encouraging those who need it to seek help.
Our vision is of a world where people understand and talk openly about depression, where young people know how to maintain wellbeing, and where the most appropriate treatment is available to everyone who needs it.

If you book through me, you get a 15 % discount! Code is ELECTRODEAL

Tickets at http://bestofmusicals.com

Living with ‘Quiet’ BPD- Guest post by Cordelia Moor for Time to Talk Day

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Trigger warning: talks about BPD symptoms

 

There are many misconceptions about having Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder.

I do not say that lightly, and I am more than a little convinced that most people who have BPD would agree with me. Personality disorders in general suffer under the stigma of being completely misunderstood by the majority of the general public. Hell, I completely misunderstood personality disorders until being told that I had one.

‘Ah’, said I. ‘That explains a lot. But not everything.’

And it did explain a lot. I thoroughly enjoy (in a very, very weird way) telling people that I am emotionally unstable. Diagnosed. Got the paperwork. Makes them quite uncomfortable, makes me cackle like a little pixie. Obviously, I don’t just go around telling strangers that, it’s always in context of the situation. But for some reason, although the people I love are more than happy to discuss depression and anxiety, when it comes to personality disorders they start ‘shuffling’.

But I’m not about to shy away from talking about BPD and my lived experience of it, because it’s only through understanding other people’s experiences that we learn anything.

I came here today to bust through one misconception in particular. One that I definitely held for a long time, and one that I only dropped when I read more about Borderline Personality Disorder and how it can manifest in different people.

Most people think of BPD as the person ‘acting out’.

They think of the disorder as being very outwards and visible. There’s horror story after horror story sensationalising the ‘classic’ borderline personality disorder on the internet – all written from the perspective of someone who doesn’t actually have it. But knows someone who does. It’s horrendous, and it’s awful, and it taints many people’s perceptions of what BPD actually is.

My lived experience is very different, and it wasn’t until I came across some articles on The Mighty detailing what ‘quiet’ BPD is that I truly began to understand how my brain works, and how my BPD manifests. This is not to say that it’s any ‘better’ than classic BPD.

This is just to say that nobody has the same lived experience as everyone else, and that’s why we need a mix of stories and voices all telling their own unique stories about the same disorders. That new coat of fresh paint on the same topic adds something to the narrative.

This is my lived experience.

For me, my BPD manifests itself internally. On the outside, I look reasonably ‘sane’ and ‘put together’. The inside is a maelstrom of thoughts and emotions that are hard to understand, hard to deal with, and consistent. Honestly, if I could crack my head open and let all the thoughts that are constantly throwing themselves around my brain out, everyone I know would be shocked.

I still have the same impulsivity, self-injurious behaviours, fears of being abandoned, mood swings, and black and white feeling that people with classic BPD have. But instead of ‘acting out’, I ‘act in’.

I often describe BPD as having no emotional skin. Where something might affect you slightly, it affects me completely. Like touching an exposed nerve ending, every feeling is intensely strong and always too much. It’s exhausting to always feel everything to such an intense level.

It does make relationships hard. But I don’t lash out at the person, I lash out at myself. It’s self-destructive in a way that nothing else really is. I’ve had to work very hard to keep my thoughts and feelings internal in the fear that if the people I love knew how I truly felt, they’d leave me immediately. My life is a constant whirlwind of convincing myself that everyone hates me, that everyone is going to leave, and then finding a rational moment and remembering that people don’t hate me.

I’ve been told enough times.

I want to believe I am a good person, but I don’t yet know if it’s true. Quiet BPD is just as hard to deal with as classic BPD, but you probably wouldn’t know it from the outside. I would never take out my feelings on people I know, because that’s just not me. I will, however, take them out on myself. I will distance myself from people without them realising why.  I will be trying, 90% of the time, to please people to make them like me.

It’s hard to admit what’s going on in my head. But it’s because it’s so hard that I do it, and I continue to push through and talk about the really difficult bits of mental illness. Without these conversations, none of us would know what people go through – and then we’ve got a problem.

This article was written by Cordelia Moor for Time to Talk Day 2019. Cordelia can be found at www.cordeliamoor.com

Beginning the Conversation: On my Mums Depression- Guest post by Sarah for Time to Talk Day

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Note : Please read with care- Trigger warning (suicidal thoughts)

When a topic of conversation hits the mainstream, it becomes easier to understand and it spawns more conversations. It snowballs.

Right now, we’re living in a time when society is more open than ever about mental health. Issues are not swept under the rug (as much as they used to be, at least), and life-changing conversations are being had. For me, these conversations on Time To Talk day tend to be amongst friends. It feels…easier, to be open with them.

But what about having a discussion with your parents? What is it like to talk about mental health with a mother or father who has struggled, or currently is struggling with their mental health?

It’s tough. I will tell you that now. But it is important.

I know this because my mum has had depression for 12 years. The best way that I can describe her depression, whilst remembering that every experience is unique, is that it is like a cloud. Some days it can be lighter, and almost brighter, though still casting some shade.

Other days it can be dark, foreboding, and cast its shadow over any and all. The darkest time for her, and for our family, was at the beginning of her depression. It was during that time that I nearly lost my mum at 14.

I could almost say that she actually was lost to our family, if only for a while. I lived with a woman who looked like her, and sounded like her. But her words and actions were foreign and strange to me. Her drive and her energy seemed to vanish overnight, and a woman sitting in the dark, who felt like she had nothing to give, took her place.

I remember going to school, walking past her open bedroom door and saying goodbye to her as she lay in bed. At that time, when I asked her if she would be getting up that day, the only response I heard was:

 

“No.”

 

Those conversations were short. They definitely weren’t sweet.

She struggled. I struggled. My brother struggled. My dad struggled. We were desperate for her to get better, and feared that she’d never make it out of the dark. Eventually, with help though, she did. But, while she is now in a better place, there are still highs and lows.

Because I was so young at the time, I never really spoke to my mum about her illness. Life carried on for me, and a new status quo emerged. But over time, we began to talk.

They still weren’t nice conversations, but they were a start. My mum told me how she felt suicidal, as she lay there in bed. At the time, she said it so matter-of-factly that it sounded blasé to my teenage ears. This revelation stung, and I couldn’t understand a simple question. Why?

Why would she want to do this to me? Why would she want to leave her two children without a mother? Why would she want to leave behind a husband who loved, cared for and adored her? These questions swam in my head for years, and I was incredibly angry with her as I saw it as some form of maternal betrayal. I thought she was selfish.

As I’ve gotten older and talked to her even more about this, my views have changed. I realised that my response was selfish. She explained to me that her depression made her feel so worthless, and so useless, that she would in fact be doing us all a favour by leaving our lives.

I’ve also realised that I’m incredibly lucky, because a lot of parents sadly succumb to this insidious disease. This needs to change.

That’s why I’m writing about this today.

That’s why I still talk to my mum about how she’s feeling. That’s why my brother calls me and lets me know when she’s feeling low, which is a common occurrence in winter for a lot of people with depression. As I live far from home, he reminds me that a quick conversation to ask about her day, tell her about mine, and maybe even make her laugh makes all the difference.

If you are, or have been in my situation, I urge you to talk to your mum or dad. I urge you to talk to your friends and family, because it can be a huge burden to carry alone. It’s like I said, when more people talk about something, it becomes easier to understand. When we understand the problem, we can start to treat it.

If you’d like to find out more about having these conversations, you can do so by visiting the Time To Talk website. They have a range of materials that can help you take that first step, and start talking.

This article was written by Sarah, a mental health writer for Time to Talk Day 2019. You can find her at : 

http://pandorashealth.co.uk/

https://twitter.com/PandoraHealth

www.instagram.com/pandorashealth/

My story of recovery from Alcoholism and Mental illness: Guest blog by Allen

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(image: https://www.rehab-recovery.co.uk)

My name is Allen and this is my recovery journey from alcoholism and mental illness.

On 12th October 2005 I had my last drink of alcohol and the following morning I was admitted to a psychiatric unit.  On reflection I didn’t know what was happening and had no clue what was happening emotionally, physically or mentally just that I was going into hospital for a short stay to get better.

Better from what? Whats happening to me? When can I go home? It was like a constant conversation in my head and I couldn’t turn it off.  Little did I know that I had been admitted because I was a risk to myself and others and I was going to be detoxed from alcohol and drugs.

I was never the world’s greatest drinker but I loved everything about alcohol and now know that since my teenage years,  alcohol was a constant in my life at home, in pubs, on the train to work, in the park, in the toilet, in secret or in the open and it had been that way since teenage life.

So I stayed in that psychiatric unit for 6 ½ months and I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 (a mood disorder) and prescribed medication to deal with that.  Since that time, I have experienced two courses of electro convulsive therapy, Cognitive behavioural therapy, one to one counselling, 12 step programmes for drugs and alcohol,  taken anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and  read numerous self help books.

This week I will reach 13 years of sobriety- a great achievement considering I couldn’t go a day without alcohol. However,  2018 has seen me admitted into another psychiatric unit, following numerous suicide attempts and thoughts.

I received an additional diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and a dawning realisation that I need to go way back to my early years to start to really understand me. Childhood / teenage trauma, bullying, substance and alcohol misuse, relationship problems, low self-esteem and lack of confidence, financial woes and debts mounted up.

The past 13 years have enabled me with the help of a twelve step programme to manage life, be as good a father as possible, to be a son, brother and uncle, and a friend.

I have been able to hold down a job and  study a degree in Psychology and Counselling,. I became a Mental health first aider and I suppose now I need to look at me and listen to others as to how I can manage my mental health and addiction. I can learn to be the best father I can be to my son and daughter, and focus on what I need to do to alter the cycle of mental illness that has plagued me for so long.  

Long term therapy seems to be the best option and I hopefully begin this process with an assessment very soon. I am so proud to be miles away from where I was in early 2018. Then, I asked a member of the Home Treatment Team (for crisis care) if I could go into hospital. I also shared for the first time that I have heard a voice for most of my life and the voice has made me harm myself.

I am now doing so much better and hope that therapy helps me to heal even more.

Allen is a writer, mental health first aider and mental health worker.