Guest Interview with Mark Simmonds: Author of ‘Breakdown and Repair’ mental health book.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

 

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What inspired you to write a book about yours and your daughter’s journey with mental health?

It was July 2017 and I was attending a summer party, hosted by the Marketing Society, the organisation that brings together business people working together in the areas of marketing and advertising. Gemma Greaves, the CEO, was delivering a speech, during which she announced that the Society was going to join the mental health crusade. This seemed odd, slightly incongruous. But then it dawned on me that times had changed. Mental health was no longer the taboo topic it was when I suffered my mental breakdown back in 2001.

Everyone was talking about it now. I also had another 16 years’ experience under my belt, including caring for Emily, my daughter, who suffered from anorexia from 2012 until 2018. So, I had no excuse but to come out of the mental health closet and leave a legacy of sorts to the world. And even if that book helped just one person, then it would have been worth the effort.

 

How did you manage to recover from your stress, anxiety and break down, what helped you?

It was the 19th July 2001. Extreme stress at work had brought on the panic attacks, which were soon followed by a mental breakdown and the onset of severe agitated depression. I was no longer communicating with my wife or my three young children, even though we were all living under the same roof. That morning, I went cycling down a country road. My brain felt like a jumble of spaghetti when I collided with a 10-ton truck. It appears I tried to take my own life.

That’s how I recovered from the breakdown, because when I woke up in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford a few hours later, the dense fog seems to have lifted. From that point onwards, I began to behave like a normal human being. No idea why. The physical impact caused by the accident to my brain? The awful realisation that I had come within a whisper of losing my life, my wife and my kids. There are far more conventional ways of recovering from breakdowns, but that was mine.

How did I recover from stress and anxiety? To be honest, I haven’t! I have simply learned to manage it over the years. I have put banisters in place that help keep me on the straight and narrow: I pick the right working environments, I manage my own expectations and set realistic goals. I satisfy my needs as an introvert. I take medication. I sleep well, eat well, exercise enough. But like all mental illnesses, be aware that it’s always lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce at moments you don’t expect.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

Did you find that Emily received good care and how did you help support her?

Yes, Emily received excellent help and support both from the NHS (Buckinghamshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the Highfield Unit and Cotswold House, Oxford) and from the Cardinal Clinic near Windsor. The dedication and professionalism of all the staff was outstanding and they did their absolute best to help Emily through the illness. But here is the thing. The quality of the support and the hours spent coaxing a patient back to health have little effect or impact until that patient wants to recover.

It took Emily 6 years to decide that she had had enough of anorexia. and it was only then she finally got better. Anorexia (or Ana as we ‘affectionately’ called her) was a brutal enemy, unforgiving and merciless. More than a match for even the most qualified, most experienced doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors.

 

As a father, what was it like to see Emily struggle with anorexia and to try and save her at the time?

I have suffered from depression at various stages in my life and have experienced living at the bottom of the dark pit where Emily found herself. So, it was painful to watch her suffer because I knew exactly what she was feeling. The upside was that I was able to empathise and sympathise with her. I got it. And the way in which I talked to my daughter and tried to support her was more in line with what she needed. People who are suffering from mental ill health don’t respond very well to rational or logical arguments because their brains are temporarily ‘broken’. The neurotransmitters are not connecting with one another. They need lots of hugging, hand holding, being listened to and loved. An irrational and emotional approach is more effective than a rational one.

Where are you both now in terms of recovery?

As far as my daughter was concerned, it was just 12 months ago when the full-blown Anorexia Wars came to an end. We are all fully aware that war could break out again sometime in the future. As a good friend described it, all we could hope was “that Ana will get incarcerated and gagged in small section deep in Emily’s brain, a high security area from which she can never escape.”

Thankfully, at the moment, our daughter is flying high. She is living and working in London for ITV, eating well, drinking alcohol in moderation (trust me that is a positive thing!), firmly back on track.

As far as I am concerned, life is great. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I don’t think that you ever escape fully from either stress or anxiety, but I am determined not to let it get in the way of doing great things, trying new stuff, taking risks, saying things that you might regret, taking on people with whom you don’t agree. I want to make sure I end up under the right tombstone.

 

How has reaction to the book been and how was the writing process?

The writing process was a joy! I loved more or less every minute of it. Working closely with Kasim, my editor at Trigger to agree the overall shape and structure of the book, researching stories and expert perspectives/points of view to add colour, collaborating with the wonderfully talented graphic designer, Lucy Streule, around the illustrations. And spending hour after hour with my wife and family editing, tweaking, improving the book. A wonderful experience.

The reaction has been great, both from friends and from people I have never met.

Alastair Campbell comes into the latter category and he kindly agreed to endorse my book. This is what he said: “I loved this book and devoured it in a single day. Whether on his own illness, his mother’s or his daughter’s struggles, Mark writes clearly and without sentimentality. He is brutally honest about the reality of mental illness across the generations with important insights about how to survive it. Though it is filled with sadness and heartbreak, ultimately his story is a testimony to the power of love and of the human spirit.”

 

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Mark Simmonds published his first book, Breakdown and Repair, with Trigger Publishing, in March 2019 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Repair-Fathers-Success-Inspirational/dp/1912478994). It provides a full account of his daughter’s struggle against anorexia and is illustrated by Lucy Streule. It also talks candidly about his own experiences with mental ill health.

You can also follow Mark on Instagram (mentalhealthmark).

 

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

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(image: Trigger Publishing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Eleanor xxx

2018 Round up: The year that has been: New Year by Eleanor

 

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When I look back at this year, 2018, I don’t fully know where to start. It has been one of the most meaningful, eventful, and wonderful years of my life so far, but there have also been sad times.

Outside of work, this year was a very special one as back in April, my fiance Robert proposed to me at the Shard, overlooking London. I said yes and 8 months later we are in the middle of wedding planning and planning for our future (and I found my wedding dress!). The proposal was the most amazing thing to happen this year. Also, two of my best friends got engaged and for one we were involved in the proposal and got to see him propose so that was fantastic!  I am looking forward to the weddings 🙂 We also celebrated other friends 30th birthdays, engagements and weddings this year as well as many births of their children which was so wonderful.

Sadly this year, we lost my beloved Grandma in June to Parkinsons disease and I miss her every single day- we were very close.  A month ago, my Grandpa (on the other side of family) passed away after a short battle with cancer, but I was able to fly to Portugal where he lived and see him before he passed and give him a hug, so that was very important. There is also family illness occurring, my father in law to be is very unwell with cancer and mid treatment- and this is very hard for us all but trying to be a positive as possible!

Back in February, My Dad and I went to Romania to the town of Iasi, to explore where our ancestors lived. There was a lot of snow and walking around palaces and churches and finding the synagogues. When we came back, we discovered that my Great grandpas sister and family died in Moldova across the border, at the hands of the Nazis (via the Yad Vashem online database) A very bittersweet trip but we were pleased to see Iasi.

In happier news, after celebrating our engagement with those we love, in July, my fiance Rob and I went on holiday to Israel which was really wonderful. We stayed with close friends and family and also in hotels and had a really special, meaningful, fun and sunshine filled trip! A personal highlight – the swimming pool at the InterContinental hotel in Tel Aviv and of course, walking through the Old City while sipping iced coffee (it was so hot) and visiting the Kotel. When we came back, we spent a weekend in the Cotswolds at my dad with family- a lovely escape. This year too, I also read some great books (like Michelle Obamas autobiography) and watched some fab films/ theatre shows.

In July, I celebrated my 30th birthday with friends and family (thanks Katie for my delicious birthday cake) and then this December, we celebrated Robs 30th birthday at London Zoo light trail.

This year work wise, has been a blessing- I managed (somehow) to secure a book deal which has been a lifelong dream and am working with the fab team at Trigger Publishing and my patient editor Stephanie- thanks to her, Katie and James for their support as I continue to tap away at my keyboard.

Before 2018 began I was in touch with Naomi Greenaway at the Telegraph (Stella Magazine). Thank you Naomi for helping me to tell and share my story in a sensitive way. It was an honour for me to be featured online at the Telegraph and for my story to reach new readers.

Back in January, I met a wonderful editor on Twitter, Yvette Caster, who was looking for new writers for Metro Blogs (as it was then). She looked at this here blog after I sent her a pitch email and commissioned me to write my first ever article for Metro.co.uk on mental health, weight gain and medication. From there, she and her colleagues continued to commission me to write and when she and they left in the summer, I have continued to pitch articles and be published. Thank you to Ellen Scott, Aimee Meade and the current team at Metro too. Being published online by Metro has been an amazing journey and I am proud to write for them on lifestyle topics and mental health, my favourites this year being about the Royal wedding, homelessness and mental health and sharing my Grandpas story.

Thanks also to Bianca London for commissioning my two Glamour articles, this was another amazing bucket list dream ticked. The one on dating and mental illness, bipolar and how I met my fiance (when I wrote the article, he was my boyfriend) was something very close to my heart and it was a genuine honour to be featured in a magazine I had a read as a teenager and one of the biggest womens magazines in the UK. Still can’t believe it.

Thanks to Rebecca Thair, editor of first ever mental health magazine, Happiful magazine for not only being first to publish my story with bipolar back in January (which was so important to me) but also publishing my later articles on social anxiety and a guide to bipolar. I love working with you and the Happiful team and hope to write more for you.  Thanks also to Sonja at UIO Podcast and Sarah Cardwell for interviewing me.

Thanks to Francine Wolficz, Richard Ferrer and Jack Mendel at the Jewish News for all the articles and positive support of my mental health work in and outside of the Jewish community this year.  And to Rabbi Ari Kayser at Aish for including my story in Perspectives Magazine with the Jewish Weekly newspaper.

Thanks to writer Olivia Blair at Cosmopolitan/ Hearst for featuring my thoughts on bipolar in several articles which were also published across Hearst publications like Elle Magazine, Prima Magazine and Netdoctor.co.uk . Thanks also to the team at Refinery 29 for featuring me in an article on Seasonal affective disorder and to the fantastic charity No Panic for publishing my personal story with bipolar disorder.

This year I was also a shortlisted finalist for a UK Blog Award for the Health and Social Care Category  in March (thank you Lauren and team)  and invited to come to the Mind Media Awards as a highly commended journalist in my category. (This was incredibly magical).

Going to the Mind Media Awards in November with my Dad at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and hearing peoples stories of mental health across the UK media was just incredible. It was also a fun night of celebrity spotting- Fearne Cotton, Bryony Gordon, Dame Kelly Holmes, Kim-Joy from Bake Off, Stacey Solomon and Loose Women team, Frankie Bridge and many more. Stephen Fry presented the awards and was just remarkable, humble and funny as always. I was so pleased I managed to attend, it was a privilege to meet people. I met Yvette, Ellen and their producer at Mentally Yours podcast and fellow blogger Katie Conibear. My Dad and I were honoured to attend.

This blog has been a joy at times alongside the hard work. Thank you to all my guest bloggers and all sending submissions- you’ll get a proper individual thank you at our 3rd anniversary in March, but I couldn’t run the blog without your articles and careful attention. Thanks To Vuelio and Feedspot for awards too. Heres to a 2019, our third year of Be Ur Own Light! Thanks also to my Twitter followers who make it so easy for me to share thoughts and ideas with them- and for all the online friendships I have made- you know who you are!

This year has been hard at times but there has been SO much beauty and I feel so grateful and thankful for it all. My mental health has taken a hit at times, but I have found a really good therapist for talking therapy- who has helped me so much and I have also spoken to my GP. Its OK to reach out for support. Thankfully I have a good support network.  I have been a little more anxious and battling mild depression but I am slowly getting better again and starting to see the light :).

I just want to wish you all a happy and healthy new year 2019- this will be the year that I please God get married and my best friend Katie (as well as my fiances cousin too!). May it be a year of better health, wellness and joy for us all. And heres to keep fighting stigma!

May the new year be one of dreams coming to fruition and love and laughter.

Love always and thank you for reading,

Eleanor x 

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Why Writing therapy helps : Guest Post by Amy Hutson, Counsellor

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(image: Amy Hutson)

I first started using writing therapy without really knowing what it was when I was having a tough time at school. There was something valuable about getting my thoughts down on to a page, instead of spinning around my head that helped to make sense of everything.

Since training as a counsellor many years later, I came across writing therapy and took some training in how to use it with clients. I’ve found it can be very powerful, alongside therapy or even on its own.

But what is writing therapy?

Writing therapy or expressive writing is basically writing as fast as you can without worrying about grammar or whether it makes sense. It might sound a bit odd, but it taps into your unconscious thoughts and can be cathartic writing things down, as well as helping to come up with answers to something you’ve been struggling with.

In the 1980s James W. Pennebaker was the first person to research how writing therapy helps and he set the challenge of asking people to write about their most traumatic experiences over four consecutive days. The results of the study were staggering, people felt much better both mentally and physically. So much so that people made less visits to the doctor at about half their usual rate, after the experiment.

So how can you use writing therapy?

There are lots of different techniques I use with clients, depending on what issue it is we’re discussing or what I think might be helpful to them. But here are a few things you could try at home and if it ever feels a bit too painful what you’re writing, you can stop at any time or write about something that feels safer.

Journalling

If you’ve never tried writing in a stream-of-conscious style of writing in a journal, I’d recommend starting here. Some people like to buy a lovely notebook and find a quiet space to write, sometimes at the beginning or at the end of the day. Then the idea is to write about whatever comes to mind. Even if you start by just writing ‘blah blah blah’, you will probably find something insightful will come up if you just keep writing and don’t stop to think. If writing every day feels too much, you could try writing whenever you feel you need to – it could be you’ve had a really rough day and want somewhere to vent or maybe something incredible happened and you want to record and remember it.

The unsent letter

The unsent letter can be powerful when you want to say something to someone but feel you can’t. It might be you’re angry or upset with someone and you’re holding on to those strong emotions, because you feel unable to share them. So, you simply write everything you want to say to this person in a letter without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings, because it’s not going to be sent. Writing it alone can really help, but it can also be used as a way of getting your thoughts together before confronting someone in a less emotional state.

If you want to take this one step further, you could write a letter back to yourself from the other person. The results can be surprising, as they can offer another perspective to the situation you might not have thought of.

Quick lists

Writing lists quickly and without editing them can be helpful and used in lots of different ways. Say you’re feeling anxious, you could start a list like:

I’m really anxious about:

  • My new job
  • Lack of sleep
  • Bad diet

Rather than just focusing on the anxiety, writing a list can sometimes help uncover what might be causing it, which you could then explore further in a journal, with a friend or a counsellor.

Another example of a quick list which can help if you’re feeling low is:

Three good things that happened today:

  • I got through the day at work despite little sleep
  • I met a friend for coffee
  • I went to the gym

Writing therapy really helps my clients and it could help you too!

 

Amy Hutson is a counsellor and writing therapist, who offers therapy in Hove and worldwide on Skype. For more details visit www.amyhutsoncounselling.co.uk

 

On Working as a Mental health Writer and sharing my story with Bipolar.

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(image: Pinterest)

A few weeks ago, I took the leap in working as a freelance writer specialising in mental health and lifestyle. I have been writing for several years now on the blog, for charities and Huffington Post, but now I am aiming to reach wider media and hopefully get paid too. I began with a dream. My dream was and is to write for the big womens magazines in this country, about my story with bipolar but also to write about mental health, spread awareness and battle stigma. As well as this, to help other women (and men who read my work and life story) feel less alone. I began to take the steps to do this.

First, I had to learn how to pitch and write a good pitch email. I had and am continuing to research the Features Director/Editor of each magazine and then pitch some original writing ideas to a small amount of them at one time. I have pitched my story of recovery to a few and this week I am being published by Happiful Magazine (www.happiful.com), which I am so excited about. I am also writing an article for a major UK publication and will reveal all soon. Another great magazine is discussing my ideas at their Features meeting so fingers crossed- you never know! This week, too, I was featured in Metro in a blog by Cat Phillips on January blues. So lots of amazing things happening thank God.

My dream has also been to share my story in book form and become a published author. So, I am currently learning how to write my life story as a book and talking to a publisher- who may or may not publish my work. However, its great for me to formulate my story about living with bipolar and how I have reached a form of recovery. I am in process of writing sample chapters to be considered at present. Its a bit nerve wracking because you don’t know what will happen but also exciting. I love to write. Knowing I am forming a book manuscript makes me happy.

And lastly- I have been working on this here blog. Which I absolutely love doing. I am so thrilled to have that work recognised as a Finalist in the UK Blog Awards. Looking forward to meeting the other bloggers in my category. I love that here on the blog we are continuing to grow followers and thank you all for reading. Its wonderful to share other peoples stories too.

Thank you to all of you for your support and love and comments/shares. It means the world. Remember- you can do what you put your mind too. I have off days too. Just do what you can on the good days. Much love xo

UK Blog Awards 2018: We are a shortlisted Finalist!

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Some incredibly exciting news– Thanks to all your votes and support, we have been shortlisted as a Finalist in the Health and Social care category of the UK Blog Awards 2018! This means out of 4,000 entries, we are a top 6 blog in our category.

This is such wonderful recognition of our work here at Be Ur Own Light and thank you again to all who have contributed, shared, voted and commented! It means the world.

The awards ceremony is in April in London and winners are announced end of February.
We are so excited to be shortlisted and look forward to meeting the other bloggers in the different categories. Well done to everyone else who was shortlisted.

Have a look at all the shortlisted Individuals here: https://blogawardsuk.co.uk/shortlisted-bloggers-individuals/

Much love and Happy New Year ,

Eleanor   x

Smiling through the rain: Early morning anxiety and life with bipolar.

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Its been almost a week or so since I have written a blog and thats because life has been hard lately. Due to my early morning panic attacks and increased anxiety about leaving the house at that time, I couldn’t get in to work. Luckily, I can do online work on home doing social media and writing, so that is one major plus point. However, currently I am seeking extra support about my morning anxiety and fears.

I have lived with my anxiety disorder for most of my life- it comes in times of stress or times when I get triggered by something I can’t always explain- having to get up early and achieve, having to show up in the morning despite feeling so quivery and vulnerable, having to feel like I can cope- when inside I feel so scared. For reasons I can’t always pinpoint.

I have tried so many therapies and I would say with me, I have to use things in combination like breathing techniques, meditation, distraction, colouring and exposure therapy. However, now I would very much like  to find a psychological therapy that works for me. I have had 3 lots of cognitive behavioural therapy, which for me doesn’t seem to take away the fear. It is helpful for understanding limiting beliefs  like ‘I’m not good enough’  or ‘ I can’t do this, I will mess up’  and then understand where these fears come from and how they impact on life.

Briefly I will explain that I believe these limiting beliefs have come about because of trauma. The trauma of being hospitalised a few years ago for my bipolar disorder and having to learn to live life and get back to normality again despite disruption. The trauma of not feeling good enough, not feeling like I can live up to my perfectionist standards- not wanting to let people in my life down or me down . Feeling like I have to really achieve and be good at everything I do, because this belief has helped me fight, fight, fight for life and everything in it.

I, like many others with mental health issues, am hard on myself. I have a little voice though that won’t be tamed and is constantly pushing me to achieve and help people, help myself, be better. This is because I know the pain of setback. I know the pain of fear. and I know the pain of being confined to a hospital ward. So when I am well- nothing will stop me. The panic attacks may stop part of my life, but they won’t stop me from telling my story and reaching others. They wont stop me from being able to live and being able to touch peoples hearts through my writing (this is what I strive for).

Right now, I am dreaming about so much and hoping to put these dreams into reality. I will get therapy and I will get better with much effort and time. I will not let this keep me down- because I, like so many with my conditions, am a fighter and I will make sure that I live life to the full.

And part of this therapy is writing on my blog and being authentic, real and honest. And being blessed and thankful for my medical team, family, boyfriend, friends and support networks. Support is everything and I am so lucky.

Thanks for reading <3.