Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: Self-Love Campaign

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: Self-Love Campaign

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week! Every year, I usually come up with my own focus areas within a campaign theme set by the Mental Health Foundation. My campaign last year consisted of eradicating the negative stigmatisation associated with mental health disorders in men. This year, I’m focussing on the fundamental importance of self-love not just as a woman but fundamentally as a person. The Mental Health Foundation’s theme for 2020 is kindness, and I think the two themes are heavily intertwined within one another so complement each other perfectly.

During these unprecedented times, I think it’s imperative now more than ever to highlight the detrimental effect of mental health on one’s frame of mind and their subsequent outlook on daily activities and life in general. Being under lockdown means having our daily routines which I’m sure most of us took for granted being stripped from us without any notice or foresight. For many of us, who suffer from mental health issues or not, being denied the normality of our day-to-day lives naturally results in some level of psychological turmoil, varying in its intensity from person to person.

As someone who has suffered from varying degrees of anxiety since my teenage years, a routine keeps me happy, busy and thus, sane. Working full-time is something I’ve done since I was sixteen, and being denied the opportunity to travel into central London, to see my colleagues and work hard to earn my money has thrown my daily routine into absolute chaos. My relatively new working environment is something I had become incredibly grateful for and proud of since it seemed everything I’d worked so hard for had finally paid off and materialised into this amazing job role. Saying that, however, it appears that now it is important to instead adapt to a ‘new normal’ and to accept wholeheartedly that whilst things might not go back to the way they were pre-COVID-19, that doesn’t mean to say we cannot regain some sense of normalcy in our daily routine, and in the weeks to come. I’ve mentioned in a previous post how I’m coping with my mental health during the lockdown, which you can find here.

Being unable to see extended family and friends unless from a two-metre distance can be overwhelmingly isolating when spending most of the time confined within the same four walls each day. As a result, we naturally have more time to overthink and overanalyse small scenarios in our heads which in turn transform into unbearable mountains we think we’re simply incapable of climbing. But this is entirely okay – once we can identify that we are in fact overanalysing a minor situation, we are essentially one step closer to tackling the foundation of our anxiety/fears and this acknowledgement may prevent further spiralling, an achievement in itself. That being said, it’s not always possible to identify by ourselves when we are overthinking something – sometimes, it just happens without our particular awareness. Whether that be because it’s that time of the month or the weather outside is particularly gloomy, sometimes we as humans have our bad days. And that’s absolutely fine, so long as we can find a way to push through the dark cloud of anxious thoughts no matter how long it might take, and no matter how difficult that push might be.

Over the coming days, the aim of my posts is to draw attention to the existence of mental health, to notice the signs however big or small they might be and how we as a society as well as individuals can do our bit to ease the pain our friends and/or family members may be suffering from, most of the time behind closed doors. It takes little to no effort to be kind to each other, to extend a hand (maybe not literally at the moment) to a friend or family member who feels particularly fragile, and to offer a shoulder to cry on to someone who’s maybe getting slightly overwhelmed by being indoors all the time.

Some of us have to fight a little harder to keep ourselves sane, and there’s no greater strength than that. I used to be incredibly ashamed of my anxiety, and angry at myself for feeling the way I felt sometimes because I knew my thoughts were irrational at the best of times, but I grew to understand that although these waves take a little longer to ride through, they make us absolutely no less ourselves than those who don’t struggle. It just means that sometimes we need some extra love and reassurance around us by those we hold closest – but then again, every single person on this planet will need some additional support every now and then, mental health issues or not!

A x

[Featured Image: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week%5D

Mental Health: Uncut

[Writing this post took all the balls in the world for me today.]

On the 18th February, I cried for hours. And by hours, I mean from approximately 5pm to 1am. It then concluded with a grand finale of a monumental panic attack in which I forgot how to breathe and thought I was literally going to die. (PSA: I know I have the tendency to be dramatic but this is actually in no way exaggerated!)

This is what mental health looks like.

I have a terrible habit of bottling up my emotions, and I guess that partly stems from being an only child – I am in no way blaming anyone but myself for this terrible habit! It’s a life-long lesson I am slowly beginning to fully comprehend. I also suffered an extraordinary amount of psychological abuse during high school (ironically, mostly from teachers), and that impacted both the perception I had of myself and the way I lived my life. My social anxiety most probably is a result of being punished weekly at secondary school by teachers who viewed my insubordination as a threat to their authority. (Fun fact: I hated teachers who thought respect was their automatic right, simply because they were responsible for our academic education.) They broke down every single piece of me until my identity was entirely consumed by the failure they enforced upon me. Now, I know it sounds like I’m bitter and resentful, but I do believe I have earned the right to own the effect they had on me. I never truly accepted my secondary school experience as traumatic until I developed an eating disorder at the age of sixteen.

My general anxiety (which I define for myself here, through my personal experiences which are in no way universal, as random bouts of extreme nervousness, worrying excessively over minor, minor issues which I exacerbate in my own mind to become something huge etc.) is a part of me I’ve learned to live with for a long time. It’s like a scar; I know it’s there, I can feel it with me all the time but more often than not, I’m able to live peacefully without it sabotaging my way of life. I guess on some level, everyone has a form of general anxiety. Some have it worse than others. However, there are days where I can feel my anxiety digging its claws into my skull and tearing everything to pieces. I’m left feeling exhausted, worn out and emotionally numb.

This is exactly what happened on the night of the 18th February. Being as busy as I am, amidst the chaos of my final year of university whilst simultaneously juggling a job, I don’t have time to process my own thoughts – the good, and the bad. Having a health condition which causes moderate to severe pain daily also massively plays into my anxiety, and the two are inextricably intertwined. Undergoing my surgical procedure nearly one month ago, and having to deal with the agonising consequences of a rather horrendous recovery whilst trying to catch up on missing a month of university took quite a toll both physically and mentally. That night, I broke; I felt my body physically break. I cannot quite describe it in any other way. I screamed obscenities at the ones I loved the most, blamed the world for my problems, cried then felt absolutely nothing. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise just how painful that breakdown was. I saw no way out of my own head; I was drowning in my thoughts and that manifested into physical suffocation. I could not breathe.

I guess the aim of this post is to draw attention to the silent sufferers of mental health and to raise awareness. If you’re struggling, drop me a message. Drop someone a message. Don’t suffer the weight of your world on your own – God, I cannot stress this enough. Don’t be someone you’re not just to impress a few people. The social concept of ‘fitting in’ is so fucking overrated. Don’t suffer in silence. For so long, I created a facade of myself: one that’s strong and fearless and brave and all of that bullshit. But there are times like this where I remember just how vulnerable I am. I’m not anywhere near as strong as I want to be. I’m not always the person you see on Instagram every day. And that is so, so okay. It makes me human. 6 years on from the operation that changed everything (gallbladder cholecystectomy) and I’m still learning so much about myself.

I’m done with pretending to be brave for the sake of others. I’m done with pretending to be someone I’m not, and it’s truly the most wonderful feeling in the world. At 23, I’m finally finding myself. I’ve spent 6 years trying to forget the pain I went through, but I’ve never really forgiven myself for it. My body has been fighting itself for years, and it’s time I showed it a bit more understanding.

A little more self-love.

A x

Mental vs Physical Health

I was reading up on the law recently (as one does in their free time, of course) and something struck me as particularly concerning.

Context: I was looking to apply for my student loan for this September when I visited the Disability Allowance section. I have no physical disability (minus asthma but I don’t really consider that a disability in the scheme of things) but I wondered if suffering from mental health conditions qualified as a disability in the eyes of the law and if it did, to what extent?

Here’s the tricky part; it does. Kind of. From studying law at college, I remember how important it is to pay close attention to the use of particular diction in legislation. For example, the Equality Act 2010 specifically states that a disabled person must “have an impairment that is either physical or mental… must have adverse effects which are substantial, long-term and affects normal day-to-day activities.” If all factors stated above are met, the person is thereby classified as disabled, legally. But what is classified as an “impairment?” Can mild forms of mental health conditions still be classified as impairments?

The issue I have with this legislation is that there is an awful lot of grey area with regards to what can be classified as a disability and where the line is drawn between disability and an “impairment” which does not warrant the term disability. Usually, an act will define its own terms. For example, they’ll say something along the lines of “used in its ordinary meaning.” However, there is an element of subjectiveness and discretion in this act. Nevertheless, there is very little subjectiveness associated with physical disability. In the act, examples are given of where there should be no deliberation over disability; specifically, an obese woman who has trouble breathing because she’s overweight. The law  points out that the reason behind her breathing difficulties (her obesity) should NOT be referenced. She is automatically classified as disabled, due to her breathing problems. Fair enough.

However, when looking into the mental health aspect of this law, I came across a sticking point. As per the act, in order to be classified as disabled, one’s “impairment” must affect one’s daily life as well as being a long-term condition. In particular, the act uses an example of social anxiety and panic attacks; it states that if a person’s anxiety is so severe that it warrants having to travel at certain times of the day to avoid the rush hour then yes, they are classified as disabled. However, if one doesn’t need to make changes, to their routine for example, in accordance to their condition, it is not classified as an impairment, nor is it classified as debilitating enough to warrant the term “disability.”

This stood out to be as considerably worrying due to the high percentage of people who suffer from mental health conditions in silence because they’ve known nothing else. For sufferers of severe mental health conditions, there are certain requirements within the field of treatment which contribute to their condition being a disability. But what about those who suffer from mild anxiety, mild social anxiety, mild depression etc? Where do they stand in the eyes of the law? Where do I stand, someone who is still overcoming their health condition day by day, without altering anything in their routine?

Ultimately, this all comes down to the fact that mental and physical health will never be treated equally. Ironic, considering the name of the above act. The act states that cancer and HIV are automatically classed as a disability (rightly so) thereby reiterating a distinction and distinct lack of equality between mental and physical health. There should not be any grey area in the law regarding mental health, if there is no element of subjectivity for physical disabilities. That is unfair not to mention unequal. Until schizophrenia is treated with the same importance as cancer, we will be stuck in a unequal society, trapped by the stigmatisation of mental health.

A x

My Battle With Anxiety: 2 Years On

My Battle With Anxiety: 2 Years On

Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying… These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life.¹

Sounds about right. I still remember the first time I heard the word, instantly associating it with weakness and fragility. A flaw. There are many misconceptions associated with the term ‘anxiety’ and understandably so, considering the word is so broad and broadly used in society. I also believe it’s used too loosely in day to day life, contributing to a lack of understanding. Despite coming so far as a race, we’ve become stuck in a place where we cannot manifest the ability to treat people equally based on their mental state, which is undeniably a shocking position for us, as humans.

The first time I told someone outside of my family about suffering from anxiety, I was terrified and lost in a world where toxic thoughts were swimming around in my head and I genuinely believed they would save me from drowning. Initially, telling someone else about this was an instant relief. I felt a little lighter knowing I’d shared something so destructive in my life with someone else who’d perhaps be able to help me through it, providing support where possible. Sadly, I was wrong. I’ve since learnt that people will certainly provide a supportive front but that’s all it is – a facade. Some of us are designed to deal with heavy emotional distress and some of us simply are not: and that’s okay.

Coming to terms with anxiety meant having to re-evaluate my relationships and friendships; it meant taking a step back and assessing what/where the foundation of my anxiety attacks were. I soon came to realise that a significant amount of stress I put myself under was based on being treated a certain way by people I believed I was close to. Without going into too much detail, I wasn’t treated very well by the people I held dearest to me, and I deserved much better. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t see it at the time, so it was a vicious cycle of feeling second best, then apologising for feeling this way only to be treated poorly a few weeks later. I believed that was okay, too, which is the saddest thing. My anxiety attacks were set off by feeling like I wasn’t good enough, which escalated until I reached breaking point. This was a continuous pattern throughout most of 2014 and early 2015.

I only really noticed an improvement in my mental health when I surrounded myself with positive influences and strong, healthy friendships. People who loved me unconditionally, who picked me up when I was down and never treated me differently based on my anxiety disorder. Cutting toxic relationships out of my life has massively transformed it. I’ve also found that keeping myself busy has helped immensely; the panic attacks come less often now, and I have less time to overanalyse every aspect of my life. It could be inferred that overanalysing has its perks (kind of) – I am an perfectionist and if something isn’t done to my standards, I’ll continue to work at it until I’m happy. As long as my mind is preoccupied, my anxiety levels remain steady.

Naturally, there are those days where I feel incredibly low and for no apparent reason. This is what I feel is imperative to underline and draw attention to; we have anxiety attacks, panic attacks and feel low for sometimes no reason at all. It just happens and there’s nothing we can do about it; no matter how much someone offers to comfort me, I cannot escape the prison walls of my brain, with voices telling me a thousand negative things all at once. And occasionally, the only thing I can do is cry about it and move on from there. Everyone reacts differently to anxiety and it’s formidable attacks: from crying to remaining silent for long periods of time, sometimes it’s best to leave someone be if they cannot comprehend what’s going on in their head. The same applies to social anxiety – I can’t control the panic attacks every time I enter a room or a bus full of people. Regardless of whether you’re my friend, relative or a stranger, I will panic when entering a confined space containing a number of people. That’s just the way it is for me, and no amount of therapy has managed to change that. (yet)

But if I’ve learnt anything over these two years, it’s to embrace life and all it’s got to offer us. I spent disgustingly too long distressing myself over whether or not I was a good person, if I was good enough. Surrounding myself with good people was what helped me through my darkest hours. People who inspired me, motivated me. Finally, writing has been the most effective form of therapy for me. It’s not even the factor of others going through similar experiences, it’s just ten times easier to deal with when I’m not holding it inside, when it’s on paper. Getting over the physical health stuff was tough enough, but coping with the trauma of a mental health disorder is something else entirely.

My anxiety hasn’t gone away but it’s most definitely become easier to live with. The good days almost always counterbalance the bad, and that’s what I’m focussing on.

A x

¹http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/anxiety/ 

 

World Mental Health Day 2015

A couple of days ago marked World Mental Health Day, a day of showing awareness and support for those suffering from mental health conditions. As an anxiety sufferer, I believe mental health is grossly belittled and not enough is done to support those who have to live with harrowing mental health conditions.

It took me nearly two years to fully understand what I suffered from. Having both general and social anxiety is a pain in the bum; it affects literally every part of your life. From getting on public transport to walking into a doctor’s waiting room, and even walking into a room full of family and friends, it’s a dreadful thing to live with. And that’s just the social aspect! When my therapist told me the feelings I was suffocated with on a daily basis were related to anxiety, I was confused, scared and ashamed. I didn’t tell anyone for months, not even my parents or family. In my head, anxiety was a weakness and I was simply a weak person who couldn’t control her emotions.

The first person I told was, at the time, my best friend. He helped me through the worst periods of anxiety and rescued me when I felt like I was drowning in my thoughts. Having someone there by my side whilst my brain exploded into a million thoughts was a blessing. In fact, without him, I would not be sitting here today; he saved me from myself. Anxiety in a nutshell is overthinking every little part of your life until, to use the cliche phrase, a molehill becomes a mountain. You end up worrying over everything, thinking you’ve done something wrong or there’s something wrong with you; you feel like no one will understand what you’re thinking and in most cases, sadly you’re right. Not many will understand you. But it’s finding the support systems and networks out there to help those who feel completely isolated by their conditions which is so imperative. The fact that many people feel the need to see professionals privately is absolutely absurd and a complete failure of the government in supporting their vulnerable citizens. The idea of someone, or someone’s parents, paying £70 for a professional to help one through an ordeal as traumatising as their own psychological disorder is shameful. No one deserves to be given the ultimatum of private professional help or being dismissed onto a waiting list.

I’ll ask you a question: if a cancer patient, or a terminally ill patient was told they needed to wait to seek treatment for their condition, is that considered acceptable? No. There would be a public outcry at the injustice of forcing an unwell patient to wait. So, what makes mental health any different from physical health? We may not be hurting physically, but we are hurting mentally. Cries of pain can come from within, unnoticed by others. Mental health is JUST as important and life-threatening as physical health. I suffer from both myself and can confirm that my physical suffering, which has been rather intense and at times, unbearable over the past three years, was just as painful as my mental suffering. So throwing someone under the carpet with the insincere promise of a “waiting list” is pathetic.

More needs to be done to support mental health sufferers. More needs to be done to help sufferers come to terms with what they have, so they can move forward and control it.

Right now, it’s explicitly clear that the government has failed us. Now’s the time to make a difference, with or without Cameron’s help.

Dissipate

They’ll ask me: “what’s wrong?”

with the expectation of hearing “I’m fine”
to which they accept
and move on.
And so do I.
Inside, I’m far from fine;
I cry at everything
not knowing why.
I sleep a maximum of four hours a night.
“I’m fine.”
The offers for help are vacant.
“It’ll be okay” soon becomes
“maybe you’re overthinking things a little?”
You can help me with my maths homework
but you’ll never help me solve
the puzzles in my head.
One plus one doesn’t always equal two
up here.
You can’t help me get rid of the monsters under my bed.
“I’m here if you ever need a shoulder to cry on”-
fucking liar.
That offer is far too soon retracted.
I’m here for you if your boyfriend dumps you
but that’s all I can offer you.
My problems are not as shallow as that.
The depth of my problems compete with the ocean;
what will drown me first?
I guess I’ve learnt over the years
there’s only one hand that will reach down for you
into the abyss,
whilst you’re drowning and gasping for air.
Trying to gasp hold of the last fragments of sanity
as they dissipate between your fingertips.
That hand, my friend
is yours.

How to Help Anxiety Sufferers

Suffering from anxiety means that a lot of small things can escalate into bigger things: it can range from something as minute as a picture you see on Facebook to catching someone’s eye on public transport, and the intensity of the anxiety attack can be incredibly overwhelming. It’s all very well giving advice to those who also suffer from the condition, but today I thought it might be worthwhile giving advice to those who have people in their lives who suffer from it – siblings, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents or even just friends.

Anxiety attacks are usually brought on by a trigger and as mentioned before, it can be a wide range of things. Of course, you’re not expected to analyse every single detail of your life in order to avoid triggering attacks in your loved ones, but sometimes it’s wise to be precautionary:

1. Think – think about what you’re going to say or write or do before you do it. As mentioned before, sometimes things can escalate out of control and the fundamental cause was a simple misunderstanding. It doesn’t hurt anyone to show a little consideration for those who suffer from a destructive illness.

2. Act – Do what you can to support those in need of a little love and care. Go to therapy sessions with them, help them get answers if they’re unable to find them on their own. Acts of kindness do not go amiss.

3. Listen – If it’s a shoulder to cry on, let them tell you their problems. More likely than not, they will resolve the underlying problem if they are able to talk to someone about it aloud to willing listeners. Also, if you notice that a certain thing can upset them, avoid doing it! It sounds so simple, but surprisingly, repeating mistakes is a habit some have trouble breaking out of.

It’s most certainly not easy living with or being close to someone who suffers from anxiety. There’s no forewarning as to when an attack will come on, and it may be over something so frustratingly small that you don’t see the logic in it. But understand that this simply cannot be helped; some have it bad, some have it mild. There’s no cure for it either, just working alongside it and living with it.

Anxiety is like a black cloud looming over one’s shoulders all day every day, so even the smallest act of kindness or consideration will go a very long way.

A x

Anxiety

Recently, I have realised that many people have a misconception of what anxiety is. As a sufferer of such a destructive illness, I find it very insulting when people belittle it by using it in their day to day conversations. For example, I have overheard on a number of occasions, people making passing comments such as “you give me anxiety”, in a humourous light. I am fortunate enough not to suffer from a severe anxiety disorder which prevents me from executing my day to day activities, but nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to live with from which a variety of problems stem.

I had my gallbladder removed in January 2013 as a result of extremely unbearable abdominal pains, thanks to a great amount of “sludge” in my gallbladder which, over time, would turn into gallstones. Being in constant, severe and acute pain for such a long period of time can be unbelievably traumatic, which was the case for me. It took me over 6 months to recover from the surgery alone, and I have not fully recovered from the trauma I endured whilst in hospital. This is where the anxiety fits in. As a result of being in such severe pain for a long period of time, where painkillers didn’t make a dent in it, and where I was forced to endure some of the worst bouts of pain alone (NHS hospital visiting hours are ridiculous), I developed anxiety. I was, and still am, constantly worried that I’ll be put through what I went through last year, again. Although that part of my life is now long over, I am still haunted by the pain which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

This anxiety is also reflected in my daily and personal life. For example, I over-think and over-analyse the simplest of things, which lead to conflict, arguments and unnecessary tears and a lot of the time, others (outsiders of the condition) will not understand where I am coming from, which leads to more problems and disputes.

Since secondary school, I have suffered from very mild social anxiety, too. This somewhat worsened after my operations and society can undermine how troubling social anxiety can be; for example, simple things such as getting off the bus can trigger panic attacks and nervousness as you’re constantly paranoid about who is watching you as you make that small trip from your bus seat to the doors. Walking into a room full of strangers can trigger panic attacks as you feel as if everyone is watching you. Making new friends can seem almost impossible as you’re afraid of others judging you, hence why we see so many facades nowadays. Social anxiety should not be dismissed as a minor thing because, despite the fact that I don’t suffer from a severe form of it, it really affects your life in ways that others would not understand unless they experienced it themselves.

I have learnt that the most important way to deal with and overcome the problems that come about as a result of my anxiety is to have a strong support network. I have friends who understand my anxiety and help me through it when it gets bad, by getting to the root of the problem and then working my way out. By recognising the primary factor which has caused a panic attack or over-analysis of a situation. I am fortunate enough to have incredible parents who are there to listen to my problems if I can face them out loud, or just stay silent and stand by my side if I can’t bring myself to discuss it. They help me get to the bottom of what is causing my distress and help me come to terms with what is bringing me down. The relief you feel when you tell someone what you’re going through is unimaginable and I am so glad I told my close friends and family about what I was going through. If you think no one will understand you, you’re wrong; other sufferers can relate to you, and if you let in the right people, they will not judge you, only help you. I was terrified when I told my friend about my anxiety; I was afraid they’d never understand and label me as weak but they helped me out in ways I cannot explain. My parents did not judge me or write me off for feeling the way I did. And because I had such a strong support network, I will carry their advice, love and commitment to stand by me for the rest of my life.

Telling someone about a condition which is controlling your life will not make you vulnerable or weak or stupid. It takes strength to do so, and it makes anxiety a lot more bearable to live with.

And that is all that matters.

A x