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

Lockdown Update!

The past few weeks have been filled with the chaos and fear of uncertainty, and an unprecedented lack of control over the events around us. Human nature dictates that the one thing we despise more than anything is being told we cannot do what we want – the element of choice has been inexplicably stripped from us. This is something I think we’re all finding incredibly difficult to wrap our heads around. Routine has been forbidden, our entire way of life temporarily jeopardised. And with that, comes a distinct increase in anxieties over the near and distant future.

For someone that normally thrives off routine and structure, this lockdown as thrown me ever so slightly. Not going to work every day, hitting the gym and not being able to socialise has proven hugely challenging, but here are a few ways I’ve kept myself busy and thus, somewhat sane.

Reading – I used to consume books within a day way back when, so I’ve recently started re-reading some of my favourites which had a profound impact on me either growing up or more recently, from poetry to prose. I find losing myself in a book keeps me centred and acts as a very therapeutic form of escapism.

Fitness – three months ago I began my personal training journey after quitting my job at the last minute (one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!). Having the sessions come to an abrupt halt significantly impacted my mood recently so I’ve decided to start doing home workouts. They take a lot of improvisation, but I was thankfully blessed with an incredible personal trainer who still motivates me every day – I’ve incorporated all of our prior training into these home workouts as best as physically possible, using weights and resistance bands where feasible. Not going into work every day has meant I have much more time to devote to exercise, and since introducing a routine of training every other day, I find myself feeling much healthier and happier, physically and mentally.

Writing – I’ve always considered writing to be my greatest form of therapy since I was a teenager, and during times such as this there is no greater way to comprehend any negative (and positive!) thoughts and feelings than writing them all down. Even if it means keeping a journal, or jotting things down when feeling overwhelmed, expressing them in words rather than keeping it bottled inside has worked wonders.

Spending time with family – I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time with or even seen my parents as I have done in the past two weeks! But it’s been a blessing to sit with them every day and talk properly. We motivate each other and pick one another up if we’re ever down and I believe in a time like this, that is more important than ever.

Leaving the house once a day – endometriosis has somewhat put a spanner in the works with this one as I do enjoy just going for a simple walk in the park every now and then. When I’m in a lot of pain, or even when I’m not, I sometimes try to distract myself with being around green space and nature, which really does work wonders when you’re stuck inside each day! Being quarantined indoors makes you appreciate nature and all it has to offer.

Stay in touch with friends – I’ve come to appreciate my loved ones even more so now! Even just checking in with each other is so important, but true friends provide stability in times like this. If it’s for a gossip, a vent or just to chat about being bored, it’s nice to have someone on the other end of the phone in the same position, who understands and listens.

As I said before, there is great fear in such uncertainty. Not being able to do what you want can at times take a huge toll on your mental wellbeing. But staying indoors means saving the lives of our loved ones and the vulnerable, so it’s really a no brainer. If we can survive this, we can survive anything. And it makes the future that much more promising.

Stay safe, stay healthy and stay positive (and stay INSIDE!).

A x

An Open Letter to My Parents

The past few years have been turbulent, both physically and mentally for myself and those around me; the constant rejection of the answers I was desperately looking for, the reluctance to be treated for whatever is going on inside me, and the anxiety surrounding being in pain everyday were painful to say in the least. However, with the news that the investigations into my health conditions have now come to an end, I’ve stopped hoping for a miracle, adopting a rather more realistic approach to dealing with the pain. I’ve made peace with the idea that I’ll have to treat these symptoms, potentially for the rest of my life, rather than having multiple doctors, surgeons and specialists poke me here and there, performing countless tests.

Those closest to me will know how much I despise pity and sympathy: my health is something I have yet to come to terms with (I know, I know, it’s been 4 years) so handling other’s reactions isn’t something that comes easily to me when I don’t really know how to handle it myself. However, the one thing I have always been grateful for, but now more so than ever, is the relentless support of my parents.

During my darkest hours, they shared my pain and agony. In 2013, they shared my fear of going under the knife for the first time in my life. But they put aside all their own emotions to support me, comfort me and encourage me. Many will comment on my bravery in suffering from a debilitating health issue, but I believe the bravest of them all are my parents, for being strong for me. I remember waking up from the general anaesthetic after my operation and hearing my mum sob because she couldn’t handle the sight of me being attached to wires, an oxygen mask, and tubes attached to me. This was the first time I’d heard her cry since I was diagnosed, and in many ways that was more painful than the actual agony of a gallbladder attack. As parents, there’s an assumption that you have to be strong for your children, and my parents exceeded that. I know for a fact that their support has helped me live through this, and without it, I don’t know where I’d be.

It’s time for me to stop thinking about how I’ll survive living with whatever I am going through, but rather focus on how I can live my life to the fullest with it. Perhaps I was justified in my selfishness regarding the whole thing – after all, it was my illness, something only I was experiencing. But in many ways, my pain is also my parents’ pain. I haven’t given them enough credit for helping me survive the worst days of my life. I owe them everything for helping me keep it together when I was at my lowest points. Their ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel when I’m blind to it myself is a gift they are blessed with.

So thank you both, for transforming me into the strong woman I am today. I am a survivor because of you. You love me even when I’m at my worst, and boy am I an absolute nightmare. Through your care and devotion, you have created a human being who is prepared to fight whatever life throws at her head on. You have given me the strength to survive my darkest hours, and it’s only your words which help me overcome them. Your strength and courage lives within me, and I am so proud to call you my parents. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I’ll be able to embrace it because of you.

A x

HAPPY NEW YEAR, 2017!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, 2017!

2016 has brought us a whirlwind of emotions. It’s felt like a bloody long year too!

From restarting my degree at the university of my dreams, to meeting some of the truly wonderful people I now hold dear to me, it’s been a crazy year that I wouldn’t change for the world. It’s also taught me how important it is to keep your loved ones close: to cherish every second you have with them, because life is far too unpredictable and we just cannot know when our time on this earth will be over.

Strangers have become best friends. Best friends have become family. Family ties have grown stronger (in some cases, mind!) 2016 has been a year of life lessons, too. I’ve learnt that people will come in and out of your life, but those who are supposed to be in it will come back to you eventually. Those who don’t come back, well, for the briefest moments, they were in your life for a reason. All we can do is learn from what they’ve taught us, and move on with what they’ve left behind. Life is too unpredictable to hold grudges and negativity against those we once cared for.

I look forward to a year of positivity ahead of me. As cliche as it sounds, I’m very much looking forward to leaving negativity behind me in 2016, and moving forward with those who stuck by me relentlessly this year, bringing me nothing but happiness and filling my life with love.

Happy 2017! Let’s make it a good one.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Unknown

A x

HEALTH UPDATE: JULY 2016

It could be worse.

That has pretty much been my life motto for the past two years and it’s actually worked out considerably well. As a result, I’m less prone to wallowing in self-pity, although perhaps I can thank my job for that, too.

After 20 months of uncertainty, pain, hospital admissions and tests, I’ve been told there’s nothing that can be done for my current health situation as there are too many risks associated with surgery. (Last resort and what we were subtly hoping for as a miraculous cure) There’s no medication left for me to take; I’m already on painkillers, plus chronic pain relief before I go to sleep, so a medicinal approach is also out of the question. Doctors have now suggested a “holistic approach” to dealing with the pain and symptoms that come with this confusing/unique health condition.

I’ve been a little weary when it comes to the term “holistic” because it felt like a cop-out when it was suggested on the post-consultation report. Almost like a “we couldn’t help you surgically, so try some homeopathy or yoga.” But looking into it further, it’s worth a shot considering we’ve exhausted every other avenue.

I guess the worst aspect of living with this/these health condition(s) is the absolute loneliness that comes with having to live with it. Of course I am incredibly blessed and lucky to have such supportive parents and family, as well as exceptional friends who have stood by my side since the day I was first hospitalised. Ultimately, however, having to live with ongoing pain and knowing there’s no real cure out there for me now is the worst thing. Realising that I’ve been through so much pain, horrid health relapses and symptoms, only to be told I should ‘go herbal.’ It’s awfully lonely; having to summon up the courage to say “okay Anisah, you’ve been through this before, you can get through this now.” Accepting that pain is a part of my life I just have to live with. When I have to leave a room, or take a break from work, or even duck to the loos when out with friends, I have to pray and beg that whatever’s causing my abdomen grief will just go away. “You just have to ride it out” is infuriating to hear; why me? After everything, why am I still suffering? Will it ever go away?

It sounds terribly despondent, I know, but I guess the lonely aspect of a health condition is something I’ve not touched on before, yet is imperative to consider nevertheless. It interlinks strongly with your psychological state of mind too, almost like a vicious circle. When I experience physical pain, my anxiety levels increase and I panic a little. As a result of living with these health issues, I’m prone to periods of feeling low and anxious for the future. I’m desperately hoping that a holistic approach helps me physically and mentally, because I am drained in both senses!

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran

A x

HEALTH UPDATE: MAY 2016

The waiting game.

It appears I spend most of my time waiting for things to happen; currently, I’m waiting to be seen by a specialist in the field of Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction at Harley Street. Sadly, the NHS route proved to be an absolute disaster; I spent two months waiting for the appointment to come through to see a consultant who had an “interest” in the field of SOD at a tertiary centre hospital, only for him to tell me there was nothing he could do about my condition due to a substantial “lack of evidence” excluding my pain. It’s safe to say that I was livid after that appointment. His reluctance to do anything about my condition pretty much summed up why I have no faith in doctors – for over a year and a half, my condition has worsened yet they seem to intentionally brush over my three year-long suffering.

Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction is a tricky little condition; for one, the Sphincter muscle in my bile duct is so tiny that the best way to assess whether it’s working properly (or not, in my case) is to go inside and undergo a procedure. The problem is this procedure carries the risk of inducing pancreatitis; having already suffered a bout of it two years ago, I’m not too keen to risk any chances of having it again because the pain is horrendous. Pancreatitis also runs the risk of inflicting life-long damage onto the pancreas, creating furthermore health problems. However, having exhausted many medicinal routes to tackle to pain I’m in daily with SOD, I’m running out of patience and options. Being bombarded with pain relief doesn’t solve the issue and it appears the doctors I’ve seen are almost reluctant to cure it, opting for a safer, non-invasive method of treating the symptoms.

Another problem is the relapses. Whilst I was away, I suffered from an episode of severe pain which landed me in hospital – not ideal when you’re in another country. The relapses occur almost every other month, drastically impacting my life with its unpredictability. Doctors perhaps perceive my desperation for medical intervention as just another kid who comes in with pain in their stomach. They don’t realise how badly this condition has ruined my life for the past three years. They can’t imagine being in pain for a solid 18 months because they’ve never been there.

I know it’s wrong to desperately hope for something when I’ve already been disappointed so many times before, but I sincerely hope this consultant will give me some answers this time. If not surgical intervention then at least another option to consider would be preferable. Being written off has destroyed me, physically and emotionally.

So, hopefully, in ten days I may just get some answers!

A x

 

Anisah vs Her Body: Round 3

Anisah vs Her Body: Round 3

2013: Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy. 2014: Pancreatitis. 2015-present: Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction.

I’m stuck in a kind of stand off between myself and my doctors; they’re aware of how detrimental my condition is to my physical and mental wellbeing, yet they’re reluctant to take any action due to the potentially life threatening complications associated with it. It’s made furthermore frustrating by the fact that SOD is so rare in patients, especially at my age, too.

2015 was a year completely dominated by pain and I hope never to relive the experiences I endured that year again. When you’re in a situation such as mine, it’s incredibly difficult to adopt a facade of positivity and automatic “I’m fine” responses to the repetitive, rhetorical “are you okay?” In short; no, I’m not okay. It appears I’m fighting my body on a daily basis in the hope that it’ll stop trying to reduce me to my knees from unrelenting pain. But that’s not what people want to hear.

Thankfully, I appear to have inherited my parents’ strength and willpower; I am a survivor and I will fight this to the end, but its left me questioning – at what cost? I’m unable to go about my daily activities without being crippled by the pain at least twice during the course of the day. I can’t eat properly. The prospect of a (second) good university experience is hampered by pain. My anxiety is through the roof. It’s all a vicious cycle with no bright light – yet.

I’m a strong believer in things happening for a reason, by forces greater than us. There is a plan for me, I just need to trust in myself and those forces that I’ll make it through to the other side. It’s been a traumatising road these past few years and I’m incredibly tired of fighting, but I’m also desperately hoping this won’t continue for much longer and that this is just the final stretch in a (literally) gut-wrenching battle.

Throughout this ordeal, I’ve managed to retain a somewhat positive outlook on life fundamentally thanks to the strong support network of friends and family I have around me. I say this time and time again to the point where these words almost come across as empty but it’s thanks to my loved ones that I have come this far. My mother raised me to be strong, positive and almost certainly not a defeatist; my father raised me as a fighter. It is because of their support and unrelenting positivity not to mention belief in me that I’ve managed to make it this far. My true friends stood by my side and helped me battle against my health during my darkest hours, giving me the strength to fight when I thought I could fight no longer. I’ve come to know some truly wonderful people over the past few months who have completely changed my outlook on life, not to mention made me a better, stronger person. I cannot thank them enough for simply being in my life, and I know I’m blessed beyond words to have compassionate people around me. It’s because of these people that, during the dark hours, I can see a light. Perhaps it’s not the light at the end of the tunnel, but the promise of light is good enough for me.

So, amidst a sea of uncertainty, I’m going to give this illness everything I’ve got and battle through to the end, armed with a positive mindset and determination to overcome it before it has the chance to consume me. Forgive me if I backtrack every now and then, though.

On a final note, thank YOU to everyone who’s taken the time to simply read my blog, not to mention commenting on it, too. From my work colleagues to best friends to family friends: your support means the world to me. I don’t even need to tell you I love you; you already know. Without you, I would not be half the person I am today.

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/ 

 

Life After Death, by Damien Echols

“If you walk up to a man on the street and punch him in the face, you go to prison for assault. Do the same thing to a man in prison and you get demoted.” (Echols, 244)

“Time is marked with an hourglass filled with snow instead of sand.” (331)

“I am excited today, and happy. Not for any particular reason, other than the fact that good things are coming. Good things are always coming; sometimes we just forget it.” (340)

All my life I’ve heard people say “Why would God allow this to happen?” I think it’s because while we can see only the tragedy, God sees only the beauty. While we see misery, Divinity sees us lurching and shambling one step closer to the light. I truly do believe that one day we’ll shine as brightly as the archangels themselves.” (342)

I’m writing an open letter to Echols in my next post, but I couldn’t leave this one open ended without a little explanation. The quotes above are too breathtakingly beautiful for that.

I’ve just finished reading Echols’ biography Life After Death (2012) and despite the strong probability of me saying this about other books, I feel this one has somehow managed to simultaneously take my breath away and change my outlook on life. These quotes referenced above made me stop in my tracks simply at the sheer beauty of Echols’ mind, and his ability to open up after the ordeal he endured for nearly two decades. His view of the world, which I expected to be so tarnished by his 18 years locked in a cell and awaiting execution on Death Row, is utterly perfect in its simplicity and naivety.

We all have role models and inspirations in our life. Damien Echols: you are mine. You are the epitome of strength and resilience, and I wish you could see for yourself the effect your words have had on me, and my life.

Thank you for sharing your experience with the world, and with me.

Anisah