Creativity and Mental Health

For me, creativity is a massive part of expressing my feelings when it comes to my mental health. Creating abstract representations of my disorders or how I feel allows me to release the negative thoughts and create something interesting in the process.

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Hope (2015) 

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Mental Health Awareness Designs (2014)

I draw, paint, write – anything and everything! It’s the most therapeutic thing in the world; I can sit in complete silence and not have one thought pass through my head for hours when I have a paintbrush in my hand.

Does anybody else have any methods to relieve stress and negative feelings?

Mental Health Art

Just under a year ago in June 2014, I created this series of art work. The six images were each designed to depict a different mental illness or the symptoms associated with it; and they also mock some of the negative stigma that go hand-in-hand with suffering from these disorders.

I designed the series in black and red because for me, they’re the two boldest colours that there are. The black represents the illness, isolation, secrets and negativity that we face from the rest of the world; whilst the areas of red represent the glimpse of hope, which no matter how small is brighter and more predominant than the illness.

We need to stop shaking our heads and silently being at war with the uneducated comments we hear; we need to stop making peace with the idea that mental health issues aren’t as high priority as physical illness, and instead – we need to actively stand strong and fight for better.

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I hope you like them, to view the rest of my art portfolio, click here.

Guest Post for Lifeofmiblog

Here is the guest post I wrote for Michael at Lifeofmiblog earlier this week. Michael suffers with Depression and talks about this as well as many other topics on his blog – It’s fantastic, so please check it out!


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I have Borderline Personality Disorder, Cyclothymia and severe anxiety. I have these things, but it’s important to remember that I am not these things.

You cannot allow the disorders that you have become you, because you undoubtedly lose enough of yourself due to them already. BPD makes me angry, touchy and sometimes aggressive with the people around me; Cyclothymia makes me manic, depressed and all things in between; and anxiety takes away my basic human rights, with crippling fear smothering me and therefore stopping me from doing anything with my life.

These could be (and sometimes are!) soul-destroying things to live with, and so if this is the only way we can identify ourselves, what’s left? What’s the point of being here? Instead, you have to think about the things that you are, instead of the things that you have.

I am motivated and ambitious, I’m sarcastic beyond belief, and I’m creative, artistic and I’m detail-orientated in everything I do. I fall in love easy, but I don’t make good friends often; those that are in my life will be forever. I’m stubborn – way too stubborn – and don’t let arguments go as quickly as I should. But everything I do I do whole-heartedly, putting all my effort into it; and yes – I’m one of those people that are crazy enough to think they can make a difference in the world.

So instead of becoming my disorders, I try to manage these things that I have so that they don’t become a part of my being. I try to control the obstacles and hurdles that my life is constantly throwing at me; it’s not a fair war if you don’t even try to defend and protect yourself. It’s not as easy as I’d like it to be (if it was, mental illness would cease to exist), and it feels like a never-ending battle, because just when I think I have something mastered, something else comes along.

Another fear, another episode, another month where everything becomes too much.

But I keep trying, and that’s the main thing. I keep striving and pushing, waiting for the world to reward me and give me a break. I study as much as I can about my disorders, I research, read and I study for a mindfulness diploma. I learn to meditate, source remedies and techniques to practise, and I write almost every day on my blog relaying my thoughts and letting them all out of my already-cluttered-brain. I paint, I draw, I exercise, I cut out caffeine, and I make an extra effort with those I love.

Researching my disorders has given me an understanding of what’s going on in my mind which is absolutely priceless to me and mindfulness teaches me to think in the moment, not allowing the past or future to influence where I am right now. Meditation slows my breathing down alongside the absence of caffeine, helping my anxiety beyond belief. Creativity and writing makes my mind joyous, exercise makes my body joyous, and people – well they’re a support system that I wouldn’t want to do without. The biggest mistake too many of us make is pushing those that love us out of our lives.

But most of all, regardless of all these things, I remember who I am and what I am. I remind myself of all the things that make me, me. And my somewhat poor mental health definitely isn’t even a small part of that. That’s all I can do. Some may say that it’s all a distraction, but I believe it’s just a part of the journey to recovery. Like with any other illness, we’re all just looking for a cure.

Reality

Tonight I watched the film, Still Alice. I don’t wish to spoil the plot for those of you that would like to see it, but the basic premise is about a woman who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, and it’s a realistic and harrowing portrayal of what it’s like to live with the disease. As you all know, I don’t suffer from Alzheimer’s myself – and I’m under no illusions that I have any idea what it’s like to live with it – but somehow this film struck a chord with me.

It was the lack of control the character had over her brain. The way in which she so desperately wanted things to be better and normal but her mind wouldn’t allow those desires to become a reality.The constant and every day struggle and fight that was happening in her head. The helpless looks on everybody’s faces around her as they had no concept of what to do to help. The way it consumed her and stopped her from doing the things she loved the most.

And so now I lie here, in complete darkness, trying so hard to get to sleep and stop these thoughts racing through my mind. I can close my eyes for a matter of seconds before they’re wide open again, thinking about my own life and the similarities we all have to each other no matter our condition.

At one point in the film, the character bluntly states, ‘I wish I had cancer’ – a difficult sentence to comprehend to the average person. I actually watched the film with my mum, and at this point she almost laughed. I don’t know if it was shock or a nervous reflex, I didn’t ask, but I’m sure most people’s first reaction would be: how could somebody say that? How could somebody say that they want a disease that kills millions? How can somebody be that lost within themselves that that’s a thought that even passes through them?

But right now I’m not going to sit here and edit my thoughts before I write them down. I’m not going to lie or say what I’m supposed to say. Instead I’m going to say that I get it. I didn’t feel shocked or nervous when this line was read out. I felt understanding and almost comforted by the commonality between us. I know it’s a controversial thing to say; I’ve lost and am currently losing family members at the moment to the disease, and one of my best friends lost her mum to cancer just last year. It’s an awful, agonising, painful and traumatic thing to have, or to watch someone else have. I am in no way trying to belittle that and I do not at all wish that I had cancer. But I do get it. I get what she meant.

I understand what it’s like to have your illness belittled over and over again. I understand what it’s like to be made to feel ashamed of it because it’s an illness of the brain and not something ‘real’ like what cancer is. I understand what it’s like to want to die; to end it all because being here is just too damn hard, and surely cancer would just be quicker and less painful – because nothing can be as painful as this.

I can’t watch suicides/attempted suicides in films or TV programmes, and I don’t like talking about them fiction or otherwise. Everyone knows that I’m unbearably squeamish and so most of the time people assume this is why. But that’s not really it. Suicide scares me to watch or hear about or think about in any real capacity because it’s a reality for me. It’s something that I can sympathise with and although have never got to the point where I have ever carried out any suicidal thoughts, I do understand what it’s like to be in that head space. I feel it. It’s hard to explain in words but it makes me panic and my heart beats at a million miles per hour. It’s like watching someone else die a painful death due to a disease that you have yourself.

Still Alice may be about a person living with Alzheimer’s and the harsh reality that that brings, but I think that anybody suffering with any type of mental illness would find similarities between the character and themselves. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Hopefully now that these thoughts are laid out here, I can finally get some sleep! Have a great day/night – depending where you are in the world!

Home

Just a quick little update!

Today I can officially say that my second year of uni is complete – no more exams and no more reports. Which means it’s time to go home!

I’m really excited to get back and see my mum and the rest of my family and friends. My dad is actually picking me up today. Obviously as you know, transport is not my favourite thing in the world. It triggers my anxiety more than anything else.

My dad and I aren’t particularly close, and so today’s going to be a bit of a struggle. Firstly, because of just trying to fill awkward silences with meaningless conversation, but secondly because I’m less anxious around people I feel comfortable with, and sadly he is not one of those people.

It’s going to be a loooong and anxiety-riddled four hours! It’ll be worth it though I’m sure, because at the end of that four hours, I get to have cuddles with this guy!

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Life can change so much in a year

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This photo came up on my Timehop this morning – you know the app that tells you what you were doing this day last year and all the other years since you’ve been on social media.

I took it from the roof top bar in the Hilton on Park Lane in London a year ago today. I’d been doing an event there downstairs and was enjoying a glass of wine up there with a friend afterwards, before heading into Covent Garden and having many more glasses.

I think that bar was the 23rd floor. It made me a bit nervous, but only because I don’t like lifts and I have to be honest, I did walk up all of them stairs. Only to be faced with the 22nd floor sign reading ‘roof top bar access through elevator only’ and so had to get in it anyway.

But the fact is I did it. I enjoyed a drink at the 23rd floor. I walked up to the window and took pictures; I wasn’t in a rush to leave.

One year on, I can’t go higher than the 1st floor. And I have to be real with you, sometimes I struggle with that. If I go any higher, panic runs through me; I’m too far from the exit and can’t get out.

Anyway I woke up this morning and had this notification on my phone ready and waiting, so my mood hasn’t been the best so far today. Anxiety is such a frustrating thing to live with because it rids you of everything you know you’re capable of. And this photo was just another reminder of that.

Stressed

I’ve been getting really angry and anxious recently with the way that my uni operates when it comes to mental health. It’s time they actually started taking it seriously because I’m sure there are many people like me that really seriously struggle with their system.

My exams start tomorrow morning and because of my anxiety I can’t take it in the normal exam hall; so previously the uni have had alternatives put in place for me with absolutely no problem or hesitation. This time however, the university decided to resist until I got hold of an up to date doctors note, which is fine. But even after this it’s taken ages for them to process it and decide whether or not to authorise my request.

I don’t think they understand that it’s a case of moving me, or I’m not doing the exam. It’s not one of those things where I can just ‘grit my teeth’ and get on with it. It is literally – give me an alternative or I’ll have to retake the year.

So I’ve spent all of today (in between revising!) on the phone to the uni trying to sort it out and find out whether or not I’m actually taking my exam tomorrow. Around half an hour ago they finally authorised it which is great, but can’t confirm which room they’ve put me in…

So it’s now it’s 5pm the day before my 9am exam, and I have no idea what room I’m taking my exam in.

They have confirmed that I have a room, just not where it is.

All I got was ‘Turn up early and hopefully someone will be able to find it for you’.

For someone who suffers with anxiety, the last thing I need is to be anxious about where I need to be, on top of the actual exam itself. I have literally never come across such a disorganised and unnecessary system. I have tutors that can vouch for me and confirm my condition, but apparently they still had to make the process as confusing and stressful as possible – and it’s still not even 100% sorted.

To make matters even more annoying, those with a physical disability get put in to these alternative rooms regardless of if they need it, and without going through this process. I don’t begrudge others having it, don’t get me wrong, but come on now, I need it as well. A good friend of mine has a hearing impairment. The exam is taken in complete silence and not one element of it requires the need to hear, and yet she’s had her room sorted for weeks now and can’t understand (along with everyone else) why they can’t do the same for me. And it’s not like they need to source other invigilators and rooms, they’re already in place for the people with ‘real’ disabilities.

It’s absolutely ridiculous and it makes me want to give up before I’ve even started.

#MHAW2015 next week! Let’s talk Mindfulness

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s topic is Mindfulness. For those of you that don’t know, I’m actually midway through studying for a Mindfulness diploma in order to become a registered practitioner, so this topic is spot on for me.

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Mindfulness is something that’s become of interest to me since my diagnosis of BPD, and also since my anxiety has got much worse. I now try to meditate every morning, but of course, anyone that has tried Mindfulness will know that it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do and it takes a lot of time and determination to do it successfully.

With that said, it appears to be very useful – especially to those of us suffering with mental health conditions. Therefore, next week I have put together a schedule to post everyday, providing you all with as much information as I can about the practice.

Monday: Introduction – What is Mindfulness
Tuesday:
Origins of Mindfulness
Wednesday: Who should use Mindfulness
Thursday: What Mindfulness does to help you
Friday: Does Mindfulness actually work? Pros and Cons
Saturday: Success stories
Sunday: My experiences with Mindfulness

If anyone has tried Mindfulness and is open to sharing their success stories or even negatives with the practice, please comment below as all information will be incredibly useful!

love lauren x

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Round two

So I left home for my lesson at uni today at 1:50pm – and I was home by 2:20pm.

It was on the second floor of the building, which unbelievably is the highest I’ve been in around three months now. I find height really difficult with my agoraphobia, because I feel like I’m further from the exit and my ‘escape route’; though quite what I’m trying to escape is still a mystery.

I like to feel safe in any situation and this prevents me being anywhere where I feel trapped. Transport, evidently high buildings, and even queues and exams (because I still shouldn’t just walk off).

I lasted until about 2:05pm in the room. Tapping my foot quickly on the floor in fear, trying to think of anything that wasn’t my mouth going dry and my heart racing at a million miles per hour. And then I ran. Down both sets of stairs until I reached outside.

The thing is though, my anxiety takes over my life. It stops me doing what I want to do. And today, it stopped me getting the feedback for an event I organised yesterday and have put so much work into over the past four months.

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So I stood there and for the first time thought ‘No, fuck this, I’m trying again’.

Now I can’t say it was successful, because this time I lasted about 10 seconds before I burst into tears and left for real, upset and angry. But it was the first time I said no to myself when my body told me I couldn’t do it.

So I’m taking that as a positive at least.

And next time, I’m aiming for round two to last 20 seconds.

love lauren x

Diagnosis one year on

So I’ve just realised that it’s been a full year since my diagnosis of BPD and Cyclothymia a couple of days ago. It seems like forever ago because so much has happened – both positive and negative.

For me, the label of a diagnosis is priceless. It shouldn’t take a label to be heard, but it does. And in my experience, doctors are much more receptive now than they ever have been in the past. I don’t just get shoved on the first anti-depressant they can think of, and they no longer tell me ‘every girl your age has ups and downs’ (which by the way is the most infuriating thing anyone has ever said to me!). But now they pay attention, you can literally see them sit up straighter when they talk to me, and they discuss options rather that thinking there’s a miracle solution in one tiny little pill.

I’ve started this blog since the diagnosis as well which again has been completely priceless. When I press ‘publish’ on my screen I let all the thoughts I’ve written down go. I’ve also ‘met’ some incredible people who are genuinely every bit as nice as they initially seem. So many of you have helped me over this past year and hopefully occasionally I’ve been able to do the same for some of you.

The negative of the past year of course is the agoraphobia which reared its ugly head into my life 11 months ago now. That’s my hardest struggle at the moment and to be honest I barely notice the depression and other symptoms I face – because I’m so drained and consumed by the constant terror.

I can’t say it’s been a good year because it’s been far from it. It’s been one of the most emotionally draining where I’ve felt completely defeated, but I posted this picture the day I got diagnosed – and I’ll always stand by it.

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