SMALL STEPS ARE MASSIVE

Agoraphobia is undoubtedly one of the most misunderstood anxiety disorders; with many people assuming it simply means ‘being afraid to leave the house’. However, agoraphobia can be better defined as an intense fear of being in a situation where an escape is not easy. For me, this has included using cash machines because of the length of time you’re stuck waiting for your money and can’t leave; it has included being in elevators, cars, trains, cinemas, using pedestrian crossings; not being able to stand still because of the need to keep running; being unable to cross the road because there’s too much traffic, and a million other small and complex things that would take me way too long to list; but equally impacted my life beyond belief. The result of all of these things was what left me housebound. It wasn’t that the outside world was a scary place to me, it was that my disorder had gradually dictated all the things that I couldn’t escape from and the only option I had left was to remain inside. Leaving the house for the first time isn’t the end of agoraphobia, it’s merely the start, the first step; because agoraphobia is all of those things. Agoraphobia is being too scared to cross a bridge and it’s feeling like you’re going to faint when you’re waiting in a queue. Agoraphobia is being feeling suffocated when crammed in a small room and feeling lost and vulnerable in an open space. Agoraphobia is most definitely not simply ‘being afraid to leave the house’. But by adding together each small step, things can and do get better. Because small steps are massive.

 

Guest Post by Claire – But you were Doing so Well…

Recently I’ve decided to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Claire who talks about having Bipolar Disorder and making sense of what other people may say to us when we’re unwell. Please check out her blog by clicking here.

claire

Learning to live with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder means learning to live your life quite differently. You have to get used to what triggers you, to make the most of the days where you feel well, to recognise the signs of slipping into depression, and equally raising into hypomania and for those who go there, mania.

The people around you also have a steep learning curve, and despite all their efforts, sometimes it’s really hard for them to understand that your recovery will not be straightforward.

Many of us with mental health issues have felt as though our families and friends don’t understand us, or that they don’t support us. In recent month’s I have started to realise that a lot of the time it is less that than it is near impossible for them to wrap their head around the reality that life really is a roller-coaster for us.

My reality is bipolar disorder, but I know many other illness’ have similar patterns and many people hear phrases similar to one’s I’ve heard from people. These are a fraction of phrases I’ve heard in the past few years from friends, family, and others. I’m sure everyone reading this has heard at least one of these at some point…

“But you were doing so well…”
“You’ve done this on purpose to ruin my careful diary planning”
“Just stick a smile on your face”
“When I was depressed I didn’t…”
“You look fine”
“But you’re laughing”
“Well if you can write a blog, you can work”
“I wish you would come out, just for a bit”
“but I miss you”

I could write these all day, but you get the idea!

Some people are very well-meaning with what they say, and it’s maybe just the wrong thing to say and shows it’s just hard for them to understand exactly what it’s like in your shoes. I find this a lot with family. I know they try very hard to support me, but unless you’ve lived a week in my shoes it’s impossible to know how this feels, to know how one minute everything can be fine the next I can either be in a foul mood or bouncing off of the walls and often for absolutely no reason. The psychosis must be terrifying for them, to see someone afraid of things that aren’t there.

With my sensible head on as I write this, I can understand that as a carer, someone who loves me this must be awfully scary. They must hold onto the moments where we are well so tight and then when we start to get sick again it must be devastating. As the person who is sick, we know it is going to happen, we prepare ourselves for it. But I think our loved one’s hold onto some hope that the last time was the last time.

Often some people just get plain sick of us, and that’s where the more snarky and nasty comments come in. I find these often come from people we had considered friends and it can be soul destroying to find that these people we had found a source of comfort and support are no longer there for us.

From their point of view though, it must be very difficult having friendships with people who consistently cancel plans, aren’t always happy, and I’m being honest here can be quite self-centred at times!

Before the comments get inundated with abuse I am just playing devil’s advocate here, I’m trying to see what they must see. I’ve fallen foul of friend loss because of my illness as much as the next person. I think it helps for us to step outside of ourselves sometimes and see the bigger picture, to see what other people may see.

You then also have the people who are dealing with their own problems, remember that one in four of us have a mental health issue. Not everyone can handle dealing with somebody else’s aswell as their own, or they don’t own up to having one, or won’t realise they have one.

We live with an illness that cripples us, but can be so consuming for us that sometimes we forget to see that it does affect those around us aswell. There could be a whole host of reasons why someone reacts negatively towards you and your illness. Of course, some people are just plain rude and uncaring, and in those cases we are best off without them in our lives.

But for the most part, when you through the rough patch, take a moment to think about why someone has said something hurtful to you. Did they actually mean it in the way you took it? Was it meant as a word of support, a show of love, an act of frustration because they do actually care, do they have an issue you could show them support over?

Mental Health Awareness Patch

Earlier today I came across an interesting article from the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) which you can find by clicking here.

The new scheme put into place by IBPF allows young girls across America to earn a Mental Health Awareness Patch as apart of their Girl Guides, Girl Scouts and Heritage Girls training.

128-115057_0

I myself was in the Rainbows and Brownies here in the UK – I gave up by Guides; but along with everyone else, I did earn my own fair share of badges. Examples included learning different knots, planning healthy lunches, sewing on buttons and helping to raise money for a good cause.

The aim is to help young girls learn basic and useful life skills, and from memory, everyone was willing to do the tasks because we all knew that the coolest girls had the most badges sewn to their sashes. We were all eager and determined to keep learning the things necessary to add to our collection.

3576-brownie-extra-wide-badge-sash

So wouldn’t it be great if we could now incorporate mental health into the training these young girls receieve? The IBPF lists the following aims for the new Mental Health Awareness Patch distributed across America:

  • Learn how the brain impacts mental health

  • Explore how discrimination against those with a mental health condition makes it difficult to seek help

  • Learn about many great achievers who experienced mental illness

  • Research how mental health is portrayed in the media

  • Create anti-stigma campaign activities

This training wouldn’t just enable these young girls to grow up into understanding and well-rounded women, but would also encourage them in later life to get the help they may need, with less fear and stigma attached to the idea of mental illness.

Now I am neither a child nor have a child, so my last trip to one of these clubs was quite some time ago, but do these patches exist within the UK?

I have already emailed Girlguiding UK to ask (but maybe one of you can enlighten me first), and also asked if something like this isn’t in place, where I can formally suggest it and put forward a case for how important I think an initiative like this is.

It’s fantastic to see something practical being done by the IBPF. So often I get American’s commenting on my posts jealous of some of the initiatives we have here in the UK (because these are the ones I focus on being here myself), but the USA is beating us as far as I know on this one!

#TheHeartProject

l

Any project that shreds light on mental illness and aims to help eliminate stigma is worth doing in my book – so here’s my contribution to #TheHeartProject.

I could have added a few more hearts to my wrist, but anxiety is the major issue in my life right now and so this is the one I’ll be wearing today.

Ironically, it has a strong resemblance to one of my tattoos…

3

What it looks like

It’s funny isn’t it; I’ve suffered with mental health issues since I was thirteen years old and I speak to hundreds of other people that do also, either through this blog or in daily life. But yet, my perceptions of it all are still wrong.

I don’t in any way recognise sufferers as being weak or expect any less from them, because I know how much strength it takes for me to go on sometimes; I think we’re the strongest people out there. To live with an illness that impacts life so much and to live with it every single day for the rest of our lives is remarkable. Sure, sometimes our illnesses can be cured or fade with age, but the majority of us just learn to manage.

I go about my normal day as though nothing is wrong. I go to university, I go to work, I see my friends, family and boyfriend. But it’s only when you look really carefully that you notice that I walk to these places. I ‘can’t be bothered’ to come out when everyone’s going to the cinema, or I’d rather see it when it comes out on DVD; because I have a fear of structured seating plans – they make me feel trapped. I can’t leave Leeds unless someone I know and trust drives, and so I find myself walking around the same streets day after day not seeing anything else. I miss lectures when they’re higher than the first floor of a building because that’s a problem also.

But if you see me walking down the street, you wouldn’t know anything’s wrong.

Yet, if I see someone else walking down the street, I still expect to see it. I wouldn’t judge them in any way, but I expect to notice that they’re not OK – which is utterly ridiculous. I have friends (both in the real world and virtually!) that have depression, bipolar, anxiety, schizophrenia – yet when I take it out of context of the people I know, I still have preconceived pictures of what these things look like.

Stigmatisation of mental illness needs to stop and I believe that more than anyone, but my question is – how do we accomplish this with people that don’t understand, if even those of us that do understand still don’t really get it?

There are so many illnesses out there, both physical and mental, that we couldn’t possibly begin to understand them all in a realistic and empathetic way. So how do we not momentarily judge someone in the street because of something they’ve just done/said? We might feel bad about it afterwards, but we still judge in the first place, no matter how much we try not to. It’s human nature.

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.

nknk

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

#MHAW2015 Let’s talk Mindfulness: Part 2

So today is all about the origins of Mindfulness. To understand the practice as a whole, it makes sense to start from the beginning and know where it came from.

If you have anything to add which you feel may be useful to other readers, please comment below because the idea of these posts really is to be as helpful as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the act of meditation and paying attention to the present moment originates from Buddhism. We’ve all seen the traditional image of a Buddha sat crossed legged looking peaceful and relaxed as he meditates. How nice it must be to be able to just sit and have the ability to block out all distractions from daily life, eh? And from Buddhism, Mindfulness was born in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill – and later the mentally ill, as well improving the lives of the healthy.

You do not however, have to be Buddhist to follow Mindfulness. The practice may be based on it, but it’s been adapted over the years to have a positive affect on anybody. Buddhism does however have some fantastic points worth sharing that we could all apply to our everyday lives.

buddhaBuddhism follows something called the Eightfold Path; which I personally think would be entirely beneficial to live by. It consists of eight rules or guidelines, all of which I’ve summarised briefly below for you to have a read through.

Right View –

The belief that nothing is permanent and we are all in a constant state of change

Right Intention –
The idea that we should let of what we have identified to cause us suffering

Right Speech – 
Practising honest and kind speech

Right Action –
Refraining from aggressive physical actions to oneself or others

Right Livelihood – 
Refraining from dishonest or immoral forms of work

Right Effort – 
Cultivating an interest that is wholesome, on a physical, emotional and spiritual level

Right Remembering –
Not clinging onto ones own emotions and material objects – Living in the moment

Right Belief –
Bringing all of the above into your daily experience

buddha-in-the-moment

It’s not as easy as it sounds though, right? It takes a lot of skill and practice to achieve all eight of these properly. We all get frustrated with our everyday lives and find it difficult to comprehend that things can change for the better, we hold on to ideas or people that do us harm, and we physically and emotionally abuse ourselves for being the way we are.

Because that’s what we’re programmed to do. But as Buddhism teaches us, things can change, so why can’t we?

For the next 24 hours, try to live by the Eight Fold Path. Every time you feel helpless or stressed, realise that things won’t always be this way. Live for the moment, be kind to yourself and others, and if there’s anything in your life you have identified as damaging to yourself – remove it.

I will be exploring the idea of Mindfulness for the rest of this week, so please check out my future and previous posts on the subject, and don’t be afraid to comment on here or email me if you would like further information.

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

I hope you found this useful, and I’ll be back tomorrow with Who should use Mindfulness,

love lauren x

donate

Stigma of mental illness

Mental illness and the issues surrounding it have been in the news a lot recently following the Germanwings plane crash. I’m not going to focus on it too much, but I think it’s worth reading this article by The Guardian – one individual, isolated, unpredictable and tragic event does not mean the world’s opinion on mental illness should change; and unfortunately some of the comments following recent articles about the incident would suggest it has.

Anybody that has been deemed fit to work should be able to do so no matter their illness, disability – or whatever else. Don’t quote this statistic because it’s entirely made up, but I’m guessing at least 99.999999999% of people with a history of mental illness don’t mass murder. If not more.

Every single day I get comments on my posts and numerous emails from people explaining their illnesses and asking for advice, coping mechanisms or just a general chat because let’s face it – living with this crap inside our heads is almost impossible. I have spoken to hundreds of people who suffer with some form of mental health problem – depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety, PTSD, BPD, OCD… and they all have as much of a right to be ‘normal’ as the next person. They all have as much of a right to work.

And yes, not every job has as much responsibility over so many people as does the job of a pilot, but realistically in every walk of life somebody who is deemed mentally ill (or not, in fact!) could end your life. All we can do is hope that we’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s no doubt a massive tragedy, and my thoughts go out to every single victim on and off that plane (and yes, this includes Lubitz’s family who must be mortified and inconsolable by learning the truth of what happened mid-grief) – but we’ve come to far and evolved too much to go back to thinking that the mentally ill are dangerous and unsuitable for work.

We’ve come too far to listen to idiotic, insensitive and downright wrong comments such as this one from Katie Hopkins yesterday; who as per usual is still purposely trying to gage a reaction to hold onto her ever-so fragile career.

10995600_10205131243814575_2609399209546111412_n

Stigma is not OK.

1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health illness. By my calculations of what Google deems the world population to be – that’s one billion, seven hundred and fifty million people who suffer around the world. One isolated case should not be enough to change your opinion.

lovelauren