Every Decision to Try is an Accomplishment

Hi everyone, welcome to a shiny new post from Howay Man Get Happy! Let me catch you up with where I am right now. I admittedly haven’t been in a good place recently, and I have been having a lot of negative thoughts and my self-esteem has been virtually non-existent. Despite this being a difficult time for me I finally feel like I’ve got the boot up the arse I needed to sort my life out. Although it’s completely okay to feel bad every now and again, I feel like I had got into some very unhealthy habits of staying in bed all day, cutting myself off from all of my friends, drinking to excess, and essentially allowing a mental illness to take over my life. There is one important truth you have to know about mental illness and that is: when it comes to recovery, ultimately it’s up to you. It’s kind of like being cornered in the playground by a school bully, and you’ve got two options. One: you can choose to go full throttle; fly-kicking* and clawing your way to wellness – despite the fact that you might get a few knocks along the way. Or, two: you can choose to cower in the corner and let them beat you down into a sort of human paper maché. I have decided I’ve been in paper maché-mode for too long now, slopping about and feeling sorry for myself, and now it is time for me to get better.

Over the past week I’ve been trying to change my life in ways that will promote mental wellness so in this post I’ve decided to list the six different things I am trying to do to get well. I would like to add that on top of this list I am still taking my meds and pursuing over-the-phone counseling sessions but I thought it might be helpful to share these things with you guys as I believe everyone could benefit from these activities to promote their own mental wellbeing.

  1. Unplug

The first thing I did was unplug. I have decided to limit my time on social media so I got rid of all social media apps on my phone to make it more effort for me to access these sites. I tried deactivating Facebook but it wasn’t feasible because I do a lot of my work for various charities and keep in touch with potential collaborators through that medium. I also am limiting my time on Netflix as I find I use it as a form of escapism and whilst this is not a bad thing in itself it was distracting me from doing things that would be a more productive use of my time. I try to only watch TV when I’m with someone like my partner or a friend – that way it becomes a more social activity and stops the urge to binge-watch!

  1. No More Naps

This was a hard one – it’s no secret that depression drains you of all energy, and I have gotten a little too used to going to bed in the middle of the afternoon of late. Whilst you may feel tired, sleeping too much is only going to make you worse. I also found when I napped I was often left feeling groggy, drained and unhappy. Sleeping too much can be a symptom of depression, and around 80% of people with diagnosed depression have sleep problems of some kind. So sorting out that sleeping pattern is a must!

  1. Get Active

Now for anyone that knows me, it is no secret that I am the least sporty person on this earth. But for me this really works – a couple of years ago I joined a gym for my mental wellbeing and it was great but I ended up cancelling my subscription to save a bit of money. However, the gym may be expensive but it is just one of the many ways to get fit. I have decided to walk more instead of getting the bus and I go for runs around the block (although they are pathetically short at the moment because I’m still really unfit but at least I’m giving it a go!) I have also got a hold of a cheesy old work-out DVD which is actually a lot of fun to do and I’ve even managed to rope my partner into doing it with me once which resulted in a lot of laughs which was also a great mood boost. I’d totally recommend doing this with a friend if you don’t mind them seeing you getting a sweat on.

  1. Get Creative

When I was younger I used to quite enjoy painting and to be honest it was something I never really pursued after finishing my Art GCSE. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing Mam who is simultaneously a brilliant artist who kindly let me pinch all of
her acrylic paints. I’m not the best painter in the world but it is good to have a creative outlet for my feelings and generally just a great way to take my mind off anything that might be causing me stress. Maybe in that way being a shit artist is a blessing because I have to concentrate so hard on staying in the linIMG_3507.JPGes that there is no time to dwell on negative thoughts! I have also started making wool pom-poms, which is a great way to keep my hands busy. What I’m really loving about getting creative is that everything I do is my own unique creation, made from my own designs. When I finish a piece, whether its taken me two hours or two days, I get a great sense of accomplishment and that really helps with my self-esteem. I will also be endeavouring to do a lot more writing on my blog so keep your eyes peeled!

  1. Dry Up

I have decided to try and kick the booze, at least for a little while. Whenever I go out for a drink I always end up drinking far too much, especially if I’m not very mentally healthy at the time. After some serious self-reflection I realize I sometimes use alcohol as form of escapism and yet wake up in the morning feeling more depressed than I was the day before. The bottom line is that alcohol is a depressant and using it to make yourself feel happier is not only foolish but could also end up with serious consequences. Not to mention it’s bad for your physical health too and in most cases (certainly in mine) it turns you into a complete knob-head.

  1. Stay in Touch

Communication and connection with other people is a fundamental human need. I have been trying to keep in touch more with people who I find are a positive influence on me. I have been setting aside more time to spend with my partner, and I have been seeing a lot more of my parents and grandparents which I find really helps me with my mood. I am also doing a lot more volunteer work, which gets me out talking to people, and also gives me a greater sense of self-worth. I have lots of exciting new projects coming up so watch this space!

I hope you found this post helpful and maybe through reading this you’ve managed to identify some unhealthy habits in your own life that you’d like to change for the better. I’m not sure how long these changes will last for me, but by making this list I am being mindful of the things in my life that are may be distracting from my recovery and that in itself is an important step. Finally I’d like to say as a bit of advice to both myself, and my readers, let’s stop beating ourselves up about every little thing we do wrong. Yes we might drink a lot, or we might be crap at staying in touch with our friends or maybe we even forgot to feed our pet fish the other day (sorry Nicholi!) but we are all human and we are going to make mistakes. Just because we may fall into unhealthy habits or if we don’t handle things as well as other people do, that doesn’t mean we are bad people. There are no good people and bad people in the world – ultimately everyone makes mistakes and it is whether or not you decide to try to do better, get better and be better that makes all the difference. There is a common phrase often seen written over some scenic mountains, shared on a middle-aged woman’s Facebook page (usually called Susan), that says “every accomplishment begins with the decision to try”. And whilst may be true for many people I’d like to amend the quote slightly and say instead: “Every Decision to Try is an Accomplishment”. So keep on fighting!

*DISCLAIMER – Please do not try fly-kicking your enemies. Kids – if you are being bullied tell a grown-up.

Wishing you all good mental health!

A

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Time To Change: Speaking Out Training

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Howay Man Get Happy. I wanted to share with you all the excellent Speaking Out training course that I attended last week, facilitated by the Time To Change Campaign. If you haven’t heard of Time To Change before, it is a nation-wide social movement to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people suffering from mental health problems. Time To Change is a cause very close to my heart and I would even go as far to say that it has played a part in my recovery. You can check out their website for more information here: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk.

As I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I work voluntarily as a Time To Change Champion. A Champion is a volunteer at Time To Change with some kind of personal experience with mental health issues and who is passionate about challenging stigma and discrimination in their community. As well as lots of exciting volunteering opportunities, Time to Change also offers Champions various training courses to help you become a better advocate for mental health awareness. This Speaking Out training was centered around how to give public speeches on Mental Health by drawing on your own personal experiences. This training was given by Angela Slater, Time To Change Community Equalities Coordinator for the North East and Yorkshire; and Steve O’Driscoll, who works as a freelance public speaker for Mental Health Awareness and regularly delivers talks and training sessions at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities. I have had the absolute pleasure of knowing both Angela and Steve for a few years now and always find their conversations about Mental Health honest and inspiring.

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The course was taught over one five and a half hour period, and began with the setting of the all-important ground rules. These included confidentiality, equality, respect, safe disclosure and being mindful of possible triggers for other people on the course. This set up a safe-space in which we could all feel comfortable in learning how best to speak about our own experiences in front of a large group of people and certainly in my case, put any anxieties I had about speaking publicly at ease.

Throughout the course we were taught how to prepare for a public speaking event. We were told to think about who our audience was, whether it was a public or private event and what we would feel comfortable sharing at the time – baring in mind this could change depending on our own personal circumstances. It is so important to feel safe when disclosing personal information about your own mental health journey – remember you don’t always have to tell your whole story to get your point across! We were also taught how to keep our speeches focused. We were asked to come up with one clear and concise message we wanted to get across in our public speech and to formulate a clear introduction and conclusion to our speech. This really helped us to keep our rambling at bay – something my regular readers will know this I am prone to do!

By the end of the course the goal was for each of us to have prepared a short three-minute talk on a subject of our choice and if we felt comfortable we had the opportunity to present it to the training group. I chose to give my talk on the importance of speaking to young people about mental health – an idea, which I whole-heartedly believe, will contribute to a more mentally healthy society. I am hoping to convert this into a blog post soon!

I am delighted to say that the Speaking Out training course was a roaring success and every single one of the twelve trainees gave a compelling and rousing speech to the rest of the group at the end of the session – despite many people’s anxieties of never having spoken publicly before. This course was a unique and inspiring experience and I would 100% recommend you to give it a go yourself. Steve O’Driscoll mentioned at the start of the course how speaking out can even support recovery – giving us examples from his own battle with mental illness – and I have to say I couldn’t agree more! There is nothing more liberating than taking a difficult time in your life and using it to help and inspire others to look after their own mental health. In a way it is like claiming back that time in your life where things weren’t going well for you and using it to push forward and say “yes this happened to me, and yes it wasn’t pleasant, but I am going to use that time from my life to help myself and hopefully others to achieve mental wellness.”

If you’d like to get invited to similar training opportunities and volunteering events you can sign up to be a Champion at http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/time-change-champions/register-champion. You can get involved as much or as little as you want. I would totally recommend registering if you want to hear about all of the exciting things that are happening in your area and you too can be a part of the plight to end mental health stigma and discrimination for good.

 

Wishing you all good mental health!

A

A Step In The Right Direction

Hello readers and welcome to the latest installment of my disjointed ramblings on mental health! I realise I haven’t written a blog entry in a few weeks and there are some very deliberate reasons behind this.

One of the most common and unpleasant symptoms of depression is the loss of all hope. It is hard to see a way out of the darkness, and you begin to feel ensnared in your own thoughts and often all prospects of recovery become synonymous with the impossible. Over the last month or so I regret to admit that this is exactly how I have been feeling. I am not sure why this decline in my mental health has occurred – I often wonder if it is this time of year’s disdainful promise of new beginnings and better circumstances. Or perhaps it is just the lack of sunlight. For whatever the reason, I decided I would wait until I had gained some perspective on my current feelings and mental wellbeing before writing a new blog post. When I first made this blog, I was determined that it would carry with it a hopeful message, and whilst negative thoughts and feelings are just as valid as their counterparts I wanted to save this space for a place of support and positivity – not just for my readers but for myself.

I have since gained some clarity on these last few weeks and although I have not been well, I have made some significant steps toward recovery and after allowing time to go by I can now recognize these important steps, and no longer ruminate on the bad things and catastrophize my situation. Catastrophization is a very useful term I have learnt in therapy, meaning to view a situation as considerably worse than it is. Many sufferers of depression and anxiety will be able to relate to this – it is one of the reasons we lose hope.

A couple of weeks ago I managed to hand in my first essay at University for almost an entire year. As hand-ins are often a regular occurrence in students’ lives, many of you may not consider this to be much of an accomplishment – but for me it was huge. Only seven months ago I could not open an essay on my laptop without being consumed by panic. I was unable to walk past the library, let alone go inside. I couldn’t even think about university without breaking down. Seven months ago I had pretty much came to the conclusion that I was never going to be able to write an essay again– the prospect of overcoming these panic attacks and anxiety that had became an immovable obstacle in my life seemed completely unattainable. I was scared I wouldn’t complete my degree and even more scared that I would never get better.

And yet here I am – one essay down, two to go. Although there is still a lot of hard work ahead of me in my road to recovery I can take comfort in this small yet significant victory. The bottom line is that there was something that my illness had told me I couldn’t do – and I held up two fingers and did it anyway! The thing is – depression lies. My mental illness tells me to think negatively, that I am worthless and will never achieve anything I set out to do and yet this one small step is proof that this is simply not true.

Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. After handing in my essay things did not change. I still get regular panic attacks and have destructive thoughts – I’ve even had to call in sick at work a few times due to my mental health – something I have never had to do before. It is easy for me to focus on all of these negative set backs and convince myself that I am not getting better at all – that possibly I will never get better. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation please know this is NOT the case. After a lot of contemplation I have came to realize that the road to recovery is not linear – we are not always going to be travelling in one direction. So I will continue to ride the constant ebb and flow of recovery, possibly for the rest of my life. But with each small victory I add another tool to my toolbox of mental wellness.

Wishing you all good mental health!

A

I’m Not Okay, and That’s Okay – The Five Reasons I Lie.

I know that I promised this blog post would be about my journey to recovery, but after receiving a text from a close friend, I needed to take some time to reflect – and what better way to do that than letting my feelings splurge out from the ends of my fingertips onto the screen before me in that half-nonsensical-rambling-maniac way they so often do. The text in question was not offensive, infuriating or malicious in any way. In fact it is a text I receive a lot from the people that love me. It is a text that someone in my position longs for, and yet simultaneously dreads. Simply, it read ‘How are you?’

As I send my response (some variation of ‘I’m fine’, ‘not bad’ or ‘I’m okay how are you?’) I find myself brooding over why I always say I am okay, when I’m not okay. So I decided to explore the reasons why I lie when people reach out to me with genuine concern. As a disclaimer, I just want to say – the reason I am writing this is to firstly come to terms with why I have formed this habit in the hope of breaking it and becoming more honest and open with people when I am having a bad day. Also, I’d like to give people an insight into how difficult it can be for someone suffering from a mental illness to just come out and say how they are feeling. Finally, I’d like this post to reach out to those who can relate to this situation – hopefully we can work through this together and come out of the other side saying: “I’m not okay, and that’s okay”.

 

Upon rigorous reflection I have concluded there are five main factors that lead me to hide my feelings from even the closest of friends. The list is as follows:

Firstly, I don’t want to be a burden. Nobody wants to be branded as a Negative Nancy who brings everyone down all of the time by talking about their problems. I want people to see me as a fun person that they want to be with rather than a pessimistic bore. I fear that by opening up to people I will make them worry about me, and that this will make them unhappy. Nobody wants to see their friend or partner or child suffer – so sometimes I bury my feelings deep, to be dug up at a more convenient time. Ultimately, I just don’t want to be that anvil in the cartoon that you see hurtling towards you with that comical whistle that you know will inevitably crush us both into the earth.

Secondly, I’m a very insecure person. My depression makes me see a very obscured vision of myself and this can be destructive to my self-esteem. I often feel such an unadulterated hatred towards myself that it obstructs my view of the compassion others show towards me. I begin to think everyone sees me in this way. I begin to think that people don’t really care how I am and that they are simply just asking to keep up with British social niceties. Of course, when I am in a better frame of mind I can see how much my friends and family care about me and I’m extremely grateful to the help and support they give me but unfortunately when I am not well this can become veiled by my own insecurities.

Thirdly, I’m a perfectionist. This is a word that has come up a lot throughout my life in meetings with various psychiatrists, therapists and mental health professionals I have seen over the years. Because of the insecurities I often struggle to present to the world the best possible version of myself I can – and funnily enough this does not include the portrait of a girl who has panic attacks in public and an ugly crying face. I think this perfectionism is a trait that thrives in this age of living life through social media accounts – by default we are programmed to deliberate obsessively over the image of ourselves we choose to show to the world. I also constantly compare myself to others and beat myself up about the fact that I am not handling things as well as I perceive others to be. When I think like this I start to see my depression and anxiety as something that makes me worthless and inferior – and I try my best to hide this.

The fourth reason is that I want to be the one to help! That’s right, it’s that trivial. I just want my friends and family to feel like they can come to me when they are down, and that they have someone to confide in without being a burden to (ironic, I know). I want to be doing things for other people and trying to make them feel better about themselves – and how exactly can I do this if I admit my life feels like the emotional equivalent of standing on a slug barefooted?

Yep, you all saw this last one coming a mile off – the final reason I say I’m okay when I’m not is because of STIGMA. Despite how hard my fellow campaigners at Time To Change and I are trying – there is still a huge sense of shame that comes with admitting that you are not okay mentally. Despite my best efforts to be more open about my mental health, the stigma that surrounds it is still a huge obstacle that I have yet to hurdle over.

So there you have it – the five reasons I lie. I hope some of you have found this useful or that it has at least helped you to gain an insight into my perspective. The final thing I want to leave this post with is some positive advice. Despite all of the insecurities I have outlined in this piece I urge you all to keep on sending those texts! Keep calling your loved ones to check they are okay, and keep on asking if they want to come round for that brew. Although people are not always guaranteed to open up to you about their problems, one thing I can guarantee is that the more you offer your support the more that person will see they are loved, cared for and they are not alone. The more you keep gently offering support and showing concern for their wellbeing the more comfortable they will feel to open up when they are ready to do so. Sometimes asking someone how they are is not just about finding out exactly what is going on in their head but it is more about letting them know that you are there for them, you care and you are not going anywhere.

Wishing you all good mental health!

A

Howay man, get happy!

Hello everyone and welcome to my brand new blog: Howay Man Get Happy!

Happiness is a rather abstract term, it is difficult for me to pin down exactly what it means. For many people happiness is circumstantial, it is determined by having close friends and a family that loves you, being successful and in a good financial situation – I think we can all agree that these are things that most of us desire in life. However, I find myself at a point where I have amazing and supportive friends, a family that loves me, an incredible partner who is simultaneously my best friend, I have enough money for luxuries and a roof over my head and yet I am still not ‘happy’. As you can imagine this can be frustrating to say the least, and at times it takes all of my willpower not to throw myself down on the floor, like a bratty child in Asda who has just been denied sweets by a health-conscious parent, and shout “IT’S NOT FAIR, IT’S NOT FAIR!” So in this respect the title of my blog ‘Howay Man Get Happy’ is meant ironically – because for some people it’s just not that simple. Now I have come to a time in life where I understand my illness better: like it or not it is a part of me. I accept that it is there and that’s okay – but I will not let it control me or define who I am.

I have been mulling over the idea of starting a blog about my experiences with mental health for a few years now and I thought it was about time I bite the bullet and begin writing. I have suffered from a depressive disorder since childhood, to put it simply that means sometimes I get sad for no reason and I often suffer from long episodes of depression where I find it difficult to be happy. I believe there is a chemical imbalance in my brain that makes it difficult for me to feel happiness. I am sensitive and some things affect me emotionally more than they might affect other people. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t be happy. I am a cheerful person in my natural state and on my good days I am a complete optimist – although this can sometimes be clouded by my illness. Earlier this year I found my mental health deteriorating once again, which I admit has been pretty scary, and with the introduction to my new friends Mr. Panic Attack and Mrs. Generalised Anxiety the road to recovery has been as difficult as ever. I am hoping that through writing this blog I will be able to connect more with my own emotions and share the ups and downs of my quest to mental wellness. I am going to try and be as frank and honest about my experiences as I can be, so things might get a bit gritty at times but I’d love for you all to stick around for the ride.

My illness comes with no physical symptoms – I have no disfigured limbs, no facial swelling, no overbearing putrid odor – so people don’t always notice when I am not well. This is perhaps one of the reasons mental health problems are often swept under the rug. The shame and stigma attached to mental health can be detrimental to the recovery of individuals and destructive in our society. 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem every year and yet the majority of us know nothing about it. It is not taught in schools, it is not regularly monitored in young people and it is not talked about openly among friends and colleagues. The more we talk about mental health, the less we will regard it as a taboo subject and the less scary it will seem. The more we talk the more people will feel comfortable seeking help for their problems at earlier stages. The more we talk the more we will prevent mental illnesses from escalating to become a major risk to people’s mental and physical wellbeing. So that is the other main reason for me starting this blog – I want to be one of the many people who are starting conversations about mental health, breaking down the taboos and smashing the stigma to smithereens.

Wishing you all good mental health!

A