Falling Through The Gap

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I’ve lived with mental illness for more than half my life. Even so, it’s only been in the past few years where I’ve felt able to talk openly about bipolar, psychosis and bulimia.

It’s everyones responsibility to help people like me find their voice. We shouldn’t have to feel brave for speaking up, we must simply feel able to, without fear of judgement.

Through my blog, I’ve hoped to be a small part of that change. To create a safe place where the difficult, often uncomfortable conversations can be had. Speaking about my experiences of psychosis has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, but in the end one of the most rewarding and freeing.

Even though I’m open and encourage others to be, there is a big problem. There’s a lack of support from mental health services. So many people are tirelessly working towards greater understanding of mental illnesses. We are doing our job, but the services are just not available. The government aren’t doing their job in making sure everyone that needs a hospital bed can get one. That everyone who needs therapy can receive it when they need it. Services are reactionary; people fall into crisis before they can get help. People who are suicidal are being turned away.

I’m immensely lucky to have a partner, family and friends who support me unconditionally. My partner and parents have been there when services have let me down. I talk about one such experience I had with mental health crisis care Without them, I would have fallen through the gap in services and with no safety net would’ve been in a desperate situation. There are people out there that don’t have that safety net. They don’t have a support network like I do. This is where services should come in, but at the moment they don’t.

It feels pretty hopeless right now, but there are things you can do. Write to your local MP about your concerns. Support or get involved with charities such as MIND that are trying hard to push through new and updated legislation. When the time comes, vote in the local and general elections, for a party that will support the NHS and mental health services in particular.

Is Mental Illness Your BFF?

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Mental illness can overwhelm us at times. It can dictate our decisions, affect our relationships and stop us from doing the things we enjoy. Sometimes mental illness becomes more than just an illness, it becomes our life. Or to put it another way, our best friend.

It’s an obsession we don’t want. An obsession with our own self loathing. Depression makes you fixate on the worst aspects of yourself. Its like you’re laying in bed at night trying to get to sleep and you find yourself revisiting everything you’ve done that day. Depression does this to me constantly except, it recounts every single thing I have ever done wrong, every embarrassing situation I’ve found myself in. I’ll find myself sitting blankly as these thoughts intrude into my life, scuppering my plans as they paralyse me with fear and sadness.

The obsession continues. The self hate urges me to dredge up all the worst aspects of my personality and fixate on them. That I have a temper, that I take out on authority figures and family. That I can be quiet and intense, which alienates strangers and new people in my life. That I can never finish anything I start, which in turn fulfils the self fulfilling prophecy that I’m a failure. Then my only thoughts are negative;

“I’m worthless”  

“I’m pathetic.”

“I’m a nobody.”

It’s weird how mental illness distorts are thinking, how it morphs into something that becomes so central to our lives. It becomes our friend. A constant companion that we take with us everywhere we go. It comes along to parties, family events, school or work. It’s not silent either; it whispers in our ears and tells us we’re not loved, we’re not capable. It wants to be our best friend, our only friend.

The problem when mental illness is your BFF is how much control it has over us. It will distract us from what we want to do. It will distance us from our family and friends. It wants us to be alone, that’s its goal. So now all we have is them, the illness. It can completely take over our life if we allow it.

It’s important to recognise when this is happening. I talk about mental illness, a lot. I do so because I want to be open about it, and make subjects like psychosis no longer a taboo thing to talk about. When I talk about how I’m feeling in a negative, inward looking way, I need to think about my actions. Am I overthinking, becoming paranoid and fixating on how I’m feeling? Is this encouraging my mental illness to become more central in my life? When this happens I have to stop myself and gain some self awareness.

No-one really wants to be mentally ill. We want to be healthy and stable, but sometimes our mental illness plays tricks on us. It makes us believe we’re deserving of it, and this feeds our relationship with it. We’re all worthy of a best friend. A real one, that supports and encourages us, and one that can tell us we’re loved when mental illness is telling us the opposite.

 

What Does ‘Recovery’ Mean?

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The word recovery means very different things to different people. The word is problematic and can ultimately be damaging. When people talk about recovery it marginalises those that can’t.

Some people use the word to describe the process and not an actual milestone. Some see it as having a positive outlook, that they see as a form of recovery. Others actually mean being in a stable place and free from mental illness. ‘Clinical recovery’ is a term many mental health professionals use to describe someone who no longer presents symptoms of their mental illness. I think many people think of this when we hear the word recovery and this is my main problem with it.

I prefer to say manage rather than recover.

Managing to me signals acceptance. That the person has come to the point where they’re no longer in denial. They’re now willing to find a way to manage the condition they’re faced with. This isn’t a phenomenon categorised just for mental illness, but for many physical health problems. Managing diabetes and other long term illnesses comes with similar challenges.

Ultimately it’s about building something new for myself. 

I can’t go back to who I was before. I don’t recognise that person. For a start, she was a young teenager and without mental illness and its impact I would be an entirely different person. Would I even want to be that person? I have no idea.

If you’re not seen as moving forward, you end up feeling like a failure. There is so much pressure to be better, to be able to work and socialise, to be a productive member of society. The impetus is put on recovery above helping those that it isn’t feasible for. It’s this unattainable goal that is set for us that so many with severe and enduring mental illness will fail at. Why isn’t there more support for those that need and want to manage a mental illness?  There’s this idea that we can recover if only we tried hard enough. For some of us it’s an impossibly high standard to measure up to.

I’m not here to be an inspiration. I’m not someone that’s going to miraculously be better and totally stable for the rest of my life. It’s not realistic. I can’t pretend that everything is going to be ok. I can’t pretend to be in some form of recovery, because I’m not, and I don’t think I ever will be. I’m managing bipolar and psychosis and it will also be a part of who I am.  I don’t intend to recover from bipolar and psychosis, because it’s just not an option. This is an illness that I will have for life. It’s severe and chronic and I’ve had to accept that. It’s part of my life. I can be miserable and hate the fact, or I can learn about it, start to understand it and find ways to manage it.

 

A Life Lived Vividly Series – Psychotic Doesn’t Equal Dangerous

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Evil

Nasty

Freak

Bitch

Jealous

Dangerous

These are all words that people relate to psychosis. We all need to stop using it as a derogatory term. So often I hear people described as psychotic when they’re being cruel, or acting unpredictably. Recently I saw someone on twitter describing an ex as a ‘psychotic nazi.’ Politicians, especially a certain orange American one are constantly being described as psychotic. It’s lazy and ignorant to use a mental illness to negatively describe someone.

Psychosis is a mental health condition that makes you feel;

Scared

Confused

Vulnerable

Alone

I have psychosis. I hear things that aren’t really there. I’m a danger to myself when I hear voices. Those living with hallucinations and delusions are some of the most vulnerable in society. Feeling detached from reality and not being sure what you’re seeing or hearing is real can be terrifying.

Once I’d just turned the lights off and got into bed. Out of nowhere, I heard a voice, as if someone was speaking right into my ear. The voice whispered in a slow, assured tone,

“I see you.” I sat straight up in bed, my heart thudding in my chest. I couldn’t move, I felt paralysed with fear. I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. I couldn’t calm down and kept hearing that voice whisper in my ear. Even now when someone says that phrase I’m transported back to that night and I feel deeply uncomfortable.

People with psychosis are far more likely to hurt themselves than others. According to Time To Change   

‘Over a third of the public think people with a mental health problem are likely to be violent.’

Psychosis doesn’t make you a ‘psycho’. It doesn’t make you a freak. It doesn’t mean you’re scary. It doesn’t mean you’re dangerous.

How do you think it makes those feel that have psychosis to keep hearing the word used to describe murderers and violent criminals? Hearing it in tag lines for horror films and descriptions for Halloween costumes? It hurts. It makes a tiny piece of you feel that maybe you’re actually evil and dangerous, because you’ve heard it so many times.

I’m in a place now where I understand my condition, and I’m learning to manage it. It wasn’t always this way and for me and many others like me I was terrified of opening up about my experiences for years.

Too many people mix up the meaning of psychosis with other disorders. They use the term psychopath to describe those with psychosis. They aren’t the same thing. Psychosis means a person will hear, see or feel things that aren’t really there, or a combination of these. It doesn’t mean you’re going to go hurt anyone.

We’re ill not dangerous. We deserve compassion, understanding and to be listened to without judgement. Please think about the language you use and how harmful it can be. Your words can cause more harm than you realise. They could cause someone to remain silent and not look for help that they desperately need.

The Problem With “I’m Fine!” When Really We’re Not

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We all do it. We say this even when we’re not ok. Someone casually asks,

“Hey, how are you?” and we say,

“I’m fine!” and that’s it.

Why do we do this?

To be polite. We don’t want to make the other person feel awkward or embarrassed. Sometimes it’s something people ask how you are as an ice breaker, to get a conversation moving. We believe they aren’t really expecting a detailed response, because they have an ulterior motive for talking to us.

It’s a knee jerk reaction. We say it without even thinking. We’ve said it hundreds of times before and now it’s become second nature. Even if we want to say no, I’m not fine, we’ve said it already and feel like we can’t backtrack.

We feel rushed. Life often feels like it’s rushing by, and our days feel full to the brim. It’s the same with our conversations. Everyone is in such a hurry to get to their point, to say what needs to be said, they don’t stop and take time to really talk. But most importantly, we don’t always feel like we will be listened to.

We’re conditioned to say it. Everyone reacts the same way to the same question. It’s almost seen as improper to reply in any other way. We’ve grown up hearing it. Our parents said it as we were growing up. Our friends say it. Our colleagues say it. We overhear it in public. Because we’ve heard it again and again, by so many different people, there seems like there’s no other reply to make.

All of these reasons are there for one reason only. The F word; Fear

We fear what someone will think if we’re honest. We’re worried about the reaction we’ll get. The stigma attached to feeling unwell mentally means we hide our true feelings. We’re scared that the person who asked the question will not take us seriously, will judge us, will think we’re weak, or simply not care. In that split second these thoughts circle our minds and we answer how we always do.

I don’t want people to feel guilty for saying “I’m fine.” I don’t want mentally unwell people to feel the weight of having to change their behaviour. It’s up to both sides to change the course of the conversation.

Asking how someone is isn’t a simple question. No one is just ‘fine.’ So we shouldn’t expect that answer and should answer that question honestly and openly. I’ve spoken on the blog about self honesty before, which is part of what we need to do to be honest with others.

“Actually I’m not ok.”

“Honestly I’m struggling at the moment.”

“Life’s tough right now.”

When you’re asking how someone is, really mean it. Sit down with them, over a drink or a meal so they feel that you’re present in the conversation. Build up to it. Don’t just blurt out “How are you?” If you’ve noticed a change in them recently start with that.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been quieter recently”

“I’ve been a bit worried about you”

“I thought it would be good to have a catch up.”

Time To Change are running a simple yet powerful campaign encouraging people to ask twice. Asking someone how they are and if they respond with they’re ok, ask them again. It shows you actually want to have a meaningful conversation with them. You’re not rushing them, you’re not waiting for your turn to speak.

Have that conversation, be honest and frank about how you’re feeling. For both sides it will make a difference.

 

 

 

 

The Difference Between Being ‘A Bit Sad’ And Depression

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“I’m a bit sad”

“Fed up”

“In a mood”

“Can’t be bothered”

“Feeling sorry for myself”

These statements often lead to someone exclaiming, “I’m so depressed!”

There’s a massive difference between feeling fed up and being clinically depressed. It’s damaging to say you’re depressed, whether jokingly or through a lack of understanding.

For most the number one symptom of depression is tiredness. I mean the kind of tiredness that is always hanging over you, no matter how much sleep you’ve had the night before. All you want to do constantly is curl up in bed and sleep. You might suffer from insomnia on top of this.

Because we feel hopeless and no longer care during depression, we have trouble making decisions. We’ll have concentration problems and be forgetful.

Depression means zero motivation, for weeks or months on end. It doesn’t mean you couldn’t be bothered to get up on Monday morning. It’s not just having an ‘off’ day. Every ounce of motivation you once had disappears. You’ll hardly be able to get out of bed, cook a meal or look after your home. Going to  work feels you with dread and feels like an insurmountable task.

Depression can leave you feeling constantly hungry or the complete opposite; a total lack of interest in food. It can leave you with digestive problems that you’ve never suffered with before.

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Everything in life will feel like an effort, even things you usually enjoy. I don’t mean not be able to find anything good to watch on Netflix, but that all your passions and hobbies leave you feeling numb inside.

You’ll find yourself losing your temper over the most trivial of things. People will find it hard to be around you and you’ll feel guilty as to how short tempered you’ve become. You’ll snap at people and react differently to situations very differently to how you used to.

You’ll find yourself isolating yourself from your family and friends. The very idea of socialising can make you feel sick with worry. You’ll avoid messages and phone calls and make excuses not to go out.

It’s not feeling sorry for yourself. It’s feeling utterly hopeless and helpless. It’s feeling so desperate you may think about ending your own life.

Please don’t say “I’m depressed” when really you’re just having a rough day. Please don’t say “I’m just a bit sad” when really, you know you’re depressed. Most of all please don’t use the phrase we all use far too much, “I’m fine”. Don’t say you’re fine when you’re crumbling inside. Please be honest and ask for help.

If you think you may be depressed, share your feelings with the people closest to you and see your doctor.

 

 

Mental Illness has Made Me a Stronger Person

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It’s a bold statement and not everyone will agree with it but for me, it’s true. I wouldn’t have dealt with as much adversity if I didn’t have bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t have had to fight my way through difficult times. Still being here after so many years of struggling, is my biggest achievement. One statement I don’t agree with is being labelled as ‘brave’ because I live with mental illness. The idea that I’m stronger despite it I see as a positive and an affirmation that I’m not weak.

I’ve lived with mental illness since I was 14. I’ve had mental illness for longer than I’ve lived without it. It was my Dad that first told me how strong I was. I’d passed all my GCSE’s even though I’d missed six months of school. I had been severely depressed for months. I couldn’t concentrate, I hated myself and had no motivation. I hadn’t understood why I was living and didn’t want to exist any longer. I’d worked so hard to catch up and was determined to pass my GCSE’S. I’d never felt so proud when I got my results. I remember my Dad telling me,

“Katie, you don’t realise how strong you are. To have achieved what you have despite how ill you’ve been is incredible.” He was right, and that statement has stayed with me.

Dealing with stigma and discrimination has made me more thick skinned. I’m not easily ruffled by snide comments or abusive rants directed at me. I can laugh off a comment and I’m always armed with a number of comebacks, ready to go! I’ve been called ‘a nightmare’ and I’ll never find a boyfriend because I have bipolar. You can find my reaction to this and other experiences in the post, Conversations and Experiences of Stigma Against Mental Illness

I’m not as scared of being open about my feelings because of mental illness. It hurts when someone judges me, isn’t sympathetic, or simply doesn’t care. I’ve learnt this is going to happen. It’s unfortunate, but stigma exists and I will encounter it, especially as open as I am online. I’m able to brush it off now. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, but you know what? I don’t really care. There will always be people that disagree and I’ll listen to their comments, as long as they’re constructive.

I know I’m not a weak minded person. I’m actually more resilient because of mental illness. I’ve battled my own mind countless times and won. Life happens, shit happens and I feel more than capable to deal with it all. Bipolar may scupper my efforts sometimes, but I’m strong enough to acknowledge when I need help.

To others struggling, I truly believe that you’re stronger than you know. You wake up everyday and keep going despite the traps and obstacles your mind sets for you. Every time you talk about mental illness, you’re educating others and fighting back against stigma. Each time you seek help and support, you’re making a huge leap that can often leave you feeling vulnerable and out of control. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. Everything you’ve done in life so far you’ve made happen in defiance of your illness. Be proud and keep going.

 

What It’s Like To Have A Mixed Episode Of Bipolar

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A couple of weeks ago I had what’s called a mixed episode of bipolar disorder. What this means is that I was experiencing mania (the highs) and depression in very short succession, to the point that I felt both at the same time. In this post I wanted to write an account of what it felt like at the time, to hopefully shed some light on this difficult to understand symptom of bipolar.

I’m sitting at a table outside a restaurant, waiting to be served. I’m with my husband who is attempting to start a conversation. The air is warm and the sun is out and canal boats are drifting along the canal next to where we’re sitting. It should be an idyllic setting, leaving me feeling happy and contented, but I’m not. My head is abuzz with uncontrollable thoughts. The world around me feels very surreal right now, like I’m seeing it through a kaleidoscope. The images keep flicking backwards and forwards, never staying still. I’m restless and on edge, my whole body feels on high alert. Everything and everyone is irritating me. The chair I’m sitting on is way too uncomfortable. My husband is talking and right now I can’t stand his voice. The laughter from the table behind us is grating on me and I feel like screaming until my throat is hoarse,

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

My head is full of pressure, it literally hurts from all the thoughts racing in my mind. It feels like my head is going to explode. I can feel my hands and body trembling. It feels like I’m on the edge of a cliff  with a safety net below. I know I need to jump and if I do they’ll be a release from the ceaseless, building pressure. I can’t make myself jump. It’s like my legs are stuck and I can’t move forward.

Now, suddenly, I have an overwhelming feeling of dread. It feels like all the energy has been drained from my body and I feel utterly useless and completely broken. The pressure in my head is still there, and my mind is still racing away. The thoughts are negative and intrusive, telling me I’m worthless,  pathetic and don’t deserve to live. Ten minutes later our food has arrived and I can’t stop talking. My head is full of thoughts, mostly gibberish that I can’t decipher. I’m laughing but I feel like crying at the same time. I don’t like this feeling. I feel like I’m losing grip on who I am and the world around me. i can’t concentrate because I’m trying so hard to grip hold of some type of stability.

I feel like I’m at a crossroads and which ever way I go something terrible is going to happen, but I don’t know what. I maybe at the crossroads but some other force beyond my power is going to choose the direction I turn. Will it be mania? Or depression? Its a terrifying feeling to have seemingly no control over your own mind.

This had been going on all weekend and now it was Monday and I was mentally exhausted. We went home and I cried on the sofa, not knowing what to do with myself, as my body and mind continued to hum along with a relentless energy.

The mixed episode broke, eventually, but not to my relief. I found myself severely depressed, a depression I’m still trying to ride out. I hope my story helps others going through these experiences and shows people what it’s really like when someone says they’re in a mixed episode. if you want to help someone, listen and above all be patient with them.

 

The Problem With The Term ‘Mental Health’

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I’ve lost my connection to the term ‘Mental Health.’ It means different things to different people, and that’s a problem. I consider myself a mental health blogger, but I’m thinking of changing that. To be honest I’m a mental illness blogger. I’ll explain why.

For some people, myself included, mental health equals mental illness. It’s a term we use to write about our illnesses, to explain and engage with others about what we go through day to day. For others, mental health covers everything to do with the way we think and act. People proclaim,

“We all have mental health!” Which is true, and I have no problem with people discussing their individual experiences. My problem is that vital voices are being drowned out. ‘Mental Health’ has become this huge umbrella of different meanings. The ideas that are more accessible and easier to digest for the general public will undoubtedly receive more attention.

It feels that mental health is becoming more and more synonymous with wellbeing, mindfulness and self care. Again, all great if you struggle occasionally with the stresses of life or have mild mental illness. It’s not for everyone and it certainly isn’t a magic cure. I’m growing more and more concerned that these subjects will shift the idea of what mental illness is, and trivialise it. I don’t need to read anymore articles about mindfulness, I get it, I know what it’s about. I don’t want people to start preaching to me about how if I practised self care and had a hot bubble bath with some aromatherapy candles, I could break out of a manic episode. No, what would do that is a review of my medication and the support of my psychiatrist.

We need voices that talk about bipolar, psychosis, personality disorders and schizophrenia. Voices that have the right platform and are listened to, because these aren’t easy subjects to open up about. It feels terrifying to begin, the real fear of being judged and ridiculed, stigmatised for something you have very little control over. By using the term mental health, these important discussions are being lumped in with articles about adult colouring books and how to meditate. Self help articles in my opinion should not be compared with articles educating about severe mental illness. There is a vast difference in the two.

As an example I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend. He asked about blogging and I replied that I was a mental health blogger. He instantly started talking to me about how he is sometimes anxious whilst travelling and how he’s managed it through thinking positively. That’s great and I was genuinely pleased for him. When I started talking about what I blog about and how I’ve recently started a series about psychosis I could see his eyes widen. He quickly changed the subject. This is the problem. Anything beyond being anxious on the train was too much for him to handle. By his response, that was what he was expecting and it was because I used the term ‘mental health.’ If I’d said I wrote about mental illness, I think his expectations would have been different.

We need conversations about the underfunding of mental health services in the NHS and to create that link to the general public of why so many people are struggling and ending their lives. We need conversations about how those with severe mental illness are not all dangerous, but are more likely to be the victims of crime. We need conversations about how poverty, housing, being an ethnic minority or part of the LGBT community can have a negative impact on mental health.

Maybe it’s time for a new term, or a shift in how people use them. If you’re writing about general well being, say that. If you’re writing about mental illness, then say that too. Don’t jumble up the two, it’s causing more harm than good.

Talking About Mental Health Is Vital, But It’s Not Enough

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I often find myself saying,

“Talking about mental health is so important.” and “Just be open and honest and you’ll feel so much better!” I have done so many times on this blog.

But in my heart, I know it’s not enough. So many of us are being let down again and again. Services are spread thin and desperately underfunded. Recent reports that young people are being denied care until they’re at crisis point, and receiving little to no help unless they have attempted suicide, is disgraceful.

We do need to talk about mental health. Talking can save lives, but our friends and family are not experts. There is only so much that they can do to help and often unfortunately, it’s not enough. It puts a strain on our relationships which can further the isolation and hopelessness of our situation. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family and group of friends. I do what I’ve been told helps; to talk. I’ve been talking and reaching out for years, but it’s not always enough.

I’ve sought professional help when I’ve contemplated suicide. I was given a number for the crisis team if ever I needed them. I was told they were available 24 hours a day and would help. I’ve had very different experiences to what I was told I would have. After the phone call I wished I’d never picked up the phone. Firstly, I was given the wrong extension number, and then when I finally got through to speak to someone they simply said,

“Carry on taking your medication and you’ll start to feel better soon.” I talk more about this in the post My Experiences of Mental Health Crises Care

GP’s need more training to identify severe mental illnesses and provide the correct referrals. I like many others with bipolar were misdiagnosed countless times, and it took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. Therapy needs to be far more accessible and not just a one size fits all solution on the NHS. Talking therapies is not always provided by a trained psychologist. In my experience it was a counsellor, who had been trained in basic techniques in order to provide talking therapies. It wasn’t enough and he wasn’t prepared to deal with the symptoms I was displaying. Specialist, long term therapy is still out of reach for many. The price tag attached is as if it’s marketed as a luxury rather than a necessity for those with severe mental illness.

Mental health has had budget increases, but they’re far smaller than budgets for physical health. It’s been five years since the government pledged to create “parity of esteem” between NHS mental and physical health services. People are suffering and we demand better. We need to recognise the role of poverty and discrimination in determining access to formal mental health services. We need to address the reasons why so many people from ethnic minorities, the LGBT+ community and those with disabilities suffer from mental ill health. There are still disgustingly long waiting lists. Having an assessment due in eighteen months when you’re suicidal is not only callous, but negligent. Still we’re seeing mental health services strained to their limits. Still people are told,

“You’re not ill enough” and “Come back when you’ve attempted suicide” Change is desperately needed right now.

In the end investment, not rhetoric, is needed to save lives.