Mind Media Awards 2018 – Shortlisted, ME?!

Last night I was checking my emails and a message popped up. It said ‘Mind Media Award Shortlist’ I was fully expecting a resounding,

“Thank you, but unfortunately..” response, which is pretty much the story of my life.

Then I clicked in and it said,

“Congratulations!”

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I screamed out loud. Jumped up and down in the middle of the lounge. Then I sat down and read the rest of the email.

“What the actual fuck!” That was all I could think. I could feel myself shaking. I could feel the tears coming, and I didn’t fight them.

I’ve felt like a failure for so long. I dropped out of Uni. I stormed out of college. I left a fantastic job that I adored and was genuinely good at. I reached my 30th birthday feeling utterly directionless. All because of my mental health issues. I’ve doubted myself countless times.

Now though having a mental illness and writing about it candidly and honestly has positively impacted my life. Knowing my words have been recognised and most importantly have reached and helped people has made me feel so proud. The proudest I’ve ever felt in my life.

Here’s a mega thank you to everyone who reads and follows this blog, I genuinely appreciate you all. Your likes and comments have inspired me to keep writing, when I doubted my blog was worth it.

So many with mental health issues can relate to feeling worthless, a failure. Always keep going, you never know what’s around the corner x

 

Writing Is My Therapy

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Writing has always been an important part of my life. I remember filling notebook after notebook with reams of ideas and stories as a kid. Writing was my escape. As I got older I continued to write and it became a release from the depression that had suddenly manifested into my life. I even decided to go to University to study creative writing.

As an adult, I’ve had many struggles with mental illness. The symptoms of bipolar ran my life and my attempts to control the highs and lows were in vain.

I began to write, but this time, it began as a journal. I’d never kept a diary before. I just started to write, and soon everything was laid out. How much I’d been struggling, how guilty, helpless and ashamed I felt. it helped me immensely. I felt a release to see all these thoughts that I’d bottled up committed to paper.

Writing became my own private therapy.

I’ve had therapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) a couple of times. The first time round it really helped. I went to the sessions to help me deal with panic attacks. I learnt some important techniques and a new way of thinking about the experience. I use them to help me deal with nighttime panic attacks . The panic attacks subsided afterwards, and now I very rarely have one, maybe only once a year.

My second experience of CBT was not so positive. It wasn’t long after I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was offered group therapy and wanting to know more about the condition, and share experiences with others, I said yes. The course didn’t help. It was basic, and didn’t teach me anything new about the condition. There was never any time to share our experiences. I still felt alone.

I continued to write, but now I wanted to share what I’d written. I started a blog, this blog. Although now I don’t always write about my personal experiences, writing still helps me.

It gives me focus and a sense of purpose when I’m depressed. It helps me to stay calm and concentrate when I’m manic. It drowns out the voices and helps me process the experience when I’m psychotic.

I’m not in therapy at moment. A lack of therapeutic styles on offer from the NHS means I’d have to seek private therapy. I can’t afford to do that, so my option is talking therapies; that didn’t go well last time

So for now writing will have to be my therapy. I’m sort of ok with that. I’m annoyed that I can’t access actual therapy, but at least I’ve found something in my life that helps me.

 

My Hearing Voices Journal

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Last week I had an episode of psychosis, where I suffered from auditory hallucinations, or hearing sounds and voices. To help me through it, I journalled the experience in a notebook. Some parts are written during the episode, and some are written directly afterwards. It helped me make sense of what I was hearing and to ground me in reality and to help me deal with the shock when it had stopped.

“I think I’ve found the worst combination ever of physical and mental illness. Migraine, room spinning and doubting my sanity as I hear voices whilst sat in bed. I’m feeling very vulnerable and scared. I’ve felt physically ill all day today. We went out for a meal with friends but had to cut it short because I thought I was going to pass out or fall over from being so dizzy. This week has been an emotional rollercoaster with my moods all over the place. I’ve been ecstatically happy and hyperactive, busy working away on new projects. In a startling contrast I’ve felt hopeless, useless and deeply lost.

Now I’m home, and sat in bed. The noises have started. I can hear creaking. It sounds like it’s coming from the bed, but I’m not moving. It won’t stop. I’ve turned on my laptop and found the easiest, light hearted programme I can find, Friends. It reminds me of my childhood, before the voices started. I remember when it was first aired on a Friday night and I was allowed to stay up and watch it. If I can focus on this maybe the voices will leave me alone.

It isn’t working. Now the creaking has turned into banging on the bedroom window. The banging is urgent, fast and incredibly loud as if a fist is pounding on the window. The blinds are closed and I’m paranoid now that the banging is real and someone is playing a joke on me. Should I get up and check? I really should. I’ve been to open the blinds and there was nothing there. It’s windy outside, and all I could see were the bushes and trees swaying. The unpredictable and forcible wind today is mirroring my state of mind. The banging is making me really uncomfortable. I’ll turn the volume up on the laptop to try and drown out the noise. It’s not working, Fuck. What is my mind trying to tell me? How can I rationalise this or tell it to stop?

It’s suddenly stopped, thank fuck for that. I can breathe again. The cat has leapt up on the bed and has curled up next to me. It’s like she knows something is wrong. Stroking her and listening to her gentle purr is calming me down. I’ve just realised it’s getting dark outside and I’m sitting in the bedroom with no lights on. But I don’t want to get up because right now sitting here I’m not hearing anything scary or confusing. I don’t want to jinx it.

Now it’s dark and I’m still sitting in the bedroom, still too afraid to get up and turn the lights on. I can hear footsteps coming into the room, it must be my husband. I hear the bed creak as he sits down on it next to me. He says to me “Do you want any carrots? I think we need some more carrots for next week.” I’m confused. Why is he talking about carrots? I respond, “Yeah ok, I’ll put carrots on the shopping list next week.” I hear him get up and walk out the room. I’m not sure if that conversation was real. It was weird and random and now I feel really muddled and confused. I’ve turned the light on now so I could write this down.

Oh yay, hear comes the shouting. I close my eyes and try and focus my mind. All I can hear is “Fuck! Fuck!” “Get the fuck out!” Can’t take this anymore. I’m getting up. I realise I’m trembling and I feel as if I’ve been shaken roughly by someone much stronger than me. I sit down next to my husband on the sofa. I ask him, “Did you come in the bedroom earlier?” He replies “No, I’ve been in here the whole time, why?” I can’t be bothered to explain what’s been happening. I’m still feeling overwhelmed by voices. I’m asking him about his game. He’s playing Elite. I love how passionate he is about this game and the idea of space travel. I make myself listen to him intently, and the shouting starts to fade.

The problem with hearing voices is the paranoia afterwards. Is that banging from outside or in my head? Is that whispering in the background of the tv show I’m watching or in my mind? Unknown noises set my teeth on edge. I’m jumpy, full of panic with the fear it will start again.

At least I’m talking about it.”

Breaking the Silence

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Too many people with mental illness are silent. Silent with friends and family, Silent at work. Silent from their doctors, silent with themselves. Breaking that silence can feel like the hardest thing in the world.

We worry about what others will think of us, and that they will judge us. Maybe they’ll think we’re attention seeking, exaggerating, or crazy. What if they recoil from us or decide they can’t deal with it. We worry breaking the silence will make work life difficult, or even cost us our job. Maybe our doctor won’t believe us, or won’t have any answers. We worry that being truly honest with ourselves will mean we will have to face the reality of our illness. All of this circles our minds and paralyses us from taking action to help ourselves and to reach out for help and support.

It all comes down to stigma and discrimination. It is such a huge issue for people with mental illness. We fear the repercussions of breaking our silence. If we start talking and sharing collectively, we can hold each other up and give ourselves the confidence to use our voices.

When you do break the silence it can be freeing and empowering. To finally share your story with someone, even if it’s just one person, can come as a huge relief. Sharing your struggles lifts a weight off your shoulders and has a positive affect that staying silent will never do. I do this here on this blog, and share my experiences of bipolar, psychosis and bulimia. I first started journalling my experiences in 2012, but only shared with family and friends. Last February, I made the decision to go further and set up this blog and to be more active about it on social media. Now I feel supported by a larger community, of people I have never even met. I have received messages from across the world of support, and others asking for advice.

In most situations, people are generally supportive. However, this isn’t always the case and we have to be prepared for this. It can be deeply hurtful when someone doesn’t understand, or refuses to make an effort to. If we feel capable, the best thing we can do is try and inform and educate. Stigma often comes from ignorance or a lack of information. We need to make sure we provide people with the right information so that they can make informed opinions. This can be from sharing your story, or from highlighting resources from charities such as MIND and Time To Change

Not everyone with mental illness feels capable of being open. We share our stories to varying degrees, and even if we tell only the one person closest to us, that we can confide in, that’s ok. We don’t all need to put ourselves ‘out there.’ We’re all different, despite our shared illnesses. Breaking the silence means talking as much or as little as you want to. It isn’t a competition and no-one should feel pressured to tell everyone they meet about their illness. Do what you can, and you’ll find it makes a difference to not only your life, but to the people you care about.

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Time to Change Story Camp 2017

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Filled with excitement and trepidation on Friday morning I woke early – about two hours earlier than I needed to, ready for Time for Changes’ Story Camp. Fighting off the nerves I made all the important decisions; are those glittery shoes too much? Did I really need to coordinate my stationery with my bag and phone? How the hell was I going to navigate London with my complete lack of directional sense? I made it out the house and found my way to the venue only managing to lose my way twice, a massive achievement!

So what is Story Camp? 

Story camp is a day dedicated to all things mental health, and how to get your story out there. Whether it’s through blogging, vlogging, illustration, (even crafts), or becoming a media volunteer. Although I’m already writing here on this blog, I’m still relatively new to the idea of sharing my story and getting my voice heard. I wanted to broaden my knowledge and learn from others and this seemed like the ideal opportunity. Time to Change set up the day and work tirelessly to reduce mental health stigma in the UK. Their focus is on the general public, and providing them with real life stories, awareness days, (such as Time for Talk Day) and educational tools to combat harmful and sensationalist ideas surrounding mental illnesses.

The Day

One of the most inspiring aspects of the day was that three of the speakers had attended Story Camp just a year before. They had taken the experience and ran with it – using their passion and creativity to spread awareness across the country and on a number of media platforms. The first speaker of the day was Shea whose motivational words and assured yet warming presence set up the day perfectly. Shea spoke about storytelling and its power and how telling our stories helps to humanise mental health.

Next up was Jodie, who led us through blogging and social media. Although I realised I was already doing many of the things she mentioned, it gave me the belief that I was on the right track and that I could make a few tweaks here and there. It felt important to know this and that I should have some self belief! I came away from this segment with a ton of new blog ideas that I can share with you all in the upcoming months.

Then Andrea spoke passionately about vlogging. This is something I’ve begun but rejected earlier this year. It felt too daunting and emotionally draining a task. After hearing Andrea speak however, and the important message that it doesn’t have to be polished and perfect has renewed my interest. Making shorter videos that are more focused should help them feel less tiring to make.

The final speaker of the day was Lucy who, like the others, spoke so inspiringly. Her segment was about the media and how to work with and share your story with them. This is definitely something that sounds scary but could be ever so rewarding. I had a upsetting experience working with BBC three last year. I was unhappy with the final edit, but it was put on the website without any of the participants having a say beforehand. What I hadn’t realised until story camp was that Time to Change can support you if you are contacted by the media to share your mental health story. It’s given the confidence to know they’ve got my back if I ever have the opportunity to participate in something again.

My own mental health

Although I do struggle with Bipolar disorder and sharing my story does dredge up painful emotions and experiences, I feel it is vital to educate others and provide a voice for those that aren’t able to. I do have periods of stability and even during depressive or manic episodes I can still write. When depression strikes I’m not constantly in a state of numbness or deep emotional pain, and have good days. Sometimes I can even feel positive!

The mental health community

It was wonderful to meet people at story camp and everyone sat and chatted immediately because we all had a common interest; helping others and reducing the stigma of mental illness. I truly feel there is a community online that suffer with mental health problems that support one another. Just as importantly we want to create change in our society and I believe we can. I’m excited and full of motivation to continue my journey with you all, and to really make an impact surrounding mental health.

 

 

 

 

Maddening Creativity

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When I’m in a manic state, creativity becomes my everything. I have this incredible surge of confidence and self belief that comes from nowhere. I truly believe I can do anything. I have always been creative. I started playing the drums when I was eight, I studied art up to A level and I continue to draw, sketch and sculpt. I almost studied sculpture at University, but decided instead on creative writing. I am always writing, whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, or here on my blog. As anyone does, I have times when I’m motivated and focused, or I’ll be inspired by something. The difference with mania is the creativity is astoundingly concentrated. My whole life will be consumed with the need to create. I’ll forget to eat or sleep, the house will become grimy and messy. I won’t shower because that takes too much time. So I sit in my trash ridden house with grimy hair feverishly writing or painting away. I’ll put off paying bills and running important errands because creating will be all that matters.

My mind at these times is sodden with creative ideas. I can’t ignore it and it turns into a flood of activity; from researching, buying resources and creating. It’s like I’m possessed, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Except, I don’t want it to stop. I long for these moments, whether they last for a week or a month, when I can find inspiration from anywhere. I can pluck new ideas out of thin air. It is an enticing state, and one I miss when it has dissipated. I can be up and wide awake at three in the morning still sketching or writing. I show everyone what I’ve been working on, with a pride that verges on narcissism. I feel I have to do something with my work so I start a business, start writing a book, or both.

The only problem; it doesn’t last. Sooner than I’d hope, I crash and depression becomes my everything. In my mind I am useless and can’t believe how deluded I have been. I’ve told so many people about my projects and plans, but all I feel know is incredibly embarrassed. I have begun a novel and scrapped it in a moment of self doubt. Created intricate wire sculptures and torn them apart in anger and frustration. Blogged almost everyday, and then found myself unable to write a single word for months.

I don’t know what to do with all of this. This creativity is one side of many manic symptoms. Too many of them are unpleasant, self destructive and harmful. Unfortunately they co-exist, I can’t have the inspiration and confidence without the anger, over spending, delusional thinking and risk taking behaviour. I once thought I was a racing driver and crashed my car. Another time whilst driving I closed my eyes and let go of the wheel. I’ve believed I couldn’t be hurt and walked into traffic and put my hands under boiling water. On all occasions I could have easily have died or been critically injured. That is the other side of mania. It isn’t glamorous and definitely shouldn’t be romanticised. Despite these negatives, I still find myself longing for those flashes of imaginativeness and inventiveness. So I accept it, and wait with both dread and eagerness for the next time.

Beginning my Novel

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I’ve taken the plunge and decided to write a novel. It’s been swirling around in my head for years, the idea of it, but now I’m in a place where I can put my head down and begin.

This isn’t foreign territory for me; I studied creative writing at University and have begun novels before. Unfortunately, I have never finished one, and I put that down to having Bipolar. About six years ago I was in the mire of novel writing and forty thousand plus words deep. It was a fiction fantasy novel and I felt very positive about how it was forming. My mind began to play tricks on me and I was plagued with self doubt. I started to believe that everything I had written was intrinsically flawed, that I was a pathetic failure who had deluded myself into believing I could write. I deleted it all. There were no backups, only a few hand written notes scrawled in a notebook.

After the depression lifted I was devastated at what I had done. I hadn’t been thinking clearly at all and when the haze lifted I couldn’t believe it had all gone. All that work, hours of effort and concentration for nothing. Now I always have backups of all the writing  I’m working on, incase it happens again.

This time the novel will be non fiction and focusing on my experiences of living with Bipolar disorder. It will have a different style to my blog, with more descriptive metaphorical elements.

I will add regular updates on my progress here on the blog, more than anything to keep myself in check and on task.

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