Comparing yourself to others

Do you often feel caught up with what everyone else is doing? Do you look to others for approval?

Social media can be unhealthy sometimes that we look at others photos on a news-feed and it tends to make us fall into the trap of comparing our self to others. When you think about the life course you have taken and see how far you have come with your own life challenges, it makes you feel silly about how you have fallen into the trap of self comparison and neglected your true self.

Feeling that you need to ‘keep up with the jones’s ‘ is emotionally draining and time consuming. Consumerism and the media has a big part to play in that and the constant bombardment of advertising. As you grow older, you realise that the only opinion that matters is the one you have of yourself and no one else matters. It is nice to get a compliment from time to time from someone important in your life but when we are always looking for others to ‘like’ our life on Facebook or a recent selfie, it makes you feel others approval is important and needed to exist and feel ‘happy’. Life was completely different before social media and the mental health of young people may of been healthier.

I have started to feel I am on my own path in life now and I do not need the validation from others to exist and enjoy my life. It has took me a long time to begin to trust people and trust my own instincts. It has been a constant journey and a battle sometimes to connect with my own feelings and feel the need to go with decisions I have made. I am getting there and I am very proud of myself.

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A difficult day….

Through public health awareness and our networks, we hear a lot about cancer, diabetes, strokes and other illnesses but nothing about the link between chronic emotional distress and auto immune disease. I was diagnosed earlier this year with Graves disease, an auto immune disease which I had never knew existed. I have not known anyone with it other myself. I had my 3 month follow-up today with my consultant. I don’t even think UK NHS mental health services have caught up with it the link. I didn’t know about the relationship between childhood trauma and the body’s own immune system attacking itself, until I read a book by Donna Jackson Nakazawa titled ‘Childhood Disrupted – how biography becomes your biology and how you heal.

At my appointment with my consultant, I got a bit flustered as there were two other staff in the same room when I walked in and a lot of the symptoms that I discuss are depressive mood, sleep disturbance, eye problems, skin problems and so on. I think the name ‘Graves disease’ doesn’t sound very sexy either! I wanted to say, ‘Can you both leave the room please,’ but felt a bit nervous to ask.

I am still trying to keep up with everything as in ‘life’ and work out how best to treat my body to the correct foods and fitness that it may need. (she says munching a pizza slice!) I also have to think about my health, long-term and if it can be something that can be treated well with my anti thyroid meds and psychological therapy. I am a great believer in the psychological causation to many illnesses. The sad and equally good thing about it is, I have a curious personality and I do a lot of reading and ask questions about how I can help myself. There is no cure, although my consultant said it can go into remission. There may be things I can do to make my health more manageable. I feel I need to email my consultants secretary and ask for some more help with diet (In my dreams…!) as you don’t get the chance to speak about all your concerns in 20 minutes! That is one area that is quite over looked when you are given drugs, how to heal with food. I could talk about that a lot longer, but I’ll leave it for another time.

I reckon I have had this condition for many years and if it wasn’t of feeling ill with chest pains and having an ECG in the summer of last year, I would not be on this journey today. I am now I am thankful to the medical staff that got my thyroid levels tested and began the referral to see an endocrinologist. It makes you realise how things could not be picked up unless we listen to our body and probe further to find out why we are unwell.

Think I’ve had two crying episodes today. One with my partner and one with my son. Ethan is 9 and I am raising him with the understanding that it is OK to cry and get the tears out. It heals the soul and without crying, the world would be a miserable place! I don’t want Ethan exposed to a lot of upset in this childhood but at the same time it is more healthy to let him see me react to sadness from time to time without running out of the room and hiding away in shock! Sometimes I can hold in the tears though and sometimes I chose not too. I always tell my friends to let it out so I need to take a lesson from that. I have always said there should be ‘community crying cafes’ where people can go to have a good cry and meet new people without them feeling they need to see a GP or have the label of mental illness. There is also too much commercial gain from the major, profitable pharmaceutical companies but again,  but, wont go down that round on my blog just yet! I need to wait until my moods lifted!

There are people in our community needing to show emotion but self medicate with drugs or alcohol, get angry and violent and vent their emotions in other ways which have lasting damage because of a difficult life due to poverty, child abuse or even homelessness and as a society we are told not be depressed or anxious or at least the norm seems to be ‘happy, balanced and conforming with others’.

Anyway, I managed to get my son to and from school, go the library and buy some bananas today, oh and do some cleaning. I got through the day….!

 

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Happy pancake day!

Couldn’t really leave the day without blogging about food and mood!

It is pancake day and nice to have a treat from time to time. After all, eating pancakes inspired me to come up with a title for this blog. I suppose as time as gone and depending on how I feel, I don’t eat well and often can’t afford the range of foods we are meant to eat to stay healthy. I do quite well but I am always anxious about making sure I have healthy food in and we are always hearing so much about ‘mood boosting’ foods. I haven’t been able to gain much weight in a while due to over active thyroid as I have a fast metabolism. This may sound a bit weird, but I would prefer to have the choice to gain weight even though I know many complain about being overweight. I suppose it is how you feel rather than what size you are.

These are the following ‘eat well’ messages we are bombarded with:

Ensure your family eat their five a day (fruit and vegetables)

Avoid too much caffeine if you have mood problems such as anxiety issues and depressive mood

Don’t have too much sugar or caffine – especially if you have bladder illness

Drink 2 litres of water today

Eat at regular times and avoid snacking – if only!

Guten free products are better for you – and very limited and costly!

 

But I have found it hard to know whats best with various health conditions and often feel confused and deprived of what I should or shouldn’t eat. Not everyone can afford a nutritionist either.

It would be interesting for you to share what works for you and if you are on a budget, how do you eat well for less. (or so Sainsburys say!)

Here is link to a healthy, balanced diet 

Anyway enjoy your pancakes, including all the sugar and toppings you like!

 

 

 

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Outlook on life

Are you a planner or do you like to go with the flow of life to get what you want out of life? Do you expect the worst to happen or are you happy to look on the bright side? Negative thoughts can make this difficult.

I believe that there is a higher power, guiding us in a certain direction and although difficulties and suffering may happen to us, we are in position to learn from the situation and become empowered from it. Depression has a harsh way of asking us to look at our life and make some changes. It can be a turning point for many.

You could call it destiny or fate! If we leave our options open and try different things, we may become connected to certain people who will take us on a path that is meant for us. I like being around new people but in the past social anxiety as made me feel overwhelmed or feel like I may not fit in to a certain group of people. I still have very difficult days where I feel unable to cope.

Mental health challenges, sometimes make it hard to differentiate between what are ‘normal’ feelings and what is a a health issue. I think today’s fast paced society has made it difficult for function and cope with different stressors. For me, there is no such thing as normal. Making comparisons to others and putting unrealistic expectations, is one of the reasons why we get depressed and anxious.

How about having some alone time and switching your phone off? In relation to our mental health, sometimes we try so much to ‘feel better’ and be around people and avoid feeling lonely when sometimes, we may be running from ourselves and not enjoying our own company.

Looking at the relationship we have with our self before we look at the relationships we have with others is a good starting point.  I wish I had this wisdom when I was younger. It is guidance that I can now pass on to my son and other children to increase their self-esteem.

When we don’t have self-love and compassion, we end up forming unhealthy relationships and going down the path that may not be right for us. Something to think about ………………….

‘What is meant for you, won’t go past you’

RIP Pepa 2000 – 2017

After nearly 17 years together, I said my final goodbyes to my boy Pepa or ‘Peps’ that we liked to name him. He was the last of four cats I looked after since 1997. Part of the family for such a long time with no health issues. He had such a gentle nature and was always there for me, giving me comfort when I needed it, especially during the very difficult days of depression and stressful life events. He was very good at flexing his claws into my leg when he wanted to help eat my food!

I was heart broke when he became ill quite suddenly over the last few months. I made the choice to take him to the vets yesterday. Part of me didn’t want to say goodbye but I knew it was the kindest thing to do in the situation. I have his collar and cuttings from his fur for a keepsake box. He can now be reunited with Tara and Bobby in cat heaven to eat endless tuna!

A few months before he passed, we decided to rehome a kitten so we now have Shire to keep us company.

 

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I’m getting married!

Feels unreal when I say I am now a fiancee! I had a lovely weekend visiting my partners family in Kent. On a visit to Leeds Castle, Jason proposed to me! On one knee, in the castle grounds, Jason asked me to marry him. At first I thought he was joking! I replied ‘are you having a laugh?’. Then I realised he wasn’t joling and I thought “this is it – I am going to be married!” It was a beautiful moment. We haven’t decided on a year and a venue as yet. Today we are went to the jewelers to have the ring adjusted as it was 2 sizes too large. It is a family heirloom and exactly the style of ring I would have chosen.

Today we have started to make a list of ideas and guest we want for the wedding and hoping everyone that is invited can make it.

 

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Accepting the ‘negative’ thoughts….

I’ve tried lots of therapies via the NHS, mainly CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and counselling. Although I can see the rational and logical way that cognitive behavioural therapy can work and be helpful in some situations, particulary the here and now, I have also struggled to implement it in my daily life and see it of any benefit to me as it also works on the principle of changing what you are thinking rather than accepting the thought and looking deeper into why you would think that way in the first place (the route cause). Because my condition began from a difficult childhood and a history of serious health problems which affected my self worth and distorted my core beliefs, I needed to revist my past and talk about long term trauma I had experienced. I was always surrounded by people and social constructs that appeared to be ‘strong and resilient’ and appeared to be coping with whatever life threw at them. It can make you feel pretty crap over time when you think you are constantly at odds with the world. Depression distorts your view and makes you feel like a different person. I suppose you could say you have an angry or wounded child inside. This is why I do my best with parenting now as I know how different things could be for my son. School is one of the first environments that challenges you in many ways. Bullying, the stress of being absent due to illness and the social pressures of living in a deprived family with mental ‘illness’. When I look back on my childhood now, it made me realise how much I endured and how proud I should be of being here today and surviving what life has thrown my way. I take responsibility of where I am and where I will get to. Does it really matter if my hairs a mess or I have acne..no!

Often there would be no obvious triggers for my low mood, some days I may have poor sleep and wake upset or drained even before the day began. Even though sleep hygiene is important, if you need to nap in the daytime, do it. Dont deprive yourself of sleep. Get sleep when you can, especially if you are suffering from insomnia at night. Mornings are particularly problematic for me, which is common with depression. I think you get into a thought habit of telling yourself that there is no point in sticking to plans as ‘things will go wrong’ or ‘you need to stay at home and rest today’. It is incredibly hard to know what to do for the best some days. Today was a great day. I accepted my negative thoughts and set out to go to work as planned. I was nervous as hell, convinced the day would not go well and got stressed out with the motorway queuing but I managed to report I was running late and that took the pressure off getting to my meeting on time. I really hate being late, always like to punctual or I’m always early. Slight ‘obsession’ but a useful one because they say its good manners to be on time!

One of the things I aim to do now, is be mindful with the way I think, when I can and not get swept into the ocean of deeply distressing thoughts and get used to concentrating on my breathing more to ground me. If we are anxious we often don’t learn to breathe from our belly (like babies do), we have very shallow breathing. It is automatic and feeds into the horrible cycle of anxiety, negative thoughts and avoidance behaviour. Mindfulness seems to be the buzz word in mental health at the moment. Like I said, you can choose bits of everything that suits you on different days. Getting to a place of complete stillness and peace is hard to do during meditation practise, especially if you are a creative thinker as I am as you are always coming up with ideas in your mind or problem solving.

I am trying to not be too hard on myself, to be kind and nurturing to myself and have a future of more helpful thoughts.

 

 

Who cares for the Carers?

 

 

When I began caring and having the responsibility of look after my mother, I didn’t realise how challenging it would be because of mainly the under resourced social care and mental health services that were involved in her care plan. In addition to this she has complex health issues and this led to stress and a vulnerability to my own mental health issues. They say mental ill health can be genetic but given the length of difficulties carers face and the lack of time GP’s have to identify needs at consultations, there is no wonder that there is rise in mental health problems in the caring population. When you stop caring, you can become affected long term with health issues.

My mum as a much better care plan now and as a relative, my views and feelings are always taken into account about her care. It has taken a long time to get to that point though.

 

Above is a short TV interview from 2013 on BBC breakfast news.

 

For more info on carers please visit Carers UK

The power of peer support

Knowing who to turn to when you first start experiencing any emotional distress is tricky. Understanding what ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’ is for you in the first instance can be complicated, scary and overwhelming, let alone knowing who to feel safe and trust with your feelings is another matter altogether. We are all unique, have come from diverse cultures and backgrounds and want to be approached in different ways. Having felt isolated for such a long period of time or dealt with feelings that you have not experienced before, can make it difficult to talk in front of new people and build up the confidence to speak about life experiences without feeling judged and under pressure. To speak in detail about what has happened to you to a trained counselor or other mental health professional is beneficial however, to have the connection with others who have shared similar experiences with their mental health can help you completely shape your journey with your life changes. You might be reading this and be thinking about speaking to someone. There are also some good helplines out there. At my lowest times though, meeting new people was not on the agenda but helplines were fantastic for me. Sleeping was too!

Peer support is becoming one of the main areas of your support network alongside your regular appointments and health care, other social outlets, health professionals, nutrition and healthy eating, work or education. GPs should be prescribing peer support when you are at a stage with your mental health to be out and about meeting people. Having self-management of your health conditions is really empowering too.

We have always been connected to peers in many ways, for example at school, work and in your community. Being surrounded with like-minded individuals and ‘experts of experience’ can change how you see yourself, your perspective on your health condition and give you some tips to looking after yourself and your family, if you have children or care for a relative. Peer support also can help you put meaning into your experiences and gives you the confidence to speak with your GP or find a therapist. A lot of services are self referral so you don’t need a GP to help you which is handy.

The possibility of healing from emotional pain and finding others at different stages of their journey is so critical. Having hope and keeping hope with the relationship you form with other peers is fundamental to your life,  helping you to become more positive and giving you more direction with your life. Being exposed to others is powerful, firstly because you don’t feel alone, weak or substandard in society. There are millions who have been affected by long term emotional distress which is more than a bereavement or a major, stressful life change like a divorce or moving house. I have always had a low stress threshold. It makes me human and Im proud of all my strengths and areas of development. I’ve had a lot of stressful life events and your mind, body and soul needs support.

There is also some research out there to show the benefits of peer support. The role of peer support is undervalued by commissioners and we need more funding to go into projects in our community, in educational institutions and our workplaces to make it more common place to openly talk in a group or one to one with someone else about mental health or the concerns you have of a family member.This obviously needs to be in a well structured setting with the back up of sign posting techniques to professional mental health services. We can also become triggered or upset by listening to others stories so to facilitate peer support groups, they need to be well planned and set guidelines with boundaries.

In November 2016, I was involved in the developments of a new north manchester MIND group and this is still operating and expanding today. The group now has a social media page to promote its valuable and life-changing service. The peer support service model is saving lives and keeping people positive. Please like the page and find out more. MIND has helped me so much, in ways I cant describe! Well, they have helped save my life. Quite simple!

Psychiatric medications and hospitals

Ive learnt that it is really important for me to have an open mind when it comes to treating my mental health, medically. I was scared to take any medications because the trauma I had seeing my mum in the hands of the psychiatric system. Unfortunatley I still have memories of going with her for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). I was still in primary school. It was a very confusing time being a child especially as I had to keep my parents illness a secret from friends. ECT treatment is very controversial and as far as Im aware is still offered to some patients for severe depression. Medications and treatment can positively completely change the persons life around or it can cause major deterioration and the patient is suffering more side effects that are worse than the depressive mood itself.

 

If you feel that ill with your mood, please do not suffer and leave it. Self medicating with drugs and alcohol is tempting too. Never been there myself yet thankfully. My mum had always been a heavy smoker and sadly lost weight to 6 stone by the age of 38. There was many social pressures and difficulties in the area we used to live. She was under a lot of strain and torment and we had no help from the police. It resulted in two nervous breakdowns and countless admissions into NHS medical and psychiatric wards. I have never understood why care for mental health is separate to psychical health or why people have to go via the accident and emergency department to report a mental health crisis. It all needs changing!  Many ‘illness and disease’ has an emotional and psychological route cause and I believe many of my physical health issues occurred because of unaddressed emotional pain. It has taken many years in counselling, research and reading to come to my own conclusions and look more into how I can change my diet accordingly. The medical model not always the only option!

I will also say there has been an abuse of power with psychiatry in my mothers case. I should of trained to be a disability lawyer! I have learnt a lot over the years coming in contact with different health professionals and advocacy services. Historically if things had of been more closely monitored, she may have a longer life expectancy. There is still a light inside of me that wants improvements for people living with mental health challenges and unlike other mental health conditions, like dementia, it is hard for people to comprehend it and work out how disabling it can be. If you say you have dementia, people understand it easier and it doesn’t carry stigma like depression.

You’d be amazed on what damage stress does to the body. I remembered  a time when I first felt really unwell with panic attacks when my son was around 18 months and I was very sleep deprived. Sleep is essential and I think I have always had some time of sleep disturbance. Spent a few times in A&E convinced I was having a heart attack. I was determined not to be medicated as of all the different medications my mother had tried and the lifestyle choices that led to her health decline.I got to a point of changing my life and seeking help from other areas to change my circumstances.

I wish I had started medication sooner and got help. Over the years medications have helped at different times and the guidance from  GPs has helped me along the way. You have to take full responsibility of your life and what choices you take with health care. If you get into a room with a GP that isn’t sympathetic about emotional health, then get a different one or ask friends and family who they see.Take some in the room with you if need be or speak to the MIND or RETHINK helplines. Don’t feel over ruled or dictated to by a health professional. You need a partnership with your care, not someone trying to tell you how you are feeling or what to do.

I am not medically trained however I know when I am going to become stressed and unwell and I know what my triggers are. I feel medication is important for some of us, but more so are the loving and strong relationships you keep with people. Areas of your life you have control over such as your relationships are critical to managing your health. Feeling close and settled with people is priceless and friendships should be treasured.