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.

 

yyyyyy

 

 

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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me-and-jay-2016

 

 

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.

 

 

Working with health professionals

Over the years I have worked with and gained the care and support from GPs, support workers, therapists for different ‘treatments’ to help all aspects of my health. Over time, I’ve gained more confidence and learnt to be assertive at appointments. One of the most difficult appointments have been talking about my feelings with a counsellor and with my GP to help find an anti-depressant that suits and one of the even more tricky parts was safely tapering off anti-depressants and changing over to different medications. At present I am trying an SNRI medication. You learn over time and through some good websites about the different types of medications out there. So far I have tried 3 different types in combination with talking therapy. it has been scary changing medications, being worried about withdrawal and trusting things will work out better for me!  Never feel uncomfortable about doing some research about diagnosis or medications before you see your GP and taking a list of things you want to say as you often become forgetful or have mind blanks by the time you sit with your GP. I even find booking in and giving my name at reception difficult at times.

There is not enough adequate and transparent information out there about taking anti-depressants. Having said that, I have not yet experienced any major side effects. I do look things up on patient forums and discuss my condition with other peers as its so important not to feel isolated. I see my GP every two weeks or have a telephone consultation especially when there may be a lot going on with my health. Don’t ever feel you are a hypochondriac. If you respect your body, mind and soul then see the health professionals when you need to. It is nearly a full time job just managing appointments and keeping track of things! Keeping a diary and note paper at hand for phone calls also helps to remember what was discussed.

I have also found that a good GP will not rush you, with really actively listen, give good eye contact and will ask you relevant questions before issuing a prescription. When I moved to Haslingden, I did some research and asked local people which medical practise was best and what there experiences were. it is frustrating waiting for appointments and getting past the receptionist to make an appointment. If the receptionists are friendly then you half way there!

You may have a care plan if you are seeing a psychiatrist and/or social worker/care co ordinator if you have been an inpatient and are now living back at home. Care planning is having improvements across some NHS trusts in the UK and I urge you to request a copy of your care plan and make sure it is reviewed and up to date. It is there to help you and your family to plan mental health care and other associated conditions and you are entitled to a well managed care plan.

You deserve the best care and having mental health challenges does not mean you should have less quality of care. Remember we are experts of our care. We know us best!

Why I got involved in mental health campaigning….

To cut a very long story short, my mother was severely ill with depression and psychosis since I was a child and I suffered massive trauma and negative experiences with mental health services since around the age of 9. The following 30 years, I have had a combination of different life changing experiences. One of the most difficult and head wrecking experiences was that I did not know why my mother felt suicidal and wanted to die and how vulnerable the illness made her. After all I was a child and she raised me on her own. She did her best parenting me and I am still here today, with courage, intellect and creativity. I would of liked things to be different but I have managed to channel my experiences into helping others and challenging the system when I can. Society is not easy! My mother now lives in a nursing home following a stroke in 2014 and has a good care team after many years of poor psychiatric and community care.

Around 2007, I became a parent and after a difficult labour I experienced what they call post natal depression which I didn’t recognize. At the same time, I became familiar with using social media and thought ‘I need to get help’ and found a good way of connecting with people on Facebook.

This was the start of finding services and people to connect with. I created a Facebook page ‘Making Mental Health Positive‘ and decided I would use the internet to create awareness and actively help provide peer support from home. The page now has over 20,000 likes and a few dedicated volunteers running it to help raise awareness, post uplifting content and so on. We also had an awareness ribbon to raise money and begin a community interest company called Recovery Castle but that did not work out as we didn’t have enough resources, energy and expertise.

One of the best experiences was doing a short speech at the Manchester Think Physical festival about Recovery Castle Community Group and how my passion for mental health awareness stemmed from my mothers suffering and more recently,mine. I am involved in a few advisory groups at the University of Manchester. I really enjoy these meetings and get a lot out of the work.