Thursday, 30 May 2013

Anxiety - maybe it's because I'm a Londoner?

I’m part of an anxiety recovery group on Facebook, and one of the most recent posts on there was to discuss where we lived and our careers – perhaps in some attempt to link them to our heightened feelings of anxiety.

Interestingly, the types of careers we all had were entirely different.  From occupational therapists, to teachers, accountants, project managers and students, everyone’s stories and their careers varied so much. Just goes to show that anxiety is a disorder that doesn’t discriminate, that can attack those of all ages working in a variety of different occupations.

I was asked to write a post about my thoughts regarding living in London and linking it with anxiety, and whether I feel living in London heightens my anxiety, what things about London aids my anxiety and what doesn’t.

Just as a bit of background information for you all, I have lived in London my whole life. I was born in Leytonstone, and have lived in a small town on the outskirts of Essex and East London called Chingford for the last 21 years of my life. Chingford has strong connections with the centre of London, our train service takes you straight to Liverpool Street and our buses take you to Walthamstow Central (tube stations) and Stratford City (where the Olympics took place).

Living in Chingford is oddly quite comforting as at times, it doesn’t feel like London. For example, this is a part of Chingford - does it look like London to you? Probably not.

I guess weirdly this is what I love about my town, it feels like London in some respects but has the feeling of a community as if we lived somewhere more obscure.
Of course however, to do many things I want to do, for example go to University and go to work, I have to travel, more often than not into the centre of London itself, and that is where my anxiety really hits it's peak.

Unfortunately, East London is not exactly well known for its low crime rates. For example, in Waltham Forest where I am from there were a total of 24,191 crimes from the period of April 2012 - April 2013. Of course, it's not as high as other areas of London for sure, but is certainly higher than places such as Kingston-Upon-Thames, my original University choice, for example.
More often than not, the London news hounds its viewers with the latest stabbing, the latest person to be fatally wounded in a gun attack, the latest person to be killed through gang crime. And it frightens me. My anxiety is triggered by feelings of danger, feelings that I will be unsafe. I don't trust people. I go on buses keeping a watchful eye on every passenger. On trains I become concerned that the man sitting halfway down the carriage is staring at me and has got it in for me. Would I feel this way without the continuous negative news coverage surrounding London, especially East London? I don't know.

Of course, in recent years huge events have occured in London to allow my anxiety to rise. Watching my own city bombed in the 7/7 attacks made me never want to go onto a tube train or go near a bus again. More recently the tragic Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby drove me to the brink of insanity, fearing and fearing who else was out there to commit the same kinds of attacks. The London riots back in 2011 is another prime example, some of which happened not too far from my town in fact. Of course, unfortunately you get criminals everywhere - but hearing about the crimes in London more often than anywhere else makes me feel fear of everything and everyone.

London is a busy city, and I guess I only have to adapt to that, but it's hard. Buses and tubes are busy, shops are manic, and people are often so busy rushing to get to their 9-5 offices that they barge past you without a care in the world. I often experience claustrophobia on tubes and severe anxiety on packed buses with nothing but loudened voices, screaming children, people on their phones shouting, and vice versa. 

On the other hand however, London is my capital city. It's also an incredibly beautiful city which more recently I have felt blessed to have the opportunity to live in. I get to experience the delights of gorgeous market places, Buckingham Palace, the River Thames, Piccadilly Circus, whenever I like. I remember being a 14/15 year old and going to gigs, then venturing to Hyde Park until midnight gazing at the stars with my friends. There's culture, music, diversity, all of which appeals to me, and that's what I love about living here. There are places in London which I have never had the opportunity to experience and would love to, and knowing as a whole how wonderful my city is does ease that terror. The Olympics, held not too far from my town at all (just a bus journey away), I think really brought not just London together as a community, but now that's over are we just back to the hustle and bustle and continuity of every day life as a Londoner? 

Overall, I guess I have a huge love-hate relationship with London in regard to my anxiety. I love my city, but I'm also fed up of living in fear of it, when I know that there's lots out there for me to experience and enjoy.

What are your thoughts? Are you a Londoner yourself with anxiety or does living with anxiety put you off travelling here and why? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Anxiety 'blip' list

Last night I burst into a fit of panic at the thought of having to attend my counselling appointment this morning.

In all honesty, (and I should be honest), I've been completely overcome with anxiety in the last week or so. Even going to work, an environment where I should feel safe, has felt like a danger zone for me, with continuous thefts and so much drama always going on in the store it's sent me into an overhaul of sheer panic.

I texted Heather (my counsellor) at about 12am this morning. I wasn't just anxious about travelling to see her, but anxious about sitting in a room and talking, something that should come so naturally to me.
After airing my concerns via text, she suggested a session via phone call. Something I was still reluctant to do but knew full well I wasn't able to avoid.

Together in that one hour we managed to come up with what she called a 'blip list' - a list to refer to of strategies to use when I'm having a so called 'blip' of anxiety, and feel sick and overwhelmed. Here's what we came up with.

1) Remembering to take deep breathes.
2) Stretching.
3) If indoors, opening windows to get fresh air. Or just step outside and take in fresh air.
4) Continuously repeating the mantra 'I am taking control'
5) Finding a comfy place/place of quiet, away from people, phone and technology
6) Reading (this can vary for any person depending on what other activities you use to calm down)
7) Always having a glass of water to hand to ease the dehydration caused by anxiety attacks (even if it means carrying one in your bag 24/7)
8) Having something with a soothing scent to hand. The first two items I thought of was my Yankee Candle to light for 10 minutes, or carrying something with my favourite aftershave of Nathan's - so I can smell it and be comforted.
9) Writing. This is something I personally need to start and hopefully you all can start joining me. Even if it's just a couple of words - you don't even need to look back on it (as I'm sure many people like me hate their handwriting). Just find a colourful pretty notebook and a pen and keep it to hand with you.
10) In extreme cases, making sure you have an emergency contact to call to calm you down.

Those were some of the ideas we had to put on our list. Obviously it can be adapted to suit situations whether you are indoors or out, or so on.
This is not saying that this list is going to be the be all and end all of curing anxiety, but it's a start and it's a plan. Have the list on your phone or written down somewhere in your bag to reference to in a crisis.
Heather and I also came up with other tasks, having a playlist of relaxing and calming songs to hand on your iPod, going for a walk, allowing at least 1-2 hours of relaxation time per day. Small but simple tasks which no doubt seem impossible for hectic rushed people such as you and I, but when focused upon can surely make the world of difference.

All of that and remembering to take my medication (which admittedly, I haven't been *slaps self on wrist*)

Having all of this written down in a list, as a lover of lists, makes me feel a lot more at ease. Of course, it's not a solution and even I laughed at myself thinking 'pah, I'm never going to remember to do this' or 'what the HELL is this going to do', but it's a start and something to at least try.

Anxiety for me is a lifelong thing and is going to take more then just sitting down with a book from time to time, but getting used to a method to turn to when I am as anxious as I have been may help anxiety attacks as they arise to perhaps ease a little more.

So maybe try making a little emergency/crisis list of your own. Share them with me if you can by commenting on the post below!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Literature, describing depression - the cloud

Often, I get asked to describe what depression feels like, or if depression were a person, how would I describe it, what would it look like? I'm going to attempt to address this in a blog post for you this morning.

One of the best descriptions of depression I have ever come across comes from 'The Bell Jar', Sylvia Plaths part autobiographical novel and consequently, possibly my favourite novel of all time. I picked this novel up whilst on my 6 month leave from Sixth Form two years ago (due to my mental health problems) - and it was the first piece of literature I had read that completely captured what it was like to live as a depression sufferer. Sylvia Plath serves as a huge figure in my life, and I'm completely fascinated by her and her story. I also firmly believe it was this novel that introduced reading as a lifeline for my struggles and despair I was feeling. In that sense, studying a degree in English Literature this year most definitely feels right for me.

Some quotes from the novel that always stick out for me include:
"I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

"When it came right down to it, the sink of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn't do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at.”
“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” 

The last quote is one that I more often associate with depression. A lot of people tend to personify their mental health problems, give them characterisation or names, perhaps to add a sense of belonging to a world that leaves you stuck in isolation. But I've never really seen my depression as a figure, as a person. I have never felt that it is worthy enough to be given a human status. Because no human status (or at least I hope) wouldn't want to inflict this intensity of pain onto another person. 

No, for me, it feels almost like a mist, a cloud, but a dark, black mist, 'moving dully along' the empty void in my head. It's always there, floating around, looking for the perfect time/place to settle. And when depression strikes, I feel it settling, almost like this cloud needs a rest from the hullabaloo and decides to take comfort on my brain. I'm sure other sufferers can empathise with me when I say that when depression strikes, in some circumstances you can feel it, the heaviness that your head feels, that lethargy and weakness. The cloud is like a 
vacuum, sucking up every possible emotion and using its remaining energy to suffocate you.

Sometimes, in extreme cases, you don't feel anything at all. You try to start planning, to start making an attempt to sort out your day but you become plagued by a numbness that only feels all too familiar. This time, the cloud had conducted a little electrical work and decided to pull out the plug which inevitably voids me of any emotion towards myself and/or other people. During the worst period of my depression, November 2010, my overdose was prompted on the basis that I didn't care about anyone, and they didn't care about me. Not even my boyfriend, the most important person in my life, could stop me from wanting to die. I was completely and utterly sensationalised by numbness and there seemed no other possible release. 

I'm still attempting to gain back enthusiasm for some of the activities and hobbies I loved to do before all of this. Piano-playing, writing poetry and music take a back seat when depressions around. The cloud, the omnipotent dark force, even without a voice seems to say no, it presses itself on your head so hard that it leaves no room for even remembering the things you used to enjoy. 

You can't seem to satisfy or please anybody, everything ends up being your fault when you fail to turn up for events you're too paranoid to attend, your brain is so numb you can't concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds, you isolate yourself further when you begin to become ashamed of yourself, believing you've gone 'insane'. The simplest of tasks become chores, the cloud learns how to control your breathing so even breathing becomes an effort, panic attacks all too familiar for you these days. Everytime you see a possible way out, an goal to reach, the cloud encompasses and smothers you so much that your vision is impaired and the goal is out of sight now. Unachievable. 

If there's anything I've learnt in the past few days it is that the bell jar can lift; “All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung suspended a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air ”. It has lifted before and it can lift again. Through treatment, medication, support, it can and it will lift, sometimes for short periods of time, sometimes for longer, sometimes you can relapse, sometimes you take steps back but let them be incentives to move forward and smash the bell jar and show it who's won. Let yourself be free.

It is an illness I still battle with everyday, I carry wounds and scars and memories that I never want to relive. But the jar has lifted, and I feel more open to that circulating air more than ever before. I've taken that dark force and shown it who is boss. And it's not easy, if it was I wouldn't still be fighting. But we all have strength inside of ourselves and sometimes unfortunately depression takes you to rock bottom before allowing us to find the strength. 

I would say that I regret the last few years of complete torture, but I don't think I do. That cloud is a beast but it's taught me a lot, it's shaped me into a warrior capable of fighting anything. And I'll keep trying to achieve my dreams, keep attempting to inspire, and keep pushing against the thoughts that the cloud wants me to believe. I quite honestly believe that these experiences can only make us stronger and we all have the capability to beat this. Each and every one of you. I believe in you.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Why is mental health stigmatised?

Today is day 4 of Mental Health Awareness Week 2013.

I received a comment on my Tuesday blogpost asking WHY I thought mental health was so stigmatised, and thought it would be an interesting point of discussion for a blogpost. I've thought long and hard and come up with the following points of interest:

  • Ignorance I feel plays a massive role. I live in a massive city which is very much associated with people who are nothing but on the lookout for themselves. It it doesn't concern them, they won't bother to research or find out about it, so will continue to judge or undermine those who do suffer, belittling them as 'weak' or 'not good enough' for them. Sounds strange and shocking but it does happen, especially amongst high-school students or those in successful professions. There is a huge chance that someone you are living with or who you know is struggling with a mental health problem, if not publicly, then most definitely in private. If it was your brother, your parent, or your daughter who had come to you needing help and support, would you still consider mental health as a topic not worth thinking about? As my friend just said on Twitter and very well so, 'ignorance isn't bliss, it's rude...'
  • Ignorance, combined with not making the effort to actually find out more about mental health problems, leads to the ridiculous phrases such as 'nutcase', 'crazy', 'cuckoo' 'psychos', or 'lunatics'. It can be too much effort sometimes to try and find out what IS right or wrong to say, so instead dismiss it entirely.
  • Fear. Mental health has built a huge reputation of being associated with violence and violent activity, and while that can be the case, more often than not this is not true. 25% of people believe that their perceptive link between mental health and violence comes from film and television viewing, often the media reporting on homicidal and murderous cases committed by those with mental health problems. This has no doubt let to this cloud of fear and mistrust when approaching someone with a mental health problem 'will they just lash out?' 'will I be safe when I am around them?'. In actual fact, 95% of homicides are committed by those who do not have mental health problems/not been diagnosed with mental health problems (information taken from the Time To Change website). It's really important not to jump to immediate conclusions about a person after hearing they've been diagnosed with a mental health problem, as the truth is quite often not what you may think.
  • Lack of education. We often receive classes and taster classes in schools about sexual health, physical health, ways to prevent drug use and teenage pregnancy and crime rates, but for me, there was never any classes educating about mental health, or what to do if I felt like I had a mental health problem, or vice versa. As someone who begun struggling with issues such as self-injury and mild depression from the age of 12 it would really have been useful to know that I wasn't overreacting and that there was help available to me. It may also have meant that I wasn't horrifically bullied due to other kids thinking I was weird and a freak for cutting myself. 850,000 children/young people in the UK have a mental health problem, and this is just including those who have been diagnosed. So many children suffer in silence and maybe they wouldn't if that education was made available to them within their schools.
  • That is isn't 'real'. Unfortunately, mental health is something you cannot see. They are illnesses of the mind and are therefore not something you can just run to the hospital or doctors and get treated like a broken arm or a chest infection. It is an illness where although there are possible cures, it doesn't mean they will work. Due to this invisibility, people decide to dismiss it and decide it doesn't actually exist, and that it is something we make up, either for attention or God knows what else. I'd like to wonder what goes on in other peoples heads to make them assume that I would actually rather CHOOSE to have the illnesses that I do, and choose to have wasted the last 8/9 years of my life being in and out of treatment, throwing friends and family away, and taking time out of education and work. If a person cannot see what's wrong with you, it is assumed it is made up or 'in your head'. It is 'in my head' and that is just the problem!
The truth is that the further we stigmatise against mental health problems, the more the sufferers decline the opportunity to receive help or never end up taking that first step to get help due to shame, embarrassment, or concern over what others think about them. Everyone is worthy of treatment regardless of which mental health problem they suffer, for how long or regardless of the impact it has had on their lives, and should feel able to access that support without consistent stigmatisation from the general public.

I could go on all day but those are just some of the reasons and explanations why I feel mental health is stigmatised. If you have anything else you wish to say on this topic, feel free to tweet me @amoogle or comment on the blog post below - I'd really appreciate your input! Let's keep talking!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Invisibility of Mental Health

Today is day two of Mental Health Awareness Week 2013.

As you all know, my name is Amy-Louise. I'm 20 years old and I live on the outskirts of East London and Essex. I have dark brown medium length hair and dark brown eyes. I'm 5'7.
I have a boyfriend of almost four years.

I have a job.
I've completed A-level exams, and GCSE'S, and will be attending University in September.
I have friends, and family.
I volunteer.
I love to read and write. I love Keira Knightley films, and The Big Bang Theory.

Alongside those exterior facts which most people know about me, I've battled a variety of mental health problems since I was 12 years old, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-injury/suicidal ideations. I've had low self-esteem and low self-confidence since I can remember.
The more that people find out these facts about me, the more they are shocked; 'I'd never expect you to go through something like that' or 'why, but you're always so happy all the time' or 'well I'd never tell by just looking at you'.

That's the point, really. Mental Health is invisible. And it isn't something you can just tell by looking at someone and assuming that they couldn't possibly suffer. Apparently, I don't look like someone who would suffer from a mental health problem, but quite honestly I have no idea of what their perception of someone with a mental health problem is like. I once got told that I was 'too pretty to have an eating disorder' - so those with eating disorders have to be ugly? Of course not, it's ridiculous.

Unfortunately, even in the 21st century where 1 in 4 people are currently struggling with some form of mental health problem, there are still some awful misconceptions which relate back to the 1940s where care of the mentally ill often meant electro-convulsive therapy, cell containment, and that classic image of men in straitjackets. If you fast forward to films made in the 1970s and 80s where all murderers were psychotic and had mental health problems, leading to the impression that all mental health sufferers were violent. Even today, news teams feel the need to report the link between mental health and criminality on a consistent basis.

I can quite honestly tell you now that I'm far from violent. As you can tell by the facts above I actually lead a pretty normal life.

You don't need to fit into a certain category, or look a certain way to have a mental health problem. It's in the name, it's a mental illness, full of complex human emotions, and we ALL have those, right? The brain is such a wonderful yet complicated part of our body yet so many of us are reluctant to want to understand it. If you can't see it, then it doesn't exist, right?

The truth is that mental health problems DO exist and they DO destroy lives. They're not about overreacting or attention-seeking or wanting to cause a stir in someone elses life. They are real, they make you feel worthless, ashamed, disgusting, they take over your life in ways in which you couldn't possibly imagine unless you've been there yourself.
Sufferers like myself go unnoticed for an extremely long period of time due to feeling ashamed, feeling like being accused of attention-seeking, feeling as if no-one would care, and feeling like they're not worthy enough for these issues, and we internalise it and build it up inside of ourselves until we break. And that's exactly what I did back in November 2010. I broke, and ended up in a hospital bed.

It's so important that we talk to people about our mental health. Asking people whether they are okay and are having a good day could possibly be the prompt that someone needs to talk about what they are going through. Don't be scared if someone admits to you that they have a mental health problem. Talk to them. They're human, just like you. You never know, you may just be able to help them.

What do you think? Why do you think that mental health is STILL strongly stigmatised against, even to this day when so many people suffer? Is it because it is an invisible illness, or is there more to it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Lets get physical?

Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week 2013.

This years theme is 'lets get physical' - a debatable topic to say the very least. 
Personally, I think it was a risky move to make, especially in regard to certain mental health problems such as eating disorders, for the most part used to worsen an illness. Overall however, I do see exercise and keeping well completely essential towards a positive and healthy mindset.

The problem with that is, however, with a mental health problem, finding the willpower to exercise and get fit and well can be so difficult. Finding the energy to get out of bed to exercise at all with depression. Being terrified to go jogging/walking outside or venture to the gym because of anxiety. And exercise, of course, being wholly detrimental in large quantities to eating disorder sufferers, with sufferers tending to abuse exercise and in a lot of cases use it as a form of bulimic behaviour.

In those cases, of course, surrounding a theme of a mental health awareness week around exercise seems like a pretty ridiculous idea.

I wouldn't call myself someone who exercises on a regular basis whatsoever, although I do walk an awful lot everyday and will go to the gym when my boyfriend drags me! However, when I do exercise, especially now in recovery, I feel pretty damn good about it. I know that awful feeling of a mental health problem leaving me with the unwillingness to do anything at all, let alone get my trainers on and run for 20 minutes (and I know many others who will agree with me here!) Yet at the same time, I know people whose mental health problems have been saved by exercise, exercise providing them with a focus and a sense of structure, and actually aiding them towards recovery.

Getting 'physical' doesn't always mean going out and blasting out a 5k. It can mean going for a brisk walk on a sunlit evening. It can mean mindfulness, yoga, pilates. It can mean joining the family in a Just Dance war. It can mean actually participating in that PE lesson you've been too frightened to do (trust me, I wish I'd done PE now after not having done it for three years at school!). The idea of getting physical scares most people, but it doesn't have to be as intense as it first seems. Getting physical can be quite enjoyable, and rather fulfilling. 

This years theme is going to be taken in different ways by different people. Some people will believe that exercise is essential in contribution towards recovery, and some won't. Truth is, there's no right or wrong answer. I guess the message I'm getting is 'exercise IS great, but it's not that easy to find the motivation to, with mental health problems'. And I guess the Mental Health Foundation may not have thought this part through when compiling ideas for this years campaign, and that makes me sad. The thought was there, but it didn't seem to follow through so much, I suppose.
I do however believe in the importance of exercise and well being and appreciate the Mental Health Foundations work in this years campaign - do not want to make it seem as if I'm downgrading the campaign at all!

I'm just torn about the whole topic, really.

I guess getting physical can also include actively promoting mental health and mental health awareness week through all major blogging and social networking sites, hashtagging, stamping stigma, making videos, writing blogs, never stop being physical in raising awareness of mental health problems, because now more than ever, it really is time to talk about it.

I'm going to aim to write a blog post EVERY DAY this week. Send possible topics to me on Twitter @amoogle


Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Arrow

Never before has this quote been so apt:

Alongside depression and anxiety recovery comes extreme highs and extreme lows. Those moments where you want to keep pushing and striving and focus towards the end goal, and those moments where you want to completely give up.

It's safe to say I've had a lot of those moments recently.

It's been a while since I've posted on my blog, mainly because life has been pretty stagnant. I haven't felt incredibly inspirational or had anything meaningful to say, I feel. I'm spending a lot of my time working, waiting, and not doing much else. Waiting for September, for my return to University and the start of something new. Unfortunately I'm spending a lot of time until then plagued with worry about every possible thing I can.

The hardest part about recovery is knowing that recovery won't happen overnight. It's a battle. Sometimes tiny minuscule events or something huge can allow you to feel like you've lost the battle. And our natural instinct is to give up.
But, as the quote says, when life, depression, whatever illness plagues you, drags you back with negativity, imagine it as an arrow, pulling you back and making you ready to launch into something far greater. Just like an arrow. Right now, the 'far greater' isn't here, but I have hope that it will be one day.

Despite some aspects of negativity, some good things have happened over the last few weeks or so:
  • I accepted my offer of a place at a London University and went to visit on Wednesday (and may or may not have fallen in love!)
  • I went to see We Will Rock You with my Dad (very rare that we have any time together so was strange but overall a wonderful evening)
  • I have placed a deposit to hire out a hall for my 21st birthday party in September!
  • A colleague at work (who has started just in the last week) took the time to approach me today and thank me for being so lovely and kind and helping her to settle in, which quite honestly made my day.
  • Celebrated both my Mum and Dads birthdays and also a good friend of mine and Nathan's where we had an epic Sunday BBQ last weekend catching up with their family and cuddling their little boy, Jay, who is just the cutest!
  • Celebrating my boyfriends final day as a CCTV operator and moving into being a full-time Metropolitan Police Officer!
  • Ordered Mumford and Sons tickets = need I say more?
It's nice to know that despite these constant battles, there are memories like these that I can look back on and remind myself of, and encourage me to keep going!

Have a wonderful week everyone!