My Mental Health Story: The Fighter

I was delighted to see the positive response I had on my previous “My Mental Health Story”. It’s great that so many people are supportive, not only of what I’m trying to do but also of the people who have been brave enough to share their stories.

Today I have another story for you. This is the story of a boy I’m calling “The Fighter”.

My mental health story is one which I feel many people may sympathise with.
I guess, it all started due to school. I was bullied every single day I was there, from day one, until the last day. I remember being teased because I was overweight, and due to being top of my class. So yes, I was the stereotypical nerdy, fat kid. But hey, when you’re five this doesn’t sink in. It wasn’t until secondary school that I noticed the impact that the bullying had on me. As I grew up, the insults got worse, the people got worse, and my mental resolve was lowered.
School was awful for me, not only because of bullying, but because the pastoral care I received was almost non-existent. As the bullying got worse, I was repeatedly having to leave classes due to my mental decline. I would have to run out of class to avoid breaking down in front of my bullies.
When I was thirteen, this reached a peak, and I would say was the beginning of my mental illness. I began cutting. Over a period of time this got worse, but I remained silent about it. I kept it to myself, not even my friends knew. It wasn’t until someone in my Spanish class saw the cuts, almost a year later, that I opened up to my closest friends.
When my friends told my Head of Year, because they were worried about me, and saw how bad my mental health had become, I agreed to enter counselling; now aged fifteen.
HOWEVER, this period of counselling was not helpful for me. The rapport between my counsellor and me was non-existent, and she proceeded to make assumptions about my person which led to my mental health decline even more. I even went to my GP, and was turned away saying my feelings were “typical teenage angst”. This made me feel worse, and as if what I was experiencing was natural, and I just couldn’t handle it – and it was me who was weak for reacting so badly to normal stressors.
When I was sixteen, I moved schools for sixth form, and had a fresh start. It was here I developed some of my closest friendships, and met some of the people who support me to this day. Moving school also provided me with increased pastoral support, and provided me access to a support worker who understood me, built the rapport I needed, and could provide me with the opportunities and coping strategies to support me in my journey.
After completing my A-Levels, I headed to university, at this point my mental health was the best it had been since I was twelve. I was in a committed relationship, had an amazing support network of friends, and was about to go and study on my dream course.
However, things went wrong, very quickly; within two months of being at university I tried to kill myself. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, and was binge drinking. If it was not for my best friend, Ben, I would have jumped off a bridge.
At this point, Ben – amongst many others – dragged me to the GP to get professional help. On meeting with my GP, I was referred to a Mental Health Institute, to gain a diagnosis of my condition, and receive any care I needed. (this was perhaps the best thing to happen to me).
After an hour of consultation, I left with an official diagnosis of Mixed Anxiety and Depressive Disorder. From gaining this diagnosis, I was prescribed Sertraline (50mg). I noticed very little change in my mental health. Alongside this, I continued binge drinking, and living an awful lifestyle, and this pushed me further down, to the point I was contemplating suicide again.
So, I went back to the GP, and upped my Sertraline prescription, to 100mg, alongside this I was prescribed a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
With the upped dosage of Sertraline, as well as a course of CBT, I was noticing a huge change in my mental health. I saw that I was breaking down less, had the motivation to do things I used to enjoy again (cricket and football), and my sleeping pattern became regular – I was sleeping eight-hours per night.
Since this point, my mental health has continued to grow. I am still taking 100mg Sertraline daily, and I notice the differences in days that I forget to take a tablet, but all in all, I am in the best place I have been since I was twelve, or thirteen. I am committed to my university course, I have hobbies again, I have a great friendship group, and am (trying) to rebuild the friendships I caused to end when I was at my worst.
For me, CBT helped me re-evaluate my perspective on the world, and the events which triggered me, as well as the anxieties I have.
I would have to say, personally, the prescription of Sertraline was the most helpful and important part of my (continuing) recovery. I’m sure the fact it boosts my serotonin production helps hugely, but I find the symbol of taking the pill helpful, it reminds me of my continual journey and recovery, and the fact that I can overcome these issues.
I’m not saying it is plain sailing, and I still have my moments where my depression or anxiety, gets the better of me; but that’s okay. I’m human, it’s healthy for me to be vulnerable and have moments where I cry and am very low – but all-in-all I am the happiest I have been in a long long time, and cannot thank my friends, and family, enough for the support they’ve given me.
The one thing I wish I had done earlier was see someone, and force through what I needed. I know when I saw my GP I was turned away, but I wish I had pushed it, and argued against them. Just because one doctor turned me away, doesn’t mean the others would have. One doctor doesn’t represent the whole of the NHS, or the entirety of the medical profession. They do care. They will help. And, they want you to be okay.
Yes, Mental Health Services are very stretched, and resources are decreasing, but those involved care, and want to help as much as they can. The services get an awful reputation, but that’s because government funding for mental illness is shocking, and only getting smaller, not because the profession doesn’t care.
So, to conclude, my one piece of advice, talk to someone professionally. Find someone who will listen, and will help. Fight for it, and don’t give up until you get it.

If you’d like to get involved, I’d love to hear your story. Please get in contact with me via Instagram, Twitter or through the contact page on this site. Together we can defeat the stigma.

My Mental Health Story: The Snowflake

Mental health awareness is one thing that I’m passionate about. I’d love to live in a world where people feel comfortable about talking about their mental health issues without fear of judgement. The stigma that is attached to ill mental health can have detrimental effects not only on the lives of sufferers, but also on the lives of their loved ones.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to start a new series on my blog called “My Mental Health Story”. These are stories from real people who have suffered with a variety of mental health issues. If these stories help just one person then they’ll have done what I wanted them to do.

I’ve asked people to write honestly about their experiences, and to present their experiences however they see fit. This is the story of a girl who I have called “The Snowflake”.

Let me tell you this: Snowfall is beautiful.
Let me ask you this: Have you ever watched (with such intensity) the snow fall that you notice more than you’d see in a picture or snapchat video?
It’s fascinating. It’s difficult to focus on one snowflake unless it stands out from the rest. It’s more possible to focus on a crowd of similar moving snowflakes. A snowflake’s journey isn’t one of a straight line, impacted by gravity alone. Its journey is unique, not a single snowflake ever the same, never following the same path from sky to ground.
Consider this: life is snowfall. The real thing is rarely captured in all its beauty and downfalls in pictures and snapchats alone. It’s complex. We’re all snowflakes, some standing out from the crowd; noticed by everyone. Some feeling unnoticed entirely. All of us moving completely uniquely but crossing paths and sharing paths for varying amounts of time.
Gravity isn’t the only force at work in our lives. For some there is a God. For some there is physical pain and disease. For some there is war. For some there are family breakdowns. For many there are both fortunate and unfortunate events. For some there are friendships, bringing happiness or toxicity. And for some there is mental illness.
The forces at work in my life, beyond gravity, include God, pain, grief, joy, loss, gain, stability, uncertainty, stress, family, friends, and love. But the good forces all seemed to lose their strength when I eventually stopped seeing life as beautiful. Paths that crossed over felt more like collisions, whilst paths that were shared felt over-crowded. Everything sort of felt numb, like it does in the cold. I didn’t feel those intense emotions anymore; they were unreachable. Laughter didn’t bring that lasting joy, and each bad twist added to a long list of awful things which lead to the question: Why life? …Wouldn’t it be much more peaceful if gravity was the only force in control of the snowfall? If sky to ground, birth to death, was one quick and easy path?
Me, the girl who is known for her smiles through everything, stopped finding a reason to smile.  I pushed those close to me away. But when they were gone I cried. I longed for them to return. More and more frequently I had moments where my chest became tight and my heart beat fast. These moments came out of nowhere most days. There was no trigger; they just came and went when they pleased. They were in control. I was worried, scared almost.
I decided that I needed to gain control of my thoughts, switch them for positive ones. I knew it wasn’t healthy to consider death as a viable solution to problems but I was scared that no one would actually believe I was struggling. I’d built up a wall that not many were allowed to pass because as long as they weren’t on my side of the wall they were safe from my thoughts. But in doing so I felt alone. I’d separated myself from everyone for a little while just as I got caught in a whirlwind of mental struggle.
I began reading Katie Piper’s ‘Things Do Get Better’ and to this day I’ve still only reached chapter 4. Those four chapters were enough to encourage me into actively thinking positive each day and night. I started journaling, remembering each great thing at the end of everyday whilst acknowledging the hard stuff and letting myself feel.
The cloud lifted and I felt so much lighter, suddenly alien to the thoughts that once filled my mind. It had come and gone in such an intense and quick way. I was amazed.
A couple of months later, it came back. Much of the same happened in terms of ‘recovery’: I ploughed through and eventually it went away again. I began to realise a pattern each month. It kept coming back, each time in a different form. Sometimes with tight-chest pains and random anxiousness, other times my brain would come to catastrophic conclusions about problems that were quite minor in the grand scheme of things.
For now my doctor has prescribed me the pill to stabilise my hormone levels throughout the month. It would appear my lows and quick highs are hormone related.  I’ve just started taking the medication after a low before my period last month. I’m optimistic. I feel like I’m writing about another person when I put my story into words. It doesn’t feel real because my mental health isn’t who I am, it’s a battle I face and one that I’m choosing to acknowledge, to remember and to fight whilst I’m feeling well.
I wrote this because I think our mental health needs to be discussed openly. No matter how big or small the experiences. There is strength in shared experiences. Snowflakes movements are best noticed and followed by the human eye when they are crowded together following a similar path. Let’s start sharing together and encouraging each other. And, who knows, maybe our crowd of snowflakes will get the attention of someone who needs to see it?
Yours truly,
A fellow snowflake.

If you’d like to get involved, I’d love to hear your story. Please get in contact with me via Instagram, Twitter or through the contact page on this site. Together we can defeat the stigma.

Theresa May on Mental Health

On 9th January 2017, Theresa May spoke at the England and Wales Charity Commission about encouraging equality within the UK, with a particular focus on improving the wellbeing of members of society through improved mental health services.

I’ve just listened to her speech all the way through and was delighted to hear the approach she took in her presentation on how we can improve mental health services within Britain. Encouraging people to “defeat the stigma” and “strengthen the bonds we share as humans”, May’s speech was almost inspiring. She addressed issues frankly and recognised some key points, such as the increase in self harm in the UK, and the challenges that social media brings.

In May’s governments’ new approach to mental health, May highlights our need to recognise our “responsibility to each other”, something I feel we could all do a little more. While I don’t necessarily agree with all her political ideas, I am very much with her based on Monday’s speech.

May discussed several ideas within her speech:

  • Pilot mental health first aid training for school and college staff to enable better support for children and teenagers
  • Encourage schools to work closely with the NHS in order to offer the most appropriate mental health care for children and teenagers
  • Break the stigma attached to mental health sufferers within the workplace
  • Review employment discrimination acts to ensure that those with mental health issues are supported within the workplace
  • Support those who are unemployed and suffer with mental health issues to return to the workplace
  • Improve care within the community, offering clinics and crises cafes to ensure that people who are struggling have a place to go to get the help they need
  • Offer support and funding to charities and churches to improve their mental health support services
  • Improve online services to enable people to check their symptoms online and get access to appropriate therapies and treatments more quickly

At the end of her speech, May briefly mentioned the need to focus on suicide prevention, to reduce the 13 people who commit suicide in England everyday to none.

You can watch the full speech here:

Better late than never?

Happy New Year everybody! Hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

It’s been absolutely ages since I sat down to write a blog post, so I thought I’d put a bit of effort in to making sure that something goes up today.

By way of an update:

  • My Christmas was chaotic but on the whole pretty good. I got some absolutely beautiful gifts from my family and friends and had such a wonderful period of celebration. It was very busy and I didn’t really get a chance to sit down. Now that it’s  over, it feels like it was ages ago. I kind of miss it and I’m secretly looking forward to Christmas 2017.
  • I spent New Year at Ben’s parents’ house in Aylesbury. Unfortunately, I was pretty ill for the entire time I was there.
  • I went back to work last week and since I’ve been back there’s been lots going on. It’s nice to have a lot to do. I like keeping busy.
  • I got a brand new book shelf, and I’m really tempted to do a sort of book shelf tour so you can see all that I’ve got. Might be quite a good way of logging what I haven’t read and what I haven’t got yet, as well.

All in all, this busy spell has been a bit of a whirlwind, and I’ve made some pretty big decisions over the past few weeks which I’ll share with you in the future, perhaps.

For now, my only piece of advice is this: make 2017 your year.

That’s what I’m doing.

Decorating!

This weekend, Ben and I spent a lot of time preparing my parents’ house for Christmas. Wandering around Fenwick, Paperchase and Wilko, we managed to pick up a gorgeous range of baubles. From bargain pieces to slightly more expensive gems, I was thrilled with everything we picked up.

Given that Christmas is my favourite holiday, and given that it’s less than 20 days away, today I thought I’d share a few pictures that we took over the weekend.

And yes… I am wearing a dragon onesie.

20 years old

On the 25th November, I celebrated my 20th birthday. I took some time off work and spend Thursday evening – Tuesday morning in the company of my significant other. It was a complete delight.

On Thursday evening, Ben and I tucked into a nice curry from a local Indian with my parents, before I opened my gifts from them. I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful planner from Kikki.K and a jacket from asos.com, as well as a huge stuffed dog – I love them all dearly.

Ben and I stayed up until midnight watching Frozen, and when the clock struck 12 I opened my presents from the man himself. I got a variety of gifts from him, all of which I love. I was a particular fan of some Disney postcards that he’d bought me, with stills from the films as well as some of the drawings pre-final edit. It was amazing to see the work that had gone into the films, and also the skill of the artists that work on them. This went along nicely with the Disney book he bought me as well.

Among other presents, Ben had also bought me Disney Pictopia (which I thoroughly recommend if you love Disney!) and the most adorable little toy armadillo.

On Friday morning, Ben and I had pain au chocolat and spent the majority of our time wrapping Christmas gifts for friends and family. Just before midday, my friend Amy quickly popped over for a gift, and then Ben and I headed to Nando’s for a rather large (but very delicious) lunch!

In the evening, we headed back to Ben’s and watched Papertowns, which he’d bought me on DVD for my birthday, while eating ‘party food’, and many episodes of Skins, a TV show that I’ve seen at least twice through but love lots.

On Saturday evening, Ben had arranged a surprise meet-up with some friends of mine, who I wish I could see more regularly. It was an awesome surprise that ended up with us spending some time at a pub before moving on to Pizza Hut. Delicious!

Sunday was definitely the busiest day of the entire weekend. We picked my sister and her boyfriend up from the station and drove to my grandparents house. My Nan and Grandad had arranged for us all (mum, dad, Kat, Mat, Ben and I) to go out for a roast lunch at a local pub, before heading back to their’s for a game of Rummikub. I love spending time with my family, and I think every involved had a pretty good day. Nan even surprised me with a birthday cake!

In the evening, we returned to Ben’s where we watched Me Before You, another DVD that Ben had bought me and one that I have wanted to watch for ages. The book was beautiful and I was so pleased that the film lived up to expectations. And yes, I did cry.

Originally I had planned to spend Monday chilling and relaxing in time to return to work, but when it came down to it, Ben and I decided to pop to Bluewater and do some shopping. I went into the Kikki.K store and Paperchase and picked up some lovely new stationery bits, and also bought myself a new rucksack from Topshop which is definitely one of my favourite things and something I shall inevitably use for a long time.

We had a lovely lunch at Gourmet Burger Kitchen which I have recently become a fan of – particularly the skinny fries!

All in all, my birthday weekend was fantastic.

Christmas advertising

With the recent release of the 2016 John Lewis Christmas advert, which (after one week of being live) has over 16 million views on YouTube, it is evident that advertising can have a huge impact, particularly in the lead up to Christmas.

Companies spend millions of pounds on their advertising campaigns, and it’s clear that this has paid off for John Lewis, whose advert has become one of the most highly anticipated, and is almost a signifier to people that ‘Christmas is coming’ – not that we didn’t know that already, but it’s always nice to be reminded.

Today, another beautiful Christmas advert has been released that I wanted to share with you. You might have already seen it, or you might not have had the opportunity yet, but this, I feel, is one of the most well thought out ad campaigns I’ve seen. For me, it ticks all the boxes and really conveys a wonderful message. Christmas is a time to think of others, after all, and with that in mind I present to you the Alzheimer’s Research UK advert, Santa Forgot…

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia. It can affect anyone but everyone can play a part in fighting back this Christmas.

Having experienced the devastating effects that Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia can have on the lives of people left behind, this advert really spoke to me.

I’m not going to ask you to donate to the charity, although it would be delightful if you could. Instead, I urge you to think about the impact of diseases (both of the mind and the physical body) on the lives of individuals and their families this Christmas.

When you’re traipsing through aisles and aisles of Buster the Boxer merchandise, spare a thought for those who are alone or those who are grieving or those who are here in body but not completely in mind.

The Lego debate

Today, I became very infuriated during a conversation with a couple of anonymous male friends of mine, and I wanted to talk about it on my blog because where else do you go with these matters?

The conversation was regarding Christmas, a season that I look forward to all through the year. I’ve been really prepared this year, and it turns out that one of these friends has also been rather prepared (the other less so) and has bought his son some Lego for Christmas.

I should point out here that I have a lot of respect for both of these friends. I spend a lot of time with them and they are, on the whole, good eggs.

As both of these people have children, they are both aware of the toys available to societies little ones. The things that, in the lead up to the 25th of December will no doubt be put on many Christmas lists up and down the country, in the hope that someone might put in a good word to Santa and they’ll open their gifts to be overwhelmed with happiness at all the lovely new playthings they’ve accumulated.

Lego, as far as I’m concerned, is a unisex product. There is no restriction on who can play with Lego. It astounded me to hear one say to the other: “there’s not really any Lego kits for girls, is there? It’s all knights and pirate ships, they don’t really do castles”

Usually, due to the environment that we were in I would have just ignored this, but I was in a bit of a funny mood this morning so I decided to call this statement out.

From my perspective, girls can and do play with knights and pirate ships, and enjoy these things just as much as boys do. I see no reason why there should be gender stereotypes that say young person x shouldn’t play with that because they are a girl in the same way that there shouldn’t be stereotypes that say young person y shouldn’t play with that because they are a boy.

In our society, target audiences are incredibly important. I know this because I work closely with brands on a daily basis and I understand that in order for a product to work it has to suit the wants and needs of particular groups of people, otherwise you’d be shooting in the dark and crossing your fingers that someone might take an interest in your idea.

To me, however, the idea of gender stereotyping of children that are barely out of nappies is upsetting. Why should girls like princesses and castles and boys like cars and pirate ships? Why can’t they both like both things, or neither if they choose. Why can’t boys play with dolls if they want to and girls have toy soldiers?

I’d be interested to know your opinions on the Lego debate in the comments below.

Changes

For the observant among you, you may have noticed an aesthetic change to the blog. For the even more observant, you may have also noticed a slight alteration to my URL. I’ve switched from Blogger to WordPress and I couldn’t be happier. To me, this feels like the right direction for me to go with my little space of the internet. I hope that’s okay with you all.

There has been a lot of changes in my life over the past few months, but the key thing is my change of job role at work. I’ve gone from being an unqualified PR Apprentice to becoming a fully qualified PR Account Executive. The change hasn’t been massive in terms of the work that I’m undertaking, but I do feel a much greater sense of responsibility in my job right now.

I wrote a post on our company blog about my experience as an apprentice. You can read that here if you wish. I’m a real advocate of apprenticeships having been through one myself and seen the positive impact that it can have. I hope that I’ll have plenty more opportunities to talk outwardly about my apprenticeship experience on here in the future as I really do believe it’s helped to shape me as a person in some ways. I’m over the moon to have completed and passed, and I’m so glad that I have been offered a full time permanent position at Quantum.

Hopefully, over the next few months, you’ll start to notice a content change as well. I want to talk more about the things that I feel most passionate about: equality for all and mental health awareness. I’m hoping to get some good conversations started and perhaps make even a small impact on some people’s perceptions of issues that I feel should be discussed more.

As always, I’ll still be posting the occasional life update. Lots more photos and lots more fun. That’s what I’m hoping for.

I’ve missed blogging. Blogging has been a huge part of my life for years now. I set out to document everything from the beginning and that’s what I’m going to do more of now. I’m feeling focussed and ready to go.

Getting back into blogging…

At a recent work appraisal, I was talking to my Managing Director about some of the things that I’d like to achieve within the next year, both in and outside of work. One point of focus in our chat was this little blog of mine.
It’s been a chaotic few months to say the least. Truth be told, I’ve been struggling. There’s been a lot of things going on in my mind and really, I haven’t been in the best of places. It’s been tough but I’m getting through it and I’m so thankful for the support I’ve received from those around me. I’ll probably write more on it in the future, but for now I want to keep this as lighthearted as possible.

Aside from some of the negative things I’ve been going through, there have been many good moments over the last few months that I’m sure I’ll get round to sharing with you at some stage. Not every day has been a good one, but the good ones have been incredible.

By way of a quick life update, I have been working my butt off to complete all my coursework for my apprenticeship, which will be submitted next week for marking a week after that. I’ve got my final meeting with my assessor on the 27th October, and on the 28th I will be an officially qualified PR practitioner. I was absolutely delighted to be offered a permanent position at my current place of employment when I complete my apprenticeship, so from the end of October, I will be an official, full time and permanent, PR Account Executive.

I’ll be back within the next couple of weeks to update you further on things. I hope that the posts will become more regular on completion of my apprenticeship coursework. I’ve missed these little ramblings and I thoroughly look forward to chatting with you all again soon.

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How time flies…

I cannot believe it’s been three months since I wrote this post in celebration of Ben and I being together for six months. It’s crazy that it’s been nine months since we became official partners in crime.
These past three months have been pretty tough. Ben’s been back at home in Aylesbury, as he’s been on summer holidays from uni (thank goodness he’s back next weekend!) and I’ve been getting by in Kent. I’ve spent lots of weekends visiting him which has been really fortunate – if a little tiring – for me. I love spending time with Ben, it is my favourite thing to do.
 —
1. We went on our first mini holiday together at the start of August with a couple of our friends and their son. It was beyond delightful and I think we all had a pretty great time. It was my first time properly camping and I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it nearly as much as I did. The weather was beautiful, the vibe was super chill and honestly I wish I could have getaways like that every weekend. Positive days with positive people are the best thing for me. I got a little way too sunburnt and was in pain for several days afterwards, but it was so worth it. Note to self: take Ben’s advice and wear more suncream next time.
2. Over the bank holiday weekend, I was up in Aylesbury enjoying a lovely break from work with Ben’s family. My clear highlight was a beautiful day picnic-ing at Ashridge Monument. The weather was lovely, the food was fantastic and the company was, always, better than I could ever have hoped for.
3. Ben and I now have matching necklaces. They’re so beautiful and we’re so happy with them. His is black and silver and mine is a sort of rose gold colour and silver, and they’re engraved with the words “I will always be with you”. I wear it every single day and love it so much.
 Benjamin Warner, you are the love of my life and the light in my darkest days. I love you more than you could ever imagine, my hero.

This Modern Love by Will Darbyshire

Received my copy of This Modern Love by Will Darbyshire on Monday. Finished it in one evening.
I think this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s a crowd-sourced collection of love letters and is divided into three sections: beginning, middle and end, much like how relationships work.
I didn’t put this book down. The words really spoke to me. Some of the letters told stories that were so relatable to my life, both now and in the past. I think that there’s something in this book that everyone can relate to.
Definitely worth reading if you get hold of a copy. Top marks to Will for coming up with such a spectacularly unique idea. I loved it from start to finish.

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