A girl with too many thoughts...

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Allowing Yourself To Rest

Being at constant war with your own mind is exhausting. Unfortunately, that's not something many people understand. Unless you have personally experienced it, you will not necessarily know just how draining it is to be battling with your thoughts day in, day out.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day in bed. In fact, I've pretty much spent this whole week not really doing much. The question is, should I feel guilty about this? Or should I just accept that I needed it, that I clearly didn't feel up to doing much, so instead I listened to my body and mind, and I rested...

There seems to be a certain stigma around taking days off or allowing yourself to rest because of a mental health problem - almost as if it isn't warranted. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Like with any other health problem, a mental health condition can leave you feeling run down. And is it really any wonder? It can have a significant impact on your body physically too, something which I have already blogged about here.

In school, I felt like if I took a day off because of my mental health, I was 'skiving'. I could never be honest about why I took the day off - I always had to come up with some 'proper reason' why I was missing a day. It's like I couldn't just say 'I'm not coming in today because I am struggling particularly badly with my OCD'. No, it had to be an 'actual' illness. So, I would make up an excuse. I would lie and say I had a cold, or a headache, or an upset stomach. Then, of course, I would just feel guilty for lying. When I returned, my friends might make sarcastic comments; 'so, did you have a nice day off?' - clearly believing I just didn't come in because I 'couldn't be bothered'.

So why is it that mental health conditions still aren't recognised as perfectly valid reasons for needing to take time off? Why is it that we can only justify resting if it is due to a physical illness? Why must we feel the need to come up with an excuse, rather than revealing the truth as to why we are taking a break?

Personally, I believe that mental health conditions should be regarded in the same way as any other illness. If your mental health is causing you to need a rest, then rest. This is not something which should carry guilt with it. Nor is it something which we should feel the need to justify.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Worrying About The Future

Worrying about the future is something that I find myself doing all too often. For me, the future is filled with many uncertainties, and usually leaves me with innumerable unanswered questions. Nonetheless, thinking about the future is something which we cannot escape from.

In all walks of life, we are encouraged to consider our future; whether that is in school, in work or just in life in general. We are always faced with questions about what comes next and can feel forced to plan ahead. For example, in school, you are expected to make important decisions about your future from a young age - and this is something I always used to struggle with. I didn't have the first clue what GCSE's to take, what A-level subjects to study or what occupation I wanted to dedicate my life to! (I still don't).

Sometimes, it's all just too over-whelming - especially when you are constantly battling with your mental health at the same time, something which has certainly been true for me over the past few years. Regaining control over my mental health has been pretty high up on my priority list, and therefore, making plans for my future has gone by the wayside somewhat. Now I'm left feeling a little lost and uncertain as to where I'm going to end up in life; whether I'm actually going to manage to make something of myself or if I will ever achieve something which I can be proud of.

It doesn't help that we are living in such uncertain and chaotic times right now  - something which suffering from anxiety makes me particularly receptive to. I'm repeatedly being told by those older than me that I'm going to find it impossible to get a decent-paying job and will never be able to own a house of my own. This doesn't exactly fill me with confidence about my future, especially as an already self-doubting and insecure human! All I want is to have a bearable job, earn enough to support myself and be able to live comfortably.

At my age,  I should be looking forward to the future. I should be focusing on all of the exciting opportunities that are open to me and all of the new things I will experience, all of the people I will meet. But I'm not. Instead, thinking of the future only fills me with dread. I continuously worry about whether or not I will get good enough grades to get into University, if I will ever get a decent paying job, or if I will ever be able to afford to move out.

What I have come to realise, though, is that worrying isn't constructive. It is not going to help me in any way to achieve what I want to achieve. Nor will it change the course of my life or positively impact my future. In fact, if anything, it will only have the opposite effect.

Constantly worrying about the future will not change it. The only thing that will change it is actively choosing to do things which will help to improve your life for the better. All of that energy that you put into worrying about the future, would be put to much better use by getting involved in activities which will contribute to making your future the best it can possibly be.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Not Fitting In & Feeling Isolated

I don't know what it is about me, but I never seem to feel like I 'fit in' when I am around other people. It's really hard to explain, but I just get a sense like I don't really 'belong', if that makes any sense what so ever.

I first remember feeling this way when I started secondary school, at the age of 11. I went to a grammar school, in which you had to pass your '11+' to be accepted (if you don't know what an 11+ is, it's basically an entry exam which determines how smart you are - and if you fail, you aren't considered smart enough, so you get booted off to a different school). To cut a long story short, I failed the 11+.

It's not all bad news, though, because I still got in (through appeal). But I guess this is where the feeling of 'not quite fitting in' started. From the outset, I didn't feel like I belonged at that school, because I didn't believe I was as clever as everyone else who had passed the infamous 11+. Also, as a very quiet person, I didn't contribute much to class discussions. It seems that if you don't feel the need to blurt out everything that is on your mind and shout it from the rooftops, you must just be dumb. So I think it is safe to say, school made me feel like a bit of an outcast...

Next came my first experience of the world of work. In Year 10, we had to undergo two weeks of work experience. I picked to go to a nearby nursery (which I quickly found out really isn't my kind of thing). Once again, I just didn't fit in. Communicating with the staff was extremely difficult, and I was convinced they just thought I was strange - especially the woman who worked in the kitchen (she really hated me, because even after a week, I still didn't know where the trays were kept...the horror). I even felt like the kids were judging me! But that's okay, I thought, clearly working with children just isn't my thing...

Then, when I was 16, I got a real-life, proper, adult job. I was working in a shop which sold designer clothing. It seemed like the ideal job. A teenager, working in a trendy shop, mainly with other teenagers - what could possibly go wrong?! Well how naïve was I! It was absolutely shit. Again, I was certain that everybody thought I was weird (this seems to be a particular insecurity of mine). I found it impossible to hold proper conversations with any of my colleagues. They seemed to have a thing about pointing out my flaws, whether that was how short I am, how pale I am, etc. etc. (not good when you are a sensitive soul, like myself). This led me to the conclusion that I didn't fit in there either, so I quit after 7 months.

I've come to realise that I just don't fit in anywhere. I always feel a bit like an outsider, like I'm just standing on the sidelines, but not really getting involved. I'm not particularly good at anything and find it difficult to be myself around people, especially in the workplace. I've avoided getting another job since my last one in retail, but I know I can't hold off forever. After all, I'm gonna have to earn money at some point!

Feeling like you don't fit in leads you to feel very isolated. When you can't express yourself properly to those around you, or you feel 'odd' or 'different' all of the time, you can end up feeling very alone. However, I think it's important to remember that even if you haven't found somewhere that you feel you belong yet, it doesn't mean you never will. There's so much left to experience, so many new things to try, so many more people to meet - you are bound to find somewhere that you fit in.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Do You Ever Really Recover From OCD?

I think this is an interesting topic to talk about - whether you really ever 'recover' fully from OCD.

Personally, I haven't completely decided where I stand on this - although, I think I'm leaning more towards the 'no' side. I don't think you can really 'recover' from OCD, as such.

This sounds a lot more negative than I mean it to. By this, I don't mean you can't ever get better. Of course, you can undergo various treatments, whether that is therapy or medication (or both, as is the case with me). These things have greatly improved my symptoms and helped me to feel more in control of my mental health generally. But I don't think my OCD will ever go away entirely.

For me, obsessive thinking is just what I am prone to - I can't help it. Over-analysing, over-worrying...these are things that I feel I will always do, no matter what. I wouldn't like to go as far as saying that it is part of my personality, because 'OCD doesn't define you' and all that malarkey, but it kind of is part of my personality, in a way.

So, what in the world is the point of even going through with treatment then? Well, even if I don't think my obsessive thoughts will disappear completely, I can try my absolute hardest to manage them, and that is where the therapy comes in for me. Through CBT,  I have learnt new ways in which to respond to my negative thoughts. I have learnt how to manage them better in certain situations and not let them have such a big impact on my daily life. So, even if I still get them, they are not as strong and I am in a much better position to tackle them.

That's what the aim is for me - being able to cope with my intrusive thoughts and not letting them get the better of me, like they once did. I am not looking for them to go away entirely, because I don't think that is realistic for me. But that doesn't mean that trying to tackle them isn't worth it, because I can still live a fully functional and happy life whilst simultaneously dealing with the kind of negative thoughts that come about with OCD.

Perhaps I am just being defeatist. With time, my OCD might get smaller and smaller until it is practically non-existent. After all, I have only been getting help for just over a year, and recovery from a mental health condition sure isn't a quick (nor easy) process. Maybe I am overlooking something vital here, I'm sure there is some scientific explanation as to why you can in fact recover from OCD. I remember my therapist saying something about the connections in your brain changing or something? (probably should have listened to that part a little more...)

I would love to here your perspective on this, and if you could possibly enlighten me as to why you can in fact live an OCD-free life, that would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Speaking With Family/Friends About Your Illness

One of the hardest things to face when suffering from a mental health disorder, is opening up to those around you. There are many things you might be worried about. Maybe you are concerned that they might not understand or will think less of you for having a mental health condition. Perhaps you are embarrassed or ashamed of some of your thoughts or behaviour and are worried that they might just think you're ‘crazy’.

These things all seem very scary, which makes it even more difficult to be honest with family and friends about your illness. However, once you have done it, you might find it to be a huge weight off your shoulders. Making those close to you aware that you are struggling, can come as a great relief and ease the pressure of having to hide your symptoms or make excuses for your behaviour. If they know the reason why, they are less likely to question you about why you might not want to do something or why you might be particularly down some days. It could just make it that little bit easier to deal with your mental health condition.

Chances are, those close to you have realised that something isn’t right. They may have noticed a change in your personality or behaviour. Maybe you don’t seem as happy and bubbly as you used to, or you are a lot more withdrawn and don’t go out as much. Don’t assume that admitting you are struggling is going to come as a massive shock to them – they probably know, but are just waiting for you to open up to them. If they know something is wrong, they are probably worried about you, but don’t know what to do to help. They might be waiting for you to say something to them, rather than the other way around.

I know that when I was struggling particularly badly with OCD, my friends definitely realised something was wrong with me. I was usually extremely energetic and happy. I’d say I used to be a pretty optimistic and positive person most of the time. Then, I suddenly changed quite rapidly. I was a lot more distant from my friends, not really bothering to keep in contact or be involved in anything they were doing. They noticed that I was always low, and didn’t really make the effort to speak to them much. They probably also noticed that I wasn’t taking as much care of my appearance, although they keep telling me I looked fine (I know I didn’t!)

I knew that they knew something was up, but because I hadn’t really broached the subject with them, it made the whole situation a lot more awkward. When I did tell them that my mental health had gone downhill and I was going to be getting help, they understood straight away and didn’t treat me any differently for it. All it meant was that they understood more why I was being how I was, which came as a relief to me because I didn’t feel the pressure to pretend everything was okay anymore or make excuses all of the time.
Of course, it needs to be a time when you feel ready. Opening up to those you feel comfortable around, those that you trust, could be a great place to start. For example, you could speak to your parents first, or a really close friend that you know will understand. I am lucky that I have a very close relationship with my Mum, who  could see the signs before I even had to say anything to her. She picked up on the fact that I was struggling and encouraged me to seek help. She has supported me throughout the whole process, from initially going to the doctor to being patient with me whilst I try to figure things out and recover!

However, it doesn’t even need to be a family member or friend - perhaps you have a teacher that you feel you are able to talk to (if you are in school, obviously). Even just ringing up a helpline, anything that will help you to start opening up and get it off your chest. Just remember, there are people that will listen and offer their support, even if you feel alone or like you have nobody close to you that cares.


Saturday, 23 July 2016

Supporting Somebody With OCD

Sometimes, we can find ourselves in a situation where we know somebody needs help, but we don't have the first clue how to help them. I think this is especially true for mental health disorders, because if you haven't experienced one for yourself, you might not know the best way in which to offer your support.

There is no denying that OCD is a complex condition. One which requires a lot of understanding, time and patience from not only the sufferers, but from those around them too. Perhaps you are living with somebody with OCD and you don't know how you can help, or a close friend is suffering from the condition and you are stuck on how to support them.

I thought I would outline a few things that may be useful when somebody close to you suffers from OCD. This is coming from my perspective (the sufferer), but they are things that I know would make life easier for both me and those around me.

 1) Leave out the backhand comments

The person who is suffering from OCD knows they are being irrational. They know that their behaviour makes no sense. Making a snarky comment under your breath is really not going to help the situation - I can assure you. Accusing them of being 'crazy' or 'mental', laughing at them or making jokes about their behaviours/symptoms - these things really aren't going to fill them with the confidence they need to reach out to you for support.

2) Be patient

One aspect of OCD is compulsions or rituals – and they can be time-consuming. Someone with OCD may take longer than usual to leave the house, for example, because of various routines they feel compelled to carry out beforehand. Telling somebody with OCD to just ‘hurry up’ is not going to hurry them up. In fact, the likelihood is that they will just take even longer, since they have to start their ritual again because they couldn’t carry it out properly the first time around.

Also, telling them to just 'stop doing their compulsions' isn't going to work - it really isn't that simple (although I really wish it was!)

Recovery from OCD takes time, don't expect a quick-fix. The person has to learn a whole new way of thinking and adopt new ways of responding to situations. They must break old routines or habits, and this can be difficult and time-consuming. Be patient, nobody recovers from OCD overnight.

3) Try and understand

OCD is a complex condition. It is not as straightforward as the media often portrays. This means it can be particularly difficult for those who are not suffering from the condition to understand it. However, the key to supporting somebody with OCD is having knowledge of the condition. Only then can you even begin to gain some idea of what might be going through their head. If you don’t know much about it, read up on it! Do your research, there are plenty of resources available online that give good information about OCD, and you really don’t need to read much to understand the basics of this disorder. (I've linked some useful resources here)
And finally...

4)  Let them know you are there

Being surrounded by supportive people can really help somebody who is suffering from a mental health condition, and this is true during recovery as well. Many people suffering with OCD may experience extremely distressing intrusive thoughts, some of which they may be ashamed of. This could make it difficult for them to open up about their OCD and get help. Reassure them that you are there for them, no matter what they might tell you about some of the thoughts that run through their mind. Understand that it is the condition that causes these thoughts, they say nothing about the individual.

Of course, these are only suggestions based on my own personal experience and what I find helpful in my recovery from OCD. Everybody’s experience is going to be unique to them and certain things may help some more than others – I can only advise from my own perspective.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Having OCD Doesn't Make You Crazy

I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a mental health condition.

I am regularly tormented by intrusive thoughts. These thoughts can be distressing.

I carry out seemingly pointless compulsions on a daily basis, which can take up much of my time and energy.

I have had to have therapy.

I see a counsellor.

I take medication to ease my symptoms.

But I am not crazy.

Many people wrongly assume that if you suffer from a mental health condition, you must be 'crazy'. It is exactly this sort of stereotype, which stems from misunderstanding and ignorance, which can be so damaging to the sufferers. It contributes to the longstanding stigma that surrounds mental health and makes it all the more difficult for people to reach out for support. I'm sure you would agree with me when I say that this desperately needs to change.

When you suffer from OCD, the thoughts you have might make you feel like some sort of monster. You may carry out seemingly strange compulsions that make no sense. Maybe you feel as though you aren't in control of your own thoughts or behaviour. However, none of this makes you crazy.

At the end of the day, OCD is a disorder (hence the name Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It is a mental health condition that needs treatment. It is irrational, confusing, debilitating and often has a devastating impact on the lives of those who suffer from it. OCD can make you feel hopeless. OCD can make you distressed. OCD can make you anxious. OCD can make you a lot of things, but I can assure you it doesn't make you crazy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Facing My Biggest Fear

Today I faced up to one of my biggest fears ever. I had a driving lesson.

As I previously mentioned in another post (here) I was absolutely dreading it. This is something I have been putting off for a fair while and I never thought I'd actually manage to do it.

The closer it got, the more my anxiety increased. I woke up at 5:30am, after a very broken nights sleep, convinced I was just going to cancel it. I didn't think I could deal with the anxiety for 5 more hours (the lesson was at 10:30am) - let alone do the actual lesson!

I persevered though. I knew that going ahead with it was the right thing to do and that I would really regret it if I didn't, always wondering 'what if'. I've learnt from previous experience that the anxiety leading up to an event is always so much worse than during the actual event. I've also learnt that I tend to regret things much more if I chicken out. So, bearing this in mind, I was determined to go through with it.

I'll be the first to say it: anxiety is a bitch. I felt sick all morning. I was hyperventilating, felt dizzy, my muscles felt like jelly. Not to mention the fact that my IBS flared up (as it always does when I'm anxious), which really didn't help the matter. I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack right up to the point of getting in the car. Once I got in the car though, the anxiety eased and I started to feel like I would be okay, everything would be fine...

I'm not going to lie, I stalled. I messed up at some points. The instructor had to intervene at times when I went wrong - but that doesn't matter. What matters is that I did it and managed to keep my cool throughout. Despite being an anxious mess this morning, I controlled my anxiety enough to actually drive a car on real-life roads, with other road users - and that is a massive achievement for me. Instead of focusing on any mistakes I may have made, I am concentrating only on the positives, on what I achieved and how proud I should be about that.

The most important thing in all of this, is that I got through it. No matter how anxious you get for something, you can cope and you can push through - no matter how much you think you can't. Yes, anxiety is a load of shit - but at the end of the day, it is only a feeling. You are in control even when you feel like you aren't and you can work through it. Even if the anxiety doesn't go away, you have the ability to keep on top of it. Don't let anxiety stop you from achieving great things that you are more than capable of achieving!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

First Driving Lesson!

I'm going to be honest here. The idea of sitting in some random car, with a complete stranger, down a quiet road, for 2 whole hours doesn't fill me with confidence...

Learning to drive is something I've been putting off ever since I turned 17. That was 1 year and 9 months ago. During that time, I have had various friends pass their test, numerous people ask me if I am learning, when I am going to learn, if I am going to wait until after University etc.

The persistent questions have gotten to me and I can't take it anymore. I need to learn how to drive!

The truth is, I really want to - but I'm scared. And what do I do when I'm scared? I ignore it completely, pretend it isn't happening and block it out as much as possible. Seems like a good plan to me! (for the record, it's really not a good plan)

However, now my exams have finished, I told myself it is about time I faced up to my fear and booked a driving lesson. Just one lesson, just to see how I get on. So that's exactly what I did. In 48 hours time, I would have endured my first ever driving lesson. I never thought I'd see the day...

It comes as no surprise to me that I am horrifically nervous. I mean, the phone call was hard enough, but now the actual lesson is drawing ever closer and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't crapping myself. I'm not saying that is abnormal, I'm sure most first-time drivers are nervous - but me and anxiety just don't mix well. After all, I get nervous enough just making a sandwich.

The funny thing is, it's not the idea of driving that is making me nervous - it's the fact that I must have this lesson with some stranger, whom I have no clue what they're going to be like. The worst part is I can't escape for 2 hours.

And of course, it wouldn't be my brain without the odd catastrophisation (if that's even a word). For example, 'what if the instructor is actually a murderer' and 'what if he kidnaps me'...

You can always count on me to think up the most constructive and calming thoughts in these sorts of situations!

So that is my life right now - waking up every morning to the sudden panic when I think today is the dreaded day. Then realising it isn't but I'm going to freak out about it anyway! We'll just have to see how it goes (if I don't cancel it beforehand, which is very probable at this present moment).

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

When people think of a mental health disorder, they probably assume that it is just 'all in your head' - but this isn't necessarily true. What many people fail to realise, is that anxiety can have a significant impact on your body. Now I'm no scientist, but with a little help from my E in AS Biology, I do know that anxiety causes the release of several stress chemicals, which in turn can have numerous physical effects. This includes the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, but don't quote me on that...

So, not only are people with mental health conditions often experiencing considerable mental distress, but they are also trying to deal with the physical symptoms that their body is going through.

Here are just some of the physical symptoms caused by anxiety:

- Nausea
- Sweating/hot flushes
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Pins and needles
- Difficulty sleeping/fatigue
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Headaches
- Stomach upset

Of course, these are only a select few of the extensive list of physical effects which anxiety can cause. Nonetheless, I think it gives a good idea of the kind of symptoms that people who suffer from anxiety disorders may experience in their daily life.

When I'm anxious, my stomach is the first to respond - and trust me, it doesn't stop reminding me (but let's not go in to too much detail about that). Also, I often wake up in the morning feeling sick. Sometimes, I know it's because there is something happening on that day that I'm dreading. Other times, my anxiety just likes to pop up and say hi whenever it feels like it, who needs a reason?

Having social anxiety, social situations also make me extremely nervous (no shit) - this is where I experience the most physical symptoms of anxiety. Hyperventilating, sweating, overheating, shaking...these are all things I experience leading up to a social event (or even just because of something stupid like making a phone call). As I mentioned before, I used to turn up to my part-time job in a right state because of how worked up I got about it.

The combination of both mental and physical discomfort, is what makes having a mental health disorder all that much harder to cope with sometimes. Mental health conditions aren't solely in the mind - they also have their fair share of physical symptoms too!

Friday, 8 July 2016

My Experience with Disordered Eating

I don't like to say I have an eating disorder, because I don't really believe that I do (even though I have been diagnosed with one and am currently getting support for it). To me, I am not what somebody would class as someone who has an 'eating disorder' as such. Personally, I don't recognise myself in that category - but I have gone through months of calorie restricting which led me to become considerably underweight (maybe I am just in denial, I don't know). However, for now, I'm just going to refer to it as 'disordered eating'.

Something which I feel is not always fully recognised, is the link between OCD and disordered eating. Many of the thought processes of both conditions are actually very similar. A need for control, carrying out routines or rituals, obsessing over something, avoiding certain things that cause an increase in anxiety - these are just some examples of the similarities I personally recognise.

Over the last few years, food has been a big focus for me in terms of my OCD. A lot of my obsessions and compulsions revolved around preparing food, limiting my diet and being afraid of specific foods. Even though, to begin with, this focus on food was nothing to do with weight loss or restricting my calorie intake, I can't deny that food was (and still is to an extent) always something on my mind.

During CBT to treat my OCD, this focus on food seemed to shift more and more towards a desire to lose weight and count calories - perhaps as an attempt to gain back the sense of control I felt I was losing because I wasn't carrying out as many compulsions anymore. It wasn't something that was picked up on straight away, because of course abnormal behaviours around food was nothing new for me. People didn't instantly recognise it as an attempt to control my food intake and lose weight, rather they assumed it was a continuation of my OCD.

Another major thing that attracted me to losing weight was low self-esteem. Getting thinner made me feel good about myself. It gave me a sense of achievement when I felt worthless or like a failure compared to everyone around me. I'm only starting to realise now how wrong this was. Losing weight really didn't make me feel better - all it did was make me physically unwell, mentally unwell, had adverse affects on my mood and made all of my other mental health conditions a lot harder to deal with (losing weight is never going to make you feel good about yourself, instead you must address the underlying self-esteem issues that make you feel the need to do it in the first place).

Recently, I have regained control over disordered eating and am eating a full and healthy diet again. I can't even begin to express how much better I feel for it, both physically and mentally. Actually being able to go out and be involved in things is far better than watching the number on the scale drop. Having the energy to live your life is always going to beat feeling too unwell to even walk, getting out of breath going up the stairs, being cold all of the time and feeling seriously down mentally. This is something I continue to remind myself of whenever I get the urge to start restricting my food intake again.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Mental Health Vs. Physical Health?

This year, I hope to secure a place at University and start studying for my Psychology degree in September. Obviously, due to my mental health conditions, I have several concerns when it comes to living away from home and becoming completely independent.

In terms of OCD, the idea of sharing facilities with other students (such as a kitchen) is slightly worrying to me - so I plan to make this experience as easy as possible. This means having to make various arrangements with the University regarding my medical conditions and possible accommodation needs.

However, this process really hasn't been as smooth as I was hoping. Something which has become clear to me, is that mental health conditions aren't necessarily treated with the same urgency as physical conditions. If you were to say you required something due to something physical, it would go without saying that this must be provided. However, it is almost like if you say you need something specific due to a mental condition, you are just making a fuss.

Perhaps this is just my perception, but I seem to get the impression that people think I'm just being awkward. In reality, I really wish I didn't need to make people go out of their way to ensure that I can cope with my mental health conditions when I am at University. I, more than anyone, feel as though I am being stupid, being a burden, making a fuss etc.

Despite this, it doesn't change the fact that these mental health conditions really do exist, and however irrational it may seem to others, they do impact my life and effect my ability to do things that everyone else my age finds normal. Just as with any physical condition, my mental health conditions mean I may need extra help and support to be a functioning member of society.

Physical conditions are sometimes put on a pedestal over mental conditions. They may be considered more genuine because it is possible to actually see the effects of the condition, something which is not always the case with mental health disorders.

Here we go with the cliché analogy again, but if you could see somebody had a broken leg, you wouldn't accuse them of making a fuss if they said they couldn't run a marathon. However, if somebody with depression said they couldn't make it into work because of how they feel, well surely they are just overreacting?

I, for one, know how irrational and ridiculous my mental health disorders seem to others. I often feel ashamed and embarrassed to admit some of the things I struggle with, due to OCD or social anxiety. However, it is just how it is and more people need to realise that mental health conditions are just as real as physical conditions, even if you can't see them.

I would also just like to say here that I am by no means belittling physical conditions. All I am trying to get across is that, whilst physical conditions are recognised for impacting the lives of those who suffer from them, this is not always the case with mental health conditions.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Unprofessional Professionals

Unfortunately, it is possible to encounter so-called 'professionals' that turn out to be anything but professional, when trying to seek support for your mental health condition. Care, understanding and empathy are all qualities that are fundamental when dealing with a patient with mental health problems, but it seems this is not always put into practise.

My reason for writing this is because I have had my own experience of being treated like I'm anything but human within the health system. Personally, I believe this sort of behaviour and lack of understanding stems from the remaining stigma that surrounds many mental health disorders, as well as a lack of time, funding and training.

For a few months, I had been calorie restricting and actively trying to lose weight (something which I will go into more detail about in another post). This eventually led to me being in a very bad state, both mentally and physically. After several abnormal ECG's, as well as significantly low blood pressure and pulse, I agreed I needed help to try and restore my weight. When I got referred to a mental health service for treatment, they requested I get regular check-ups at the GP surgery and outlined to the doctor various tests which should be carried out routinely for the coming weeks.

At my first appointment with the GP, it was made quite clear to me that I was asking to be treated in a 'special way' compared to all of her other 3,000 patients (something she actually said as soon as I sat down). I think I knew from that moment how the rest of the consultation was going to go...

I was told how I displayed none of the physical symptoms of an eating disorder, that even though my ECG's were 'abnormal', they were fine (I'm not saying that this was incorrect, but there are much better ways to explain these things than the way she chose). She expressed how my blood results were also perfectly normal and she couldn't possibly understand why she needed to add magnesium to the blood form (another extra special thing I was requesting apparently).

However, after being lectured for 20 minutes on how I was in fact completely healthy, it was then implied that I couldn't possibly think rationally because I had 'starved my brain'. Also, according to her, I refused to do the squat test because 'that is what somebody who is as ill as me would say, because they want to hide how ill they really are' (somehow, I think my down-right refusal to carry out the squat test was more to do with the fact that I was, by this point, crying my eyes out due to her attitude towards me). Again, according to her, I was actually crying because I'd realised how ill I had made myself. Still, she was just going to 'carry on regardless, because that is just what she does when people cry'.

At the end of the consultation, I was of course reminded that GP appointments only last for 10 minutes and I had been there longer than that (so basically get out). It's funny how she had still found 20 minutes to explain to me the very basics of OCD though (to somebody who had already had a year of CBT and was on medication for OCD - yes, before you ask, she was very aware of this).

So that was just some of the things I was told by the doctor when trying to get help for disordered eating. Although at the time I was very upset, I soon realised that she was in fact the one with the attitude problem, rather than me being at fault. However, that experience could have potentially damaging affects on somebody with a mental health condition who needs to be treated with compassion, not accused of wasting GPs time. Many of us already feel copious amounts of guilt, so those sorts of accusations really aren't helpful!

Don't get me wrong, I understand that health services are under extreme pressure in terms of time and money. The mental health service was asking the GP to carry out several tests that they may not usually be required to carry out, and the doctor was clearly unhappy about this. However, it should never be the patient that ends up on the receiving end of any political arguments between health services, especially when that patient could be vulnerable.

This experience has highlighted to me how much more education is needed surrounding mental health before people get the quality of treatment they desperately need and deserve. Nobody with any sort of health condition, physical or mental, should be made to feel like they are a burden for needing help - after all, absolutely anybody can end up with a condition that needs treatment.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

OCD: A Trivialised Condition

I've already made a post detailing the misconceptions or stereotypes around OCD (which you can view here), but I feel like I haven't fully addressed the issue of the extent to which this condition is trivialised.

Even today, many people are still so ignorant to the reality of OCD and the devastating impact it can have on people's life. Why is it so difficult to grasp the seriousness of this condition?! Instead, OCD has become part of most people's everyday vocabulary - reduced down to something to laugh about, a hilarious joke.

I can't emphasise how wrong this is. It makes it so difficult for sufferers of the condition to reach out and get help and actually be taken seriously (as they deserve to be!)

So, I would just like to clear a few things up:

1) OCD is NOT a joke - it is a serious, debilitating condition that cannot be helped.

I'm glad some people find it hilarious that somebody with OCD has hands that are so red, sore and cracked from relentlessly washing them that their exposed flesh burns every time they put yet more soap onto them or get into a hot shower. Isn't it hysterical that their bed sheets and clothes are covered in blood stains because their hands never stop bleeding?

I'm equally overjoyed that some people think it is funny that a child is traumatised every single day by the horrific images in their mind of their loved ones dead - who genuinely believes if they don't carry out endless compulsions then they might be responsible for if something bad actually happens.

2) Not everybody has OCD - just because you like things tidy, does not automatically qualify you for a diagnosis of OCD. However, if the need to be tidy causes you severe distress and makes it impossible for you to focus on anything else, then it is possible you are actually suffering from OCD. If this is the case, get help!

3) People with OCD don't like having OCD - carrying out compulsions isn't fun. Experiencing disgusting, repulsive, terrifying intrusive thoughts isn't fun. They infect your mind and rob you of every bit of joy.

4) Most of the time, the media's portrayal of OCD is not correct - so you watched a programme about people who love cleaning with chemicals and now you know exactly what OCD is all about, right? Wrong.

Oh and one more thing I'd like to address before I wrap things up here: expressing that your mental health condition can be absolutely shit to deal with sometimes, does not make you selfish/inconsiderate/self-centred or anything else.

Everyone deserves to do everything in their power to make their own life as good as possible, even if that means being honest and getting treatment for your mental health condition. Only then can you even begin to focus on helping with the many other problems that go on in this world.  Believe it or not, it is possible to care for yourself whilst simultaneously being considerate towards the problems of others. The two aren't mutually exclusive!

If it is not already obvious, this topic gets me pretty wound up. Often, reading through the comments on social media on posts about OCD infuriates me. I just wish people understood the reality of the condition and didn't undermine it so much - ignorance has such a negative affect on the real sufferers of OCD and other mental health conditions, for that matter.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Setting Myself Challenges

During CBT, you are set sort of 'tasks' that you think you can cope with that challenge your anxiety disorder. For example, with my OCD, I might have agreed to not use kitchen roll to open the cupboard door next time I go to make a sandwich. Then I would look back at the situation, realise that nothing bad had happened and be able to do again and again. Eventually, touching the cupboard door handle without using kitchen roll wouldn't cause me so much anxiety.

However, when you end treatment and have to continue the recovery process on your own, you might not have somebody to guide you through this process anymore. Instead, it's up to you to set your own challenges. You can't think just because your therapist isn't there to ask you if you've done something, means you don't have to keep doing it!

It's really important when trying to recover from an anxiety disorder, that you continue to set yourself little tasks that challenge the anxious voice in your head. It's difficult, especially when the only person putting you in uncomfortable and distressing situations is yourself. After all, why in the world would you actively choose to do something that you know is going to send your anxiety through the roof?! Surely, it is illogical.

But the truth is, you need to carry on doing this if you are going to stay on top of your anxiety disorder. In my experience, anxiety will take every opportunity to creep back in and take over your mind, so don't let it. Carry on showing your disorder who is boss, and that you aren't going to stop doing things just because it makes you feel uneasy.

So that brings me to the challenges that I plan to set myself this summer:

1) Eat out more often at different places, and be more adventurous with what food I choose (usually I just stick to my good ol' 'safe' baked potato and beans)

2) Wear the clothes I want to, without being self-conscious about what other people might think. If I want to wear that playsuit, nothing is going to stop me and I'm gonna feel good in it!

3) Cook some different meals myself, eat the foods I am scared to eat because they might 'cause me an allergic reaction' and prepare them from scratch  (even if I'm worried that I accidently put 10 teaspoons of salt in the tomato sauce when I obviously didn't or that just because I looked at the bottle of bleach, it has now somehow teleported into the food I am making and I am going to ingest it and die).

4) Talk to people more! Ask somebody who works in a shop if I can't find something, instead of walking around aimlessly looking for it. Ring that number if I have a query or need to book something.

and finally...

5) Learn to drive (something I am dreading). Obviously, if no instructor can fit me in for months then this isn't going to happen (I can't help that!)

So there is some of the challenges I am going to complete myself this summer. It will certainly be interesting to look back and see how many I actually managed to achieve...

The Need For Control

OCD is fuelled by the desire for control. OCD is also a liar. It lures you in with a false sense of security that if you just do as it says then everything will be alright, nothing bad will happen. Everything you're worried about wont be a problem anymore. If you carry out a compulsion 'just this once' then the fear will go away, just like that. Everything will be fine again, right?

In reality though, it doesn't work like that, because you will listen to that voice again and again. Before you know it, you find yourself in an endless cycle of obsessions and compulsions. You become a slave to the voice inside your head that repeatedly tells you to do this or do that, otherwise something will go wrong.

We must accept that we can't control everything that happens, and certainly not by carrying out these actions that we think are somehow going to effect the outcome of something. We need to recognise that voice in our head for exactly what it is - just that, a voice! Nothing more, nothing less. That voice doesn't hold any power over anything, not the future, not the outcome of a situation, nothing.

In reality, nobody in this world knows what is going to happen from one moment to the next. Everybody knows this, but for somebody with OCD this can be a particular difficult concept to accept. The unknown equals fear. Fear needs to be contained - and the OCD mind resorts to compulsions in order to do this.

By learning to come to terms with and accept that life involves risk, it involves not being able to control everything, it becomes easier to control our OCD. We gain more power over those thoughts that terrify us so much and we realise that they hold no real value, and no action that we carry out is going to stop the thoughts coming back nor keep us safe from something bad happening.

In fact, the only thing that is going to weaken those thoughts is by challenging them, rather than doing everything in your power to make them go away. Facing them upfront at a pace that you are able to cope with will help you realise that these thoughts are useless, they aren't helping you or keeping you safe from anything. Instead, they are only making the fear more intense, and making you think you are in control when in reality, are you really in control if you can't ignore them?

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Social Anxiety Disorder

As you may or may not be aware, I also suffer from social anxiety. I constantly over-analyse every social situation, every conversation, every reaction. I drive myself crazy wondering 'what do they think of me?' and more times than not, I conclude that they must be thinking negatively of me.

How people perceive and judge me is always on my mind. 'They must think I'm weird or acting strangely', I think to myself. 'They don't like me, I'm annoying them.' This usually leads to me feeling very negatively about myself, telling myself I am stupid, a failure, incapable.

Going to social situations makes me feel sick. I shake, I sweat, I get over-heated. In extreme cases, I might have a panic attack. This is something that always used to happen in the car on the way to my old job. It was in retail (just about the most social job I could have gone for, great choice Lisa). When I arrived, the other staff members would make comments such as 'Are you okay? You look like you're about to cry' (I probably was, but was it really that obvious?!)

During my CBT treatment, I worked on trying to improve my social anxiety, self-doubt and low self-esteem. I attempted to change some of my thought processes that led to these problems into more realistic, positive thoughts.

In reality, it's really unlikely that everybody is thinking the negative things about me that I wrongly assume that they are. I learnt that this is more a reflection of how I feel about myself that I am simply projecting onto everybody else (so that I think they must be thinking it too).

Another really important thing to bear in mind is that when somebody is thinking something nasty about you, they are often the ones with the problem, not you. For example, if somebody thinks that I am 'a weirdo', it is much more probable that they are in fact just a horrible person with their own insecurities, rather than me actually being a weirdo.

Another question I ask myself is 'does it really matter if they do think that - is it really going to affect my life in the long run.' Probably not, so why am I letting it bother me so much? The fact is, I shouldn't let what other people think of me hold so much importance and allow it to affect my self-worth. What they think of me really isn't relevant. What I think of myself, on the other hand, is very important! From now on, what I think about myself is my only concern - and every day, I aim to make this more and more positive.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparing myself to everybody around me and feeling inferior is something I still really struggle with. To me, it seems like all of my friends have everything in their life sorted. They get good grades, have passed their driving test, have a part-time job - all whilst taking part in numerous other activities and hobbies on the side. Of course, I am happy for them when they achieve something (like passing their driving test), but it always leaves me feeling rubbish about myself (sounds selfish, I know).

Throughout my childhood, I don't really think I've ever felt quite good enough, and this is something that is becoming more apparent to me the older I get and the more I have to do or the more I should be achieving, which I am not.

At the age of 18, I feel like I am expected to be earning my own money, already driving, getting top grades, going to a top university and being completely independent. For obvious reasons, all of this hasn't been my main focus over the last 2 years and now I look at my friends and realise how far behind I am, how immature I am compared to them.

I feel guilty because I tell myself I don't have any real reason to not have achieved these things. I've just been really lazy, right? or I'm just using my mental health conditions as an excuse. But this just isn't true. Suffering from a mental health condition is a perfectly valid reason to not be able to do something at a particular point in your life, you are not using your illness as an excuse. The most important thing should always be focusing on your health before anything else, including your mental health.

I hate to use a cliché analogy that you have probably heard 100 times, but you wouldn't expect somebody who has just broken their leg to run a marathon in 6 weeks time. Just like you shouldn't expect yourself to have done everything on the face of the earth when you have been struggling with a mental health condition. Everybody must go at things at their own pace and if you aren't ready to do something, that is okay, there is going to be plenty of opportunity when you are feeling well again.

And remember, it may seem like those around you have it all figured out, but trust me, they probably don't.


Misconceptions Surrounding OCD

Since suffering from OCD, something that has become really apparent to me is the misconceptions and misunderstanding surrounding the condition. People generally don't really know much about it, and why would they? Unless you have reason to, it's not something most people read up on in their spare time. Some of my personal favourite stereotypes include:

"everyone with OCD washes their hands loads"

"everyone with OCD likes things being really organised"

"everyone with OCD is afraid of germs"

Whilst, for many, these are in fact extremely debilitating aspects of their OCD, not everyone will experience them, but this doesn't make their struggle any less real or worthy of treatment. Personally, hand washing did become a major part of my OCD, and my hands became extremely sore, cracked and bled a lot. Before that though, my OCD was completely focused on something entirely different, the idea of contamination or germs didn't ever enter my head!

That's the thing about OCD, it really has no rhyme or reason to it. It is irrational, confusing and complex. Even the person experiencing the condition doesn't always understand it! This makes it extremely individual and unique to you. Some of your obsessions and compulsions, or even all of them, are bound to differ from those of others.

This is something I particularly used to struggle with. The idea that I couldn't possibly have a 'real problem' that needed treatment if I didn't comply to the endless stereotypes that this condition is victim to. 'Surely I can't have OCD if I don't worry about germs or care if my room is tidy or like to organise my folders or want the tins of baked beans to be lined up in the cupboard?'

(Also, I cannot stress enough that nobody with OCD 'likes' to do whatever they're doing. Having to constantly carry out compulsions causes extreme anxiety and distress - nobody with OCD wants to do it, rather they feel compelled to by the intense dread of something terrible happening if they do not.)

However, I have come to realise more and more that everyone's experience is different, and comparing yourself to everyone else really isn't helpful. Instead, it is important to focus on your own experience and finding the best treatment for you, not someone else.

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