A girl with too many thoughts...

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Topical Tuesday: Managing A Job With Mental Illness

At the age of nineteen, I feel like I should be supporting myself financially. Most people my age at least work part-time, and yet here I am, still relying on my parents to fund my entire existence. I'm almost embarrassed to admit to people that I don't have a job. I'd even go as far as to say I'm ashamed by it.

Why? Probably a mixture of the expectations I have of myself and the values that society places on its members.

People can be quite judgemental towards the unemployed - as though not working makes you a less worthy person or just 'lazy', and perhaps some people are just that. However, before jumping to such conclusions, I think it's important to bear in mind that there are many different reasons why some people are unable to work. It's not fair to tar everyone with the same brush.

Mental health conditions can have a massive impact on an individual's overall wellbeing and functioning. They take over so much of your life that it becomes impossible to focus on anything else. That's why managing a job can be so much more difficult when suffering from a mental illness.

Many people fail to realise this because they can't see the illness on the outside, but that doesn't make it any less debilitating. Not to mention that many mental health conditions also cause physical symptoms anyway, fatigue for example.

If you could see that somebody physically couldn't work, you wouldn't tell them to 'just get over it' or 'stop being lazy'. And yet when it comes to mental illness, that's exactly what we tell people.

I really want to hear your views on this topic. Do you find it more difficult to manage a job because of your mental health? Have you ever been stigmatised because of it? Let me know below.
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Saturday, 28 January 2017

Becoming a Press Ambassador for Student Minds!

So something very exciting is happening this weekend: I am going to be attending Story Sessions as part of my Press Ambassador training for Student Minds. There will be a group of us coming together from universities all around the country, in order to learn how we can share our mental health story in a sensitive and helpful way. It will be such a great opportunity to encourage conversations around student mental health, something I am particularly passionate about (you know, being a student with mental health difficulties 'n all).

Of course, I'm feeling a mixture of emotions about it...

Nervous. I can find social situations especially challenging at times, and so the idea of spending a day with a group of new people and talking about something extremely personal to me makes me ever so slightly apprehensive. More than anything, I just want to make a good impression. I put myself under a lot of pressure to present the best version of me and appear as though I have my life 'together'. What's important though is that I'm just myself and I can only do that if I relax and worry less about what people think of me (easier said than done!).

I've never done anything like this before and the unknown obviously brings with it a sense of fear and uncertainty (something I don't deal all that well with). It's the sort of opportunity I definitely would have shied away from in the past, but I now appreciate just how rewarding pushing myself out of my comfort zone can be and so I wasn't going to turn it down! Fear is a powerful force, but it doesn't always have to be a negative one. Sometimes, it can be the very thing that drives us to our greatest achievements.

And then there are of course all of the other little worries I have. Eating in front of people - something I detest doing. At one point I even refused to eat in front of my group of friends at sixth form, and so would go through the school day eating nothing in order to avoid it. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to overcome this at Story Sessions, but I'm sure I'll find a way. Then there's the 'what ifs'. What if I embarrass myself? What if I panic and have to leave the room? What if I do that thing I do where I get really socially anxious and start going all red and sweaty? What if, what if, WHAT IF?!

Excited. When I started my blog, I felt quite isolated. Everybody around me was enjoying being a teenager. They were confident, clever and talented. I was none of those things (or so I thought). And so, I started a blog in the hopes of connecting with people. Attending Story Sessions means I get to meet like-minded people in real life, who have been through similar experiences to me. I'll discover things about their own mental health story, and hopefully be able to relate to a lot of what they've been through.

So there we have it. This weekend is going to be a challenge for me but an exciting one, and one I am determined to face head on. I'm planning on writing a blog post about how I found the day, so look out for that over the next week!
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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Topical Tuesday: The Effects of Labelling

For my second Topical Tuesday, I would like to discuss labels. More specifically, I would like to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being 'labelled' with a mental health condition.

Perhaps a good way to begin this post is by first explaining exactly what I mean by a 'label'. When I use this term, I'm referring to being given a diagnosis of a particular mental health condition by a medical professional, such as 'OCD' or 'depression'. For example, I have been diagnosed with OCD, anxiety and an eating disorder - so I guess I am labelled with these conditions, so to speak? Or at least, I identify as suffering from these specific mental health conditions.

But what are the benefits of being given diagnoses such as these? And can it have any damaging effects to either the individual diagnosed or how society views mental health as a whole?

As usual with Topical Tuesday, I posted a poll on Twitter asking other mental health sufferers to vote. I asked:

'As a mental health sufferer, do you find being 'labelled' with a condition beneficial?'.


I was actually quite surprised by the results of this poll. For some reason, I was expecting more people to vote no, they do not find being labelled beneficial. However, only 5% actually voted in this way. Instead, 40% said do in fact find being 'labelled' beneficial, and the majority (55%) answered with 'sometimes'. This got me thinking about both sides of the argument...


Positives


1. It's comforting to know there is a name for what we are going through (it is not made up, it is a real thing!)

I don't know about you, but the irrational voice in my mind likes to try and convince me that I'm a fake. I worry that I don't actually have an illness, rather I am just an attention seeker. However, being able to give a name to my mental health difficulties is reassuring. This condition exists, I am not making it up.

2. There are other people out there that feel the same!


If we can identify ourselves as suffering from a particular condition, then we can also identify others that suffer from that same condition. It can be comforting when we come across somebody else with the same diagnosis as us and helps us to feel less alone in our struggle. Talking is powerful, and so being able to share experiences with those who suffer from the same condition can be extremely helpful.

3. Others might recognise our struggle is real

Not only is it reassuring for us to know that what we are experiencing is actually a real thing, but it might also help others to understand. Being able to explain to those around us that we suffer from this condition or that condition, and that is why we may behave in a certain way sometimes, helps them to understand as much as it does us.

4. Finding appropriate treatment

If we know what we are suffering from, we are more likely to be able to treat it. Different mental health conditions react better with different medications and therapies. What might work well for one condition, may not be so effective with another. Therefore, it's important to know what it is we are experiencing in order to find the best treatment for us.

Negatives 


1. Stigma/stereotypes

Being able to identify a certain disorder is all well and good, however there are often negative stereotypes that come attached to these labels.

For example, OCD is often mistakenly seen as just being neat and tidy. Depression may be viewed as nothing more than being 'sad', when in fact it is so much more than that and involves a whole array of emotions. We may have an expectation for somebody with an eating disorder to be very underweight. When in reality, there exists a whole range of eating disorders, not all of which involve restriction.

Such stereotypes can have a detrimental effect on the sufferer, but also how others view that person - including teachers, doctors etc. Stereotypes can lead to very limited knowledge on the actual reality of these conditions and can fool us into thinking that any one experience is the same, when that is not the case at all.

2. Attributing all behaviours to that one disorder

Just because somebody suffers from a mental illness, does not mean everything they do is as a result of that condition.

For example, I am quite a tidy individual. I like to keep things organised and neat. I also suffer from OCD. Put two and two together, and you may conclude that my tidy personality is a result of my OCD. However, I would actually disagree with this. I do not view my preference for organisation as a symptom of my OCD at all. I just like things tidy, this does not cause me distress and I do not recognise it as a compulsion.

People with mental health conditions also have personality traits that are separate to their illness (everybody has a personality, after all). This is why some people prefer to use terms such as 'I have depression' as opposed to 'I'm depressed'.

Mental health sufferers are not defined by their illness.

Overall, I believe that being 'labelled' or diagnosed with a mental health condition is a positive thing (due to the benefits I mentioned above). Of course, everything is going to have it's drawbacks - that's something you can't really escape. I think the term 'labelling' often has negative connotations, especially when it comes to mental health. However, this is largely due to the stigma that society has created around them, rather than the labels themselves.

Hopefully, as more and more people get on board with spreading awareness of mental health, we can work to change the negatives that are associated with such labels.

What do you think? Do you think labelling people with certain mental health conditions is positive, or is it damaging to the sufferer and how society views mental health? If you can think of any more positives/negatives, I'd love to hear them.

Let me know by commenting below!

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Thursday, 19 January 2017

I Wish I Could Let Go

TW: Eating Disorders

I wish I could let go of my control over food. I wish I could snap out of my eating disorder and make it disappear with the click of a finger. But I can't. I keep holding onto it and I'm not even sure why, all it ever does is bring me sadness. Then again, that's not all it brings me, is it? Otherwise I wouldn't listen to its lies. I wouldn't fall time and time again for the false sense of security it provides me with.

I think back to why I started losing weight in the first place. I was in sixth form, everybody around me was achieving things that I never thought I'd be capable of - writing a personal statement, applying to university, achieving good grades. I felt worthless in comparison. I started on medication which initially made me lose weight and that's when I realised...this is something I can excel at. 

I felt envious of everybody else all of the time, and it was time they were envious of me for something. People would say to me at lunchtime when I would repeatedly refuse biscuits, chocolate, cake, 'I wish I had your will power'. I thought to myself, they could only ever wish they were as skinny as me and that they had my level of self-control. Finally, I had something about me that others could only dream of.

It spiralled from there really, almost like an addiction. I was addicted to the sense of euphoria restriction gave me. I was addicted to seeing the number on the scale drop and drop and drop. Comments about my weight loss or lack of food intake would only fuel my addiction. I thrived off of people's concern.

I realise how twisted that sounds, but eating disorders are just that: twisted. They are manipulative, deceiving, irrational. How else do you think they manage to completely take over a person's mind? They creep up on you when you are vulnerable with the offer of comfort, a solution to your problems.

What starts off with just one thought quickly multiplies until your entire life is ruled by a chaos of disordered thoughts...

It started off with viewing weight loss as an achievement. I then reasoned that if not eating was good, then eating was surely bad? That's when the feelings of guilt/disgust made an appearance. I felt weak for giving in to food, like I was doing something very wrong by simply giving my body the energy it so desperately needs. I'd made so much progress with weight loss and eating 'healthily' (I put that in quotation marks because my idea of healthy is definitely not healthy). I couldn't bear to ruin my achievements by gaining the weight back/eating 'normally' again.

As I look back, I can understand why I was so easily fooled into thinking weight loss was in fact a good thing to do. But what I can't explain is why I still hold onto it now? It's been a year and a half since then. I DID write a personal statement. I DID apply to university. Not only that, but I've done a few more things I'm rather proud of in the past year (starting my blog, for one). And yet, nothing comes close to the sense of achievement I gain from restricting...and I fear nothing else ever will. 

I now recognise that every thought I have about food is wrong. Yet, no matter how much I want to, I can't change them. I still listen to them. I still believe them (however briefly). I still hold onto the idea that being underweight makes me good. I want to view food normally again. I want to eat what I fancy and not feel like I deserve to be punished for it. 

More than anything though, I want to let go...but I just can't.
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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Topical Tuesday: Independence & Mental Illness

I want to introduce some consistency to my blog posts and so, I am going to start a blog series entitled 'Topical Tuesday'. Basically, every Tuesday I will aim to publish a blog post discussing an important topic within mental health and sharing my views on such topics. I really hope people decide to join in and voice their own opinions, either in the comments or on Twitter. My first 'Topical Tuesday' post is on mental health and independence, following on from a Twitter poll I posted a few weeks ago...

I think we all get to a certain age where we begin to appreciate a level of independence and control over our lives. We want the space to live our life how we see best.  Having said that, when living with a mental illness, this sense of autonomy can be taken away from us to some degree. We may be more reliant on others or not trusted to be left to our own devices as much as the next person. I'm not for one second saying there is something wrong with this, rather just pointing out that this is true for many people with mental health conditions (of course not for everybody).

Take me for example. When I was in the grasps of severe OCD, I relied on my Mum heavily for help and support. I'd even go as far to say I was completely dependent on her for a while. I needed her help to do the most basics of tasks: eating, drinking, the list goes on. I was seventeen years of age but I relied on her as if I was a young child. It's not like that anymore, but even now I still rely on those close to me for emotional support, as well as receiving a bit of extra support from uni and mental health services.

Sometimes however, it can start to feel suffocating. Having people check up on me all of the time can get frustrating, especially when I just want to be left alone.  I do not want to feel as though I'm less independent than others just because I suffer from a mental illness - and it's not just me who can feel this way. I ran a poll on Twitter and around half of the people who voted agreed that as a mental health sufferer, they are given less independence than others.

It's a tricky one and there are many important aspects that must be considered. Of course I fully acknowledge that some individuals' welfare may be at risk and therefore, as frustrating as it may be for them at the the time, they can't be given full independence. However, at a certain stage in recovery there needs to be a balance between having suitable support in place without it being overbearing. I think it's essential when you are getting better to learn how to take responsibility for yourself again and not rely on others too much.

Of course this is my standpoint on the topic and yours may differ, in which case I'd love to hear what you have to say! Everybody's experience is going to be different and what's good for one person may not be good for another, but that is the nature of mental illness: no two experiences are exactly the same.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you feel you are given less independence because of your mental illness?

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Thursday, 5 January 2017

Six Tips on Studying With Depression

Some common symptoms of depression include: lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating and fatigue. So, it's barely surprising that studying whilst simultaneously struggling with depression can seem an impossible task. Nonetheless, just because you suffer from depression doesn't mean you get excluded from responsibility and that means you are still expected to sit your exams in January, get your essay in by the deadline and keep up with your work - whether that be at school, sixth form or university.

I'm experiencing this problem at the minute. Next week is exam week at my university and I'm struggling to find the motivation and focus to sit down and actually read through my notes. At times like these I prefer to bury my head in the sand and ignore all knowledge that I am actually going to be sitting these exams in no less than one weeks time, instead finding numerous other irrelevant and pointless tasks to invest my time into. I think this is what they call 'procrastination', something I am somewhat an expert in.

Just now I sat down to start revising, switched on my laptop, my revision notes are laid out right in front of my face, and yet somehow I've ended up writing this blog post...

So, how do you muster up the motivation to get something productive done when your brain is doing it's bloomin' upmost to prevent it? I will attempt to share with you some tips which sometimes help me when I'm feeling this way (and then I will proceed to not take my own advice).

1) Begin


Often, the hardest part is starting. I know I have the habit of putting things off until it creates a much bigger problem than it needed to be. So, get over that first hurdle and encourage yourself to just start. You might find that things flow on from there without too much bother. 

2) Break your work up into manageable amounts


There's no point overloading yourself with work or telling yourself that you are going to get all of it done in one single sitting, you will basically be setting yourself up to fail. Because, the fact of the matter is: nobody can maintain focus on their work for hours on end without needing a break. Instead, try and set yourself manageable amounts of work to complete at a time. Tell yourself you will spend 20 minutes revising and then take a break, or you will get one paragraph of your essay done and then have a rest. It may feel like it isn't worth it but trust me, it will probably be far more useful than forcing yourself to study until you burn out. 

3) Take breaks


I sort of mentioned this in the previous point, but remember to give yourself regular breaks when you are working. This will give you a chance to refresh and make it easier to focus again when you return to whatever it is you were doing. Make yourself a cup of tea, have a snack. Do whatever it is that you need to do to keep you going, which leads me on to my next point...


4) Look after you


Basic human needs don't become any less important just because you have an essay in for tomorrow or an exam to sit next week. Remember to stay hydrated, eat enough and get enough sleep even when you are in the midst of revision. How can you expect yourself to be able to concentrate if you aren't even looking after your basic health?

5) Remove distractions


I will always find an excuse to not sit down and revise:

'I need to organise my stationary first, how can I work if I can't find my pencils?!'

 'I need to clean the sink before I can revise, else I obviously won't be able to focus on anything but the sink!'

'Now is as good a time as ever to reorganise my wardrobe by colour and clothing item! :)

It's impossible to remove all distractions but if there are certain things that you know will draw your attention away from your work, remove it from sight. Turn off your phone and put it in a draw. Whatever it is, try and make it so that the only thing you can focus on is the work that is in front of you.

6) Give yourself some credit


Your depression is not your fault. Feeling unmotivated and therefore struggling with your work is not your fault and it doesn't make you lazy. I know how it feels and if you're anything like me, you still have high expectations of yourself and desperately want to succeed, yet do not have the energy to revise as much as you'd like. Rather than focusing on how little work you're doing, focus on what you have achieved. Even managing to do a bit of work whilst battling with your own mind day in, day out is a huge achievement, and don't forget that.

I hope at least some of these tips were helpful. I am now going to try them out myself and hopefully get some revision done! Good luck if like me, you have exams coming up or if you've got essays to do. Depression can make everything seem a great deal harder, but there are things you can do to make things even a tiny bit easier for yourself.

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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Alcohol & Antidepressants: A Bad Mix?

This post is a reminder for future Lisa: never drink again.

For me, drinking is all fun and games whilst I'm doing it but give it a few hours and you may find me crying on the bathroom floor. So why do I drink then, I hear you ask?

Alcohol makes it easier for me to be myself around people. Ask any of my uni friends and they'll tell you they like drunk Lisa (I like drunk Lisa too). She's more carefree, talkative, confident and funny. It makes being in social situations more bearable and allows me to express myself when I otherwise wouldn't feel comfortable doing so. When you are around your friends, you don't want to be the miserable one bringing everyone down, so a few drinks helps me feel more...cheery?

However, alcohol and mental illness don't always make a good match, especially if you are taking medication for your mental health. I've been reminded of this today because, after a few drinks this afternoon, I feel like shit this evening. Sure at the time I felt great without a single care in the world but now I'm paying for it. I feel depressed and anxious and like I cannot cope anymore.

I should have seen it coming really as I'm taking antidepressants and the leaflet does warn against drinking alcohol whilst on the medication, but give me a break it's New Year's Day. And yes a few people on Twitter reminded me that alcohol is in fact a depressant (so I can barely be surprised that it makes me feel depressed) but sometimes I conveniently forget that fact and just want to enjoy myself like every other nineteen year old. I'm only human, after all. So if you are sitting there condemning me and thinking to yourself 'this is all your own fault for being an irresponsible idiot', then go ahead, I am thinking it too.

What is your experience of mixing alcohol & medication? Does drinking have a negative effect on your mental health?
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