Stigma surrounds our society. It means that something perceived as different is seen as unacceptable and this leads to prejudice. There is stigma around the LGBT community and mental health among many other issues our society deals with. Stigma can be devastating because it isolates people and makes it harder to reach out for help and support. It prevents people from socialising, visiting GP surgeries and can even lead people to suicide. “The effects of stigma and discrimination about a mental health problem can be worse than the mental health problem itself” says Louise Penman from Time To Change.
This is why it is so important that people speak out about mental health in general and people share their experiences of mental illness because we need to get rid of this stigma from our society. Imagine a society where people could discuss their mental health easily and openly rather than keeping it as some deep, dark secret. Wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air?
Three years ago my family and I packed our bags and moved from Northamptonshire to Wales. It was terrifying. I was dreading the move because it meant leaving everything that was familiar behind. Whilst my care had been rather rubbish back home, it was what I knew and leaving that scared me. Knowing I’d never see that receptionist’s face again upset me. I had my special place, the middle of a field where I’d often be the only person for miles and leaving that was hard. Everything was going to be new and whilst new can be exciting, it can also be stressful and lonely.
I remember trying to find the GP surgery for an emergency appointment, we walked up and down the same streets several times, walking complete circles of the block just to end up where we began and all alone time was ticking. We were going to be late, and being late sends my anxiety soaring.
I didn’t know anyone other than my mum and dad. I find it hard to put myself out there but I went to a local young people’s centre in the hope of finding friendship and I did but that doesn’t take away how utterly terrifying it was to walk into that centre for the first time. Definitely going to a local group or class helps when moving to a new area. It is so important not to become isolated as this often is not good for mental health. Volunteering is also another way to get to know people and the area you have moved too. Social media was so important to me in the first days, weeks and even months after my move. I was able to keep in touch with friends and family back home as well as emailing and phoning my old counsellor who’s support was pure gold dust. She probably didn’t realise just how much I needed her voice and reassurance then. Mind also run an online community called Elefriends and this could be a good way to connect to people and feel supported.
This Eating Disorders Awareness Week you may want to check out the following videos:
Firstly there is a talk about anorexia nervosa. It was performed at Ignite Cardiff and is titled ‘pro ana?! Pro life!’ It is about the realities of living with an eating disorder compared to the idealised views of the pro-anorexia community. It is also about overcoming eating disorders and sends the message out that ‘life can change in a minute.’ You can watch the talk here
Next we have a video about being sectioned for an eating disorder. It was created with Fixers, a U.K. charity and was brought about after seeing a comment on social media saying, “I want to be sectioned so that I can have a hug whenever I’m sad.” You can watch the video here
Finally we have a TV programme called ‘The Feel Happy Fix’ which was recorded live from the ITV studios by Fixers UK. It’s a programme that focuses on young people’s mental health in general but many of the young panelists have personal experience of an eating disorder. You can watch it here
Panic attacks are a frightening experience and involve feeling faint, heart palpitations, nausea and breathlessness. These symptoms can become so strong that a person feels like they are going to lose control or even that they are having a heart attack and are going to die.
Panic attacks can be triggered by stressful situations, such as taking an exam or a packed tube train but they can happen for no apparent reason at all.
Talking about them can help, there are breathing exercises that can help calm a person down or using distractions like ‘I Spy’ on a busy commute or listening to music. Talking therapies and medication can also be very effective in managing panic attacks.
As cliche as this sounds, I can honestly say that I would not be alive if it weren’t for music. Music has got me through the good times, the bad times and everything in between. I will never forget getting up in my hotel room and listening to ‘I’m on top of the world’ by imagine dragons whilst getting dressed before my appearance on BBC Breakfast. I will never forget listening to Meatloaf in the car on the way to the airport before we flew to Rome. That’s the funny thing about songs they hold memories and that can be a double edged sword. Whenever I hear ‘moves like Jagger’ I am plunged head first into the memory of sitting in the lounge in a psychiatric hospital whilst a patient dances around the room. Hearing ‘cake by the ocean’ will always remind me of the cold,hard days spent in utter boredom in the secure unit. There are Ed Sheeran songs that remind me of ex partners and no matter how much I like Ed Sheeran, I cannot hear these songs without feeling like complete rubbish. Music can be therapy but there is also a danger of music being harmful to the mind so be careful.
So, music and recovery. I use music at the moment to get me through my feeds as I’m currently being treated for anorexia nervosa and am being fed through an NG tube. I have a specific playlist named ‘Feed’ which consists of:
- I’m yours-Alyssa Bernal
- Boom clap-Charli XCX
- Learn to live-Darius Rucker
- Starman-David Bowie
- Survivor-Destiny’s Child
- On top of the world-Imagine Dragons
- Cold in Ohio-Jamie Lawson
- Living in the moment-Jason Mraz
- Breathe in, breathe out, move on-Jimmy Buffet
- Little me-Little Mix
- Scare away the dark-Passenger
- Superheroes-The Script
- Let it go-Demi Lovato
- Heroes-David Bowie
- Chocolate-The 1975
- Love my life-Robbie Williams
All of these songs I either find relaxing, recovery focused, feel good or they hold positive memories. I find feeds really distressing and I know a lot of recovery can be distressing, that’s why in DBT there’s a whole module called ‘distress tolerance’. For me, music is my distress tolerance. ‘Cold in Ohio’ always relaxes me whilst ‘living in the moment’ reminds me of mindfulness. ‘On top of the world’ is a proper feel good song and also reminds me of the positive memory when I went on BBC Breakfast. ‘Little me’ gives me the reminder that I want to make 4 year old me proud. Maybe I won’t be able to listen to these songs again once all of this is over but for now they are getting me through and that’s what recovery is about, getting through.
Being in hospital can be a very lonely and isolating experience. I know this myself having spent the past 18 months in hospital, I haven’t seen my grandparents, aunts and uncles, my goddaughter and most of my friends and most days I really, really miss them. I understand that seeing a loved one so poorly can be heartbreaking and many people don’t know if the person is even up for a visit.
This afternoon was lovely, I saw my ballet teacher, my friends and their four year old son and my parents and not only did it make the afternoon fly by but it brightened up my day. I feel like I am a part of the world around me, like I’m connected to society again and people haven’t forgotten about me.
My message is this: visitors are so important during long inpatient stays. I really miss a lot of people who were in my life 18 months ago and it means the world to see their faces even if it’s only for a few minutes.
So thank you to the people who have visited me and to those of you considering visiting a loved one in hospital, please do. It makes the world of difference.
Today is Time To Talk day 2017 so take 5 minutes to talk about mental health. It is so important that we get these conversations going because they can save lives as well as working to stamp out stigma.
This Time To Talk day, I’m going to tell you a little bit about how I’m spending it. I’m currently in a general hospital being tube fed for my anorexia, I’m on 2:1 observations meaning I have two members of staff with me at all times and I’m on a level 4 which means I must be within arms length of the staff members, this includes when using the toilet. So there the facts about my situation but now it’s time to talk about how I feel.
I’m confused, recovery and weight restoration is being forced on me and I’m not sure that I want it. I’m scared about the future, my team are looking for a unit to send me to and so far none have accepted me. I don’t know what the near future holds for me. I’m homesick, I haven’t been home in 18 months and I would give anything to sit on the sofa with my family and dog and watch some rubbish telly. I feel alone and lost, I haven’t seen many people in the last 18 months and my grandmother has passed away during that time, I never got to say goodbye, I wasn’t well enough to go to her funeral and that breaks my heart everyday. I’m annoyed and angry at myself for losing out on so much. My goddaughter will be 3 in March and I’ve missed so much of her growing up, my dog is 14 and I’m scared she will die before I get home.
I have conversations about mental health every single day because I am unwell, but you don’t have to be ill to talk about mental health. We all have mental health, so please this Time To Talk Day 2017, take 5 minutes to ask someone how they are, send a text, natter over a cuppa, get the conversation going about mental health.
Happy Time To Talk Day everyone!