30 before 30 – An Update!

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A few years ago, in 2016 to be exact, I wrote a blog post about 30 things I wanted to do before the age of 30. I am now two and a half years away from the big three-oh (OHMYGOD) so I decided to look back on those goals and do an update.

1) Complete a masters degree.

I have applied for a masters degree and if all goes to plan, I should have finished by the age of 31, so I’m counting that as in process.

2) Work in a role which supports young people with mental illnesses.

Done, since leaving university, all my jobs have been supporting young people with social and emotional needs in some capacity and it continues to be my plan for the future.

3) Travel the world.

This hasn’t been so successful. I have traveled in the past four years but nowhere near as much as I was hoping. As I became more unwell, my priorities changed and I realised that as much as I want to explore new places, I also like being near an English speaking hospital or somewhere with a good healthcare system. I’ve realised that owning my own house is also higher up on the list of priorities so when I’m able to save money, it goes towards that.

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Copenhagen, Denmark 2016

4) See the Northern Lights.

See above. Although I do plan on going to Iceland one day because I think it is a beautiful country. Maybe when Rona has stopped ruining everyone’s lives.

5) Marry.

I am literally the most single person you could find. I am happily a cat lady and not sure how my cat would cope if I started sharing a bed with someone else. That said, I would like to marry and probably have children, just right now that’s not something I’m focusing on. If it happens, that’s great but equally, I’m not actively looking for Mr Right.

6) Have children (hopefully).

As above. I wrote a blog post recently, about frequently asked questioned that people with EDS get asked and I touched on the baby and child thing in that. In short, yes, I would like children, but I have to consider the risks to myself, but more importantly my child. EDS complicates things a bit. I’ve said more about the whole thing here.

7) Have my own house.

Twenty-three year old me was very naive about the cost of Adult Life. I’m in the process of saving and am considering selling a kidney to fund a deposit. Joking, joking. I like to torment myself by looking at Right Move and to admire all the houses that I can’t afford (aka so all the houses) but I really hope that by thirty, I will be in a better financial position to be able to afford my own little abode.

8) Be financially stable.

To be fair, I would say that I am fairly financially stable. I was on universal credit for two years and it really taught me about the importance of budgeting, although even before that, I was pretty good with money. I don’t take money for granted and I love the feeling of satisfaction when I’m able to buy something that I have saved a long time for. Right now, I’d much rather save money than spend it, however that doesn’t include buying books or anything from the Body Shop.

9) Sing on a West-End stage.

As if I’d ever really have the confidence!

10) Sky dive.

I plan on doing this, as soon as it is possible! As I’ve said in other posts, I spent over six months as a psychiatric day patient in 2019 and I really want to give back to the day hospital to say thank you. The building is old and the interiors are more than a little run down and I would love to be able to contribute to a more cosy atmosphere, making it feel even more like a safe place. Watch this space!

11) Bungee jump.

I think I was being a bit over-optimistic here. This would probably break me.

12) Complete a half marathon

Really, Laura?! I have no desire to do this.

13) Complete a triathlon.

I haven’t completely ruled this one out. I found out that there is a Superhero Triathlon which is specifically for people with disabilities and I think I’d to complete it.

14) Raise £1000 for Blue Skye Thinking.

I raised just over £500, so I’m happy with that.

15) Write a book.

Ahhh I don’t know about this one. So many people have said that I should write a book and there’s part of me that would like to, but the thought of it also fills me with so much anxiety.

16) Publish an article for Huffington Post.

Done! And I have also had articles published on The Mighty.

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17) Meet some of the people who I have met online and thank them in person for all they have done for me.

This list is ever growing but I have been able to meet so many people, who I originally met online, including trekking up to Scotland and meeting friends there.

18) Cuddle an orangutan.

I’d love to do this, but I’m more aware about conservation and actually, cuddling orangutans isn’t good for them.

19) Complete the North Wales zip wire.

I’m still desperate to do this.

20) Teach young people to not be ashamed of who they are.

I’d like to say that I try and do this in day to day life, it’s something I’m really passionate about and I will forever be people’s biggest cheerleader.

21) Become and MP and fight for what I believe in.

No and right now this is not part of any plans. I am interested in politics but I’m more comfortable contacting my current local MP and having a rant on twitter.

22) Learn basic Polish.

This hasn’t happened, but I have self taught myself British Sign Language and Makaton/Sign Supported English.

23) Thank every single person who has made a difference to my life.

I probably haven’t thanked every single person, but I do make a point of thanking people regularly.

24) Go to a festival and not spend the entire time grossed out by the toilets.

Let’s be realistic here, I can’t think of anything worse than festival toilets. I’ve gone to festivals on a day ticket and that’s enough for me.

25) Visit all of the the seven wonders of the world.

See above for why travel is complicated.

26) Live for a week without internet, TV, phones etc

I haven’t done a week, but I have spent a long weekend away from social media/TV/my phone, when I was visiting a therapeutic farm and living in a therapeutic community. I was not a fan.

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Kent, England

27) Go to Wimbledon men’s final

Maybe one day.

28) Leave a note for a stranger in a public place.

I’m not sure if I’ve done this or not, but if I have, I’d like to do it again.

29) Learn how to take a compliment 

I’m getting there, slowly. It still makes me feel uncomfortable and like I want to hide under a stone but there has been progress.

30) Fall in love, deeply, properly and unequivocally.

I have fallen in love but not romantically. There’s plenty of time.

I’m Doing Okay

I feel really uneasy publicly saying that I’m okay and that things are going well. Not because I need validation around being ill, but because I am a little bit scared that somehow talking about things being okay will jinx the situation and things will start going very wrong. But I can’t live my life in fear and actually, for the first time in a very long time, I am happy, content and enjoying life. Obviously the whole corona-coaster thing is problematic and it throws up issues, but as I said in my post about dealing with lockdown and mental health, I am coping amazingly well.

So what has changed?

A few weeks ago, things were not this good. The exact opposite in fact. As it happened, the referral into the mental health team, that was suggested, was refused and the additional meds that I was put on didn’t work for me, and I think that this is the best thing that could have happened. I decided to take control of my own life and to stop coasting through, depending on other people. It came down to mind over matter, although I want to make things very clear at this point, that I do not think that this is a clearcut “cure”, not for me or for anyone else. My problems haven’t magically disappeared, but I made the choice to start addressing things, instead of self destructing and living in a mindset where I had given up.

I know and accept that I still need help, but I want to be in control of that help and to get support in a way that I find is beneficial for me. My experiences with the community mental health team were poor, I would leave appointments feeling worse than when I entered, I was made to feel like I wasn’t sick enough to receive help, despite being very unwell and I felt that I wasn’t in control of my own life or choices. I’m still engaging with therapy but for the first time ever, I am viewing it very differently. I have been having therapy in varying forms for years and years and had always just accepted that I would have therapy for life and that was that. But now, without setting myself a time limit, there are certain things that I know that I need to work on, and more importantly, I feel ready to work on. It’s not going to be an overnight thing, it is still probably going to take years of work but I’m not going to just tread water and not move forward.

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Olive and Frank

I’ve also learnt what works for me and what doesn’t. My choice has been to engage with services such as Mind and other local charities, and dip in and out when I need support. I’m not pinned in and it isn’t time limited. Plus, the wellbeing workers who I have met before, are all good eggs and genuinely care and want what is best.

Most importantly, I am making plans for the future. I’m using my time off work sensibly and working on continuing professional development, as well as undertaking various online courses to improve my CV in the long run. I’m really excited to say that I have applied for a masters degree in social work and I’m currently going through the agonising wait in hearing back from the university. I am making plans around moving out and setting myself goals in achieving that.

It’s crucial to say, I am not naive. I don’t think that I am magically better. There are still things that I am struggling with, a lot, but I am accepting those things and being honest about them. My physical health is still problematic and causes its own limitations and that is always going to be something that I have to work around. I’m also not kidding myself into thinking that my mood and ability to cope will not, ever, fluctuate again. But I kind of feel more prepared for that. Small steps. That’s all anyone will ever ask for.

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Ehlers Danlos Awareness Month – FAQ

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May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month, and so far, I have been pretty quiet about it. However, now seems like a good time to answer some questions about EDS, that I am frequently asked.

What is EDS?

Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) are a group of rare inherited conditions that affect connective tissue in the body. Connective tissues provide support in skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs and bones and make up over 20% of our bodies. There are 13 different types of EDS, caused by faults in certain genes that make connective tissue weaker. Depending on the type of EDS, the faulty gene may have been inherited from one parent, or both parents, or in some cases, the faulty gene isn’t inherited and can occur in a person for the first time. The most common type of EDS is Hypermobile EDS (hEDS, formally known as type 3) . Rarer types include classical EDS, vascular EDS and kyphoscoliotic EDS.

Does it hurt?

The simple answer to this is yes, it does hurt. I am on painkillers daily. These reduce some of the pain and symptoms that I experience but they don’t get rid of them. In some ways, I’ve got used to being in pain, so a lot of the time, I’m able to block it out and I’ve learnt to live my life around pain. I’ve got a fairly high pain threshold (never cried after breaking a bone kind of high). When I have an EDS flare, things can become more difficult because my pain levels become harder to manage. In these situations, I often have to increase the medication that I take and I’m usually found attached to a heat pack or hot water bottle. Increasing medication comes with its own issues, such as more side effects, so taking more medication isn’t something that I like to do.

Have you tried…?

Probably, yes. I have tried so many things to try and alleviate symptoms, with varying levels of success. Kale hasn’t cured me, nor has a clean eating diet. Similarly, eating quinoa hasn’t cured me. Different things work for different people, EDS affects every single person differently, so whilst a hot bath with epsom salts works for me, it might not work for one of my friends. Aside from medication and heat therapy, I have regular physiotherapy appointments, where my joints/tendons are put back into place or I have ultra-sound therapy, which is a non-invasive way of reducing inflammation in the body.

How did you catch it?

I didn’t. I was born this way baby. Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes are genetic conditions, so I have had EDS all of my life, I just didn’t know. As far as I know, no one else in my family has EDS, meaning that despite being symptomatic since the age of nine or ten, I wasn’t diagnosed until the age of twenty two, as no one was looking for it, or suspected it. EDS is also classed as a rare disease, which makes the diagnostic process longer and more complicated. On average, it takes ten years for a person to be diagnosed with EDS, from the first onset of symptoms. EDS UK ran an awareness campaign highlighting the length of time it takes to receive a diagnosis of EDS. You can watch the video here.

Can you have children?

I have no idea, mainly because I’m not in a position whereby I am trying to have children. However, the diagnosis of EDS in itself does not stop you from having children, but it can lead to a higher risk of complications for the mother and baby. I am very mixed about wanting to have children. In an ideal world, I would love to have children and I would love to be able to conceive naturally, but I am mindful of the fact that EDS if genetic, so there is a 50% chance that I could pass it on. I wouldn’t wish this condition on anyone and that includes any future children. EDS is an unpredictable beast: some days I am absolutely fine, with minimal restrictions, other days I can’t move from my bed and require care from another person for basic daily tasks. Having worked with children and young people who are young carers, that has to be something I will need to consider. Hopefully in time, I will be in a better position to properly decide what is best, because right now, I don’t have the answer.

When will you get better?

I won’t and I find it so difficult when people ask this question or say that they hope I get well soon, because I am not going to get better, in the conventional sense. I have periods of time when things are more manageable, and I lead a fairly normal life but the downside to that is the inevitable payback. And payback is a bit. In the five years since being diagnosed, my health has declined hugely, although that isn’t completely down to EDS, but also co-morbidities, such as gastroparesis and POTS. A future with EDS is sometimes quite scary to think about because I don’t know from one day to the next how functioning my body will be, but I have to remain hopeful that treatment options will improve with time and research.

Will you die from it?

This is probably the worst question that I have been asked, in relation to EDS and it’s such an important one to answer because of that. To make this question hit even harder, it was asked by a paramedic, whilst I was being rushed into hospital by ambulance. I reminded him that this job is to try and prevent me from dying. I know that he was asking out of curiosity because he hadn’t treated a patient with EDS before, but there’s a time and place. As I said above. there are 13 different types of EDS and vascular EDS can be life limiting due to the possibility of organ and vessel rupture. Life expectancy is not usually shortened with other forms of EDS. That said, conditions that are co-morbid with EDS can impact on life expectancy. If you have gastroparesis for instance and have intestinal failure as a result, the sad fact is that death from a lack of nutrition can and does happen. EDS can, in many cases, cause progressive deterioration and degeneration of connective tissue in joints, spine, eye, gums, teeth, internal organs, and central nervous system. No one with EDS knowns what the future holds and emotionally, that is a big thing to deal with.

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How to Talk to Someone With Depression

Depression can really change how a person thinks and perceives information. It can cause friction between friends and family members and often lead to a person feeling even more isolated. Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone. It is not something that you can simply snap out of or a sign of weakness.

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Mental Health Foundation

Below are some ideas around talking to someone with depression and questions that might be helpful.

Ask if they have had anything to eat or drink. If not, suggest having a glass of water and have something to eat if they can manage it. Talk about healthy and quick options, to avoid carb-loading which is likely to only give a quick burst of energy. Foods that are rich in protein are good. The thought of cooking for yourself when you are deep in depression can be too much to even consider, so offer support in buying healthy and nutritious ready meals that can be shoved in the freezer and cooked easily.

At the risk of sounding like someone from a crisis team, asking someone if they have had a bath or shower when they are feeling awful is sometimes an idea, providing the person is able to keep themselves safe in doing so. Self care is terminology which is thrown around by crisis teams very readily, but there’s no denying the fact that feeling clean is going to make you feel slightly better about yourself than being unclean. I get it, I really do, the energy and effort involved in having a bath or washing my hair means that it’s the last thing I want to do when I am depressed, but I try to remind myself that I deserve to be clean and I deserve to look after myself.

Again, at the risk of sounding like I am regurgitating snippets from the crisis team, encouraging someone to stretch their legs and move from their bed or the sofa is a way of showing that you care. I am not for one moment suggesting that you need to be walking miles in the picturesque countryside or be running a half marathon, but a quick walk around your immediate local area is enough to get those endorphins zipping around. Gentle exercise in the home is an option if you can’t face leaving the house, you can find lots of simple home exercise routines on Youtube, if you can’t face watching a highly positive and energetic fitness blogger and the NHS has home workout videos which are easy to access and follow.

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A big part of depression is shutting yourself away from people and not engaging with friends and family. This is definitely something that I do and I am fortunate to have a really support group of people around me, to check in with me and talk rubbish to distract me from the mess inside my head. Encouraging people to talk can be with friends or it could be with a medical professional. Ask if they have had any medical input and find out when the next planned contact will be. You can work out if you should be encouraging them to make contact with a professional sooner, or, if it can wait, suggest writing things down, to share next time there is contact. Don’t be afraid to offer physical contact, like hugs, but know that this doesn’t suit everyone. Whilst I love a good hug or cuddle, I know that for some people, this is their idea of hell, so knowing what works for the individual person is important. Pets are also a value source of companionship and support.

Ask if they have had any changes in medication and if they are taking their medication are prescribed. New medication can really mess with your head, especially in the early days when withdrawal is a risk and side effects of new drugs are more prevalent. Make sure that they are safe, as some medications increase suicidal thoughts and ideation and then wait it out with them. If things don’t improve after a few weeks, suggest contacting their GP.

If you don’t know what to say, just say that: tell your friend that you are there for them. As a humans, we want to immediately have the answers and be able to solve every single problem that we are faced with but sometimes, that isn’t possible. Let them know that you’ll be there, don’t accuse, threaten, blame, or make light or joke about how they might be feeling. Reminding a person that you care is one of the most important things that you can do. Knowing that you’ve got someone holding you up and fighting the beast alongside you is less isolating and is a reminder that you matter.

It’s worth remembering that what works for one person might not work for another. Asking how you can help and if there is anything in particular that would be useful is another way of showing that you care. Not everyone is open to the offer of help, not everyone knows what help they need and what you think is helpful and what they think is helpful could be two very different things.

Even if you can’t relate to a person’s problems or they seem insignificant, don’t belittle how they are feeling. Try to resist solutions that might seem simple to you. Most importantly, don’t make judgements on how they are feeling. Everyone’s feelings are valid and we all react in differing ways to situations. That doesn’t make us wrong, weak or defective, it makes us human.

Lockdown and Mental Health

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Staying indoors has become the norm in the UK, with the country adapting to life in lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. The government imposed the lockdown on the evening of Monday 23th March, meaning that we couldn’t leave our houses, except for permitted times such as one outing for daily exercise and essential travel, like going to work if you’re a key worker and going to medical appointments. The way of life in the UK changed very quickly, we couldn’t (and still can’t, at the time of writing this) visit the houses of friends or family, use leisure facilities, visit attractions, gather in large groups spend time outdoors, unless it was for exercise.

Whilst lockdown in the UK hasn’t been as strict as in other countries, it has been completely different to life as we usually know it. As someone who thrives on routine and structure, suddenly not being able to work despite being a key worker, see my friends and extended family or use a leisure centre was incredibly difficult and I know that I’m not alone in feeling like that. I started isolating before it was enforced, due to underlying health conditions and I am now on week ten of isolation/lockdown and whilst it was hard towards the beginning, I am getting used to this being my normal. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a slap in the face, after spending over two years out of work and effectively very isolated because of my health, to now being forced into isolation again, when my physical health is pretty good and I was back in a working environment.

We are now at a point where lockdown restrictions are easing but it is going to take a long time before we are back to normal. Social distancing is set to last months and restrictions could be put back in place if cases start to peak again.

So how am I staying sane?

I didn’t cause COVID-19 and I can’t take it away. As much as I joke about my frustration about it being caused by someone eating an undercooked bat, there is so much more to it being a global pandemic than that and it’s can’t be simplified. I like to be able to control every single aspect of my life and going through lockdown has taught me that sometimes, I can’t be in control and that I need to just go with the flow. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work, I don’t know when medical appointments will resume and return to normality, I don’t know when I will next be able to hug my friends, but everyone is in the same position. I could make myself unwell, stressing over things that I can’t change, or I can accept it and deal with things as they come along. No one can easily fix the situation we are in, sure people can stay home, wash their hands, social distance, use common sense and not go round licking lamp posts but that isn’t going to change things over night. Life will be very different for everyone as a result of COVID-19 and we will need to adjust to that new normal.

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My support system changed rapidly as infection rates spiked. I still have therapy but it’s over Skype and I still speak to my GP but it’s on the phone. As lonely as isolation can be, I know that the support is still there, just in a different format. I’m not having any physio which is hard and I’m not seeing my support worker, as the service she is attached to has temporarily closed. I’m not going to lie, some days are hell: I get angry and I’m probably not a very nice person to be around. Some times I am an anxious mess. Other times, I plod along, doing what I can to make the days easier and taking little steps to keep my brain occupied. Asking for help is not selfish, it is normal to be finding life hard to deal with right now, so we need to show ourselves a little kindness and compassion. And if someone is in a bad mood and is more snappy than usual, or cries over something stupid, don’t take it personally. Give them a virtual hug and remind them that they’re not alone.

One of the biggest things that I’ve come to realise is that I need to be realistic. Like I said above, some days I feel like I can take on the world, other days, I would happily stay in bed and tell everyone (but mainly BoJo) to fuck off. Reading has been the one thing that I’ve been able to fall back on during lockdown, I can happily spend day after day reading, but I accept that shutting myself away in a fictional world isn’t always what is best for me. Or my eyes. That said, I do have days when I’m not in the mood to read and I’ll be honest, initially, I would beat myself up for that, as though reading a book in a day was the marker of success. Trying to stick to some form of routine has been hard, but as much as possible, I make sure I’m up at the same time every day, I do some exercise, read, talk to friends, do some of the endless adult or medical admin and go to bed at a sensible time. I keep my room as just somewhere to sleep and make sure I spend daytimes in other rooms of the house, or the garden, to try and vary my environment as much as possible.

I’m not saying for one moment that I have completely got this whole lockdown thing sorted. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably be fed up because I want to go swimming and because I can’t see my friends, but actually, I’m doing okay. This isn’t forever.

Mental Health Awareness Week

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So as I said in my last post, my May favourites: lockdown edition, it has been well over a year since I last sat down and put pen to paper. The main reason for that is because 2019 was a really awful year. Towards the end of April 2019, I was admitted as a day patient at a psychiatric hospital, near to where I live. Things had got very bad, very quickly and I plummeted into crisis point without much warning. The care, compassion and support that I received from hospital staff was amazing. They genuinely saved my life and that isn’t something I say lightly.

After three weeks in hospital, I was transferred to a step down provision, which is jointly run by Mind and the NHS and I was there until July. It was, undoubtedly, one of the hardest things I have gone through. Having struggled for over ten years with my mental health, I never expected it to get to a point whereby I needed to be in hospital for my own safety. It was new and scary but made so much easier by the fact that I was treated with dignity throughout and made some wonderful friends. We laughed together, cried together, despaired together, rolled our eyes at other patients and ultimately, supported each other through a horrible time.

I was discharged in July and for a few weeks, it felt like I could take on the world but it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t yet ready for the world (and the world wasn’t ready for me) so at the end of August, I was readmitted and remained a day patient until the middle of December, when I was very suddenly discharged from all mental health services.

Having spent over six months in some form of day patient provision, to suddenly be faced with going it alone was a terrifying prospect. I soon worked out that it would be sink or swim and that I would have to work very very hard in order to stay out of hospital and to try and rebuild my life.

A year on since my first admission, I think I’m doing okay. Things are different, but good different. I have a job that I love, I’m working with the best people who make me cry with laughter and I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by endless support and understanding from my line manager and senior staff. Juggling a job, mental illnesses and chronic illnesses is hard at times, but I’ve never been made to feel inferior to other members of staff or like an inconvenience.

Obviously it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The past few weeks have been challenging, not because of covid or lockdown, more because it hit hard when it got to a year since being admitted. I’m the first to admit that I am hard on myself and there was quite a lot of beating myself up behind the scenes because I’m not where I expected to be or where I want to be in life. I was referred back to the mental health team, however the referral was refused. At the time, I was angry and felt let down, but a few weeks on and I think that the referral being refused was the best possible outcome. I don’t want to be under the mental health team and constantly be having to prove that I am sick enough to warrant their care: I want to get better and I want to get better for myself, not so services can put a tick next to my name and say that they’ve cured me. I don’t think I’ll ever be cured, I think I’m always going to struggle to some extent with mental illnesses, but I am learning to live my life along side them, instead of them dictating my life and my choices.

It’s a really cliched thing to say but my experiences last year changed me, but they changed me in a good way. It made me realise how passionate I am about mental health and the link between mental and physical illnesses. It taught me that sometimes, the only way out is through. Sometimes there isn’t a quick fix and you’ve just got to ride out the shit times and catch that bear.

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There’s so much I could say about it being mental health awareness week. But the simple fact is that we are aware. There is so much awareness, what there isn’t is adequate support for people who are struggling. We are told, time and time again, to reach out and ask for help, but so often that is ignored, or you’re made to wait an inexcusable amount of time, or you’re given the most basic input because it’s deemed to be the most cost effective. This country has a problem and that problem is that mental health is not seen as a priority. One in ten children and one in four adults will suffer from some form of mental health problem at some point and quite frankly, being kind is not enough to stop that. There needs to be more funding, better research into best treatment methods, more early intervention, less silencing through medication and more treating people are individuals. Until that happens, sadly, I can’t see much changing.

May Favourites – Lockdown Edition

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It’s been a long long time since I last sat down and wrote a blog post, more on why in another post. But as way of easing myself back in, I thought I’d kick off with a monthly favourites post, looking at all the things that I have loved so far in May. Obviously if you’re living in the UK at the moment, we are in lockdown because of COVID-19, so most of the favourites will be based around making life as painless and as interesting as possible, when you’re stuck looking at the same for walls for months on end!

 

Books

My absolute favourite book from this month has to be Q by Christina Dalcher. Long time readers of my blog might remember how much I obsessed over Vox, Dalcher’s first novel (I crowned it my book of the year) so I had high expectations for Q and it did not disappoint. It is powerful, gripping and a little bit shocking: in a world where being perfect is everything, what happens when you are faced with someone you love not making the grade? I think what hit me the most is how this book is actually inspired by historical events. While I knew that eugenics had been embraced by the Nazis, I was completely unaware of the American eugenics movement of the early twentieth century that predated this. This novel looks at eugenics in a 21st century society, leaving the reader wanting more and more. I already cannot wait for Dalcher’s next book. 

After reading Q, I’ve felt like I’m stuck in a bit of a rut when it comes to books, simply because I don’t think I’ll ever read anything as powerful or as good. That said, I really enjoyed Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. I thought that this book was beautifully written. When a plane suddenly crashes, twelve-year-old Edward Adler is the sole survivor. In the aftermath of the crash, Edward struggles to make sense of his grief, sudden fame of being a sole survivor and find his place in a world without his family. But then Edward and his neighbour Shay make a startling discovery – hidden in his uncle’s garage are letters from the relatives of other passengers and they are all addressed him. Based on true events where a nine year old Dutch boy was a single surviving person of a plane crash, this book looks at what it means not just to survive, but to truly live.

I also really enjoyed Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay. This dark and gripping story looks at the friendship of Jane and Marnie, inseparable since childhood and how their friendship slowly unravels over the course of seven lies, eventually leading to a death. My only criticism was that it ended too quickly. The book itself was very fast paced but the sudden nature of the ending made it seem like a slight anticlimax.

Films/TV

Having spent all of the past few months stuck in the house due to lockdown and needing to isolate because of health conditions, I have very much made use of my netflix subscription. One of the best series that I have seen in a long time is Unorthodox, based on the book of the same name, by Deborah Feldman. As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. In Unorthodox, we follow the story of Esty, a young Jewish woman escaping a strict religious sect in Williamsburg, New York, and building a new life for herself in Berlin. I’m ashamed to say that my knowledge around Judaism is limited so I learnt quite a lot watching this series, although did have to concentrate due to the amount of Yiddish spoken. 

I’m a bit late to the party on my next favourite, but I finally watched After Life, written by and starring Ricky Gervais. I’ll be honest, when I started watching it, I was a little indifferent. I’m not a huge fan of Gervais so I was not in any way prepared for the six hour emotional onslaught that happened when I watched series one and two in one sitting. I have never cried so much at a TV programme. After Life follows Tony, whose life is turned upside down after his wife dies from breast cancer. He contemplates suicide, but instead decides to live long enough to punish the world for his wife’s death by saying and doing whatever he wants. Although he thinks of this as his “superpower”, his plan is undermined when everyone around him tries to make him a better person. If you haven’t watched After Life, stop what you are doing and watch it right now. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and most of all, you’ll want to give your loved ones a massive hug.

Spoonie Favourites

Being stuck at home has meant that I haven’t been able to have my usual physio appointments and my body is starting to struggle. A friend recommended buying an acupressure mat, which is designed to relieve stress and pain. The cynical part of me isn’t sure if it’s making much difference as I’m still stressed and I’m definitely still in pain, but I will do anything to try and get my body to July when physio appointments will hopefully resume.

 

Lockdown Favourites

It’s seems only right to finish off by looking at some of the things that are making lockdown that little bit easier.

Firstly: jigsaws. I’d like to say that I am a pro at completing jigsaws, however this isn’t the case. I lose my mind after about 10 minutes, but it’s kept my brain busy, especially on wet days when I’ve been hibernating.

I also gave into temptation and ended by buying Sims 4. At the time of buying it was massively reduced (that’s my excuse anyway) and I’m managing to pass many hours building my dream house and then killing off my sims in as many dramatic ways as possible.

I’m not sure if I’d class it as a favourite but I bought myself a cheap pair of blue light blocking glasses for when I’m video calling people, as I seem to end up with a banging headache from increased screen time. Time will tell whether these make any difference, I suspect that I actually need my eyes testing and need new glasses, so my online purchase of blue light blocking glasses are only to bridge the gap until an eye test is possible!

 

I hope this gives you some inspiration of things to do or read with the world being a very strange place. Keep safe and remember to sing happy birthday when you wash your hands.

 

I Am Depressed

This isn’t going to be a particularly cheerful blog post, I will be talking about mental illness. If you’re feeling vulnerable, please read with caution.

I am depressed. By that, I don’t mean being a little bit sad, I mean full blown life altering depression, resulting in me being in hospital. People are using the term “breakdown” and to be fair, that’s quite an accurate description. I don’t feel ashamed about the fact that I am depressed.

Depression is ugly At times, it has felt like there’s been no way out. There aren’t any clear cut answers and it’s been more than a little bit chaotic. It is so much more than just being sad. It’s a feeling of endless hopelessness, combined with a fear that in unexplainable. It’s nothingness. It’s not knowing how to and not wanting to carry on.

Having said all of that, I consider myself as pretty lucky. When things started going wrong, my GP very quickly referred me back to mental health services, someone from the team rang me that same afternoon and the following Monday I had an assessment with the mental health team. I wasn’t expecting much, my previous experiences with the mental health team haven’t been positive, I’ve always been “functioning” meaning that despite any mental health battles, I’ve held down a job and coped (for the most part) without any intervention being needed.

This time, things were different. I was so depressed during the assessment, I could hardly speak. I couldn’t cry because I was too depressed to cry. Within ten minutes, a decision had been made that I needed to be referred to the day patient service at the local psychiatric hospital. I was shocked, scared but ultimately, numb, to this news because I honestly felt in a place whereby I was beyond help. I wanted to die. It’s a hard thing to admit, but I’m not going to shy away from it. By the end of the week, I had been assessed by the day service and then started the following week.

I’m now nearing the end of my two weeks as a day patient and will be transferring to a step-down service, run by the mental health team and Mind. Honestly? I am terrified. The walls of the hospital have been my safety and security. I’ve been under constant supervision and I’m scared about how I’m going to cope without that. But I’ll never know unless I try. I have got to try, for myself but also for the people who have had my back over the past few weeks and supported me when I have felt unsupportable. I’ll still have support from staff, albeit less intensively – I’m not expected to go out into the world alone just yet, thankfully. I could fall, I could fly, but I will not fail, whatever happens.

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There has been progress. Despite being physically unwell over the past few days (yay gastroparesis), mentally I’ve been okay. Last weekend I was counting the hours until I was back in hospital, I resorted to behaviours that I haven’t engaged in for years, and I mean years and the thought of getting to Monday morning and being back in hospital felt impossible. This weekend hasn’t been completely struggle-free but I’ve managed. I’ve used the advice and things that I had learnt in psycho-education sessions to keep myself safe.

Why am I writing all of this? Because I’m angry. I’m so bloody angry. I’ve struggled with mental illness for years and years, so maybe this was inevitable. But maybe not. The biggest trigger to this breakdown, or whatever you want to call it, has been my physical health. In the past 18 months, my life has changed drastically. I’ve gone from holding down a full-time job, saving to buy my own home and being a fairly independent adult to being on longterm sick leave, frequenting hospital more than I frequent pubs, with no real hope of moving out, being heavily reliant on my mum. Don’t get me wrong, I was still ill when I was working, but the diagnosis of gastroparesis and then Addison’s Disease has turned my life upside down. And I have had no support in dealing with that. There is a huge correlation between mental and physical health: you have a cold for a few days and mentally you feel like shit. Now imagine feeling shit, but more, every single day. With no escape.

Chronic illness, or any form, is life changing. But you don’t get the support in dealing with that. You’re expected to cope. Expected to just get on with it. That is not okay. I know of too many people from the chronic illness community who are now in hospital because of their physical health. I’m angry because I’ve been failed and I’m angry because so many other people are also being failed.

So yes, I’m feeling mentally stronger having been a day patient, but none of the underlying issues have been addressed. The trauma of my life changing so much in such a short space of time has not been addressed. No one has acknowledged the trauma of having to fight with medical professionals just to be believed. The medical traumas that I am unable to even begin to speak about are still being brushed aside.

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We have got to connect the dots between mental and physical health. One cannot exist without the other. I don’t know how to make the changes that need to happen. But I do know that this has got to be talked about more, to prevent more people from being failed.

September Favourites

Okay, so I know that I say this pretty much every single month, but how are we almost at the end of September?! I feel like I’ve blinked and nine months have passed without me realising. I could have had a child in this time. Obviously no children are planned any time soon.

Onto the things that I have been loving this month!

Books

For various reasons, I haven’t been able to do a lot of reading this month. I have just started reading the forth book in the Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. Crime thrillers are one of my favourite genres to read so I was really excited when I found out that this had been published. The books are complex and engaging and Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K. Rowling) has succeeded in making the characters real and believable. As much as I loved the Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book in the series, I think that Lethal White could very quickly become my new most loved book in the series. I can’t wait to sit down and read more!

TV/Film

People who know me well (actually not even well) will know that I love September for one big reason. Strictly Come Dancing is back!

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I am SCD obsessed and rarely miss an episode. If I miss an episode, it has to be for a very good reason and when possible, I will avoid all social interaction on Saturday evenings until the series ends. I’ve already got various opinions on the contestants, along with the professionals and Stacey Dooley and Faye Tozer are already my favourites.

I can’t write a September favourites blog post without mentioning The Bodyguard. Just wow. Being a huge fan of Line of Duty, also written by Jed Mercurio, I had high expectations of this series and I was not disappointed. It. Was. So. Good. Although not to be watched in the middle of the night when you’re home alone. The twist in the final episode was outstanding…is Julia alive or not?! Roll on series two.

Spoonie Favourites

I am not ashamed to say that with the more autumnal weather, my electric blanket has made an appearance. Autumn and winter are my preferred seasons, I love fluffy jumpers, scarves, Ugg boots and cosy evenings in front of the fire but my joints aren’t so keen on the colder weather, especially if there are any sudden temperature drops. My electric blanket is an essential piece of equipment not only to keep me roasty toasty but also to help save my joints from seizing up. My cat loves the electric blanket too!

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Since being diagnosed with gastroparesis, I have struggled more with musculoskeletal issues in my shoulders and neck, or as my phyiso refers to the matter “sick muscle problems.’ I mean, she’s right, if a little blunt. During a recent physio appointment, I was told that my neck felt like it had a concrete rod down my neck and it felt very similar to me. I already had a V-shaped pillow but it wasn’t very supportive, so I have invested in a slightly more expensive one, which gives more support. It hasn’t completely resolved the issues, but being able to sleep with my neck and shoulders getting more support has made a difference.

On the same theme, this month I also invested in a memory foam pillow. Where has this been all of my life? Because of above reasons, I need a firm pillow and the memory foam pillow has done the job. I love my bed anyway, but the new combination of a memory foam pillow, new V-shaped pillow and my electric blanket and I might just set up home in my bed.

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Odds and Sods

Since I was a teenager, I have struggled to varying degrees with stretch marks. Oh I know, the glamour, but I’m nothing if not honest. Skin issues go hand in hand with EDS, so I’m always going to be more prone to the little buggers and I know that so many people also have stretch marks. But that doesn’t change how they make me feel and how much they knock my confidence. After using a combination of bio oil and Palmer’s Cocoa  Butter and not noticing any difference, I did some research and came across Udderly Gorgeous Stretch Mark Oil by Cowshed. Whilst it was developed with pregnancy in mind, it has also had a good write up in improving stretch marks in general. Time will tell, but it smells so much better than bio-oil, is less greasy and is absorbed more quickly.

Knowing When To Take A Break

When I first started blogging, way back when, around 2011, my main focus was mental health and living with various mental health conditions. My blogging was very much anonymous; I was so scared about sharing with people who I knew in real life what I was going through out of fear that I would be judged or that they would think differently. University completely changed my perspective about mental health. I realised that it wasn’t a battle that I needed to fight alone and, more importantly, that other people also struggled with mental illnesses.

Talking about mental health is still something that I am passionate about. The mental health system in the UK is very broken and it is failing so many people. I can’t change that, but I can advocate for people and remind them that they aren’t alone. I’ve seen both sides of the mental health system: I’ve been a patient and I’ve also been the professional, supporting service users and fighting to get them the help that they need and deserve. The number of people being failed really worries me. It worries me personally, as I have been failed by the system and it worries me as an ex-professional who had to fight on behalf of vulnerable young adults, to simply access a referral into mental health services.

A lot has changed since 2011. I am (for the most part) open and honest about my mental health. But, saying that, my own mental health has been forced to take a bit of a back seat, especially over the last year, as my physically health deteriorated to the point that it took over my life. Things as I knew them suddenly became very different and it was something totally out of my control.

I have been having therapy for just over three years. For about two years of that time, I found it a really useful process and I was getting a lot out of the sessions and was learning new coping strategies that I could implement into my daily life. As my physical health worsened, this changed the way that I worked with my therapist. I would frequently turn up to sessions so exhausted that I couldn’t function, a large chunk of the session would be a debrief on the week’s hospital appointments, whether I’d stayed out of hospital, if anything drastic had changed. Without realising it, my therapy sessions (which I am paying privately for) have become a space for me to talk about my physical health, completely ignoring my mental health. My physical health is important, it impacts my life daily and at the moment, it is very unpredictable. But my mental health is also important and I have been neglecting that and the reasons why I am in therapy in the first place.

So, I guess you could say that I’m going round in circles. Therapy can’t cure my physical illnesses and I am doubtful that it can fully “cure” my mental illnesses. It can, however, give me the skills to cope, manage, survive and pick myself up again when things go wrong.

During one sleepless night (painsomnia is fun) I ended up thinking about what I am getting out of therapy. The answer was not much. Because I have been so focused on trying to stabilise my physical health and was fixated on trying to avoid hospital, I hadn’t realised that I had slowly and silently slipped backwards in terms of my mental health. I have been anxious, really anxious, probably 90% of the time. This has manifested in an increased number of anxiety attacks, nightmares, my heart feeling like it’s going to explode and so much sweat. Gross but factual. My safe haven of my bed has been where I have wanted to hide much of the time and it has taken a lot of effort to go against that instinct. I guess I can be thankful for the many hospital appointments that forced me out of my bed, my pyjamas and my house.

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For me, anxiety goes hand in hand with OCD rituals and again, without realising, they have also worsened and I am more dependent on them, in order to feel safe and less anxious.

Relapses happen. They are part of life and I know that being able to recognise this slippery slope is positive.

This week I made the decision to take a break from therapy. Not ideal, you might be thinking, given what I have said above, but I think and hope that this is also a positive step. I was honest with my therapist and said that I felt that the sessions were becoming too focused on EDS, gastroparesis, Addison’s and all the other fun things that my body does. I am not addressing the reasons that I am in therapy and that has been the case for too long. Those reasons aren’t ever going to diminish or become less problematic if I continue to ignore them, either consciously or subconsciously. I am a pro at changing the subject and I think my therapist needs to be stricter at forcing the difficult conversations because I can’t do it for myself. It won’t be a long break and it was agreed on the condition that I made contact with my therapist if I needed to.

I’ve been here before and I know the feeling of “stop the world, I want to get off” will pass. As anyone with a mental illness will confirm, sometimes you will have days when you feel on top of the world and able to take anything on. Other days aren’t quite so great and you end up feeling frustrated and demoralised about life. And moments when I feel like that are when I need to take a break and re-evaluate things, without piling hideous amounts of pressure on myself.

For much of 2018 I have felt like a massive failure. I haven’t achieved my goal of moving out and as the year has progressed, it has become more and more unlikely that I will be able to fly the nest any time soon. I am crazy jealous of people who are living independently. Rationally I know that I need to be at home, financially I can’t afford to move out and I also need too much help with regards to my health to live alone.  I’m not working and the whole universal credit process destroyed my soul a little bit, so much so that when I get an email or text from them, I want to be (and often am) sick. Classy. But I know that I can’t work, even the pleb who met me once for my fitness to work assessment agreed with that. I’m not well enough, but I am taking tiny steps forward to engage in the workplace again.

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I used to hate it when people told me to be kind to myself. My counsellor at university ended every session by saying “go well out there” and looking back, that was possibly the best thing anyone could have said to me. I’m not going to succeed in everything I do, life doesn’t work like that. All I can do is try my best and “go well.” And yes, I need to be kind to myself, particularly when the world doesn’t feel like it’s being very kind.