June Favourites – Lockdown Edition

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Books

Instead of talking about books that I have read over the past month, I want to highlight books by Black and Asian authors, in the wake of the BLM protests and George Floyd.

  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
  • Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
  • Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • It’s Not About the Burqa – Mariam Khan
  • Does My Head Look Big in This? –  Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • I Am Thunder – Muhammad Khan
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  • Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
  • The Girl Who Smiled Beads – Clementine Wamariya

 

Film/TV

I’ve been continuing to take advantage of lockdown by watching more things on Netflix. I loved Dead to Me, a comedy focusing on a widow who is searching for the person responsible for killing her husband in a hit and run. Unbeknown to her, the driver befriends her at a bereavement support group. In a weird way, it explores the funny sides of grief, loss and forgiveness and I can’t wait for series three.

Based on the book by Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere, is a recent adaptation for Amazon prime. I was slightly underwhelmed by the book, but I loved the series.

Glow Up has become a little bit of a guilty pleasure over recent weeks. It reminds me of when I was at university and my Tuesday evenings were made with another BBC Three creation, Hair, which followed hairstylists bringing to life crazy and unique hair designs, to be crowned the best hair dresser. Glow Up follows a similar theme but with makeup artists undertaking various tasks and elimination rounds. I didn’t want to like this, but I’ll hold my hands up, I love it!

 

Spoonie Favourites

I recently discovered B12 super energy patches. I decided to try these as my B12 levels aren’t great and I struggle with absorbing tablets due to my gastroparesis (and I take so many on the daily). It’s hard to tell whether or not they have made a difference, or if it’s just been a placebo effect, but I seem to have more energy and less fatigue so it’s a winner for me.

Odds and Sods

Okay so it’s not really a secret that I love the Body Shop, so whenever they realise a new range, I’m normally pretty happy with it. Their latest range of cooling cucumber and zesty lemon has not disappointed. The cucumber body yogurt is brilliant if you are a little bit sunburnt and the lemon is a lovely scent without being over powering.

I recently decided to have a moment of extravagance and purchased the most expensive skin care item that I have ever bought. Said item is Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Eye Rescue. At £42 for a 15ml pot, it is a lot of money and whilst I really love it, I don’t know if I would buy it again because I cannot justify the price. My eyes seem slightly less puffy and the skin feels smoother but my black bags haven’t magically disappeared which was what I was hoping for!

My final favourite for this month is a bit of a weird one. As many of you will know, May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome awareness month and out of coincidence, Matalan have been selling a cute little zebra cushion. Zebras are the EDS mascot so it was meant to be! At the time of writing, it is out of stock, but they do have other zebra-ish stuff, so it’s worth a look.

 

 

 

How I Survived Lockdown

c5912582950c0186a1fc30b74387836cI found out yesterday that I will be returning to work on Monday (15th June), after 13 weeks of isolationa/shielding. I started shielding a week before I was medically told that I needed to and I was incredibly lucky that my employers were understanding – I think being honest about my health from the start helped. But they didn’t complain or make me feel bad, in fact they went out of their way to reassure me that things would be okay and that it wasn’t causing huge issues. Despite that, I felt incredibly guilty for leaving them in the lurch. I was also bloody angry that yet again, my health was dictating what I could and could not do.

Rewind to this time two years ago, I wasn’t working, due to my worsening health. I was very isolated and rarely left the house, unless it was for medical appointments. I can’t deny that part of my anger stemmed from the fact that I had spend over two years effectively in isolation due to being so poorly that I couldn’t properly partake in society, and now I was facing months of yet again being stuck at home, unable to work, unable to see friends and family and losing my independence that I had worked so hard to regain. 

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That said, I have coped remarkably well with isolation. I think that living with chronic and mental illnesses kind of prepare you for not being part of society for long periods of time. When you have a chronic illnesses, the chances are that you spend weeks/months/years at home, often unable to leave your bed. The world carries on, outside your windows, but you aren’t part of it. Whilst I had moments of feeling a bit penned in, lockdown didn’t really bother me that much because it was a lifestyle that I was used to. Having mental illnesses also prepared me, in part, for the madness that is covid-19. I have anxiety and can easily catastrophise about the world ending and going through endless what ifs. On so many occasions, I have convinced myself that the absolute worst was going to happen, so when the world imploded and shut down, it wasn’t actually as bad as I had built it up to be in my mind. Every day I panic about the people I love dying, and suddenly that became a very real threat. But that threat felt normal for me, so whilst other people were panicking about loved ones getting ill and dying, I basically sat back and thought “this is my normal, this is okay.” Having an excuse to be anxious and not being viewed like I was being dramatic or overreacting was quite a nice break. I felt like saying “welcome to my daily life. Exhausting right?” I wasn’t having to constantly explain my irrational thoughts, because suddenly they weren’t irrational. 

That said, I did make a conscious effort to try and look after myself during lockdown. Mentally, things were a bit wobbly towards the beginning (nothing to do with covid) and I quickly realised that it was unlikely that I would get any additional support because, put simply, it wasn’t there any more, as everything had shut down. It was a bit of a sink or swim moment, and I had spent so much time sinking, that I figured that trying to swim was worth a try. 

So how did I survive lockdown without relapsing and becoming very unwell?

Sticking to a routining has been really important. I’m not going to pretend that I was up and dressed by 8am every single morning, like I would if I was at work. That would be a lie. But I have tried to wake up by 10ish (unless I felt ill) and then get up. I could happily live in pyjamas but I made sure that I could dressed every day because I will admit, I mentally feel better if I have made the effort to look presentable. I tend to put aside some time every day to exercise in some form, do some of the endless medical and adult admin that seems to have accumulated over the past few months and I have done a lot of reading. I kept meaning to write down all the books that I have read during lockdown because it’s a pretty impressive selection. Even though I haven’t been able to go out-out, I have spent time in the garden and actually developed a bit of a tan. I know, mad. 

On the days when the weather hasn’t been so good, or when my body has been rebelling, Netflix has been fantastic, as has Amazon Prime. I have had the time to discover so many new series over the past few months, including Dead to Me, The Good Fight, Alex Rider, Chernobyl and Little Fires Everywhere. 

Weirdly, during lockdown, I have felt more connected than I have done in ages. I am so grateful to my friends who have been at the end of a video call a couple of times every week. Even though no one has been doing anything particularly exciting, just spending time in their company has been really nice and it’s left me feeling a lot closer to them. I also have send more letters and happy post to friends, because receiving something other than a bill or medical letter makes a change from the norm.

Being kind to myself has been really important. We are living in unprecedented times so doing little things to try and keep myself happy, sane and healthy has been a priority. This ranges from using a hair mask once a week to try and save my hair when I can’t see my hairdresser, to making a conscious effort to try and eat well. I’ve tried to exercise most days and have also been doing sudoko and other brain training games. I don’t for one moment that it will improve my brain skills or intelligence, but I want to keep mentally active, as well as physically active.

As life slowly begins to return back to normal, spare a thought for those people whose life won’t be drastically changing and will instead be remaining at home and isolated from their friends, family and society. Millions and millions or people are silently missing, please don’t forget them.

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.

Living with OCD during COVID-19

Guest-post-for-Ranking-improvementThis month’s guest post is coming to you by Emma. Emma lives by the sea in the south of England, with her hamster, Manuka, and has a (verging on unhealthy) obsession with plants. She also has a diagnosis of OCD and has kindly offered to talk about how she has been coping with OCD during a global pandemic. You can find Emma on instagram or over on Youtube, where she talks about her love of plants, veganism, and wellbeing.  

A note on OCD: OCD is often broken down into different subcategories, and occasionally abbreviated for ease. For example, Relationship OCD (ROCD), Harm OCD (HOCD) are two very common themes. 

Hey there, my name is Emma! I have long been best friends with Laura, almost since primary school(!), I am 26 and have a long history of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression. To give you a little background, my OCD comes and goes with periods of stress, hormonal changes and alcohol consumption. I am lucky in that I can have prolonged periods of complete relief from OCD, which is not the case for everyone. I also suffer almost exclusively from what is known as Pure-O OCD, where the person will have little to no visible compulsions (the name originates as it was once thought this was a purely obsessive disorder based around intrusive thoughts, when in reality the compulsions take place within the mind of the sufferer).

COVID-19 lockdown has presented many challenges to everyone, regardless of pre-existing mental health issues, but I think there is a particular challenge faced by OCD sufferers. To summarise in brief: the most clinically effective treatment for OCD is Exposure Response-Prevention (ERP) Therapy. With OCD, the more the person engages with their rituals, compulsions and obsessions, the more the brain begins to believe the fear and threat is rational and real. During ERP Therapy, the OCD sufferer is gradually exposed to their fear and must resist the compulsions they face, and sit with the anxiety of resisting those compulsions. While this ‘undoing’ process is traumatic, it’s an incredibly effective method of re-training the brain to understand there is no threat involved and there is no way to avoid the threat through compulsive behaviour. With this in mind, recovery for someone who suffers from a Contamination OCD theme would involve exposing themselves to the perceived contamination and not carrying out compulsions like washing hands, avoiding physical contact, cleaning beyond rational requirement, etc. However, exposing themselves to the object of the contamination fear (COVID-19/other contractable disease) and resisting these compulsions during the COVID-19 pandemic would actually go against the World Health Organisation, government and health authority advice. The fear of the OCD sufferer suddenly becomes a very real, very tangible threat, so it’s easy to see why OCD sufferers are being subjected to a particularly hard time at the moment.

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As for my personal experience – I seem to be going through peaks and troughs of anxiety. When coronavirus first started hitting the news, it coincided with a small change in my antidepressants and I had several days of paranoia about my being contaminated with coronavirus and that I was going to be responsible for the death of all my loved ones. My compulsion was to confess to them all that I may have been exposed, and wash my hands (which, had I indulged it, would have lead to washing my arms, washing my body, washing my clothes and everything in my home). Thankfully after a few days, things settled down and I used many of my old coping strategies from therapy to get myself back on track.

Then, I met up with my mum, who is technically high risk, and had about two weeks of paranoia that she was going to die imminently and it would all be my fault, coupled with anxiety. My compulsions this time were ‘neutralising’ the thoughts with other thoughts, and confession.

Fast forward to lockdown being announced – I actually had much more apprehension about being alone for prolonged periods than anything else, as this is a known trigger for me. On the other hand though, I did feel more prepared for the fears presented by COVID-19 than most. My brain knows how to survive a barrage of negativity and fear narratives – it’s not a new scenario to me. Thankfully, I actually went for the first 7 weeks of lockdown without any major symptoms of OCD, despite some anxiety and low mood, mood swings etc. It took until the announcement of some lockdown measures being relaxed for me to start to feel OCD creeping back in. However, I was able to totally restrict my time spent around other people, my exposure, my safety etc. as I live alone. In OCD world that’s ideal! All our OCD brains really want is to control every perceived risk to the nth degree, with the belief that this will somehow keep ourselves and/or our loved ones safe. As the lockdown measures were relaxed, we had news that we could start to see one person at a social distance of 2 metres. I am blessed and so grateful to have people in my life who love me and want to see me, but following this announcement I had an influx of people wanting to meet up, which amounted to a very big change in a very tiny space of time. This sent my generalised anxiety a bit haywire for a few days. After a week, I met up with one of my closest friends for a socially distanced chat. The chat itself was really lovely, heartwarming and felt good to see one of my beloved humans again. However the next day, I had a panic attack following a run, and my brain became overwhelmed with every little thing that might have contaminated me by meeting with this friend, and how my contamination was going to end up killing my loved ones. It seems sort of funny in a way when reading my intrusive thoughts back, because they look so silly when not experienced as part of your threat-response. My contamination OCD thoughts have subsided somewhat since then, but it’s had the unfortunate effect of triggering an episode of ROCD, which I am currently trying to get a grip on.

So what is it like living with OCD during lockdown? For me, it’s not been an un-liveable hell, as I had slightly worried it might be. However it has certainly triggered a significant decline in my mental health, for which I am slightly reluctant to be going back to my therapist for help with. Reluctant only because we said our final goodbyes just 3  months ago (sod’s law!!). I am pretty lucky, as my fellow OCD sufferers go – I know a lot of people have suffered a very traumatic couple of months. There is reduced availability of therapists (although many are now thankfully doing remote sessions), and avoiding compulsions has become almost impossible where doing so would be against formal government advice.

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From my perspective, the more people understand OCD the better the chance of OCD sufferers having a chance at recovery. The sad reality is most people still mistake OCD for a preference of tidiness and order, when the reality is very different. The one thing I would change? I would love it if people stopped using OCD as a criticism, or a self reflection of a tidiness or pernickety behaviour. There is a huge stigma around OCD and anything we can do to reduce that should be done. OCD should be referenced only when talking about the mental health issue, which is severe and debilitating for most.

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.

Universal Credit Saga – A Year On

So it’s been one whole year since I was signed off work and started the sole destroying task of applying for Universal Credit. If you’re a long term reader, you might remember my Open Letter to Theresa May, I was really reluctant to apply. I never thought that I would be in the position where I needed to apply for benefits and honestly, I felt a level of shame over applying. My usually proud front was shattered by admitting that I needed this financial help, but my health comes first. That was what I told myself.

And my God, was my front shattered. I had opened up about my health in a way that I never had before. I was begging strangers to take pity on me, in the hope that the application process might be made a little bit easier. Only, they didn’t take pity on me. Honestly, I felt a bit like a criminal. I was warned about sanctions if I couldn’t attend appointments if I was ill. Let’s remember at this point, that the whole reason that I was applying was because of how unwell I was and still am. I was asked when I was going to get better, because the government doesn’t seem to understand the concept of chronic or life long conditions.

I felt and still feel like a failure because I can’t work. I feel ashamed that I am ill, even though now, a year one, I am able to accept that life’s a bitch and doesn’t always go the way you want it to.

Anyway, after the initial stress of the first few months of the application, things calmed down a little. I had my work capability assessment and thankfully, the person leading the assessment had an ounce of common sense and agreed that I wasn’t fit to work. That was until. October, when my payments were stopped for no reason. I have real anxiety issues about going into the job centre because of the bad experiences that I’ve had there, but nonetheless, in I went to find out what had happened. I explained, very calmly, to the work coach that my payment hadn’t gone in and as a result, I was overdrawn. I kid you not, the work coach shrugged in reply and told me that “these things happen”. There have been admin issues over the past few weeks, which has meant that not all payments have gone out on time. Admin errors happen, what I am more frustrated about has been the sheer lack of communication, so I had no idea that this was the case.

I told the work coach, again, that I was overdrawn as a result of the payment not going on and was told that I would benefit from seeking advice from the Money Advice Service. The Money Advice Service is an organisation established with cross Government party support, that provides free and impartial advice on money and financial decisions to people in the United Kingdom. It is a really useful service, but not a service that I required at this time, because when my payments go in, I am very able at managing my own money. It’s very hard, however, to manage your money when you’re not receiving the money in the first place.

This leads me to now. I think maybe that I had become a little bit complacent when it came to Universal Credit: nothing has happened to offend me in a few months and I thought that things would remain that way. I went into the job centre to hand in my latest fit note and was told that my payments had been stopped and that I was being sanctioned.

 

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I cried. A lot. The past month has been awful, I’ve been really unwell (more than normal) and the last thing I needed was finding out that my financial security was at risk. The person I saw at the job centre wasn’t able to reinstate my payments and was only able to tell me that it looked like I’d missed a phone call. I rang the Performance Centre and was told that my payments had been stopped because I’d missed a review phone call. Yes, I had missed a phone call, but I had also notified them that I was in hospital at the time of the phone call and therefore unable to take the call, and please could it be rearranged.

I then had to wait a week for the actual review phone call. There was me thinking that it would be to ask me if there had been any changes to my health etc but no, they wanted to know if I was still single (as a pringle, for what it’s worth) and if I had any savings or investments. My favourite part was when they asked me if I was receiving a World War Two pension. Dude, I wasn’t even alive then…

Whilst none of this is especially dramatic, it really knocked me. There isn’t one single aspect of Universal Credit that is easy to understand or logical. It baffles me that they have such poor customer service skills, when they are dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in society. There have been so many occasions over the past year when the process of Universal Credit has made me more unwell than I was already. It really seems like the government will jump upon the smallest thing as a reason to stop payments.

Until that changes, people will still be failed. They will still be struggling to pay rent and afford food. They will still feel penalised for being unwell and genuinely unable to work and I’m ashamed to live in a country whereby the government think that is okay.

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2018 Favourites

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Well, we’ve made it to the end of 2018: a year which has caused the British population to overdose on Brexit, we had the Beast from the East and the hottest summer in forever. Baby Shark made us want to spoon our eyeballs out and the I’m A Celeb Class of 2018 gave us the ultimate body confidence song, I Like My Bum.

I’ve really enjoyed writing about my monthly favourites, throughout the year, so it only seemed right to reflect on the whole of 2018 and the things that I’ve loved.

Books

My stand-out book of the year has to be I Am Thunder: And I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan. Put simply: this book was amazing, literally the only fault that I could find with it is that it finished too soon. Despite this book again coming under the YA category of fiction, I honestly feel that everyone needs to read it. Muhammad Khan is a teacher in a British secondary school. He is also Muslim and writes about growing up as a British Muslim in the 21st century, having been inspired by media reports of the three Muslim girls who fled east London to join the so-called Islamic State. Since first reading this book in May, I have gone on to re-read it numerous times, each time picking up different aspects of the plot that I hadn’t noticed when reading before. I’m really pleased that Khan is releasing his second book in early 2019.

Another book which I have to mention is We Are Young, the latest book by YA author, Cat Clarke. Having only discovered Cat Clarke this year, I very quickly made my way through all of her books and it is a close call between We Are Young and Girlhood over my favourite Cat Clarke book. We Are Young was emotional, raw, powerful…I could continue. What I loved most was that Cat writes about mental health in such a sensitive yet balanced manner. She doesn’t sugar-coat how difficult being a teenager can be and We Are Young also touches on the government cuts to mental health services and youth services and how this impacts on the most vulnerable in society. I can’t wait until Cat’s next book is out. No pressure Cat!

A book that hasn’t featured in any of my previous monthly favourites posts is Vox by Christina Dalcher. This book was extraordinary, so much so that I read it in one sitting. It’s very unlike any books that I normally read, but I was drawn to it because of the linguistic and neurolinguistic element in it. In dystopian USA, women and girls are limited to speaking only one hundred words a day. This is measured by a word counter which is fitted to their wrists, speaking over one hundred words means that the bracelet emits an electric shock, which then intensifies. Think 1984, with a neurolinguistic twist, I really loved it.

Films/TV

Like most of the British population, I was obsessed with Love Island and still feel that there is a hole in my life, come 9pm, as it’s not on TV to watch. Despite this, however, I will fully admit that Love Island is not a healthy representation on society and it highlights many issues, with how women are viewed and treated. I wrote a blog post about The Problems With Love Island, where I talked about being a feminist and if watching Love Island makes me a bad feminist. I don’t necessarily agree with the behaviours shown by some of the people in the villa, but Love Island was a winner for some summer evening TV viewing and I will be remaining loyal, babe to it.

Obviously I can’t write about my yearly favourites without mentioning Strictly Come Dancing. As always, I have loved loved loved this series, especially with the added controversy and drama. Stacey and Kevin were well deserved winners, having had the SCD journey, with Stacey going from complete novice to a talented dancer.

My stand-out TV programme of the year has to the The Bodyguard. 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.

As for films, the ones I’ve loved the most are Ladybird, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and Wonder. 2019 is looking good in terms of film releases and I’m especially looking forward to Toy Story 4 and Lion King.

Spoonie Favourites

The Body Shop has to have a mention here, as their skin care has (mostly) kept my skin in reasonable condition, when I haven’t felt eel enough to properly look after it. A lot of the time, I don’t have the energy to spend ages and ages doing my makeup or having a long beauty regime, but at the same time, I don’t want to get into a downward spiral of not making any effort. Products which deserve a mention are: Tea Tree Anti-Imperfection Night Mask is specifically formulated to care for blemishes and imperfections whilst you sleep and the hydrating face mists which saved my skin from heat induced sweats over the summer.

Another spoonie favourite from this is Tesco jeans. Okay, stay with me on this one. I have really short legs – being just over 5ft is a bit of a curse in that sense – so I find buying jeans a very painful process. Once I find a brand that I like, that’s it, I’m on a convert and buy all the jeans in different colours (I say different colours and I mean dark blue and black). They are so comfy, they fit perfectly, with a slight stretch which is perfect for when my hips and knees swell up, or when I’m bloated. Plus, they are so much cheaper than my usual Jack Wills/Oasis/Top Shop jeans and they wash well as well, which is always a bonus. I’ve lived in Tesco jeans, since discovering them earlier in the year and I’m so impressed by the longevity of them. They’ve faded slightly but for the most part, they still look as good as when I first bought them.

This year, I invested in a memory foam pillow. Where has this been all of my life? Thanks to EDS, I have endless issues with my back, neck and ribs and need a pillow which offers support and it fairly firm, to support my wonky bits. It hasn’t completely resolved the issues, but being able to sleep with my neck and shoulders getting more support has made a difference.

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. It smells so much better than bio-oil, is less greasy and is absorbed more quickly. It hasn’t got rid of my stretch marks (that would be asking for a miracle) but they have improved: they aren’t as red or deep.

 

Odds and Sods

My first Odds and Sods yearly favourite overlaps with Spoonie Favourites. Last year, I stumbled across Spoonie_Village on Instagram. Run by the lovely Hayley, there is also an etsy shop, where you can buy all sorts of spoonie related items such as postcards, stickers, notebooks and calendars. I honestly can’t praise Hayley enough, her illustrations have made me smile during some really dark times this year and I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings.

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Over the summer, I was well enough to travel up to York, where I spent the best three years at uni, to catch up with old friends an lecturers. York itself is a beautiful city, with individual and unique shops that I could happily spend way too much money in. I’m able to look back on my week in York and remind myself that 2018 hasn’t been all bad, and I’m very lucky to have such supportive friends, dragging me through the tough bits.

My final favourite is the general blogging community over on Facebook and Instgram. Through this community, I have met so many like-minded people, learnt how to develop my blog and writing for an audience and had the space to talk about content and what people want to read about. Big thanks to the people who give up their time to facilitate the groups which allow this to happen, especially Amy, Pippa and Jenna.