rachel

I’m delighted to have Rachel on the blog today. She is one of my absolute favourite bloggers, and I highly recommend you check her out, if you haven’t already.

We thought it would be interesting to interview each other about a specific mental health issue. In this post, Rachel will be talking about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and my interview about emetophobia (fear of vomiting) will be going up on her blog soon.

Can you explain SAD and how it affects you?

SAD is type of depression which is prevalent in the Autumn/Winter months. It is believed to be caused by the lack of sunlight at this time of year which affects the body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy) and serotonin (which affects your mood). For me SAD is characterised by a complete lack of motivation to do anything. When the days get shorter and darker my mood plummets and I find it hard to make myself eat sufficiently or look after myself properly.

What is the main thing about SAD you wish more people understood?

I wish people understood that SAD is real for a start. I’ve mentioned it to many people who question its existence which is really hard to hear when Autumn/Winter fills you with dread.

Are there any common misconceptions about SAD?

I think SAD is often seen as simple winter blues. It’s harder to get up in the mornings and it’s dark and cold all the time, and everybody feels happier when the sun is shining. But SAD is much more than just wishing it was sunny.

What are your top tips for anyone else struggling with SAD?

Getting exercise is crucial. Just with all types of depression, it’s so easy to stay in bed all day and not want to face the world but you absolutely will feel better if you get some fresh air.

What do you do to make things easier for yourself on difficult days?

If it’s a day off from uni/placement I listen to whatever my body wants and needs. If I want to stay in bed all day and rest I will do but I’ll try to make sure I don’t just sleep because that’s not good for you! I’ll have a nice bath and make a coffee and try to take everything as easy as possible.

If it’s a uni day I’ll try to make sure I treat myself where possible. Sometimes with SAD it’s really hard to motivate yourself to do any kind of forward planning, so when I might not be able to be bothered to make lunch the night before I’ll make sure to treat myself to a nice lunch at uni. It’s all about appreciating and looking for the little things!

Have you found any benefit in special lamps/alarm clocks?

I use a Lumie alarm clock. This will be the second year I’ve had it through the Winter and I really think it makes a difference. The light starts to come on 30 minutes before my alarm goes off so that I never wake up in total darkness so it really helps me feel less lethargic in the mornings.

Is there a particular product or app you think would help you?

I talk about this app all the time and while it’s not SAD specific I find it really helpful. Pacifica is a mood tracker app and I find it really useful for tracking how I’m feeling each day. Sometimes it’s clear that my mood is worse at the start of the week so I think about ways I change my Sundays so that I’m not dreading a dark start on Monday that follows me throughout the week.

Do you find you struggle more with your mental health in general in winter months? For example, do you find yourself more anxious, and if so, do you think this is linked to SAD?

Definitely. I go out a lot less in the Winter months and that only makes it more difficult and anxiety inducing when I do go out.

How can other people help you during difficult times?

As much as I’d rather be left completely on my own from about October to March I know that’s not helpful. So I just want people to treat me like they would any other time of year except to be mindful that I’m probably not going to want to go out as much or socialise as frequently.

Any final words of advice to anyone struggling?

SAD is a real disorder so don’t be worried about getting help for it.

You can find the lovely Rachel at No Space For Milk.

 

In honour of OCD Week, and because I’ve recently started seeing a new counsellor, I wanted to share a few of my experiences of having OCD.

I’ve struggled with OCD since I was around eight or nine years old.

Initially it was very ritual based. I would lie awake at night forcing myself to count to 100 without any interruption from the outside world. If a dog barked, or a car went past, I had to start from zero. Sometimes this would take hours. I’d feel hot, clammy and frustrated. I wanted so badly to sleep but wouldn’t let myself until I’d reached 100. Often my mum would come into my room to find me crying, big loud sobs of frustration.

For me that feeling was like trying to thread a needle. That queasy sensation you can sometimes get when you’re trying to do something fiddly that requires a lot of concentration.

An overwhelming wave of confusion and panic would usually crash over me as I tried to organise my scattered mind, and grab hold of a solid thought to bring me back to reality.

Looking back, I have no idea why I felt like I had to do any of those things.

You hear a lot about OCD sufferers carrying out their rituals to stop something bad happening to their loved ones. I felt no such responsibility. My counsellor suggested it was maybe a way for me to have a sense of control, at a time in my life when control was slipping through my fingertips.

As well as counting, there were certain words I had to say at particular times, or thoughts I needed to think before I could start talking. If someone ‘interrupted’ me I’d lose my temper or cry. Of course, no-one understood why.

Soon my compulsions became more about cleanliness, rooted in an overwhelming fear of contamination. While other children played in sandboxes, or rolled around in the grass, I stood back, hating the feel of anything dirty on me. The compulsive hand washing came soon after, a habit which I never managed to break.

Right now my hands are red, raw and sore from over-washing.

I have an itch on my nose I’m fighting the urge to scratch, because I haven’t washed my hands, and I can’t touch my face without doing that first. I feel uncomfortable, irritable and drained from the effort of fighting my natural instincts.

OCD can be debilitating, and I’m so grateful that mine hasn’t reached that point. A few months ago however, I could see it beginning to spiral. The reality of how bad I’d become shocked me so much it was a large part of the reason I decided to start taking medication.

By this point, hand washing had quickly led to showering every time I used the bathroom. While working from home I was showering up to eight times a day. As a result I often developed rashes and itchy patches of eczema on my arms.

My way to avoid compulsive showering eventually became going to the bathroom as little as possible. I stopped drinking water, which meant I often suffered from headaches, fatigue and dry, cracked lips.

My counsellor asked me if there’s ever a time when I actually feel clean. It was the first time I’d stopped to think about this and I realised that no, I never feel clean. There’s a brief period of time while I’m in the shower, but other than that, I always feel dirty.

What does dirty feel like?

Sometimes the dirt feels like a weight pulling me down. Other times it just feels like a thin layer of grime on my skin. Sometimes it’s hot, or itchy. I thought everyone felt like that. I only learned recently that’s not true.

Having OCD is like always being on high alert, forever watching for potential threats or signs of things I perceive as dangerous. After a day of constantly checking my surroundings, making a mental note of areas not to touch and inspecting anything I eat for signs of contamination, I’m normally exhausted.

Most people go about their day-to-day lives without giving much thought to small tasks like preparing a snack, or going to the bathroom. For someone with OCD these things can use up all the energy they have. On some days I’ve felt too drained or overwhelmed to eat and have reached the evening feeling tearful and hungry.

OCD isn’t rational. It’s a constant battle between the logical part of the brain and the part that’s convinced itself that these compulsive behaviours are essential to staying safe and healthy. It makes me feel so stupid when I can’t do simple things like accept a crisp from someone else’s packet, or eat a burger with my hands.

It makes me feel weak.

Do you remember the old Dettol advert with the neon bacteria on the woman’s hand? It was supposed to demonstrate how quick and easy it is to spread germs.

That advert is my life. I see those neon pink handprints everywhere, growing and spreading. Nowhere around me is safe.

I’m aware of how this all sounds. Believe me, that’s the worst thing about OCD. I know I’m not behaving rationally. I know I don’t need to do half the things I do. Except that when I’ve got my hands under scalding hot water and I’m washing them until they’re red and swollen, I believe with 100% certainty that I’m just doing what I have to do to keep myself safe.

If you want a better understanding of what it’s like living with OCD I highly recommend Holly Bourne’s book, Am I Normal Yet? She captures the mind-set of an OCD sufferer so perfectly that at times I thought she’d peered right inside my head.

There are so many forms of OCD and not everyone’s experiences will be like mine. For those that don’t have OCD I hope this post helps to illustrate that it is so much more than liking your pens lined up neatly, or keeping your house tidy.

For me OCD is confusion, pain, panic, hunger, dehydration, exhaustion, weakness, anger, despair, fear and frustration.

What does OCD feel like to you?

mel-ocd

megan-rees
I met the lovely Megan while taking part in the #TalkMH chat on Twitter (Thursdays at 8:30 pm). She is kind, supportive and inspiring, and I highly recommend you check out her blog.
I wanted to get to know her better, and hear some of her tips for self-care, so I thought it would be nice to interview each other.
Megan’s courage and strength is incredible, and she has some great advice for looking after yourself during difficult days. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.

First of all, tell me a bit about yourself. What’s your favourite movie, and what’s the most ridiculous thing that’s ever happened to you?

Hello! I’m Megan, I’m 22 and I run a Mental Health blog as well as being a Makeup Artist, splitting my time between Kent and Teesside. I have a three way tie for my favourite movie: Juno, The Perks of Being A Wallflower and Psycho (the original, obviously!)
I’m a very clumsy person, so funny things tend to happen to me all the time, such as falling UP the stairs, finding random bruises in the most obscure places on my body and most recently, breaking my coccyx by falling down the stairs from the portaloo at Reading Festival.

Describe your blog and what it is you hope others get out of reading it.

My blog is a mental health based blog, I’ve been in and out of the blogging community since October 2011 but only recently have really found my niche. Through my blog, I hope to offer practical advice on mental illness for those who suffer as well as those who care. I want it to be a place to inspire anyone that they are not alone and they can make it through the next few minutes, hours and days.

How has mental illness affected you?

Suffering with mental illness from the tender of age of 14, it has ruled my life for the past 8 years. With the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (as well as Depression, Anxiety, OCD, ED…), it pretty much affects everything I do and the way I do it. It’s not easy but you learn strategies to make it through and those are what I’m hoping to share.

What help or treatment have you sought, and have you felt it’s been helpful?

Due to suicide attempts, I was forced into Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) between the ages of 15 and 18. From the counsellor the school made me see to the sessions CAMHS made me attend, it was all extremely detrimental to my mental health and possibly made me even worse off than I originally was.
Since January 2015 (another attempt), I’ve actively sought to receive treatment, yet I feel the mental health services are more concerned in pushing pills onto you as a quick fix rather than treating the cause of the problems. I’m currently undertaking CBT, however I’ve only been offered 6 sessions (standard NHS practice) so will have to find a different therapist after, if I want to get better (which I do!). BPD isn’t curable, and I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life, it’s just a shame that the government isn’t as concerned with it as they should be. After all, this could possibly be a terminal illness, just not the type of terminal illness one expects.

What advice would you give to anyone struggling with their mental health?

Talk to someone, or something. My coping mechanism has always been to write, because I don’t particularly trust people with what I tell them. Whether I’ve been writing openly on my blog, or privately in the dozens of notebooks I have scattered around, getting whatever is on my mind off my chest makes me feel 157% better. So, if there’s something on your mind that’s really getting to you, write it down, tell your loved ones, just make sure you get it out instead of bottling it up.

On bad days, what do you do to make yourself feel better?

NETFLIX! I was able to binge watch the whole of Gossip Girl (121 episodes, i.e. 87 hours) in 8 days. It may be possibly the most boring thing to do, but as long as it’s distracting you from your thoughts, allowing your mind the rest it needs to recuperate, then I’m all for it. The brain, like the rest of the body, is an organ that needs rest to get better, so idly watching the television is perfect to get you feeling better.

What three things help lift your mood and bring you comfort?

Music, my dog and a cup of tea.
Music: I have a monthly playlist on Spotify and I always fill it with music that I absolutely love from that month, so even if I’m feeling a little down, I can turn that on and be instantly lifted. Even if I go to a different month, it brings back all the memories from listening to it previously (such as May’s playlist takes me back to being on holiday in Portugal and August is devoted to Reading!)
My dog: Apparently stroking your pet for just a few minutes releases endorphins, and I can certainly vouch for that! Whenever I’m upset, my Maltese, Jenson, comes and gives me a cuddle and I don’t feel so bad anymore.
A cup of tea: The most British response ever?! It’s not called a hug in a mug for no reason, and it’s also a physical way to stop (over)thinking about whatever is on my mind.

There are many misconceptions about mental illness. Have any affected you personally?

That it’s a ‘phase’ or ‘attention-seeking’. These are my two pet hates when it comes to mental illness. Just because it seems to be trendy to have anxiety or be a little sad, doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable for those who don’t have MI to criticise. One person’s experience is completely different to another’s and you can never fully understand what’s going on in a person’s life to have affected them in the way it does. I once dated a boy who was only two years older and had the nerve to tell me that ‘a lot of people your age seem to have mental illnesses.’ There was not a second date, rest assured. It’s just simply ignorant.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing friends of people with mental illness can do to help?

Love! As a friend to those with MI, as well as a MI sufferer, reassuring those who are suffering that they are loved is always going to be the most important thing. Countless bands haven’t sung about love for no reason! It can be a simple gesture of making time to see them, getting them a cup of tea or a little text seeing how they are. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it can make all the difference. You never know, that one text might save someone’s life.
Is there one thing you’d like everyone to understand about you, and the way mental illness affects you?
I am not defined by my mental illness. I’m Megan. I like skiing, makeup, sloths. I’m a vegetarian. I dropped out of university twice. I also have a mental illness, but that is not who I am.
x
I have SO much love for this amazing woman, and again, I highly recommend you check out her blog.

I don’t think this post needs much introduction. It’s a letter, not just to Lauren (who came up with the idea for this letter swap post), but to everyone out there who’s struggling right now. I hope you read these words and believe every one of them.

To Lauren, my friend,

I’m writing this letter to remind you that even though you struggle sometimes, you’re so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.

In our darkest moments, when we feel lost, weak, and worthless, it’s all too easy to tell ourselves that we don’t deserve the love and support we crave. I hope this letter reminds you that you deserve all of it, and so much more.

You deserve to be able to reach out to others for help

You are loved and cared about- I can’t stress this enough. You are allowed to be honest with the people you love, and tell them when you’re struggling. They won’t think any less of you. You are not a burden, so don’t do yourself the disservice of hiding your feelings.

If you need to, see your doctor or counsellor, and don’t feel for a second like this means you’ve failed.

You deserve support, comfort and love.

You deserve to let yourself cry, be silent, and heal

Crying isn’t a sign of weakness, and it certainly isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Crying is a part of healing, so do it openly and never apologise for your emotions. It’s OK to withdraw and spend some quiet time alone if that’s what you need. Your friends will understand.

You deserve to treat yourself with kindness

Allocating some time each day to doing something that feeds your soul is as important as eating, breathing and brushing your teeth. Make being kind to yourself a part of your routine, whether it’s reading a good book, taking a long bath, or watching some trashy TV. It’s not stupid or a waste of time if it makes you happy.

You deserve to ask for what you want

You are not selfish. Telling someone what you need, or asking for their help doesn’t make you a bad person. They will want to help you, and I’m certain they know that if the situation were reversed you would do the same for them.

You deserve to be gentle with yourself

When we’re not feeling well, whether physically or mentally, each day can seem like a battle. The simplest of tasks can seem daunting, and everyday situations may suddenly become overwhelming. If things get too much, take a step back, breathe, and tell yourself that you’re not a failure. You’re getting through each day, and that’s a testament to your bravery, courage and strength. If you focus on what you’ve achieved, rather than what you haven’t, you’ll realise that you really are pretty bloody amazing.

You deserve hope

Things will get better. One day you’ll look back on this moment and marvel at how far you’ve come. You might not believe it now, but please trust me on this.

You deserve happiness

Never forget that.

I know from experience how easy it is, in your lowest moments, to forget your worth. I only hope this letter can remind you that you truly are an incredible person, with so much to give.

Thank you for using your blog to spread positivity, promote understanding and help others to feel less alone.

You’re amazing and I feel lucky to know you.

Lots of love,

Melissa xxx

The gorgeous Lauren, and her letter to me, can be found over at Lauren Evie. We both take part in #talkMH (Thursday evenings at 8:30pm), a chat run by the amazing Hannah Rainey. You can find her blog here. 

Lauren’t beautiful letter to me.

I feel truly lucky to have met so many strong, incredible people who are using their blogs to share their stories and help to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. I would love to do more collabs like this one, so if you’re interested please let me know!

Sending love to you all. <3

I can honestly say that the first six months of this year were the hardest of my life. I was working from home in a job I found unfulfilling, and I spent most days feeling lonely and worthless. With no reason to get dressed or leave the house, and no-one to talk to all day, I felt like my life had no direction or purpose. Some days I felt so flat I didn’t have the energy to move, and even the simplest things, like eating, felt too difficult.

I had countless job interviews and spent months on an endless roller coaster of nerves, excitement, hope and eventually rejection. Hopelessness enveloped me like a thick blanket, heavy and suffocating. The longing I had for happiness felt like a physical ache in my chest, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t see a way to turn things around for myself.

I had failed.

The life I’d pictured for myself when I was younger was exciting and full of colour. Instead I’d reached 28 and was merely existing, my world a dull, muted landscape of drudgery and exhaustion. I hated the person I’d become. While once confident and spontaneous I was now withdrawn and afraid of the world around me.

I kept telling myself that one day I would look back on this time in my life and laugh at how silly I was being. I would wonder what the hell I was even worrying about. This was all just a blip, surely. As much as I told myself this though, I couldn’t quite make myself believe it. I considered giving up altogether, but was afraid of what giving up would even look like. I was paralysed by the fear that I would never move forward but also that I was starting to feel like I didn’t want to.

The path

I’d been defeated. My confidence was shattered, and each interview became a challenge not to break down and cry. I knew I was putting an unhealthy amount of pressure on myself, but I couldn’t stop. Applying for jobs became an all-consuming obsession.

I was struggling in my personal life too. Counselling took me down a difficult path that ended with the loss of two important relationships. The loss was sudden but at the same time felt like it had been a long time coming. The sense of betrayal however left me raw, confused, and questioning who I was as a person. It added to the feelings of worthlessness I’d heaped upon myself and made me want to rip off my own skin and become someone new.

I grieved, as one would any loss, and in time found acceptance and closure. I realised that I had chosen my own family, and was in no way defined by my blood, or my past.

I even learned to be thankful for it, because it pushed me to make one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Blinded by sadness and overwhelmed by how lost I felt, I reached out in a moment of desperation to someone I’d always been afraid to ask for help: a doctor. I have no idea why I was so nervous, because he instantly put me at ease. He treated me with kindness and compassion, patience and understanding. He told me it was OK to cry, and offered sincere, gentle reassurance.

With absolute confidence he looked me in the eye and told me something no-one else ever had: ‘You will get better.’ This time my tears were of relief. I’d once asked my counsellor if she thought I was ‘unfixable’ and I think I’d started to believe that I actually was. I don’t think my doctor will ever know the impact those words had on me, and how much I needed to hear them.

He prescribed me Sertraline, and though I was scared about the possible side-effects and prospect of being on medication long-term, his words gave me the courage I needed to set those fears aside. He told me that there was light at the end of the tunnel, and for the first time I started to believe that.

That was five weeks ago, and I can honestly say I already feel a massive difference. Since then, I also landed my dream job as a social media executive for an exciting new company. I get paid to write, be creative and basically do the things I love. I’m surrounded by interesting, passionate people that I can talk to and bounce ideas off of. The office is buzzing with music and laughter and it’s everything that I’ve been missing for so long.

I feel valued again.

I can remember how it feels to have passion and drive, and I wake up in the morning feeling like I can’t wait to get to work. I have the freedom to build this role into exactly what I want and I’m SO BLOODY EXCITED about my future again. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have hoped for a job that’s more perfect.

It was scary at first, being forced to suddenly step out of the little bubble I’d carefully built around myself. Interacting with people again was overwhelming and exhausting, and I had one or two moments of panic when I questioned whether I could actually do this. But in those moments I took a deep breath and thought about all the things I’ve already managed to overcome. Slowly I started to believe in myself again.

I’m so grateful that someone else saw my potential, even when I couldn’t. My job has given me structure, purpose and a sense of worth again. I feel like I’ve woken up from a long, deep sleep.

SEA

Recently, after a lovely evening with one of my best friends, talking and laughing like we used to, she pulled me into a tight hug and whispered in my ear, ‘You feel like Mel again.’ Every day I can feel a little bit more of myself starting to come back and I’m glad others can see it too.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in these last few weeks, but mainly I’ve realised that I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.

When you’re struggling with depression or anxiety it’s so easy to see yourself as weak or worthless. You’re not. When the simplest of tasks feels like a steep, uphill climb, and every day feels like a battle, it takes a warrior to keep moving forwards.

Please don’t think for a second that admitting you’re struggling is anything to be ashamed of either. Another lovely thing my doctor told me was that coming to him for help proved how resilient I am. He made me feel strong at a time when I felt utterly broken, and I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am for that.

It amazes me that people can come in and out of our lives without ever truly realising the impact they’ve had on us. To my doctor and all the other people who have listened, supported and believed in me, I offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks.

I would like to thank myself as well.

Thank you for not giving up, even though you wanted to. Thank you for believing that happiness was out there and fighting for it with everything you had. Thank you for reaching out and seeking the help you knew you deserved. Thank you for realising that the right path isn’t always the easiest, and thank you for having the courage to take it anyway.

Thank you for showing the world what you’re made of.

XOXO

If you’re struggling, please reach out, whether it be to friends, family or your doctor.

You are loved and cared about, and things will get better.

Always remember, you’re so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.