Discussing your mental health with a doctor for the first time might seem daunting but you really needn’t worry. Here are a few of my personal tips for getting the most out of your appointment and looking after yourself at the same time.

  1. Book a double appointment if you think you’ll need more than ten minutes. I actually didn’t know you could do this, but luckily my doctor spent a good half an hour with me anyway!
  2. Don’t be ashamed to cry. The doctor won’t think you’re being silly, they won’t judge you and they most definitely will have seen it all before! Remember that by nature doctors are caring people and will only want to help you.
  3. Be honest. You don’t need to sugar coat how you’re feeling when you speak to a doctor. It will help them make a better decision about your treatment if you give them all the facts.
  4. Take notes in with you. It’s very easy to get muddled or forget to mention things, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed or upset. Making the notes with someone close to you (only if you feel comfortable) could be a good idea too, as they’ll be able to help you organise your thoughts and offer an outside perspective. Aim to be as clear as possible about how you feel, how long you’ve been feeling it for, and the impact it’s having on your day-to-day life. For example, is it stopping you leaving the house, or affecting how well you take care of yourself?
  5. Make sure you leave the appointment understanding your treatment plan. If you’re prescribed medication, ask the doctor when they’ll want to see you again to check in. They’ll likely want to see you fairly regularly, at least at first, to make sure the medication and dosage is right for you. Have an idea of time frames and maybe even book your next appointment there and then (if possible).
  6. Ask all the questions you need. Don’t feel bad for doing this. You’re not being a pain, that’s what the doctor is there for and ultimately they will want to reassure you. It’s useful to have an idea of how long they expect you’ll be on the medication for, and any potential side-effects. Ask if there’s anything you should avoid – alcohol, other medications, natural supplements, etc.
  7. Your usual doctor may not be the right one for you in this particular situation, but that’s OK. If you don’t feel listened to, supported or understood, don’t be deterred. Your feelings are valid, so please don’t start to doubt that. Instead seek out the care you deserve by making an appointment with a different doctor. It’s important to have a GP you trust and feel comfortable with, as you’ll likely see them quite regularly, at least at first.
  8. You may well be asked some very direct and possibly uncomfortable questions. They’ll likely ask if you’ve ever felt suicidal, or if you think you could be at risk of harming yourself. It might not be a pleasant conversation, but it’s important to remember that these are routine questions and the doctor is asking them with your best interests at heart, not to judge you. Take your time answering, and please remember that when it comes to how you’re feeling there’s never a wrong answer. Whatever you say will simply help the doctor decide on the best treatment for you.
  9. Remember, your doctor can do more than just prescribe you medication. They will be able to refer you to local mental health services for counselling, and can even give advice on diet and lifestyle changes that may help. They may well ask you more general questions about your life (family, work, friends, etc.) to get a clearer picture of any other challenges you may be facing, as well as what kind of support system you have.
  10. Be kind to yourself. Keep some time free after your appointment to do something that will make you happy. Maybe treat yourself to a hot chocolate, watch your favourite TV show or have a nice long bath.
  11. Lastly, and most importantly, never feel ashamed for seeking help. I can’t stress this enough. In no way does needing help make you weak, worthless or a burden.

It takes a great deal of strength and courage to open up to another person, so be proud of yourself.

You are amazing and you will get through this. <3

 Image of a flower

Photo of medication

I’m writing this late on a Friday night. I don’t know if I’ll actually post it, but sometimes it just feels good to get everything down on paper.

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing any more.

I’m filled with doubt. So much doubt. Doubt in myself, my decisions, and my own strength. I fear that deep down I’m a terrible person. Selfish, cold and unfeeling. I’m terrified I’m not becoming who I want to be.

I never feel at ease. There’s always something niggling at the back of my mind, an itch I can’t quite scratch. I’m scared. Really scared.

I went back to my GP the other day. I’m seeing a different doctor now, but I like him. One thing he said to me though has stayed with me, and I can’t quite shake it off.

Far from demonstrating the reassuring confidence of my last doctor, he looked at me with concern in his eyes and asked, ‘Do you actually think you’ll be OK? Are you going to get through this?’

He asked it kindly, and it was a clever question because it got me to open up, but I just can’t stop hearing those words in my head. In that moment I desperately wanted some sort of reassurance that I was going to be alright. Instead he looked at me with the worry of someone who wasn’t convinced that was true.

I told him there are days when I wish I didn’t exist. He asked me if I’d ever act on those thoughts. It’s funny; the first time I was asked if I felt suicidal I flinched. I was shocked by the question, taken aback by the bluntness of its delivery.

Now, I’ve been asked so many times that it almost feels casual, like everyday small-talk.

I said no; I’ve never felt suicidal. I just feel scared of how overwhelmingly low I feel sometimes.

I can’t help but wonder how I got to this point. When did sitting in a doctor’s office chatting about suicide become an average Wednesday morning?

He upped my dose of Sertraline and prescribed beta blockers for anxiety. I haven’t taken any yet, but having them in my back pocket is a nice safety net. “I can’t change your world, but I can help in small ways,” the doctor said to me.

Beta blockers help to tackle the physical symptoms of anxiety, and I find it incredibly comforting to know that even though there is no magic cure for the larger issues, there are small things I can do to get me through the harder days.

My new counsellor is great, but I feel like I’m hitting a wall. She wants me to step outside of my comfort zone, by taking away some of my safety behaviours. I don’t know if I can handle that right now. I want to get better, but I feel like I’m sinking. I probably have about nine sessions left, which doesn’t seem like anywhere near enough.

More importantly, I don’t think I’m in the right place for her to be able to help me.

I need to want to help myself, but all I want to do is give up.

I wish, so badly, that there was a magic word, or a switch that could be flipped that would fix me. I wish that I could learn to listen to the rational part of my brain when fear and compulsions take over.

I feel angry. Angry at the events in my life that have made me like this. Angry at myself for not recognising sooner that I had a problem. Angry as I watch myself slip away, while I long to be ‘normal.’ I’ve gotten better in so many ways, but worse in so many others. It’s like a game of tug of war in my mind.

And I’m losing.

I’ve felt glimmers of happiness this year, as parts of the old me started to come back. There have been moments when I’ve started to believe things will get better again. I just need to hold onto those and have faith.

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.