Ahead of my #TalkMH chat this Thursday, I wanted explore two of my favourite TV shows and look at how they portray mental illness.

Gilmore girls

As much as I hate to say it, because GG is my absolute favourite TV show, I strongly dislike how it portrays therapy.

In season 6, episode 11 (‘The Perfect Dress’), Rory is asked to attend therapy following her recent time away from college. From Lorelai’s initial reaction (‘I can’t believe you’re going to a therapist’ followed by a joke about the old cliché of therapists asking about your mother) to the actual session itself, nothing in this episode is handled sensitively at all.

The scene itself is an absolute farce, starting with Rory’s obvious disdain towards her therapist and ending with over-the-top crying. It makes me cringe every time.

Rory Gilmore crying

Afterwards, she calls Lorelai and opens with, ‘Guess who’s crazy?’

Huh.

I’ll forgive it though, because this episode first aired back in 2005 and let’s be honest, Gilmore girls was never particularly PC.

Fast-forward to 2016 though, and we have the revival episodes. *Warning: Spoilers ahead!*

Sigh. Where to start?

I had high hopes when Lorelai sensitively suggested Emily see a professional to help her through her grief. But then we get to the therapist who seems alright at first, but quickly becomes more and more ridiculous.

Firstly, can we talk about the obvious frustration and lack of empathy she shows when she’s rushing them out of their sessions?

And then, when she turns up in Stars Hollow (I’m sorry, why?!), bounds up to Lorelai (so unprofessional!!) and announces she’s auditioning for the musical, I couldn’t stop myself from sighing. So we’re supposed to believe that Emily and Lorelai were such difficult clients they drove her to give up her career as a therapist in favour of performing in small town musical? Sure. That makes sense.

Girl rolling her eyes

I feel like the therapy was used more as a comedic device than to drive the plot. Case in point: the infamous letter that Emily mentions to Lorelai that never comes up again. I’m not saying therapy can’t or shouldn’t be portrayed in a funny way, I just think the humour here missed the mark. And I was disappointed that we didn’t see the whole thing handled more sensitively.

That said, I liked that Lorelai continued to go by herself, and ultimately her sessions did lead her to somewhat of an epiphany about her own life.

Overall though, not impressed.

The Big Bang Theory

Now, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

I know a lot of people don’t particularly like how Sheldon’s OCD is portrayed but personally I can relate a lot to him.

The rituals (knocking three times), the obsessive need for closure and to an extent his cleanliness, all struck a chord with me.

Sheldon knocking on the door

This is perfectly illustrated in season 7, episode 8 (‘The Itchy Brain Simulation’), when Sheldon likens his need for closure to an ‘itch on his brain’ that leaves him feeling uncomfortable and anxious. I can’t think of a better way to describe OCD. He urges Leonard to walk a mile in his shoes by wearing an itchy jumper. OCD is so difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, so I think it’s particularly clever that Sheldon suggests mimicking it with a physical sensation.

Though Leonard gains a better understanding of his friend’s struggles, he still teases him and calls him crazy. Rather than taking offense though, I applaud the show’s accuracy. It’s been my experience that people often can’t relate, so Leonard’s lack of understanding rang true with me.

In another episode, Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy tries to help him overcome his OCD, by encouraging him to start various tasks without finishing them. Challenging his compulsive need to see everything through is very difficult for Sheldon and I really related to his struggle. The strain is visible on his face and the episode ends with him doing the tasks again, this time to completion.

While some could argue that The Big Bang Theory stigmatises OCD, I would personally disagree. I think it’s great that the show is helping to ‘normalise’ OCD and bring it into the mainstream. More than that, I like that it doesn’t just focus on cleanliness, as of course there’s so much more to it than that. Anything that helps more people realise this is a good thing in my book.

It’s not always a perfect representation, but I find it relatable and at times very sensitively handled.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you can’t make it to the chat (this Thursday 13th April at 8:30pm) please feel free to tweet me, or leave a comment below.

 

 

Just a quick post to check in as it’s been a little while and I’ve got something very exciting to share…

I’ve just had my last ever CBT session!

It’s been a long old journey, with two separate therapists and many, many issues to work through. But I DID IT!

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen that I’ve not been very well over the last couple of weeks and that just after my birthday something happened that once would have been my worst nightmare: I threw up.

If you don’t know, I have HAD emetophobia, a fear of vomiting. At my worst, this phobia controlled my life, made me starve myself and turned simple things like eating in public into a massive source of anxiety. As is common with emetophobes, I am very rarely ever sick. But for some reason, that night I was.

And you know what? I was completely fine. I mean, I didn’t enjoy the experience, obviously, but I stayed calm throughout, cleaned up after myself and took it in my stride. That might seem small to you, but to me it was a huge achievement.

Since then my confidence has grown and grown. I now eat things with my hands at work, eat chicken on a regular basis, and a few days ago did something I honestly never thought I would be able to do – I ate a sweet without washing my hands first. I didn’t try to tip it in my mouth, or pick it up with the wrapper. I just plunged my hand in the bag and went for it.

The list of small victories like this goes on and on and I’m ridiculously proud of myself.

This time last year I was at my absolute lowest point. I honestly felt hopeless. It’s been a long, difficult road, with almost 40 sessions of counselling and a prescription for Sertraline, an SSRI. Now, I feel like a new person.

No, that’s not quite right. I feel like the old me is back. The version of myself that finds joy in things, smiles for no reason and has goals, dreams and drives.

I was almost bursting with happiness when I reeled off this list of achievements to my counsellor and she looked so damn proud of me.

I went in knowing it was likely to be my last session. I felt ready. I’ve learned what I need to be kind to myself, to support myself during difficult times and to listen to my rational thoughts rather than my obsessive ones. I’m still recovering, but I feel confident enough to go it alone now.

Right before I said goodbye to my counsellor she said

You did this’

‘It’s not easy, but you did this.’ I can’t tell you how proud that made me feel. Finally I believe in myself again. All that trust in myself I’d lost over the years (for one reason or another), is coming back.

I feel invincible.

Afterwards I walked to work in the sunshine and treated myself to a milkshake.

Elliot drinking Starbucks

I reminded myself of this scene!

I’ve got this. I’ve bloody well got this.

Recovery is possible. There is hope. I hope that I’m proof of that.

If you think CBT could help you, speak to your GP, who may be able to refer you to local NHS services. Or, check out the BABCP website, to find a private therapist in your area.

Hi guys,

So as you probably know, I struggle with OCD and have done since I was a child.

You’ve also probably noticed that OCD is the butt of many jokes at the moment.

From OCD candles that ‘smell like OCD’ to ‘Obsessive Christmas Disorder’ cards, if there’s a play on words to be done, it’s probably out there somewhere.

And I’m bloody sick of it. OCD is a debilitating mental illness, and shouldn’t be trivialised in this way. If people understood what OCD really is (and not any of the myths flying around), they probably wouldn’t be so quick to joke.

So, that’s what #OwnYourOCD is all about.

I want as many of you as possible to share your experiences with OCD. That could be blog posts, photos of your cracked and bleeding hands, or details of your compulsions with the hashtag #MyOCDMakesMe.

The goal is to fill people’s timelines with REAL accounts of OCD, start conversations and put an end to misconceptions and stigma.

Who’s with me?

#OwnYourOCD

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.