The wonderful Lauren from Lauren Evie recently organised #MHMailSwap (more info here!), and I was paired with Alice from Invocati. If you haven’t checked out Alice’s blog you really should. She’s the loveliest, most supportive person and her incredibly thoughtful letter and care package brought tears to my eyes.

You’ll be able to read the letter she sent me on her blog, but for now I will leave you with my words of advice to her. They are mostly tips and tricks for self care, and I hope you will find them useful too.

x

Dear Alice,

I hope you’re doing well. But I want you to know that if you’re struggling at the moment, that’s alright too. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, and it’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of. I must admit, I’ve found it hard to write this letter. After a lot of thought I realised that finding the perfect words of my own was going to be impossible, so I decided to share the words of others instead. These are the words that have picked me up off the ground and kept me going. I only hope they can help you as much as they’ve helped me.

You will get better”

Those four simple words gave me hope at a time when I felt utterly broken. Even though I doubt myself sometimes, those words in the back of my head give me the strength to keep going.

On the other side of your pain is something good”

The other day, when I felt lower than I have done in a long time, I watched Dwayne Johnson talk about his struggle with depression. He said a lot of great things, but it was those words that stayed with me.

You are not selfish”

It’s OK to lean on other people. It’s OK to reach out and admit you’re struggling. There are so many people who care about you and want to help. You’re not a burden, I promise.

You are strong”

You’ve overcome everything life has thrown at you so far. The fact that you’ve made it through each day is a testament to your strength, resilience and determination. You’ve got this.

I understand that it might be hard to believe these words. I sure as hell know I’m struggling to right now. But things will get better, because quite simply, they have to. I wholeheartedly believe that.

For the days when kind words aren’t quite enough, here are a few small, practical things I do to look after myself

Have the ultimate duvet day

Nothing quite beats bringing your duvet to the sofa, curling up and watching loads of Netflix . My go to favourites are Gilmore Girls, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and The Big Bang Theory.

In your care package you’ll find some treats – sweets (obviously), a magazine (a nice distraction if you get bored of watching TV), and Percy Pigs (an absolute must!). You’ll also find some Chai tea (the ultimate hug in a mug), as well as a few bags of my absolute favourite tea (I wanted to buy you a whole packet but I didn’t get the chance, sorry!).

Oh, and a cup of tea wouldn’t be complete without biscuits – you’ll find some of those in there too!

Keep easy meals in the house

On days when just getting out of bed is a struggle, it’s better to eat a crappy microwave meal than not eat at all. M&S do loads of lovely ones that are a little bit more indulgent than most boring ready meals.

Take a lovely hot shower

If I feel completely flat and lacking in motivation nothing helps kick me into gear more than a nice long shower. There’s also something incredibly soothing about crying and feeling the hot water wash away your tears. Pamper yourself (I’ve included a few of my favourite shower-time treats and an amazing face pack for you to enjoy), sing at the top of your lungs and let yourself get completely lost, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

x

I hope this letter has made you smile, and that you enjoy the treats I’ve sent you. I promise you, things are going to get better.

You’re so much stronger than you give yourself credit for. And if you’re ever having trouble believing that, you’ve got me and no doubt loads of other people who will be more than happy to remind you.

All my love,

Mel xxx

Letter and pampering treats

Alice’s lovely care package to me.

 

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.

 

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