Category Archives: depression

Why ‘Blue Monday’ is a load of Cock and Bull

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Why ‘Blue Monday’ is a load of Cock and Bull

 

According to a big load of cockwomble, the third Monday of January in the Northern Hemisphere is ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Blue Monday is a concept that was given legs by a holiday company called Sky Travel who had dug up a press release from a tutor called Cliff Arnall at Cardiff University who invented an equation to prove its existence. The formula for Blue Monday went along the lines of  – excessive Christmas debts + bad weather + failed New Year’s resolutions = depression. I wonder what could possibly happen if a holiday company told people they were scientifically depressed and suggested booking a trip?
Blue Monday is now firmly established in culture as a terrible day for all mankind. We are warned in the press at the start of January that it’s coming and given advice and tactics to prepare ourselves and stop the headlong descent into a quagmire of depression.
Influencing people’s mindset in such a negative way using a powerful tool like the media is not only stupid but downright irresponsible. The Mirror online advised people on the 11 Jan this year to book Blue Monday off work and “cry quietly into a tub of something with a high sugar and fat content”. A picture of a giant pot of Ben and Jerry’s was provided next to the article should you be stuck for ideas. If I have broken my New Year’s healthy resolutions, this sage advice would surely mean that there would be a Turd Brown Tuesday straight after Blue Monday? Of course, you will get different perspectives on Blue Monday depending on which newspaper you read, The Guardian and Independent have always pulled it apart and The Sun responsibly acknowledges that anyone feeling truly depressed should seek medical help.
Creating and perpetuating a phantom construct of depression is actually extremely damaging to those who suffer with it. The mental health charity MIND describes Blue Monday as ‘dangerously misleading’. A statement on their website points out that ‘depression doesn’t care what date it is’; for those who suffer with it, any day can be blue. They also state that the term enhances the belief that depression is simply ‘feeling a bit down’ when in reality it is a serious mental health condition. MIND actively campaigns to challenge Blue Monday each year and urges us all to get the hashtag #blueanyday trending instead.
Not only are we all terribly depressed on Blue Monday, but we all need to buy stuff to make us feel better. Brands will not only push holidays on us, but will also ruthlessly promote anything and everything from new mobile phones to steam mops. Poundland tweeted cute pics of kittens on last year’s BM to ‘cheer us up’ and get us sharing stories of what makes us happy. Aren’t they nice? Except it was bad enough that I was told I was depressed without needing to go and stock up on material goods too. Plus, I am confused by the mixed messages. I thought I was depressed because I had debts from Christmas, but now I have to buy more things?
Personally, I can think of a lot more days that are well more depressing than Monday 16th January. The formula for my most depressing day would go along the lines of – anniversary of important person’s death + day before payday + deceased’s birthday = February 26th. As I will definitely be depressed on this day, I’d prefer not to have a warm-up a month earlier.
Funnily enough, the same Arnall dude also used his non-robust science formula to calculate when we are most happiest; turns out it’s around the middle of June. I don’t remember seeing any news coverage of a ‘most joyful day of the year’ though. Perhaps it could be called Yellow Saturday? Being told to expect happiness would surely be better than being told to expect doom? Or maybe we could not be told how to feel at all?
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Embracing Ennui

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Embracing Ennui

There’s nothing I love more than a new word to introduce into my daily vocabulary, especially when that word sums up exactly how I’m feeling. I first heard the word ‘ennui’ during a conversation with a dear friend, who announced on our day out to New Brighton that the grey and boring environs were the perfect conditions to elicit this lesser-known emotional state. I suddenly realised that ennui not only applied to being in New Brighton, but also to my life.

 

The UK borrowed the term ennui from France during the height of 18th century European Romanticism and I’m so glad we never returned it. It was used to describe a rather fashionable kind of weariness, boredom and dissatisfaction with the world and a preoccupation with the emptiness of existence. Back in the day, artists and poets suffered from it and those with ennui were seen to have spiritual depth and sensitivity.

 

As someone who has suffered all manner of mental maladies towards the darker ends of the mood spectrum, I’m always monitoring myself for any signs of relapse. I had been feeling low, unmotivated and bored for a while, hence the lack of blog posts and over-reliance on Primark benders and eating. I couldn’t decide whether I had depression, the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder or just needed a kick up the backside. After many careful assessments of myself along with the day out to New Brighton, I deduced that my mind was in fact, a quagmire of ennui. I possibly needed a kick up the backside too, but in a counter-intuitive move, I decided to embrace the ennui for a while and see what happened.

 

I’ve always been the type of person to try and force myself through any periods of depression or so-called ‘negative’ feelings and just power through no matter what. I’ve always found it particularly difficult to give myself a break and as soon as I realised I had ennui, I felt guilty and tried to push myself once more into being a useful unit of production. This only enhanced the ennui however and eventually I was forced to ask myself, ‘why am I trying to fight it’?

 

I knew it probably wouldn’t last forever, plus there were stresses and strains going on around me which were giving the ennui big beefy muscles, so I made the executive decision to be at one with my ennui and invite it home for tea. If it was good enough for artists and poets, it was good enough for me.

 

Accepting it has been rather wonderful. I managed to keep the fabric of my life together but stopped pretending I was OK whilst doing it. It was interesting that when I spoke of my ennui, lots of other people were intrigued and said they didn’t realise there was a word for this feeling. The highlight of having ennui was that I just didn’t care about not caring about things. The pressure of ‘should’ disappeared and I felt a lot more relaxed than I had done in ages.

 

Nearly two months later, I can feel that the ennui is starting to lift. By letting it run it’s course, it has burnt itself out and some different emotions have come along instead. I may never find out the reasons why ennui descended, but not judging it seems to have worked.

The worst that happened during the ennui, was that nothing really bad happened. Everything is still exactly as I left it and I am now able to return to my writing and my life afresh and with a new word at my disposal. We can often feel under so much pressure to be super-achievers and never admit to floundering, but I’ve discovered it’s fine to grind to a halt in ennui laden traffic once in a while and peer at the world through brown tinted spectacles.

 

People say that moods and feelings are like the weather and I think that’s true. My dalliance with ennui was a simple rain shower compared to the severe depression I’ve suffered in the past. But I think giving it the correct label and approaching it with acceptance and patience stopped it turning into anything more nasty and it’s a lesson I will be applying to any more new and unusual mood states that I discover.

 

*This post was also kindly published by the Huffington Post UK on their Lifestyle webpage and is also featured on my website lauraroche.co.uk 

Time to Talk Day 2016

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Time to Talk Day 2016

The ‘Time to Change’ campaign has been instrumental in tackling stigma around mental health and on 4 February, their ‘Time to Talk’ day encourages people to talk openly about mental illness.

I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety for most of my life and I can vouch for the fact that talking about it has helped and probably saved my life.

However, I feel I must issue a warning to people who may be thinking of taking the plunge and doing some talking. You may talk to lots of people before you find anyone that wants to understand. You may talk to people and get a bad reaction, or no reaction at all. You might be starting therapy and you could well get someone great to talk to. Or your therapist may respond with crass, shocking or downright stupid comments.

When you have mental health issues, you already feel low, useless and unworthy so if you talk about your illness and get an unfavourable response, it can make you feel a whole lot worse.

Having said that, you will also find that there are a ton of amazing people out there who do want to understand and try their very best to help. It might take a while and you will have to test the water with friends, family and sources of professional help to weed out the good, bad and useless.

I’m used to discussing mental health now, but it has been a long process of trial and error and a steep learning curve. To anyone thinking of opening up, I have a few tips on what to realistically expect:

1) Stigma around mental health is usually borne out of fear, ignorance and denial. It is everywhere. You could find a complete stranger at the bus stop chatting to you about ‘dangerous schizophrenics’ and also hear a comment like ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ from your partner. Prepare to be surprised, but don’t let it stop you talking or challenging any negativity which comes along.

2) Lots of people don’t really know what to say when you open up and that’s to be expected as the norm. Be patient, ask if they have any questions or worries. When talking about mental illness let people know why you are telling them. Mention that you do not need advice, suggestions or ‘fixing’, you are just being honest and trying to raise awareness. Ask for specific help if you need it. Sometimes people will want to support you but don’t know how. This could be things like doing shopping, cooking or cleaning if you are struggling or phoning more regularly.

3) Stigma comes in all kinds of interesting packages from unexpected sources. Along with misconceptions and judgements about mental illness you could find yourself ignored, ridiculed and disbelieved by people who are meant to be helping you. For years I was told by doctors and therapists that I wasn’t depressed or anxious. One GP remarked that I was ‘too pretty’ to be depressed. My first CBT appointment was spent desperately trying to convince the therapist of my feelings. He remarked that he had ‘worked with people in hospitals who were too depressed to wipe their own arses’ and as I could wipe my own arse, I was apparently fine. A psychiatrist also told me I would be ‘fine’ because I could articulate my problems very well. I’m not suggesting you become a gibbering unwashed wreck, but watch out for being judged for your presentation and be prepared to challenge it.

4) Some people will really struggle with you opening up, like family, friends and anyone close to you. It may come as a shock that you have disclosed or discussed a mental health issue and they might react badly. Don’t let this make you feel worse. Don’t apologise for how you are but also don’t expect people to understand straight away. Changing attitudes and removing barriers to discussion takes time and effort and not just from you. I think it’s worth pointing out that some people may never understand or be open to trying no matter how much information or time you give them. I think it’s best to just accept this and move on without letting it crush your confidence. For everyone who struggles or reacts badly there will be just as many positive or neutral reactions that you can work with.

5) Timing is everything. A campaign like Time to Talk is a great opportunity to take a leap of faith, as you can use it to bolster your confidence and know that thousands of other people are talking too. They also have a range of information you can give people if the act of physically talking is difficult. But if it’s not your time to talk yet, that’s OK. You have to be ready and if you never want to talk, that is absolutely fine.

Despite the negative pitfalls I’ve mentioned, I feel that talking about mental health is not only worth it, but hugely necessary. Through persevering with opening up, I’ve found the confidence to deal with and challenge any shocking, surprising or negative reactions which may come along. Be prepared, but don’t let it stop you if it’s something you’ve been thinking about doing.

For information, support and resources about the Time to Talk campaign you can visit http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

This article has also been published in The Huffington Post UK –

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-roche/time-to-talk-day-2016_b_9098444.html

10 tips to help yourself if you’re suffering with Depression.

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10 tips to help yourself if you’re suffering with Depression.

One thing I’ve realised over a lifetime of suffering with Depression is that the power of self-help is hugely under-rated. There are so many things you can do to improve the way you feel and considering the waiting times for professional help, it’s a smart move to tap into your own resources. I had a think about the best ways I’ve found to manage my own Depression and here are my top 10 tips:

1) Do the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. If you feel like staying in bed all day, get up. If you feel like you want to withdraw from the world, go out and meet a friend. If you don’t want to eat, you should make yourself eat. Depression does not have your best interests at heart. I’ve realised that if I make choices based on what my Depression would like me to do, I ALWAYS feel worse.

2) Be patient. It takes a long time to reach the depths of despair and the reasons you feel like this may take a fair bit of unravelling. Don’t expect to feel better overnight.

3) Be kind to yourseIf. Don’t beat yourself up with all kinds of negative statements like ‘I’m worthless, I’m useless, I’m a burden’ etc. I would bet good money that you are none of these things. It’s the Depression talking. Depression makes you see yourself and the world through brown tinted glasses. Write a list of your positive points, or ask someone else to. Think about what you would buy for a friend who was going through a dreadful time and buy it for yourself. I once bought myself a massive bunch of flowers and some chocolates when I was suicidal. It definitely took the edge off and at least I had nice things to eat and look at while I felt crap.

4) Accept that you are ill. Depression is an illness just the same as heart disease and cancer. It’s not your fault. But there is a lot you can do to try and get better.

5) Ask for help. It’s important to reach out for help, whether that’s with counselling/therapy, medication or simply asking friends and family to support you.

6) Have faith that things will get better. It may seem a preposterous suggestion that you could ever feel any differently than the way you do now. But as long as you don’t kill yourself, there’s every chance things will improve. People can and do recover from Depression.

7) Read, read read. Trawl through self-help books and internet resources to find nuggets of wisdom and inspiration that you can apply to your own situation. Educate yourself on Depression; knowledge is power.

8) Keep to a routine and if you don’t have one, create one. There is nothing Depression loves more than a complete lack of distraction. Don’t sit at home alone as this is the perfect environment for Depression to drag you further into its hellish pit. Bear in mind that Depression is not as obvious to others as you might think. I’ve shown up at work, weddings, christenings and a host of other events and been shocked that the way I feel is completely invisible. Only the people who know you extremely well will have even the slightest inkling that anything is wrong. So use this to your advantage and don’t be self- conscious that your Depression will knock people over as soon as you come through the door. If getting out distracts you even for five minutes, it’s worth it.

9) Don’t self-medicate with drugs or alcohol unless you are sure you want to feel 100 times worse.

10) Try writing about how you feel.  You may find that reasons begin to emerge for the way you feel, or that getting it out on paper is better than having it eating away inside you. Writing can be hugely therapeutic. Try starting a blog and if you’re worried about going public, do it anonymously. When I started mine, I was amazed at the support I got from complete strangers online. It really helps to know there are other people who feel the same way you do. WordPress is very easy to use by the way, even when you are really horribly depressed.

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any tips for managing Depression in the comments box below.

If you would like to see me in the flesh talking about these tips in more detail, head over to  my brand new YouTube channel!

What do to if you, or someone you know is feeling suicidal – World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10th 2014

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The World Health Organisation reports that 800,000 people die by suicide each year. This equates to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. Suicide causes more deaths worldwide than wars, conflict and natural disasters and its rates are highest in people over 70. It is also the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15-29.

The issue has attracted global recognition recently with the suicides of high profile celebrities such as Robin Williams and Mick Jagger’s girlfriend L’Wren Scott.

Sadly, suicide is a preventable tragedy. There is a lot that can be done to help. I should know, I was also someone that considered taking their own life.

For this years’s World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10th, I want to challenge the stigma that surrounds feeling suicidal and try to shed some light and understanding on this difficult topic.

I’d like to share my experiences and also let people know that if you are feeling suicidal right now, you can get through this. There are so many options and choices you can make and all of them are better than being dead.

One of the biggest hurdles I overcame was being able to talk about how I felt. Through doing this I discovered that feeling suicidal is very common. You’re not alone, even though all your impulses are telling you that you are. The second biggest milestone was finding not only that talking helped, but that people were willing to listen and try to understand.  If you believe that no-one cares and wants to understand then you are wrong. The feelings and thoughts you have whilst in a suicidal state are inaccurate and untruthful. You believe the worst things about yourself and others because you are ill. Suicidal depression distorts your beliefs and perspective, it is not reality. When you feel that low, it’s almost impossible to think rationally. You can’t calculate your own worth and it’s difficult to find the positives in your life. This is why it’s a bad idea to try and get through it on your own, or act on the suicidal thoughts and feelings.

There are plenty of people you can talk to if you feel like this and I will provide a list of specialist resources and helplines at the end. Sometimes telling a stranger is easier and even though you don’t know them, they can still care. My job occasionally involves dealing with people who are suicidal and I’ve been told I can’t care because ‘I’m just doing my job’. I assure them that I do this job because I really do care, I could have been a florist or burlesque dancer otherwise. I challenge the belief that mental health professionals don’t care and would wager that if you spent 20 mins calling the helplines at the end of this blog, you would come across someone who cares quite quickly.

Another option is to speak to family and friends if you are lucky enough to have them and don’t not call because you feel you are a ‘burden’. It’s a hallmark of depressive thinking to feel that no-one wants to help and again is an example of seeing things through a distorted filter. People who know you would much rather be bothered by a phone call at 4am than have to attend your funeral because you have killed yourself.  It’s also important to remember that you do not exist in a void, no matter how separate and lost from life you may feel. We are all inter-connected and your belief that people won’t miss you or care that you have gone is also wildly inaccurate.

The first thing people will think at your funeral is, ‘I wish I could have helped, I had no idea they felt so low’. Although I haven’t personally lost anyone to suicide, I know people that have and they’ve carried the pain of losing that person forever. If you kill yourself, you end up giving your pain to other people.  This isn’t meant to make you feel even worse, but to remind you that you are more loved than your current feelings will let you believe.

I don’t think anyone actually wants to die by suicide, I believe it’s a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any other way of finding relief.

But The World Health Organisation states that “access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide”. A recent study reported in the Huffington Post also discovered that if someone wishes to die and his/her plan is intercepted, over 90% of once suicidal individuals go on to live.

So it’s worth reaching out for help and it’s also worth stepping in if you suspect someone may be about to make an attempt on their life. Research has shown that people who are suicidal do not seek help for a variety of reasons, one being the fear they will be admitted to hospital. Clearly, being admitted isn’t nice, but it’s better than being dead. It’s not always a given that you will be admitted anyway, I’ve never managed it myself despite being brutally honest with doctors and psychiatrists about how I really felt and what I was thinking of doing. Involving medical professionals will get you on the pathway to feeling better though and it will help you find ways through this difficult time.

The bottom line is that suicide is only one course of action you can take whilst feeling suicidal. There are many other options and all of them are better than killing yourself. The route out of feeling this way isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone.

The first step is to tell someone how you feel.  Ask for help. Keep telling people until you get the right help that works for you.

I’m now many years away from feeling like this and I’m glad that I didn’t do it, relieved that I sought help and reassured that if I ever felt like this again, I know I’d get through it. Trust me, you can get through it too.

If you know someone who is feeling very low and you are worried they may be suicidal, then these are some of the things that could not only help, but save their life.

1) Reach out to them.  Suicidal people don’t want to be a burden, or admit they are struggling to this extent. Let them know you are there and they can talk to you. Particularly look out for people in the over 70’s age group, especially if they are isolated and suffering from health problems or bereaved.

2) Don’t be judgemental and always take the suicidal feelings seriously. Don’t dismiss the person or make them feel they are over-reacting. It’s a myth that people who talk about suicide are less likely to do it.

3) Don’t panic. Hard to do, but talking to someone calm and in control really helps.

4) Don’t offer quick solutions, suicidal feelings are complicated and will have built up over a long time.

5) Don’t underestimate the power of listening. I’ve felt that everything was more bearable simply from being heard.

6) Reassure the person that you care and want to help.

7) Don’t get angry or upset, although you may feel like it. You wouldn’t shout at someone who was having a heart attack. and this too is a medical emergency.

8) If the person is threatening immediate suicidal action or has already taken steps to end their life, call the emergency services and don’t try to deal with it yourself.

Sources of help and support:

1. The Accident and Emergency department at your local hospital is the best place to go for immediate mental health crisis intervention and support. Your GP can also offer help in terms of medication if appropriate or signposting to mental health services.

2. There are telephone helplines you can call, such as:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US) 1-800-273-8255

Samaritans (UK) 08457 90 90 90

PAPYRUS (UK) 0800  068 41 41 Supports teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal

CALM (UK) 0800 58 58 58 Supports young men, open 5pm until midnight

3. The Internet also has many resources such as:

IASP – http://www.iasp.info The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides and online database of crisis centres in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America

Online Suicide Help – list of resources available online such as live chat, email, forum, social media etc  http://unsuicide. wikispaces.com/online+suicide+help

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you know when to come off anti-depressants?

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Medication can play a vital role in managing mental health issues. I’ve been on an anti-depressant called Dosulepin since December 2009 and at the end of last year, felt stable enough to try to come off it.

However, my GP told me that Dosulepin is one of the hardest anti-depressants to come off. It’s an older, tricyclic version and there aren’t many people still on it. Which begs the question, ‘Why was I put on it in the first place?’ I don’t suppose I’ll ever know; I was at a different practice in 2009 and was in no fit state to question the doctor at the time.

At Christmas I was taking 150mg a day and my GP advised a very slow and gradual reduction by 25mg to start with. Imagine my surprise when I felt like a complete mental raving lunatic within a week. It was so unbearable that I immediately went back up to 150mg.

A few months passed and I decided to have another go at reducing the dose. I dropped by 25mg again and the exact same thing happened. I decided to try and withstand the withdrawal effects and mustered up all my strength and determination. I had two weeks of intense mood swings, feeling unsettled and bad nightmares, but sweated it out as I can be very stubborn and didn’t want to be beaten by a tablet. It was hard to separate the feelings from my sense of ‘myself’ but tried to see it as a purely biochemical response; a change in brain chemistry that was bound to make me unsettled. It didn’t mean I had lost control or slipped back into depression. Things stabilised at the end of the second week and it seemed like my body had become used to the change so I dropped my dose by another 25mg. This immediately made me feel I had been thrown into turmoil again and I noticed that my anxiety, which had never been far away, had now reared its head again with a vengeance.

It’s been two months since the last reduction and although my GP is keen for me to keep dropping the dose, I now don’t feel confident enough to attempt this.
I realised there were a lot of psychological issues coming up that I was confused about. For one, I can’t remember what I was really like before the anti-depressants. I don’t know what I will be getting back to and I don’t know what my ‘normal’ was. I’m not sure if I’m permanently changed now from life experiences and simply being older and I don’t know how I will know when I am ok enough not to need the tablets.

I do remember that I always felt things intensely, always felt anxious  and always struggled with low moods, even without the bereavement that pushed me over the edge and onto anti-depressants.

During the last two months of being on 100mg, I’ve definitely felt different and not in a good way. I’ve settled into feeling generally low and noticing that I’m struggling a lot with my Neutropenia and M.E. My health problems have always been difficult to cope with, but I have a new sense that I’m at the end of my tether with them and can’t take it any more. They are lifelong conditions though, so I need to find a way around this! But do I need to have come off the tablets completely and had a ‘settling in’ to the new brain chemistry period to really know how I am going to deal with things?

The way I’m feeling right now is that I’m having to constantly draw on everything I’ve learned from counselling and CBT in the last five years to keep a grip on my mood. My anxiety can be all-consuming and whether it’s a biochemical withdrawal reaction or not, it is difficult to cope with. It’s knocking my confidence and it’s demoralising that this is how I am without a third of my tablets. After two months, I’m obviously through the turbulent upheaval of the last reduction and this is what I’ve been left with. I’m thinking maybe I’m just one of those people who needs medication and I should not try to reduce the dose further. I don’t have a problem with that, but Dosulepin has some pretty nasty side-effects if you take it long term and if I’m going to be on tablets, I don’t think these are the best choice.

I’m intrigued to know what’s on the other side though and to see if I could cope without them. I’ll never know if I don’t try. I don’t want lack of confidence to stop me trying, but I also don’t want to take risks with my mental health, as its taken most of the last five years to rebuild it.

Ultimately, I want to feel as ok as possible and as though I am coping and I don’t mind taking tablets to achieve this. I don’t want to come of the tablets for the sake of it, or stay on them for the sake of it, but this period is a useful experiment in seeing where the boundaries are between the tablets and my own mind. I’m surprised it’s so hard to reduce the dose and also surprised that a lot of my old ways of feeling have resurfaced so for now, I’ll tread carefully and think long and hard about whether to drop the dose any further.

Has anyone else experienced similar difficulties? How do you know whether you should come of anti-depressants or not?

 

Food and Mood – how to eat well in order to manage depression and anxiety

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Food and Mood – how to eat well in order to manage depression and anxiety

The link between food and mood is well documented and scientifically proven. We all know its important to eat well, but when you suffer with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, it’s even more essential to maintain a good diet. What you do or don’t eat can have a drastic effect on how you feel and can make the difference between improving or worsening your symptoms. Mental health charity MIND report that links have been demonstrated between low levels of Omega 3 oils (found in oily fish) and depression. It’s also been shown that too much caffeine can make anxiety worse.

However, Action on Depression discovered in a survey by the Food and Mood project that of the 200 people who took part, 88% said that changing their diet contributed significantly to improving their mood or mental health.

The trouble is, when you feel down, anxious or unstable, the last thing you care about is how much oily fish you ate that week. You don’t care about eating well, or even eating at all. This isn’t a choice most of the time. It’s the most natural thing in the world to respond to how your body feels and if you over-ride it, you can end up with some unpleasant consequences. I suffered a period of extreme anxiety a few years ago which resulted in me losing 2 stones. People though that I didn’t want to eat, or that I wasn’t ‘trying’ but the reality was that I simply couldn’t swallow because my throat was clenched too tight. My body was paralysed with tension for most of the time. If I forced myself to eat, I would be sick afterwards. Interestingly, when I suffered from mild depression I ate more, but my most severe depression resulted in a nil by mouth situation. I knew that none of these responses were ideal, but it’s hard to over-ride them or even try to care when you are in the thick of it.

As I also suffer from chronic physical health conditions, I had to try and make myself care, if only to stop these illnesses getting worse and adding to the overall amount of problems I eventually needed to overcome.

Rather than putting pressure on myself to shop and then cook wonderful healthy meals when I didn’t feel like it, I decided it would be better to work on damage limitation and being realistic about what I could eat when I was severely anxious.

One thing I took advantage of was that I was more likely to eat if I was with other people. The only problem being that when you feel depressed or anxious, it is a natural impulse to isolate yourself and let your relationships slide. As I have mentioned in one of my previous posts, ‘Depression and Intuition’, I believe the best way to manage depression is to do the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. It’s not always easy to know what you need when you feel down, but I’ve found that isolating myself makes everything a million times worse. So if you feel like you want to isolate yourself, do the opposite and meet people, especially at lunch or other meal times. See if the company, stimulation and smell of food can rouse you a little. It often did with me, even when I was convinced I wouldn’t order anything.

If you are left to your own devices, try to monitor and be aware of what is going in your mouth. It can be a good idea to keep a food diary to record what you eat and see if there is any correlation with your mood. My depressed food choices centred around the sugar, fat and carbohydrate food groups. If I ate, it was usually toast, crisps, chocolate or cakes. Or anything that was lying around the house that took less than 5 seconds to open. I was definitely a ‘comfort’ eater but then the more depressed I felt, the fewer calories passed my lips. When I realised how little I was eating during anxious episodes, I knew I had to take action. The result of my poor eating habits were definitely reflected in my equally poor mental health.

The trick I found was to try and keep a steady flow of nutrients through the body, in an easy and hassle free format. Sometimes this may mean forcing yourself to eat, but it is necessary and worth it. When I started to make changes to my diet I noticed that my mood swings were less frequent, I was less irritable and my anxiety levels were a lot lower.

Instead of quick-fix snacks of chocolate, crisps and cakes, I tried quick-fix healthier options instead such as yoghurt, fruit and nuts. All of which can be opened in less than 5 seconds and do not require cooking. I also bought bags of ready chopped salad and ate them with pre-cooked mackerel fillets. I’d cut off a corner of cheese as a snack, or if I couldn’t be bothered with that I had Babybel miniature cheese, which comes in its own individual portions. I discovered you can buy cooked wholegrain rice in pouches and had this with cooked prawns and microwave vegetables. Wholegrain cereals and muesli were also easy to eat.

Soups were my main depression/anxiety go-to food choice. I would recommend the ones with ring-pulls as finding a tin opener can be just too hard when you feel bad. Soups are comforting, easy to swallow and can be relatively healthy. Some of the ‘Farmer’s market’ style tins have enough ingredients in that they could easily pass as a full meal.

All of these are a good compromise between what you would prefer to eat and what you should actually be eating.

I also found that eating small snacks throughout the day instead of full meals was more achievable and realistic.

I’ve managed to make a habit out of making healthier food choices, to the point where I now feel instantly terrible if I slip up and eat badly. It is worth making a few changes, even if it seems like a big effort.

Does anyone have any other quick and healthy food recommendations? Please share in the comments box below!

Is there anything positive about having a mental illness?

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Is there anything positive about having a mental illness?

Having a mental illness is difficult, challenging and supremely negative in many ways.  It can cause untold stress and ruin or end lives. At first glance it doesn’t seem like there is anything positive that could be gained. When you are living with the awful reality of it, every day can seem like its suffering for sufferings sake.

I can verify from my own struggles with anxiety and depression that both have been dreadful experiences. However, during recovery periods and times of wondering what the point of it all was, I realised there were positive aspects I could take from my difficulties.

The mental health journey is one I would have preferred not to take, but in travelling this road I can’t deny I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve questioned everything and pulled myself apart in therapy in an attempt to understand and help myself better. Its been interesting and fascinating to learn why I am the way I am.  Depression forced me to look at everything in my life that wasn’t working and to get better, I had to make changes.

My problems put me in touch with a part of myself that maybe I wouldn’t have seen had I never struggled in this way. I’ve learnt self-awareness and I’ve begun to question my thoughts, actions and beliefs. Now I know who I am and what drives me, plus I have a wealth of experience in dealing with my demons. Without mental health issues, I may never have got to know myself so well, never made positive changes and never reached the point I’m at now of feeling I’ve evolved through a thousand lifetimes.  I’ve changed and grown to the point where I feel I’m a different person entirely. I’ve certainly had value for money out of my existence on the planet, that’s for sure!

I look around and see people who have stayed pretty much the same their entire lives and  I’m glad that I can see such a process of learning and growth in my life. In spite of the circumstances which caused the illness, I would rather be like this than be someone who never scratched the surface of their existence.

Mental illness has made me search hard for purpose and meaning in life as depression is the absence of both. In order to get through it, I had to find out what the point was, for me. To survive it, I couldn’t coast along and if I ignored these feelings, my depression was made worse.  It’s made me work hard, not only to overcome my problems but to achieve things in life. I’ve found both motivation and ambition through feeling so bad.

The worse I felt, the bigger the personal changes I made to get myself out of it. Depression made me take more risks. When you have felt so bad that you don’t want to live anymore, you don’t have anything to lose. I’ve pushed myself in the direction of all my goals because the worst-case scenario was never as bad as the feelings I’d already felt.

I also think that my problems have given me a compassion and empathy for others that I may not feel so intensely had I never struggled myself. My experiences meant I forged deep connections with others who were struggling and I now have a strong desire to help people understand and work through their difficulties. Without depression and anxiety, I may never have noticed or cared about other people’s problems to the extent that I do.  I may never have found myself in a job I love, supporting young people or found that writing this blog could help me and other people too.

I’ve also learned to live in the moment and appreciate the here and now. It’s not always easy to know when depression and anxiety will strike, how long they will last or how badly they will affect me this time around. These days, if I’m feeling good, I savour and appreciate those times and try my utmost to make the most of them.

We know that the present is all we have , but I don’t think we always hold onto each moment and make a conscious effort to notice and experience it.

I’m more able to appreciate the small moments of joy and hold onto them to remember during the bad times. Having chronic health issues also has further reinforced my ability to be completely present in every well period of my life. It has given me perspective. I don’t need a lot of money, possessions a car or fancy holidays. Today, a bright sunny day and a great piece of cake are enough to bring a smile to my face.

The fact that I’m 42 and I’ve not killed myself from depression has given me confidence to deal with anything else life might throw at me. In the midst of a bad depressive episode, I find it difficult to say anything nice about myself, but now I’m well I can see that I must be strong and determined otherwise I would never have got through it. Having anxiety in particular has given me tenacity; each minute of feeling so awful is stretched out to feel like a lifetime, so I’ve had to learn how to ride it out and develop good coping skills.

To be honest, I was concerned when I started this blog that I wouldn’t find enough positive things to mention. I’m surprised that I can see so much good in such difficult circumstances. I know there isn’t always a point to what happens in life, but I’m glad I’ve found the point of what I’ve been through.

Can anyone else see positive outcomes of having a mental illness?

The Sanctuary

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The Sanctuary

Recently, a new mental health facility called The Sanctuary opened in Manchester, UK. The first of its kind, it offers people struggling with emotional or mental distress a chance to access emergency overnight support without having to endure the trials and tribulations of going to A+E.

All I can say is, about time. Up until its opening on 10th September this year, there were two distinct pathways available to people in the North West requiring immediate mental health intervention. If you had money, you followed a road paved with gold until you ended up at the luxury surroundings of somewhere like The Priory. Or if you were like me, a pauper reliant on the NHS, you headed to your nearest Accident and Emergency department and took your place on the cold metal chairs with the bleeding, screaming and inebriated.

I’ve done more than a few 6+ hour waits on those chairs, which are screwed to the floor to prevent them being used in a violent attack. During that time, my own distress which I thought had already hit rock bottom, escalated to several layers below it from the trauma of being sat in such an inappropriate environment . Then, when my name was finally called, the humiliation and degradation of trying to explain my complete inability to cope to a disinterested triage nurse nearly finished me off completely. From there I was moved to a private room, which sounds good but it isn’t. It’s completely bare, save for 3 plastic chairs and it’s painted in ‘hospital green’ a shade that is not found anywhere on the Dulux colour chart. There are large sections chipped off for that ‘shabby chic’ feel without the chic. Then anywhere between another 1 and 3 hours later, an on duty psychiatrist or member of the mental health crisis team appears to take down your life story.

At the very point where the visit to A+E has pushed you fully into wanting to end it all, you have to delve into the recesses of your childhood memories and significant mental health events leading up to you being in that green room of doom. Articulating your thoughts in the middle of a mental health crisis is not easy. You are required to think in a straight line when the inside of your head resembles a jumble sale. You have to explain why you have come to A+E in this state and what you would like them to do about it. You have to answer the unanswerable.

At this point you are also desperate for them to be nice and look at you with empathy and concern. Sometimes this happened and I have sobbed with relief at the human connection. But other times I have felt lower than I ever thought possible when I’ve bared my soul to these complete strangers and been left feeling as though I’d been interviewed by a market researcher on the street.

Of course, I understand that they have to follow safeguarding procedures and establish whether I am a risk to myself or others. I know that A+E mental health staff don’t have the time or resources to really offer much in the way of comfort or reassurance, but it adds an extra level of suffering to an already dreadful experience to feel you are on a hospital conveyor belt. If you are not about to do yourself or someone else terrible damage, you are pretty much dischargable within the next hour, with your mental state not that different from when you walked in. Don’t get me wrong, if you are suicidal and can’t see a way past that, A+E is the right place to go. But there is a huge ‘grey area’ of people struggling to manage long-term mental health conditions, who may end up there because there was simply nothing in place to stop their crisis escalating beforehand.

That’s why a place like The Sanctuary is a revelation. It is run by experienced staff and volunteers with personal experience of mental health issues. It provides a range of support including offering a space to talk, managing depression, anxiety and panic attacks and assistance with coping after a crisis has passed. The most crucial fact is that it’s open from 11pm to 9am, so it’s available when most other services are closed and when your problems feel a million times worse.

The second most crucial fact is that there is not an inch of chipped hospital green paint anywhere. On entering the reception area you are instantly soothed by the soft cream and teal colour scheme. There are leather couches, pictures of sunsets and best of all, miniature rocket lava lamps. As Tesco say, ‘every little helps’.

The Sanctuary is based at the Kath Locke Centre, 123 Moss Lane West, Moss Side, Manchester. You can self-refer by calling 0161-637-0808. Health care and other professionals may also refer clients to the service by calling this number. You can also find out more by visiting www.selfhelpservices.org.uk.

If only there were similar facilities available everywhere, but this is an excellent start.

World Mental Health Day 2013 – Depression and Intuition

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World Mental Health Day 2013 – Depression and Intuition

For this year’s World Mental Health Day I want to highlight an issue I’ve blogged about before – the relationship between Depression and Intuition. One of the most frustrating aspects of depression is that feeling of being completely out of synch with yourself. When I am well, or ‘sub-clinical’ as they say, I have a great sense of what I should do, what I need, who is good for me and who isn’t. I follow what I feel in my gut to be right, and it generally means everything works out just fine. When I’m really on top of my game, I almost find myself having a ‘sixth sense’. I get a prediction of a situation before I am involved in it, dream answers to problems and pick up intuitively what people are thinking and feeling.

If only this were the case when I was depressed. The illness totally messes up my internal regulators and I have tended to act and react in ways that are not always in my own best interests.

I’ve now got over 20 years experience of depression and my manual of coping skills has the heading, ‘Do the opposite of what your intuition is telling you’.

For mild and moderate depression, I have found that if you do the opposite of the following depressed impulses, it can have a dramatic positive effect on your mood and recovery:

1) Isolating yourself. This feels very powerfully like the best thing you could do, when it is actually the worst. In my experience it stemmed from thinking people wouldn’t want to spend time with me when I was depressed and also not feeling able to communicate how I felt. The truth as I discovered, is that people still like you even when you feel bad. Plus, you don’t need to feel ashamed of how you feel. Practice explaining it and anyone who is worthy of your time and attention will try to understand.

2) Letting your routine slip. I’ve realised that routine is a powerful anchor in a world of mood-swings and feeling shitty. You may not feel up to your routine or even want to engage in it, but forcing yourself to do things stops that awful sense that you have been sucked into an abyss and lost control of your life.

3) Staying in bed all day. As a teenager and early twenty-something, I felt like I was listening to my body and mind when I indulged my depressed need to hide in bed. I took part in marathon bed-ins which could have outshone John and Yoko. I now think that this is possibly the worst possible way to deal with depression. It is a hard and sometimes Herculean effort to rise from your pit in the throes of doom. But if you don’t, you have missed out on all the things that can pick you up, like daylight, fresh air, movement, interaction with the world. Humans were not designed to sleep all day, even when ill.

4) Eating and drinking crap, or not eating at all. I had absolutely no awareness of the body/mind connection in my early depressed years. I thought nothing of starting the day with a Sayers cheese and onion pasty, a can of coke and a Mars bar. The rest of the day was filled with chips, pizza and copious amounts of vodka. When extremely depressed, I find it hard to eat at all. But the maths here is very easy to calculate. Bad eating and drinking on top of depression = feeling even more fucked up. It can all seem like such a massive effort, but forcing yourself to eat the opposite of what you want to eat can make a big difference. I’ve noticed that eating pasta, fruit and vegetables does indeed help. If I’m at rock bottom and it’s difficult to find the will to eat, I sip fruit smoothie and fill in the gaps with a vitamin tablet. I gave up alcohol over 13 years ago and will do a separate blog post about that. Suffice to say that drinking and mental health problems do not mix well.

5) Letting yourself go – appearance and personal hygiene. To stop this happening, it involves effort and willpower at a time when both are in short supply. There may not seem to be any point in looking your best, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. We all have some sort of getting ready routine which prepares us for the day. This is even more important to hold onto as your mood slips south, as you don’t want your dignity to disappear with it. Plus, you are less likely to get out, interact and see people if you haven’t had some sort of wash and brush-up. If you wear make-up, there is something to be said for putting a slick of lippy in between you and the world.

For severe depression, I’ve found that it’s a lot more tricky. I’m only able to draw on reversing intuition to manage depression when it’s in the early or developing stages. The rules are totally different when you are at the bottom of hell. You can’t force yourself to do things and it can be wrong and inappropriate to try. However, I like to think that what I’ve learned has stopped some of my depressive episodes escalating into the worst-case scenario.

It’s worth the effort to challenge yourself. Answer the negative voices back when they pipe up about not wanting to get up, eat or engage with the world. These days, I find a simple ‘fuck off’ will suffice.