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Mental Health

This week is mental health awareness week. Mental health has never been something I’ve ever really thought deeply about, yes, you know you have to “look after your mental health” but what does that really mean? But before I start, I would also like to add in a disclosure here to say that this blog post is based around my experiences and opinions and therefore, if you feel you need help and advise, please go and see your GP or use one of the numbers at the end of the blog. This blog is focussed on mental health linked to my experience of having a long term illness and therefore some of my thoughts and opinions won’t marry up with other people’s mental health problems. Nothing I have written is there to offend or upset anyone.

I suppose mental health is something I’ve considered more since my own has become an issue since becoming ill. I’ve always been a glass half full kinda girl and do try, as much as possible, to focus on the positives.  But sometimes, that just isn’t enough to see you through. Positivity is not a medicine and depression, along with many other mental health issues are not something you can simply snap out of. It’s an illness not a choice.

I started taking anti depressants about a year ago now however, I had been offered them as a “treatment” within the first or second appointment I had when I returned to the UK.

All too often I think that anti depressants are prescribed too easily. Don’t get mad at me, I don’t mean that to be an offensive statement. When prescribed properly they are wonderful however, in my opinion, sometimes, they are used as a quick fix and for me, this is dangerous. There are so many other avenues to explore first but because of lack of money, resourcing and time, those options are often not accessible. Waiting lists to see councillors on the NHS are months and months long…when you need help, advice or just someone to talk to, this just isn’t good enough. GP’s have 10 minutes to see you, assess you, talk to you and give you a course of treatment…prescribing a pill is often easier and quicker than making another appointment to talk or write a referral letter.

My initial approach, which I do still stand by to an extent, was that I didn’t need anti depressants, anyone in my situation would be finding life a little tricky in my situation and I just needed some support. However, as time passed and life didn’t get easier and as the reasoning behind the use of anti depressants in my situation was explained, together, myself, my parents, my doctor and psychologist agreed it was time to give them a go.

This wasn’t a quick fix option, it took months of trying various ones to discover which was my best fit. I had severe reactions to some and others just knocked any kind of emotion out of me which I hated. Eventually I settled on the one that suited me and my body best and even that has it’s side effects. I have been monitored and guided through how and when to take them and know that as and when the time comes when I want to come off them, I have to follow a careful plan to wean myself off. They have helped me greatly, I am more balanced and am able to approach my daily challenges without feeling like an emotional wreck. I have most definitely been very depressed at times and have hidden it well but the team around me, including my CBT therapist, recognised this and suggested them only when it was clear they were the next step.

My point is, they are not a quick fix. In my opinion, they should not be a first option.

I think I have gained a much deeper understanding of mental health and the importance of looking after it through my own experiences. CBT has taught me about unhelpful thinking patterns and how to turn negative and unhelpful thoughts into more rational, level thoughts and this has made a huge difference to me. Being ill has also taught me the true importance of taking a step back, no matter how busy you are, in order to care for yourself. Whether that be having a bath, going for a walk, meditating or writing a journal, doing something for you and only you every day should be at the very top of your daily “to do” list.

There has been so much coverage in the press about mental health recently and that is fab. Talking is what we all need to do more of. The good old saying of, “a problem shared is a problem halved” really is true. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you are feeling low, many people, including myself, don’t want to burden others with these thoughts and that in turn makes everything worse. But if you don’t have enough time with your GP and you’ve got to wait X number of months to see a councillor, then you need to find someone else. It doesn’t matter who, just find someone. Don’t suffer alone because that makes it worse.

And, if you’re like me and you sometimes find it hard to start a conversation, write it down. Write a letter or an e-mail and send it to someone you trust, get those channels of communication flowing. I often find it easier to write a blog post, have my family and friends read it and then that starts up a conversation.

Our mental health can be affected by so many varying factors: stress, work, grief, loss, illness…the list goes on. There is no one size fits all solution. But what I can say is,  I have a lot of people in my immediate circle of friends and family who have had to deal with or are dealing with huge, life changing situations and they are still standing. Just about. And that’s because they’ve talked. They’ve not been forced to talk but they’ve talked when they’ve felt ready and more importantly they have been told that there are plenty of us ready and waiting to listen.

So much emphasis is placed on the person with the mental health issue but it’s important to remember that every single one of us needs to be aware too. All it takes is a simple, “how are you?” or “I’m thinking of you,” or “fancy a chat?” or “I’m here when you’re ready.” We all need to know who our “people” are. Sometimes we assume that people just know this, but occasionally, when you’re feeling that low and lonely, you just need to hear it or read it. Sometimes, it’s easier if someone reaches out to you rather than the other way around.

I’ve written about loneliness before. It can be all consuming. I would never have thought I could be lonely, I have so many wonderful friends and my family is incredible. I live with my parents yet some days, it feels like it’s just me. Just me, alone, with no hair and a life that doesn’t resemble anything that I recognise. So when my phone pings with a text just saying, “hey, how are you doing today?” it opens up a line of communication, a line to the outside world that allows me to participate. Allows me to be honest. Allows me to feel less alone.

Mental health is not linear. I cannot plot how I am going to feel from one hour to the next let alone day to day. But I also ensure that I keep in touch with the rest of the world too. I am not the only one with problems and issues. I am not the only one that can have a bad day. My bad days should not be given any more or any less importance in comparison to other peoples. Everything is relative. Even well people have crappy days where they need to vent and talk. We are all important.

But regardless of these good, bad and ugly days, what I do know, is that the world keeps turning. Days turn into nights that turn into new days. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I was reading about loss and grief the other day and I read something that made an awful lot of sense to me. It said that when you experience loss or grief, that doesn’t go away. It doesn’t ease with time. You carry that loss and grief with you every single day but what does happen, is life starts to grow around it. You build memories and store happiness around that loss so that it becomes more bearable.  And I think that’s the important part – life.

So, if you don’t do anything else this evening, I would ask you to do two things:

  1. Text someone you haven’t heard from in a  while, or pick up the phone and give them a call. Ask how they are. Have a laugh and share a story about your day. Be present.
  2. Do something for you. The crossword, a sudoko, have a bath or read a chapter of your book. You are important.

And also, if you do know someone or if it’s you that needs some support, here are some places where you can find it:

The Samaritans UK (for everyone) 116 123

The Silver Line (for older/elderly people) 0800 4 70 80 90

Childline (for children and young people under 19) 0800 1111

Papyrus (for people under 35) 0800 068 41 41

Or visit http://www.mind.org.uk for many useful resources, support and help.

Happy Tuesday everyone.

 

#hairlesshannah

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Do you think you’re depressed?

This is a question I have been asked numerous times over the past few weeks by every medical professional I have seen. I think they ask it because if I say yes, they could prescribe me something and be smug in the fact that they solved part of the mystery that is Hannah Green.

They seem slightly confused when I tell them that no, I wouldn’t describe myself as depressed. I ask them to try to picture themselves in my situation and ask whether they think they would be jumping for joy. Yes the last few weeks have been tougher than ever but that is because my symptoms have worsened. Therefore, yes, I have felt sad, I have been extremely emotional and teary, I have been quiet and felt very isolated. But I am not depressed. I continue to try to keep positive as and when I can and smile and move on once I’ve kicked myself back into shape. They just find this hard to understand.

I have now seen an immunologist, a dermatologist and a neurologist (privately otherwise the wait was until April next year!) and still no one can help me. They can’t even help me dumb down the pain or the burning on my head. I have been prescribed sleeping tablets and Tramadol for the pain but these combined with some of the other tablets I’m on mean that I am a zombie most of the time. I haven’t driven for two weeks again and I can’t walk far because my legs feel like jelly and I’m unstable on my feet.

The dermatologist didn’t really know what to do or say so has asked me to go next week for a case conference where several specialists are in the room and can assess me – that part is great but she also wanted me to let my hair grow for two weeks in the lead up. I tried to explain through my tears that I never shave the huge patch where I lost my hair, just the parts that kept growing because otherwise it was so unsightly. After a week of regrowth and feeling my confidence shrivelling with every day, I rang her and explained once more how distressing it was. Thankfully she said that if I could take lots of photos of it, I could bring them along and shave my hair. So that has definitely been something good that’s happened. Well, it is but that was until I had to shave my re growth off. Although I wanted it gone, for a short time it has been nice to stroke the soft hair that was growing. That must sound so odd to you but I haven’t had hair on my head for a year so to know it still grows was a relief, it was a joy to use a little bit of shampoo for a week, to have to use a towel to dry off my hair after a shower. So shaving it was like a grieving process once more. Not as bad as before because I was regaining control again and you’ll be impressed, I used shaving foam and a razor and wet shaved it off without a cut in sight – now that is a talent I never knew I had!

My body – mainly from the neck up is fighting off any drug, ointment or cream I use to help me. I have the most painful, itchy, irritating patches of raw skin around my eyes, cheeks and eye lids. It hurts to smile, blink – it’s just an added symptom that is unbearable. I have red, painful spot like lumps and bumps on my scalp that come and go but are so painful too. To combat all of this I am finding myself trying to do things to occupy my hands rather than use them to itch and scratch my face and make it even more painful. It’s a counter productive experience because doing anything on top of all the drugs in my system means I get super tired and have pay back from anything I do but I feel like I don’t have an option because otherwise I would get depressed. So, I’ve tried new baking recipes, made a personalised advent calendar for the family, watch TV or films and sorting Christmas presents and cards on a budget! I also have spent so much time sleeping again which is the only true release I get. My word I never thought my thirties would be so fun!

So, I’m hibernating again. I don’t feel like going out because I am very self-conscious but also because I don’t physically feel like I have the get up and go to do much, to deal with the noise and bright lights and people’s stares. And with today being December 1st it makes me sad to think that a year ago I was telling myself, it’s okay, this Christmas is going to be pretty rubbish but by next year you’ll be better and with some hair regrowth but that simply isn’t the case.

So no, I am not depressed, maybe I’ve dipped in and out of it in split seconds of weakness but I think most people would in this situation. No one can be positive all the time and that’s alright.

Happy Advent everyone,

advent

#hairlesshannah