Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Mental health has been in the news quite a bit recently, with the Heads Together campaign by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Price Harry.

I listened to Prince Harry’s frank conversation about his mental health with Bryony Gordon on her Mad World Podcast. It was inspirational and deeply moving. This is exactly what’s needed for the stigma of mental illness to end: people talking about it openly.

I’ve been fairly open about my own mental health issues. I suffer from PTSD, caused by childhood abuse. This causes anxiety, depression and panic attacks. I cope with this much more effectively than I used to. I spent pretty much all of my teenage years trying to hide everything I was feeling. When I realised that this coping technique wasn’t going to work long term, I had to face everything that had happened to me. I became very introverted, I spent most of my time at home alone for a couple of years. Even when I had my daughter, I’d force myself to take her to play groups only to sit in the corner and hope that nobody would try and approach me.

Moving to Cardiff was a big turning point. I tried making friends for the first time since high school. But I still needed help. I went to my GP, was prescribed anti depressants and put on a waiting list for counselling. The medication did help. The counselling was better, even if I did have to wait a whole year for it and even then only got six sessions. My counsellor suggested lots of books I could read. Books about other abuse survivors and how they cope with PTSD. I also read up on why people abuse, which was difficult but did help me realise that it was nothing to do with me and everything to do with my abuser’s issues. Late last year, I stopped taking medication (which was very difficult). These days, I still have bad days (and the odd bad week or even fortnight) but I’m better equipped to deal with it now.

Talking does help. Husband was the first person I confided in about the abuse. He was, simply put, brilliant. But talking to a professional was important too. We need to encourage people to seek help for mental health in the same way as we all would for any physical illness. With 1 in 4 adults suffering mental illness of some kind during their lives, we need to stop viewing this as a weakness or abnormality.

I’ve taken this into consideration in how I talk to my daughter and encourage her to talk to me. She knows it’s okay to say that she’s not okay. She knows that if she has any problems, little or big, she can talk to me and/or her Dad. Even if she’s done something wrong, it’s always better to talk about it than try to hide it.

As adults, we might think that children’s problems can’t be nearly as big or important as our own but we need to remember that what might look quite insignificant to us can be overwhelming for a child. We need to at least attempt to see it from their perspective.

I still struggle with how to discuss my own mental health with my daughter. She knows very little detail about my life before she was born. She asks questions that I don’t know how to answer. I want to set a good example of being open and honest about feelings but I know my issues are just far too complicated for her to understand, even aside from her being too young to be burdened with such things. It’s that tricky balancing act of protecting children while also introducing them to the real world and properly equipping them to live in it.

How have you approached the subject of mental health with your children? Have you suffered mental illness and, if so, how have you coped with it as a parent?

Five years in Cardiff

Five years ago, we moved from London to Cardiff. It’s probably been the best five years of my entire life.

Back in 2011, we lived in an area not far from where the riots had recently happened. It’s not easy being out in a place and constantly wondering if the person you’ve just passed in the street was looting a few nights before. We’d been talking about moving away for a long while but it had always felt like fantasy, like when you plan which mansion you’ll buy when you win the lottery rollover (Everyone does that, right?). But with London (or at least the bit of London we lived in) feeling more and more like somewhere we didn’t really want to raise our child, we started looking elsewhere.

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View across Cardiff Bay, 2011

Cardiff was a pretty obvious choice. We’d been there on a day trip a year earlier and instantly loved it. It’s a capital city – a good place to find jobs with plenty of cultural stuff to enjoy – but at the same time it’s a quieter, more laid back and friendly place than where we were. Plus it’s where Doctor Who is filmed and for a family of geeks, that’s a massive tick in the pros column.

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At the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay, 2012

Husband went on a little reconnaissance mission. The poor guy spent two days looking at what were mostly pretty grim flats, attending job interviews and spending the night in hotel room with a broom closet sized bathroom and a TV smaller than his iPad. He had the pressure of actually picking where we lived without me ever laying eyes on it. When we actually moved, I arrived a few hours ahead of him (he finished packing up at the old flat, while me and Pip went ahead) and he texted me, all anxious about what I thought, given that this was the first time I’d set foot in the place. I think my reply was ‘I f*cking love you’. He’d chosen brilliantly.

I loved that flat. It was the first place that really felt like our home, rather than somewhere we’d had to settle for out of necessity. It was just near Cardiff Bay, still one of my favourite places to visit, plus near plenty of shops including a huge 24 hour supermarket. The best thing about it was it’s second bedroom. Pip finally had a room of her own, which we were all extremely happy about.

We stayed there for a year, then our landlord quite suddenly decided that they were going to sell the flat and gave us just over a month to move out. This time I chose the flat and Husband was the one that didn’t get to see it until after we moved in. I won’t go into much detail about that place but suffice to say, we’ve since made an agreement that he gets to choose all subsequent places we live in. It was bloody awful.

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Victoria Park, 2013

Since 2014, we’ve been living in my favourite place that I’ve ever lived in. Plenty of space, brilliant location and a lovely landlady. I don’t see us leaving here for quite some time yet, which is quite something for a family that’s moved five times in eight years.

I love Cardiff. I love the Bay, a beautiful place to have a walk, take some pictures and perhaps have an ice cream. I love the city centre, full of shops, two museums and a castle, plus a massive library and loads of lovely places to eat.  I love that if you say Good Morning to someone in the street, most of the time they’ll say it back rather than look at you like you’ve just casually uttered a racial slur (seriously, I wouldn’t even make eye contact with strangers in London). I love how comfortable I feel here.

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Castell Coch, 2016

Starting fresh in Cardiff has made me a such a different person. I might still be shy but I’m way more confident than I used to be. I’ve faced up to the fact that I have PTSD and depression and had treatment and now I feel so much better. I’m not cured but it’s incurable so being able to deal with it is the best I can do and I think I’m doing it (most of the time).

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Me, 2011

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Me, 2016

So thanks Cardiff. I can’t wait to see what the next five years have in store!

 

Mental illness in culture

The other day I was watching Friends, a programme that I’ve been watching since I was about seven years old, and something occurred to me. The character Monica’s fixation with cleanliness and order is referred to throughout the ten seasons. It’s made a joke of. She’s called a ‘clean freak’. Does she suffer with OCD?

When I think about it, this isn’t very strange. Sheldon Cooper from the brilliant comedy show Big Bang Theory (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it) has many compulsive behaviours. While it’s never identified as OCD, a fairly recent episode actually created quite an interesting way of explaining the anxious feelings of OCD and other anxiety disorders to people who don’t experience them. When Leonard has forgotten to return Sheldon’s DVD to a rental shop, he must wear an itchy red jumper until the situation is resolved. I know that when I’m going through a phase where I feel very anxious about everything, it could definitely be likened to the niggling discomfort of an itchy jumper. You can never stop thinking about it and it will make you uncomfortable until it’s sorted out.

There are plenty of other examples. Miss Pilsbury in Glee admits and has treatment for OCD, Sherlock Holmes is quite open about being a higher functioning sociopath and I believe there’s currently a programme called My Mad Fat Diary on E4 about a girl with bipolar disorder, although I’ve never actually watched it.

So how do these programmes portray mental illness? For the most part, they’re made into an entertaining part of the shows. Occasionally, they’re talked about openly. Rarely does the person concerned actually receive treatment. On the other hand, it’s not always seen as a negative. Sherlock just wouldn’t be Sherlock without that near complete lack of social awareness that actually seems to help him focus more on being a genius. Isn’t being creatively brilliant often linked with mental illness? I’ve read that there studies looking into an actual genetic link but if we look at examples, particularly of musicians, writers and artists, I think we can really see a link between the two. Vincent Van Gough, one of the greatest artists in human history, famously suffered with severe bouts of depression and eventually committed suicide but captured the intense beauty in nature so amazingly well in his work. Ernest Hemingway and Silvia Plath both suffered with depression and both committed suicide too but are often celebrated as two of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. There’s the so called ’27 club’ of musicians such as Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, who all died either of drug overdose or suicide at the age of 27 all suffered with depression. As a side note, studies into this have shown no increased risk of death in musicians at that particular age, although the parallel between creativity and depression does seem to exist. While I’d never describe myself as a great or even good writer, I certainly find writing a great way of dealing with some of my own issues.

Now it is becoming more socially acceptable to speak out about depression and other mental illness and I think this is, in part, thanks to people like Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson who have spoken openly about their own battles with mental illness. We now accept that mentally ill people can be verbose, charming, intellectual and hilariously comical, just as they could have any other characteristic that one could attribute to a human being. You could speak to someone every day and never know what demons they grapple with.

Mental illness is all around us. As, according to the Mental Health Foundation, around 1 in 4 of us suffer from a mental illness at some point in our lives, I believe it’s something we all need to become comfortable speaking about and learning more about.

Moving on from PTSD: Another Step Forward

After being informed that it was impossible for me to have a GP appointment at a time convenient for me, last week I wrote a letter to the practice manager, explaining the situation and asking if something could be arranged. She called me hours after receiving my letter and said that there were actually doctors available on week day afternoons, although only on a Friday would there be a female doctor available, which would be preferable for me. I made an appointment for yesterday afternoon.

On arriving at the surgery, I was informed that a medical student wished to sit in on my appointment. As difficult as I knew it might be to have another person making notes while I speak about childhood abuse and PTSD symptoms, I accepted. Students need to learn how to handle these situations. The last GP I tried speaking to handed me a leaflet and a prescription for ‘mood stabilising’ medication that I didn’t really need or want and got me out of her office as soon as she could.

I sat nervously in the waiting room, wondering how to begin telling the doctor why I need help. I’ve had to tell many people now. It’s always difficult to know where to start. There are words I have trouble saying. With the GP, I decided to simply describe my symptoms and how I went to a doctor before and was on a waiting list for therapy but we left the area before I was given an appointment. She asked what the cause of my PTSD was. I practically whispered the words ‘I was abused in childhood’. It’s so easy to type it out but actually saying the words out loud is so hard sometimes. She asked what kind of abuse. Again, I very quietly said the word ‘sexual’.

She was really helpful. She asked a lot of questions but kindly explained that the more detail she can put in the referral letter, the more likely I am to be higher up on the waiting list. She also asked if this was the first time I had told someone and if I had spoken to the police. I told her the whole story of how I told the police but the case didn’t go to court due to insufficient evidence and how we’d had to move to Cardiff after receiving threats from my family. The medical student sat near the back of the office, scribbling notes occasionally. I found that it didn’t make me as uncomfortable as I thought it might.

I’m now on a waiting list to have a consultation to see a psychiatrist. The GP did mention that the practice has a councilor but the waiting lists would be just as long and she thinks I’m going to need more in depth treatment.

I know I’m still a very long waiting list away from actually receiving therapy or anymore professional help with PTSD but I’m another step towards it and I know that help is, in a sense, on the way.

Thanks for reading.

Weekly update no.1

My blog is now a whole week old. I’ve really enjoyed writing and/or taking pictures every day. I’m also really grateful to everyone that’s been reading and liking and commenting. It’s very motivating and I really appreciate it so thanks all round!

I think it would be positive and motivational to have a weekly update of everything I’ve done towards my goals for the year.

1. To help my daughter prepare for and settle into her first year of school, starting in September.

We’ve been playing board games to help Little Pip practice her counting, improve her social skills and problem solving skills and to fire up her imagination!

2. To improve my business, through better marketing and making a larger range of products.

I’m looking into various local markets and shops where I could sell my products. I’ve also come up with a few new ideas and written out a proper schedule so that I’m making the most of my crafting time and hopefully making as many items as possible from the resources I have.

3. Complete my current Open University module and register for the next. This includes actually deciding on which the next will be as currently I haven’t a clue!

I’ve been busily writing my latest assignment piece, a screenplay adapted from a short story I wrote. I’ve never written a screenplay before but I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s now been sent off to my tutor for marking. Fingers crossed for a good result!

4. Deal with PTSD. I feel like it’s been holding me back for too long. It’s very much time I took control of it.

I contacted the mental health charity MIND and I’m now waiting for a response from them. I also blogged a little about my symptoms, which I hope will be the beginning of connecting with other people who also suffer with PTSD.

5. Not to diet. Instead, I want to make simple and easily kept up changes that will make my whole family a little healthier. If this leads to a few inches disappearing from my waist, that’s an added bonus!

I’ll be really honest. I’ve done very little towards this one. Although, I have been trying to grill more and fry less and our stash of Christmas treats is gone now so I’ve been indulging a much less than I was over Christmas. With better weather predicted for later this week, I definitely want to get outdoors for a morning walk with Pip one day before nursery.

6. Add to this blog every day, even if it is just a photograph.

Done! This has been really enjoyable, especially connecting with other bloggers through BritMums and Silent Sundays.

I’ve got lots of fun stuff planned for the next week, including reviewing Pip’s favourite books, another board game review and another Guide to Cardiff post. Enjoy and have a lovely week!