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?

So many of us

Trigger warning: This post is about childhood sexual abuse, although it does not contain any graphic descriptions. Please do not read if this will distress you.

During my life, partly from writing this blog, I’ve heard about many other people’s experiences of sexual abuse. When someone shares their experience with me, I feel a few different emotions. Firstly, I’m glad that they felt that they could talk to someone about it and that they felt they could trust me with it. Secondly, though not every time and actually not for a while now, it can trigger anxious feelings, like the beginnings of a panic attack or even bring on a flashback. Thirdly, it makes me feel some level of despair.

So many people have had to suffer through abuse. So many people had their innocence taken away from them so early in life. So many people had years of their lives ruined by another person, so often someone they loved and trusted. When they should have been so carefree and full of joy, they spent those precious years frightened and feeling so alone.

When I’m having a bad time and I keep getting flashbacks and those anxious feelings, I feel like shouting out that it’s not fair. I didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I have to struggle with this? Why should anyone have to struggle with this? No child has ever deserved it, no matter what they might have been told by their abuser or their abuser’s enablers.

I think the most terrible thought I have whenever I hear another story of childhood abuse is that it will never be the last. We can campaign and raise money and awareness and help children out of terrible situations and help people cope with the aftermath of the crimes committed against them  and we can lock away those who perpetrate them. These are all good things to do and we should absolutely keep doing them. But we can never make it stop altogether. There will always be individuals with the capability to be that cruel, to put their own perverse needs before that of a defenseless child. The only thing we can do is try to protect children and people in general from those individuals.

When I feel like this, I know I must try to grasp at some hope from somewhere. Usually it’s from the fact that so many of us who suffered are still here. We have struggled through and even if the struggle may not be over, we are still here. Most parents will protect their children from such harm or at least support them when things do go wrong. Most children have wonderful childhood years and never have to feel afraid of such terrible things happening to them. I can look at my own daughter, so full of life and joy and humour and know that life can be better.

Thanks for reading and sorry if this post is a bit of a ramble!

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.

Monthly update

February has been an interesting months. There’s been a few lows but a few highs too. I think I’m doing fairly well on my goals:

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

We’ve been doing plenty of learning this month. Pip got her first ever watch and can mostly tell the time on her own now. She also made big steps towards learning to read and I put up a world map up in her room to start looking at some basic geography. I also went for a meeting with Pip’s nursery teacher and got some really positive feedback about how she’s getting on. The only basic skill she’s having trouble with is zipping up her coat on her own, which we’ll try to tackle in March – if anyone has any tips, I’d be very grateful! Next month is going to be a very exciting time for this goal as we’ll be finding out which schools Pip has been offered places in.

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

Well, beyond coming up with new ideas, this has once again been put off. In my defense, there’s been a lot else going. I’m very lucky to have started getting opportunities for writing reviews for various new products. If I’m honest, I don’t have any immediate plans for making anything for sale, although I am planning to make a few things for Pip, which I’ll definitely blog about. I do still have lots of ideas for new products but until I’ve got a definite venue to sell at, I can’t really afford to try them out!

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 completed two more assignments this months and I’ve got my idea for my final assessment all sorted so I’m well on my way to having this module completed. I’ve also now made my choice for the next module. I’ll be registering for Reading & Studying Literature (A230) as soon as registration opens. If anyone else is planning to take this module, or has already studied it, please get in touch – it’s always nice to have people to chat to who have studied the same subject.

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’ve really tried to seek some professional help this month but with no success. Next month I’ll be writing to my GP surgery to see if I can arrange a way of having an appointment with a doctor at a time when Pip’s in nursery. In the meantime, I’m looking into self help guides to see if I can start making some progress.

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!

Not that I have any intention of going full on Atkins, I have tried to limit my carbohydrates just a little, since I do tend to fill up on them quite a lot. I also plan to trying to go for a walk at least one afternoon a week while Pip’s in nursery. Not only is this good exercise but it’s supposed to be brilliant for mental health too.

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

Done! I have blogged every single day since I started this blog. I would like to thank everyone who has read my posts, particularly whichever lovely people decided to nominate me in the MAD blog awards. I have no expectations of getting any further but just being nominated is such an unexpected honour.

March is due to be a good month with lots of exciting plans. I hope you all had a great February!

Talking about childhood abuse

Trigger warning: This post won’t go into the details of abuse but will discuss telling family members and friends about the abuse. If this is going to affect you poorly, please don’t read on any further. I have included details of a couple of helplines at the end if they’re helpful to you.

If you suffered any kind of abuse as a child, talking about it is very important and I would encourage it very strongly. Telling my best friend was one of the best choices I ever made, even though it was also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as soon as the words were out and he gave me a big hug, I felt a million times better. Also, in recent times, I’ve had much more positive reactions and attitudes from friends I’ve talked to about this.

But what nobody seems to prepare you for is how people might react negatively when you tell them that you were abused as a child. I’ve experienced three different reactions and I’d like to share this to help prepare anyone who is preparing themselves to talk to someone.

First reaction was when I told my best friend (incidentally, now husband). He knew something was wrong and asked. I could barely get the words out. As I said already, he gave me a big hug and  basically offered all of the support I needed. He’s listened to me talk about it as much as a I want and he came with me to the Police station when I decided I wanted to make a statement and press charges. At the same time, I don’t think he’s ever treated me differently because of it. He doesn’t tiptoe around difficult subjects or not be straight with me about everything.

Second reaction was when I told members of my family. If I’m honest, I expected them to be extremely angry with my abuser, my older brother. I expected it to be treated like what it is: a huge issue. Something that had wrecked my life for years and made me feel incredibly depressed. Instead, they wanted it forgotten and never spoken of again. They seemed far more concerned about what other people would think if this ever became public knowledge, that it would be some kind of scandal. I have no idea if they even believed me. Neither of my parents ever asked me how I felt about it or if I was OK. They seemed shocked and confused when I left home, giving the reason that I couldn’t live under the same roof as my brother anymore. Even now, this makes me feel so angry and some of my PTSD symptoms are actually more about this than about the abuse.

Third reaction was when I told other friends. They believed me and showed sympathy. Many offered to go and physically assault my abuser, which I obviously said no to – nobody should be getting arrested over this except him. But they started treating me differently. They’d avoid talking about sex or anything related to it. They’d avoid talking about their own families, especially any older brothers. Eventually, one of my closest female friends admitted that she just didn’t know how to be around me anymore. While I appreciated her honesty, I was so hurt that admitting that this horrible thing that had been done to me, that I couldn’t have stopped from happening, was the reason we couldn’t be friends anymore.

Although I didn’t experience it myself, I do know that others who have spoken out about the abuse they’d suffered were not believed by some. I can only imagine how terrible it would feel to summon up the huge amount of courage needed to finally tell someone that something so horrific had happened to you, only to be called a liar.

Ideally, you would be able to expect support and to be believed and treated like a normal human being (for that is what you are!) but, as abuse victims are all too aware, the world is far from ideal. People do not behave well or as you would hope all of the time. Although I didn’t, I would now recommend to others that you have the number for a support helpline at the ready so that, if the person you choose to talk to doesn’t have a positive, supportive reaction, you have someone to talk to who can help. Perhaps you should call one of these helplines, and I’ll list a few I know of at the bottom of this post, beforehand to help prepare you.

I’d like to finish on this note. Despite everything, I’m so glad I decided to speak out. Keeping that secret, I really do believe, might have ended my life if I’d kept it for much longer. It eats away at you. So, if you have suffered abuse, please tell someone, whether it’s a good friend that you really trust or a professional or a volunteer on the phone. It’ll be a first step towards life getting better and life won’t get better until you do it. Just be prepared for what the reaction could be.

Thank you for reading.

NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) have two free helplines:

If you’re calling from a UK landline or a mobile provided by Virgin, Orange or 3, call 0800 085 3330

If you’re calling from a mobile provided by O2, Vodafone or T-mobile, call 0808 801 0331

Rape Crisis (England & Wales): 0808 802 9999

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!