The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

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The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane

In 2013 it was advised to me that doing some exercise could help me with my mental health, the associated weight gain with my medications, and in general. Never did I imagine on that first run in 2013 did I think that 5 years later I would be walking up the same streets to the start line of The London Marathon. South East London has been my patch for almost a decade and in my lack of preparation for the marathon I didn’t know the route. I only saw it fully on some handouts at the expo, and my response was to think “oh wow, hmmm…” and proceed to not look at it again. I felt that having naivety on my side in regards to how long 26.2 miles really was was helpful. Sometimes, not knowing w hat you’re about to get yourself into can help diminish the pre-race anxieties of “shit, what have I just dove headfirst into”. This won’t work for everyone, but in this instance it worked well for me.

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Fully clueless to what I was about to do. Naivety was my friend at this point!

 

It was when I got off the bus with my Dad to walk up as it turned left onto Lee Terrace that the trip down memory lane began. Running up from the bottom towards Blackheath for the open space to run in was the initial plan when I started running. I got half way up before finding myself sitting, a flurried hot mess on the pathway up to blackheath and fervently googled “Why can I taste blood from running?” and “Why do my lungs burn so much from starting running?”. I sat there for a good while longer than I had been moving for and decided that I needed to take another route to exercise. I walked up to the grass on blackheath and decided to just move for 20 minutes with my music on. Cue, waving arms, and some jumping around, some dancing and just getting some movement into me. It was on the 3rd session of this that near marker 1. on the picture below that I tripped over a branch and found myself hobbling to A&E with a gash in my knee and needing stitches. When I say I NEVER thought 5 years ago in my clumsy attempts to get some exercise into my life that I would be walking those same routes and roads to The London Marathon start line. The moral of this story is, just move. Just get going in any way that feels right to you at the time. By starting, you never know where the journey will take you. Maybe it’ll take you to A&E in a wonder woman top needing stitches, or maybe it will take you to start lines, views and adventures you’ll never have guessed you would. Maybe, as in my case, it will lead to both. Don’t give up.

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For the first 8 miles, the absolute privilege of running The London Marathon and it being on my patch really served as a distraction from the momentous task that was ahead of me. It was very cathartic to be running quite literally through memory lane, acknowledging the good and the bad memories.

I spent the majority of my head space during the first 8 miles reminiscing on my journey over the last 9 years in London. How this journey has shaped me, open my eyes, taught me brutal lessons, and saved my life. To the people of Lewisham, thank you. To the places that have brought me a lot of joy, purpose and good life lessons, like that people aren’t always mean or operating with ulterior motives, Thank You. Even the memory of my first mental health crisis that landed me in hospital, and the first time I got sectioned, without these experiences I would not be who I am today. From the bad good can come. This trip down memory lane felt like closure on some of those experiences and chapters in my life.

Mental illness can be brutal. Without these memories though, I wouldn’t be studying something I am so passionate about from these experiences. I wouldn’t be volunteering in community projects to help others on their journeys. I wouldn’t have had my eyes open to the importance of practicing non-judgmentalness. Some of these memories are difficult ones but sometimes it is exactly those difficult memories that are the most important for growing as a person.

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The heat was brutal at this point. My most tired photo from the race -a mile just past half way.

The result? The first 8 miles were the most important for me. I really think this 8 miles of reflection time gave me the drive to bloody well enjoy the journey I was on to the finish line, be grateful for everything I have endured and survived and really just enjoy the pure act of being very alive that running is.

The rest of the markers and their associated milestones and memories are listed below: Continue reading “The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane”

Staying Happy and Well Over Christmas

The festive season can be really fun but in that statement it can sometimes feel like we “should” be having SO MUCH FUN, OH MY GOD I CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF I’VE NEVER HAD THIS MUCH FUN IN MY LIFE. Chances are you have. There’s a lot of pressures at this time of year: to eat certain foods, to buy presents, to see people you may not want to see and schmooze around people you don’t want to be schmoozing with. There’s plenty of stimulus to lose your shit over, the turkey, the roast potatoes or even irritating family members who you can’t eliminate from the annual socialising – and we all know a little tipple can sometimes be the fire starter to set things off.

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I’ve just made christmas sound particularly awful. I’m hoping very much that all of this doesn’t happen to anyone this year and that the inevitable stress happens to each person in a small dosage. Even though we can’t necessarily control the things around us there are things we can do to help maintain our mental health and wellbeing throughout the festive season.

Here I’m going to list the methods I try to use to reduce the stress of the festivities and increase the enjoyment, and it seems to work for me so far, so here goes:

  1. Fit in some form of physical activity to get some headspace, reduce stress and help ease the stodgy feeling that some festive foods can leave you with, even if that means just a walk around the park. It’s good to get outside from stuffy overcrowded rooms. A warm house or pub is great and so is some fresh air to make the warmth feel so much more appreciated.
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  2. Eat with some balance in mind. Indulging has become intrinsically linked with the festive season but just because of that cultural norm it doesn’t mean you need to eat until your stuffed all the time, on repeat and until you feel unwell from overdoing it.
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  3. You don’t need to restrict or diet throughout the festive season either. Diets aren’t cool anyway, and they’re especially not cool at christmas. Ignore diet culture. You do not need to gorge for a few weeks and starve for the following few months to “undo the damage”. Stop that. Stop that right now.
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  4. There isn’t a law insisting that festive foods are only eaten in the month of December – there is no urgency to eat them all until the brim because guess what, you can eat them at any time of year if you really want to. They don’t vanish from existence on the 1st of January.
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  5. Take some me time. It’s OK and quite normal to want to take a break from the relentless social calendar that exists at this time of year. Have a nap. Go for a walk. Watch a film on your own or sneak off to read your book. You’re not weird for wanting some down time. Especially if you’re more introverted than extroverted, like myself, this down time is super important so as not to become exhausted and overwhelmed.
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  6. Reduce the pressure and value of presents. I remember family members getting extremely stressed that I didn’t know which book exactly that I wanted to the point of a near melt down. There’s no point. It’s not THAT important. I would’ve like any book on the topic I asked for.
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  7. If you don’t know what to get for someone then guessing is fine. It’s OK if it’s not a perfect present. For as cliché as it is, it really is the thought that counts – so if you’re strapped for cash then baking some sugar cookies is definitely a win.Present giving is fun. I’m a fan of people pretending to like a present I got them even if I didn’t quite get it right – I think gratitude that they tried is important and not losing sight of that.
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  8. Take a step away from social media. Christmas is a time when a lot of people use social media as an opportunity to show off the ‘insane amount of presents under the tree’, and how much they got for their kids, and how they can barely move in the house for presents. It’s bullshit – don’t succumb to it; you’re better than social comparisons and competitions about stuff. You don’t need to worry about what Susan from school got because from Boxing Day you probably won’t care anyway. They got something very expensive and lust worthy, well good for them. It doesn’t mean you need to compete beyond  your means.
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  9. If you’ve had enough to eat it’s fine to leave some on your plate. There can be a pressure to eat more than you physically can because your mum cooked every trimming in Sainsbury’s. If you’re full and you can’t then it’s ok to be firm about that. It’s your body and you’ll be the one experiencing the discomfort of a distended stomach and acid reflux if you push it too far.
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  10. Time and attention are probably some of the best gifts you can give to your nearest and dearest. Put the phone down, shut the laptop off and spend some quality time together. Play a silly game. Help the kids with their lego. Dance around the house to Just Dance on the Wii. Chances are these will be the moments you remember fondly.giphy-1.gif

The most important thing is getting through the festive season in one piece, healthily and as happily as you can.

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Merry Christmas Y’all!

 

Festive Gratitude Moment

During the festive season there’s a lot of asking of what people want and sometimes that can feel pressured to want something more than what you have. I do it myself to other people. The main thing that I think could be rephrased at this time of year though would be to also to take a moment and be grateful for what we do have.

Often times we find ourselves so awed by advertisements and the sparkly marketing that makes you think you need that new great big shiny TV, or a new dress for each time you want to go out out, or that my life would be more fulfilling if I have this, then that then something else because the last thing didn’t live up to the promise of transforming my life into the perfect fulfilled smiley one that I had hoped for from buying that product.

Realistically I know this isn’t the case at all however, I think there is a lot of power and well-being to be had from taking a moment to be grateful and reframing how we think about what we have. So I thought that for day 2 of the Blogmas challenge I would focus on a list of festive themed gratitude.

1. I have a decent shelter over the cold months and beyond.

2. I can afford to buy enough food.

3. I can cook food in a real oven.

4. I have family to catch up with.

5. I have friends to share some festivities with.

6. I will get some down time from uni deadlines over the holidays.

7. I really enjoy a hot gingerbread latte in a warm coffee shop when it’s cold outside.

8. I’m not going to have to deal with the “it’s-too-hot-and-I-need-to-take-off-more-layers-and-I’m-already-naked” situation that comes with summer.

9. I really love all the festive puddings: bring me all the spiced raisin filled sweets!

10. Mulled wine on a long evening is delicious, and even more delicious shared with friends.

11. The festive seasons theme of good cheer always give me a kick in the right direction of catching up with old friends: and I always really enjoy that part of Christmas season.

12. I love a good sing and dance along to Christmas songs.

13. There’s nothing better than having a big nest of bedding, alone or with your closest, and hot water bottles and watching TV.

14. The sparkles of the Christmas lights really cheer up a dark and dreary night.

15. I have enough funds to give the odd donated present to charity organisations, and some food and blankets to homeless people.

16. Cheese boards and wine!

17. It’s far easier to stay inside and study when it’s cold and dark outside.

18. That I no longer have an eating disorder so I can take part and enjoy the festive foods I like.

19. I have had a good year this year and feel content with myself for the end of the year. This hasn’t happened for a long time.

20. The future is looking positive and bright for me, and I’m really excited for what is to come rather than dreading and fearing the future.

Om The Bus with Michael Townsend Williams for Lululemon, Regent Street

img_2034.jpgOne buzz word amongst health and wellness circles that I can really get on board with is “mindfulness” and “meditation”. I think there is a lot to be harboured from the power of breath, stillness and taking time to really observe how you feel. I often use apps, however sometimes it is nice to go somewhere and immerse yourself in an environment designed for calm – that is what happened on the Meditation Bus by Lululemon in Regent Street, London this evening.

Tonight the christmas lights got switched on along Regent street and Oxford street. Lululemon had their meditation bus set up outside their Regent street store with guided meditations from one of their ambassadors Michael Townsend Williams. Michael is the founder of Breathe Sync – an app for connecting you breath and heart beat together in a meditation.

When we went on the bus we sat down and received some headphones. Michael guided a meditation in belly breathing, nasal breathing and becoming aware of how we were feeling in that moment. I noticed a lot about my current state – and that I struggled to belly breathe. This is unusual for me as I have practiced and practiced over the years of practicing mindfulness that it is unusual for me to find myself struggling to not engage my chest in my breath. I also felt consistently short of breath which is also unusual for me, and I thin this was connected to my difficulty with breathing with my belly rather than my chest. I didn’t realise how tight I was until I settled into the meditation and noticed the discomfort that I felt in my body.

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If you can attend a class by Michael Townsend Williams at all I would recommend it. I have had yoga with him before at the Lululemon Regent street store before. Both times I have come across his classes he has been very good – he has mastered the calming and relaxing vocal tone. He has mastered the pace at which to speak and intonate. He has a very calming energy about him that is very inspiring and makes you want more peace in your life and realise the power you hold in achieving this for yourself.

Here is a video by Lululemon if you feel like finding a little bit of calm right now: 

We’re Not In Control of Anything, Other Than How We Choose To Respond to Everything.

I’m working on a group project at uni at the moment. If you’ve been to uni I’m very sure you understand the pain of trying to pull people together to work on one thing who have different ideas about studying, about how to study, how close to the deadline we leave our work, if we do the work at all or try to coast through and learn from failure. We are 9 different people.

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Another group member and I were talking about the woes of our group. They expressed their frustration at people not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, about how we shouldn’t be having to nag so much and how they couldn’t bear not being able to make people do what they’re supposed to do. Donald Trump shouldn’t be president and we shouldn’t be entering an age of global nuclear threat – and we are.

However, this situation got me thinking about control. Personally, I have a very complicated relationship with control that I have had to work on over the years. I have had to take the journey from a very unhealthy relationship with control to a more balanced one. That relationship has ultimately wound up with me where I am today, in this place right here and now. I have struggled to accept that I am not 100% in control of my life. I have more autonomy now than I once did – and that boils down to having control over the only thing I have control over: myself.

I don’t even have full control over that. I can’t decide what I want to weigh and make sure that happens because my body will metabolise and respond to my diet, exercise and medications however it will. I can control my diet, but control and diet is somewhat of a complex relationship; I don’t think diet is something to “be controlled” per se so I don’t try to control it anymore. There is liberation in letting go of unnecessary grasps at control because ultimately you can’t programme your reactions or metabolism or biological processes. You can influence them, but control? Nope. Not happening. Of the things we have control of in our lives it is not entirely of ourselves and it is certainly not of others, and even more unfortunately and definitely, not of what happens to us either. What, if anything, are we in control of then?

We are in control of how we choose to respond, behave and frame our perceptions when we think and act. I say this loosely, by thinking I mean choosing acceptance, non judgmental ness and being mindful. We can choose how to respond to what happens to us and what we are confronted with in our lifetimes. Let me highlight a recent example.

At the start of this group project I was getting stressed about people not pulling their weight – I spoke to a few of my homies and they all said “take a step back, it’s not worth it”. So I did and you know what I realised? I had the power to control how much I responded to that situation, which in turn affected how much I let it affect me. I could choose to get het up and make it of high importance or I could choose to frame the situation in relation to the bigger picture – it is a first year module that only requires a pass and I am working with some people who may not even return in January. There is great power in choosing my battles when it comes to not losing my shit. Although I did need the help of my homies to help me figure this out, I still figured it out.

We do have the choice in how we respond to whatever may come our way and for as frustrating as life can be, for as frustrating as other people can be, as we can all be, we can control very little in our lives except how we choose to relate and respond to what happens to us and around us. It’s important to take ownership of that small piece of control we all have over ourselves and our lives.

So if you see someone with a pram struggling with stairs you can take the choice to walk on or stop for a moment to help. If someone is mean to you, you can take the choice to be mean back or to ignore them. If someone smiles at you in the street, you can ignore them or just smile back and let the world be working with you instead of against you. It really is a very simple idea, but admittedly sometimes very hard to implement into our mindset. It is a journey that we are all on – and we make the decision about how we respond to the lumps and bumps in the road of our journeys that defines us to the world.