Thursday, 5 May 2016

Be gentle - we're fighting a battle.

Today I faced a big dilemma.

I decided it might be an idea to try and do a little volunteering at my local charity shop. I walked in and was greeted by  lovely lady who sat me down and talked me through an application form. Whilst I sat there filling it out, one of the other volunteers came in to start her shift. She then went on to explain how she had had a sickness bug the other day and 'couldn't keep anything down' and it was one of the worst experiences she ever had.

Well, I have OCD and emetophobia, an extreme fear of vomiting. I started to panic. I was sitting surrounded by strangers, wanting to just throw the pen I had in my hand and run, run, run. I needed to scrub my hands until they were clean. I needed to get out of the clothes I was in. It was dreadful. My mind was racing - my handbag was on the floor and all I could think about was that it was covered in germs. I'd touched a pen - had she touched that pen? I'd sat on a stool - had she touched that stool? When your mind starts racing this way, it's difficult to think about anything else. Heck, it's impossible. I had to try hold a conversation all whilst my heart was racing, my hands were sweating and my knee started jiggling, wanting to run out of the shop.

Stupidly, I agreed that I'd start tomorrow. Now I'm home, I realise that's not something I can do. And it is a horrible feeling. Knowing that someone had been so ill so recently and not knowing what they had touched and what I would have to touch tomorrow is just too much for my mind to take in. Now for other individuals, you may think I'm being irrational, drastic, and giving up a good opportunity. I wish, with all my heart, I could look at this situation differently, but I simply can't, and I also wish people understood the turmoil I, and others like me, have to go through on a daily basis.

Nothing is simple for me any more. Everything is regimented. Things have to be done to a certain standard for my brain to believe they are safe, and it is exhausting trying to up keep this level of hygiene. And what's worse is that times like today, it really shows that it affects my ability to function as a 'normal' member of society. Because I am so afraid I cannot work at the charity shop any more, because one person came in and said they had been ill. It's difficult to not get down about situations like this.

The sad thing is that there are so many others like me going through this, every single day of their lives. And I am ashamed to say that I am embarrassed in some ways. Today when I was filling out that application form, I didn't have the confidence to say 'I'm about to have a panic attack, I'll be back in a moment'. I hid it, and kept it in, making it not only mentally more painful, but also physically more difficult for me. And because I have had to give up the opportunity, I am now riddled with guilt, believing that I have let other people down, and also myself.

I wish we could talk about this kind of thing more. For those of us with mental health problems, we are fighting a battle every day, and sometimes the little things are the most difficult tasks for us. As a society, why can't we make this easier on those who suffer with ill mental health? If I'd have gone in there today as a diabetic and needed insulin all of a sudden, no one would have batted an eyelid. But I felt I had to hide my true feelings, hide the battle I was fighting.

If you know someone with a mental health problem, be gentle with them, for they are fighting a battle you may not understand or know of. Small tasks can be daunting, so offer support where needed whilst also being mindful that they probably want their own independence. Recognise that when they cancel plans or rearrange things last minute that they are actually being strong recognising that they have reached a limitation for that day and they need to look after themselves. It takes strength and courage to say no or to ask for help.

Also, remember that if they do change/cancel/rearrange plans and what not, that they may be feeling guilty. It's something a lot of individuals with mental health problems have to struggle with and it can be upsetting - I often feel like a let down, a burden and a just a bit of a crap person. Reassure the individual that it's okay and that you understand they have to do what is best for their health. If they'd twisted your ankle you wouldn't expect them to come walking with you, and we need to look at mental health in the same way.

Let's work towards reducing the stigma. Let's fight towards allowing us with mental health problems to be proud of who we are, despite our illnesses, and to not let these define us. We should be able to speak up when we're struggling and to not be afraid to show who we really are. We are doing the best we can with the tools that we've got and that, I think, deserves a round of applause.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The reality of depression - DAW2016

This week is Depression Awareness Week, an annual event organised by Depression Alliance to try and get people talking about depression and raising awareness. You can read more about the week here. This year they are raising money for Friends In Need, which is a community set up by Depression Alliance as a supportive tool for those living with depression. I encourage you to visit their website and get involved if you, or someone you know, needs support.

Depression is something I have lived with on and off since my teens. It's something that a lot of my family and friends know I have, yet I rarely talk about the nitty gritty that it entails. Why? Well, because if I'm being completely honest, I don't feel I can. Talking about something that affects me so deeply and causes me dark thoughts can be uncomfortable to discuss with others and there's still so much stigma attached to depression. If I'm honest, by not talking about my experiences very openly, I've probably added to that stigma on several occasions.

In this blog though, I want to try and change that a little bit.

My depression is... relentless. That's probably the best word I can think of right now. It is enduring, and difficult and can become incredibly hard to manage sometimes.

There have been numerous occasions where I have cried for no apparent reason, and times where it has caused me to cry because of being overwhelmed by what life is throwing at me. It causes me to hide away from the world, turn my phone on silent and ignore everyone and everything. When I'm in the depths of a depressive episode, I completely zone out from life and have to take it five minutes at a time because anything else is just too much.

With this comes guilt. Heavy guilt. I worry that none of my friends like me, that my family can't cope with me, and that I don't deserve to have the things I am blessed with in life. I stop doing things like I normally would, like going out or even tidying the house and I feel bad for not keeping up appearances. This in turn causes me to feel more upset and depressed - it's a vicious cycle.

There's also the times where I'm so tired from the depression I feel I can't move my limbs. They're too heavy and it seems pointless to do anything. Everything seems hopeless and I struggle to muster any energy to move.

And many people forget the physical side to depression - having no appetite at all then wanting crap food the next. Laying awake half the night due to loud, noisy thoughts and then having to sleep during the day just to get through it. The aches and pains that seem to be all over your body.

It is exhausting.

So when someone tells me to pick myself up and just get on with things, I am often left feeling hurt and more alone. It is hard to explain my depression at the best of times, but when someone says something such as 'it's not so bad for you' and 'you're young, what have you got to be depressed about?' and things along that line, I find it hard bounce back from those remarks. Because what I am dealing with in my head is torture some days. A torture within my own mind. And I feel so alone in the battle.

People can forget I have depression now I'm out of hospital too, which makes it even harder. I still face a daily battle within my head, arguing with myself, arguing with the negative thoughts. On social media, I rarely, if ever, show that side to me as I want to focus on the things I have achieved rather than giving weight to those thoughts, but once in a while, I would love to just sit and talk about what's going on in my head and see the response people give me. And that is why I have written what I have today, to reflect the reality of my depression, how it affects me, and how it is a chronic illness that knows no boundaries.

Depression chooses anyone it wants to - regardless of age, gender, social status, etc. Anyone can feel the weight of the black cloud, and it can be scary and cause you to feel alone. It has left me tired and feeling defeated on many occasions, and at times I have lost so much hope I have wanted to put an end to those thoughts all together.

If you're reading this and have depression yourself, I want you to know  that you are not alone in your struggles. There are thousands of us living with this black cloud on a daily basis, and it takes strength to get out of bed when all you want to do is hide and hope for the ground to swallow you up. It takes courage to recognise you need help and to ask for it. And you should be proud of the battles you have overcome, no matter how small they may seem. There is always a reason to keep going, to not give up the fight, it's just a matter of finding it.

This week, during Depression Awareness Week, I'd like you to ask someone you know how they're REALLY feeling. Get the conversation going about mental health and find out if you're loved ones are really okay, and offer them support and direct them to charities such as Depression Alliance if they need help.

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly." — Richard Bach

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Doing nothing is a-okay.

Something I have been struggling with a lot recently is simply being.

Due to my mental health, I've been unable to work for a while now. It's something that I do miss and I hope to return back to soon, but since leaving hospital a couple of months ago, I've found I have more time on my hands, and for some reason, a lot of guilt too.

My partner works a full time job, works hard at what he does and has long days because of it. I'm proud of him, and if it weren't for him, I probably would find myself in a situation where I HAD to work very long hours myself, which, in conjunction with my mental illnesses, just wouldn't work out very well.

Ever since I was young, I've worked, and I've worked hard. I've had numerous jobs, and I've always done my best and worked as hard as I was capable of doing. My mental health has gotten in a way of most of jobs, and it's something I've gotten down about on numerous occasions, but this is the first time in my life where I have been deemed medically unfit to work without an idea of when I'll be returning to employment.

That means that I now have a lot of free time at home alone. When I first left hospital, I was grateful for this time. I got my house back to how I liked, I slept when I needed to and just took it day by day. Now, a couple of months has past and I often feel overwhelmed with guilt. Should I be doing even more around the house? Should I be working full time? How is this fair on my partner? It's become a bit of an endless torment and is something I have genuinely really struggled with. In fact, I've become annoying! I say to my partner most days 'I should be doing this...' and 'I really ought to do that...' when all my partner wants for me is to rest.

I've been doing some thinking and one thing I'm slowly starting to learn is that recovery is going to take me a long time and I need to work on not being so hard on myself.

My depression means I get tired more that most people, so I need more rest. My anxiety and OCD exhausts me, so it's important I have time to recuperate and rebuild my strength. My BPD can make it hard to juggle a lot of things at once, so having a basic routine is enough for me to be dealing with right now. But why can't I just accept I need time off? Time to have therapy, adjust to my medications, and take some time out from life?

I've decided to start challenging my thoughts a little, with some help from my partner. Instead of focusing on what I haven't done in a day, I'm trying to focus on what I have achieved. So if all I achieved one day is therapy, that's okay, because actually that's a pretty big thing and I need to rest afterwards. Other days I blitz clean the house, and that's more than enough because I'm keeping a lovely tidy home and managing to stay on top of it.

And then there are the days where my mental health becomes too much and all I manage is move from the bed to the sofa and watch Cinderella. And you know what? That's okay. I'm having to fight a battle that others aren't, and it's about time I accepted that and took some time out.

This week, I've managed to recognise more things I have achieved and it feels good to highlight them rather than concentrate on the fact that I'm not working and 'bringing home the bacon' right now. So for example, one thing I did this week was try out some yoga. It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time but just always made an excuse to not commit to. And I felt so good afterwards. Yeah, it may not benefit the home I live in, but it benefits my health and recovery and right now, that's what is important to keep check on.

So my message this week is to remind you - it's okay to do nothing.

Don't get me wrong - there is a balance that has to be found. Doing nothing all the time is probably not good for anyone. But taking time here and there, or even a little time each day, is perfectly acceptable. To simply do whatever your mind and body says and for you to not restrict it is so rewarding. So sit and watch a Walking Dead marathon. Or go for a walk. Or bake a cake. Or sleep. Do whatever it is that your body is crying out to do, and don't feel guilty for listening to it. 

I think this is something we all need to do from time to time. It's especially important if you're suffering with a mental illness, but actually we all need down time where we're kind to ourselves and just give ourselves some room to breathe.

My message is to not let you eat it up. I have done this for a long time, not accepted that I am fighting a battle others know nothing about, and instead felt guilty for having time out from life. But I'm slowly learning it's okay to do nothing. Just be.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016


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Saturday, 19 March 2016

My Secret, Trichotillomania.

When I was 10 years old, I told a lie.

I don't remember if anything had happened that day. Whether there was one big trigger or whether it was lots of little things. But that night, I laid in my bed and pulled and pulled and pulled my eyelashes out, literally nearly all of them. My eyes were sore but I was tired, and I was content when I fell asleep that night. It wasn't until the next day my lie begun. I didn't think any one would notice, but my family did. And that was when I said they must have fallen out.

I was 10, just a child. I thought that if I told my family what I'd done, I'd get told off, grounded, something taken away, whatever. That was how simple it was in my mind. And I decided that I wouldn't ever tell anyone my big secret. It would be something I would die with.

As my lie grew, I had to lie to professionals. I was taken for blood tests, specialist consultants, the works, each of them more baffled than the last as to why my lashes had fallen out. It was so scary, doing all these tests and being examined so much, when I knew the truth all along. But it had gotten so big now, that to tell the truth seemed even more worse.

I was diagnosed with alopecia aereta, a condition where only some of your body hair falls out. They said it had been brought on by stress. That second part is probably true, but I knew the diagnosis was wrong in my heart. And as a 10 year old, it became so difficult to carry on my shoulders. I didn't know if I was more ashamed of my lie or the fact that I was still pulling my lashes out consistently. Some days they'd all come out, others my hands were distracted enough not to pull too much. 

When I was 21, I confessed.

I didn't know how to tell my family. My mental health had gotten so bad that I broke down. I'd researched my pulling and knew now that it had a name - trichotillomania. So I told my mum by showing her a Wikipedia page about it on my phone.

I was so fortunate to have a family who understood. I didn't get told off, not even for the lie. They knew this was something I had carried in me for years, all throughout my adolescent life. And I was so tired now of lying. My pulling had gotten worse and I'd started pulling my eyebrows out too. I was so upset.

Trichotillomania, as defined by the NHS, is an impulse-control disorder where someone has the urge to pull their hair out. The most common places tend to be the hair on the head, eyelashes or eyebrows, but the urge can be to pull hair from anywhere. The individual has such a strong urge to pull the hair that they can become distressed if they're unable to, and after they do pull the hair, they feel a sense of relief.

There's different beliefs as to why people pull their hair out. Some say that it's a form of self-harm, others believe it is a form of OCD, and some suggest that it's an addiction. I personally think the reason is different dependant on the individual, and I would say that mine is linked to my OCD, however, I can't be certain on this.

It's hard to know how many people actually live with this condition, due to many sufferers feeling guilty, embarrassed and ashamed at their condition and therefore not wanting to 'come out' with it. The Guardian suggests it affects four in 100 individuals though. Whilst there are different treatments available, most research tends to suggest that sufferers will have the condition on and off for the rest of their life. Treatments tend to be therapies such as CBT and psychotherapy. 

If you have trichotillomania, I urge you to speak out. It can be such a horrible and chronic condition to live with, and the secret of keeping it to yourself can often feel too heavy to keep to yourself. There IS support out there, and whilst it can be hard to talk about, coming 'clean' about my trich was one of the best things I've done. Now, when I've had a particularly bad episode of pulling, I can speak about it to my partner and know that it's okay.

If you know someone living with trich, be there to support them. It can be a very lonely condition and one they feel ashamed to speak about. If they feel self conscious, help them to see there are ways it can be managed such as through therapy or temporary solutions such as wigs and fake eyelashes. I've found liquid eye liner works a treat for filling gaps!

Thanks for reading my story, hopefully we can raise some more awareness about this condition.

AG -x-

Further Information

NHS Choices - Trichotillomania
The Trichotillomania Learning Center
Trichotillomania Support Online
OCD UK - Trichotillomania
Anxiety UK - Trichotillomania

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Art of Self-Soothing

When I first heard the term 'self-soothe' I must admit I thought it sounded a little strange. This was something that babies learned to do, and I couldn't see how it would be beneficial to me as an adult. But then when reading about DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and how self-soothing was one of the therapy's Distress Tolerance strategies, I realised this could actually be beneficial to quite a lot of individuals.

Karyn Hall (2012) discusses in her article Self-Soothing: Calming the Amygdala and Reducing the Effects of Trauma that self-soothing is in fact a very basic, but important skill for our emotional and physical well-being. She talks in particular about soothing the amygdala, the part of our brain that triggers that flight or fight response that can, in some people, be over-active and cause panic attacks and subsequent anxiety disorders. But self-soothing isn't just good for those with personality and/or anxiety disorders - it can be beneficial to know how to self-soothe when you're feeling depressed, low, anxious, irritable, or overwhelmed too - emotions and feelings that I'm sure many of us have experienced.

So what does self-soothing look like?

In DBT, self-soothing looks at using one or more of the fives senses.

Self-soothing acts are normally physical acts, but can make us feel calmer, relaxed and happier for doing them. The great thing is is that there's so many ways you can self-soothe it's about finding what works best for you. Try and vary what senses you are using and see if one works particularly well for you.

Lisa Dietz ( suggests that we may find it difficult at first to self-soothe. We often find it easier to hurt or punish ourselves that we do to comfort ourselves and do something that causes pleasure. She suggests that by practising self-soothing techniques when you feel overwhelmed, anxious, low or generally needing some down-time, it will really help and that eventually you will become more skilled in self-soothing. 

Peter LEvine Self Soothing Exercise
Illustration by Heidi Hanson for Peter Levine's Self-Holding Exercises

This is something that Karyn Hall also talks about. When we create sensations or an environment that is relaxing (for example sitting in a hot bubble bath or drinking a nice cup of tea) then this can calm the body's alert system and as a result, allows our prefrontal cortex to think and plan again. 

There's so many awesome suggestions on the internet for self-soothing too. I asked some of you to share what you do to self-soothe and I had some lovely answers. I've shared these below:

  • "I sew, or make cards" - Karen H.
  • "When I'm anxious, I try and concentrate on deep breathing" - Carly D.
  • "Reading. Escaping into a world of fiction!" - Mark C. 
  • "Walking outside is great, even for 10/15 minutes. Even better if the sun's shining!" - Caroline E. 
  • "Paint my nails, use my favourite products, hold a soft toy..." - Joy I.
  • "Water is extremely calming for me... It's not about cleaning anything. I just take a bath, put my feet in a stream, or something of the like" - Ryan E. 
  • "[Focused] breathing from the belly not the chest" - Nicole S. 
  • "Bake!" - Cupcakes and Anxiety
I also really like these little images bursting to the seams with self-soothing ideas. They're great to print off and put up somewhere.

Build your own "emergency care wall." | 25 Things To Do When You're Feeling Down:

Make time for the things that make you feel good. | 25 Things To Do When You're Feeling Down:

Further Reading

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this post. :-)

Comment below with how you self-soothe. 

Much love,
AG -x-

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Furry friends & mental health.

It's a well-known fact that us British are a nation of pet - lovers. In fact, Petplan's 2011 Pet Census reports that there are 24 million pets in the UK - that's double the number of pensioners! But did you know that there is also evidence now that suggests pet ownership is scientifically proven to help our physical AND psychological health?

The Mental Health Foundation reports that pets, notably dogs, are great for depression and being a good motivator thanks to their need for regular exercise. There's also the fact they are a wonderfully non-judgemental companion, great to dampen feelings of loneliness. There is even evidence that pets, such as horses and dogs, can benefit children with autism through lessening sensory sensitivity. 

When I was in hospital, we even had a dog visit the ward who was a part of the Pets As Therapy scheme. It calmed me so much being able to stroke the silky Labrador that visited, and it reminded me of the fact that I had two little furry babies at home waiting for me to get well. Pets As Therapy is an organisation that works across the UK, and started in 1983. You can find out more about their wonderful work by clicking here.

For me, my two dogs, Monty and Pippa, have been my little rocks and it was them who inspired me to write this post. 

Left - Monty, Right - Pippa
Monty is 16 months old and is a spoilt little prince. He likes to pinch everything he shouldn't and loves nothing more than licking your face with his long tongue. My partner often ends up holding him on the sofa each evening like a baby and he'll end up making cute noises as he dreams of chasing Pippa. Pippa is 14 months old and a little darling. She listens to your commands and absolutely loves to play fetch and will growl at you until you throw her ball. She curls up in the tiniest of spaces to sleep next to you and loves a good belly rub.

When I am severely depressed and even having a shower is too difficult, and I am so scared of the world outside, these dogs still motivate me to go out. I have gone out in the pouring rain when it's the last thing I wanted to do, just because I knew that the dogs would be so much happier if I did. My dogs still need caring for, even when I'm depressed or anxious, and I love that I have little things that depend on me. It turns my focus away from myself and how I'm feeling and on to them instead. 

My dogs also know when I'm happy a panic attack. When I'm struggling to breathe or find myself becoming detached from reality, Monty is there with a ton of licks that ground me and bring me back down to earth. Pippa will stare and do this weird growl/whine at me as I pace the lounge, urging for me to stroke her. Even petting the dogs helps me to feel more grounded and more mindful.

There's also the exercise they give me too. Since having the dogs, both myself and my partner regularly take them on long walks through forests or on the beach. The dogs love exploring, and it has helped us as a couple get out of the house and explore more too. Before, I'd have seen a cloudy day and not wanted to leave the house, but now, I look forward to Sundays, wrapping up warm, getting my walking boots on, and driving somewhere to take the dogs on a long walk.

When I was in hospital, I missed my dogs desperately. I missed evening cuddles on the sofa, and waking up to their tails wagging in the morning when I came down the stairs. When I finally got leave to come home the first time, I saw how excited they were and could just tell how much they missed me. I have them to thank for giving me even more motivation to get out of hospital and their cuddles got me through the tough days when I was first discharged. 

Now I have them in my life, I can't picture not having them as a part of it. My dogs help me when I'm anxious, when I'm depressed, they even help me when I'm feeling relatively okay by just making me explore new areas around where I live. It is not also in how they help me literally, but also the fact that these two will never judge me. I will never come home to them shunning me, and they'll never discriminate against me for having mental health problems. All they want is unconditional love, and they will love me unconditionally too (except from when they have to have their worming treatment perhaps...). 

And that's what's wonderful about pets. Big or small, furry or smooth, loud or quiet. All they want is warmth, food, water and love. And if you can provide that for them, they will love you right back. You never have to worry about what your pet thinks of you, what they're saying behind your back, or them seeing you on a bad day. 

As part of my research for this blog post, I also asked my readers about their experiences of pets on their mental health. Below are a few stories as well as pictures of their furry friends (because we all love to coo over a photo!). 

Thanks to every one who shared their story with me, and sorry I couldn't feature you all, but I loved seeing pictures of our furry friends and reading how wonderful they are!

Thanks for reading and please do share your story in the comments about how a pet has helped your mental health. 

Much love,
AG -x-

Further Reading

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