Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Sometimes We All Need a Hand to Hold

It doesn’t matter who you are or how well things seem to be going, sometimes we all need a hand to hold. Someone to be there, to listen to our story, to let us let it out, let it go, let it flow.

It can be hard to trust someone enough to say, hey, actually I’m not doing too good right now, especially if you know they are busy or have issues of their own. But it’s important. That trust is important. It is not only trust in the other person, it is trust in our ourselves, in the belief that our pain matters too, that we matter too. To the other person and to ourselves.

Too often we hold back, hold it all inside, when all it might take is a little sharing to lighten the load enough for us to lift our heads and see the path ahead clearly again.

 

Originally posted March 23, 2014 on Facebook

Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

 

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Five Things You Should Be Doing during the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Aimee Wilson

When the virus was first being talked about on social media, I honestly thought it was a joke because Corona is a popular drink among many of my friends and family! And now look at the world! I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I started taking it seriously until things began closing and the supermarket shelves started to empty! In all honesty, I thought that people were just panicking for no reason and causing unnecessary drama.

Firstly, I don’t really pay much attention to current affairs; not because I’m ignorant. It’s just that I don’t see how worrying about something that either doesn’t concern me or that I can’t do anything about, is helpful to my mental health. Some people might think that makes me self-involved but feeling powerless is one of my triggering emotions and to hear of people starving and dying or their country being on fire, doesn’t help my safety and is there a whole lot of point in risking my safety for something I can’t change?

1. Your food shopping online

A lot of the biggest supermarkets in the UK; like Asda and Morrisons, allow you to do your grocery shopping on their website and then they’ll deliver it to your door! I think I’m going to end up doing this because my Support Worker is now unable to take me for my food shop and I get anxious doing it alone… but, of course, I still need the necessities!

2. Reading

There are a few sites making eBooks free at the moment in order to provide some form of entertainment for those who are self-isolating and a lot of libraries aren’t expecting their books back any time soon and won’t be implementing a fee for the delay. Also, if your local The Works is still open, they have a great choice of books that are 3 for £5 – absolute bargain!

3. Doing one random act of kindness per day

I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter recently purchasing an item from someone’s Amazon wishlist and I thought that was a brilliant idea! You could also send a nice email or even just a thoughtful gif or quote! Companies are also offering discounts and freebies for healthcare workers.

4. Hitting your Netflix list!

You finally have the chance to watch all of the TV boxsets and movies that have been piling up in your Netflix watch list! It isn’t just entertainment but also a good method of escapism – even just for an hour or so – to be able to think about something other than what is going on in the world!

5. Communicating

Keep in touch with friends, family, and any necessary professionals such as support workers, carers, GP etc. My community mental health team and Richmond Fellowship are stopping personal contact sessions and appointments, and so all contact is via telephone but that still provides me with the opportunity to talk and get support.

My thoughts at the moment are with the healthcare staff, emergency services, the elderly, those who can’t afford to stock up or panic buy, and people whose mental health conditions are exacerbated by the entire pandemic.

 

About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 29-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Her blog I’m NOT Disordered has over half a million readers.

Aimee’s first book, When All Is Said & Typed, is available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and in other regions.

 

Main photo by Lenin Estrada on Unsplash

 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Coronavirus: Why "Stay Home" Is Not a Safe Option for Everyone

The author has asked to remain anonymous.

At this time of nation-wide uncertainty, many of us are preparing to spend the foreseeable future isolated at home with our families, hoping to make the best of the situation surrounded by those we care about.

However, isolating at home can be a frightening prospect for those members of our community who do not feel safe at home. This includes people living with a loved one suffering from addictions such as drugs or alcohol, and those subjected to domestic violence. I have lived with an addicted partner and know first-hand how this impacted my quality of life, as well as that of his children. Anger and frustration used to lead to domestic violence issues worsening if he could not obtain what he wanted or persuade me to get things for him immediately.

Families are advised to isolate, and with good reason, but does this leave our vulnerable neighbours less likely to be taken in by those who are “socially distancing” from the rest of the community? I was extremely lucky during the time I was going through this. Despite pushing people close to me away, I am forever grateful to the friends and neighbours whose doors I could and did knock on – sometimes at all hours of the night – if I needed somewhere safe to hide. I worry this may not be available for others when we are all in lock down.

I also had the option of hiding in cafes and pubs if I didn’t want to disturb anyone. At times I would wander the streets or 24-hour shops to give myself time to think. I used to visit a local casino and pretend I was playing on the screen machines. I really didn’t have the money to play but took advantage of the free hot drink and sandwich that was available, when I had no financial means to buy basic things like food. These options are less available to people going through this now.

The coronavirus is clearly a threat to us all, but to those seeking safety from a violent partner, the threat is very much more real at those moments when they may need to flee the danger quickly. Will they, and possibly their children, have somewhere to go on the spur of the moment? These situations often occur suddenly without time for planning.

Uncertainty about jobs means there is also less opportunity to save money in order to plan to leave or get a break from the home situation by being at work. The same applies to children now that schools are closed. People at risk may also feel less able to reach out for help and support for fear of burdening the emergency services at a time when they are already struggling to cope with increased demand.

There have been suggestions of prisoners being released early from prison. This may shorten the period of separation and “relief” a partner may be relying on, either to provide valuable headspace or to facilitate plans to leave the relationship.

Maybe not everyone we see out in the streets is deliberately defying the government social distancing advice, and it’s easy for us to judge them without knowing their story. As we prepare to spend quality family time together, please spare a thought for those unfortunate enough to not have a safe place to call home.

Useful Links

SODA: Survivors of Domestic Abuse.

Gov UK: Find out how to get help if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse.

NHS: Domestic violence or abuse can happen to anyone. Find out how to recognise the signs and where to get help.

Women’s Aid: Information and support on domestic abuse.

Women’s Aid: Violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector statement on COVID-19

A message from CHILDLINE about support during the coronavirus outbreak

 

Saturday, 21 March 2020

How to Keep Well during the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Quinn Brown

Photo of Scarborough beach chalets by the author

As someone who suffers with crippling anxiety, it has unfortunately heightened due to the outbreak of coronavirus which is affecting pretty much the entire planet. But I have been finding ways to focus on things that are not coronavirus related. Here is what I did to help myself which could help anyone who is in the same boat.

  • Partake in some photography. I have a nephew who I have been using as my subject but you can also use objects or pets, whichever takes your fancy.
  • Put some calming music on. I’m a Motown / Marvin Gaye kind of guy myself so that type of music helps to relax me when my anxiety starts flaring up.
  • Talk to friends online or by phone. You can use apps such as Skype or Zoom or you can just use Messenger. Or if you want to hear a voice, a good old phone call is also good.
  • Indulge in a good book! I’ve been reading Dracula by Bram Stoker and it is a classic!
  • Blogging is one of my ways of venting about mental health and more so when my anxiety is rearing its ugly head. I use Wordpress for this and it’s really good!

I know not everyone is the same but the above is what I use to help me and sometimes I even do some gaming! Taking a long, relaxing bath is also a good way to relax. I could go on, the list is endless!

About the Author

My name is Quinn Brown. I am a trans man and I run my own LGBTQ-support group called seLGBTQ+ as well as helping my best friend and his wife run a mental health group called Talk Tonight Selby.

You can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Coronavirus: How to Look after Your Wellbeing in Uncertain Times

There is a huge focus right now on the physical symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and how the virus will affect our day-to-day lives, but our mental health is important too. The following tips will help you, your friends and family look after yourselves and each other.

Stay Informed

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the coverage and statistics from around the world. It’s ok to take a break from news and social media if you need to but don’t totally lose touch with what’s happening and how it might affect you. Use reputable sources you trust to stay up to date. I have included a few links at the bottom of this article.

Stay Connected

At times like this it’s important to look out for each other. Check in with friends, family, and neighbours who might appreciate support or practical help. If you or they are self-isolating or unable to visit in person use the telephone or social media. No one is too far away to be cared for, or to care.

Stay Honest and Open

Involve your children and family in what’s going on and why things may be different from normal. Ask if they have any concerns or questions and answer as honestly as possible in an age-appropriate way. It’s ok to admit you don’t have all the answers.

Stay Focused

These are difficult and uncertain times but try and see this as a new period in your life that will pass, and make the best use of it you can. Focus on things that will support your health and wellbeing, especially if you have to self-isolate for a time.

Stay Safe

If you need support don’t be too embarrassed or proud to reach out to friends and family, or to professionals including your doctor, other professionals, or a helpline.

Links and Information

Here is a selection of websites and articles to help you support yourself and others through these times.

Coronavirus Overview (NHS)

UK helplines and support groups (NHS)

Looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak (Mental Health Foundation)

If coronavirus scares you, read this to take control over your health anxiety (Guardian)

Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health (BBC)

You can find further helplines and support organisations on our Resources page.

 

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

How to Use a Spreadsheet for Wellness and Self-Care

I rarely feel the need to record my self-care habits, but from time to time I find it helpful to monitor things a little more closely.

For the past ten days Fran has been staying with a friend in Arizona, after which she will visit another friend in Florida. Apart from a few days in between, she will be away from home for almost six weeks.

Although we stay in touch, vacations inevitably mean we are less in contact than usual, which can be hard on us both. I’ve also had a few things going on in my personal life that have affected me deeply. At such times it’s is all too easy to slip into feeling low, so based on my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) I decided to use a wellness tracker to keep me in touch with healthy practices and activities.

My Wellness Tracker Spreadsheet

I first tried this back in 2013 when Fran took an extended trip around Europe. On that occasion I used a Google Docs spreadsheet and recorded brief notes about what was happening each day, how much exercise (walking) I did, any creative work such as working on our book, any reading I did (what book and for how long), and whether or not I meditated. This time I’m using an Excel spreadsheet to capture the following information on a daily basis: notes, mood, weight, eating, reading, exercise, creativity, water, and vitamins. Let’s look at these in more detail.

Notes

I use the notes column to record key events or feelings from the day.

Mood

I decided to record how I am feeling three times each day: first thing (plotted in blue), midday (orange), and evening (grey) using a six-point scale:

[5] Really good
[4] Baseline / positive
[3] OK
[2] Flat
[1] Low
[0] Struggling

I have written previously about what I mean by feeling flat.

Weight

I weigh at home each evening and track my weight in a separate spreadsheet (Fran and I have tracked our respective weights now for more than seven years) but I decided to include it in my wellness tracker to see how it relates (or doesn’t) to how I’m doing generally.

Eating

I have included two checks to help keep me on track and avoid any tendency to emotional eating (I am aware I tend to eat less if I’m feeling anxious). I record whether I ate healthily during the day; during the week this means yoghurt or porridge for breakfast and soup or a wrap for lunch. (Evening meals at home are generally healthy.) I mostly want to reinforce positive behaviours and activities, but I have a strong tendency to eat supper late at night. This is unhealthy for me and almost guarantees a gain in weight the following day. Including this in my spreadsheet holds me accountable and means I get to “fess up” to myself if I choose to indulge.

Water

This serves as a useful reminder to drink at least one large mug of water (approx 500 ml) each day in addition to my coffee, rooibos tea — and beer!

Vitamins

I take multivitamins plus minerals, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, and vitamin D tablets — when I remember to! Adding them to my tracker spreadsheet encourages me to take them first thing in the morning.

Reading

I enjoy reading but find it hard to settle into it at home. My best time for reading is on my lunch break at work, so this tracker serves as a reminder to do so. I have been reading an excellent book recommended by a friend: I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality, by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus.

Exercise

As I have written elsewhere, walking has played an important role in my life for as long as I can remember, so much so that it was one of the first things I included in the wellness tools section of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). I take a walk after dinner most evenings, either to the local store for groceries or a leisurely wander around the neighbourhood.

Creativity

This tracker reminds me to consider some creative pursuit in my day, which usually involves writing or editing posts for our blog. This is in addition to keeping up to date in my personal journal, which I have kept for over four decades.

Observations and Conclusions

I’ve only used the checklist for a few weeks but it’s proving useful in a number of ways. I’m used to exploring my thoughts and feelings in my journal but this is the first time I’ve explicitly tracked my mood over time. I hadn’t realised how variable it can be throughout the day, how rarely it holds steady for more than a couple of days, and how quickly it bounces back after a setback if I don’t get in its way. It’s also interesting to note that my midday mood is much more stable than either morning or evening.

There’s something of a correlation between my mood and my weight, in that my weight came down during the first week when I was struggling a good deal emotionally. I think that’s largely because I’d started the tracker and was paying attention to what I ate, although as I mentioned earlier I tend to eat less when I’m anxious or stressed. As my mood stabilised my weight increased again. I think I allowed myself to overindulge in response to feeling better, especially with my late-night snacks. Not a healthy response!

My mood is closely tied in with what’s happening in my life, especially in my key relationships. This isn’t news to me (or my close friends) but the tracker has brought it into clearer focus. There’s nothing wrong with “feeling what I feel” of course, as long as I don’t take it out on those around me.

All in all, using my wellness tracker spreadsheet has helped keep me on track with healthy behaviours and highlighted areas to focus on in the future.

As I finish this article, Fran is on her way back from Arizona. It will be great to see her for a few days before her next trip, but I find I’m curious to see how things will go — for her and for me — over the next couple of weeks when she is away again. Whatever happens, I will be tracking things closely and paying attention to my self-care.

Do you track your mood and self-care in any way? If you’d like to write about your experiences with wellness tools, check our guest blogger guidelines and get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Talking to Your Children about Mental Illness

By Daniel Wittler

We are starting to shine the light on mental illness in America. It’s always loomed and people have been aware of its existence but unfortunately there is a stigma with it as well. The problem with stigmas is that it can hinder people who are suffering heavily from seeking help or admitting it to anyone.

The worst thing for a person with a legitimate mental illness to do is try to handle it by themselves. The stigma needs to be eliminated. How can we as a country eliminate that stigma? By teaching our younger generations about mental health issues in a healthy way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that:

  • 4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 4.5 million) have a diagnosed behaviour problem
  • 1 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety
  • 2 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression

While the numbers are staggering, they are there and represent a good number of children in our country. Even if your kids aren’t diagnosed with anything, it is inevitable that they will have someone suffering from mental illness in their life throughout school or into college. Arming your kids with the facts before they move out of your house can prove to be extremely beneficial.

Of course, there are few better things in life than showing our children all the good things life has to offer, but it is imperative to show them the dark realities as well. It’s difficult to navigate but should be treated very seriously.  

Do Your Research

There are a lot of opinions on mental health which produces a lot of misinformation. Getting your information from official websites is an important move when doing some research before talking to your children. Some high quality resources include:

  • SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
  • AACAP (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

You don’t need a PhD in mental health to have a talk with your kids about it, but you want to be armed with the facts. Misinformation can go a long way for a kid who is young and soaking everything up around them.

Planting the Seed

Remember, when deciding to first talk to your kids about mental health, you are just opening up the avenue for discussion. Specifics are not necessary and you can stay surface level at first.

Some other tips to remember:

  • Keep it simple and straightforward
  • Make sure to catch your child at a good time, if they are having a bad day or not in a good mood then it’s probably not the best time
  • Stay aware of body language and reactions, let it navigate your discussion
  • Make the information easy to process for your child, getting to in depth may not affect them, but it can confuse them

Once the initial discussion has happened it’s up to you as a parent to carry on the conversation in the future. This isn’t a one-time thing, it’s completely opening up a discussion with your kids about deeper personal issues that you should carry on the rest of your lives. If your kids are growing and feeling different than their peers in a negative way, they need to know it’s okay to voice that concern to their parents.

By starting the discussion of mental illness you can later begin to discuss things like drug addiction with your kids. Addiction and mental illness are a common thing in this country these days, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Mental illness can completely dominate someone’s life if left untreated. Since we have become more aware of its prevalence, we now know that it can start at a young age. Only you as parents can gauge your child’s behavior and overall mood.

If you feel something isn’t right with your children then it’s time to look into it. Opening up a conversation is the first step into tapping into the state of their mental health.

About the Author

Daniel Wittler is a writer in recovery and mental health advocate. He has been living with depression since he was a teenager and has found ways to live and thrive with it. Daniel is a regular contributor to Pax Memphis.