We have lift off

Last week’s course at the Elsie Whiteley Centre was great. That place is fantastic by the way, very much recommend if you need a meeting / training / coworking location in Halifax. They looked after me very well and the cafe is lovely and good value.

Not only did I get to meet a lovely group of people from varied backgrounds (Firefighter to primary school teacher) – and introduce them to the simple tenets of Mental Health First Aid – which hopefully they can now go away and use in supporting others, but also understanding their own mental health, but I also covered my costs. Yay! That’s a win, at this early stage of my freelance endeavour.

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As always, the people in the group brought their experiences to bear on the material we discussed, and I learnt many things myself.  Not least of which was not to have the celebratory drink until after the second day of training… Oh well, it was my first day.

Now my attention turns to getting the next few courses off the ground. I have a couple of people waiting but need a few more before I can confirm. So if you are interested please get in touch! I’m more than happy to answer any questions you have about the courses.

Coming up :

MHFA Lite (A basic introduction to Mental Health Awareness)
— Leeds – 4th October, 1pm – 5pm
— Hebden Bridge 9th October, 1pm – 5pm

Mental Health First Aid (Two Day First Aider course)
— Leeds – 10th/11th October, 9am – 5pm
— Hebden Bridge – 12th/13th October, 9am – 5pm

MHFA Higher Education (One Day Mental Health Champion Course_
— Leeds – 25th October, 9am – 5pm

You can read more about each course, (and book online if you want) on the Eventbrite pages here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/sarah-long-14624952023 or contact me about discounts/ other forms of payment.

Do also let me know if you are interested but a) can’t make these times/places, or b) might have difficulty with costs. I’m considering where and when to go next at the moment so open to suggestion, and I have some flexibility with places once a minimum number of bookings are received.  I need to pay my rent eventually of course, but I also want to make the course as accessible as I can within reason.

I’m also thinking of developing some non-MHFA branded training down the line, which I will have even greater flexibility with. There is always so much more I would like to say!

 

 

Mental Health Awareness – A good thing?

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I’ve been observing a few conversations recently about whether the rise of Mental Health Awareness campaigns and training are a good thing. It’s interesting and a bit puzzling to me, so I’ve been giving it some thought.

I think the crux of the argument for many is that what is needed most is more / better mental health services. A sentiment with which I absolutely agree. Presumably some people feel that the money and energy focused on awareness should / would otherwise be directed into the improvement/increase of service availability. For me that is too simplistic. A bit like the Brexit £350m for the NHS idea. It was never going to happen but it’s attractive to think that money going a place you don’t like will easily be redirected to fix something you prefer.

Fixing Mental Health Services is about more than money – fixing health services is about more than money. (Which is not to say money isn’t needed) To recruit more staff, more staff need to go into appropriate training – and therein we have a whole other set of problems to do with the financing of and access to higher education,  questions about whether the current training model is right, or whether more pathways might be helpful. While many people involved in mental health awareness work are professionals in one sense or another, a great many more are not – are volunteers, and often get involved out of their own lived experience of mental ill health.

So much of the resource aimed at mental health awareness is not taking away from anywhere else. I got into Mental Health First Aid training, and other forms of mental health support/advocacy entirely voluntarily through my workplace, seeking to support colleagues, and to make that workplace more understanding and supportive of people experiencing mental ill health. Something I knew was important because of the problems I had experienced over many years of trying to manage my own mental health – struggling to navigate the sickness absence policies, learning about reasonable adjustments, and having to educate a string of line managers about how they could help me to stay in work and deliver of my best for the organisation. I’m a Librarian. It fits for me – to help people to find and use the information they need to improve their situation.

I think Mental Health Awareness work can help ease the strain on Mental Health Services – though maybe not in the first instance, over time, increased mental health literacy should pay dividends.

We can ask the question – who is it that we want to become (more) aware of mental health? And why?

  1. Individuals experiencing mental ill health of one form or another, who do not recognise it for what it is, – who are in distress, and do not realise that there may be help out there which would mean that distress could be lessened or overcome.

One problem, of course is that increasing awareness in this way, helping people to recognise their own symptoms as being of an illness, (in exactly the way we try to teach people to spot signs of cancer, diabetes, etc. so that they can receive treatment, and hopefully increase chances of recovery) – they will seek that help and in doing so increase demand on already overloaded systems.

However. That is presuming that the only thing that can help all people with mental ill health is official, – medicines or therapy administered by a mental health professional.  There are some, especially dealing with more severe and enduring conditions, for whom that may be true. But many more can find other forms of relief, once they understand what is going on for them, and explore the myriad of coping strategies out there that do not involve medication or formal therapy.

If, through mental health awareness programmes of one kind or another – a person comes to recognise their issues, and takes stock of their life to see if there is anything they could do to reduce stressors, or find something to help them deal with stressors they have no control over. Who make adjustments to their life and behaviours (diet, exercise, alcohol, caffeine, drugs, talking to friends, reaching out to peer groups, reading to learn about their conditions, meditation, mindfulness, creativity, etc….) and find some relief. Some of those people will find that their condition improves, so they don’t need to draw on services.

Ditto – some people who have not yet experienced mental ill health can learn more about the kinds of things that can affect it, build their resilience – so that they see problems emerge earlier and manage to see them off at the pass, before they develop into more serious issues that would otherwise have needed support.

I stress – this won’t be possible for everyone. But understanding your condition earlier, and feeling less embarrassed and stigmatised about it, means you are more likely to seek help earlier, which increases the likelihood of some form of recovery over time. And if some people are able to help themselves more, and don’t need to use services, then those services will have more capacity for those who have no option, and need that level of support.

2. Other people – the public, employers, family members

When you have a mental health condition, and you live it every day, you cannot help but be aware of it. (So long as you recognise it, as above). But if you don’t – if you’ve never experienced mental health related symptoms to the extent that they interfere with your life, unfortunately it can be difficult to empathise. To really understand what clinical depression means, or anxiety. The media and society has a perverse way of both trivialising and sensationalising mental health. When someone is on disability benefits due to anxiety or depression, the tone is critical, as if it is absurd to think that might be genuine, yet if someone sadly commits an offence, and their mental health history becomes known – they are pilloried and in this case it is a question of, well, it should be expected from “people like this”.  Even in doing mental health training, I’ve had people tell me to be careful, “they” can be dangerous.  I don’t think they include me in “they”, though I share the same diagnoses and experiences as the people they are talking about.

I will give people the benefit of the doubt they don’t give others. Emotions and feelings are strange, and we have a strange attitude towards them. In most cultures, not just my own. You base your opinions of the world and what is true on your own experiences and learning and if you have never experienced a state of mind which is so overwhelming that it gets in the way of your ability to get on with your life in other ways – it might be tempting to think that it can’t be true. That others are exaggerating. It’s not nice to think that that depth of suffering might be real, that such pain might be possible and yet not visible. However. That state of ignorance is what fuels stigma, discrimination and prejudice, and both makes life more difficult for people with mental health difficulties, and makes it less likely that they will seek the help they need. So we must try to educate, and make people aware of the reality.

Because just as other people’s attitudes can make things significantly worse – (especially family, partners, employers) – they have the power to help. If we can turn it round, and make sure that people understand, and are open to learning more, and doing things differently to support the person in distress – then we can revolutionise our communities and change things for the better.

That’s why I believe MHFA is a great programme, and I really want to make it work to be able to carry on having conversations, challenging prejudice and misinformation, helping people to help themselves, and those around them.

 

 

Mental Health in the LGBTQ+ Community

This last week has been Happy Valley Pride in Hebden Bridge – a celebration of our LGBTQ+ community and families. Yesterday was the “Big Day Out” – a day of music and cabaret, and a disco in St George’s Square. It was a lovely uplifting day. (Spoiled a little for me by overindulgence but more on that another time)

The past month of Pride events are a marker of how far equality as regards sexuality and gender have come in the past fifty years in the UK. Others across the globe are not so free or fortunate, and indeed the rolling back of some laws and progress in the US reminds us that hard won rights are not irreversible and the fight goes on.

Even in our relatively progressive society, the impact of generations of prejudice, discrimination and taboo can be seen in the fact that there are huge inequalities in all sorts of outcomes such as health and education for LGBTQ+ people. A few selected statistics from the LGBT Foundation and other show a picture in need of much work:

Over 50% of young gay people have self harmed in the last year, compared to between 1 in 15 and 1 in 10 of the general population.
LGB people are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide, and two to three times more likely to have depression.
Prevalence of eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community could be around 1 in 5 or 20%,

There are similar disparities relating to physical health – and variations within the communities, which show it is far from a simple picture. Many people have experienced bullying in school, homophobia and hate crimes in later life. People go to seek help from doctors and are faced with prejudicial or inappropriate attitudes. Even with a more accepting society, young people who come to realise they are not straight, or that their gender identity is not that which they have been assigned at birth – can have a difficult time as they grow to adulthood. Adolescence is hardly a cake walk for anyone – but processing your identity in a world which assumes you to be a way that you are not, figuring out how you feel about it, fearing that others will reject you because of it – and in some cases being right. It is an extra load of strain in life that can leave its traces. And something which can stop you from having the kind of supportive relationships with parents and friends that might otherwise help you to deal with the stresses and strains of figuring out how to have adult relationships.

There are lots of reasons why anyone can develop a mental health problem – lots of possible explanations, biological, hereditary, biochemical, experiential – but it is certain that increased stressors, discrimination and lack of support lead to increased risk of ill health. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have taken drugs, and there is a high prevalence of binge drinking and smoking. I remember a discussion on this issue in university – different angles being the use of substances to self medicate and deal with depression, anxiety, isolation etc., but also the observation that the “gay scene” is in most cities heavily dependent on pubs and clubs. If you want to make like minded friends, and potentially meet a romantic or sexual partner, it’s likely going to be through going out drinking. Some areas may now be better served, and the youth of today in those areas may have a more “normal” experience of growing up than LGBTQ+ youth of twenty years ago, but we cannot kid ourselves that the problems have all been solved.

Those of us who feel the importance of this issue, can try to do what we can to keep progress moving, and be vigilant and not allow rights to be stripped back, for the sake of generations to come. If we want to help reduce the disparity between the experience of young LGBTQ+ people and everyone else, a good place to start is by increasing our understanding. Both of the issues faced by, and relating to LGBTQ+ people, and of mental health in general. Admit what you don’t know, what you don’t understand – find out more, listen to those whose experiences are different from yours, and ask questions. Read, learn, and be a part of making the world a place where everyone can be who they are, love who they love, without it meaning they are destined to have a greater incidence of mental ill health, suicide or self harm.

Mental Health Courses in Halifax

I am delivering two training courses at the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre in Halifax:

MHFA Lite – Half day Introduction to Mental Health
Tuesday 29th August 2017 1pm-5pm Edit – unfortunately I have had to cancel this session – but there are others in Leeds & Hebden Bridge in October (see booking pages below)

MHFA Lite is a basic introduction to mental health, ideal if you are new to the topic and want to understand a bit more. We all have mental health – learn how it can be influenced by various factors, and what can help us to stay well. Do you understand what is really meant by “depression”, “anxiety” or “psychosis”? Would you know the signs of mental ill health if you saw them in a friend, family member, or employee? This course is a good place to start.

Book online here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/sarah-long-14624952023
or email me about discount places for students / benefit recipients.

Mental Health First Aid – Two Day Course
14th & 15th September 2017 9am-5pm

For a more in depth look at these issues, and the opportunity to learn techniques to support others experiencing mental ill health and help people towards recovery – the two day course is ideal. Become a “Mental Health First Aider” and be a part of a movement that aims to increase understanding of mental health, help us all improve our own wellbeing and build workplaces and communities where we are better prepared to help others.

Book online here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/myevent?eid=36397081651
Email me for discount rates for students / benefit recipients.

More information to help you decide between the courses can be found in my previous blog post – here:  Which course is right for you? 

 

 

Who should do MHFA? Part 1: Barbers, Hairdressers, Beauticians…

I got married a few years ago. If you’ve met me or my husband we might have mentioned it. It was awesome. Stressful, scary, and really hard work, but awesome. There are lots of things mental health related that I could talk about from that day, and the period before and after, but one thing I learnt was about the value of self care, and that getting your nails done is not necessarily just getting your nails done.

I’ve never really spent a lot of money on my appearance. Don’t have a lot of money to spend, but even if I did I never really saw the point of some of the things “ladies” will do to themselves in the name of glamour. But seeing as I was going to be the centre of attention, I started to give a bit more thought and preparation into my scruffy self. And I learnt something.  Not only did have nice hair and nails and a lack of a moustache make me feel a bit better about myself, a little boost (because I’m worth it) – fewer prompts for the demons in my head to say “God, look at your hair, you can’t even look after yourself”, but also that the interaction with the stylist, beautician, nail technician – could be healing in itself.

Forced to spend this short space of time with a person, you get to talking. Many people in these professions are skilled already in the art of talking. And it is an art. And in getting people to talk to them. The ubiquitous “Going anywhere nice this year” – is quite a well crafted question. Not only is it something few people would feel awkward talking about, but it’s also something that you will usually be looking forward to and talk about with enthusiasm. Even if the answer is no – you can then talk about where you went last. But actually I found the conversations ran deeper than that. Possibly because when asked what I did, it prompted discussion of mental health, or the health service. But whatever the case, we got on to all things, relationships with parents / family / partner, illness, politics. It was almost therapy. In fact if I ever do finish qualifying as a counsellor I am definitely going to learn how to do nails too so I can offer a value added service. Maybe.

So while at first glance, you might not think someone working down the local salon would have much call for learning about mental health, or what help is available, or how to help someone who’s in distress – actually, they could be exactly the thing for hairdressers, beauty therapists, nail technicians, etc. and barbers.  Barbers especially – being one of the only places where a man will go and look after himself. Men are notoriously bad at seeking help – with physical health even, so imagine what they – you – are like about mental health. But they get their hair cut, or their beards tended to sometimes. So there’s an in. The story below shows a wonderful bunch of Barbers who get it – who have started to try and make a difference. Get people talking, creating safe spaces where it feels OK to say, no, actually I’m not OK. Things are a bit rubbish at the moment.

http://metro.co.uk/2017/07/31/meet-the-brber-whos-turning-barbershops-into-safe-spaces-for-men-to-talk-about-mental-health-6819146/

 

If you see someone regularly, but not every day – you can notice more easily sometimes when people are not themselves. Or maybe they don’t turn up, when it’s usually every week. And finding a way to say – “Are you OK mate? You seem a bit down” – might

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image by flickr user fernando barber – CC BY 2.0 license

 

 

 

help them enormously. You being someone neutral, not family, not doctor – might make it less intimidating to talk a little, and give voice to feelings they have been bottling up.

Men are more likely to self medicate with drink or drugs, than go to the doctors and talk about anxiety or depression. Men are also more likely to die from suicide. We really need to talk about Kevin. And Steve, and Mark, and Sandeep, and Joe, and Mohammed, and …

So if you want to help but are not sure you understand things enough, or where to start – Mental Health First Aid training can help:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/sarah-long-14624952023

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Image by flickr user Nick Kenrick CCBY 2.0 License

Jagged Little Pill

There’s a box downstairs full of pills.

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Having been assured that my leg is not broken (I will trust her, I will trust her, I will…) and discussed the continual waves of anxiety that has been brought on by each possibility of a physical ailment, my doctor and I talked options.

I have two leaflets to self refer to counselling, assured the waiting list is not as bad as it was last time (11 months – we’ll see!). I meant to go for counselling before I left work, for confidence issues and health anxiety but I didn’t get it organised in time. So I will follow it up. It would be good to talk about things before my mood shifts again – hopefully for the better, but with a big perilous risk of worse given the uncertainty of the coming months.

Neither of us wanted me to go back on the hefty dose of Venlafaxine I was on before I came off it about 6 years ago.  It made me sleep for 16 hours, and destroyed any residue of a libido my deep depression left me with. 16 hour sleep is not great for full time working…  And if I’m depressed at all at the moment it is because of the anxiety and insomnia which comes with it. So the anxiety is the thing – and I came away with a tentative, very low dose prescription for Trazodone – a tricyclic antidepressant (an older type of drug than the newer SSRIs like fluoxetine / citilopram). One I’ve not had before. She said this also could make you drowsy, dry mouthed.

She didn’t push them upon me, they were an option.  I filled the prescription and intended to start them that night. But then of course, I had to read the side effects. And think about whether I need to be having severe drowsiness right now, when I am trying to focus my attention on building up this little enterprise of mine.  She asked if I needed a sick note. I laughed, as for the first time, I’d have no one to give it to. And wouldn’t have anyway really at the moment. I’ve never taken lengthy periods off sick with my mental health. I’ve had problems with episodic / short term sick when things were at there worst, before I got more of a handle on my triggers and risk factors. A lot of which came because of the aforementioned side effects of the medication. I had to come off the meds, and feel worse, to stay in work.

I sometimes think I should have taken the option to have a longer period to recover – for myself, but also because I think my absence might have highlighted to my employer the sheer volume of work I was tackling, which no doubt contributed to my problems – and maybe they would have addressed it.  But probably not. Time off just meant work would be mounting up and a pile of problems building up to welcome me back. So it was counterproductive.

So no sick note for me right now.

But a box of pills. Which I keep picking up and looking at. And thinking about.

What happens if I am allergic? What if I get palpitations / arrhythmia? (I get palpitations anyway with my panic attacks) What if I forget and have a drink? Can I stay off the drink? Maybe if I were not drinking the anxiety would subside anyway…. Maybe I should go sit in the hospital and take the first pill so I am in the right place if there is a problem? What if I fall asleep in the hospital?

Of course if I just take the pill, the above paragraph might just fade away, and I would stop worrying. But that means taking the pill. And what if…

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) – which course(s) are right for you?

I’ve just started scheduling courses, so thought I would write something to help people decide which course would be most suitable for their needs.

MHFA England have a range of options, which is constantly being developed – other countries have other options, which hopefully we may catch up with at some point. In order to become an instructor you have to do a 7 day training course, which will qualify you for one of the core areas – Adult, Youth, or Armed Forces. You need to do additional training to take on additional areas. (Nb. For more information on Youth / Armed Forces versions please see MHFA England)

Within each area, there are (or will be) a few different options, which, again, the trainer will have had specific, additional training to be able to deliver.

I am an approved MHFA – Adult – Instructor, at present I can offer the following courses:

Mental Health First Aid – Adult – Two day course
(This gives full Mental Health First Aider status)
MHFA “Lite” – Adult – Half day course
(A basic introduction to mental health)
Mental Health First Aid – Higher Education – One Day Course
(Giving “Mental Health Champion” status, with additional content regarding issues for staff and students in universities)

They are hopefully launching a standard adult one day course later in the year which I will look to add to my portfolio.

So – which should you do? All have different time and cost commitment so it’s useful to think about what you want to get out of it.  If you are looking for just your personal interest, then the outlines below should help you to choose. If you are looking from an organisational perspective, thinking about rolling out some kind of mental health training in your workplace, the answer is “All of them”.  (And I’m not just saying that to get your business!)

Different people in your organisation may have different needs so it is good to have a structured approach.  Everyone will benefit from the basic awareness given by MHFA Lite, and you should definitely have some people in your organisation who are fully trained Mental Health First Aiders. Sometimes organisations send their senior staff or HR Leads, but actually the most sensible approach might be to think who is most likely to be able to offer support? Line Managers, Union reps, members of staff networks, security staff, receptionists / front line staff. All might be more likely to be the one who has the first opportunity to support someone in distress. However – I also really recommend that senior managers and HR colleagues do attend – the “Mental Health Champion” level might be most appropriate for them, and is something every larger team or branch within an organisation would benefit from. At present this is aimed at people in Higher Education, but would be interesting and useful for anyone wanting more that the Lite offering. I think it is important for some senior staff, and HR staff to undertake this level or above, as at the end of the day they are the ones who shape an organisation’s attitude towards Mental Health (and other disability) – I have seen situations where individual line managers or team leaders are trying their best to help and support employees with mental health difficulties, only to be hampered by inflexible and insensitive lines from above, refusal to consider or approve reasonable adjustments, hard line sickness and lateness policies, lack of employee support offerings. This course helps open people’s eyes – firstly to the reality of what diagnoses like “anxiety” or “depression” actually mean, and, if the human / compassion angle is not enough – the very real business benefit to supporting employees with mental health issues (and indeed other disabilities) to be able to stay in work, and perform to the best of their abilities.

What is the difference between the different courses?

Continue reading “Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) – which course(s) are right for you?”

Down to earth with a bump

Life is full of little surprises. Banana skins. Obstacles.

Back at work we would groan each time a manager told us how exciting the “challenges ahead” were. Usually of course meaning more work, less staff or money. Such is life.

But we try our best to plan, to avoid unnecessary problems, give ourselves the best chance to do well or achieve the outcomes we desire. Sometimes we are lucky. And I do think it is just that. I don’t think that if your plans don’t work out, it is always because you didn’t plan well enough. I really don’t. Of course sometimes yes, you come away realising what you should have done differently, what didn’t go quite right. But nine times out of ten I think the sneaky SNAFU that messed it all up is just mischeivous fate hiding behind a door, ready to trip you up.

Quite literally, in my case.

I am writing towards the end of my third month after taking redundancy from my “full time” employer. I always intended to give myself few months off, do decompress, and find my feet – recover somewhat from the stress of the last few years. I had such lovely plans for those months off. I was going to get fit, finish writing my best seller, walk every day, paint, and generally be an all round renaisance woman.

But it didn’t quite work out that way. Firstly, some minor surgery I had been waiting on, was suddenly scheduled, much sooner than I expected. Before, in fact, I finished work. Meaning that my carefully crafted plans for finishing stuff up and handing over were also messed up. But then came recovery – which didn’t run smoothly, a minor infection and strange reactions really put the wind up me. Woke a sleeping demon that I had sensed, sometimes, lurking below the surface of my thoughts. “Health anxiety”. Is it just a nice way of saying hypochondria? Or is that different. I don’t think I have every illness. But if something seems feasible, possible, I want to know if that is it. Especially if it is dangerous – so that I can be sure if I, and the health professionals looking after me – are doing what we should be doing to stave off, you know, death.

I have flashbacks to the surgery. Or more accurately, the spinal anaesthetic. Which was horrible, but really mainly because I was so very scared and alone. Not literally. The surgical team and anaesthetist team couldn’t have been better. But no husband, mother, friend there to reassure. The poor nurse probably needed surgery herself for broken metatarsals after I squeezed her tiny hand so much.

They gave me a mild sedative, and it turned out I slept through the surgery anyway. That was the best bit! Never mind that someone was rooting about in my innards. I was calm. Afterwards the waiting, the body figuring out how to respond to the afront it experienced. I was desperately cold for a while, shaking. Had to be given some blankets, while I waited in recovery. Then up to the ward. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be going home that day or not. The surgeons and nurses at various points had said “we’ll keep you in if there are any problems” – so of course the fact they didn’t come to discharge me made me worry – what is the problem? I’m not sure there was much of one. My blood pressure was low for a while. But in honesty being in hospital reassured me – I’d rather have been there if anything went wrong, than at home. Though of course hospital has its own risks.

Such as infection – and it emerged after a few days back at my parents that I seemed to have an infection, which a nurse gave me antibiotics for, along with some exciting pain killers which were more fun than the ibuprofen I had been coping with. However a couple of days later I had a strange turn, where I nearly passed out and was weak and faint – and was taken to A&E in an ambulance.  We were (I was) worried about sepsis of course. The paramedic had enough doubt to warrant taking me in, so I don’t feel too guilty. But several hours and many tests later, we were no wiser.  They eventually rolled out the anxiety card, and I felt all round stupid. I dread to think what was really in the minds of my parents and husband that I had put through all manner of worry.

I know – I really, really, know – that anxiety manifests in very physical ways. I’ve been there before. But part of me always worries that if I don’t take it seriously, one day I will regret it – that twinge was not the result of too much stress and too little sleep, rather it was the beginning of a heart attack. Or that if I do take it seriously, and go to the doctor with it – they just check my record, see my mental health issues, and assign everything down to that.

Anyway. Of course there was anxiety there. But I am not convinced that was the whole story. Low blood sugar perhaps, which responded to the adrenaline of the ambulance ride. In any case I stopped taking the fun pain killers. Finished my antibiotics, and finally went home after a couple of weeks with my parents. Home where I was on my own most of the time, on top of my mountain, worrying about what I would do if I had another funny turn.

I read everything I could. My husband and mother told me not to, told me that was what was causing my worry. But if anything it was the opposite. I was ruling things out. Trying to find out if there was anything I could do to help myself.  Blood sugar, for instance. I have never been diagnosed as diabetic – but I am overweight and it would never be a surprise. And surgery can do funny things to a body. So I got myself a blood sugar monitor, and checked myself at various times, feeling well, or feeling ill – to see what was going on in my veins at those moments. At first I thought i’d cracked it. A day of feeling weird coupled with low/high readings at the key moments. But then followed the rest of the month, of pretty much normal readings regardless of how I felt, or what I did or ate.

So it at least answered that question. And meant I could stop worrying about that for the time being.

And over time – I started to think less about it. Worry less at every sweaty brow or wave of nausea. Dealing with the day to day practicalities of the physical pain and temporary disability caused by my surgical scar – began to override my preoccupation with imminent death from some cause or other. Along with the physical inability came brain fog, tiredness, weakness. So time ticked by, and I became more and more aware of the housework I was not doing. The walks I was not going on, the book I was not writing. And so my mood begins to slip.

Long term pain and disability are risk factors for developing depression – it’s hard to stay positive sometimes when your usual coping mechanisms, leisure activities, or even work – to give you self esteem – , are out of reach.  So I was kind to myself. Did what I could. Tried to enjoy my enforced rest. After all – how much would I have loved unlimited netflix time back when I was in the depths of the darkest days of my job?

Over time, I could walk a bit further, do a bit more. And I started to plan again. Swimming. Driving lessons. Walking a few miles.

And then I fell down my garden steps and nearly (well, hopefully only nearly) broke my leg.

Fate chuckling behind the door.  If fate is my cat, who I was trying to keep inside when I lost my footing.

So I was back where I started. Only this time in A&E and not day surgery. Worrying that they didn’t stitch it. That they haven’t x-rayed it. Was it going to fall off? Would I need amputation…  (seriously. )  A few days later I couldn’t put weight on it and worried even more that it might be broken, but the doctor says no. Without even examining it. It just doesn’t reassure, but I have to make myself believe he’s right.  I have seen the nurse so often to dress the wound I’m wondering if I should be buying him an engagement ring.  But it’s mending. An unfortunate touch of Ear/Nose/Throat infection or irritation keeps making me think I have tetanus, despite having had the shot.  I lie awake in the night in a sweat, repeating to myself – you’re alright. You’re not about to die. You’ll be fine. I flash back to the strange extended moment of the fall, the realisation this isn’t going to be good, somehow positioning so as not to smash my face into the floor.  I flash back to the surgery.

It makes a change. I used to lie awake obsessing over death. Now at least it is the tremendous difficulty of staying alive… I make small steps towards pushing it out of my mind and living more in the moment. But then with this dodgy leg, small steps are all I can manage.

British Summer Time

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I suppose we are still technically in spring, not that the seasons seem to be following in any logical progression at the moment.  Today the weather is pretty mild, a bit grey, but bright and not too cold. Showers are predicted. It rained all night I think.  At the weekend, it was blistering sunshine, mid 20s, beautiful. A week ago I was snowed in, up on my pennine. Throw in some thunderstorms and I might think the weather gods were taking their cues from my moods.

We each have our own weather systems. Wouldn’t it be nice if each morning we were given a mood report by a smiley and overly enthusiastic type.

“Today will be mainly bright with spots of apathy, with a deep depression setting in just after that meeting with your boss. Overnight anxieties will increase the risk of this depression continuing late into tomorrow morning, but phonecalls from friends in the west could counteract this and lead to better prospects for the afternoon.”

Somewhere in Norway there is a town which apparently has more days of rain per year than any other place in the world. They have a saying there, that there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. I see their point, though I’m not sure there’s such a thing as appropriate protective clothing for a tornado. Unless you count a deep, dark shelter.  Moods are similar. There are always those events and moments where there is nothing much you can do but close your eyes and hold on tight and hope you come out of the other side. But for the most part, we can do some amount of preparation to try and reduce the negative impacts of either rain or shine. (Sitting here with a sunburnt chest, I acknowledge even the sunniest of days needs to be handled with care sometimes)

Learning about our moods, why and how they develop, can help to prepare us for what might be ahead. We can become our own weather report. Knowing our triggers, acknowledging the things which contribute to changes in our mood. If I have been very busy all week, with a lot of travelling and interaction with people, requiring me to appear confident and outgoing – then I know that will take a lot out of me and I will likely be tired, depressed and irritable at the weekend. If I push myself and try to do more socialising, thinking I need to play hard if I’m working hard – then I run the risk of a serious crash, a melt down, with the feelings of being overwhelmed leading to worthlessness, self doubt and hatred, urge to hurt myself and despair or sucidal thoughts. Or – I might skip over that, and work myself up into hypomania, which has its own dangers, to my pocket, my liver, my marriage, – and in the end only postpones the crash for a while.

So instead I know I need to rest hard, not play hard, to be safe in those circumstances. I need to do low key activities I enjoy. Take a stroll if I don’t want to stay in. Stay off the booze, but be kind to myself. I’ve worked hard, gone out of my comfort zone, I need to recharge my batteries.

Maybe medication might be the umbrella you require to weather a storm. Maybe talking or exercise will help you through a thick fog. Maybe mindfulness will help you to enjoy a sunny day without risking your skin.  But with a good weather report, and the appropriate gear, it can be possible to keep relatively safe and warm.  You just have to find some waders that fit.

When life spills over the edge – can you help?

FEMA - 42051 - Flood Warning Sign in Flooded Georgia Area

I mentioned a few posts ago how the Stress Bucket is an easy analogy for how we deal with the pressures of life – and how when things get too much, and our usual coping mecanisms cease to be a match for our concerns, that this can lead us to develop emotional / mental health issues. We are not machines, and life throws things at us that we don’t always know how to deal with very well.

Sadly a lot of people may well be experiencing that overspill in the coming months –  widespread flooding across the North of the United Kingdom has devastated lives, homes, businesses. People are still cleaning up, throwing out years worth of possessions and irreplaceable mementoes, wondering where on earth the money will come from to replace even the more mundane things like microwaves and kettles.

I live in Hebden Bridge and have been fortunate that my house is not affected – but my home, my town, most certainly has. The good news is that we have seen the most amazing evidence of the goodness of humanity – people helping eachother to clean up, everyone banding together. Volunteers travelling from near and far, donations pouring in – individuals and organisations and companies are doing a lot to ensure that things are put right as quickly as possible. I have a lot of hope that some minds have been changed, and eyes opened by the sheer generosity and kindness which has been shown by diverse communities from across the country in this little valley.

Hopefully, that evidence of love and kinship will help people in more than just the practical ways. But in the weeks and months to come, people will start to be impacted by the trauma they have experienced. The exhaustion of the effort they have had to put in to get their homes dry, stay fed, keep themselved and their families safe – it will creep up on people and affect them in ways they may not expect.

It is perfectly understandable, and natural, that this should be so. And that each rainfall will bring unease (indeed we know there is always a risk of the waters rising again – our last disaster brought two floods in one month). So it is vital that people recognise that their emotions, their mental health deserve as much care as their physical health, and that they seek help if they are struggling – in the same way they would seek help if they start to vomit / get toilet trouble that may come as a result of being in contact with the polluted flood waters.

There are numerous avenues to support – (I list here those that I know for Calderdale, your GP should be able to help you find local help, or look on the Mind website)

Your GP can refer you to counselling and other talking therapies as well as discussing whether any other options (medication) might help in your circumstances

  • Noah’s Ark has a self-referral service – 01422 300457
  • Healthy Minds provides peer-led wellbeing groups in Sowerby Bridge – 01422 345154
  • Calderdale Talking Therapies (Insight Healthcare) offers psychological support for adults registered with a Calderdale GP; this is a self-referral service – 0300 555 0191
  • SANE mental health charity has a helpline – 0845 767 8000
  • The Samaritans – Call: 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

If you work for a large organisation, you may find that you can access counselling or other advice services through an Employee Assistance Provider – or if you are in a union they also often have provision – including financial /legal advice which may help with practical concerns.

I would like to do what I can to help – so I am looking at what I can do to run some Mental Health First Aid courses in the area, hopefully at reduced rates or for free if I can find support to cover costs. This course will raise awareness about mental health, some of the more common diagnoses – how to understand and recognise symptoms, and give a simple method for offering support to others as well as looking after your own wellbeing.

I think it would be particularly useful for those of us in the community who wish to support our friends and families – who perhaps know people they think might struggle to accept mental health difficulties in themselves and so not seek help when they need it.

If there are any unaffected organisations / companies our there who are interested in training for their staff (this is highly useful as stress and mental health are leading causes of sickness absence) – If you are able to book paid places I could offer an equal number of free places to the community. Similarly if anyone could offer an appropriate venue for the training I will be able to offer two more free places. Please get in touch if you wish to work with me in making this training available across Calderdale.

If you would like to offer finanical, or other forms of support, I have collated a list of links here on my other blog:

https://thewillowtwisted.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/hope-floats/