Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Is there such a thing as Recovery?

Recovery as a word has been getting to me for a couple of months now. It’s something other mental health bloggers, ambassadors and enthusiasts seem to harp on about, and it’s something that people I know insist upon. Recovery from mental illness is the end goal. It’s why we get diagnosed. It’s why we go to therapy, practice mindfulness and CBT. It’s we are prescribed anti-depressants.

In terms of mental health, I’ve been hoping for a recovery from this illness since I was diagnosed too. Of course I have. Wouldn’t it be great to say ‘I’ve recovered from my unfortunate depression of the past 5 years.’

But how do we actually define ‘recovery’ when it comes to mental health?

 I’ve spent the last year watching as many of my friends say they're now 'better’. People wean themselves off their medication (advisably with a doctor’s guidance).  They talk about how exercise ‘cured’ them. How they’re healthy again.

But I've been asking myself - why does my mental illness look so much different to everyone elses?
I've been on anti-depressants for over 4 years at this stage. And they've been great, I’ll agree. I have discussed coming off them with different doctors over the years. The general consensus has been that if they’re working, why change a good thing?
But I don't want to be on them forever if other people don’t have to be. I want to say ‘I’m better’ too.

As there remains so much stigma in and around mental health, it becomes customary to compare your journey with that of other peoples. Sharing stories and tips to deal with your mental illness are part of the process. If I hadn’t read a ‘mental health memoir’ (Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton) three years ago, I wouldn’t have understood or recognised some of symptoms and behaviours that can be common with depression in myself.

But mental illness is also unique to the person. It’s an individualised illness with a myriad of symptoms only connected by a few generally common ones. Effective courses of treatment also differ substantially from one case to the next. So vast and unknown is the mind...
When someone asks me for advice, I can only tell them what works for me, and warn them that it might not work for them.

So lately I’ve found myself wondering‘What am I doing that's wrong?’ and ‘How come I haven't been able to 'recover'?’

We have to accept that ‘recovery’ is part of the mental health experience, as so many people do get the ‘all clear’ so to speak.

But maybe some people don't recover. Maybe they can't. Which can be a scary and often overwhelming thought.

Or maybe recovery is different for everyone. But because we like to compare our mental health with others so often, that can be a hard thing to accept...

I cannot answer all of the questions I’ve raised in this post. Not only do I not know the answers, but science also struggles in the field to give any clear and definitive guidance.

But I did end up addressing my own ‘recovery’ accidentally this week. I guess you could call it a moment of epiphany. And I don’t even know what train of thought lead me to this conclusion, but here it goes:

I will always have depression. I just won't always be depressed.

There will be days of joy and happiness. These days are more common than they used to be. And the days of feeling down and numb and hopeless are less frequent. Sometimes so infrequent that I expect they’ll never come again. However, they can come back with ferocity, but I have spent the last 4 years learning how to fight back. I understand my illness better; I can identify triggers and I have resources at hand to stop the bad days hurting so much.

And if that isn’t recovery, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Bressie; Me and My Mate Jeffrey

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Niall Breslin's book 'Me and My Mate Jeffrey' from the charity MyMind on Twitter.

Niall, or Bressie as he's better known around the country, has openly spoken about his battles with anxiety and depression over the last few years. He's played a huge role in helping create the change in mental health discourse in Ireland that's slowly been breaking down some of the stigma around the issue.

The book is Bressie's way to tell his whole story; from a kid moving to Israel to his decision to set up My 1000 hours. In a 10 minute interview, or a 30 minute speech, it can prove difficult to get the whole picture. There is no way to paint a realistic picture of mental illness or tell your whole story in such a short time frame. And so 'Me and My Mate Jeffrey' (he named his depression Jeffrey, hence the book title) introduces us to the fuller picture, and in turn paints the everyday reality of what it's like to struggle with your own mind.

Bressie writes in a very relatable way - well at least for us Irish. It's full of Irish colloquialism. Swear words and all. In this way, the book is accessible for Irish audiences, and as it's littered with rugby tales, it's extra accessible for young Irish males - one sector of the population who have the most difficulty with talking about mental health.

It's groundbreaking in a sense. Never has an Irish male, and a famous one at that, opened up his soul to this extent. Whether it's the pure agony of fighting for your very breath, or the type of mental anguish that causes you to break your own limb; there hasn't been honesty like this in an accessible book before.

Mental health issues in teenagers are often difficult to spot. Bressie talks about his school years with reference to an inability to relate to his peers, being socially awkward and reclusive, and his introduction to anxiety in the Holy Land. It's easy to dismiss such symptoms of mental illness as teenage moodiness, hormones, or just as part of the growing up process.

I found myself in tears by Chapter 2. I could relate so much, it was like reading my own story at times. Despite a ten year age gap, different counties and different genders, our early mental health experiences were eerily similar right down to the first self-harming incident during the Junior Certificate exams year.

Bressie found help in his late twenties. It was a small step he'd been fighting against for a decade. And it made me realise how lucky I am to have had my diagnosis and started seeking help at 18 years of age. What a difference that has made to my life.

The story is incredibly honest and moving. With fantastic advice and moments of self-realisation:
"By getting to know Jeffrey, I was becoming much more aware of myself. I realised that Jeffrey was not a weakness..."

And while he found relief in sports and challenging himself physically, he had these wise words about how the mind is different:
"If you have never run you cannot expect to go out and do a marathon, and it's the same with the mind - it needs to be trained and guided."

And that while challenges still come:
"It was the fact that I was able to experience these real moments of happiness that indicated I was well and truly on my way down the road of recovery."

It's probably that last quote that resonated with me the most. I have these real moments of happiness and that's how you know how far you've come.

For anyone, male or female, young or old, personal experience with mental illness or not, this book has something to teach you. Whether it's about recognising the signs in others, gaining an understanding of what it's like to live with a mental illness, or finding the right course of treatment for you and overcoming adversity, there's much to gain. It's inspirational to see someone at their lowest and follow their journey to recovery. There's motivation to anyone who is struggling to find the light.

And whatever you might think of The Blizzards, The Voice of Ireland, or the Ironman events, there is no denying that Niall Breslin is one brave man.

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Depression | What it feels like as told by gifs

1 in 4 people in Ireland will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. But everyone is affected by mental health. Whether it's having a rough day, the death of a relative, the end of a relationship, or the myriad of other knocks we get through life, feeling down is common. 

When I was younger I threw the term 'depressed' around a lot. Sure, I was sad so I must be depressed. In fact, I felt depressed. I never realised that there was a difference between the illness, depression, and feeling blue until I was diagnosed with depression.

It's hard to understand what a mental illness is like if you haven't gone through it yourself. I say the words 'hopelessness', 'numb', 'fatigue', and 'constant nausea' but even the most empathetic of people can struggle to relate.

Last week a few 12 year old kids I was supervising asked me about the book I was reading (Niall Breslin's 'Me and My Mate Jeffrey'). Despite giving countless talks about mental health and what it is like to have a mental illness, I struggled to convey in words what it felt like in terms they could understand. But, there's nothing like the power of a good old fashioned image to help when it comes to relating. And lately I've come across a number of .gifs that really hit home what it mental illness feels like to me on my worst days.

Here's what it's like to experience Depression as told through .gifs:

Life knocks everyone down from time to time. 
But those who are susceptible to depression find it harder to pick themselves back up.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Pitfalls of Being a Big Sister

Back in August, I wrote a blog post on the Perks of Being a Big Sister. And believe me, there are many.
But I've also discovered some serious downsides over the past week.

Just over 7 days ago my little sister flew the nest and headed off to University. She packed her bags, bought groceries and a bed spread, and spent her first week moved out of our childhood home and into adulthood.

It's been 5 years since I made that journey myself. And for me, things hadn't exactly gone to plan.

Needless to say I didn't take it well. I messaged her every day; sometimes first thing in the morning to wish her good luck, and every evening to see how her day went.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Letter to My Future Self | World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It's a day where mental health charities issue statements and politicians make pledges.
Many of Ireland's famous buildings, like Croke Park, are lighting up orange today in solidarity with Cycle Against Suicide.

But to me, suicide is personal.

My depression brought with it suicidal thoughts.
There were times when I wished my life would end. There were times when I wanted to pick up that knife or those tablets or walk in front of that car. There were times when I tried to end it all.
I didn't think of suicide as a selfish act at the time. I couldn't think of anything other than how worthless I was. I tried to rationalise it, embed it with logic - No one will miss me. No one will notice. Now's exactly the right time. Don't wait any longer. They'll be better off without me. 

When I look at how suicide has affected me in the years since, I see how wrong I was. I've felt the loss of people I knew, people I barely knew, and some I didn't know at all to suicide. And every single one of them hurt me.

The theme of this World Suicide Prevention Day is reaching out and saving lives. So today I'm reaching out to myself. I'm making my own pledge. I'm pledging to live with a Letter to my Future Self.

Hey you,

I know things don't seem okay right now. I know you are down and feeling defeated, but I'm here to remind you that you are strong. That you have felt like this before, and you got through it. That you can get through it again.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Positive Thought of the Day

Tonight I'm heading back to Zumba for the first time in almost 3 months. I ended up taking the summer off as it just never suited, and I also was a little bit lazy. 

But now that I'm about to head back I am reminded of something my instructor always says.
There are no mistakes. Only Solo Moves.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

My Week in Pictures

Something a little different for you all this Sunday. I took a lot of photos this week, and didn't have time to share them all on Instagram. So, I decided to turn them into a little blog post instead! Chill out and relax before heading back to work tomorrow morning, and and have a look at my week in pictures. 

Monday :-
My new positive affirmation poster has been placed right above my light switch beside my bedroom door so I can read every morning before I leave. 

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Hello Autumn

Hello folks! Now that we're settled into September, Autumn is finally here. For me, this is a good thing. I quite like the chill in the air, the leaves on the ground, the run up to Christmas (no, too soon?). As most of you know, August was a test-run for my Autumn. With September, the schools start back and I return to working two jobs. It can be stressful at times, and the last two weeks have been extremely busy. And that's what my August was all about. I tried to build up my defenses, practice self care everyday, compile a list of stress reducing activities, and learn to love myself that little bit more. August was a good month. I came into September feeling ready for whatever life may throw at me. I feel mentally strong, not a phrase I have ever used before, but I feel like I know the value of my own self worth. It might sound silly, but I've never known that before. And it feels like a huge thing.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Sad Ghost Club

As you know, I love exploring the internet for awesome mental health projects to share with you. This month, I discovered The Sad Ghost Club. I was struck firstly by the name, but as I explored their site, I found so much more behing that.
The Sad Ghost Club do a number of things. Their 'About Me' bio says this:
"The Sad Ghost Club is a club for anyone who’s ever felt sad or lost. It’s the club for those who don’t feel like they’re part of any other club. It’s run by just the two of us, Laura & Lize, and we love creating comics & zines to highlight the issues that a lot of ghosties go through." 
Predominantly, there's a store full of beautiful products that are prefect for gifts or as a treat for yourself. My personal favourite is their postcards: