Thursday, 31 December 2015

My Romeo Project Resolutions

The Romeo Project, a 10 month life re-design will be guided by my Ten New Year’s Resolutions.
Finding a place to start for any self-improvement project is the hardest part, so for The Romeo Project I’ve been reading around the subject of happiness and self-improvement for the past few months.

In the texts (you can check them all out so far here) there were a lot of common themes. Whether it's books about Happiness, Managing Depression, or why your Twenties matter these were the sort of themes that emerged – living with authenticity, self-belief, stop saying ‘if only’, de-clutter, don’t expect praise or appreciation, appreciate the little things, practice mindfulness…

The Ten Resolutions I've picked combine a number of the recurring themes from the self-help literature. But they also were the themes that felt relevant to me. My Ten Resolutions allow me to explore recovery as much as happiness. It was important for me to find a balance between pursuing happiness and learning to move out of the shadow of my depression, and I think these Resolutions achieve this.

The Resolutions will guide me for the year, and each month I’ll examine one resolution in depth with a series of tasks built around that resolution.

Take a look at the breakdown of my year below:

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Bibliography | The Romeo Project

My bibliography will be updated throughout the ten months of The Romeo Project. Here, you can see all the books I've been checking out as part of the project.


10% Happier - Dan Harris

100 Days of Happiness – Domonique Bertolucci

101 secrets for your twenties - Paul Angone

168 hours: You have more time than you think – Laura Vanderkam

21 Days to Matter Extreme Self Care – Cheryl Richardson

A Space of their own: The Archaeology of Nineteenth Century Lunatic Asylums - Susan Piddock

Anxiety: A Very Short Introduction – Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman

Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You – Robert L. Leahy

Anxiety Management - Mike Mitchell

Monday, 28 December 2015

December Favourites | Yearly Round Up

Happy New Year to you all! I cannot believe that in just a few short days we will be in 2016 - what a fabulous feeling. It's the perfect time of the year to reflect upon the previous 12 months. For me, this is especially poignant, as when I look back I can see just how far I've come in so many ways.
This time last year I was crying in my bed wishing that I didn't feel the way that I did. The first few months of the year were hard as I struggled with low self-esteem and my depression. Looking back it feels like it was much longer ago when I felt that way, rather than just 10 months. But a lot can change in a year.

Join me in ringing in the New Year with a look back at both my December Favourites and my Favourites from the Year.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Introducing The Romeo Project

I’ve been teasing the fact that I have been developing a mystery self-improvement project for some time now. Well, it’s finally here and ready for take-off!

Do you ever stop and wonder, what am I doing with my life?

Or, I wish I was less self-conscious, more confident, more ambitious?

Do you ever want to change a part of your life that just isn’t doing it for you anymore?

Do you want to build up your defences so you can take on the world prepared?

I had been asking myself these questions for a few months. But for much longer it’s been in the back of my head.

For almost 10 years now my depression has clouded everything I do. It’s affected my mood, my academic achievements, my social skills, my relationships, and in the end it showed me my passion.

Monday, 21 December 2015

How I’m Coping with Christmas

Today I’m writing a little about the holiday sadness that can accompany Christmas.
I touched on this in my media round-up on Sunday, but I want to share with you what I’ll be doing over the festive period to help my own mental health and try to prevent a breakdown like last year.

I’m susceptible to bad mental health during Christmas. The period combines a number of my triggers (lack of alone time, lack of stimulation, pressure to be happy, extreme stress, family arguments) in close proximity and, like last year, it can result in the return of feelings of extreme darkness.
I really contemplated what way to take my annual leave this year as a result. Should I take the festive period off or go to work? Will taking my holidays just lead to more free time and hence more time to feel miserable?

After last Christmas, I wasn’t sure which was the best way to deal with my mental health.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

This Week in Mental Health... 20th December 2015

A recurring theme in mental health articles this week has been the struggles many of us face when it comes to Christmas. Amidst the pressure to feel joyful and be surrounded by family, we often forget that mental illness doesn’t just disappear come December.

Last Christmas I struggled with my mental health. While surrounded by family I felt desperately alone and trapped in feelings of self-hatred, guilt and failure. It was a struggle to pick myself back up, but by mid February I finally felt recovered from the agony of feeling trapped in a cycle of depression.

You can read my post about the Christmas Blues here.

This week I’ve selected a series of articles that deal with the hell Christmas can bring. I’d be lying if I said I was frightened history might repeat itself and put me back in the position I was in last year, but these stories remind me that people can and do defeat loneliness, panic attacks and the guilt of feeling anything but cheerful at the most wonderful time of the year.

1) Shopping is hell and kindness is therapeutic – what I learned from being depressed at Christmas, Matt Haig
Writer Matt Haig discusses how Christmas isn’t full of happiness and cheer in the entertainingly honest way that only he can. A quick trip to the supermarket can be hell for a lot of people.
The Guardian, 14th December 2015;
“Christmas, I realised, could be a nightmare. It could intensify what depression already, to some extent, made you feel: that the world was having fun while you definitely weren’t. Christmas intensifies the chiaroscuro (to use the pretentious kind of art-history terms I had in my head at the time): the contrast between light and shade. The light around you seems brighter, so the dark feels darker. I should have known that the idea of Christmas as one of collective happiness wasn’t the case.”

Thursday, 10 December 2015

This Week in Mental Health...13th December 2015

This week I'm in Amsterdam! It's not covered in snow as I had hoped, but it is cold. However, despite my holidays I haven't forgotten about my blogging.

Here's a round up of the biggest mental health stories this week.

1) 11 Things People With Anxiety Want You To Know, Kirsten King; Anna Borges; Haejin Park

Haejin Park for BuzzFeed
Buzzfeed continue to do amazing work around mental health. Haejin Park’s artwork really makes this excellent awareness raising piece. I’ve included two of my favourite pieces of advice here in this snapshot, but go and check out the full article.

Buzzfeed, 6th December 2015;
“Anxiety is an invisible illness that may not be seen, but is certainly felt. When you deal with anxiety, there’s no separating yourself from the symptoms. You carry the misery in your thoughts, your choices, your relationships, yourself. And sometimes, that weight is so heavy that it feels physical.”
“Having anxiety can mean anything from questioning if your friend actually wants you to go to the movies, to wondering if you’re really loved. So reminding us that we’re important to you might seem like it’s obvious…but it’s super important.”

2) Don’t be Sad: how to beat seasonal affective disorder, Norman E Rosenthal

From the man who first describer seasonal affective disorder, this article offers tips on overcoming the mood affects of the dark, dim winter days. Rosenthal is an engaging writer and his research in the 1980s has changed the way people view mood disorders.

The Guardian, 7th December 2015;
“Ever since my colleagues and I first described seasonal affective disorder (Sad) at America’s National Institute of Mental Health in the mid-1980s, it was obvious that we were not dealing with an all-or-nothing phenomenon, but with a spectrum of emotional and behavioural problems linked to the seasons. At one extreme are people with Sad, who struggle during the short dark days of winter, sometimes to a disabling degree. At the other are those who wake up cheerfully, rain or shine. In between are those with the winter blues. They manage with difficulty during the dark days but are less joyful, productive and creative than usual.”

3) Mental health services suspended in Co Donegal, Paul Cullen

For the past three months, older people in Donegal cannot be referred on for mental health services. The system cannot cope with the number of patients it has to see. Little thought however has been given to those who may be unable to cope without these supports.  As June Shannon pointed out on Twitter, if this was a physical illness there’d be outrage.

Irish Times, 8th December 2015;
“The HSE says it is making every effort to resume full mental health services for older people in Co Donegal, which have been suspended for new referrals since September. It says the curtailment of services is “of a temporary nature” due to a staffing shortage, but recruitment of a consultant will start early in 2016. Donegal GPs were told mental health services for older people were being temporarily closed in a letter sent on September 7th. The closure was caused by difficulties filling in for a member of staff on sick leave.”

4) I dreaded the thought of antidepressants not working – but they did, Anonymous

Medication and mental health have been making grounds this week and finally we are starting to see a positive representation of anti-depressants in the media.

The Guardian, 9th December 2015;
“It did work. I thank God I live in an age where effective psychiatric medications exist – and you should too. I cannot credit those stories that tell us they’re barely better than placebo. My experience, and those of millions of others, is that they can work, powerfully, to restore your equilibrium, your sanity. There are side effects of course. And some illnesses are better served than others. Finding the right fit, the right dosage, may be a struggle.”

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Medication and Me | Recovery and Anti-Depressants

I hate admitting to people that, almost 5 years on, I continue to take anti-depressants daily.

It’s this whole notion of recovery. The ‘No more down days, No more pills’ recovery. Rarely in articles about mental illness is medication mentioned. I often feel that medication remains one of the most stigmatised areas of mental health.

More often than not this is to do with misunderstandings around the anti-depressant industry (see That Age-Old Anti-Depressant Argument).

But there’s also a holistic approach favoured by the media. You see it all the time that you probably don’t even notice how one sided it is. Running for sanity. Eat your mind better. Cure mental illness with mindfulness. How Yoga changed my life.

Recovery is portrayed as ditching the medication in favour of lifestyle changes. Very few who speak out publicly will do so while on medication. And recovery is often defined as the point in which you ditch the pills.

But that’s not my story.
I’m sick of hearing about recovery from an anti-medication perspective. Why can’t they go hand-in-hand? They have for me.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

This Week in Mental Health... 6th December 2015

I have 5 articles for you from around the web this week. Many recognisable faces have been speaking out when it comes to mental health this week. It follows a public cry for help from Irish singer Sinead O'Connor last week. Sinead has publicly battled against her own mental illness for years. She has bravely spoken out about the reality of living with a mental illness and the lack of services in this country. But that's not enough to make the media sensitive to her breakdown. Strangely enough, Sinead O'Connor is my earliest memory of what mental health is. I used to read The Mirror every day after school, and like many a tabloid it loved sensationalist headlines. I remember reading about this 'crazy' and 'unhinged' individual. She was portrayed as incapable of being a mother, of being committed to hospital, of being a danger to herself and possibly her children. As a young teenager that was my knowledge of what mental illness was. Is it any wonder I was terrified of speaking up about my own feelings?

1) Parents – talk to your kids about mental health. Even if it's awkward - Hannah Jane Parkinson
One of the biggest problems in addressing mental health issues is the silence that exists around it. For some reason there is a fear of even discussing the topic. Parkinson addresses the point well in her article.

The Guardian, 1st December 2015;
“When the stigma that surrounds mental illness is still so prevalent in society, it’s no wonder so many parents feel uncomfortable discussing the topic. They might have had their own struggles, adding to their unease. But mental health shouldn’t be a taboo subject, and the sooner children learn this the better. It is much better to raise the topic of mental health before an episode occurs, since talking or accepting help can be especially hard when you’re in the grip of illness. You can feel ashamed, or burdensome, or worthless.”

2) Maurice Shanahan opens up on darkest hour in battle with depression
We're very privileged in Ireland to have so many well known male sports personalities opening up about their mental health experiences. Hurling star Maurice Shanahan openly discussed his past suicide attempts on local radio on Monday.

Irish Examiner, 1st December 2015;
“It got really bad Kevin, people probably know that I tried to commit suicide. That’s not an easy thing to say but it was just something that came over me that I wanted to end my life. Anyone that does commit suicide, they don’t do it to escape. When I went to do my part, I actually thought I was doing my parents and my family a favour. I certainly wasn’t doing that but at the time, I thought I was.”

3) Rural dwellers are ‘susceptible to isolation’, claims study
Living in isolation is affecting the mental health of those in rural areas of Ireland. I'm always interested in findings like this as I come from quite a secluded rural area myself.

Irish Examiner, 1st December 2015;
““There is a clear link between loneliness and depression and this can lead to more people experiencing anxieties or feeling depressed,” Mr Kelly said. “Loneliness and isolation can also exacerbate feelings of fear and this is all the more concerning due to the fact that rural crime is on the increase.” Mr Kelly advised people living in rural areas to call around to their neighbour’s house, especially in the evenings, to check if they needed help with small chores. He also advised calling friends and family members in rural areas regularly to stay in contact which, he said, would help people feel connected and not as fearful.”

4) Jo Brand: newspapers reinforce ignorance over mental health, Jane Martinson

The comedian is also a former mental health nurse, and speaks eloquently on the dangers of media reporting on suicide and mental health issues.

The Guardian, 1st December 2015;
“I know tabloids are the opposite of complex, but I don’t think that should allow them to get away with making big sweeping statements which actually aren’t the reality,” she told the Guardian before giving a speech on the subject. “It’s not one thing that batters you and makes you kill yourself. It’s a very subtle mix of events and what’s going on inside you, and trying to make it look like it’s one thing is a terrible thing to do. And for someone’s family too, it’s a terrible thing to do.  “It’s misinformation. Lots of people read those papers, hundreds of thousands, and it means their ignorance is reinforced. And secondly, for all those people who do suffer, it’s a punch in the stomach to their dignity.”

5) We Should Talk About Mental Health With Respect, Janine Francolini

Janine Francolini founded the Flawless Foundation and looks at the language we use when it comes to mental health. In this Huffington Blog Post she examines Sinead O'Connor's cry for help through a public Facebook post last weekend.

The Huffington Post, 2nd December 2015;
"A fierce advocate for mental health rights, O'Connor has dealt with depression for many years. She has, herself, spoken out against the way the media characterizes mental health issues, condemning the use of the word "crazy," and shaming paparazzi for trying to make a "buffoonery and mockery" of young, female celebrities with mental health disorders. It is therefore especially disturbing to see many similar tactics being used by media outlets to make a "buffoonery and mockery" of Ms. O'Connor, after she wrote a worrying new post on Facebook, detailing her recent thoughts and feelings."