Monthly Archives: May 2016

Relationships and Mental Health (#MHAW16)

The topic for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is relationships. Here I look at different relationships and the impact my mental illnesses have had on them.

The main relationships I am focussing on are my friendships. I am lucky to have quite a few good friendships, but this has not always been the case. When I was at school I found friendships hard to make and even harder to maintain. I had friends but I found myself feeling like an outsider among them. This, I believe, was made worse by the fact that I was already beginning to suffer with a mental illness, that led to me feeling completely isolated.

As I have got older my friendships have changed. I have friends who I went to university with who have only ever known me with mental illness and I think this has had an impact on our friendship. They accept me for the person I am, not the person I once had to pretend to be. They are truly understanding of me. I feel very lucky to have these friendships.

Other friendships that I hold dear have arisen from having a mental illness. These are other people I know because we share the fact we have a mental illness. I have met them either through friends or via peer support networks. They are friendships that again mean the world to me as these people understand without explanation just what is happening in my head. They are friends I can turn to in the bad times who will not judge or dismiss me (I’m lucky that some of my university friends are like this too). They make up a great proportion of my support network.

These relationships are hugely important to me. They are like an extension of my family. But for me they can be difficult to maintain. Having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) comes with difficulty maintaining stable relationships. Therefore I have to work twice as hard (or so it feels) at looking after these friendships. I can become very intense and feel paranoid in a relationship and so have to control these emotions in myself in order to maintain a healthy friendship. I’m lucky to have friends who appear to understand that sometimes I need more reassurance surrounding a friendship.

Overall I think friendships are hugely important in my life and in maintaining better mental health. Friendships can be stressful for someone with BPD or any mental illness, in my opinion, but they are also very worthwhile. I’d like to say a big thank you to all my friends for being so great.

Thank you!

Anxiety and me

This is a personal blog post about my relationship with anxiety.

Anxiety and I have only known each other properly for a couple of years now. Before I had some anxiety but in what would be normal situations for anxiety to arise, for example, job interviews or my graduation ceremony. Maybe my anxiety was more acute than other people’s but I could find a reason for it and know it was manageable and/or would only last so long,

Two years ago this all started to change. My anxiety wasn’t just about certain events any more. Everything made me anxious. Getting up in the morning was greeted by a wave of anxiety so strong it would make me physically sick. Sleep was distorted and I was exhausted all the time by the constant feeling that things weren’t “right”. There was no real reason for this anxiety. I could not pin point any one direct cause.

Then came my first full on panic attack. I don’t think I have ever felt so scared in my life. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, which only added to the panic. My chest was tight and I was shaking so much that I ended up at my GP as an emergency. Luckily my GP was brilliant and brought it under control before having me sit with a nurse for twenty minutes. They taught me techniques on how to control my breathing for when I had another attack. I was very lucky to be seen while having my panic attack and was also given some medicine to use as and when I felt extremely anxious.

This was the start of getting my anxiety more under control and not letting it take over my life, as it had started to do so already. I needed at the time to be with someone constantly and simple tasks were impossible without the aid of someone else.

So what changed? For me it was a change in my situation and a lot of time working on not letting the anxiety stop me. This was made easier with a lot of support from close family and friends. Some things were still impossible; I missed two good friends’ wedding due to not being able to travel alone. But things have improved.

Two years on I still get anxiety about going out alone and travelling alone but it doesn’t cripple me entirely. I manage to do it even after being very ill in the run up to a major outing. I still find certain places, like shopping centres, too daunting to be on my own at, unless I go incredibly early on when there are fewer people. And some days I get anxious for no reason what so ever. Those are the days I hate anxiety and what it takes from me and the people around me.

Anxiety is a hard diagnosis to live with, but it is doable. It’s not the end of the world. If you’re living with anxiety I salute you and I will tell you it does get easier

How I overcame loneliness (Originally published by Mind 27th April 2016)

This post was originally written for and published by Mind on 27th April 2016. It can be found at this link: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/how-i-overcame-loneliness/#.VyiX7cLSnIU

“I have a mental illness”. These words can often make you feel isolated and alone, especially if the person you tell doesn’t react with the kindness and compassion you deserve.

Loneliness can be crippling and make everyday tasks feel much harder.

I myself have depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. All of which have led to me feeling lonely at different times in my life.

This loneliness is caused by many different things; from the attitudes of others to the crippling self-doubt they cause me. For me, being lonely has been one of the hardest things about my diagnoses that I have had to deal with.

Loneliness and me

From when I was at school I have always felt some form of loneliness depending on the circumstances at the time. Sometimes it was because of how hard I found it to make friends when I felt so different. Sometimes my depression just told me I needed to withdraw.

Feeling lonely isn’t just about having no-one around you; I have felt lonely when surrounded by a group of people.

Feeling lonely is more about feeling detached from those around you. Mental illness can cause this detachment. People, when they hear the phrase “I have a mental illness”, can picture all sorts of scenarios that cause them to back away.

Another reason for feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people, is the role stigma plays. It can be difficult to be open about what is happening inside your head. Even if you can explain it, quite often it feels easier to hide what is really going on. This makes the detachment from others greater and in turn increases how lonely you can feel.

Things got worse…

When I had to open up at work over my mental illness and subsequently lost my job, loneliness threatened to overtake me. I had a few friends outside of work but most that I socialised with regularly were work colleagues.

The first time I realised the relationships had changed was when I couldn’t attend the Christmas dinner. I felt isolated. No one knew quite what to say to me anymore and I was cut off from a major part of my social network. I was stuck at home with little to say to anyone.

The few friends I had I suddenly felt incredibly disconnected from. They didn’t understand what was going on in my head as I couldn’t explain it myself. I felt trapped with my thoughts. This made the loneliness increase.

How I overcame loneliness

What helped me to feel less alone was finding people who understood or who were going through similar things. This for me came in the form of a local peer support charity who ran a recovery course.

Attending the recovery course was a major turning point for me.

Turning up on the first day I felt nervous about what awaited me, especially with my difficulty making friends in the past. By lunchtime, however I realised that the people on the course weren’t judging me, nor did I have to try and explain to them what was going on in my head. They understood. It didn’t matter if I sat quietly and just listened. Over the weeks of the course I made friends that I keep in contact with every week.

So while mental illness can be isolating and lonely, there are people out there who understand. Finding others who had similar problems made me feel less alone. Peer support was the key to helping me on the way to recovering and feeling less stigmatised. It made the loneliness less intense and easier to deal with. Although I do still face times where I feel lonely I now have a support network of friends who I can turn to who make me realise I am not alone.