Tag Archives: peer support

A Letter To My Best Friend

This is a personal piece. Please be aware some content may be triggering.

Dear M,

You have stuck by me for a very long time. 13 years we have known each other and in my mind we just seemed to click straight away. You made joining a new university in my second year, when everyone has already made good friends, less daunting. You didn’t mind me sitting with you. You were awesome.

I feel our friendship cemented itself quickly and more so when we worked together on the project away from uni. You made me laugh a lot. We seem to have a very similar style of humour. Working together seemed easy. It was definitely the best paired work I’ve done and the most enjoyable.

When you left uni soon after, I missed you a lot. I was determined to keep this friendship. It meant, and still does, a lot to me. I loved that we messaged each other nearly everyday. It was/is so easy to talk to you and I always look forward to seeing you.

You were the main person to encourage me to get help for my mental health. You were so supportive and made yourself available at all times even when you weren’t doing the best yourself. I’m forever grateful for this. You even stuck by me after the suicide attempt. You’ve dealt with so many of my attempts to end my life.

You’ve also been my biggest cheerleader. Helping me push through to finish my degree, helping me do something special for my 21st, and celebrating me graduating. There’s been many milestones since as well and you are always the first person I want to, and normally do, tell. You push me to do what you know I’m good at. You can see my potential.

I’ve loved being a part of your milestones too. Going to your hen party was a high. Seeing you get married was special. And meeting your children has been one of my favourite things. Plus graduating on top of working and being a mum. It may not of been my right but I felt so proud of you, as I still do.

You are an amazing person. You are kind, caring and supportive. You make yourself available to me even with everything in your life. Your family has been amazing to me too and that must be to do with you. I feel comfortable with you, something that doesn’t come easy to me with people. You are special. You always know just what to say and that includes you saying you don’t know what to say. You’re honest with me. I trust you.

So the main point of this is to say thank you. Thank you for being part of my life and allowing me to be part of yours. Thank you for being there and supporting me. The last time I was in A&E you text me the whole time even though you must of been busy and that meant so much to me. I know I’m not the easiest person to be friends with and I’ve worried you repeatedly (I’m so sorry for this) but you’ve stuck by me again and again.

You were the person I wanted with all the news of mum’s cancer. Lockdown has made me miss you like crazy but you’ve shown me our friendship can last through time and distance. I hope you feel the same.

I know I may not be your best friend but you are certainly mine. I would not be here without you. Thank you for being you.

Love Jo x

Chaotic Cancer: A Family Member’s View: Diagnosis

Please be aware that some of the content may be triggering. Please take care 💚

I introduced this series of posts in this blog post ➡️ Chaotic Cancer: A Family Member’s View: Intro. This post is about my mum’s diagnosis of cancer and some information and thoughts surrounding that.

My mum’s cancer was an incidental finding. We had no suspicions that she may have cancer. There were no obvious signs (though looking back we have picked some out). It was far off the radar. I don’t know if this made it easier or harder to deal with. I have no prior experience of anyone I know getting cancer. But it was tough.

Mum went into hospital before Christmas with an inflamed gallbladder. She had antibiotics and came home. About six weeks later at the beginning of February 2021 she had a reoccurrence of the inflamed gallbladder and so they decided to remove it in an emergency surgery. It was then that they found something. On her liver were lesions. Tumours. They took biopsies. Then we had to wait for the confirmation of cancer. They knew it was. It couldn’t be anything else. But we didn’t. So I grasped that tiny bit of hope. Hung on to it tight.

Within a week she was back for the results. It was, surprise, surprise, cancer. A rare one. Slow growing. Treatable. Neuroendocrine cancer. That’s what they told us then. There was still hope. But I dissolved. That day I sobbed for an hour. Mum was meant to be isolating after exposure to covid while on the ward but screw that, I hugged her. Then the guilt set in.

To understand this guilt means explaining that in my therapy I’d been working to stop self harming. I had been using as an OCD type compulsion to stop people getting ill. I’d been told it had no effect on them not getting ill. Then this happened. I’d made my mum get cancer. I even told my dad it was my fault. The guilt overtook me. I had ended the therapy by then ahead of a new group but all I wanted was to email the psychologist and tell her she’d made me give my mum cancer. Yup, totally irrational. Or that’s what I’m told. I bounce back and forwards still.

With the diagnosis came a lot of emotions. Emotions I didn’t understand. Emotions that were set to overwhelm me along with other people’s. So I pushed mine down. From the day after the diagnosis I didn’t cry for a long while. I threw myself into the practical. I didn’t feel anything. I totally blotted out my feelings. I had enough to overwhelm me with other people’s emotions. Those had a name though as people could tell me them. My own I can’t name.

So diagnosis was stage one of the whole cancer chaos. The start of the chaotic world it brings. And beginning it all in the midst of a pandemic has brought challenges as well. Mum was on her own for the diagnosis as at our hospital appointments have to be attended alone. I think that has hurt her a lot. I don’t know though.

So from diagnosis comes many more tests and appointments. These I will discuss in another blog post. I think I thought diagnosis would be the hardest part. How wrong I’ve been.

If you want to share any experiences, thoughts or resources feel free to use the comments or my Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts linked to this blog.

Chaotic Cancer: A Family Member’s View: Intro

Please be aware that some of the content may be triggering. Please take care 💚

About six weeks ago (or longer, the days are all merging) my world was hit by the news that my mum has cancer. It’s something I’ve been dealing with on top of coping with my mental illness. Therefore I thought I’d use my blog as a way of recording how I cope (or not) with everything that comes from living with someone with cancer. And not just anyone living with someone with cancer but someone with a prior mental illness. I know bits will overlap with everyone who supports someone with cancer but there are bits that I think I’m finding harder due to my diagnosis. Maybe not… But this will be my way to explore it.

I’m planning to set this up on it’s own page of my blog so it will be together with other information or support as well. And it will all be in one place.

My plan is that I will be as honest as I can be. That I will look at the good, the bad and the ugly. This may mean there is triggering topics discussed so please be careful. As always I will put a trigger warning at the top.

So post one will hopefully be up shortly (once I’ve written it) but I don’t think I will keep these posts to a schedule as life is already chaotic. I also still want to write about other areas of mental health and illness too, this is just an add on.

As always if you want to share or ask questions feel free to use the comments or my Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts.

When Emotions Overwhelm

Please be aware that some of the content may be triggering. Please take care 💚

Last week after a while of not feeling anything or pushing emotions down I was suddenly overwhelmed with them. It is an experience I know many people with a mental illness feel at times, especially those who have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

I don’t understand my emotions most of the time. Identifying them is an extremely difficult thing for me. When they overwhelm me this is harder to do and harder to deal with as well. People will ask what’s wrong or what you’re feeling and not being able to explain it is so hard to deal with and seems to add something into the emotions that makes it all the worse. I feel I just want to be a “normal” person for a while.

Those with a BPD diagnosis find emotions are heightened. They are often described as being emotionally like third degree burns victims without an emotional skin. It’s like touching wounds when we feel emotions. The pain of them is strong and this can be felt physically in the body. And by god is it painful at the extremes. When most people would have a small emotional response, ours tends to be more intense or bigger. Therefore when a person without the diagnosis has an event that causes them extreme emotional pain, well for those who have a diagnosis of BPD it is just unbearable.

When the emotions overwhelmed me I just wanted to tear my skin off. I wanted to hurt myself to an extreme extent. I wanted to escape it all. Death felt like the best idea but I felt trapped as it wasn’t an option. This added to the distress. The hatred for myself is strong. It’s always strong but in that moment it was extreme. It was unbearable and I could not even work out what I was feeling.

This happens more often than people realise. A lot of the time I just hide away. My friends cope with a lot. I feel sorry for them. I hate what I do to them. They deserve better. I try my hardest to not inflict myself on them but in the moment it’s harder. This isn’t the healthiest way to cope.

I don’t have much advice for coping. Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) offers some skills for dealing with distress. These include the TIPP skills and STOP skills that are detailed in the images below. However it can be hard to remember to do this when the emotions are so high. It’s like they are blinding. It could be useful to let someone close to you know about the skills so they can remind you of them.

If you have any other tips for coping with overwhelming emotions then feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Goodbye Time To Change

The mental health campaign Time To Change is closing at the end of March 2021. I’ve been involved with them at different times so this is my goodbye to them.

For those that don’t know, Time To Change is a mental health campaign started in the UK ten years ago. It’s a social movement, meaning it’s work is based on using those with lived experience to talk to others to raise awareness of mental health and mental illness. They have done this in many different ways, from holding events to helping people share their stories with those in power. It has also expanded globally in the last few years.

My first experience with Time To Change was asking them to look at a portrayal in a programme that made people with mental illness seem like attention seekers. They then asked me to write a blog post about this for them. It was one of the first pieces of writing about mental illness I had done. They gave me confidence to start my own blog up, sharing my experiences and thoughts.

In 2015 they sent emails out about a new event, Story Camp, that those with an interest in sharing their experiences about mental illness could sign up to, to learn about how to do it effectively. This included bloggers and media volunteers. I applied and never thought I’d be chosen to take part, but I was. So on 10th September 2015, I headed to London to take part in workshops and listen to others speak. The people I met were amazing. One is now one of my closest friends. Others inspire me greatly. I was too nervous to say hello to my biggest inspiration, Jonny Benjamin, but he was there talking to us all and I snuck a photo. I was in awe.

I carried on writing my blog and using their tips to improve. I signed up as an official Time To Change champion and this led to me becoming part of the local hub being set up in my home town. I did some training again with them, though becoming ill again meant I didn’t take part as much as I’d of liked.

So Time To Change has been at many different parts of me sharing my experiences. And for that I’m grateful. The training offered is high quality and the people I’ve met through them are amazing. I’ll miss having the opportunities they’ve offered and actually feeling valued by an organisation. They’ve validated me and many others.

While we are saying goodbye to Time To Change, we are not saying goodbye to the work they’ve done. It’s definitely made mental health less of a taboo. We still have much work to do with making people understand other mental illnesses as well as they seem to of accepted depression and anxiety. This will continue with those it has trained up and given confidence to.

So thank you Time To Change, and goodbye.

Found my notes from Story Camp 2015

So It’s Been A Year…

Please be aware that some of the content may be triggering. Please take care 💚

It’s been roughly a year since the UK went into a restricted state. We’ve been in and out of lockdown. Many things have never been back. Therefore I thought I’d reflect a little on the last year. Some things will be linked to mental health, others more general.

What I’ve Learnt

The whole situation has been a learning curve. I think everyone has learnt something about themselves and others as well as maybe other skills. Here are mine:

1. I need social contact

I’ve always found social contact difficult and overwhelming. I’ve always pushed myself to do things socially and I’m exhausted afterwards. But I’ve found I do need it. I have missed seeing people. Having the hugs. Being with my friends. Just hearing their voices (I struggle still with phone conversations). I can’t wait to meet them.

2. I need alone time

I’ve known this for a while but it has been confirmed with being stuck with the people I live with All! The! Time! I need quiet. I need to get away. It’s tiring being with other people. I think everyone needs alone time really, we all just differ on how much.

3. I can draw

Turns out I can draw. And actually practice does improve it.

4. Phone/video appointments aren’t a substitute for face to face

Obviously a lot of appointments changed to being either online or via phone. I’ve found these so hard. I feel like I can’t get things across as well as I do face to face (and I don’t feel I do that very well anyway). I feel people lose the ability to understand people as well when you take away the physicalness of being in the same room. Also technology has a habit of not working and making it all more stressful. (Although being able to have my cat with me during therapy was a positive).

5. You can’t make eye contact on Zoom

Someone pointed this out to me and its bugged me ever since because its true and no matter what I try I can’t change that. I hate eye contact most of the time but I also try really hard to make some as I know it’s expected. I should be happy therefore that I don’t have to make eye contact but instead it’s annoyed me. Yes, I’m a paradox.

What Scares Me

Along with learning many things, this whole situation has created many fears within me for the present and the future.

1. Fear people will get ill

I’ve always been scared of people in my life getting ill. It’s out of my control although I have gonw through many things that I believe have given me control. Logically it’s not true, mentally I feel to blame when people get sick. This was heightened once we really got into the reduction of social contact and lockdown (before that coronavirus didn’t bother me, odd I know). I was often in tears that something I had or hadn’t done was going to make those close to me ill. I was so strict with cleaning and washing hands, more than usual. I was terrified. I still am.

2. Going outside or into shops

I’ve always found being out and about anxiety inducing, especially on my own. I’m now able to walk the dog just me and him but otherwise I struggle. This has been heightened in these times even though I was forced to shop for my parents on my own. My anxiety was through the roof. Now the thought of going back in to shops without anyone or any restrictions in the future terrifies me.

3. The lack of restrictions

There will come a time when restrictions are gone. Yes it will be a positive in many ways but I don’t feel anywhere near ready for this to happen and I don’t think I will be for some time. Each time a restriction is eased I feel such a state of anxiety that I have panic attacks over it. The thought of things being “normal” is something I can’t comprehend yet.

Where am I at?

So overall I’m struggling mentally with everything. There is a lot of change currently and it’s left me unsettled. Large parts of lockdown have been a struggle but other parts have played into my comfort zones of hiding away from people. I’m very much a home body. People keep talking about holidays and that’s the last thing I want to do. Not going on holiday was a plus for me and now I have no excuse to stay home. I both want things to come back but others I want to stay as they are.

What are your thoughts on your current situation, wherever you are? Feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Being Invalidated

Please be aware that some of the content may be triggering. Please take care 💚

“To invalidate means to cancel something or make it void, as if it never happened. In invalidate you see the word valid which means true or correct. When you invalidate something you are making it less true, less official, or less correct.” (vocabulary.com, March 2021).

The meaning above can be applied to things you experience. It can be caused by other people and events. It can make you question your thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences and reactions. It can make you feel awful. And people sometimes don’t even realise they are doing this to you.

When you tell someone that what they feel isn’t justified or to just stop feeling that way, then you are invalidating the way they feel. You are telling them what they are feeling is not true and not correct. Yes, you may not have felt that way in that situation but everyone is different and that doesn’t mean that what that person is feeling is invalid.

It’s important we think before we speak. It’s what might feel like silly things that can have an effect on other people and cause them to feel invalidated and it can start when we are children. What we are saying may to us sound reassuring but it ccam invalidate the child. Saying to a child who is nervous about an exam that they shouldn’t be is invalidating. Instead saying you understand why they feel that way but you feel like they are well prepared so it should go well is acknowledging their feelings as valid while reassuring at the same time.

Some mental health professionals could also do with understanding the power of invalidation. Telling someone that what they are experiencing is minimal or not that bad can have lasting effects on everyone and especially those with a mental illness. It can cause them to deteriorate further. On my write ups from the psychiatrist appointments it would often say my self harm was superficial and it would make me try to cause myself more harm as I felt they weren’t taking me seriously. I’ve also heard of people with eating disorders who are told they are not thin enough being made sicker.

I know that although having a diagnosis can be a burden I felt it a validation for what I was/am experiencing. It made me feel that someone could see that something was wrong and I needed help. However this means professionals need to be careful about removing diagnoses from patients as it can add to invalidation. You are taking away the validation you gave them. There needs to be a conversation and careful explanation.

It is possible also to invalidate yourself as well. This is harder to stop doing, I know I do it a lot. It’s important for us to try and allow ourselves to experience our feelings and acknowledge them. This is easier said than done though.

So when speaking to anyone try to consider their feelings and not cancelling them out. We all need to think of how our words and actions impact on others.

The Return To Normal

In the UK we are starting to hear plans of how things are getting better and back to some kind of “normal”. This has brought up many feelings for myself and others. Here I thought I’d explore some of mine.

In all honesty the thought of going back to how things were before the pandemic and lockdown feels scary. I didn’t particularly like it then and I’ve become more of a home body now like I have done in the past. I don’t want to go out other than to walk the dog. I like being at home. I like being able to do the things I want to at home. I don’t want to go back in to shops that are crowded. I don’t want to have to go to places that I don’t know. I don’t want to socialise. I’ve become comfortable with this life.

I really want to keep the two metre rule in place. I feel its helped us to learn a little about personal space, something so many people weren’t good at before. I don’t want to feel people closing in around me. Part of this fear will also be because we’ve not been allowed to be near others so we’ve become hyper aware of avoiding people and it will be strange to go back to how it was before.

I also have quite liked the lack of expectations on me. I’ve not been expected to be sociable which I struggle with normally. I miss my friends massively, please don’t get me wrong, and I want to hug them but I’m terrified of the social interactions returning. I’m scared I’m not going to manage it at all. I’m scared I’m going to screw up all my friendships again, like I have in the past. I liked having a stress free birthday and Christmas.

Travelling is going to be hard as well. I struggled with public transport before the pandemic and I feel that any progress I was making has been torn away. I don’t feel I could use public transport for some time.

I’m also terrified of just the thought of people doing normal things. What if things aren’t as OK as it seems? What if people I love become ill still? I’m scared of losing people still. How do we know it’s OK?

So those are a few of my worries. I currently have to fight off the panic attacks linked to thoughts of things becoming “normal”. And will normal actually look the same as before? I’m not great with any change but this all feels so big. I’m scared and overwhelmed with it. I’m trying to just go by each reduction and not try to think too far ahead but it’s hard not to let things snowball in my mind.

I hope things will get easier for all of us. If you wish to share your thoughts on lockdown easing and any tips you think may be useful use the comments below or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

I Don’t Have The Words

Finding words is difficult at a lot of different times and especially when struggling mentally. This is something at the moment that I’m finding is the case so we’ll see how this post goes. Good luck  to all reading.

Words come from many parts of ourselves. All our senses feed together into the brain and expect it to spit out the words that we need but sometimes it feels like it’s letting us down when we need it most; to tell others how we are feeling. This is definitely something I feel happens. I want to express how I’m feeling but no words come, especially if it’s an emotion. It’s frustrating as people say I’m clever and good at writing but I just don’t have the words for this part of me.

I know I’m not alone in struggling to find words for emotions and it is particularly something that can be associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and part of the therapy for this (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)) involves a section on identifying emotions. However this can still be difficult as it requires us to be able to find words for the sensations in our bodies and the events leading up to them. This isn’t always easy and I often can only use the words good or bad to describe the sensations.

Not being able to find my words leads to many difficult situations. I don’t feel I can ask for help when I don’t know how to describe what is wrong. I’m terrified of being misunderstood and it happens frequently when I do try to find my words. However it is difficult to sort these misunderstandings as I don’t have the correct words to make people understand how I’ve been misinterpreted. It makes for many difficult times. Often I will just allow myself to be misunderstood or I won’t try to explain in the first place.

Writing can sometimes be easier than actually talking. It often gives me a little more time to compose my thoughts and feelings into words. It’s often why I find phonecalls stressful and avoid them at all costs. This hasn’t been helped by many things during the pandemic being moved to phone appointments. Even face to face is easier as the other person has my body language to help them understand me.

Having a difficulty with finding words has effected my confidence in social and professional situations. I’m constantly in fear of being taken the wrong way or accidentally offending someone. It makes everything more stressful and I’d rather avoid situations than try and explain to someone my difficulties.

I’m still looking to find ways to combat my difficulty with finding words and would love to hear if you have found any. Feel free to share any ideas or your thoughts on the subject in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Winter Self Care In Lockdown

I know we are quite a bit into winter but as I’m in the UK we all know winter is going to be here forever more (yes I’m exaggerating). So I thought I’d put some winter self care together and that which is appropriate for a lockdown.

1. A warm drink

Simple maybe? Maybe not. The thought of making a hot drink for some feels insurmountable when times are hard but if you can it may make you feel better. Even just an ordinary soft drink is good as well. I’m not one for hot drinks myself so understand if you don’t want one.

2. Snuggle in some blankets

If all you can do is keep yourself warm and comfortable it’s still self care. It’s nothing to feel guilty about, your comfort is important. Enjoy the blankets.

3. Watch something you’ve wanted to

Whether it’s a boxset binge or a film you’ve been meaning to watch, make the most of the cold weather and the instruction to stay indoors and watch it. Remember you can always pause something if you can’t concentrate for long. I often watch episodes or films in bits as I can’t keep my mind on things for long.

4. Something creative

If you feel up to it then what about something creative. Drawing, modelling, painting. I’m currently doing a painting by number that really helps me with my anxiety. Even a jigsaw or lego is creative. Do what you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be perfect or put on display.

5. Reading

I read quite a lot but I know it’s not always easy so there is the option of listening to an audio book if you feel that would work better.

6. Nap

Naps are amazing. Have no guilt in giving your body what it needs.

So those are a few ideas from me. Obviously there are lots of different things that you can do. Do what is good for you. Remember self care isn’t selfish. It’s something we all need.