Things you should never say to someone with mental health issues.

There are some things people say that really get my back up. And it isn’t because they come from a bad place, it is mostly ignorance and a lack of forethought. So I thought I would create a general list of things people with mental illness really don’t want to hear. It is imperative that you don’t compare yourself to someone who is mentally unwell. Our brains work differently, we cope with things differently, and we experience things differently. This is true even of completely ‘normal’ minds, but when there is mental illness involved it is a completely different kettle of fish. It is like comparing oranges to apples, black to white, and stripes to spots.

“Just…….”

Putting ‘Just’ before a sentence implies what you are asking someone to do is easy. There is no ‘just’ when it comes to mental health issues. They are by definition messy and complicated, and different for everyone.

“Get over it”

Again, this implies that it is something easy to do. You wouldn’t tell people to get over a broken leg, so why tell them to get over a broken mind? If it were that simple, don’t you think we would have done it by now?

“You’re making excuses”

This one really is a pet hate of mine, as I have a friend who says it all the time. I am not making excuses, I am giving you reasons. Just because this is something you can do doesn’t mean we all can. Imagine trying to teach a 2 year old algebra. Their ‘excuse’ is that it is just to hard for them. Do we try to guilt them into learning it? Or shout at them for not knowing it? Do we make them feel stupid for not doing it? Of course we don’t. We know that their brains just aren’t quite ready to handle it yet. There are some things my brain is perfectly capable of understanding, but not capable of doing. When I tell you how something is going to make me feel, that isn’t me putting limitations on myself or making excuses, it is me knowing how I will react. Say if I walk 10 steps, on the 11th step I would fall over. If that has happened the last 100 times I have walked those 11 steps, it is more than reasonable to expect it will happen again. Of course, I cannot be 100% sure until it happens, but expecting it to happen and preparing for it to happen is not the same as making an excuse. In fact, preparing is the smart thing to do, and if I can arrange it so I only walk 10 steps at a time and not the 11th all the better.

“You have the same illness as _____ and s/he manages just fine”

A broken leg may be a broken leg, but it could be a fracture of the femur, tibia or fibula. And even on the same bone, you could have a hairline fracture, a clean break, a spiral fracture and so on and so forth. So while I may have the same mental illness as someone else, it doesn’t mean I will experience it in the same way. More than that, finding the right treatment plan can take years. The amount of time you have lived with a mental illness plays a role in your recovery too. For example, BPD generally gets a little better with age. So it is really intense in your teenage years and slowly gets better until (for most people, particularly those diagnosed in their teens) by the time you are in your mid thirties it has mostly gone. If you didn’t get it until your 30’s, however, the age at which you recover will be later. Therefore it isn’t fair to compare one persons recovery to another’s.

“You seem normal to me”

I get this a lot. People generally wont know I have mental illnesses unless I tell them, and most people are very surprised to hear just how many I have. I blame the media for this. ‘Crazy’ people in films are often shown in the middle of huge breakdowns, unable to communicate properly, unclean and untidy, often sitting in a chair muttering and rocking back and forth. This isn’t the reality of mental illness. The truth is unless you know someone very well it is easy to miss the signs, and we can come across as perfectly normal. That doesn’t mean we are normal though. There is a lot that goes on behind closed doors, and we aren’t at rock bottom all of the time. Mental health waxes and wanes, sometimes you are okay and sometimes you aren’t. The chances are you aren’t seeing the whole picture.

“Stop focussing on the bad stuff”

You are assuming that simply focussing on the good is all we need to do to get better. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Also, lots of mental health issues make you think of the bad bits without really wanting to. Depression sucks all the colour out of the world, PTSD shoves painful flashbacks and nightmares in your face, BPD amplifies negative emotions 100 fold, GAD makes you excessively worry all of the time. Mental illnesses can be all-consuming. That is hard to fight. And it doesn’t mean we don’t cling to the good either, it just means we can’t simply blot out the bad.

“It could be worse”

That is true. For every single person on this planet, their problems could be a LOT worse, and there are always going to be people who suffer more than us. And I know people say this to try to make us feel better. But I don’t feel the way I do because I think nobody in the world has suffered more than me, I feel the way I do because what I have been through sucks. Knowing someone else is going through worse makes me feel bad for them, but not better about myself. I count myself as very lucky, and very blessed. Making me feel guilty for complaining when others have it worse though wont help. When you get a flat tyre you don’t think “well at least I don’t have cancer!”… you think “damn, I have a flat tyre. What a pain”.

“It is all those tablets you’re on, you should stop taking them and then you will feel better”

This infuriates me. And I hear it a lot. It makes me cross for two simple reasons. 1) If I was fine, I wouldn’t have gone on them in the first place. I didn’t wake up one day and think “Hey! I know what! Today I will go on antidepressants! Because they will make me have mood swings and put on weight and make me numb and that will just be so great!” 2) I dread to think what I would be like off the meds. Here is a simple fact… without medication I wouldn’t be here today. It really is as simple as that. And I know that medication alone is not the answer, and I know medications aren’t right for some people. But you aren’t my doctor, you don’t know my medical history, and you don’t know where I was without them. So don’t comment! Advising people to stop taking any medication is dangerous and frankly stupid. Please don’t do it.

What makes me sad is that people with mental illnesses (or any other ‘invisible’ illness like Fibromyalgia or ME) still have to justify themselves to others. I shouldn’t have to explain why I feel the way I do. If you love someone, you should love them warts and all, and realise the line between encouraging someone and doing them harm is frightfully thin. Raising your voice and demanding people snap out of it, or just do what you do, or just get on with it is harmful. More than that, it is out of order. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to stop making a fuss, get off the crutches and start walking already.

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Getting a diagnosis: Mental Health Issues

Having a mental illness is an emotional roller-coaster, right from the start. But getting a diagnosis is a life changing moment. It is both terrifying and relieving. It is also the start to your road of recovery.

Probably the first emotional you will feel is relief. Finally you will have a reason for the way you think and feel. You aren’t simply ‘crazy’, there is a reason you feel the way you do. It means you can start doing some research on what you have, and it is amazing how many times you will think “wait… that is a part of this?!”. But more than that, it is a relief to finally have something to call this demon you have been living with.

Next, you will probably feel fear. Suddenly you are officially ‘crazy’. You have a label. This isn’t just a bad phase, this is something you are going to have to learn to live with. And for some people, it is a life long struggle that may never leave completely. It is also about the time doctors start talking about therapy and specific treatments tailored for that illness. And then you have to worry about meeting the other ‘crazies’. And when you do that,  you will meet some people who are going through an even harder time than yourself and you will wonder if that is what you look like to the rest of the world. You will worry about what your friends and family will think, about how your employer will react, who you have to tell etc etc.

It is a scary place to be. And I have gone through the same emotions each time I have been given a new diagnosis.

The truth is, however, that an official diagnosis opens doors. It helps you get a tailor-made treatment plan in place and helps you explain what you are going through to others. It takes a bit of the mental strain off too. Sometimes I do or think things I don’t like… but instead of hating myself for it, now I can say “well that is [depression/ BPD/ GAD/ PTSD/ DID etc] in play”. I am not sure about other people but that certainly helps me get through the day.

Don’t hate your diagnosis. It does not define who you are… no more than a broken leg does anyway. It just tells you what you have. And once you have that, you can start looking at why you have it, what treatment is best, and most importantly how you move forward. When you first get a diagnosis, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s the end of the road, but it is just the beginning.

Make sure you take the time to research your diagnosis. I made it my business to learn all I could about mine and it gave me back some of the control that the illness had taken. For example, I had no idea that my spending issues could be traced back to my Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder. I thought I was just terrible with money (which I still am lol). But now I know what the issue is, I have been able to put things in place to help. Now all my bills are paid by standing order the day the money goes into my account. That way, I can’t spend it. At least it means I am not falling behind on my bills any more! The more you understand the more you can help yourself. And it may help your family to do some research too. As my mum says, she doesn’t often like what I do but knowing the reasons behind it helps her cope. So, don’t give up. This is just the first step!

Here are links to some previous blog posts about the different things I have been diagnosed with and how they affect me:

The truth about: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The truth about: Generalised Anxiety Disorder

The truth about: Dissociative Identity Disorder

The truth about: Borderline Personality Disorder

The truth about: Depression

The truth about: Insomnia

And where to get help when you need it:

Help!

Suicide doesn’t stop love… and why we should fight stigma.

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Today marks 8 years since a young lady, just a teenager, decided to end her own life. She was beautiful, popular, funny, intelligent, and talented. She had a smile for everyone. And yet, inside, she must have felt so alone. She either decided that we wouldn’t care, or that we would be better off without her.

I understand feeling like that. I have been there. What she never knew was just how much love there was for her in this world.

She is one of the reasons I started this blog. In my own small way, I wanted to make sure that people know they are not alone, and offer guidance and support, along with details about how to access more direct help. I didn’t have anything like this when I was first diagnosed with mental health issues. Me and my family had to stumble through in the dark without out dated and unhelpful information. It left us sorely unprepared for the realities. With this blog, I aim to help ensure no one else feels that alone.

But I can’t do it alone. I need your help. I hope once you realise you are not alone yourself, you can help make sure none of your friends are feeling isolated. A simple message saying “Just wanted you to know I am thinking of you and hope you are okay” can transform someone’s day. It takes a few seconds to do.

Mental health issues don’t care if you are rich or poor, what colour your skin is, what post code you grew up in, how old you are or what your job is. At least a quarter of us will suffer some form of mental health problem in our life time. ALL of us know someone who has had, has, or will have a mental health issue. And to be honest most of us know a lot more than just one.

This is a shared problem that affects every single person on this planet. So it is time to stop the stigma. Stop the naivety. Stop the prejudice, the discrimination, the hate just because people are scared. It is time to educate people about the realities of mental illness, thereby enabling even more people to get help rather than trying to face it alone.

I find people often get stuck on what to say when they find out someone has mental health issues. The best advice I can give is to start with ‘Hello’…. or “Howdy” if you are feeling really adventurous! We don’t tend to explode without warning you know. We don’t bite! (Well….most of us anyway) We don’t want to make you feel awkward. What we do want is to be treated like human beings and not like problems. If we can get rid of the stigma, maybe we can help our friends, family and loved ones before they get to the point where they can’t see a way out.

By writing this blog, I hope I can help a few people. What I really want, though, is for YOU to help a few people. Then those people to help a few more. The only way things will ever change is if we get the issues out in the open. And if you are reading this thinking it doesn’t apply to you? Well I am afraid you are mistaken. xxx

Check out this if you are ever in a crisis situation. And this if you ever feel you are at rock bottom.

If you need help and don’t know where to turn, check out this link.

Stop wasting the time of the NHS!

I love the NHS. It is one of the finest institutions in the world, and it is so popular people come from all over the world to try to take advantage of it. Free at the point of use. Magic words! Unfortunately, we face losing our beloved institution. Unlike popular thinking, this is not just the fault of our government. It is OUR fault. It is astonishing how many people abuse the system.

A&E should NOT be the first port of call for every minor grievance. We complain of long queues in A&E, but that is because people go in with colds, mild headaches, splinters (that are easily removable), sore throats, bad period pains, because they are drunk, and with issues that have been going on for weeks.

A&E should be for EMERGENCIES only. You should only ever go to A&E if you feel your life is in danger or if you have had accidents that can’t be treated elsewhere, like broken bones. But even broken bones can be sorted in some walk-in clinics. It really should be for when you are at death’s door or fear you are becoming seriously ill.

There are many branches to the NHS, and some are underused. For mild conditions like athletes foot, thrush, the morning after pill etc. you can see any local pharmacist that is part of the minor ailments scheme. They are able to prescribe treatments for a number of illnesses (a list can be found on the NHS website). Your GP should be dealing with any ongoing issues, you shouldn’t just decide you have had enough of feeling under the weather and go to A&E.

However, the GP’s are overcrowded, again because people go in for silly reasons. If you have a cold, don’t spread your germs around, have some paracetamol and hot lemon then go to bed and rest it off. Doctors can’t give you antibiotics for a virus. Stop asking for it. They wont work, and in fact will do you more harm than good, because one day we will run out of antibiotics since their overuse has made bugs immune to them! That is why we have super bugs like MRSA. You don’t need to walk out of the office with a prescription every single time. Honest!

There is also your out of hours doctors for when symptoms worsen when your regular doctors is closed. They should be used before going to A&E if you don’t believe you are seriously ill and need to be admitted to hospital. They are there to help!

We also have 111. The new ‘NHS Direct’. This should be used when you have an urgent problem that doesn’t require a phone call to 999. They will help figure out where you need to be (out of hours doctors, A&E, in bed at home etc). They can provide advice to help make you more comfortable, and about how to treat at home if that is what’s best.

This is a decent website to look at and it covers more of what the NHS offers.

Not everything is simple, and I understand that. Sometimes a cold is pneumonia, a headache is a tumour and sore throats are throat cancer. Ultimately the choice of which service you pick is yours. Only you will know how bad you feel. I think many people who use A&E know whether they are there for the right or wrong reasons. We live in a world where people don’t expect to be unwell and when they are feel they should just get some tablets to feel better instantly. It doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes we need to feel rough for a week or two while our bodies do their amazing thing and defeat the virus.

If people would only accept that, and accept we don’t have a cure for everything, perhaps there will be less stress on the NHS. We have the power to make the choices that are best for us. And the fact that it will benefit the NHS too is great!! When we pick the right service we are making sure we get the best possible care. If we all did it, it would reduce waiting times across the board and ensure we are getting the best possible care for our needs. Don’t forget, in A&E you often get trainee doctors that are trained in emergency medicine, not the more mundane ailments. You will find the service you receive is better when you pick the right place.

There are talks of making people pay to go to A&E to try to combat this problem. That goes against the very nature of the NHS but is a real possibility if we carry on abusing it. So I say now is the time to take action and think before you start that drive to the hospital.

Say you are having a heart attack, and you are waiting to be triaged. If the three people in front of you were all there for minor ailments that a pharmacist could have solved, would you be happy? Knowing that the damage from a heart attack gets greater the longer it is going on for? Or what if you were the patient going in with something minor and you find out the guy two people behind you in the queue just dropped dead and may have been saved if he hadn’t of had wait for you? These aren’t just theories. I was genuinely in a triage queue with a man having a heart attack… and the guy in front of us had a cold. Fortunately in this instance the man having the heart attack was fine. But it could have been worse.

To save our NHS, we need to change our behaviours before we start campaigning against the government.

The truth about: living in pain.

Pain can take many forms. Most people will be acquainted with physical pain, but there is mental pain too, and phantom pain. I am writing this because I live in pain. It is constant. I have both mental and physical pain.

The problem with pain is that it starts of a cycle. I am living in so much physical pain that it starts to hurt mentally. You start trying to find ways to cope with the pain… and when hot baths and morphine don’t help where can you turn? If you are me, you turn to cutting*. Mentally, you start to get really, really fed up with the pain. You ask “why me? What did I do?”. You wonder how you can cope with another day in so much pain. The physical pain makes the metal pain worse. The mental pain makes you less able to cope with the physical pain, which feels even worse.

The truth about chronic pain is that it destroys lives. I can’t do the things I want to with my daughter. I am confined to my bed often. I sit and cry because I don’t know what else I can do to cope. It is pushing me right to the edge and there is nothing I can do about it. The pain isn’t going to get better. There is no end in sight. THAT is what chronic pain does to someone.

So next time someone  you know lashes out a bit, next time you get fed up of someone moaning about pain yet again, please try to imagine what it is like to go through. Imagine how happy you would feel when you hurt constantly. In some people, the pain will be obvious. In others, they may look perfectly normal to you. But you don’t know the struggle they go through.

Friends and family of those with chronic pain can feel quite helpless… after all, there is no magic wand to make it all better. The truth is chronic pain isn’t something you can imagine easily. That makes it harder to empathise. We get that. The truth is if someone you love is struggling with pain, they need  you more than ever. Make the effort to give us a hug. Make the effort to go over and talk to us since we may not be able to get to you. Don’t abandon us because we never come out any more. You may never know just how close to the edge we are.. and your kind words may help us cope.

The truth is pain isolates you. You feel alone… like no one understands. We have more time than most to sit and think… which inevitably leads to us to hating ourselves for not being able to do much. There is nothing you could say to make us feel worse, so your opportunity is to make use feel better. It doesn’t take much, but a few kind words can mean the world.

 

*If you feel like self harming, please refer to my crisis box! xxx

 

The Truth About Suicide.

Suicide is not the end. It is the beginning. For those left behind, anyway.

I have stood on the edge of that cliff, and a few times I was shockingly close to jumping. I know what it is like, and I know how easy it is to convince yourself that your loved ones would be better off without you. It is easy to convince yourself you are doing the right thing. And I know that when you are on the edge like that, there is no such thing as ‘the bigger picture’. You get tunnel vision. All you can see is the end, and all you feel is pain. There is no room for anything else. No room for family, friends, anyone else.

Those that commit suicide often convince themselves that nobody will care. That is what a young lady I was friends with thought. She believed suicide was her only way out, despite being just 15. What she didn’t know was how much it would affect her friends and family, and just how many people would be devastated. She forgot how many people loved her, and she had no idea that we would NOT be better off without her.

I still cry about it, nearly 8 years on. I still wish I could have done more. I still wish I had taken the time to talk to her when she asked (I asked her to wait as my baby was screaming for a feed). I wonder what was the straw that broke the camels back. I wonder if I could have saved her. I wish she didn’t feel so alone. She was popular at school. She had the voice of an angel. None of us saw it coming.

I know you feel alone when you are standing on the edge. I know you can convince yourself they will be better off without you. The truth of the matter is that you are sentencing them to a life time of pain, ‘what ifs’ and anger. You might be out of pain but those who love you wont be. And if you happen to think you don’t have anyone that cares, think again. EVERYONE has someone.

The truth is suicide is never your only option. And trust me, I know how tiring the fight can be. It is soul-destroying at times. But there will be good times, and they are what will help you pull though. I have a page full of useful websites and numbers for if you find yourself in crisis.

Suicide is an answer, not the answer. And trust me, it is the wrong answer. If you could only see the bigger picture you would see just how much love surrounds you, even if you can’t see it or find it just yet.

I have included a contact form. If you ever feel like committing suicide, please email me. You are not alone. I will reply to everyone that emails me.

[contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form

Q&A: My guilt is taking over my life.

Q&A

Dear Hayley,

I have done some thing in my past that I am not proud of. I am trying to move on but guilt about my past failings is preventing me from being happy. I feel like I don’t deserve happiness after what I have done and it is really getting me down. I am not sure how to cope and how I can move on? Any advice would be great!

Sue*

Hello Sue!

Feeling bad about our past is perfectly normal, and I have yet to meet someone with absolutely no regrets. I know we spoke in detail about this, and the things you have done, and I hope I was able to assure you that they weren’t the most awful things in the world!

I know you have come so far since your ‘darker days’ and you shouldn’t forget that. But since this is causing you so many issues in your day-to-day life, including anxiety, I suggest you visit your GP. They may be able to give you some temporary medication to help you back on to your feet whilst you await some counselling. I think talking things through properly with someone will help you forgive yourself.

I suggested writing a letter to your younger self, telling her the everything will work out okay. Sometimes comforting the part of you that you feel let down by can be a massive comfort, and it can help you see things from the perspective of the ‘younger you’. As we get older we get life experience; experience earned only through having gone through what we have. If you had never done what you had, you would not be the person you are today, and that is something else to cling on to. You are so much stronger than you think and you ARE a good person!

The most important thing I can say is that you WILL pull through this. Your past may not be perfect but you are trying to better yourself now, and that is so important. Many people keep repeating the same bad circles, never learning anything, and they are the ones that will struggle to find happiness. The fact that you could see where you were going wrong and have tried to change it is proof to me that you will make it.

I asked you a question, and found your answer interesting. I asked you if you would think any less of your best friend if she came and told you that she had done everything you told me you did. And you said “of course not!”. So why is it any different for you? You are a completely different person now than you were years ago, so why not try forgiving that person rather than forgiving yourself? That may be easier.

I wish you all the best!

 

 

 

*Names have been changed

The advice I have given here is my opinion only, and it should never replace that of a medical professional. I have been emailing Sue for a few months now. She has started therapy, and it is going well. She is also on some medication for her anxiety. She has approved both the shortened version of her original email I posted and my response, and is now ready for her story to be shared. She hasn’t found things easy, and has uncovered some deeper issues during her therapy, but she is coping really well and feeling positive about the future. She wanted to share her story because she felt alone. She said, and I quote, “The world is so much harder when you don’t like yourself, it is like being around an enemy 24/7 and you can’t escape, not even for a minute, so the hatred just gets deeper and deeper”. I have to admit, I can see exactly where she is coming from, I am not particularly fond of myself a lot of the time either. And that is exactly what living with a mental health problem is like. But there is a sentence to live by: If you don’t love yourself, no one else will be able to love you enough. It is true that there is a void that can be filled only by us. And that is why having the best support network in the world isn’t always enough. But it is a very good start, and sometimes seeing how much other people love you helps you see yourself through their eyes, not your own.

 

I will keep you updated with Sue’s progress as she continues on her journey. It is still early days but the if the improvements she has made already are anything to go by, this story at least will have a happy ending!