Getting your own back on cold callers!

These days, it seems I get more junk and spam phone calls than phone calls from my friends and family! It is enough to make you want to bin your phone all together. Calls on the land-line are especially annoying as it is a difficult number to change. A lot of the calls I get are scammers, people trying to get your money any way they can. I am fortunate, I grew up in an age where we were taught about the dangers of these sorts of calls but there are plenty of people, particularly of my grandparents generation, that get duped into giving away their life savings. There are many different types of scam, some include trying to get the victim to hand over their bank card and trying to push double glazing that gets paid for and never delivered. Part of the issue is that the more we wise up about the scams, the more clever and convincing they are becoming. And sometimes you don’t even need to fall for a scam to fall victim to a scammer. With things like ransomware clicking on one wrong link is all it takes for them to hold your computer and everything on it to ransom.

My most recent caller caught me at a particularly bad time. I am frustrated at the moment due to only having one arm (the wrong one at that) available after breaking my scapula (shoulder)… leaving me in a sling and in considerable pain. In reaching for the phone I leant on my bad shoulder… which HURT. And then I get told, in very broken English, that my computer has a virus that could make me lose ALL of my data in an irretrievable way unless I paid him £249.99 upfront and gave him remote access to my computer so he could remove it.

I figured I had two options.. one tell him his mother should be ashamed of him for trying to scam vulnerable women and hear him hang up… or have some fun with him. I went with the latter. Mostly because the scammers are used to being insulted so it doesn’t phase them in the least, and partially because I was bored.

To begin, I pretended to start hyperventilating and crying. I started yelling about how all my precious pictures were on the computer and that I couldn’t bare to lose them. I pretended I was getting my bank card when instructed while simultaneously telling him I couldn’t breathe and that I needed an ambulance as soon as we were done talking. I read out the first two numbers of my card, while he was telling (begging, really) me to calm down. Then I turned it up a notch, and demanded to know what this virus was called and then asked him if it was contagious and if I was going to die or if I needed vaccinating. He genuinely sounded worried about me actually bless him. I read out the next (fake) two numbers of my card before crying about my parents having to bury me so young and my daughter having to be without her mother, and I asked him why this virus attacked me and what I did wrong. He was telling me to take deep slow breaths and I could hear the chatter in the background die down a bit. He kept saying “you won’t die, you won’t die, don’t worry” over and over. I was genuinely starting to cry with laughter a bit at this point, which was probably why I was so convincing.

Finally, I decided enough was enough, I had had my fun. So I ended the call by saying, in a suddenly calm and serious voice “Well, this was fun. We should do it again sometime!” then ended with “You let yourself down, you let your mother down, you let your country down…” *click*.

Job done!

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Is medication right for you?

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I take a frankly ridiculous amount of medication daily. And I am not going to lie and say I enjoy taking them, because I don’t. But each tablet I take was prescribed after careful research and consideration on the parts of both myself and my GP. I weighed up the risks and benefits of each medication, considered if I thought it was worth it (in terms of risk/ benefit), and considered what the next steps would be if this particular medication didn’t work. Both my and my doctor also took into account the fact that the more medications you take, the less predictable the interactions can be.

Medications, however, aren’t always- read usually- the ‘magic cures’ we believe and want them to be. Unfortunately there is no such thing as a magic pill that works for everyone all the time. That is why the decision to start on medications is such a huge one. It can be much more of a long-term commitment than people realise. Of course, there are plenty of lucky ones who find the perfect medicine first time, but for many people finding the right medication or mix of medications at the right dosage takes time. True, most medications we start we don’t need to take for long, but there are plenty that are a longer term commitment. It is also important to note that in terms of antidepressants and similar medications, sometimes you need to take them for a few months or even years before you are able to stop. But it would be a mistake to assume (except in rare cases like meds to stop you rejecting transplanted organs) that you will have to be on these medications for life. Antidepressants are there to help you regain control of your life and the aim is always to be able to live a healthy and productive life without them in the future.

For most people, there will be a medication, or combination of medications, that control and manage their symptoms. Getting to that point is well worth the wait… however it can sometimes be a relatively long journey that involves trying a number of different medications and doses while you are figuring out what works for you. Since some medications can have bad side effects it can be disheartening to discover yet another medication isn’t working for you. I can only urge that you continue looking. It is very important you are honest with your doctor. If the side effects to a medication are unbearable then let them know. It is worth remembering though that in a lot of cases the side effects lessen and eventually disappear once you have been on the medication a while. My personal recommendation (always to be discussed with your GP) is to give the meds 3/4 months before deciding to move on. Unless they make your symptoms worse or you are unable to cope with the side-effects, that is. For minor issues you may well find they disappear with time.

Medications, particularly for mental health issues, are not the only (or even the best) way to help yourself though. These medications are generally there to help you get into a better frame of mind so you can tackle the things that are behind the mental illnesses. This may include counselling or therapy. That, in combination with medications, can often mean a faster and more complete recovery.

For some people, medications are simply not the answer. There are a hundred reasons that could be the case, including simple patient preference. If you don’t want to start medication for whatever reason, please don’t feel like you are powerless. There are still plenty of things you can do to help yourself. Perhaps the most important (and most often overlooked) way to help heal your mind is to heal your body. And I realise that sounds counter intuitive. But doing what you can to eat a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients will help every aspect of your health, including your brain and mind. Getting exercise releases endorphins (or ‘happy hormones’) that make you feel happy, safe and secure. It is also an excellent way to reduce stress. Getting the proper amount of sleep is also vital to both good physical and mental health. Anyone with insomnia can attest to the fact that a lack of sleep affects everything from memory to stress levels, it slows healing and can lead to a myriad of health issues including heart problems.

This is something I struggle with immensely, but it is also worth remembering keeping a clean and tidy home will also help your mental health. The saying ‘tidy house, tidy mind’ is very true.

Here is the issue… having mental health problems can make doing those things a million times harder than usual- and they aren’t easy to start with. But it is not impossible. A lot of it involves getting the right support around you, so let your friends and family know what your goals are and what they can do to help you achieve them. Love yourself unconditionally. Accept there will be days where you fail or where you just can’t be bothered.. and that is perfectly okay so long as you get up the day after. Don’t give up on yourself, and others won’t give up on you. If you really want to help yourself, there are relatively easy ways in which you can do it, with little cost involved.

Ultimately, the decision about whether or not to take medication is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong answer, and as much as I wish I could… I can’t make the decision for you. The only thing I will say is that if you go down that road then prepare yourself.. it may be a longer road than you want.. but when you get to the right mix you feel like you gained your life back and it is a little bit magical! All I can say is… look after yourselves!

I am not a doctor, and I don’t play one on the internet. As with any medication, it should be carefully discussed with your doctor, and you should do your own research to ensure it is right for you. You are your own advocate so if you don’t feel like something is right, let your doctor know. Trust me, they genuinely want you to feel better and will do whatever they can to make that happen. And just like you should never start a medication without talking to your doctor first, you should NEVER stop taking one without talking to your doctor either. I have seen it a million times where people feel fine so stop the medication that is helping them feel that way, and they have often gone back to square one pretty quickly. If you feel like it is time to come off a medication, particularly one you have been on for a while, it should be done slowly over a number of weeks under close supervision.

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.

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.

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

 

Q&A: My guilt is taking over my life.

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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!

Clinging on!

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So it is nearly 4am, I can’t sleep, I am in pain… so where else would I be?? 🙂 I thought I would write a positive post for once. As the readers that have been with me for a while will know, my birthday is coming up (17th April). This time of year, I usually have a dip in my mental health. I am not sure why, but I think it is because I get fed up that I have had to fight for another year. It gets me down and wears me out.

This year, however, I am not doing too badly. Whilst I can feel my mental health dipping a little, normally I would be in the gutter by now, and I am not. This is fantastic news!! When I was younger, my mood swings used to be much more frequent, and I would go up for a few weeks then down for a few. Over the years, the gaps between my dips have gradually gotten larger, and now I tend to dip in April and August. It makes sense, as both of them are anniversaries. I have hope, however, that the fact I haven’t dipped QUITE so far yet means the time between dips is once again expanding.

I still suffer with nightmares that make me wake up screaming, and I still struggle with anxiety… but the fact that I am coping a little better each year gives me hope that this battle wont be so hard forever. Of course, I could be completely wrong. It could just be that last years August dip was SO bad that my mind feels it has done its work for a while.

Either way, I am counting my blessings and enjoying it. After all, I don’t know how long this will last so I have to make the most of it while it is here.

It is hard sometimes when you are climbing a particularly tricky mountain to take the time to look down at how far you have come rather than up and how far you have to go. When I look down, it is like looking into an abyss. It is dark, and ever lasting, and miserable, and impossible. If I gaze up a little, I can see the beauty around me. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by so many beautiful people it is sometimes a wonder how I manage to feel sad at all!

So here is my advice to you… if you are reading this and have mental health problems, no matter how bad things seem right now take a second to look back. If it helps, do what I did. Set up a private Facebook group that only you have access to. Write in it all the good memories you have, all the good days you have, all the people you love and everything that makes you feel good. When you are in your darkest moments, you have a good read of that page, and remember the good times. If you do that, you will start to see the beauty around you and you will start to look at how far you have come and what you have got, not the fact that you can’t even see the top of the mountain yet because it is covered by a huge black cloud. And just think, when that cloud clears and you have reached the top…what a view you will have!!!!

That journey will have made you empathetic, sympathetic, a wealth of advice, and your muscles (strength) will be phenomenal. It doesn’t matter if you hit an icy patch and slide down the mountain a bit, because if you do it gives you the opportunity to see that view again. And that is what will help you up.

It helps, of course, if you have a guide to help you navigate and some friends to help egg you on when you get lost. You may lose some of them along the way but you know the ones that are with you when you reach the top will be with you forever. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The more people you bring with you the easier it will be. And despite what you think, you will never be alone if you don’t want to be.

Everyone has someone

Now is the time to ask for help. Be that from your best friend, your parents, your GP, your MH support worker, the crisis team or Samaritans, there is ALWAYS someone who will be willing to talk to you and who will want to help. And why not talk to other people in the same boat? After all, some will be able to help you and pull you up, and others you will be able to help, which also gives you a boost up. So what’s your excuse! Get going!

As always, my inbox is always open and I will reply to every message, though it may take a day or two as I get so many. If you feel alone, you have a friend in me!