World Mental Health Day

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First off Happy World Mental Health Day!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I want to talk about and I’ve decided I want to talk about talking.

Anyone who has experienced any kind of mental health challenge will almost certainly have had someone say something deeply offensive or at best  insensitive to them at one point or another; it seems par for the course that there will be at least one person you want to punch straight in the face. Whilst possibly useful for releasing anger or tension this response will do nothing to foster positive relations or break down the number of violent stereotypes surrounding mental health so I figure it’s important to respond in a more healthy or ‘educational’ way.

A couple of gems I have recently had are:

‘I sometimes just want to tell people to go and sit in the concourse (of the general Hospital) and get a bit of perspective’ – A healthcare professional

‘It’s better for you to be at work though right? Rather than just sitting moping about the house’ – in relation to my feeling low and struggling with being at work

‘i’m just challenging you on it’ – in regards to querying the effectiveness of medication

My thoughts are this; people with mental health experience generally do not: imply mental health is inferior to the trauma experienced by physical health conditions, describe depression as ‘moping’ or choose to ‘challenge’ someones intimate personal experience. This is because if you have any understanding of mental health challenges you know: mental health can be physically painful, feeling immobile from low mood is not a half assed attempt at functioning and that taking medication is challenge enough without someone challenging you on whether you should be taking it.

So what this says to me is that we are entering a new era of talking about our mental health experiences honestly but the world isn’t fully equipped to handle them yet. There’s a huge number of resources aimed at supporting someone in talking about low mood or expressing suicidal thoughts but there’s not a great deal about the general day to day discussions which we’re trying to promote as being part of normal conversation (I know, we’re British so we cannot say the truth but we… must… try!). So here are my top 5 talking tips:

1.There is a difference between challenging someone on their experience and asking them. Challenging is annoying and doesn’t really encourage the person to feel supported, asking will usually still answer your questions without asking them in a direct or confrontational way. For example ‘Don’t you think medication is being handed out too easily’ is different to ‘what are your views on the use of medication for mental health’, yes you may have to converse a little more to discuss the topic you want to know more about but that’s life and you may even form a connection. When you don’t ask someones opinion you devalue their personal experience so it’s useful to show someone their experience is valued and important to you, even if the conclusion isn’t something you agree with.

2.It’s ok to not know what to say! There’s a tendency for us to get uncomfortable and shirk conversations away when we don’t know what’s a helpful or useful response but this only makes the person feel uncomfortable too when they have allowed themselves to be vulnerable. A human response to someones pain or discomfort is to want to do something to alleviate it but that’s not always possible so we need to be comfortable with saying ‘that’s shit, i’m really sorry you’re feeling that way, let me know if I can do anything to help’. It sounds super mundane and unhelpful but if that’s the most you can offer that’s good enough and is certainly better than shutting it down or awkwardly sidling off to take an imaginary phone call. I recently saw on Facebook that a colleague had gone to A&E as they were really struggling, I don’t know them that well so I messaged and celebrated the fact they had recognised they needed help and I hoped they got what they needed. Afterwards I went away feeling hugely underwhelmed at myself, I was a blogger for gods sake why was I unable to come up with a better response! But when I saw them next they thanked me for reaching out and I realised that with the constraints of having a professional relationship and not knowing them well that was the best I could offer at that moment and that was good enough.

3. Don’t assume! Don’t assume your mental health experience is exactly the same as others, don’t assume you understand someones experience because you share common features, don’t assume you know where someone is at now, don’t assume someone is comfortable to talk about it if they haven’t raised it. This blog works on the fact that Bipolar has specific elements to it that are unique to the diagnosis but also on the fact that I make clear these are my experiences and opinions. Where I may have made generalisations in the past I’ve since learnt how varied people can be and whilst I find diagnosis helpful for rounding up some difficult and unique experiences I acknowledge that those are still felt in different ways by different people. I now try to use ‘I’ statements or over use the term ‘generally’ when talking about mental health to ensure people feel included and given a space to voice their opinions. The dream is of course finding people who share these experiences in a similar way and then you no longer need to be too uptight and you can make royal ‘we’ statements like true kindred spirits.

4. Get comfortable with every day conversations about mental health. I’ve noticed recently if I talk about suicidal thoughts or some of the more ‘hardcore’ scrapes I’ve got myself into people will do this serious face where they nod a lot and look very concerned because they now know It’s important to engage in these kinds of conversations; but if I colloquially talk about everyday mental health like low mood or something upsetting me people get weird . This is silly because the every day conversations should help us to avoid the big serious conversations by fostering a healthy, communicative environment where people don’t bottle up or lose access to support they need early on.

We’re so hard wired to not be open about our real feelings that all this media and publicity has gone straight to the stuff we’ve deemed super important (suicidal thoughts for example) and bypassed the stuff that effects the majority of us. The other day a friend called who had been trying to get hold of me for weeks because she knew I wasn’t feeling great, when I answered she said ‘how are you doing’ and I quickly responded ‘yeah I’m fine’ and then realised ermmm hang on no i’m not that’s literally why she’s calling and quickly corrected myself with ‘actually I feel shit I dont know why I said that’. It’s all about promoting honesty and this applies not only to those with  significant mental health challenges but to literally everyone, if we all do it then it becomes weirder to not say what we actually feel.

5. Ask people questions! Ok so not everyone is going to want to open up about their stuff but the internet is a weird, gross and beautiful place and the awesome bit is that there are SO many mental health bloggers who will be more than happy to answer your questions so go to town! As long as you’re polite and respectful most people who put themselves out there to share their experiences accept a certain amount of curiosity in return! This means you’re much more equipped to talk to people who maybe don’t want to be as open if they reach out to you.

I am an exceptionally open person and have learnt to be very upfront and frank about where I’m at and how I’m feeling because I find it easier to process and far more empowering than keeping my mouth shut (basically an impossibility for me anyway). That said even I have times where I think actually that’s quite an intrusive question or I really didn’t like the way that was phrased and everyone is entitled to say ‘hey now, that’s not cool I don’t want to talk about it’. The idea is that if everyone is comfortable having these conversations in the first place those that want to talk can and those that don’t will have been spoken to in a polite and respectful way which makes it easy for them to say no. Similarly if someone reaches out, even if it’s just about having a crap day, people should feel comfortable to respond openly.

I hope you have a great day, here in the UK it’s meant to be a balmy 23c which is ideal considering the sun is meant to make you feel good!

As always if anyone has any questions you can always pop a comment below or ping me a message and I’ll make sure I get back to you!

(Image credit: https://www.buzzfeed.com/kirstenking/have-you-tried-herbal-tea)

Just a few of the people that make it easy for me to talk…

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The Conversation Hat

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Joining Liam and Ben on the Conversation Hat podcast was an absolute delight and quite frankly a very surreal experience. Having swiftly downed a gin and tonic beforehand at a nearby pub (anyone close to me will know that is pretty much my upper limit so enjoy the ramifications of that) I was taken to a studio bigger than most peoples rented flats in the back of a beautiful garden and treated to a superb cup of tea.

Ben is like a kind of blue haired Russel Brand who is able to articulate nonsense so eloquently you just want to sit back and let it wash over you so you can fully absorb his total weirdness (ideal for someone who co-hosts podcasts). Liam is like a teddy bear that you want to cosy up and eat mince pies with and watch films with on mute whilst he narrates them to you in special voices; the combination is surreal but awesome and I certainly couldn’t recommend their podcasts highly enough.

Liam and Ben are superb hosts and I have the voice of a 14 year old private school child so between the three us there’s definitely reason to check it out.

You can find the podcast here: Podcast

You can check out all of the Conversation Hat series on Soundcloud here: Conversation Hat 

You can follow the Convversation Hat on Facebook here: Facebook Conversation Hat

Or check out some of their other stuff through Stabbed Panda Productions here: Stabbed Panda Productions

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First Exhibit…

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Whilst painting has never been something i necessarily do to express my emotions (unlike a lame tampon commercial i’m not going to have a ‘blue period’ any time soon), it has always been part of my self-care and identity. My first exhibit is meaningful not just because it’s pretty cool for people to tell you your stuff is awesome but because when i get a bit lost and worried about work and my health it’s a very good reminder i should ground myself in the other parts of my identity. I’ve found it easy to lose sight of things since work began to dominate 80% of my time 8 months ago and this exhibit is an excellent poke in the ribs that i’m not just my job and i can still have fun and be creative.

Of all the places to get my first proper exhibition the Edge Cafe on Mill Road couldn’t be more perfect, it’s focus around supporting recovery in the community, forming connections, support networks and providing a safe and calm space is something very special. If any of you have read my blog for a while you know the last thing i can stand is a dim, ever so slightly grotty building aimed at supporting those with mental health challenges whilst simultaneously being the most depressing building you’ve ever been in. It’s therefore a revelation to have a space created that is light and airy and filled as much with the builders from next door having a bacon sarnie as it is people engaging with workshops and support provided. Places like the Edge Cafe are exactly what we need to create if we are to engage the local community in spaces aimed at breaking stigma and supporting those with mental health challenges.

For anyone interested in attending workshops, events (i’m heading on down to the open mic night on the 7th which so far has proved to be great fun!) or simply reading more about their mission you can check them out here:

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For anyone who would like to pander to my shameless plug you can check out my work at http://www.hannahtouhey.com or follow me on Facebook here.

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The Balancing Act

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Step 1 – Work clothes!!

Morning everyone!

As most of you will know I tend to write the most when i’m pooped and my insomnia is terrible so HELLO! I’ve been up since 4:30am,  admittedly not very well but still it’s very frustrating seeing as I’ve had a nice little bank holiday and was feeling very well rested but what can you do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about work/life balance the past couple of weeks as I started a new job (same department, same organisation so don’t get too excited) at the start of August. At first I was like ‘literally why have I decided to do this when I just got on top of the last one, can I not give myself a break and coast for a bit’ but alas I have a bit of a complex about proving myself after years on benefits. That said i’m really enjoying it and definitely feel very challenged which is always good when you feel like your brain turned to mush for a couple of years. Not being funny but I’m crushing this new job and the downside to that is I’ve been finding it quite hard to switch off. I realised my sleep was a bit all over the place and I was waking up thinking about rotas which is both lame and problematic and I decided I needed to make some changes.

Firstly I’ve become terrible at finishing my day on time and have a tendency to over stay my hours if something needs finishing up. As my friend noted I am not paid enough to do that and the perk of low paying jobs is you can clock off at 5pm and not worry too much – or you shouldn’t anyway; so that was the first thing to go. I’ve noticed there really is a toxic unspoken idea that dedication = over extending yourself and it’s hard to escape, I work for an organisation that actively discourages this approach but I still get sucked in. I am exceptionally lucky that my first ever Manager preached the good stuff, she informed me that a) you do not need to be reserved or overly boundaried to remain professional and b) hierarchy in the workplace is nonsense and we all go home and get into joggers and binge on Netflix at the end of the day. As a result I simply need to remind myself of these things and I ground myself into remembering work is just work and I need to leave on time.

Secondly I’ve gotten good at coming home knackered and not cooking, exercising or engaging in self-care which is a shame since I was crushing it a while back. Some of you may know that I have chronic health conditions which cause me to get really tired and/or be quite unwell a lot. At the moment I’m still sussing out how to engage in self-care without tiring myself out so I’ll often go for a swim, do a food shop and then need a nap. As a result I get fed up and stew in sweet resentment and don’t bother with anything. So step 2 has been to identify the key things that need doing e.g a food shop, washing and keeping the house clean and prioritise those, if I don’t cycle to work or swim it’s not the end of the world.

Thirdly and weirdly my smart casual workplace dress code has thrown me, whilst it’s great because I don’t need to worry too much about looking snazzy each day my home clothes are my work clothes and I’ve noticed this isn’t always useful. I now have a 3 step approach to clothing: step 1) work clothes that are clearly identifiable as work clothes, step 2) lounge clothes, as soon as I get in from work I change into doss clothes that signal the end of the day, step 3) pyjamas, an hour before bed to signal that it’s time to sleep. This generates a lot of washing but is a good way of sectioning out my day.

Fourthly ensuring I make time for a sleep routine, I’ve got sucked into the habit of watching TV till i’m too exhausted to do my teeth and crashing out which means I don’t wind down enough and switch off. I’ve recently noticed how much of a hangover effect I get from my sleeping pills and so i’m trying to wean myself off them which is sort of working. Last week I slept through most days but so far i’ve found that as soon as I mess up that schedule by like, I don’t know, going for a drink and staying up later than 10pm, my body clock stubbornly refuses to revert back. I also refuse to not have a life and just become a loser that always goes to bed at 10pm in her Disney pyjamas so i’m resolutely sticking to waking up at 7:30am every morning, or in this case 4:30am (still not over it).

Finally i’ve made a conscious effort to balance my socialising outside of work. The main thing I resent about Bipolar is the fact i constantly need to self-monitor to ensure I don’t trigger myself into an episode which when i’m tired can be quite easy. I do this by balancing time alone with time socialising, we all do this but I’ve become hyper aware recently of how important it is. Last week I took Friday off to extend the bank holiday but then spent time with people back to back till yesterday, it sounds super sad but I noticed myself start to get anxious and overwhelmed quickly and ensured I had a day to myself yesterday to unwind. On the one hand it’s frustrating to be constantly weighing up how much fun is too much fun but on the other hand I know full time work is exhausting and i need to not overstimulate.

All of these changes seem to be sort of working but it’s been interesting to me how easy it is to fall into the pattern of overworking and lose perspective of what matters. I’m a big believer that no-one gets to the end of their life wishing they had worked more and we need to prioritise the things that really matter. That isn’t to say you can’t be passionate about your work or committed to it but we need to drop the idea that a good employee is one who goes ‘the extra mile’, it’s unhelpful and doesn’t encourage us to work to the best of our ability. Recently I spoke to a palliative care Nurse and asked her how she doesn’t take it home, she replied ‘you have to be able to switch off otherwise you’d be no good to your patients’ and I have decided to live by this rule so I am good for my colleagues, clients and most importantly myself.

Crushing it…

This week i’ve averaged about 4 hours sleep a night which is slowly taking it’s toll on my mood and my face. Insomnia is such a bitch and makes absolutely no sense to me, i currently pray for heat exhaustion to take me slowly into a blissful dehydrated sleep. I’m not entirely sure why it’s happening because i’m doing the most exercise i’ve done in months (which isn’t hard because i’ve pretty much been a blob on the sofa) and my sleep hygiene is ON POINT, which only goes to show that insomnia is rather fickle. When i’m feeling a little hypomanic this kind of non sleep is a warning sign i frequently ignore because i wake up feeling so god damn productive and alert; it is during these times my flat is immaculate and i have food prepared for the week by 8am on a Monday morning. This current type of insomnia is not a warning sign because i wake up and have a little cry because i am so tired.

Having insomnia and a full time job is a bit of a new world for me, in the past if i woke up at 3am i’d just take a sleeping tablet and knock myself out till 10am but seeing as i should be at my desk at 10am this is a no go. Sleeping tablets generally stay in your system for around 8-10 hours so it’s a bit of a judgement call as to when you can take them. At the moment i’m exhausted and fall straight asleep but then wake up a few hours later and can’t get a song out of my head (usually an annoying one by Little Mix) or i begin to list the things i could be doing if i had energy.

All this said i am surprised (and impressed) that i am at work everyday and functioning well. This was always one of my biggest concerns about working, that sleep was such a trigger i’d become a hypomanic whirlwind of productivity and inappropriate emails. Now discharged from services i worried no one would be there to notice this decline (or incline) into oblivion and my colleagues would be on the periphery like ‘well she’s sorted the filing cabinet in 20 minutes but she’s also telling Brian to F off, should we say something?’. The reality of course is that 1. i am self aware enough to see the gradual shift and 2. no HR team is going to let me send a 1000 word essay on the outrageousness of providing unbranded coffee.

I am wary of any kind of celebration of my ability to work because it feels like i’m giving the conservatives a little pat on the back for pushing me into it but i remind myself that they gave me the shove and it’s just sheer luck and hard work that i had metaphorical upper body strength to pull myself up. That said i’m finally crushing it, this week i cycled to work 4 days, went for a swim twice and actually sat and ate with people at lunch which is a thing i never do because i’m usually pooped and need some mental space midday. My flat is tidy, my washing is done and there are no huge jobs looming, it’s not in a frantic buzzy way just in a ‘ah cool, i’ve got myself together’ kind of way. I’ve realised that the image i had of working professionals perfectly put together with healthy lunches and immaculate homes is really just based on my one friend i saw after work this time who looked like she stepped out of Suits, it’s not the norm. Everyone has times where they come home and watch TV for 5 hours straight (Love Island why must you sink your teeth into me) or buy a ready meal or get straight into their pjs, that’s not a mental health thing that’s just life.

The routine of work and the validation i get from doing something meaningful with my time is really great and i can see that whilst sometimes i’m like ‘arghh i just need sleep’ i’m also making friendships and being challenged in a way i haven’t been since i graduated. This was all realised for me on my birthday a month ago when i came to work to flowers, presents, cards, bunting and cake. Usually on my birthday i’m like ‘cool still alive and doing literally nothing, awesome’ but this year i was like ‘cool still alive, awesome’. That may not sound like much, it’s literally just removing 4 words, but those 4 words are huge for me. I have genuinely spent the last few years watching my friends get good jobs, make other friends and generally have fun and i’ve been sat at home with earl grey tea and having sleepovers with a borrowed dog from the village. I love that stuff but its also nice to go for a drink in the evening and have brunch with people and do regular in your 20’s stuff. The very fact i haven’t been blogging much is an indicator that i am busy having fun and don’t have huge amounts of free time anymore, THAT IS UNHEARD OF FOR ME. This new realm of enjoying life is a big deal and i am very grateful for all the support around me that has allowed me to reach this point :).

 

The article everyone is talking about..

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Yes, yes, yes!! Several people had recommend i read this article before i stumbled across it this afternoon whilst cooking pizza, tindering and perusing the Guradian and i have to say i’m a bit obsessed with it. Whilst there are some aspects i can’t relate to or disagree with (there will always be a need to increase normality around mental health conversation in my opinion) a frustration with the mental health system and the concept of ’empowerment’ as a covert way to devalue or critique someones feelings or ability to get well i certainly can. Such an interesting read so make sure you check it out (it’s a bit long so make a cuppa first or in this heat set yourself up with a fan and an ice lolly). 🙂

Click here for the link to ‘it’s nothing like a broken leg; why i’m done with the mental health conversation’

‘Stop Suicide’ survey!

CaptureHi all,

hope you’re having a great day! If you have time please do complete this survey (probably takes about 5 minutes) on their marketing campaign – you’ll probably have seen it! I had a bit (understatement) of an issue with the ‘choose to live’ comment at the end so kindly sent them an email detailing why that was insensitive but you might love it! Do send them an email if you have anything to note as there isn’t much scope for you to make wider comments! you can email them at:survey@cpslmind.org.uk

Cheers! 

Click here for a link to the survey!