Posts Tagged ‘Mental Health’

Don’t Lose Your Grip Zimbabwe

Don’t Lose Your Grip has been around for the last 2 years. For Chrisselle and myself, it was a way of honouring our friends memory and coping with her suicide. Along the way we made some amazing friends and helped a few people open up about their mental health. This has been great but in 2013 we decided that we needed to take it to the next level.

On the UK front Chrisselle has been raising money for local charities with her Cupcake & Tea events in Livingston. This has also been a great place for people to find support in their local community while being able to open up about the mental health issues that are so often swept under the rug. Along with the fundraising teas, she is working on setting up local therapy & support groups and planning a charity benefit later this year. All in all, things are moving forward quite swimmingly.

We still have our weekly #TopicsToDiscuss about mental health on Monday’s and eating disorders on Tuesdays to raise awareness and remind people that it is ok not to be ok… Opening up about these serious issues are key in the fight against judgment and stigmas. And of course we still have our #InspirationalSongOfTheDay competitions because the way we see it, whatever you’re going through, someone else has also been there… and they probably wrote a song about it. Music can get through to us when ordinary words seem futile. Reminding each and every person suffering in silence out there that they are not alone is just one of the benefits of our twitter account.

On the Zimbabwe front things are just getting started… We have set up a Zim twitter account so that we can targert Zim specific stigmas and challenges regarding mental health. Every Thursday at 8pm we’ll be having a stigma-busting discussion on twitter called  #TTDzim (Topics To Discuss Zimbabwe) and hopefully every conversation will bring us one step closer to understanding and a judgement free country. We’re also urging our followers to kick off their tweeting day with a #ReasonToSmile and posting something positive about their day or something they are looking forward to on their page on a daily bases. We are currently in talks with a few professionals to help us set up a support line – someone you can call when you are feeling depressed or worried about a friend or need help getting in touch with a medical professional. Help is available, sometimes t is just hard to find… We want to do everything in our power to make support more accessible. And once we have our network of professionals set up, we want to set up a support group in every town.

No one should be judged for the way they feel and everyone should have the oppertunity to get help. Our world isn’t perfect and there is still a long way to go before we reach our Utophia but that doesn’t mean we should give up or stop trying to get there. The power is in our hands and we’re tired of waiting for someone else to be the change that we can be but we can’t do it alone, so join us on twitter or like us on facebook and let’s save some lives one conversation at a time…

Depression VS Bipolar

Mental health is confusing. Even those of us living it have trouble understanding it, so how can we expect others to understand it? Well, be listening to us when we talk about it…

Tonight we tackled one of the confusing things about Bipolar… how does it differ from depression?

We started by asking our followers how they would define depression?              

  • ·         like a permanent grey cloud over your head, regardless of the actual weather (weather = your situation)
  • ·         always sad, feeling really low and lacking self confidence, and getting more tired than normal
  • ·         when you want to be alone, but be alone with someone
  • ·         like a slow wave of dark, aching nausea
  • ·         when everyday noise is too much, but silence is unbearable
  • ·         black cloud that follows you everywhere – all the time
  • ·         a medical condition in which one experiences low moods for a prolonged period of time or in other words, hell on earth
  • ·         my life

All very vivid explanations of this frustrating disorder… and this is how the medical professionals define it. Official Definition:

Clinical (or major) depression is a serious illness that affects every aspect of an individual’s life, including their personal and family relationships, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health. The symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Decreased activity and energy
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Increased feelings of worry and anxiety
  • Less interest or participation in, and less enjoyment of activities normally enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Change in appetite (either eating more or eating less)
  • Change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less)

 

A lot less expressive and slightly vague… but then we asked them how they would define Bipolar.

  • ·         half the time sad and down and tired and then the other half happy and impulsive and never sleeping
  • ·         a whirlwind of highs brought down by crippling lows. highs can also be fuelled by irritability & anxiety
  • ·         lack of sleep, lack of inhibition, lack of reason and too much emotion.

Official definition:

Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in moods that alternate between “highs” (or mania) and “lows” (or depression). These manic and depressive periods vary from person to person and can last from just a few hours or days to several weeks or even months. Sometimes these periods of intense emotions are so brief and so far between that many people may not be aware that they have bipolar disorder. Sometimes these cycles are so strong and close together that it is very difficult to maintain a normal life and have normal relationships.

Bipolar depression shares many of the same symptoms of regular depression. Manic episodes are often harder to identify because many people don’t understand what the symptoms of mania are. If you experience episodes of depression followed by the following symptoms of mania, you may have bipolar disorder.

  • An extremely elated, happy mood or an extremely irritable, angry, unpleasant mood
  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased talking, more rapid speech than normal
  • Ambitious, often grandiose plans
  • Risk taking
  • Impulsive activity such as spending sprees, sexual indiscretion, and alcohol abuse
  • Decreased sleep without experiencing fatigue

 

So what’s the difference between Depression and Bipolar? This is what our followers came up with:

  • ·         I guess in bipolar disease u feel down and happy both at diff times (changes in emotions) but in depression mostly low
  • ·         I only have experience with depression, but I’m guessing the fact that you don’t get the “highs” with depression
  • ·         bipolar people are depressed for a shorter time and then go straight to manic and depressed people just stay depressed
  • ·         Manic Depression can mean either overly happy, overly sad or ‘normal’ where depression is just very sad most of the time

Official answer:

Bipolar disorder and depression are very similar illnesses with one major difference: People with bipolar disorder switch between episodes of depression and episodes of mania. Because these two illnesses are so similar, some people who are diagnosed as having depression may actually have bipolar disorder. One reason for this misdiagnosis is that people with bipolar disorder often only seek treatment during a depressive episode. They may also be unaware that when they’re not feeling depressed, they may actually be experiencing an episode of mania.

These two are so close and yet for the people living with these disorders, they are worlds apart. The wrong diagnosis can mean that it will take you longer to find a treatment plan that works for you but ultimately you will still get there. The most important things to remember with a diagnosis are that it is just the starting point and your input will determine how accurate your treatment is. Your doctor can not treat you for something if he does not have all of the facts and if you do not let him in on all of the facts, he will never know.

We also asked them how their diagnosis changed their lives.

  • I felt like it wasn’t all just in my head, I wasn’t making it up
  • it helped my younger siblings understand my mood swings and the meds have really helped
  • Diagnosis helps you to understand that what is happening to you is real

For most people being diagnosed was a positive… occasionally there are people who try to use your diagnosis against you and that is one of the reasons we need to stand together and talk openly about these issues. When we stand together and fight for equality while standing up for each other, only good things can come from it.

We also asked what they wish people could understand about these disorders. Take Note World

  • it’s an everyday struggle and that we have no control over it
  • forever hoping someone actually notices and cares to get me help.
  • it doesn’t make me a freak; it just means my mood swings are a little strange.

And what would you say to someone who is wondering if they have bipolar or depression?

  • Find a doctor with expertise
  • see your doctor. As terrifying as it is, it’s the only way you’ll know for sure

We finished tonight’s #TopicsToDiscuss by asking our followers if there was something they wish they had known back when they were first diagnosed. It mainly came down to not fighting it. Not trying to deny it or run from it but rather facing the diagnoses and accepting the help being offered to you. Whatever your diagnoses, you need to remember that it is only a small part of who you are and not all that you are. We also discussed that not every therapeutic tool or recovery technique or medical remedy will work for everyone. Every person is different and their treatment should be too, it’s up to you and your doctor to figure out what works best for you. Like Edison said: I have not failed, I have just found a 1000 ways for it not to work.

Find a treatment that works for you and stick with it. You are not alone and we are all here to support you through your recovery.

Not the end, just a helping hand

I was gearing up for another mental health #TopicsToDiscuss and thought it was fitting to discuss the UK bill that so many are excited about. It reached the 3rd reading in the House Of Lords.

This “order of commitment discharged” brings us one step closer to a world where you don’t have to be afraid to ask for help. Today, a Bill that will remove legislation that has been discriminating against those suffering from mental illness is a little closer to being set in stone.

But are we even able to see the changes around us? Have we become so immune to the positive and comfortable in our misery that we have forgotten to look up and see that little glimmer of hope at the end of our collective dark tunnels? Maybe we have… maybe it’s just me… maybe it’s not too late to change…

Looking back on the last few years I notice the change within myself. Not just growth or that understanding that can only come with time but also my judgement towards myself. I was so afraid at first. That very first passing diagnosis that I brushed under the carpet followed by the secrets I tried to keep from myself and the person I created to manipulate those around me into thinking that I am fine. All of the times I couldn’t open up or even own up to the demons I were fighting internally. The times I hated myself for being so weak that I couldn’t accomplish the simplest of tasks. I remember the anger and the disappointment that I directed at myself and looking back at it now, I realize that I must have projected all of this onto everyone else out there suffering from a mental illness too.

But through my diagnosis and a million discussions with patient individuals, I have learned. I have come to understand that beneath it all I am still here. The fear of what others might think of me means nothing now that I know how proud I am of myself, of how far I’ve come. I now know that a diagnosis is not the end, but rather a helping hand. I wish I didn’t keep it hidden for so long and I wish that I could have been just that little bit braver and opened up a little sooner but I still got there in the end, so it’s all good. I believe that I needed to keep my friends at bay under the pretence that they will ‘not understand’ or judge me simply because I couldn’t deal with the fact that I was judging myself so harshly. They were always there for me, no matter how much I pushed them away… And by never giving up on me, they continuously reminded me that I am worth fighting for. On the days when getting out of bed was so much harder than anything else I have ever done, during those moments every kind word someone has ever uttered in my direction and every hug I couldn’t wait to get out of, gave me courage and the strength to not give up. I am glad that I have lived through all of the things life has thrown my way because I am a more understanding person for it…

I can feel the power that comes from your first wake-up-breath and I can see the beauty in a strangers smile. I can appreciate the little things that so many people take for granted because to me, they are huge feats. I can open up about all of the chaos hidden in the corners of my mind because I know for a fact that it gets better! No matter how frustrating or draining or numb this day has been, the promise of a reason to smile for tomorrow over rules the damage that was done to me today.

Sometimes all we have to do is look up and take a little step back so that we can see the amazing rainbow popping out from that dark cloud hanging over our heads…

Love Never Fails

I’ve been suffering from depression since the age of 7. But I didn’t realize this because well, I was 7 and back then people didn’t talk about it.

I barely understood emotions, let alone the fact that they affect each of us differently. I had a good home: both of my parents loved me; I had a dog; I got A’s in school and I had friends and played sport… but I couldn’t understand why I was so sad all of the time.

I tried to distract myself… by playing with my dog; always doing my homework and dragging my friends outside to play sports. It worked, sort of… I had enough reasons to pretend to be happy. I had enough excuses to hide my pain and fear behind smiles. But then I got a little older and at 14 I realized that all of my friends were in that constant giggling phase and how much it annoyed me. At first I thought it was just because it’s sort of annoying but then I realized it’s because I couldn’t. I couldn’t giggle or laugh out loud. I actually became one of those people who would substitute a laugh by saying “Ha, that’s funny”. I couldn’t remember what my laugh sounded like and to make it worse, all of the things that I was able to use as distractions were no longer working. Instead of giving me a momentary relief, they were just reminding me of the fact that I needed a relief from being me!  And so, I had to find new things to help me find or rather fake ‘happy’.

I changed sports; took up drama and debating and I was even a cheerleader for 3 days before I came to my senses – I have no rhythm and I am not flexible! I changed subjects and my career path and I secretly hoped that it would get better. It didn’t really. I mean, I had a lot of fun and made really amazing friends and experienced things that I will remember forever but when I was alone, I was still me and I was still sad and it still hurt.

But I was finally old enough to understand psychology and with the help of some older therapists I got to take a closer look into my life and figured out a few things that I could make peace with and let go and a few months after my 15th birthday I had an amazing revelation of forgiveness that helped me breathe a little easier. And for a while I was only sad sometimes. It was around this time that one of the therapists who’ve known me for quite a while mentioned to me that she noticed that was suffering from manic depression and that she wanted to help me. The thing was, I didn’t want to be suffering from manic depression and I was scared of what helping me would entail. So I brushed her off and said that she was overreacting and that I was fine.

That’s when I realized that my hiding techniques needed to be updated. I filled my schedule to the extent where I would pretend to have watched TV shows that my friends are talking about when in fact all I did was spend 15min reading TV guide between all of the other activities… Thinking about it now, it seems really crazy but to me, it was the only way I could ensure that I had no time to think by myself or about myself. The distraction was great, ok not really. It stressed me out a lot! I was so busy all of the time and never slept more than 3hours a night and as productive as that part of my life was, just thinking about it exhausts me. And when High School came to an end, that’s when my little plot went up in smoke…

I was really stressed and lost and couldn’t figure out how to ‘be normal’ or at least calm.  I spent a summer getting back to family and nature and that was pretty cool. I found a couple of reasons to smile and it made the bad times seem not so bad. And then my grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 Cancer, my dad died, my life changed and I moved to London. I started a new life and hoped that I could run away from my depression. That didn’t work… As much fun as my new environment was, depression was creeping back in and this time its hold was a lot stronger than ever before. When I finished studying I started to see my life flash before my eyes and I was that confident that I was where I needed to be anymore. So, there I was: lying on the bathroom floor hoping that something would happen and magically it would all make sense again; that everything that I had been through would not have been for nothing; that I was strong enough to go back and face my life. Sadly that was not even close to what my mind wanted. I would spend days not sleeping and then crash by sleeping for 30hours straight. My eating habits were, well erratic to say the least and getting out of bed was a massive effort let alone getting out of the house. I did have a few friends who never gave up on me and kept dragging me out. I’m really thankful to them, because without it I would not have been able to make it through those years. But just like before, none of those mini distractions were able to ‘fix’ my depression and the thoughts that were stuck playing on a loop in my mind…

So once again, I changed my surroundings and moved to the other side of the world. I thought that maybe simpler would be better and that if I could just go back to the basics, everything else would make sense again. That’s not exactly what happened. Instead I just had way more time to myself and the loop of negative thoughts in my head just became louder. It was also during this time that one of my friends committed suicide. This rattled me a lot! More than most of the people in my life realized. See, to me, she had so much more to live for than I believed I did. And I was so close to the edge myself. Push the thoughts of ending all of it out of my head was getting harder. If Lacey couldn’t cope, what chance would I have of living a happy life? Or even just surviving?

But once again my friends came to the rescue. One simply talked to me about his problems and allowed me to realize that I was not completely alone in my misery, plus it gave me the opportunity to put my painful experiences to good use by giving him a little bit of advice. Then there was Chrisselle, after everything that she has lived through, she managed to turn it into something productive. All of her pain and anger channelled into making a difference. This life saving difference goes by the name of Don’t Lose Your Grip.  It saved my life. Chrisselle saved my life.

Not only did I have a way of coping with the loss of a friend and a reason to give a positive meaning to this pain but I also had something to do when being stuck in my head got too much. And one day as I was talking to all of these people on the DLYG twitter page, people who were also going through the things I was feeling, I realized that this was a great opportunity to talk about our fears and fight stigmas publicly. One thing lead to another and that’s how #TopicsToDiscuss was born. It’s an open platform that allows all of us and the DLYG followers to share their views and opinions on everything from Mental Health issues on Monday to Eating Disorders on Tuesdays and Self Injury on Wednesdays.

Sometimes it’s hard to talk about these things openly and honestly but the way I see it, if we don’t, who will? We have the opportunity to educate those who have experienced our thoughts by sharing the thoughts we have kept secret for far too long. Occasionally we ask questions we do not even have the answers to and every once in a while someone new will join the conversation and we’ll be able to change their negative perception of mental health or eating disorders or help them see beyond the scares of selfharm. That, to me, is a victory.

Every conversation we have brings us one step closer to an accepting world. One without judgement.  One where love never fails…

Be the change

It’s been a while since I’ve dedicated a post to Don’t Lose Your Grip (the charity my friend Chrisselle started) so I thought I’d give you guys an update.

Firstly, our website is currently experiencing some domain issues and therefor most people can’t access it but we’re working on it and will let you know when http://dontloseyourgrip/chrisselle.com is back in action.

But more importantly, we’re all doing really well and happy with the direction that Don’t Lose Your Grip is taking. But before I talk about the future dreams we have for DLYG, let me fill those of you in who haven’t heard of Don’t Lose Your Grip yet.

Basically a year and a half ago one of our close friends Lacey Crawford took her own life. Now I can sit here and list all of the reasons that lead to that moment that she felt so hopeless that she committed suicide but that’s not going to bring her back. So instead my dear friend Chrisselle Mowatt started this organization where we are trying to change the stigmas that promotes judgment. Every Monday at 8pm UK time we are using Twitter as a medium to discuss everything about self injury (aka cutting aka selfharm). On Tuesdays at 8pm we shift the topic to Eating Disorders including EDNOS and every Wednesday at 8pm it’s Mental Illness. Because eating disorders can be considered as a form of self injury and has mental health implications; because self injury is considered by some as a symptom of mental illness and because mental illness can include insomnia or depression which generally leads to a loss in apetite… well you get the point, it’s all very closely linked and some have even grouped it under mental wellbeing or mental health and for this reason we also have a combined #TopicsToDiscuss on twitter every Sunday starting at 12:00.

We ask the questions everyone else tip toes around; our amazing followers share their own real experiences and fears and the hope they have built up during their recovery. Basically we’re an over tweeting gigantic support group. And everyone is welcome as long as they agree not to judge… Trust me, we’re really good at standing together so play nice.

It can get pretty serious sometimes and that’s one of the reasons we also open up our direct message door to all of our followers. Sometimes it’s too hard to talk to the whole world and you just need 1 person to listen. There are so many people out there scared to get help; being turned away because they don’t fit the perfect criteria yet… no one sees that asking for help is not the first thought on our minds, it’s generally somewhere in the middle, somewhere after we have tried to convince ourselves that it’s not happening to us; that we spend years trying to deny the fact that we are in trouble before we build up the courage to ask for help… To be turned down at that point can be devastating! But life has evolved and we have this amazing new tool called ‘social networking’ and it’s about time we step up and use it for more than gossip or discussion about Justin Bieber’s hair…

You can’t be serious all the time though, I mean the world is depressing enough we need to find a way to focus on the positive. That is one of the reasons we do an #InspirationalSongOfTheDay competition every Sunday – Thursday where our followers nominate the songs that inspire them during the dark moments and the 5 finalists that they voted for goes onto a poll on our FaceBook page. Plus, music can help us express what we are feeling before we even know what exactly it is we are feeling. Music can bring a variety of people together like no other medium. Whatever you are going through: someone else has also been there and they probably wrote a song about it.

Seeing so many people connect to a song is the best way for us to prove that everyone out there suffering in silence are not alone. You are not alone! We have been there and it does get better…

We hope that we can use music one day to help raise money for charities dedicated to helping EVERYONE. We hope that one day we won’t need to schedule a conversation to allow people to discuss these very important issues with those around them. We hope that those who have received help will pass it on and support others who also need it. Basically, we still have faith in humanity and are tired of waiting for the world to change. You have to be the change you want to see in the world.

If you have ever suffered from an Eating Disorder or even so much as considered self harm or if a simple thing like getting out of bed in the morning feels like the hardest thing in the entire world to accomplish then you are very welcome to join our #DLYGfamily. If you’ve never personally experienced it but you’ve seen the signs in those you love, join our cause and show everyone suffering that you care and that you are aware. If all of this just seems too foreign or out of your comfort zone, then please join us and allow us to help you understand that these things do not define us, they are just a little part of us.

Don’t Lose Your Grip Zimbabwe

Those of you who are crazy enough to read my blog on a regular basis will know that I moved to Zimbabwe this year because I’ve loved the amazing culture of hope since I was 12 years old. You’ll also be aware of Don’t Lose Your Grip and our friend Lacey Crawford.

For those of you who might have missed it: Don’t Lose Your Grip is a charity concert and fashion show aimed at raising money [along with much needed awareness] for eating disorders, self injury (aka cutting aka self harm) and mental health issues such as depression. We’re relying on Musicians to volunteer their music for a good cause and to help us show that charity really doesn’t have to be boring. Our models are ALL normal people who want to help us promote positive body image or simply those who are recovering from / trying to live with an eating disorder. DLYG is aimed at ending the judgement and rebuilding self confidence.

We live in a tough world where you are criticized for believing in yourself and told you are a failure because your hair is the wrong colour or your figure doesn’t resemble Barbie or whatever the latest super model’s name is. In Milan this year, they were using MEN to model WOMEN’s clothes!!! So now we’re supposed to look like men in order to look attractive?! Come on!! This mess the media and our society has created over the ‘perfect image’ is not just leading to total confusion and terribly dangerous eating habits, it is also causing a lot of self hate and building on existing depression.

Cutting, eating disorders and suicide, very different symptoms of the same problem are gaining on us. The problems being alienation and depression; the symptoms: cutting and suicide. Personally I don’t know one single person who does not at least know of 2 such victims. This is a global problem and we are ALL affected! Chrisselle started DLYG because she’s tired of seeing her friends suffer in silence and feel so helpless that they take their own life. And so am I!!!

That is how DLYG Zimbabwe was born. This global problem of ours needs our attention right now! I know that Zimbabwe has a lot of other issues that some may say take precedence and to some extend I agree but that doesn’t mean we can ignore mental health and wellbeing. If we are dumb enough to ignore these problems right now, it will lead to devastating affects we, as a country, have no means to defend against.

Living with disrupted power supply; limited communication with the world outside Zimbabwe unless you use technology from down South; driving down roads where there are more potholes than actual tar left; looking at fields that use to be known as Africa’s breadbasket only to see wild flowers and dirt there instead of maize; walking into any shop in the country and seeing the face of The Man who has forgotten what the word ‘president’ means and being the last of your family still remaining in a country most of the world has written off can be very depressing!! You cannot honestly tell me that you are not saddened by what you see. But the amazing thing about Zimbabwe is its people! The hope that exists in their hearts is second to none! Zimbabwe is a rich country not by monetary standards but by heart!

So I urge all of you, to stand with me and acknowledge that you see the person standing next to you; that you see their suffering [depression]; that you see their cries for help [cutting, eating disorders] and that you help me raise awareness so we can help each other.

Keep your faith in humanity strong,

AM