Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Recovery is as Recovery Does

"Recovery" is a term that a large group of people have a problem with when it's applied to mental health. Recovery is defined as "the action of regaining possession or control of something that was lost or stolen". I see no reason why that can't apply to my mental health. Recovery from a mental illness begins the day you decide to fight back and it counts whether your fight is strong and fast or a slow burner, like mine. I've been in recovery for almost 2 years, and slowly but surely I am regaining possession of what I've lost - my confidence, my stability and my sense of security. 

The problem with explaining mental health recovery is that no one really understands what it entails. There is this expectation that recovery will be a straight line up. That each time you do something out of your comfort zone, the next time will be easier. God, I wish that were true. Recovery is this awfully messy trail where absolutely nothing makes sense. The problem is that when you're ill, you can't focus on the good and so you don't hold onto that memory which tells you that it was all okay. It's so discouraging when you have a good day doing something out of your comfort zone, only to find that the next time you go to do the same you're no less terrified. 

Recovery is always two steps forwards and one step back (sometimes two). The key flaw in my recovery so far has been my approach, I enter every situation filled with dread, and I spend the entire time anxious. It doesn't matter what I'm doing and it doesn't effect whether I was happy at the time, but I can promise you I was anxious, and that's all I remember after. For the first 18 months, I really expected that when I did scary things they'd get less scary each time. Seem's logical, right? It's a real wake up call when you realize that that is definitely not what's happening. A new therapist and a new way of life, and now I'm developing a new approach, a patient approach. I suppose that's what it comes down to, patience, this isn't a quick fix thing. I'm at peace now having accepted that it is going to be messy until I fix what's wrong at my core. Coping skills are great, they get you from A to B but in a world where i'm anxious all the time, it isn't enough in the long term. 

Saying all this, I know recovery isn't the same for everyone. For some people, feeling the fear and doing it anyway is a valid approach and will work for them. For me, it's only made my life harder. When I feel the fear and throw myself out there, there's a 75% chance I will have a panic attack and not return to that place for months. I haven't been back to Reading since May. Now I'm taking a more relaxed approach to it all, I am accepting my limits for now, and putting faith in my new therapists system. I will sort it from the inside out, instead of putting myself out there and getting burnt.

My recovery is something I don't notice immediately. It takes time for me to become more comfortable with something and it evolves so slowly that eventually it'll just become apparent that I don't worry about it so much. Usually it's someone else who points it out for me. It's easy to fall into this pit of hopelessness where it feels like I'm not recovering at all, and I know I'm not alone in that, and so it's important to me to keep lists and records of things that I feel have improved. I can say for certain that I am no longer afraid to be home alone, I don't (usually) get dizzy in the supermarket anymore and I can take myself for very short walks. While these things aren't exactly getting me any closer to a fully functional life any time soon, I suppose added together they stand for something bigger and that is that recovery is happening. It's easy to forget with every step back that there have been steps forward. It's always worth remembering, whether you're suffering or not, that recovery is never linear. It's not like breaking a bone, it wont heal smoothly over time. There will be fall backs and that's okay, we'll get there eventually. 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

We Need To Talk About The Failures of the Mental Healthcare System.

"When you have mental illness society tells you your only power is invisibility. Tells you that they would save you if only they could see you, but of course, they cannot see you. Of course they will not save you, no matter how bright you sew your cape. Invisibility is not a superpower, it is the best weapon of a broken system desperate to make their streets look clean." - Brenna Twohy

I woke up this morning, to find that #MentalHealthcareSoPoor was trending on twitter. As a long term member of this club, I've been made fully aware of the pitfalls of the mental healthcare system but to see it all set out in that way, to see people talk about what they've been put through as a result of the stigma attached to mental health, is heart breaking. But more than heart breaking, its infuriating. The reality is that mental health services are so poor because the illness isn't as visible as a physical illness, you can't take an x-ray or see it in my blood, and therefore it's treated as subjective. 

The reality is, no mental illness is invisible, it just requires one person to pay enough attention in order to notice that there is something clearly wrong. You cant have an active untreated mental illness without presenting symptoms and behavior changes, even if, like many, you keep them as secret as you can. I couldn't hide my disorder even if I tried. The issue with doctors and health care professionals is that there just aren't enough around to provide sufficient time and care for a person suffering from a mental illness, meaning most are written off as "teenage hormones" "stress" and "overreactions". GP surgeries are set to a 6 minute appointment target, and that's just not good enough when a person needs to explain the full painful workings of their own mind. 6 minutes wouldn't even scratch the surface of what a doctor needs to know about me. I'm fortunate enough to have had a GP who has set aside time to work with me, and gave me full control over my own treatment. I have no doubt that I am one of the lucky ones. 

In 2014 the We Need to Talk Coalition, carried out a survey and found that, out of 2,000 people who tried to access talking therapies, only 15% were offered the full range recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). For many, especially in the poorer, lowest funded areas of health care, the full plethora of mental health treatments is not offered, only medications and the lowest level of talking therapy. 

There is such a high demand for growth in mental health services, and yet it's still so under funded and under represented. The Care Quality Commission found that in 2011-2012 16% of wards visited by the Mental Health Act Commissioners were over capacity and about half of the wards were nearly at capacity, with occupancy level of 90% or less. These statistics represent only hospital wards, where mental illness suffers have finally ended up. I have no doubt that if there was more concern and attention given at the first appointments, and more suitable and effective treatment given immediately, the numbers of patients having to be hospitalized would be so much lower. I'd like to clarify that hospitalized patients aren't limited to those who are suicidal or have attempted. These wards will be filled with those suffering from a whole variety of disorders, who just need immediate care. Due to the overcrowding of wards and GP surgeries, emergency departments are regularly overflowing with those concerned about their mental illness, because it is the final place where someone might listen. 

The estimated global cost of mental health problems is £1.6 trillion, which is greater than the individual cost of cancer, respiratory diseases or heart disease. Yet still, investment in prevention is so limited. Currently research into mental illness is only receiving 5.5% of the total UK health research spending (£115 million). 

I often can't help but wonder where I would be, had I have been relying on the NHS and had be left with a GP who didn't have the time or empathy that I needed. I was first sent to a free "talking therapy", where the specifics weren't on my illness, but on my general well being, and while this was a good enough experience it wasn't sufficient when I developed full blown Agoraphobia. I am forever grateful that I am part of a family who were financially stable enough to get me into private Cognitive Behavioral Therapy when I needed it most. I was seen within a week of inquiring and have been in continuing treatment ever since, for 18 months. In start contrast, pursuing mental health treatment via the NHS is torturous and extremely inefficient. After an initial consultation with a doctor, you will be put on a waiting list for therapy for about six months. Usually, to tide you over for those 6 months, you will be given medication. While I was fortunate enough to choose medication on my own accord, for those treated by the NHS, it isn't an option. In 2012, Avivia's Health of the Nation Report surveyed 202 GP and found that 75% had prescribed medication even though they felt psychological therapies would be more effective. After those 6 months are up, you will receive a letter informing you that you are close to the top of the list. When you finally get your place in treatment, you only get 6 months of treatment provided. I know for certain, that if I had to wait 6 months for treatment, I wouldn't have made it to 18. I regularly hear stories of people, who were made to wait those months out alone, and subsequently took their own lives in the meantime. There has to be a better way. 

I feel as though I could talk about this for hours, the statistics are shocking and utterly terrifying. To know that I live in a world where, if for some horrendous reason, I was left without the financial support I have now (touch wood), I would suddenly be alone without treatment for 6 months straight is harrowing. I've got enough anxiety to worry about. I don't know how to approach the idea of budgeting, but I am certain that if we have to start somewhere then we ought to start with understanding. It is shocking how few medical professionals have satisfactory knowledge on all the various mental illnesses. And while no one person can be flawless when it comes to understanding these things, it is a core reason why so many patients are left without the support and treatment they require, because the doctors they see aren't aware of the signs or severity of what they're dealing with. I went un-diagnosed for an entire year, despite seeing multiple doctors. If a single one had simply asked the right questions, maybe I would be in a better place today. Looking back now, it's almost humorous how obvious it was that the symptoms I was presenting with collectively added up to anxiety. 

The most important factor in making a change here is understanding the medical severity of mental illnesses, and accepting that just because you consider them to be invisible does not in any way mean they can be made to feel lower in importance. You wouldn't postpone the treatment of a chronic physical illness, and mental illness should be the same. In many if not most cases, it is still a life or death situation. The national healthcare system in place pushes mental illness aside, because they cannot see the damage done, they cannot watch the illness spread. There is no sense of urgency, all through a lack of understanding, and that is exactly where change needs to begin. 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Lady Love

There is something so effortlessly pure about the bonds formed between females. Be it your life-long best friends, or a stranger in a public bathroom, the bond women have with each other is always a beautiful one. Every one of us can probably recall at least one time in our lives when a female stranger has helped us, or we helped them, for no reason other than the unwritten rule that all women should support each other. We will selflessly hand over a hairband, a tampon, make-up or tissues just because of this ingrained rule that all women will look after others. Seeing girls openly support each other on social media fills me with pride, we've come so far to this point where we can celebrate each others achievements and pretty selfies alike, whether we're best friends or complete strangers. However, unfortunately, in so many other ways we aren't as supportive as we should be.

We've all been guilty of shaming another woman, whether it's for the way she dresses, who she dates or what she does with her life. There's no use in denying it, for the most part it's just an inevitable part of human nature. Tell me you've never taken a screen-shot of something posted by another girl and sent it to your friends, just to moan about the part you disagree with, and I'll tell you you're lying. While I can't demand we all stop being so bitchy behind closed doors, I will fight for a change in the way we talk about other women publicly. 

You see, the issue is that if women get busy tearing down other women, it gives men a clear open door to do the same. And while it's not a woman's right to judge another woman, it is even less so a man's right. 

When a woman publicly tells another woman that she's overweight/wearing too few clothes/wearing too much make-up she is essentially justifying every comment a man has made too, because in the end, if the whole team doesn't support each other then why should the other team have to support us too? This is often the case with celebrities, people feel that as they open themselves up to the public, we are free to comment on their lifestyles. Women making a comment on a female celebrity's body or dress choice is no worse than commenting on a stranger you sort of know on Instagram. You are still displaying that as a gender we are divided, and prepared to undermine each other at the expense of the whole side. 

If you'll excuse my somewhat severe analogy and roll with me here, the endless rape cases in the media are the perfect example. When a woman is raped and the media publicises the story, it barely takes minutes before social media threads and comment sections are filled with concerns that "she was asking for it" because of the way she was dressed or the amount she drank, or whether or not she was already romantically or sexually linked to that man. You'll notice, as you make your way through the comments, that a very large number of them are posted by women. I won't try to analyse the psychology which leads these women to suggest such awful things, some say jealousy, some say fear, I like to think it's at least not a genuine belief in what they've said. Whatever their reasons, they only act as justification for the comments men choose to make. I mean really, who are we to say men are being sexist by claiming that the way a girl was dressed, meant non-consensual sex was inevitable, when women say exactly the same things. These men can hide behind their female peers like human shields, because in theory, if a woman speaks ill of another woman it isn't sexism, it's factual, because who knows more about being a female than one herself. 

You'll remember back in May, a Weather Girl on a local news station in Los Angles was handed a cardigan live on air to cover her dress which was considered "inappropriate" by the viewers. During an 8am broadcast, a media storm began over the dress she chose to wear that day, which was said to be too revealing for morning news. The woman was humiliated, though she played it off incredibly well and deserves a medal for the way she carried herself during a moment when most of us would have broken down. The worst part, is that it was eventually revealed that the vast majority of the complaints were made by women. How can we expect men to stop sexualising every slightly revealing outfit, when women are the main culprits? 

I won't be naive enough to suggest that we stop shaming each other entirely, it's just not going to happen any time soon. But maybe, soon enough we could start to see that if we aren't standing up for each other then we aren't really standing up at all. If you tear down your own team mates in front of the other team, there is no reason why the members of the other team should have to play nice too. While I have no intention to justify the horrendous sexism carried out by males, I don't think we'll ever make a difference until we make those changes closer to home. A united front is the only way to make a change. If we lived in a world where all women stood up for each other, celebrating body confidence, life choices and style come what may, there would be no excuse for men speaking of women in the ways they do now. Change comes from the inside out, and there is no chance of any change in the way women are treated by men until we start making changes internally. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Ghosts of Birthday's Past

I have the birthday blues. As the day which should mark my final year as a teen rolls closer (June 29th), I find myself feeling far from excited. For most people turning 19, the preceding weeks should be an overwhelmingly exciting time. I should be making plans with the people I love to do something fun, something that'll probably involve alcohol. I should have a demanding list of birthday presents. I should be looking forward to it. If you hadn't gathered already, I'm not.

I haven't had the best of luck with birthdays lately, or Christmases for that matter, but that's a whole different story. For a start, I've never really been the "birthday type". Sure, I've enjoyed them as much as the next guy, but the last time I had my own party or went out of my way to celebrate was primary school. I'm a summer baby with a winter soul. I spend the first 6 months of the year dreading the day that summer arrives. I don't do heat, I don't do bugs and I don't do the overwhelming pressure to be "outdoorsy" as soon as the mercury hits 18 degrees. I would much rather celebrate my birthday in February, when it's cold as heck and everyone is a little less intense. If the Queen gets to then I want to too. Summer gets into everyone's brains like a drug and gives them a loss of inhibitions. This sense of freedom makes people behave strangely, they're louder and they're more excited and for such an introverted personality as I am, its all a bit much.

Aside from the fact that the timing of my birthday isn't quite right for me personally, they've also managed to fall at some really tough times in my life. 3 years ago, I was soon to turn 16. A lot was changing in my life at the time, though I suppose no more than the average 16 year old. I was moving schools and I'd broken up with a long term boyfriend. On the 18th of June 2013, my anxiety became the most important thing in my life. I was sick, very sick, for months. I lost almost a stone in a matter of weeks and my zest for life had been sucked out of me. I vividly remember my birthday that year. I had spent the entire day feeling sick, moaping around in my pyjamas. Luckily, I was unaware that what was happening to me was caused by anxiety and I still had the confidence to leave the house. That evening I attended the final event of the year at the school I was leaving behind, and once I was distracted and enjoying myself I finally felt less sick. Retrospectively that should have been a clear sign that what was happening to me was entirely mental.

16th Birthday, 2013

After a year at a new college, my sickness began to fade, although leaving both my body and my mind scarred. I'd lost faith in my body and I lived day to day life somewhat apprehensively. However, I successfully completed my first year at college confidently. I felt as though I'd found my feet and the past summer was behind me. Good Lord was I wrong. Once AS exams came around, my mental state had shifted. I was feeling sick again and my weight was rapidly decreasing, and this time my old familiar symptom had brought new friends to the party. I was dizzy for the majority of my exams and the weeks following, my vision was blurred and my heart was pounding. All of these are just parts of my day to day life now and I wish I'd known at the time that what I was going through was once again, all in my head. The day before my birthday was the very first day I had taken off school in years. At some point during the college day, I felt as if I was going to die, and I desperately needed to go home. At the time, we wrote this off as exhaustion from completing my exams. This is why I'm so passionate about spreading awareness about the physical symptoms of anxiety. I don't like to admit it, but if I had known sooner that what was happening to me was anxiety then maybe, just maybe, I would be in a better place today. My birthday fell on a Saturday that year, and I did absolutely nothing all day. Once again, I lurked around the house in my pajamas questioning why I felt this way. I have only one picture of that year, and I only took it because the level of pink my family and friends seemed to think was appropriate was entertaining to me. I saw no one outside of my direct family that day, and I cried at least once. A week after my birthday had my second panic attack (I still didn't know what was happening and was definitely convinced I was dying) and was then finally diagnosed with a whole array of anxiety disorders. 
17th Birthday, 2014.

Last year I was finally ready for a good birthday, third time lucky, right? I had dropped out of college six months earlier, and then failed to successfully complete my exams at home on my own as I had naively planned to. So it was fair to say I was ready to enjoy myself, and it was my 18th so there was no way I could avoid celebrating this one. My family and I had decided to spend the week in Wales with my grandparents, which is far more fun that it sounds. ( I also share a birthday, and a name, with my grandmother). It is, after all, my favourite place in the world. Also, although never spoken aloud, this plan allowed me to spend my birthday away from my friends and gave me a concrete solid excuse for not "partying". Despite my crippling fear of being away from home and a 4 hour car journey, I was uncharacteristicly excited. My birthday was our first full day away and it was a good one, at least to start with. Breakfast was filled with laughter and happiness, opening cards and presents together around the table. The morning was spent in a quiet cafe overlooking the sea, and walking along the sands, how could I ask for more? Unfortunately, my brain doesn't exactly keep up with long term enjoyment. By the afternoon I had crashed, I was tired and overwhelmed. I spent hours in bed watching reruns of friends and mentally preparing myself for dinner out in the evening. You see, food and I aren't exactly best friends and restaurants and I are definitely not best friends. So the age old tradition of going to dinner for your birthday wouldn't be my own first choice. But it wasn't just my day, and I like to think I'm a good sport sometimes, so I did my best. I had a panic attack at the table, like I said, food and I don't always see eye to eye. I cried twice. Thankfully, after a year of intense training, I've gotten very good at not looking like I'm falling apart in public. That certainly would have been a birthday to remember. By the end of the night my carefully done hair was tied up and my makeup, done properly for the first time in months, was smeared down my face. Shortly after turning 18 I hit a devastating low of suicidal depression. It happened, I won't pretend it didn't. 

18th Birthday, 2015
   (My Dad is comforting me after my panic attack, my cardigan is around me like a blanket)

So here I am, just days away from my 19th birthday and to tell you the truth, I'd rather it wasn't happening. Aside from the fact that my birthday this year brings another series of pressurised events, it also serves as a reminder that this is my 4th birthday since becoming ill. It's hard to accept sometimes that it's been so long and yet I'm still here, in an evolving but ultimately unchanged state of anxiety and sadness. Due to unfortunate timing, my birthday acts less as an anniversary of my birth and more of an anniversary of when my life took a turn for the worse. Melodramatic, I know. Although it seems at times that very little has changed for me since anxiety first became a part of my life, I know my mental state is stronger now than ever and it's always progressing. So this year, I have sworn to myself that I'll enjoy it, or at least I'll try. Every year I would tell myself that next year will be better and so far I've only been left with a trail of painful birthday memories. This year, even if it's not perfect, I will work my hardest to craft a memory that makes me smile, or at least achieve a birthday where I don't cry. That's not too much to ask, right? 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

64 Zoo Lane: A tragic tale of wild animals trapped in a residential area?

I've been a big fan of zoos all my life, I even wanted to be a zookeeper at one point in my childhood. As a child, there is so much wonder and excitement attached to visiting a zoo, they played a huge part in my own childhood and I have some memories I’ll never forget. As an adult, there is nothing quite like witnessing a child see a Lion up close for the first time. Their faces, the pointing, the attempts to roar back at them, it’s all the stuff dreams are made of. The joy of getting to see a penguin in real life, or hearing monkeys yelling from the trees, is undeniable. Unfortunately in the last year, for me and a growing portion of society, zoos have become less magical and more controversial. There's a lot of concern these days surrounding animal welfare in zoos and the more I hear the less inclined I am to visit one again. I'm not the boycotting type, I realise my one body would have little impact on them; the only reason I wouldn't spend a day there is for my own emotional well being. I don't think I could watch a Lion in a small cage without tearing up and demanding they let it out.

My major issue with zoos, among other smaller problems, is simply that it’s not our place to intervene. Animals are not made for our entertainment and are certainly not so below us that we are justified in "playing God", deciding who lives and who dies. Nature is vicious, that's the ultimate truth we have to accept. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and bird eat bird, and fish eat fish.. you get it... Wildlife regulates itself and it is brutal sometimes, you only have to see one David Attenborough documentary to know that, but it is essential to the general life cycles of these animals and to the maintenance of the ecosystem. Food chains are something we learn in primary school, and each time we place humans at the top. Let’s get one thing straight, we are only the top of the chain because we have weapons. We are the most dangerous predators only because we have created objects which allow us to control wildlife, but place an unarmed man with an unarmed bear, who's top of the food chain then? Our weapons and opposable thumbs have given us the impression that we have the right, or even the responsibility to regulate wildlife. 

In February 2014, a giraffe named Marius was shot by keepers at a Denmark Zoo. It was then publicly dissected, and fed to the zoos resident lions. The reason the zoo gave for choosing this giraffe? He was unsuitable for breeding because his genes were "too common". This murder, and that's exactly what this is especially as they opted against euthanizing him instead, was openly protested against. Other zoos from all over the world offered to take the giraffe in to prevent him from losing his life. The zoos director gave a statement saying "We have been very steadfast because we know we've made this decision on a factual and proper basis. We can't all of a sudden change to something we know is worse because of some emotional events happening around us." Maybe I don't know a lot about the breeding program for giraffes, but I cannot find a way to believe that allowing another zoo to provide a home for Marius would be "worse" than killing him. The fact of the matter is that this 18 month old giraffe lost its life because humans feel their superiority means they can pick and choose what happens to animals. You can read the full story of Marius’ death here, The same zoo, just months later, killed an entire family of lions, two parents who were reaching the final years of their natural lives anyway, and two young cubs. The reason for this one was that a new male lion was going to arrive soon, and may have killed a male cub; I can’t find a reason for the deaths of the females or the parents, which breaks my heart. Why was one new male  sonecessary if it meant 4 others must die? Explore that one yourself if you wish

Zookeeper deaths are unexpectedly common. I’m not saying it’s a huge number, but 21 deaths in 22 years in the USA is a lot, and is equal to the number of fatalities from shark attacks in the USA. The reason for this is simple, these are wild animals. They have not evolved to live in captivity, or interact with humans, or depend on others for food. Back in April 2016, Stacey Konwiser, a keeper at a Florida zoo, was mauled by a tiger and lost her life. The details surrounding the incident have varied ever since, and are the subjects of 5 different investigations including an internal one. However, no matter what the circumstances and the reasons for her to be in the enclosure near the tiger; the fact is that this tiger is a killer by nature. That is how it lives its life and how it has evolved to survive in the wild. Putting a wild, lethal animal in an urban zoo doesn’t remove its innate desire to attack. The only way to guarantee safety from these kinds of animals is to carry a weapon, which in itself speaks volumes for the practicality of storing these animals for our own entertainment.  You can read about that one here

I understand that in some cases, zoos can be beneficial to the conservation and protection of animals, especially endangered species. The most important point is that zoos prevent these animals from being poached and hunted in the wild, or harmed in anyway due to human intervention. This is the only reason I would consider supporting zoos, there is no need to protect animals from natural dangers. Nature has been doing its own thing long before our intervention, and will continue to do so with or without us. That said, none of the animals we see in British zoos and most other countries’ zoos are not meant to be here. This isn’t their climate or natural habitat. There are reserves in many of their home countries, which are monitored by rangers, but allow animals to be protected from a distance. Their purpose isn’t for human enjoyment, and they have free range over a vast area of natural land rather than a small caged area, which never quite sits right with me. There are over 10,000 zoos worldwide and about 2,400 in America alone (I use America because it’s bigger, the statistic are more notable). The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) is an organisation established to enforce high standards of care for the animals as well as of science and conservation. Only 212 of those 2,400 zoos are a member of AZA. Honestly, that terrifies me. It’s talked about a lot, but it is actually very rare for animals to be reintroduced into the wild from a zoo, which seems like the only reason they should exist to me. I can’t find a solid reason, and trust me I’ve tried, for why animals are better off in captivity. I understand the occasional benefits, but as an overall conclusion, I just can’t back it entirely.

I chose to keep way from the gorilla story in this, because it’s been so widely discussed that my own opinion isn’t particularly vital, so I’ll keep it short. My issue with the incident isn’t the choice to kill Harambe, in the end there was no other option. As I’ve said, animals that have evolved to be wild are dangerous no matter what. Gorillas will tear smaller monkeys quite literally limb from limb for dinner, that boy was in danger regardless of what people think Harambe was doing. My issue is with the gorilla being there in the first place. One more time, they are not in existence for our entertainment. They are dangerous beings and there is no guarantee of human safety by keeping them in a cage surrounded by humans. He should not have been caged; the humans should not have been in a position where they could decide the fate of a wild animal.

I still see the joy in zoos somehow; all animals are majestic no matter what type and it’s hard to deny the attraction to watching them up close, especially for a person who will probably never travel to see them naturally in a safari or a reserve. However, no matter how hard I try, I can’t feel comfortable with them. Maybe someone needs to explain to me better the positives of holding animals in captivity because while researching this, I can assure you, I found no pros as concrete as the cons. In the end, my argument is this, we are not superior. We are simply more protected. I see no reason why our more developed brains mean we have the right to play god. I cannot justify why our weapons allow us to pick and choose who lives where, and if they live at all. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Lets Talk About Meds.

I don't usually consider myself a particularly angry person. I know that it's good for my mental health to remain calm as much as possible. I've learnt to let go of most things fairly quickly, or at least allow myself to be open about the problem. I'll admit, and I know i'm not alone in this, the very first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my phone. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Facebook tends to irritate me on a daily basis without doing anything specifically wrong, but on this particular morning, a post I came across caused my heart rate to hit dangerously high levels. Furious. Fuming. All the 'F' words really. 

I worked by way back through shares to find it was originally posted by the Facebook group "Earth. We are one." which bizarrely describes itself as an "educational website". I found myself so angry I couldn't so much as send a screen shot accompanied by a lengthy rant to my friends. I tried to compose myself before beginning on a journey through the comments left by others. Thankfully, the vast majority were as furious as I am, unfortunately some were equally as ignorant as the original picture. I saved a few to share. 


This anger sat with me for the entire day. I had intended to just let it go, try to ignore the twisting sensation in my gut, but as the day went by it became clear that I wasn't going to let this one die. Medication for mental illness has been a big topic for me lately, I am currently in the process of increasing my own dosage, which is rough to say the least, but it left me with a lot to say about medications. And then this horrendous post came into my life and it all came pouring out.

This picture, this concept, is so incredibly damaging. So incredibly ignorant. There is so much stigma around the idea of having to take medication for a mental health condition, mostly due to the belief that its origin is simply faulty thinking rather than chemicals. This kind of harmful message put out into society leads people to refuse medications, or even go so far as to lie to their doctors to get away with not taking them. There is this image of medications making you "weak" or that reliance on a medication means you're too lazy to put in the work to get better on your own. I believe wholeheartedly that being outside, meditation and enjoying small pleasures is very beneficial to achieving good mental well-being, but I also believe that sometimes you can work yourself to the bone and still have nothing left to give. I was one of those people. 

After living with Agoraphobia for a year, with 6 months clocked in intensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I hit a wall of depression. Prior to this I never really would have described myself as "depressed", sure I got sad, living with anxiety isn't exactly a joyful experience, but shortly after my 18th birthday I spent the entirety of summer 2015 unequivocally depressed. Everyone's experience of depression is different, please remember that, while some describe feeling numb, I felt everything but numb. I was manic, I would cry for hours on and off, unable to express why in any other way than to scream "I cant do it anymore" into a parents shoulder. This episode lead me to the realization that I needed help, more help, biological help. This was a decision that kept me awake at night, I am terrified of side effects, I am terrified of my body feeling and doing things I didn't plan for but by September, with the support of my therapist, my parents, and now a certified psychiatrist just for extra input, the choice had been made, I told my GP about my summer and she prescribed Citalopram, an SSRI (which essentially helps your brain release and uptake more of those good chemicals). Unfortunately, although I wouldn't have thought so at the time, I was back on my feet by the end of the summer. My confidence caused me to decide by myself that I did not need the drugs. They stayed hidden and unopened at the back of our medicine cupboard for months. 

Between September and December I suppose you could say I was doing well. I was making progress, and I wasn't particularly sad. The medication sat on its shelf in the cupboard though, screaming my name every time I walked past. It was a silent pressure, a constant reminder that I needed to work harder, harder than my body could handle in reality. We had organised for my extended family to stay with us over Christmas, I love very much when my whole family is around, don't get me wrong, but it is a very stressful experience. The demands to be social and active are a lot of pressure on me, and sharing my house with others means finding an escape isn't easy, and that's the core concern for an agoraphobic. As the holiday rolled closer, bundled with the general stress that is Christmas, I stopped sleeping. I would lie awake in bed until 2am, not thinking about anything in particular, but definitely not calm. The less sleep I was getting, the more I would panic, until I was awake at 4am having uncontrollable panic attacks, On the worst nights when I would sit awake, pondering whether death would be a better idea than being awake, I would have to shuffle along the corridor with tears blurring my vision to wake my mother, the only way I could get back to sleep was with someone beside me. A low point in my life for sure. I spent the entire Christmas holidays in a state of mania, I was tired and terrified 24/7, I cried 3 times on Christmas day alone. I was a mess, and I spent a large amount of time considering whether life was worth living anymore, "the sweet relief of death" as I described it. This was the general continuing mood as time progressed. Finally I asked my parents about sleeping pills, I was desperate for relief, the idea of being essentially unconscious sounded like paradise to me. My Mum chose to remind me that instead of sleeping medication, I should be taking the full time chemical altering medication that was waiting patiently for me. Of course I aggressively rejected this idea, full meltdown, screaming that I couldn't do it, that all I needed was some "time".  This was when she chose to take it upon herself to make the decision for me, for which I am eternally grateful. I was no longer able to make my own well informed choices, my mental stability was out the window and floating away fast like a child's balloon in a hurricane and this is proven by the fact that I have very few memories of that week. I can remember feelings, and hazy blurs of important moments, but my anxiety and depression were in overdrive and that means your mind forms very few solid memories. She allowed me to calm myself down, and then we discussed the reality of being medicated, I agreed to give it one more week and promised I would start then, but the very next morning I felt brave enough to bite the bullet and start there and then. 

Maybe it was a placebo effect, honestly I don't really care, from that very first day I felt better, I am on a low dosage, slowly attempting to increase it to a more efficient level, and I very much still get panic attacks and sadness and a terrible fear of just about everything but I feel different. I feel more in control of myself, like my core is a little stronger than it was for the first year of my illness. I truly believe this medication has changed everything for me. There is this myth that being on this kind of medication "numbs" you, so you're essentially like a zombie, If it does, you're supposed to change your dosage or the type of drug altogether. I haven't felt numb at all, most of the time I feel more stable and somewhat colourful, that's the positive I am sure I've gained from my medication. My dreams are weirder now,  trying to cut tablets into tiny pieces is beyond stressful, and my Citalopram and I certainly aren't on the best of terms yet, but I am forever grateful that I have it. I am also grateful that I was given the freedom to try to fix my illness on my own, even if I wasn't sucessful

My point of this long and way too personal for the internet story is that choosing to be on a  medication is not "giving up", it is not "weak". I gave blood, sweat and tears to my fight against having to take anything for my illness, no one will ever have the right to tell me that taking medication means I haven't been trying hard enough. My only weakness in all of this was trying to convince myself I didn't need any more help. In no way is medication a cure, it is simply a tool which allows us to feel a little stronger in ourselves while we continue to work hard to get our lives back on track. There is no place in my world for people who take it upon themselves to shame those who choose to use medications to assist their recoveries. Ridding your life of things which make you feel bad is smart, getting outside more is smart, eating healthy, getting more sleep are all smart ideas but in reality are not always possibly to achieve, especially whilst in the grip of a mental illness. Sometimes the extra help is necessary and there is no shame in that. You are not weak, you are not giving up. Choosing to take a medication, any medication, is one the bravest decisions you can make for your well-being and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Kardashians Are an Inspiration: Discuss

I can say, hand on heart, that I would be proud if my daughters turned out like the Kardashians. Okay, maybe give or take a little, but I have no concerns saying I would feel like I’d done a good job as a parent if they happened to be similar to Kourtney, Kim or Khloe. Let's get one thing straight first, sure they've done things they probably shouldn't have, but above all else they are HUMAN BEINGS, they are mothers, wives, sisters and daughters just like us and they sure as hell don't deserve to be treated half as badly as they are. In researching this I spent time reading the comments posted on their Instagram photos and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been brought to tears at least once. The things people feel they have the right to say to these women are awful, and the comments are often even directed at their children, which is utterly heart breaking.

First things first, that sex tape. Let's clear this up once and for all. How would you feel being judged mercilessly for something you did a year ago? 5 years ago? How about 10 years ago? The tape was released almost 10 years ago. Not only was it years ago but it was between two consenting adults in a loving and committed relationship, and I continue to be on the side that believes it was released without consent. What makes what happened between Kim and Ray J any different to your average couple? We know none of us are flawless so let's stop tearing down other humans for the same things. Kim is the only one of the pair who ever received any backlash for it, and that's whole other sexism issue I won't go into now.

As for Kim’s “provocative” body image, which to be honest is only provocative if you choose to sexualise it, has a much deeper story to it. As a very young teen Kim would pray before bed or during church that her curves would stop developing. She was bullied at school and was very insecure about her body, despite never being fat or overweight at all. She began developing at an early age and hated the way she looked, she wasn't as slimline as the other girls, and never quite felt comfortable. This is why I see the way she dresses and the pictures she posts as a good thing. She's overcome her insecurities enough to feel proud of her curves, even if it does mean stripping down somewhat publicly. It's a level of pride  I wish more women would have in their bodies, maybe not the semi-naked photos part, especially under 18, but to at least have the same self confidence would be so valuable. As for the body image part in general, there is no denying all three promote a healthy body image. I refuse to back down on that. They have curves, boobs and bums. They are also very open about their exercise routines, they don't promote crazy dieting, in fact they're always eating on tv. They instil the idea of gaining the body they want from being healthy, as well as accepting that their curves are a part of who they are.

We should also definitely talk about the fact that they “don't do anything” or “haven't earned their money”. First of all, they were all told that at 18 they would have to make their own way, their family money would no longer be an option, and that's exactly what happened. Kourtney, the oldest of the group, has a degree from Arizona state university. Following university Kourtney set up her own very successful business, as did the rest of them, finally culminating in the establishment of D.A.S.H stores, a highly successful chain of fashion stores which began long before they became officially famous. They all have a strong input on the business, they certainly don't leave it to others to organise their own company. Before starting this business, they all worked any job they could find that would get them where they wanted to go. Kim found her feet as a personal shopper while Kourtney took up work as a production assistant. Khloe, as the youngest of the group, began home schooling when her sisters graduated and gained her GED (American high school diploma) a year early.

As for not doing anything good for the world, here's a well kept secret. Kim donated all the gifts given to her at her baby showers to a maternity ward at a hospital in an impoverished neighbourhood in Chicago, close to where Kanye grew up. She did this without paparazzi attention or noting it on her social media. Also without any media attention, Kim also spends a lot of time at a children's hospital in Los Angeles. She often visits to give gifts or donations, spend time with the children and especially doing “girly” things with the younger girls like nail painting and makeup. The Kardashians have done a lot for drawing attention to the Arminian people’s suffering and the genocide that took place there, which is very rarely talked of. The Arminian Premier welcomed Kim with open arms, grateful for what she has done for their image. Finally, Kim was also the initiator and executive producer on a documentary called #RedFlag, which aimed to draw more attention to the plight of the mentally ill.

The Kardashians are also an excellent family image. They are a strong family unit, even if they do experience more drama than the usual. Through all their drama they’ve supported each other endlessly, in some cases they've even allowed their siblings to live with them. When Lamar, Khloe’s estranged husband, fell ill the entire family rallied around him, despite their separation being on uncivil terms. Khloe withdrew their divorce proceedings until he was well again. Their compassion for a man who was once part of the family is inspiring, and something we all could learn from. Similarly, after the end of Scott Disick’s relationship with Kourtney the entire family still kept him close, supporting him through his troubles and putting the needs of his 3 children first. We’ve all seen Jeremy Kyle, it's clear that this could have worked out so much worse, but the truth is they're just good people. As a unit, the women show a supportive group, a very important image in a world where men are determined to pit females against each other.

I hope that some of it, preferably all of it, has had an impact on the way you see these women. That's what they are first and foremost, they are women, genuine human beings and they deserve to be treated this way even if their life looks different to yours.