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Saturday, 28 February 2015

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. Sod that, I'm wearing it now.

You know that poem, a lot of us do. Here it is in case you don’t:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. 

Jenny Joseph

I’ve heard this read out splendidly at funerals, read it on Facebook showing purportedly ‘defiant’ elderly ladies who are bucking the trend and daring to be different. And we like this, because they’re old, and, well, haven’t they spent enough time doing what other people wanted? Haven’t they worn sensible shoes from Clarks, worn calf length beige skirts and faintly floral blouses for long enough? Surely they deserve a bit of the ‘fuck it’ button in their old age? Don’t they? A change to ditch the drear of washing up the pots, ironing (ugh, I hate ironing) and ordering earl grey tea instead of a double gin and tonic.

"Anyone got a light? And by the way, these shoes are super comfy. Love 'em."

I agree with this approach. I don’t think older people should have to carry on with the things that they’ve stuck to, dutifully, all their lives. Many will have raised families, had dinner on the table at a sensible time, organised bath times, held down careers and delivered fantastic things despite the world of men in business that they had to contend the whole time. They may have had to be polite and courteous when congratulating a fellow (male) colleague who got promoted ahead of them, even though less qualified and less suitable. It’s just good manners. And they probably carried on doing a marvellous job, either as a mother, or working, or both. My own mother did both and she is most excellent. And we can't have everything 'going to purple' and being non-conformist, I know.

"Yes, that's right, one is wearing purple. Now find me some gin."

But then I do wonder, why aren’t we, at least more of us than the "eccentric", "daring", "slightly out there" few ‘wearing purple’ now, as Jenny Joseph suggests (to practise, a little!)? Why do we have to wait till we’re old? Is there some rule book somewhere that I’m missing? I’m pretty sure the bible doesn’t talk about wearing purple as a bad thing; in fact in my youth I remember our local Catholic priests often wearing purple robes whilst officiating. Purple is a holy colour, and it’s a beautiful colour, evoking not only ecclesiastical traditions but also the arrival of spring, with croci, Easter with beautiful tulips and bonnets (and chocolate, wrapped in glorious Dairy Milk purple foil!) and more.

Midnight? Sod midnight, I'm having them at 11am if I feel like it. The blender's not keeping tabs..."

Of course, this is the literal interpretation of that poem. It’s not about wearing purple, it’s about giving a damn. Why on earth do we spend so much time giving a damn? And yet we do. I am a chronic sufferer from the ‘What-on-earth-will-people-think-if-I’ syndrome. I've said it before: I am a people pleaser. I like people to like me. In fact I am a chronic sufferer from this disease. I will bend over backwards to make people happy. I used to be worse. I used to eat food I didn’t want in restaurants I didn’t like because friends wanted to go there. I am so stricken by this disease in fact that I usually expect people not to like me unless I do something to change their opinion of me: "Why should they like me? I need to do something to help, to make things nice, to support, to listen to...and then perhaps they will like me, at least for a little while."

"They're called 'selfies', love. 
And we'll be wearing our new Prada shoes and drinking Champers as we do it. 
Just you wait."

Now I’m not quite so bad. (Or maybe I've carefully selected friends who like to eat what I do!) But I’m honestly one of the worst people I know for this stuff. I work desperately hard and want people’s approval for what I've done. This comes from a schooling method I would never, ever advocate, where teachers express disappointment when you don’t do as well as they hoped, with the suggestion that your performance directly hurts them, and that you have let them down (no thought for yourself). I built myself around this model and am now trying to demolish it. Rationality helps, but thorough nurturing in this toxic skill has left me struggling to enjoy or feel pleasure at times (especially when most depressed) if I feel that I cannot please others and do things that make them happy, and therefore make me feel good. It’s a ridiculous way to live one’s life, but I've really struggled to stop doing it. I’m sure I will continue to struggle, but I am damned if I won’t try.

"More wine, Bishop?"
 "Yes please. God I love wine."

So what will I do to please myself, and stop conforming to rules that really don’t exist unless I believe in them? I will wear purple (for starters). In fact I will dye my hair purple and love it. I will not have children – by a choice my husband and I made together and which is no one’s business – and I will seek to explain to anyone who asks when I’ll be having them that I won’t be (and that it’s really not okay to ask people why they haven’t had children yet, by the way). I will buy expensive shoes just because I love them, and I won’t apologise for it. I will love my friends and family with an unconditional love which means sometimes I get hurt by how much I open myself up, but I will bloody well do it anyway because I believe our friends and family are so, so very important, lovely and amazing.

Word, Shawshank.

 I will drink Champagne when I feel like it, because it’s delicious, and when I feel well enough, that’s enough of a reason to celebrate. I will go running in clothes that don’t match. I will wear bright red lipstick and nails to the office and defy anyone who might consider this display of feminity inappropriate in a business environment. (Men, you need to ditch the red trousers for this to be a vaguely credible line of thinking.) I will leave the washing up. I will feed myself nutritious juices and also bread and butter, and not follow any fad diets. I will wear hats at all times of year.

"What's that? You don't like my hat? I don't like your face. Now bugger off."

I will do these things and more, because, why should I wait until I’m old? I have had real trouble finding reasons to continue to live at times over the last year, in fact more time than that. But I am feeling a bit better now. I'm working more and enjoying it more and more. I'm seeing people when I can. I'm resting, but I'm also painting and (trying to keep) writing. I'm trying to live, and to do that I am hoping to lose the restrictions and standards I've placed on myself, and just bloody well be. Just be. Not just do it. Just be. So here goes people...I'll let you know how it works out...And if you're wondering whether you should do it too, then look out for the thirty-something woman on the tube or in the street wearing odd colours or swearing, or spitting. That'll be me.

Always remember...never let anyone dull your sparkle.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Me, Myself and I Part Two: A Day In The Life of MH Tuesday 10th February

Back in November I took part in A Day if the Life MH, to catalogue in four days across a year the different days experienced by the many, many of us who suffer with mental health conditions. 7th February saw part two of this. 

It was interesting re-reading my first contribution from November and then the entry I wrote (below). How much has changed; how much has stayed the same. Physically I am so much stronger than I was only a month after my accident; mentally I've also come a long way, but there is a difference between the physical injuries that I sustained, which are temporary in so many ways, and the depression I've been battling against (or with...sometimes perhaps that is a better way to put it) for most of my life.

Sometimes I hate Mondays. And sometimes Tuesdays. 
And Wednesdays. And...well, you get the picture.

Luckily day two of this four day project didn't fall on pancake day or I may have been tempted to write a piece as if talking wiv my maaf full of so you cnt tarl wurt m sehng. 

Or another where I wrote: "I didn't get out of bed today because I felt too terrible." This is exactly the reason the project is so special, though: it allows all the many voices and experiences of mental health to speak side by side. I follow many sufferers on twitter whose illnesses mean they can't work because their conditions are utterly debilitating; others like me can work and function day to day, in spite of the (at times) horrendous demons we're fighting inside of us. This project sends such a fundamental message about mental health: we are not one or two diagnoses. We are all different and we are all functioning in different ways. 

"When Great British Bake Off ended. When will it start again. When?"

For me the most important aspect of this is for people everywhere to realise that, while mental illnesses can be exceptionally challenging, debilitating, ruthless in their devastating impact on sufferers, sufferers fight on through them. Sometimes people can't cope anymore and end their lives; sometimes people keep living with their illness. Sometimes people work, like me, because it is possible to live with an illness and still work; some cannot. I'm one of the lucky ones. I can work. I can go out - most of the time.

"Now how do I work this thing again?"

Here's my entry. And now you must excuse me, I'm going to get back into bed and eat ALL THE PANCAKES. All at once.

"Back off, Bart, those pancakes are MINE!"

"Tuesday was slightly better than Monday, in that I treated my restless leg syndrome and extreme anxiety (side effects of taking escitalopram) with a full clonazepam tablet and therefore managed to sleep, and have anxiety dreams only for the last two hours of the night, rather than all night long. It's hard to start a day when you feel that you've already been on the stress treadmill for 8 hours before 7am.

Thanks for the memories, scary dreams. You really help start my day with a bump in the night.

It had already been an overwhelming week, work-wise, with not one but three full time things to work on in only seven hours a day, at least in theory. In practice I worked twelve hours on Monday and was so tired out that I didn’t make it to my class in the evening. I am conscious of not wanting to let people down and not being seen as weak or less than because of my illness. I get told a lot that I’m still seen as valuable, but I’m not sure that I believe it myself, so I work very hard. Since the last day in the life in November I’ve worked at being more assertive about my needs, but I do wonder whether this will affect my career long term. I know that my company is supportive, but because I doubt myself and 'mind read' or 'fortune tell', I sometimes wonder whether anyone will ever promote me now that they know that I have a mental illness.

"There's not much room for mindfulness when my mind is full. Mmmmm, Donuts."

Yes, at times like these the worse angel within me likes to practise mind reading, where I concoct in my head a limitless list of scenarios of what people might think of me: “She’s good but always ill.” “She’s not working enough hours to have a chance of being promoted.” “She needs to do more work.” “She didn’t try hard enough.” I have to be careful not to push myself so hard that I break or burn out because that would be bad too: “She’s always pushing herself too hard and doesn’t know when to stop.” “She is always stressed because she isn’t working ‘smart’ enough.” And on it goes.

"You're crap."
"No you're not, you're great, you work really hard and do well!"
"No, you're crap, 'cause you have depression so you're defective. No one's ever going to value you."
On and on it goes

I start the day with a short run of two miles, slowly getting my body used to exercise after the horrific fall last year which nearly paralysed me / nearly ended me. The mind reading comes and distracts me from my run – a good thing. I manage to do the run without stopping and feel some of the nervous energy dissipate, which is a welcome relief.

Today I get some help with parts of my work, and I make more of an effort to list my tasks, prioritise and take action step by step, which makes me feel more in control.

I’m juicing breakfast, lunch and afternoon to try to improve my mood with added nutrients and after a break at the weekend, two days into the week and I’m already feeling calmer and healthier. After my physical accident last year I lost my sense of smell and most taste too, so gingery, veg and fruit-filled juices are something I can taste, and feel the benefit of in spades. I never thought I would go down this route but with all the medication I’m taking it’s hard to be healthy and I’m enjoying the mental benefits this is having.

"A ba-what?"

I make sure I take a short break in the afternoon over lunch because if I don’t take breaks I tend to become more stressed and less productive. It helps – a bit – but it’s hard to stop thinking about all the work items on my list and my head is spinning with a desire to do well and deliver what I said I would.

This is what taking breaks, prioritising and getting exercise helps me avoid. Most of the time.

The end of this day is better. I make it to my art class and really enjoy painting with acrylics – I learn some blending and mixing techniques and paint plausible looking autumn leaves (if more impressionist than a photo fit). Creativity makes me feel good. I come home, write a blog post, and get into bed to listen to Woman’s Hour, another technique for focusing my mind on interesting things and not on my negative thoughts. And I sleep. Today was quite a good day."

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Love is All Around...But Let's Eat Burgers And Appreciate Each Other

It's Valentine's Day and half the world (that is, the world that knows about this western 'holiday') is happy about it; the other half has saved their best muttering, their scowling faces and sarcasm especially to unleash today, the 14th February.

The 'true' story doesn't get much of a look in, probably because its origins are religious; people prefer Chaucer's take on it, talking about courtly love and the presentation of gifts like flowers and confectionery. Funny, that, another holiday that's all about the gifts and cards. But this one's a bit different, because unlike Christmas, you only get a card or a gift if someone fancies you (or did at least, at one point, pretend to). No wonder people think this is a crap day. Once again consumerism strikes, but this time it's telling you to believe that if you're single, or if you don't receive a valentine from someone, if you're single, then you're somehow less than. You're less loved, less appreciated, and quite frankly, less hot.

And this is absolute rubbish.

You're not any of those things. You're great. You're just as great as you were on 13th February and will be on 15th February.

My favourite valentine's day memory was actually a dinner with a great friend in our university days. We were both single, I terminally so throughout university, and decided to go out to dinner together that night. I can't remember whether we even remembered it was valentine's day by the evening. I usually noticed these things in the morning of the day itself, when my pigeon hole was possibly filled with some flyer or other, but definitely not with a valentine's card, but days at Oxford were like weeks in the way we worked to pack in library time, essay writing, coffee with friends, shopping (for about 10 minutes) eating, tutorials and sleeping in any order at all each day. Such was this granular experience of life that it seemed days or weeks had passed from the morning of the Valentine's day to the evening.

For the record, I've noted the bad grammar but decided to go with it anyway,
 because, what the heck, it's true.

Off we went up the high street to one of our favourite casual dining locations, All Bar One, which at the time was a relatively new addition to our dining choices, and was mid-priced (which meant it was slightly more expensive than we could afford, but not a dinner where we blew our entire student loans in a single appetiser).We were seated in a corner of the dining area at a neat little table for two. I can't remember whether we ordered wine or not, or just soft drinks, but I can remember what we both ordered - burgers. We were always celebrating at Oxford: the end of an essay crisis; the end of a week; the fact that it was spring; the fact that it was the beginning of term, or the end. So we sat and chatted about all those hundreds of events and conversations we had had since we last spoke, a day or so before.

About ten minutes into our conversation a little tea light in a glass holder was placed at our table 'discretely' by our waiter. Nice touch, we thought. And then we looked around us and noticed that all the other tables were set for two. And all the other tables had candles. And that we were, accidentally, on a date night with one another.

At this point we wondered whether we should tell the waiter, "Actually we're not a couple," or better yet start holding hands and making eyes at each other across the table. [This option was never going to work, we were already close to tears with laughter at our ridiculous situation.] So we ate our romantic, Valentine's meal of burger and fries. We laughed about our unconscious coupling and we just about managed to interact with the waiter for the rest of the meal without trying to explain away our situation. It was a fun night. And it just happened to be February 14th.

I know I'm married now so things are a bit different, but we never go out to eat on Valentine's Day. I think my friend and I were lucky that night, lucky because most dates don't take place at All Bar One. Also lucky because in our more insecure youthful days we may have felt the need, had a real date been in the offing, to be wined and dined at somewhere swankier with a massive price hike for a three course meal of the cheapest ingredients possible (prawn cocktail with frozen may as well eat at a Little Chef or the Wimpy bar) served with a glass of cheap prosecco for a bargain price of £45 a head.

Stay in on Valentine's day, away from the hype and the over priced meal deals. If you like mushy films (I do) see one. If you don't mind going to the cinema on your own (I don't) surrounded by two by two by twos go and see Fifty Shades of Grey or whatever else is on offer, do that. Buy yourself flowers or chocolates if you like them. Go shopping and treat yourself or others if you can. Eat well and inexpensively; drink champagne if you like it whether you're single or not. Tell your children that you love them and do something fun together. Send your friends cards to tell them what they mean to you. Valentine's day is about love, but I don't see why it shouldn't be about loving yourself first, and secondly others around you, regardless of whether they're your partner, your sibling, your friend or children. And eat burgers. Because burgers are amazing. And I heart burgers.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

If You Could Read My Mind, What A Tale My Thoughts Would Tell...

I went for a run this morning and was reminded what a sucker I am for one of the big depression thinking traps: mind reading. Running is a step back into my previous life for me. As you may know from reading earlier posts, I had a bad fall last year which turned me (and my world) upside down for a while and resulted in me having spinal fusion surgery to prevent spinal paralysis and surgery to insert wires into my beautifully smashed up left elbow.

It's been a tiring road to recovery. No public transport. No exercise apart from walking (because swimming is the wrong kind of exercise for my elbow, though the right kind for my back); no ice cream (okay, this is a total lie, but I did try to eat somewhat healthily when I went from being a 20-26 mile a week runner to someone who occasionally made it out of bed to have a wash, and then a wash sitting down).

As of late January I got the green light from my spinal surgeon to start exercising again, because my fractured spine is healed. Thus with great trepidation a couple of weeks ago I made my first attempt at jogging and managed to run a mile. My body and mind were exceptionally shocked by the (slow) jerking movements of running after months of walking only and a lot of lying down.

"Should I go for a run or just eat ice cream?" What a tough call.

Body: What on earth do you think you're doing to me?
Me: I'm going for a run!
Body: Are you crazy? [Yes.] Get back to bed now and under those two comfy duvets. There's more Ugly Betty to be watched on Netflix
Mind: Yes, and what if you fall over? Oh, and by the way everyone's looking at you and thinking you're an idiot for running at about 1 mile an hour. That's not running, that's walking lopsided. You're a laughing stock.
Me: Shut up.

I've now run a second run and two miles. Then another couple of very short runs. And then on Saturday, finally, a 5K at my local park run.

First Park Run in 4 Months. Slow and steady finishes the race!

But back to mind reading. This is what we depressive types love to do when we're feeling low.

As a type A personality, I consider myself exceptional at mind reading. Unfortunately I don't think I'd be able to make any money at the local fun fair. I'm talking about a slightly different kind of mind reading. No, my mind reading is all about me, how rubbish I am and how everyone else is looking at me and thinking badly of me for all my many failures. "I know," I think, "I'm feeling utterly rubbish. Let's add to that by telling myself that everyone hates me and thinks I'm crap."

Mind reading is one of the common negative thought patterns that people who suffer from depression can encounter as part of being ill. All part of the fun and games. You can read more about negative thought patterns here. Here's a quick statement that sums this up:  "I can tell people don't like me because of the way they behave." The simplest way to think about this statement is to consider the following scenario: imagine you walk down the street and see someone you know. You look at them and smile, but they don't look at you and walk on as if they didn't see you. In this situation what are you thinking? Are you wondering whether you've done something wrong? Or are you thinking that perhaps it's not you, but they might be having a bad day / be busy? If you are more likely to think the former, perhaps you also are someone whose mind likes to go off at a tangent from time to time.

So, running this morning, I didn't mention that this run came after a fun night of anxiety-filled dreams which make me feel like I haven't slept (thanks, anxiety) and need to take a day off (yeah, that won't be happening). Sometimes running can help, largely because if I am concentrating on not falling over, avoiding crashing into people and continuing to breathe I can often not think of other things. But on other days, when my mind reading comes out to play, it really goes to town.

"Some of us have to work for a living. And look miserable doing it. That's a job in itself!"

This is what my mind told me today:

1. I pass commuters rushing for the train looking at me with grim faces
My mind reading: "Look at you, running, well, jogging or not quite walking. Some of us have to work for a living, you know. You're probably one of those stay at home wives who thinks working is a slightly tough pilates class. I'm off to do my important job which I hate and you get to run. Stop looking so smug."
My response: "But I'm not smug, honest! I can hardly breathe and getting myself out of the door was difficult enough, and when I get home I have three different projects to work on for the whole day. I'm not smug at all!"
A More Likely reality: the poor commuters are thinking "Bugger, did I turn my hair straighteners off? Do I have any spare cash for a coffee. I'm really hungover. Surely it can't be only Tuesday? Oh God it is."

"I'm just making it look so easy. Like Road Runner. Except that I'm stupidly running in the middle of the road so may well be hit by a two ton truck any moment. Oh well. On I run..."

2. I pass other runners speeding past. (Obviously they're going in the other direction. Otherwise clearly they are passing me!)
My mind reading: "Call that running? I've been up since 5 am and I'm on mile 20 already. I'm just about to complete my 5th ultra of the year and it's only February. You should work harder, like me, you're just not trying"
My response: "Actually I've just recovered from spinal fusion surgery so I still have masses of metal work in my back and have to run slowly to get my body used to high impact activities again without damaging it. I do try to run properly honest! Give me a little credit for trying?"
A More Likely reality: "Must - [pant] - keep - [pant] -  breathing. Must - [pant] -  keep - [pant] -  going."

"I just love walking my little darling in high heels. 
Honest. With a buggy. It's just the way I am."

3. I pass a beautifully made up yummy mummy with her little treasures on the way to nursery, frowning slightly.
My mind reading: "My dear, if you're going to exercise in public, do try to think about styling. For one thing your running top and leggings don't go. Haven't you heard of Kate Hudson's new Fabletics range? Or Sweaty Betty at least. And do try to remember that just because you're running, doesn't mean you shouldn't look your best. a dab of concealer, a little tinted moisturiser and some mascara at least."
My response: "Mummy dearest, do sod off. It was hard enough to get out of bed this morning. I know that I look like a train wreck. I don't need you to remind me. At least I'm doing some exercise!"
A More Likely reality: "Shit. I definitely left the hair straighteners on. Must get home. And must call for another botox appointment. I'm sure I caught myself frowning in the mirror this morning."


4. I pass builders starting work on a new housing development nearby. 
My mind reading: "Phwooar look at the arse on that. Now where's my fags?" [Note, this doesn't strike me as a good or a bad comment. My negative, generalised and totally biased opinion of builders means that they could be commenting on the gargantuan size of my wobbling behind or the shapeliness of my buns of steel.]
My response: "Arrrgh! I don't dress like this to be looked at; lycra is my only option, and I had to wear this fleecy jacket 'cause it's freezing, not because I want you looking at my bum. Leave me alone!"
A More Likely reality: "Phwooar look at the arse on that. Now where's my fags?"

Today my mind was more involved with all of these thoughts. I hardly noticed I was running. There have got to be upsides to having a mind that's working overtime 'reading' other people's (fictional thoughts). Today I ran two miles. Tomorrow I wouldn't mind running again. But perhaps this time I'll focus on the fact that I can't breathe. It might just be less exhausting.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Beat It: The Real Deal on Coping with Mental Illnesses

I imagine and hope that tomorrow will feature a fair amount of press coverage of 'Time to Talk' day which +Time to Change Campaign has promoted as a day where they are asking people to take 5 minutes to talk about mental health, with the hope that they will achieve a total of 24 hours of conversations in total.

So what will you be talking about tomorrow?

The three most common types of mental illness (or issues associated with mental illness) are stress, anxiety and depression. The NHS and many other useful websites promote tips on how to counter feelings of stress and anxiety (and depression, though anxiety and depression are somewhat opposite in the way a sufferer experiences them). I'm going to look at the tips, and my response to what this means for someone (me) who has suffered from all three of these conditions at one time or another:

Okay, so pretty much no one looks like this or has a sunsetting beach to run along. And she looks like she's in a female hygiene products commercial.
 Plus I bet the sand is stinging her feet. But getting active can help. 

1.  Be active:

I think physical activity is a wonderful idea. Fresh air helps and getting out and about can lift your spirits by taking you out from where you were and helping you to relax.

“BUT, I don’t think I can get out of bed. I feel terrible today. I just want to stay here and sleep.”

I've felt this often. If you can, take a shower and get dressed. That counts. And there’s a lovely feeling about feeling clean, even if you go straight back to bed afterwards. Even if you don’t have a shower but make it to the kitchen you’re doing really well. Don’t be hard on yourself if you can help it. What you're feeling and experiencing is hard enough without beating yourself up about it.

I do love a shower. Don't listen to my husband saying that northerners are unclean. We do wash. Well, sometimes. 

2.  Take control

The NHS says ‘There’s a solution to any problem’. This is true, for the most part, but you do need to read the tips on managing your time and calming yourself before you can do anything.

“BUT how can I take control when everything is overwhelming. There is no solution to my problem. I don’t know what to do and I can’t stop panicking.”

If you’re massively stressed or anxious your brain cannot think straight to do this, so it’s time for deep breathing and water first, and calming yourself down, before you start to think about taking control or the steps to do so. Again, take care of yourself. You're not well enough to start addressing the things in your life that feel out of control if your anxiety/depression is 8-10 on a scale of 1-10. 

If only this button did what we all really wanted it to do...

3.  Connect with People

Talking can definitely help.  The NHS says: 'A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way.'

“BUT, I don’t feel like leaving the house to talk to people and I don’t want to talk to anyone right now.”
“BUT, I don’t have anyone I can talk to about this.”

It can be hard to reach out when you feel dreadful. I have been there. It still happens to me now. But talking does really help even if it’s hard to get started. And if you don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to / anyone you can talk to, organisations like the Samaritans are there and someone you don't know, but has been trained to be there for you in hard times can help. The main thing is, do try not to let all the negative feelings build up inside you. Sometimes I just say to my husband: "I'm having a bad day," and nothing more. But it means I have stopped feeling like my feelings are choking me from the inside because I have given them a voice.

Yes, your Facebook page is fascinating. 
Now can you help me? I've got third degree burns from holding my tea cup all this time.

4.  Have some 'me' time. 

Apparently we UK inhabitants work the longest hours in Europe. And it’s true, we do, and it doesn’t help. The NHS recommends doing what you can do to take time out.

“BUT, I’m worried I might lose my job if I want to work shorter hours to take time out for me. I need to check my emails even outside of work to make sure I stay on top of things “

You do need to take time out even if it’s sitting on the loo for 5 minutes. Continuing to be stressed or feeling bad without giving yourself some sort of break (even if a short one) to change your scenery and remove yourself from difficult situations is crucial. You can also get outside at lunchtime. And leave your phone. You wouldn’t be able to answer it if you were in a meeting, would you? So give yourself a break. You may not always be able to relax during ‘me’ time, because learning to relax is another thing you will have to master gradually if you're used to feeling tense all the time. I'm not great at relaxing - and I used to be dreadful at it! Try not to give yourself to hard a time about this.

Even if you're having 'me time' on the loo. 
Which obviously I'm not going to post an image of here.

5. Challenge Yourself

The NHS recommends setting yourself goals and challenges. In some cases I think this is a great idea. Ask yourself, what do I want? Is there something different that I could do to make my life more worthwhile to me?

"BUT, I'm overwhelmed as it is. I cannot deal with adding more challenges. I just cannot take on anything more because I can't cope. Please don't ask me to add more to what I'm going through."

It is tough to face the future, even the next few hours or the next day, when you're very low or anxious. The negative thoughts can be overwhelming and goals and challenges do seem hard. I find this one horrendous sometimes because I already feel overwhelmed. But even if it's only a goal to get across the road to the newsagent to buy yourself a chocolate bar, getting up, or picking up the phone to call a friend, try to do something. That something is a goal. Or maybe a holiday to look forward to. If you can do it - great. And again, just don't give yourself a hard time if you can't. You might need to calm and soothe yourself first. I know that's how it is for me.

Sometimes getting out of bed feels like this. 
But luckily with fewer ice picks and more blankets. Brrr!

6.  Avoid unhealthy habits

The NHS says: "Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping."

"BUT, a cigarette / a glass of wine helps me calm down at the end of the day. I like having it. Why can't I do it?"

The NHS is right - these are temporary releases which won't actually help in the end. Caffeine will make you jumpier if you're already anxious. I've given it up because it interferes with my medication and I'm tired of being so jumpy. I don't smoke, but I used to drink nearly every day. Now I've radically cut down on the alcohol because I've realised it is dangerous for me to mix too much alcohol with medication. Unfortunately I like wine and food in equal measures. And for goodness sake we are only human. But take care of your health in these matters - because adding to your existing problems with potential health problems or addiction will not help. 

7.  Help Other People

I really believe in this one. I've found that helping other people in some way, even if it's only holding the door and getting a thank you in return, would make me feel better momentarily. It's for this reason also that I've tried to volunteer for Mind and Time to Change: helping to raise awareness of mental health is important to me, and the thought that I might help other people is something that can lift me in my darkest times.

"BUT, how can I help other people when I'm in this state? I can't even help myself!"

Even the smallest things like putting a duvet over your partner in the middle of the night when it's fallen off and he's cold, feeding your cat, making a cup of tea for someone, is being helpful. Try to remember that and give yourself a break.

We can all help in small ways. Some ways are very cute. Like this.

8.  Work Smarter, Not Harder

Good time management is not something everyone has, but the NHS reminds us that "You have to get a work-life balance that suits you."

"BUT, I've got so many other commitments, I can't possibly work 'smarter' because I just have too much on! You don't know what it's like for me."

It's great to try to be efficient, to consider what really matters. However, when you're ill sometimes you can only do so much. Just try to work out - with help from others around you - what is important for you to get done now, and where you can get help for this, and make a note of other times that you can get done the most pressing things, again with help from others. The most important thing is to try to alleviate some of the pressures that you're feeling. Mind has some great tips on this. It's hard to generalise on this one: if you're a city banker or lawyer you likely feel you can't take any time out at all, but remembering that you got hired for a reason and that you are a smart person is important. Take a breath and reflect on that. And do take a break (even if just for five minutes) to do deep breathing before you try and tackle that mountainous 'To-Do' list.

9. Be Positive

"Are you serious? How can I be positive at a time like this? I feel so dreadful. Everything is awful and I just don't want to be here anymore. It's all too much."

The NHS says 'People don't always accept what they have.' Yep. That would be true. I am not thinking about my house, my husband and my great job when I'm miserable and ill. I doubt even people with a cold aren taking time out to feel grateful for any of these things when their noses are snotty and they're coughing and spluttering with a killer headache. Whatever the illness, we're all in it together feeling like crap and how on earth can we get ourselves out of it? Again, it's important to calm or soothe yourself first before you can try to think positively. This isn't easy at all. I have needed help from a therapist and a good psychiatrist to help me to see myself and my outlook more rationally and more positively. And I can't do it quite a lot of the time. It takes work, so start this kind of thinking, using techniques like mindfulness when you are feeling a bit less ill so that you can actually participate in them.

You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes...

10. Accept the things you can't change.

"Changing a situation isn't always possible," the NHS says. Again, Yep. 

"BUT, I can't do anything about my work, I can't change my family situation."
"I'm stuck and I can't get out."

I think the NHS is right here. There are going to be things you can't change and hard as they are to accept, we just have to try. We just need to make it to the next day (or the next hour). And then the next. I think acceptance, particularly self-acceptance is the most important step in dealing with mental health.

Above all, we can all play a part in continuing to talk about mental health de-stigmatising mental illnesses. It's not something to fear, to shun, to avoid, to pretend it doesn't exist. It doesn't mean you can't do a great job, be a great parent, live a good life, make a difference. It doesn't even mean you can't be happy.

Mental health illnesses are complex and difficult. But not talking about them worsens the condition, so please think about that and talk about it tomorrow and the next day and the next. Let's keep talking.