8 thoughts for Mental Health Awareness Day…

Today has been Mental Health Awareness Day and there are lots of nice posts going around that are useful or informative or comforting. They make me think about a lot of stuff.
What you’ll read below is more a collection of slightly uncomfortable musings than a coherently constructed reflection on mental health awareness and the issues arising from it. But still, I think maybe some of it is helpful…

1. Talking about mental health is a lot less awkward than talking about mental illness

Contrary to popular commentary, I think we’re getting okay about talking about ‘mental health’. Like, how we should talk about our feelings and listen to/make time for others, and all the things we can do to help keep ourselves mentally healthy, from exercise to mindfulness.

We’re not even that bad at talking about mental illness anymore (a subtly different and more medical/scary subject than mental health I think). Even the Tories bang on about how there should be ‘parity’ of provision for mental and physical health and it’s sort of okay to mention you’ve suffered with “mental health issues” in polite company nowadays.
But I read a tweet the other day and thought ‘yeah, this.’

If you’re talking about something you’ve gotten over stoically or heroically it’s okay. It’s also okay if you’re talking about it in the abstract, or if you’re talking about ‘feeling down’ – we can cope with those things. It’s harder to say stuff like ‘everything is a struggle and I can’t see how it’ll get better’ or ‘I wake up every morning with an almost paralysing fear of the day head pressing down on me’. That’s still awkward, isn’t it. Even worse, admitting you take mood-regulating medication… erm… #NutterAlert*

2. Sometimes people get poorly

There are lots of things you can do to care for yourself but, just like with physical health, mental illness can’t always be prevented, even with all the exercise and good vibes in the world. Sometimes we need professional help.

3. Sometimes it’s a one off

Some people have a mental health episode just once and it’s often triggered by a life event/trauma. For them it may be like breaking a limb; immediately debilitating, slow to recover from and perhaps leaving a scar or slight weakness that needs to be kept in mind.

4. It can be a chronic illness

For some people depression/anxiety/psychosis is a chronic illness, something they have to manage daily, that makes them poorly periodically and something they fear flaring up every time they fell a bit wobbly.

5. There’s a difference between thinking about suicide and being suicidal

I can say with a strong degree of certainty that you know several people who regularly think about suicide. There’s probably someone you know who totally has their shit together who thinks about suicide several times a day. These thoughts are just something they have learned to live with, like the ache from a dodgy joint; not life threatening, but tiring and really not nice.
(if you are one of these people, you’re really more normal than you think but that doesn’t mean it does suck, try not to worry too much, thoughts only have the power we give them, hang in there, and talk to someone if you can.)

6. Sometimes we need medicine

Anti-depressants are just medicine, they aren’t a ‘crutch’ Yes, like everything else they aren’t right for everyone, have side effects and sometimes they get wrongly prescribed, but they also save lives. Goodness knows how many.
Depressives can manage their condition with things like exercise, healthy eating, mindfulness and talking therapies, but for many our brain chemistry just needs a constant bit of help in staying not-mad.

7. You don’t HAVE to get ‘off your meds’

There is a certain pressure to get off anti-depressants or any mental illness medication; it is a goal to which people like me feel they should aspire. And it’s a goal that can make some of us feel like shitty failures. Sad but true.
Think diabetics and insulin; there are lots of things diabetics can do to manage their condition but even with all those things in place you would never expect someone to ‘get themselves off the insulin’. If your depression is a chronic illness then the same thing applies. Coming off your meds because ‘it’s about time’ or others think you should is potentially dangerous.
Anti-depressants saved my life, and continue to in my opinion, I can’t stand how they’re talked about and lamented so often by all sorts of ‘woke’ people.

8. People die of mental illness

How different would things be if you when someone with a long history of mental illness died at their own hand we said ‘she died of depression/bipolar disorder’ instead of ‘she committed suicide’. I know not all suicides can’t be explained in this way, but many could.
I have never heard anyone say that someone died of depression, or anxiety, or schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder or anything like that. But they do, every day, and maybe if we start saying it then the ‘parity of care’ might come a step closer.
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If any of this stuff affects you please do leave a comment, but more importantly take care of yourself and ask others to when you can’t. http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx
*chill out, I take mood regulating medication, read on my friend
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Lies, damn lies and mental health promises…

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PM Theresa May saying nice-ish stuff about justice and mental health in an almost convincing manner.

Talk is cheap. Something I’m sure Theresa May is aware of as she continues to embark on her programme of saying nice-ish, sensible things whilst backing them up with fuck all.

Today it was all about the ‘shared society’ (very different from the ‘big society’, you understand) and reforming mental health services. Today she uttered the ground-breaking words that will, no doubt, go down in history:

“For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health.”

Well, thank God a political leader is finally talking about this… If only we’d had someone like Theresa May in a prominent cabinet position for the past six years… Oh wait… Continue reading

Of home births and hero worship.

Recently, it’s really struck me how we all (or at least those of us who spend too much time googling shit and carry around an abundance of middle class guilt) aspire to a certain kind of birth. Pain-relief free, in a birthing-pool and, ideally, at home. The natural way.

(Incidentally, this line of thinking partly started because of the whole Helen-home-birth storyline on the Archers, which has since paled into insignificance).

Before I go any further I should say – if you did give birth at home, then props to you. I ain’t no hater.

But I do feel like women who manage to do it all ‘naturally’ receive a particular, celebrated status. They are sometimes talked about in a way that I rarely hear women who had assisted births being described. “Such a hero”, “amaaazing” etc.  And I don’t think that status serves anyone. Because, for one thing, it dictates how you should feel about your labour. At home with no pain-relief? You should feel good! In hospital with an epidural and some ‘assistance’. Bad. Obvs. Continue reading

28 times we hated Rob Titchener a little bit more…

rob evil

Public Service Announcement: This man is the actual worst**

Is The Archers sending anyone else into a borderline-panic-attack state recently? Seriously, this shit should come with a trigger warning.

In fact, trigger warning. This post contains reference to eating disorders and domestic and sexual abuse. Sigh.

Catching up on Friday’s episode of The Archers, I was physically shaking. The Rob and Helen storyline is car-crash radio at it’s best/worst. It just gets more and more disturbing, yet I can’t look away. Actually, I might have to, it’s not good for my mental health.

So, in order to excise some of this trauma, I thought I’d share my anger/grief/fear with y’all. I’ve been on Twitter, so I know I’m not the only one with #RobRage. Please enjoy this rant/romp through some of the highlights of Rob Titchener’s most hateful moments. (put the kettle on and settle in, we’ll be here for a while). Continue reading

‘I can’t cope’ she said, whilst coping.

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We’ve all been there. On the sofa, still in your nightie at 4pm, sobbing into a cold mug of tea, probably with one boob hanging out, wailing “I just can’t cope” to anyone who’ll listen.

Whether this scenario conjures up memories of parenting or just recovering from a the-world’s-gone-to-shit level hangover, I’m sure many of you will relate. Especially around the #JanuaryBlues post-Christmas, come down period.

But back to work blues aren’t just for those returning to the office – they effect those on maternity leave too. You go from having family around, an extra pair of hands, maybe even the odd nap, to being alone again. Well, not alone, there’s a tiny small human being to take care of. *panics at the thought*

At anytime of year, having a bit of a weep is par for the course for new mums, and dads too I reckon. But for some of us it goes a little bit further than that. Instead of having a ‘moment’ (albeit a daily/hourly ‘moment’) at some straw-breaking-back time of the day or night, we start to believe these three little words all of the time. I can’t cope. We fear being alone with our child for any length of time because we seriously doubt our ability to just get through. We start to believe we simple can’t do it.

That’s what happened with me any way. And around this time in January, when my husband was heading back to work after the Christmas holidays I pretty much lost my shit. No joke of a lie.

I mean, it wasn’t just that, there were lots of other crazy-making things that happened, like not getting enough milk to breastfeed, and having a particularly screamy baby. (I know all babies are screamy, but seriously. So. Screamy.) Anyhoo, I ended up in a post-natal mental unit for mums and babies, as many of you will already know.

Whilst there I learned many things that helped me return to reasonable levels of sanity. Among them was that I did, in fact, have some skill at this whole parenting lark. I knew my baby pretty well and, even though he didn’t go 4 hours between feeds (barely 2 sometimes) and ‘tummy time’ made him cry furiously and eat the floor, he was fine. And so was I. Shock horror.

The thing is, most of the time when we’re having a sob about not being able to cope we are actually coping, in that very moment.

Have I just blown your mind? You’re welcome.

While I was in floods of tears, thinking I could never cope without my mum/hubs around to help me, there was this healthy, vaguely clean and, frankly, alive child right in front of me. He wasn’t ‘the contented baby’ (a fictional character, in case you’re wondering) we all dream of, but he was okay. More than okay. I think I just thought I should be enjoying it all. And I wasn’t, which really, really worried me.

Let’s just getting something straight – looking after a tiny baby is tiring as all fuck. It is a barrage of newness and sleeplessness and epicly daunting responsibilities. And sometimes it just a bit shit. More than a bit. Sometimes you won’t enjoy it because it’s mostly dealing with bodily functions and crying. That’s okay too. It doesn’t mean anything about you, except that you’re a normal human being. It certainly does not mean that you’re a bad mother!!!!!! (there aren’t enough exclamation marks in the world to emphasise that point, so I thought 6 would do).

And because it’s all a bit crap at times, it’s also very natural to regard an entire morning with no company and no planned activity with a mixture dread and battle-readiness. That doesn’t make you weak or mad, and it certainly doesn’t mean you won’t be able to cope with a morning like that.

So, if everyone else going back at work whilst you languish in the nappy-laden land of maternity leave is striking fear into your very soul, I want to tell you this…

Thinking you can’t cope isn’t the same as not being able to cope.* Is your baby fed? Vaguely clean? Cuddled often? Well then, you’re doing fine. You are coping. You’re worry, and you’re tired and you’re probably a bit bored, but you’re definitely coping.  It’s a bloody slog though, isn’t it? Bleurgh.

You’re a good mum. You are. Really, I’m quite sure of it.

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* if you’re in a situation like I was and have PND then it is of course possible that you really can’t cope alone, and that’s okay too. I got to a point where I was afraid I would hurt myself and didn’t feel safe on my own. If that’s the case for you then please seek help and talk to someone. You can also go to A&E if you’re really scared.

 

 

You can keep your ‘free’ childcare, I know the real cost: An open letter to George Osborne.

Dear Mr Osborne,

I watched some of your Autumn Statement during my lunch hour today and was filled with an uncomfortable mixture of amusement and disgust. Not towards you personally, I was actually surprised to find that you can be quite funny when you want to be, though I suppose you had someone else write the jokes. But I am angry at the way you very cleverly delivered a speech that appeared to be presenting a generous provision to a ‘prosperous’ nation. I can’t credit you with ignorance, so my only conclusion is that you’re involved in a serious deception.

What larks.

What larks.

Well, Sir, your smoke and mirrors can’t fool me. Quietly announcing 25% cuts to this and following it up with a lively patter on the £6 billion you will be spending on that; I know your game. In fact, while we’re on the subject, could you please explain something to me. Don’t the “£22bn efficiency savings in England and Department of Health to cut 25% from its Whitehall budget” sort of offset that £8 billion you’ve promised the NHS? I mean, isn’t that actually a £14bn cut in NHS spending? #justasking

To be honest, mate, I could go on all day about the many problems I have with the idea you put forward that your government is one that ‘delivers social justice’. I mean, we both know that’s nonsense. I can’t decide which example highlights this better: right now I’m torn between the rather under-played scrapping of grants for student nurses (replaced with loans, naturally) and or a more global issue. For instance, how the denigration of women and routine beheadings don’t bother you so much when it’s the UK arms-buying, cheap oil-selling state of Saudi Arabia doing it.

Nice one George.

Nice one George.

But I digress…

I’m writing this letter because I’d like to make you an offer: you can have my 30 hours of free childcare back, as long as I can tell you how to spend it. Because, Mr Osborne, I know the real cost of your finding money for middle-class ‘hard-working families’ and it’s not a price I’m prepared to pay.

In fact, most of your spending review actually benefits me. I am a middle-class, employed, married, straight, white home-owner; we should be best friends right? Except that we’re really, really not. Because I am not better off in a world that’s going to shit. Your ideological economic agenda will not make me wealthier if it comes at the expense of society’s most vulnerable, such as the poor souls (have there really been hundreds?) who have committed suicide in face of hopeless poverty or abject humiliation due your government’s cuts.

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No, that’s not the world I want for my son and no amount of free childcare bribery will convince me otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong, childcare is atrociously expensive, and many families need serious help. But my family can manage. I mean, as long as we can scrape together the pennies for our weekly delivery of organic veg and a couple of cheeky bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, I think your should have concerns higher on your list. By all means, give free childcare to those who need it, and don’t cap it at 30 hours either. In fact, could I arrange for my extra 15 hours to be transferred to a struggling single parent? Why not? My mum got free child care in the 80s so that she could work full time whilst raising me on her own (and she did pretty well, I got into Cambridge dontchaknow). That’s right, even Thatcher was more generous than you lot in her early days. Even Thatcher. (I am aware that is, to you, in no way an insult, but let’s be clear, it’s meant as one).

Okay, so how about this. 30 hours a week… let’s say that’s 4 days. 4 days a week would cost me around £204, so £816 per month, so £9,792 per year. That is a lot of money. Let’s say the government gets a discount – you know, for bulk buying – so it’s £8,000 or something. Then let’s half it, as there’s already 15 hours free. £4,000, can I give it back please?

I’d like to give my £4,000, which you can apparently afford, so someone else. Can I give it to one of the people you’ve deemed ‘fit to work’, and in doing so in such an exacting, compassionless manner have actually made their symptoms worse? Or one of those who has lost their dignity and independence due to you revoking their Independent Living Allowance, perhaps? Or could I donate to a victim of domestic violence, a third of whom now have to court unrepresented because they can’t supply you with the required ‘evidence’?

Seriously, I don’t need your vote-buying money. Of course I’d like it, of course it would make life a bit easier, give us more in choices and even a nice holiday, but if it means you’re taking important, civilised social security and rights from others who really need them then I’d rather not be party to it. Really. I won’t allow you to masquerade as a man of the people while you rob from the poor and turn a blind eye to the ‘victimless crimes’ of those who fiddle our markets and carefully avoid paying their taxes.

This headline demonstrates everything that's wrong with the world.

This headline demonstrates everything that’s wrong with the world.

Of course it’s appropriate for people to consider how the government’s choice affect them, but it’s not right for us to only think about that. So I’m going to ignore the part of me that wants to punch the air when I think about not having to pay my son’s nursery fees, and do the right thing, if you’ll let me.

And if you won’t, will you tell me why you have decided to prioritise the childcare costs of families earning up to £100,000 over the funding of nurse’s education or the proper payment of doctors or the right of every person to dignity and legal representation?

I await your response,

Yours very, very sincerely,

Aileen Few

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Dear Reader, I don’t come out to play much any more, but this has made me need to scream in public. I’m sending this letter to George Osbourne any way I can, and if you’d like to tweet him with it (@george_osborne), or email it to him too, that would be fab, or at least mildly amusing. #KeepYourMoneyGeorge

Cheers x

Mental health services: a matter of life and death

On 4th January 2014 me and my mum turned up at A&E in Manchester. I was afraid of my own mind. I was the most tired I’d ever been in my life but when I tried to sleep by body was tensed with anxiety and horrible thoughts piled on top of me like a lead weight. I had a 10 week old baby to care for, but I couldn’t enjoy this beautiful, bonny boy because I was ill. I was very very ill. 
Without the love and support of my endlessly sensitive and understanding family, and the wonderful mother and baby mental health unit that’s took us in, I genuinely don’t know where I’d be now. I’m sure my boy would be okay, but I do believe those mental health services saved my life.
Even as I write this I feel self-conscious; what will people who didn’t know about it think of me? Will they see me differently? But I’m not ashamed, I’m proud to be a survivor of a condition that is as cruel and unbidden and potentially fatal as any physical illness. And this separation between ‘mental’ health and ‘physical’ health is a false divide; an incredibly harmful one at that.

When I came out of the unit I was still not strong. It was 12 weeks of therapy, followed by an 8 weeks mindfulness for depression group that really changed everything. Now I have the resources to protect myself against further episodes. I am stronger than I have ever been. I am so grateful to live in a country where health care is free at the point of delivery.

But this care is under attack. The notion that a body set up to protect the sick and vulnerable should be ‘economically viable’ when subject to vicious spending cuts is inhumane. But even if we took compassion out of the equation (which it often seems the Tories have already done) it’s utter fiscal stupidity. Without occupational therapy and ongoing support people with chronic mental health issues move from low risk to high risk, when that happens they either need intensive community based care or a hospital bed.

Now, I’m no economist but I’m pretty sure a group gardening class costs less than having somebody sectioned.

So Dear, Dear Readers, please share this post and sign this petition. If you live in Manchester please lobby your councillors and MP.

For some people this will be a matter of life and death.

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Parents: We’ve all gone a little bit mad.

Hi there good people. Just a little note today from you’re resident malcontent to say ‘Hey, are you feeling a bit mad?’ Well you’re not alone!

mad parents

As you may have guessed from the general (fucking hilarious) tone of this blog, I’m not exactly okay with the current advice-culture-quagmire we modern day parents have to wade through. And, frankly, I think we’ve all gone a bit mad. Why? Because there are so many bloody ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’. Neuroses about food and sleep and behaviour and development continually pop up on our Facebook feeds and get rammed down our throats in the form of ‘news’ articles and ‘helpful’ books. Seriously, I continually write about how all this stuff is utter BS but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me. It’s like how I get well angry with the general “be thin, be thin, be reeeeeeaaally thin” bombardment women face on a daily basis’ but also hate my upper arms (I mean they are utterly hideous, as showcased above) and read the calorie counts when deciding which sandwich to buy. Bleurgh. Continue reading

Recovering from PND: A Kind of Resurrection

I like Easter. I like the whole flow of Holy Week and how it takes in so much of the human experience. I like that the women are always there with Jesus and that when I think about his mother Mary’s story (whether or not you think it’s ‘true’) it teaches me about motherhood; all of it’s pain and love. This blog is usually a place for railing against the things that pin us mothers down, or casting a sarcastic glance at the silliness of our over eager advice culture. I’d like to think, though, it’s also a bit about hope and reassurance.

Today I don’t have much to say, but the sunshine and the Easter story have made me feel grateful, and I notice how far I have come this year. From the stomach-churning fear of anything birth and newborn related to a real relishing of motherhood. From a feeling of love masked by constant self-doubt to a security in my own ability to be a parent. I just love my son so much. And I can feel that love. But more than this, I like him. I really like him.

This is a kind of resurrection.

I want to attempt not to stray into cheesy territory and also be careful not to strike those who are still struggling with any sense of inadequacy or failure. But the on the day that the most powerful story that I know is being celebrated across the world, I want to offer my little piece of hope for all those who are in the midst of postnatal depression. You fear that you will not love; will never enjoy; are not able to cope. But you will love and will enjoy and you are coping. Right now, you’re coping. I have felt all of those things, I have some of them today but not with the same heart-breaking power that they once had. I have had so much help to get here, and I hope you’ll have the same.

Healing comes. Hope springs.

Happy Easter.

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“No one knows why the Germanwings crash happened, so let’s not mindlessly blame depression.” (said no media outlet ever)

The crash of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 last week was a tragedy, there is no other word for it. If I were a family member of one of those killed I would want no stone left unturned in the investigation as to how and why this happened. However, I may not want the media who to keep turning those stones over and over to no end other than feeding their 24-hour rolling-news culture, with it’s signature mix of repetition and supposition.

What goes on in the mind someone who crashe Continue reading