Brad Krause: The many mental health benefits that self-care can provide.

Guest blogger Brad Krause shares some of his favourite self-care tips that could help you in your journey to better mental health.

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When it comes to mental health, few things are as important as cutting out stress and anxiety. For many Americans, however, this can prove tricky to do. We work long hours, we have responsibilities, and we read about distressing things going on in the world every day. Knowing how to take care of your body and mind will help you relax, feel happier, and enjoy the little things. But where do you start?

The key is to make some time for yourself. That can be difficult to do if you work long hours or have a family who needs your attention, but it’s imperative if you want to boost your mental health and fight off stress, anxiety, and depression. Even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes a day, find something you enjoy doing and spend time on it. Whether it’s a hobby, an exercise routine, or spending time with your family, focusing on your needs will help you feel better. Here are a few more tips on how to take care of your mental health and what the benefits are.

 

Go to Sleep!

Getting good sleep is absolutely essential if you want to maintain positive mental health, and the bonus is that it can help your physical health as well. Adequate rest can boost your energy, help you focus, and improve memory function throughout the day. Not only that, it’s the best way to feel better overall.

"Many things that we take for granted are affected by sleep. If you sleep better, you can certainly live better. It’s pretty clear,” says Dr Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.

 

Take a Time-Out

Whether you need to get away from the grind for a couple of days or just have some quiet time for half an hour, take a time-out when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. Work and home responsibilities can be extremely stressful, and when you take too much onto your shoulders, you’ll burn out really quickly. Take a few minutes to relax, or plan a weekend getaway so you can rejuvenate yourself and come back ready to tackle new challenges.

 

Avoid Self-Medicating

Arguably one of the worst - and most popular - ways to reduce stress and anxiety is to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. While many people don’t see the harm in grabbing a few beers with their friends to let off some steam on a Friday night, it can lead to a dangerous path that has you self-medicating with substances every time you feel stressed. Instead, practice a hobby that you enjoy, or learn to meditate so you can practice mindfulness when things get heavy.

 

Get Outside

Spending time in nature doing something enjoyable can have many benefits for your health, including lowering blood pressure, improving your memory function, and boosting your mood, meaning it has a positive effect on depression and other mood disorders. If you can get active while you’re outdoors, all the better. Start a herb garden, or go for a bike ride with your kids. Even just half an hour under the sun can help you feel better.

Taking good care of your mental health means focusing on your needs, so don’t be afraid to let your friends and family know what they can do to help out. Keep communication open and get them involved in the activities that help you feel better so they can take advantage of the benefits, as well.

Bethany Hatton: When a Friend or Family Member Needs Rehab

 Bethany Hatton talks us through the difficult and often mutually traumatic experience of having a friend or family member who requires rehabilitation.

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How do you know when a loved one needs treatment for drug dependence or alcoholism? The answer may not always crystal clear.

People may be holding down a job and taking care of a home and family while using alcohol and drugs to cope with chronic pain or other issues that put them in deep distress. Indeed, it’s important to realize that not everyone with a substance abuse problem uses illegal drugs or is an obvious abuser. Drinking can escalate into alcoholism, and people can become addicted to prescription drugs they’re using legally. In these cases, it can be more difficult to determine when use becomes abuse.

 

Identifying Substance Abuse

Some common signs your loved one’s alcohol or drug use has become an addiction include continuing to use even after experiencing serious negative consequences, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Often, those grappling with substance use disorder will place the blame on others—including everyone from bosses, to law enforcement officers, to friends and family members―for these repercussions.

Other signals may include an increased tolerance for drugs or alcohol, loss of control (which can include repeatedly trying and failing to reduce or stop using drugs or alcohol on their own), cravings for the substances, or physical withdrawal symptoms if the person reduces or stops using.

Knowing What to Expect During Treatment

If you’ve seen some of these signs, it could be time to suggest your loved one seek treatment, and they certainly won’t be alone.

According to statistics cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22.5 million people (8.5 percent of the U.S. population) age 12 or older needed treatment for an alcohol use or illicit drug use problem—including misuse of prescription drugs—in 2014, but only 18.5 percent of those who needed treatment got it in that year.

According to Swift River, “America’s opioid epidemic has increased the need for quality addiction treatment and safe opioid detoxification.” But medically supervised detox from drugs such as opioids or prescription narcotics is only the first step in addiction recovery. Indeed, treatment programs should include a holistic approach that addresses the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

This can include being treated for common coexisting conditions including depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Depending on the diagnosis, your loved one's healthcare team can recommend psychotherapy, family counseling, and prescription medications that address issues related to substance abuse disorder or other conditions. Once a patient’s immediate needs are addressed, complementary therapies may include nutritional counseling, art therapy, outdoor exercise sessions, or classes that leads patients through guided meditation or other mindfulness practices, among others.

After Rehab

Rehabilitation facilities typically also offer transition and after-care services designed to reduce the likelihood of relapse. This may include individual or group counseling, regular contact with a counselor by phone or video, prescription medications, or connecting with a support group whose members may have overcome some of the same obstacles your loved one is facing, among other options.

You should also be aware that your loved one will continue to need support from family and friends to stay on the road to recovery after rehab. Some simple ways to encourage your loved one’s progress include offering yourself up as an exercise partner or assuring them they can always call if they need to hear a friendly voice.

The important thing to realize is there are many resources available to assist those who struggle with substance abuse and addiction, and there are friends and family who want to help them live a long and fulfilling life.

Guest Piece: What causes trichotillomania?

  Guest blogger Ariel Taylor provides us with a valuable insight into the ins and outs of the complex Body Focused Repetitive Behaviour (BFRB) trichotillomania, outlining what research has shown us and what we’ve yet to learn.

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According to scientific research, it is difficult to attribute a cause to many mental health disorders because a cause is an event or condition from which something else results. Trichotillomania (informally known as “trich”), a mental health disorder characterized by compulsive hair pulling and classified in the obsessive-compulsive spectrum of disorders, is one scientists can only speculate about its origin. This article will highlight some theories supported by current research.

Many studies begin with the disclaimer, “the exact cause of trichotillomania is not known,” butspeculations exist. What scientists do know is that trichotillomania is more common when first-degree relatives have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Because it can be passed down genetically, it indicates a physical component exists. Research has yet to confirm the physical component but suggests that people with obsessions or compulsions of any kind tend to have serotonin deficiencies and disordered reward processing. This hypothesis is supported by the success of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors by some people with trichotillomania. Not everyone experiences good results from these medications, however, so there are further explanations.

Other brain conditions offer reasons for trichotillomania. There are studies that show people with trich have structural brain abnormalities in the lenticulate as well as differences in the volume of the left putamen. The lenticulate is part of the caudate nucleus of the brain which plays a role in the way the brain learns and regulates the control of impulses between the thalamus and orbitofrontal cortex. This part of the brain is a suspect in the development of OCD because a malfunction here would limit a person’s ability to interrupt worries, obsessions, and compulsions. The left putamen is a part of the brain involved in movement and learning. Studies of Parkinson’s disease and stroke patients show that when the putamen is damaged in any way, a person will experience jerky, unpredictable, repetitive movements.If the part of a person’s brain that is in charge of stopping compulsions is faulty along with the part in charge of moderating repetitive movements, the chronic nature of trichotillomania is better explained.

There are other studies link trichotillomania to brain metabolism and reward processing. There is evidence suggesting that people with trich have high metabolic glucose rates in several parts of the brain. While this process is a mystery, metabolic disturbances in the brain are associated with other mental health disorders, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. The brain needstheenergy to operate; therefore if the brain’s energyis disruptedin any way, it is safe to assume that brain functions would also be disrupted. The rewards processing theory suggests that those who pull hair experience a reward from it thereby creating an altered reward feedback loop associated with the behavior.

The cause of trich may be unknown, but there is research about what makes it worse. Trich is a lifelong, chronic condition that can be managed, but not cured. Many people with trich describe episodes or a cycle of worsening behaviors and no behaviors. Psychological factors such as stress and anxiety act as triggers for pulling hair which supports the theory of the inability to control an impulse during times of stress activation. For some people, the act of pulling hair serves as emotional regulation or self-soothing which supports the theory of disordered reward processing.

Scientists continue to search for the cause of trichotillomania because then pharmaceutical therapies can be created to target the cause. Until then, those with trichotillomania rely on the evidence-based therapies available that focus on increasing awareness of the behaviors and consciously changing them.

References

Bhandare, S.,Kotade, K.,Bhavar, S.,Bhangale, C., &Wagh, V. (2016). Trichotillomania: A hair pulling disorder. World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 5(5), 596-615. doi: 10.20959/wjpps20165-6760 http://www.wjpps.com/download/article/1461929730.pdf

Adapting

I've been incredibly quiet for several months now, for a number of reasons. As you'd expect, a lot has happened in the last 6 months. From getting engaged to having a breakdown just before Christmas, I've found myself spending a lot of time simply processing everything that's been happening.

September was one of the happiest months I've had in several years. My partner and I got engaged, I started college with a renewed sense of enthusiasm...and then my brain decided to step in.

As a lot of you already know, I was the victim of a sexual assault in December 2015. Looking back, I never really dealt with it. Sure, I went through the motions, and then went through the motions again when the effects of the trauma started to become apparent in November 2016, but I never truly dealt with it. And when you don't deal with things, they keep coming back.

Towards the end of last year, things reached a breaking point. I wasn't sleeping, I was stuck in a binge-starve cycle, and I was hiding in bed most of the time. Unsurprisingly, this led to a rather severe breakdown, and 2 years on from the assault, I hit rock bottom. At this point, doctors and specialists began fleetingly mentioning PTSD. I'd suspected it for roughly a year beforehand, but now people were nodding and agreeing.

I've been incredibly lucky that my partner has stood by me throughout everything, from listening when I've been ranting and swearing about the state of the NHS and the lack of support for people suffering from trauma to accompanying me on several hospital trips.

And one unexpected factor from all of this is finally getting an explanation as to why I went through a bout of collapses at the start of 2017! I've officially been given a diagnosis of Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder. In layman's terms, I occasionally get so worked up that my brain decides to take a break and shuts off. Of course, my body relies on my brain to function, so when my brain decides to take a breather, I end up in a bit of a crumpled heap on the floor, generally waking up to a first responder lying next to me and talking to me. So, that's fun!

Anyway, please don't take this as a sign that I'm returning to my regular writing habits because I'm not. Instead, I'm giving my brain what it's been trying to tell me it needs, and I'm taking a break. I've deferred from college, so from now until September I'm dedicating myself to learning how my PTSD affects me, and how I can keep it in check, as well as feeding my soul by spending time with the people who throughout everything have managed to make me smile when I've been at my worst.

And so I keep living.

Why Social Media is Hit-and-Miss in Encouraging Communication.

Lately, I've been getting Facebook notifications informing me that people have been “waving” at me. I'm baffled, and honestly, I'm also a little annoyed.

Perhaps the fault is with me. Perhaps I just take communication via social media too seriously. But are you really telling me that sending a virtual “wave” to someone is more productive than saying “hello”?

To my knowledge, the Facebook “poke” facility disappeared many moons ago. I can't say that I've missed it because if I'm to be honest, the fun of “poke wars” wore off after the age of 14. There's more to life than repetitively clicking a button and seeing who gives up first.

However, that aside, I do have genuine concerns about this move that Facebook has made; and that's the fact that at a time when we most need to communicate with each other, the platforms we're using appear to be actively discouraging direct communication by implementing this “wave” facility.

I can't remember the last time I received a waving emoji from someone and thought “wow, this person really cares for me, and this collection of pixels arranged into the vague shape of a hand couldn't have come at a better time!”.

So please, for the love of all things good, if you actually care about someone, then use your words! I've said before that words have the ability to save lives; I never thought that I'd have to add that emojis don't.

Know that if you “wave” at me on social media, I will ignore it and wait for you to actually form some line of communication.

On The Other Side | Supporting a loved one with mental illness

I have grown up surrounded by mental illness, but never having to step outside the boundaries of kindly words. Until recently, that is. 

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in A&E with a loved one who had taken an overdose. I'm grateful to be able to tell you that on this occasion there was no harm done, and we're working on getting this person to a happier state of mind.

Throughout the journey to hospital, I remained very calm. In fact, calm is the wrong word. I was robotic. Granted, it was 3am, I'd had 2 hours' sleep and as such was completely exhausted; however, there was simply no emotional response at the time.

This sudden shift from being the person needing to be cared for to the person doing the caring has been dramatic, to say the least. It's forced me into being more responsible, and it's also made me incredibly defensive of my loved one.

I fear that I'm behaving in the same way as the media. It almost took a tragedy to open my eyes up to how much pain another person was causing. Regardless, now that I've seen the behaviour of the other person in the cold light of day, and seen the effects it's been having, I've come leaps and bounds in my ability to call out atrocious behaviour. 

As all of this has been happening there have only been a tiny amount of people who got to see my emotionless facade crumble at any point. Thankfully, I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who know how to pick me up when I take a fall. Thanks to those people, I'm able to help my loved one through this little piece of hell that they're experiencing right now.

 

Apologies for the sporadic posts. As you can see, it's been a busy few weeks. 

"What do you really want to do with your life?" - Anstia Vesperman

Anstia is our first resident guest blogger, who is helping me keep on top of the website as my own workload continues to grow. I'm really pleased to have her onboard! In this piece and a selection of other pieces, she's going to be revisiting some of the questions I've answered, and answering them from her perspective.

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This is a big question – fortunately, I think that you often get the chance to answer this question more than once in a lifetime.

When I was 10 years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to become a doctor, and have a husband and a wife (I’d look after them both with my amazing income).

When I was 20 years old, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Mostly, I wanted to be able to hide from my life. Stay at home, read fantasy books, and pretend that my anxiety and my depression didn’t exist. Suffice it to say that I did not study medicine at university.

When I was about 30 years old, I started wanting to make a difference to other people’s lives. While far from stable in mental health, I was desperate to change other people’s futures, to be a counsellor (or some other type of talking-therapy person), to blog about my experiences, whatever. I wanted to reach out to people, to help them. But at that stage I was unable – I couldn’t focus enough to complete any studies, or to write effectively.

Now I’m 40 years old. My condition is stable (meaning that I routinely experience depression, mania, and anxiety, but not psychosis, in the main), and I’m able to write blog posts, and come up with ideas for projects that I can see through to completion. That ‘want’ from my 30s has finally been realised, in some way. However, I also have more desires for myself, too. I want to perform more self-care, to cultivate friendships, to make more jewellery and improve my skills there.

I don’t expect it all to end there. My parents, as excellent examples of people in their 70s, have changed tack many times in their lives, and are still doing so. Primarily, they teach in areas they are interested in themselves: astronomy, jewellery-making, gold detecting, geology.

What do I really want to do with my life? Help. Teach. Make people smile. The rest is all details.

"I shall love myself despite the ease with which I lean toward the opposite."

This is, of course, a Shane Koyczan quote. I had the utter pleasure of meeting Shane in Dublin last week; he's my favourite spoken word artist, and to be able to thank him for how his work has helped shape the direction of my life was magical.

So let me start by once again saying thank you, Shane - time meant I couldn't give you the full spiel about how your work (amongst others', of course) has helped me, but I hope I was able to convey how life-changing it's been for me. I hope it isn't too long before you're over this way again!

A couple of days after Shane's gig, I fell ill once again. This time, I spent a good deal of the week in bed, unable to eat, struggling to drink, and crying with pain. I can honestly say that I'd take a dodgy gallbladder over flu any day of the week!

On Thursday, I woke up from a nap to see that my first piece with The Mighty had been published. Wow. I cried once again; only, this time, it was because I was so overwhelmed with joy. While I continue to recover from the flu, I'm continuing to get my head around the number of people with kind words to say in response to my most successful piece to date.

I can't help but wonder if Shane, and other artists I admire so much, have the same reaction when something of theirs starts reaching thousands of people in countries all over the world?

It's been overwhelming, but all-in-all I'm overjoyed. I had a magical week, and I can't wait to have a similar week in the not-too-distant future!

Thanks again Shane - this is one of the things I didn't get to tell you about. There's more beauty in how you tell your story, no doubt about that. However, people like you are who have inspired me to tell mine at all.

Megan x

 

How far we've come. | #MHAW17

A couple of weeks ago, I had the utter pleasure of slowly sizzling in the sun whilst cheering for marathon runners at the top of my lungs.

"C'mon Dave! Keep going, Chris! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HENRY!"

It was truly an incredible experience, especially as so many of the runners were doing so to raise funds for mental health charities. From Heads Together to Mind to MQ, there were countless crucial charities represented on the streets of London that day.

We've come incredibly far. A handful of years ago, we could never have imagined members of the royal family having an emotional conversation about mental health on-camera. And yet, that's exactly what we're seeing now.

Something else that's sparking conversation is the controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. It's taken me quite some time, but I've come to be deeply uncomfortable with the series, especially now that a second season has been announced.

Not everything that boosts conversation is beneficial. Especially if it's as insensitive towards real people with real issues as that series is.

In conclusion, we've come a long way, but we still have so far to go.

"Is it ever acceptable to use a mental health slur?"

"You needed closure. I agreed to talk with the understanding that I'd be left alone when you got what you needed. If what you needed was for me to confess undying love...well, that's not going to happen. I'm not being drawn into an argument. I'm calm right now (proof that my meds are working). I'm not letting anyone get a rise out of me, be it you or anyone else."

This was the moment that I got fed up of someone from my past pushing for details regarding my love life and trying to get me to accept them back into my life.

Apparently, it was enough to warrant being on the receiving end of a mental health slur for the first time in my life. 

"I'd say the meds aren't working. There was nothing remotely provocative in any of my messages yet you have gone full fruitcake."

This from a man who only minutes earlier had openly admitted that he was asking leading questions in an attempt to ascertain whether or not I was in a relationship. A man who had also asked, "is there any point in me trying to worm my way back into your heart or should I give up?". Seemingly, the several messages in which I'd clearly stated that I had no interest in a relationship with him weren't quite enough to get the message across.

So, is it ever acceptable to use a mental health slur? If I had indeed been abusive to him, as he seemed to think, would it have been acceptable then?

What if I were to tell you that this person is a founding member of a newly formed group that is adamant that the stigma surrounding mental illness must be tackled? Unfortunately, despite this person's behaviour being raised with the group in question on two occasions now, they see fit to continue working with him. It's disappointing, to say the least.

Priding yourself on advocacy work whilst dishing out some of the vilest abuse there is behind closed doors is sinking rather low, in my opinion. What do you think? How might you respond to this situation if you were in my shoes?

Tackling issues in a graphic manner on-screen? | 13 Reasons Why

In the last couple of weeks, I've watched two worlds collide; mental health and Netflix. I can't say as I ever thought I'd see that happen! However, it has happened, with Jay Asher's book Thirteen Reasons Why being adapted for the screen in the form of a 13 episode series for Netflix.

Having read the book in my early teens, I was torn as to whether or not I ought to now watch the series. I'm not in the best place right now in terms of my mental health, so there's always that worry about being tipped in the wrong direction by something I read or watch.

After some thought, though, I decided to watch. I could always skip the really troublesome scenes, right? Well, in theory, yes. In reality, though, I was glued to the screen.

The content warnings at the start of the particularly graphic episodes were a welcome sight. I've long thought we could use such content warnings for episodes of series that hold distressing content, I've just never been sure how it might work. 13 Reasons Why showed that they can work.

However, when it came to scenes involving sexual assault/rape – something I don't remember being present in the book, though I could be mistaken – I regularly found myself either watching through my fingers or pausing and walking away to catch my breath. It was difficult. I often found myself shaking when I stopped seeing Hannah on the screen and started seeing myself.

And still, the hardest was yet to come. Episode 13. If you've watched the series, you probably know what I mean. The suicide scene.

I'm swinging back and forth in my opinions on this. Was it necessary? I understand that it causes the viewer to be shocked, and to realise that this is a reality faced by too many of our young people. But the blogger in me thinks...well, we're advised not to use graphic details when talking about suicide because of the proven risk of “copycat” suicides in the following weeks. I'm concerned that we may see a similar fallout as a result of this scene.

At that point, I paused, closed my laptop, and gasped for breath between sobs. Here I am, someone who talks about her own suicide attempts openly, and there I was, in desperate need of a hug and somebody to talk to. It was difficult, to say the least. I worry for others who watched that scene who are more vulnerable than I am.

All in all, I'm torn. I'm truly torn. This series is creating conversation, which is important and completely fantastic. However, I'm not altogether convinced that it was done in a way that was sensitive to real people living with these thoughts. Is boldness really what we need right now? Maybe it is, or maybe we need to think about how we can deal with these issues with compassion.

"Do you ever experience depersonalisation or derealisation?"

The truth is, I've been experiencing periods of depersonalisation and derealisation for years. It's just that I've only recently realised it's not "normal", after speaking to people who were baffled when I explained my tendency to "disconnect" from the world around me.

My understanding of these things is that they cause you to feel spaced out, or disconnected from the world around you.

It's been a while since I've recounted experiences like this, so I think it's time to go back to my roots a little. A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go to London, a city I've been falling deeper in love with since my first trip when I was 16.

This was a trip I took in order to rebuild that love after it had been damaged by an incident at the end of my last trip, and it was incredible to fall in love with this magnificent city all over again. Say what you like about London; it may be grubby, but it's beautiful.

During one of the days that I jumped on the tube with my earphones in and got off at a random stop to explore, I noticed something didn't feel right. I was walking through the city, and I was seeing some incredible sights, but I wasn't fully immersed like I usually am. I felt as though I was behind a pane of glass. I was seeing everything, but I wasn't feeling any of it.

I lost a big chunk of the magic of that day to that feeling of disconnection. That is why I know that this isn't "normal", or "healthy". That's a day I'm never quite going to be able to get back.

In the past, derealisation hasn't bothered me. This is simply owing to the fact that I've never been in the middle of a week of independence and pushing my comfort zone when it's struck. Normally when it occurs, I'm just going about my day-to-day life, and it passes without having had an impact.

So whilst this has been going on for as long as I can remember, it's only now that it's become inconvenient.

"How does your mental illness affect your ability to communicate?"

Recently I sat down and started having a conversation with a friend. After about 20 minutes they started talking about books, and I sat and thought about what they'd said, but when it came to actually verbalising my thoughts, all I could respond with was "hmmm".

Unsurprisingly, this stumped my friend.

My thoughts had disappeared the moment I went to put them into words. When asked, I likened it to trying to grasp a bubble, only for it to burst.

So there we go, my thoughts have turned into bubbles. Not the kind you have in the bath, either, where you can scoop up a whole mountain of them at once. No, these are the kind of bubbles you get from the cheap little bottles of bubble mix you get in the corner shop during the summer.

Truth is, this happens to me on a regular basis. Including during meetings, which can be frustrating. I dread to think about how many ideas I've lost to this brain hiccup. You'd think it's bad enough when anxiety interferes when I'm trying to communicate with somebody new! I think in this instance it's a case of the depression gremlin sneaking in and stealing my thoughts when I'm not looking.

Either way, it's infuriating. So now you know, if ever we're chatting and I suddenly go silent, I've probably popped all my bubbles!

"How do you accept / respect where you are in recovery?"

Over the weekend, I decided that it was time to sit down and write again. I've been on a few adventures this year, and the blog has fallen on the back-burner. This has partially been accidental, and also a little bit intentional. Accidental in that I never intended to leave a gap of several weeks between blog posts; intentional in that I've decided to only write when I truly have something to say.

So, when I put out a call for questions, a friend got in touch to ask about accepting and respecting where you are in your recovery. It's certainly a hefty question, but I'm going to try to give it the attention and care it deserves.

For me, a large part of accepting and respecting where I am in recovery is trying not to count the days. For the first two weeks, I kept a running tally of my recovery streak since I last self-harmed, but at this stage? I only have a rough idea as to how long it's been. That's okay.

You see, the thing is, where you are in your recovery is where you're meant to be in this moment. It's a process, a time-consuming one at that. You can't skip the line, and if somehow you do manage to reach the finish line without jumping all of the hurdles, you will be sent back to those hurdles later on.

In the past, I've described recovery as being like surgery. You have to open up the wounds and get a good look around to see what the damage is, then you have to fix that damage, and eventually you have to heal. Trying to rush this process is like closing up a patient without repairing all of the damage. It could prove to be more damaging in the long-run.

So whilst I recognise that it can be frustrating to feel as though your recovery is moving slowly, or even not at all, know that things are moving. They're just moving slowly. And that's okay. Let yourself recover.

"Why don't you slow down?"

If you've been following my social media, you'll know that this year has already been busier for me than the last three years combined. I've been throwing myself headfirst into every available opportunity, be it public speaking, writing a book, or planning my re-entrance into the scene of education.

It's been quite something.

Understandably, it's raised a few eyebrows. I'll admit, my life this year hasn't been typical of a person who's battling anxiety, depression, and a potential mystery illness.

However, tell me this: what is typical of such a person? Does this image of your typical mentally ill person resemble the silhouetted figure sitting with their back against a wall and their head in their hands that so often makes an appearance in news pieces? Because I know a lot of people with mental illnesses, and it's rare that we look like that person.

Still, my behaviour is uncharacteristic, so why has it become my typical if I'm really struggling as much as I say?

It's simple really, but it did take some time in therapy to find the answer.

I'm running away. I'm hiding by putting myself in plain view. I know, that doesn't really make sense, does it? What if I say that it isn't people I'm hiding from, but everything I don't want to feel?

The truth is, this year has already had its fair share of ugly moments. They've all carried with them their own bundle of emotions that I'm not quite ready to feel yet. And so, I'm hiding from them. I'm hiding from them under mountains of notes for the book I've dreamed of writing since about three months into running this website. I'm hiding from them in crowds of people who know what I mean when I talk about my mental illnesses. I'm hiding from them in every opportunity I say "yes" to.

It's exactly the kind of behaviour I usually discourage. However, the nature of my work means that I can sort through my emotions without ever actually feeling them. I can talk about them and come to understand them, and come back to them with open arms when I feel strong enough to experience them.

That doesn't mean these feelings don't pop up and make themselves felt at inconvenient moments; they do. But for the most part, I'm keeping them in check, and keeping my head above water in the process. All the while, I'm achieving some of my biggest dreams. I don't think that's too bad, myself.

"Anxiety and alcohol?"

There are a few people I've met this year who have witnessed what happens when I've had a glass of wine...or three. A transformation takes place. I begin to talk comfortably (and endlessly).

Alcohol crushes my anxiety and I find myself able to laugh.

Now, though, I'm waiting to see if the Dr can provide answers as to why I collapsed recently. In the meantime, I've been given instructions not to drink, and to hold off on applying for my provisional licence. I can't decide which one annoys me more.

This month, I'm preparing to meet a few more new people. Generally, I can have a glass of wine to help me relax and engage in conversation. So, now, I'm going to have to learn how to overcome my anxiety without the aid of self-medication. I'm going to have to stop using alcohol as a crutch on which to lean when the weight of being engaging weighs heavily on my chest.

I'm going to have to learn how to swallow that lump of anxiety that resides in the bottom of my throat, without using wine to loosen it up first.

Am I looking forward to this? No. No, I'm not. However, do I think it's a good thing? Well...yes, I do.

I'm not foolish enough to kid myself that my behaviour recently has been healthy. I've slipped into a habit of using alcohol to counter anxiety, and it's damaging, both physically and mentally.

You see, not only is alcohol dreadful for your liver, but it's also a depressant. So in using it to counter my anxiety, I've also been feeding my depression. To put it another way, I've been rocking one gremlin to sleep whilst poking the other until it bites. And this year, my depression has most definitely bitten hard.

So yes, I'm going to spend a few months sobering up. I've done it before, I can do it again. If nothing else, it'll be an interesting exercise in learning how to manage my anxiety in a healthy manner.

"Stop putting yourself in dangerous situations." | Reflecting On My Life

Recently, in an intense battle with a former friend, I was told, "stop putting yourself in dangerous situations". In spite of the white-hot anger coursing through my veins, I stopped for a moment.

I was immediately reminded of the thoughts that went through my head following my first experience of assault. "I should really stop being so reckless", I would say to friends. "But I don't think I ever will. Recklessness reminds me that I'm alive."

The same is true today. I look back at the last few years of my life and I can't help but notice that nothing great ever came from playing it safe. Rather, some of the most incredible moments I've ever experienced have been when I've turned my back on the rules.

Yes, I'll admit that in being reckless I've been burned a few times. However, I wouldn't trade moments such as singing along with one of my favourite artists at a gig whilst holding hands with my friends; not for the world. That particular moment wouldn't have happened had I not got on a coach from London to Berlin and stayed in a flat with a bunch of "strangers" (or, as I like to call them, friends!) off the internet.

The thing about being burned is...yes, it leaves me with scars. And sure, I spend a few months dwelling on regret. However, that is far outweighed by the fantastic experiences.

The memories of the great times I've had because of the risks I've taken are very often the things that keep me going. They remind me that I am alive when I've spent months incapable of feeling, and they remind me why I'm alive when I feel like I can't get through another day.

Those memories have saved my life.

So while some may view a lot of my actions in life as dangerous, I view them as necessary. They are both life-changing and also life-saving.

"One sign that signifies a deterioration in your mental health?"

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend and I said, “I think the depression's coming back”. They asked why, asked me if I was feeling particularly low. The truth is, I wasn't feeling all that low at the time, in fact, I actually felt kind of numb. But I'd looked around as I was sitting in my room and realised that the mess was slowly piling up.

A similar thing happened last night. I looked around and started to cry. There were only tiny portions of carpet visible. The rest of my floor was covered in rubbish, dishes, empty envelopes, books, CDs, clothes...and despite my room actually being quite large, I found myself feeling claustrophobic. My anxiety rose. I looked at Hazel's cage (Hazel being my hamster) and cried all the harder. It was desperate for cleaning. My mental health was effectively endangering another living being.

When I calmed down, I marched myself down to the kitchen to get two bin bags and a roll of kitchen roll. I came back upstairs and put Hazel in her ball to run around (as best she could given the mess), and began cleaning out her cage with disinfectant. Half an hour later, I put her back in her cage and sighed with relief.

Next, I continued filling up the bin bags with rubbish from my own living space. It was time to create a safer environment for myself. Within an hour, I'd filled a bin bag, sorted out some mail into piles, binned some now irrelevant mail, placed books on shelves, and started returning CDs to their stand.

Today, I'm able to stretch out fully on my bed. I've not been able to do that since before Christmas. Half of my bed had become filled with rubbish, books, make-up, and dishes.

The thing is, when I start to get ill, I begin walking through life with blinkers on. I mentioned to a friend that it's like I develop tunnel vision; a lot of what I do revolves around my laptop or trips to London, and I stop noticing the things around me.

I don't know if my realisation of this fact indicates that I'm improving again. I'm not holding out a lot of hope, as the last month has been indescribably stressful. However, with that being said, I am making an effort. Next month I'm going to London for a week to be a tourist. I'm going to stay in a hostel and I've booked tickets for some of the main attractions around the city. I'm forcing myself to notice the things that I've walked past so often.

I'm determined to feel something.

I'm also determined to be able to walk through my bedroom without twisting my ankle.

"Campaigners' duty to reshape language?"

During my recent trip to London to speak on a panel at the MQ Science Meeting, I briefly touched on my belief that anyone involved in mental health, either as a campaigner, a clinician, or a service user, has a duty to reshape the language we use. As is generally the case, time meant I couldn't get everything out that I wanted to say, so I made a mental note to write about it later. And so here we are.

It wasn't until 2015 that it was pointed out to me that mental health and mental illness are not the same thing. Since then, I've made an effort to check myself when I'm talking and ensure I'm not using mental health in place of mental illness. Here's the thing; everyone has mental health. The difference is, some people have poor mental health, and others have good mental health. Those with poor mental health may have a mental illness and may find that they go on to receive a diagnosis as such.

Recently, I've noticed that people are becoming better at using the correct terms at the correct times, but occasionally people still get mixed up. It's mostly people who are new to the world of mental health and mental illness, but it always strikes me as bizarre when I see things like “mental health is such a massive issue”. These days such statements seem alien to me. Mental health is not inherently a bad thing, the issue is with mental illness.

Following on from that, I also believe we have a duty to gently remind people that sadness does not equate to depression, and that nervousness does not equate to anxiety. You see, to mix these things up for a long period of time only serves to make things harder for people who are actually living with anxiety or depression.

There are already a plethora of people who tell us that we only have to make a choice to be happy, when the reality could not be much further from these bold claims. Reinforcing the idea that illness and emotions are one and the same is damaging.

So next time you want to make a statement about how big an issue mental health is, check yourself. Do you mean mental illness?

Next time you're feeling sad or nervous and feel inclined to hyperbolise the situation, consider the damage it can have for people who are living with the illnesses you're trivialising.

We all have a duty to check our language, and if we pull together, then we will one day reshape language. I believe that's a big chunk of the battle in tackling stigma surrounding mental illness.

"Internalised stigma?" | Holding on to my voice.

This is a term I heard for the first time last year, and at the time I didn't really know what to make of it. It's only in recent weeks that I've truly come to understand what it is, and how the impact of it can quickly become devastating.

Take my breakdown in London, for example. People were called to come and help me, and when I saw them / spoke to them, I cried, apologising profusely, saying they shouldn't have been called for something so silly. I was talking down my own crisis which eventually led to a self harm relapse.

More recently however, I've had a more “intense” experience of internalised stigma.

Since day one of this website, I've been fearful that someone would mistake my efforts for attention seeking. It's something I'd been accused of in the past, and it doesn't get less hurtful with time. Last week, it happened. Someone accused me of using the blog and my personal social media as a mechanism with which to seek attention for myself.

I'd been planning to write this post for last week, to publish on Monday 13th. I put it on hold because I became convinced that this person's accusations held some sort of merit. For a while, I felt like I couldn't speak out any more. I thought it might be best if I just go back to hiding in a corner, not sharing, because what if I was attention seeking? What other reason is there for unveiling some of the darkest corners of my mind and showing them to the rest of the world?

Here's the thing. Yes, the blog is a form of attention seeking. However, the attention I'm seeking isn't for me specifically, it's for everyone who is living with mental illness. And whilst this one person misunderstood my motives, when it comes to others who are living with the same illnesses as mine, I've received nothing but thanks.

It can be hard to explain your mind to someone. So when someone stands up and says “hey, this is my story, you aren't alone”, it's a relief. During the panel I sat on in London this month, I pointed out that when I was diagnosed, I didn't look for the figures. I looked for the people. People, for me, offer more comfort than numbers.

Now it's my turn to be that comfort for someone else. It took a week, but I've shut down my internal narrative that told me to be quiet. I don't doubt it'll come up again; it's hard not to panic when someone gives a voice to one of your biggest fears. But the main thing is, this is something I plan to fight. I am as worthy of a voice as anyone else.

Others may either feel uncomfortable using their voices or simply choose not to use their voices because it's more convenient to stay silent. However, it took years for me to find my voice, and I have no intention of giving it up for anybody.