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Weekly special: Life as a mental health service user

I was depressed from childhood, self-harming in my teens. From the age of seventeen, I have been in and out of therapy. Age 21 I was given my first of a few diagnoses. I had Bipolar disorder and began seeing an amazing psychiatrist as an outpatient. I define him as amazing because he actually believed that he could make me better, and he never gave up hope that he would.

After my marriage broke down in traumatic circumstances, I moved to a different area and was dealt with by a different mental health team, including a Home Treatment Team. Their psychiatrist, based on my self-harming behaviour, decided that I had Borderline Personality disorder.

At first I fought against this diagnosis, there was nothing wrong with my personality! But the more I researched the condition, the more I identified with it.

Since then I have spent time having my care managed by the Community Mental Health Teams in a few areas. I have paid for private help out of my benefits, and I have been a voluntary patient in an NHS psychiatric hospital

I know that there are many others who have experiences with similarities to mine and differences that should also be discussed.

Before doing this week-long special into life as a mental health service user, I thought about the kind of posts I would have found useful/supportive throughout my mental health journey.

I am keen to hear from others who have ideas for other posts/interviews I could do, and I can be flexible in extending this week long special into a longer running or more regular theme on Brokenglassshimmers. I am completely open-minded about where my initial ideas will take me.

These are:

  • Things to remember before a meeting with your Community Mental Health Team care manager.
  • How to get help from a UK Community Mental Health Team -the obstacles that can be stacked against you and how to face them.
  • Who to approach in a crisis – is it a postcode lottery?
  • Things I wish I’d known before my psych ward stay.
  • Things I wish I’d known before being discharged from the psych ward.
  • Care in the community – different experiences of therapy.
  • The future of mental health services
  • Fighting for mental health care

If you have any comments or suggestions about these topics and/or would like to get involved then please comment below or tweet me @spursbythebeach

A is for anger

At least a few times a week I have decided to challenge myself, by giving myself an alphabetical theme to blog on. Each theme will be related to living with mental illness/ physical disability. I am also going to do the same challenge on my FBL blog Lifelovesandlipgloss.wordpress.com , although often using different topics for the different blogs.

I chose to write about anger first, because it is something that I struggle with a great deal.

Expressed anger

My experience of anger as a child, my parent’s violence and emotional abuse, taught me how much expressed anger can hurt others, so I tend to BOTTLE IT UP.

Triggers

My anger is mainly triggered by memories from the past which leave me feeling POWERLESS and UNABLE TO ESCAPE, stress which also leaves me feeling BACKED INTO A CORNER as well as UNABLE TO COPE, and being unable to cope leads to a great deal of FRUSTRATION, which makes me want to EXPLODE.

Turning it inwards

Instead of expressing my anger and frustration in a healthy way, I turn it inwards and attack myself. At first it starts off as a mental attack. INSULTS, ABUSE, SELF-HATRED. The things my parents and the bullies at school used to say to me, I say to myself: Ugly, fat, useless, pathetic, unwanted, better off dead.

The negative self-talk can only go on for so long before the anger bubbles over, like I’m in some kind of pressure valve, and I end up wanting to act on the negative feelings I hold towards myself, by physically causing myself pain, also known as SELF-HARMING.

Searching for a new anger-management strategy

At the moment though, I’m desperate not to follow the old negative patterns. I feel STUCK, TRAPPED. I know that I will lose my partner if I end up self-harming or attempting suicide again, and, if I do, I am also likely to end up back on the PSYCH WARD.

Alternatives

I’m trying so hard to change things. Firstly, I try to FILL MY DAY so I don’t have too much time to dwell on things. I try to do things that I know will RELIEVE MY TENSION, from watching a favourite TV show, to colouring in or other creative-type stuff. Blogging also really helps. It helps me to EXPRESS MYSELF in a CONSTRUCTIVE way and to feel LESS ALONE, when I realise that others are struggling with similar issues.

Hopes for the future

My hopes for the future are that my feelings of anger will lessen and I will FEEL MORE IN CONTROL of my anger,that I will learn to express it in a healthy way, that doesn’t leave me with feelings of REGRET after yet another explosion.

Do you struggle with anger? What ways have you found to manage it? What helps you to cope better with it? Either comment below or Tweet me @spursbythebeach.

When you feel like hiding from the world

Kitty feels like hiding from the world

Kitty feels like hiding from the world

For far too much of my life, I’ve felt like hiding from the world. It started when I was a child. I was ashamed of the way I looked, afraid of the bullies, worried my parents would embarrass me/kick off when they were drunk.

Now I’m almost 30 and not a lot has changed. This time it’s social anxiety, fear of being judged for my disabilities and severe depression, in which I feel like being around people just makes me, and them, worse.

There are things I’d like to do: Blogging meet-ups, physiotherapy groups, day centres, book clubs. Even when I was thinking about starting university the anxiety about being around hundreds of people during lectures, freaking out about fresher’s week and how I was going to go it alone as a disabled person and make friends, was tearing me apart.

I’d love to have another chance at education but at the moment my anxiety and depression are so bad that I’m constantly changing my mind about whether or not I should give it a try, because I don’t feel like I’m good enough. I’m not living, I’m existing.

I want to be a journalist and was given the opportunity to blog for my local newspaper but I’ve bottled out of doing it more than one time because I’m worried I’ll make a fool of myself. I know that sounds strange coming from a mental health blogger, but I’m ashamed to admit that negative feedback terrifies me. It causes me to beat myself up and is the reason I’ve spent too long hiding away or not doing the things that I love.

I want to change and I know that the only way that I can do that is with one small step at a time. I’ve started Slimming World and trying to wear make up more often so that I can be more physically confident. Mentally, is another matter entirely. I’m so scared of getting hurt or messing up. I’ve just started seeing a psychologist and I’m really hoping that it makes a difference as I’m so tired of being like this.

Being honest about how I feel, especially on here, helps a lot. The support I’ve received from Brokenglassshimmers’ followers, has meant so much.

I’m thinking about branching out with the blog too and doing an email newsletter for followers to chart my progress, what works/what doesn’t, perhaps even interview some of you too if you’re interested. If you would like to receive something like this then please let me know. I’m available on here as well as on Twitter @spursbythebeach .

Mental illness, how to move on?

Fed up Kitty

Fed up Kitty

Fed up, what can I do to make it better?

For the past few days, I’ve been completely panicked that something is wrong with me, physically because of how exhausted I’ve been, sleeping constantly, especially during the day. I am awaiting blood test results and, like the drama queen I am, I even called the out of hours doctor. What I forgot is, I’ve been here before. These are all symptoms I’ve already experienced and likely will again. These are most likely symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

There is a depression checklist in a DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) book that I have that makes it even clearer. Here’s the checklist and my response:

Persistent low mood: I feel rock bottom. I feel alone, worthless and like I will never amount to anything.

Increased appetite/ Decreased appetite: I’m not eating regular meals but when I am eating, I do tend to binge.

Difficulties falling asleep: This sentence should continue with ‘At the right times’. I’m becoming nocturnal, when I want to sleep I cannot, and when I want to stay awake , my eyes start to become heavy.

Feeling empty: I really feel like this, especially since my failure at university last year. I had put so much of my energy into becoming a successful student and now I see myself as nothing/a nobody.

Social isolation: This is partly my fault and partly the fault of others. The main reason it’s my fault is that I left London and all my old friends there and came back to Swansea where my friends had moved on. Even if they haven’t and I’m just being paranoid, that’s what it feels like.

Problems with memory: I have no problem remembering the things that haunt me, but the mundane, everyday stuff, that I need to remember is becoming a lot more of a challenge.

Persistent anger: As you can probably already tell, this is mainly directed at myself. Why do I always get it so wrong?

Irritability: Again, this is mainly directed inwards, I am extremely frustrated with myself for not making university work out, for not being near the end of my first year. Who knows how different my life could have been?

Decrease in motivation: When I’m well/stable, I want to be a successful mental health and fashion, beauty, lifestyle blogger, that means raising awareness of what life is like with a mental illness and how you can help. I want to help form an online community that makes up for the community I’m missing out on in the real world. When I’m like this, I lack the motivation to do anything because I feel like I don’t have the ability to make things happen.

Feelings of hopelessness: I feel like this a lot lately. What’s the point of trying when I just mess up anyway? I know that’s an extremely negative attitude to have but I started this blog to be completely honest about how I feel and how I (hopefully) get through it.

Weight gain: As usual, when I’m depressed I eat rubbish, which leads to weight gain.

Waking early in the morning: I more likely haven’t gone to sleep yet from the night before.

Restlessness: When I’m awake I’m really edgy in my own company (Most of the time) and feel like I have to be keeping busy or sleeping.

Low self-esteem: My self-esteem is beyond low, I really feel like I am capable of nothing. I spend all my time comparing myself to others and how much more than me they can do.

Tearfulness: I cry at anything and everything, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed, which is often.

Loss of interest in things: I usually would love to read and write creatively, but at the moment, I’ve completely lost interest.

Feelings of worthlessness: I feel like the world would be a better place without me.

Loss of enjoyment in activities: I’ve even considered stopping the blogs because I feel like I’ll never get to where I want to be with them.

Poor concentration: I either struggle to focus on a single thing or try to focus on a few things at the same time.

Thoughts of suicide: Yes my old enemy thoughts have started to come back to the forefront of my mind. I feel like everyone would be better off without me.

Waking frequently during the night: At the moment I’m awake most of the night. When I do fall asleep though, I do wake frequently.

Increased sleep: I’m currently sleeping on average between 16-20 hours a day.

Feelings of helplessness: I fear that there is nothing I can do to make things better.

Feeling guilty: I feel guilty for my negativity when I KNOW that there are others worse off than me.

Mental confusion/ Difficulty making decisions: I feel so out of it and confused most of the time, I can’t make my mind up what to do for the best from trivial to more serious things.

Inactivity: Much as I’m trying to keep busy, I’m struggling to do anything.

Lethargy: When I’m not sleeping I feel exhausted.

Dwelling on the past: As you can see from this and recent blog posts, I’ve been dwelling on the past quite a bit recently, especially my university failure and recent hospitalisation.

What can I do to make it better?

  • Balance activity with rest.
  • Attend my appointments with my care team and,
  • Being honest.

I worry that this blog will become a negative place, that people will avoid it because it’s so depressing. All I want is to be honest.

How are you feeling? Are you struggling with any of the stuff on this list? How do you handle it? Either comment or Tweet @spursbythebeach.

5 relapse signatures that my mind is becoming depressed

Depressed Kitty

Depressed Kitty

Care planning

Today I was working on my care plan with my Social Worker and my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) and they asked me to think about what my signs are that I am about to relapse. At the time I struggled to think of any, but I’ve given it more thought and come up with 5 for me to be aware of.

1. Tearfulness

I cry at anything and everything when I’m becoming depressed. Once I start crying, I’m in floods of tears and nothing can stop me. The slightest thing could set me off then that gets added to my insecurities, low self-esteem and bad memories, and it feels like I’ll never get away from the misery.

2. Lethargy

I have absolutely NO energy. My eyes are getting heavy this far into writing this post. All I want to do is sleep. I try to fight it but it never lasts and as a result my routine is all over the place and I find myself writing with my eyes closed.

3. Poor concentration

At this point in drafting the post I really could no longer focus so I went back to bed. Words were jumbled in my mind and I couldn’t work out where best to place them. It’s a struggle to both read and write, even picking up a magazine is a huge challenge. All I can think is, this isn’t me, this isn’t what I wanted my life to be like.

4.Loss of interest in things

Mainly people, which isn’t like me at all. It’s like I’m trying to distance myself from the pain that they would feel if I were to act on my suicidal thoughts. This can include isolating myself socially. I also stop doing the things that I love such as reading and writing, or I do less of them.

5. Difficulty making decisions

From what to wear in the morning, to what to eat, to what to buy, it’s so difficult to make a choice, because I’m convinced that I’ll make the wrong one, with my self-esteem so low.

People who know me, and maybe some who don’t, are probably noticing that I fit my relapse signatures at the moment. I’m nervous, but I’m trying to fight it by reaching out on here and social media to see if anyone feels the same as me or knows what to do.

Keep on fighting, then rest

I do kind of know what to do: keep busy, keep fighting, keep talking about how I feel, sleep when it’s safer to sleep, take my medication as prescribed and once I’ve reached the peak of fighting it, allow myself to rest.

When the safety net is gone

The past few days has proved to be extremely challenging. My partner is having difficulties in prison that he was unwilling to share with me and I was beginning to spiral downhill again as I’m used to us sharing everything with each other. It felt like a very lonely place not to be a part of that team, I’d begun to feel reassured by.

A similar thing has happened with my friendships recently too. Whereas before we would lean on each other, now we have become distant and wary of sharing what’s really on our minds.

I don’t know if it’s just that certain relationships reach a point where you’ve given all you can give, and you have nothing left to offer. I certainly don’t believe this to be the case with my partner. I understand that, especially where male pride is concerned, it can be hard to open up when you feel you’ve got it wrong. Female pride is bad enough.

With the friendships though, as days pass without hearing from them, heading into weeks, I feel that it is about more than pride. I’ve pushed them too far with my emotional desperation, the needy phone calls and the consequent pushing them away, when I’m ashamed of how much I’ve depended on them.

I think the important thing for me to take from this, is that I need to choose the right people to lean on.

Instead of my partner, who is powerless to help me and likely to react in stupid ways in his desperation to try, I should be leaning on my care team. I have been lucky enough (after a lot of fighting) to have been allocated a Community Psychiatric Nurse, a social worker and a psychologist. They are also trying to arrange a support worker to take some of the pressure off me paying for my carer as much as I do.

I find it hard to seek help from them though. I worry that they’ll be too busy for me, that I’ll get rejected, or that how I feel will be belittled.

Well today was an important step forward, I reached out to my CPN, explained my difficulties to her and listened to what she had to say in response. She actually made a lot of sense!

It’s hard sometimes, not being able to share everything that happens with my partner, as it happens. Or even to just share with other likeminded individuals. I’m trying to face up to this by starting to attend two book clubs in my local area next month. I’m also still considering part time study for four hours a week in creative writing and literature. After the debacle of how ESA dealt with me last time I tried to further myself, I’ve been quite put off daring to take a step forward.

Alternatively though, there have been some positives from the past few days, I’ve received some mentoring from a couple of newspaper editors and I may have an exciting new project in the pipeline, watch this space…

This proves that when I take responsibility for my own happiness, instead of leaning so heavily on others, good things can happen.

What good things would you like to see happen in your own life? Either comment below or Tweet me @spursbythebeach.

Friendship and mental health

The hardest thing…

One of the hardest things about having a mental illness is losing friends. I never really know whether to take it personally or whether it is as a result of my diagnosis and symptoms. All I do know is that as an impact of my conditions (Borderline personality disorder/possible Bipolar), I find it harder to make and maintain friendships than the average person seems to.

Firstly, I’m unpredictable. One minute I’m happy-go-lucky, impulsive and sociable, the next minute I’m isolating myself, paranoid and hostile. I can understand why people would struggle to have patience with that, but it hurts when people promise that they will stick by me then let me down for more ‘fun’ friends.

I was in a psychiatric hospital for about four months. The majority of ‘friends’ were either afraid or unwilling to visit me during that time, especially after the initial week or two. It hurt to watch other patients with their visitors, the lift it usually gave their mood, as my ‘friends’ distanced themselves, even when I was on day leave from hospital.

Perhaps they were worried about what sort of state they would find me in, how traumatic it would be for them to experience.

When it suits them

Then I got out of hospital and, apart from the occasional invite out, when it suits them to have me around -events they are going to anyway, etc, I haven’t heard from them.

Whenever I need their help and advice I’m either ignored, given a bunch of excuses and the knowledge that they have better things to do with their lives than deal with me.

Moving forward

I’m trying to move forward with life after hospital, but alone, it is so much harder. I have no-one to call and share with when good things happen, and no-one to turn to when I need a shoulder to cry on.

Without the support I get from readers of this blog and the Twitter community, I would probably have given up by now. So thank you, to my virtual friends.

Free at last, well officially anyway.

Well a lot has been happening in the Brokenglassshimmers household. First of all, as of today, I am officially discharged from hospital. I am no longer a psychiatric ward patient. The enormity of it all, makes me feel emotional. It feels like the safety net keeping me from falling through the cracks has gone and now I’m scared.

Everyone is trying to get me to focus on the fact that I’ve lasted on leave for over a fortnight, but that survival has been such a huge battle to achieve. The Ward psychologist, during our last appointment today, helped me to figure out a few things.

Firstly, if I was well already, hospital probably wouldn’t have been the best place for me in the first place. Being hospitalised, even as a voluntary patient, has a huge impact on your life. Being hospitalised for about four months, the length of time that I spent on the ward, then learning to adjust again to life on the outside, is a huge leap of faith. You have to learn to trust yourself again. You have to find even the smallest shred of hope and faith that you can, and claw back your fighting instinct, so that, maybe one day, you get yourself back again.

Secondly, he talked about my too-high expectations of myself. I’ll be completely honest now and this will probably sound really pathetic, but after a year or more of blogging, I beat myself up for not having got to the level that I want to be at by now. That’s not even necessarily about followers, comments, or likes, although those things are really appreciated. I beat myself up that my standard of writing isn’t good/hasn’t improved enough.

The same applies to my creative writing, the only way that I can improve is by practice and feedback but I lack the motivation to practice and get feedback because aside from my pain, fatigue and concentration problems, I’m not happy with the level that I’m at when I do write. The psychologist encouraged me to keep trying so that I do at least have a chance of success, whatever that success looks like is another matter.

Thirdly, he told me not to put up barriers when I’m challenged. He explained that part of my new psychological input from the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) will probably include empathy and validation, but that the other part of it has to be about challenging me to change longstanding thoughts and behaviours. He also told me how important it is that I learn to validate myself and that although I use the love of others, mainly my partner, as a reason to keep living, I need to want to live for my own sake, my own dreams and aspirations.

I confided how disappointed I am that I haven’t achieved more with my life, that I feel like I’m just existing, begging for help but not getting enough of it to really have a life.

As I left the ward, I felt so many mixed feelings. A longing to go back to the very beginning and really make the most of every bit of treatment that has been made available to me, a dream to never see that place again, a sadness at the time I wasted whilst I was ill and a recognition of how much I’ve grown and learnt both about myself and others.

In other news, I’m majorly freaking out about my Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment with Capita this Wednesday. I’m worried sick that they won’t listen to me or will fail to understand how much of a challenge life is for me. I need them to see how much of an impact my physical disability and mental illness has on my daily life and how reliant I am on the care that my Disability Living Allowance (DLA) pays for, how isolated I would be without that care, how my life wouldn’t be worth living if I lost that help.

My carer is going to go along with me but she’s just as nervous as I am as she knows how much of an impact this decision will have on me.

Lastly, there has been a new addition to my family. Kitty is a beautiful cat who I got from an RSPCA animal rescue centre yesterday and I can’t believe how well she’s already settling in. It meant so much to me having her trust me enough, after all that she’s been through, to lay on the bed with me for a little while on her first night with me. I know that she’s going to be a big responsibility and it is hard looking after her when I can’t even take care of myself . But however much discomfort it causes me physically, the love that she gives means so much that I’m going to do my utmost, with the help of my carer, to take really good care of her.

What keeps you going? What are the things that you beat yourself up about and what encourages you to keep fighting?  What would you do if you were no longer beating yourself up about what you get wrong? What could you achieve? Please feel free to comment below or tweet me @spursbythebeach .

30 things I want to do by the time I turn 30.

Today my best friend turned 30. I feel ashamed that I have done so little to celebrate it with her, and that it’s also left me with very self-centred thoughts about what turning 30 will be like for me, when life feels like it’s on hold due to mental illness and physical disability.

There is so much that I thought I would have achieved by the time I hit 30: Having a family, a career, an active social life. It feels like none of that will never happen. I think instead of focussing on all of the things that won’t happen, I need to focus on the things that could happen. Perhaps they will be smaller goals and achievements than I once would have set for myself (I’m sure even some of them may still prove impossible) but I really believe that it’s worth a try as I’m about ready to give up unless I give my mind something positive and new to focus on.

1. Write a collection of short stories based on some of my life experiences. Do my best to submit them to short story competitions and publishers, to see if I can work towards making my writing dreams come true.
It has been my dream for as long as I can remember to be an author and I really enjoy writing stories, I just haven’t put as much time into it as I should have. I would love to reach 30 and be well on my way to becoming a published author.

2. Build up this blog. It has been a real lifeline for me and I hope in time that it will become a lifeline for others. I would love to use it to challenge stigma and raise awareness of the issues that I, and many others face.
That means making the time to research and post every day. It will be a challenge, especially with my creative writing goal but it’s one that I would be very excited to achieve.

3. Start facing up to my financial difficulties. Speak to someone about managing my debts and apply for all the benefits that I am entitled to because of my disabilities.
This is quite an urgent problem and one I will be discussing with my new care manager when I meet her tomorrow.

4. Start living to a budget. Cut down on reckless spending and become more responsible.
Again, hopefully this is something I can work on with my new care manager as well as looking in therapy at the reasons behind my spending, as I’m pretty sure that many of the reasons are emotional ones.

5. Become less isolated. Work out ways to meet new people/make new friends including therapy groups, mental health day centres and possibly some short courses at my local university.
I’ve been putting off doing this for some time now, especially as I’ve been having to deal with my old enemy, panic attacks, and being around strangers often triggers this. I would like to do something though especially as I feel so alone right now. Another thing I’m considering doing is restarting the weekly mental health Twitter chats that I used to host.

6. Decide whether I want to go back to uni again. I have tried and failed on so many attempts, do I really want to put myself through this?
Last year’s attempt went so badly that it’s sort of scared me off but I’m aware that establishing a career as a writer will be a lot harder without the relevant training.

7. Find a GP who has empathy for how much pain I am in and is proactive about fighting to help me to get the treatment that I need.
I am planning on signing up with a new GP this week as I’ve just moved house. I’m very nervous about finding the right GP though.

8. Try to avoid returning to the psych ward as an inpatient and ideally get discharged from the hospital asap.
I have another ward round to attend on Monday when I will probably get discharged. Maintaining life on the outside though, is the real challenge.

9. Persist with trying to help my partner to get a move to a closer prison as while he is in the current one visiting is pretty impossible for me which is extremely upsetting for us both
It’s so stressful and painful travelling such a long distance for a two hour visit. I just want a chance to see him on a more regular basis.

10. Write to the Home Secretary about my partner’s D category situation and campaign to get him returned to at least open conditions.
My partner has been left in limbo for long enough. Yes he has messed up but he has served the time he was set and now just needs to be given a chance, even if that means supervision, he just wants a chance.

11. Work with my carer and new team from the Community Mental Health services to improve my chances of reaching a better standard of mental wellness.
I should be getting a new CPN (who I will be meeting tomorrow) as well as input from a psychologist. I know how lucky I am to have been given this input and had to fight to achieve it but now the important thing is that I make the most of it as the help could be life-changing and I really need it to be.

12. Share what works for me on this blog so that hopefully I am able to help others.
I really want to help others who are facing the same obstacles as I am, I hope this blog can become a place of encouragement and understanding.

13.Get married. My partner is my first and hopefully, my last love. Neither of us are perfect but I can’t imagine my life without him in it and would love to make that official as soon as possible.
There is a lot to arrange and I know it won’t be easy. A lot of people want me to wait but I love him and our relationship is one of the things that helps me to stay strong.

14. Visit my family. We’ve had a challenging time over recent years and they still struggle to understand me, but I would like to build bridges with them and I’d love to spend some time with my newborn niece.
It will probably be an emotional time full of mixed feelings but it is something that I really need to do asap.

15. Spend more time with old friends. I miss them and no-one understands me better than they do so I need to make more time for them.
This may mean working out a way I can travel more easily or finally making a decision about a permanent move. Either way, my true friends are worth it and I need to give them more focus than I have been.

16. Make a scrapbook of dreams and ambitions for the next 10 years and set about focussing on how to achieve my dreams.
I love scrapbooking and it was a huge help while I was in hospital. I feel like it could be an excellent way for me to focus on my future in a creative manner.

17. Set myself realistic goals, especially to start with, so that I don’t give up or burn out.
This could be by starting with 5-10 minutes a day of writing time or a chapter of a book/ a single short story a night.

18. Travel somewhere I’ve never been before. Or somewhere I’ve been long ago that I liked.
A few possibilities could mean finally getting a passport and visiting my best friend in Sweden or fulfilling my dreams of going to Paris or New York. Alternatively I could start smaller with a weekend break somewhere like Cardiff.

19. If I reach the right level of wellness, apply for the BBC trainee scheme aimed at disabled people.
It has been my dream for years to try for this but I haven’t yet reached the level of wellness that I’d like to be at to make this happen. Fatigue and pain are huge obstacles and I’m hoping that in time I can work out ways to overcome them.

20. Make a decision about whether I should remain in Wales or move back to London. Consider all factors such as finances, social support and health care. Once I’ve made a decision, try to do things to help myself stick to it. Until I make a decision, try not to put my life on hold.
At the moment I’m getting a good standard of mental health care here, but was receiving more physical care and had better medication options in London. Finances play a huge factor so a lot will have to remain to be seen.

21. Persist with my request for a better standard of care for my Ankylosing spondylitis and mental illness, refuse to be fobbed off or made to feel guilty for asking for what I need.
I need to speak to the advocacy service about whether there is any way that I can get more care and support for my physical needs. I also need to make sure that I research thoroughly all the options that are available to me, including by contacting organisations such as National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS).

22. Make a decision about whether or not to get a cat.
It’s a big responsibility and caring for it may prove a huge strain but it could be a challenge for me to learn to adapt better to.

23. Try to stick to a routine a bit more so that I over-do it less and get better at balancing activity with rest.
I tend to overdo it then crash for days afterwards. I need to get better at balancing out my energy levels by combining any activity with periods of rest.

24. Look into ways I can improve my opportunities to become a freelance writer/journalist and try my best to make it happen.
Read up on ways to break into the industry and spend more time and energy getting my blog posts to a standard that I am pleased with and hope that that speaks to future bosses.

25. Have a relaxing holiday, ideally somewhere I can focus on my writing.
I’ve heard of writing holidays and this sounds like something that is right up my street and definitely something that I should research in the very near future.

26. Make more of an effort to go to literary events both here in Wales and in London and elsewhere. My dream is to go to the Hay festival of literature. If I can’t make this year’s event I should definitely make sure I attend it next year.
Research and budget for whether a weekend in Hay on Wye would be possible as it would be a dream come true to attend it.

27. Set aside time every day for writing. Everything from blog writing, journalism, creative writing exercises, drafting stories.
It would probably also help to set aside a specific place for me to write, perhaps investigate some sort of laptop desk and somewhere to organise my writing research.

28. Set aside time every day for reading – blogs, newspapers and magazines, poetry, books, writing tips etc. Make notes on what I learn.
Reading used to provide such escapism for me but now I need to start reading in a more educated way, learning from those who have gone before me.

29. Try to have more of a distinct online presence. I want to spend more time focussing on my unique qualities instead of the things that have been holding me back.
I need to develop my own clear identity and work at getting that across to people, trying to break the mould instead of fitting into it.

30. Try to make time just to relax, unwind and have fun!!
Pamper sessions, magazines and trashy tv. Anything that helps me to switch off and stops me overthinking.

Anyway enough about my 30 things before I reach 30. What would you like to achieve before your next big birthday? Answer in the comments section below or on Twitter @spursbythebeach.

I wouldn’t start from here if I were you!!

Many years ago a friend of mine ended up in Bristol, lost, looking for the way to London (so you can guess how lost he was). The man who kindly stopped to offer him directions, on finding out his intended destination, responded: “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you!”

I recalled this story recently, on leaving hospital (I spent a few months on a psychiatric ward). It made me think about whether hospital is the right place to start from when working towards your recovery.

I don’t want to pretend that hospital is completely black and white, that it’s all good or all bad. There are positives and negatives to being admitted and I definitely found this:

Positive: Staff intervention

When staff intervention worked it could have a real impact on my recovery. Knowing that I was believed, that people cared and that they were seeking out the best course of action to provide me with long-term support, meant so much. Without the support of the hospital staff such as my ward psychiatrist, psychologist and the ward manager, I probably wouldn’t be about to meat my Community Mental Health Team Care manager. Having someone unbiased to talk to, well whose only bias was seeing me recover, really helped such a great deal too. An outsider’s input can help to put a lot of things into perspective.

Negative: Staff intervention

When staff intervention didn’t work it could really bring me down. Staff with a taste for the power they had, or those who were just having a bad day, probably didn’t realise how much damage they were doing with their negative attitudes/comments, but could undo a lot of the good work being done by the good staff. If, like me, you have had a lot of negativity in your life, the last place you need that to continue in, is hospital. Perhaps staff need to recognise how much their bad days can impact those who are in a vulnerable position. We’re all human, definitely not perfect, but for those who choose career roles that can have such an impact on the lives of vulnerable people, they need to think twice about whether that choice is a sustainable one.

Positive: Other patients

Sometimes there could be a great deal of support and camaraderie on the ward from other patients, a few of whom even become friends. It’s especially tempting to start leaning on other patients when your friends on the outside stop visiting and you want to feel less alone with this mental anguish. Speaking to others who have similar worries and experiences can really put your mind at rest and definitely make you feel less alone.

Negative: Other patients

When it didn’t work out with other patients, when you leant on someone else too much and they ended up harming themselves or distressing you with rejection, this could really provide a challenge to remaining focused on your recovery. Also when there was conflict on the ward, even a small conflict, it left a negative atmosphere for everyone and caused us all to feel uncomfortable.

Positive: Putting help in place

I was lucky that the ward I was in not only had an excellent psychologist but also had senior staff who were focused on making sure that you wouldn’t have to come back again. This meant that they generally really fought for me to get the outside help that I needed, which definitely proved to be an uphill struggle. They never gave up on me though.

Negative: Becoming institutionalised

By the time I left hospital, after the few months that I spent on the ward, I was beginning to see less of a life on the outside, less of a reason to fight and more of a need to stay, as I wondered if I would ever truly be ready to deal with everything life had to throw at me. Thankfully a few members of staff gave me a kick in the right direction, and I decided to brave it, but it hasn’t been an easy choice to make.

Positive: Keeping you safe

Hospital staff can’t watch every patient non-stop but they can ensure that if you are feeling at risk you have a far greater chance of remaining safe than you probably would be on the outside. This opportunity to remain safe increases the more you are honest and cooperative with those who are trying to take care of you.

Negative: Isolation from people on the outside

After a week or so of being in hospital, people, intentionally or not, start to drift away from you. They give up inviting you out because they know that you are on the ward and they stop calling because they are disturbed by what they hear when they do. It’s painful but going through something like this really shows you who you can really rely on. If you have a friend in hospital, cards, phone calls, visits mean so much. Knowing that they have people to come out to, who haven’t given up on you while you’ve given up on yourself, means so much. If one of your friends has been in hospital and you realise that you haven’t been there for them as much as you perhaps could have been, it’s never too late to start!

Positive: Less risk factors

With the focus on keeping you safe you become used to things like having your privacy invaded with, for example, bag searches, for your own protection. You still have a part to play in keeping yourself safe but it helps a lot to know that you are not the only one working towards this.

Negative: Lack of home comforts

You risk damage/loss to any valued possessions if you bring them with you so often you have to learn to do without. Added to this is the dodgy food and having to share toilets/bathrooms with people who may have quite poor levels of hygiene. There are times you will long to be at home, for the peace and quiet especially, but the grass is usually greener.

Negative: Getting used to the silence afterwards

Being in hospital can be one of the most challenging periods of your life but the biggest challenge is surviving life after hospital. The silence will eat at you and the lack of people to talk to/confide in, especially if you’ve lost contact with people on the outside. Being out can lead to extreme isolation and you will have to fight hard to beat that.
So as you can see, hospital can work but there are factors to bear in mind and, in my opinion, it should always be the last option for someone and you should go into it with the expectation that keeping you safe is the most important aspect to being hospitalised. This can come at a price though so choose carefully!!

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This blog is my efforts to end stigma around mental illness and for me to explore my diagnoses in writing. My wish is to make people aware how common mental illness is and that being diagnosed with a mental illness doesn't mean your life is worthless.

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