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IPP Update

As most of you will already know, my partner is serving an IPP sentence and is two years over tariff with his next parole hearing not even scheduled yet (we’re hoping the end of this year, August would be a miracle). In my posts ‘Life spent loving someone behind bars’ https://brokenglassshimmers.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/life-spent-loving-someone-behind-bars/ and My experience of IPP sentencing https://brokenglassshimmers.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/my-experience-of-ipp-sentencing/ I discuss how my partner’s IPP sentence is a sentence for both of us and we both live under a cloud without even a definite release date at some point in the distance to keep us hopeful. 

In a Guardian article from 14th March 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/mar/14/grayling-injustice-imprisonment-for-public-protection-prisoners-blunkett , Joshua Rozenberg reports on an interview David Blunkett had with BBC’s Newsnight programme in which, when asked about IPP admitted:

“We certainly got the implementation wrong…The consequence of bringing that Act [his Criminal Justice Act 2003] …in has led, in some cases, to an injustice and I regret that,” 

The Guardian reported that  ‘three of Blunkett’s implementation errors were outlined by Lord Lloyd, a retired law Lord, in a speech to the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law…The first was that offences did not have to be very serious to trigger an IPP, they included what Lloyd described as “run-of-the-mill” crimes such as burglary, robbery or arson’. This was the case with my partner and many on IPP sentences. They would probably have been out quicker if they’d have murdered someone. 

‘The second problem was that a judge was bound to assume that there was a significant risk of re-offending if the offender had been convicted of one or more such crimes in the past’. What right has anyone to assume that your past will be your future behaviour too? I’m sure many if not most of us have made mistakes in the past that we’re not proud of but luckily for us we’re no longer being judged on them. 

‘And the third problem Lloyd identified was that there was no minimum tariff. So an IPP could be awarded for criminal behaviour that was not regarded as very serious at all. Offenders would serve the period they would be expecting for an offence of this nature -two or three years on average, but sometimes much less – and then find themselves still in prison with little prospect of release.’ Hearing horror stories of people serving six years or more over tariff terrifies and sickens me. I wonder how both of us will cope if my partner ends up serving a sentence of that length. You usually somehow find a way through it but at what cost? Most nights I can’t sleep without medication to help me to and my partner is becoming depressed too. I just wonder what kind of justice system we have when someone who hasn’t physically hurt anyone is still locked away nearly 8 years after his crime purely on the basis that he ‘might’ re-offend. 

The Guardian also rightly says that since IPPs were repealed and can no longer be passed: 

‘If anything that makes things worse for prisoners still serving IPPs. If they had been sentenced after December 2012…they could look forward to serving their time and being released. The same would apply if they had been convicted before April 2005…But what about those caught in the middle? At the end of last year, there were more than 3,500 IPP prisoners whose tariff expiry date had already passed’. 

The Guardian adds ‘Locking up people simply because they may commit crimes in the future has no place in a free society’. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. IPP sentencing makes me ashamed to be British and also makes me consider very carefully who I will vote for in future as most politicians seem extremely lazy where righting this wrong is concerned. 

‘Lord Faulks QC junior minister of the Ministry of Justice said “the release of individual IPP prisoners was a matter for the parole board, which is independent of the prison service”. 

I find Lord Faulks’ attitude cowardly and lazy. Just because the Ministry of Justice can’t be bothered to put right a mistake that has gone on for far too long. 

‘If he chooses to, Grayling could amend the public protection test in the 1997 Act and let out all IPP prisoners who have served their tariffs…Letting them out now would save not just the cost of 3500 prison places but the cost of pre-release courses and additional costs incurred by the parole board in dealing with an increased workload that has not yet peaked’. 

In The Independent of Sunday 13th April 2014 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/indefinite-detention-must-be-ended-argue-campaigners-9256706.html?origin=internalSearch Laura Wilkinson reports:

‘Some refer to it as the waiting game; others call it limbo…Widely recognised as a mistake, the IPP scheme trebled the lifer population overnight and quickly swamped the Parole Board’s ability to cope. The Prison Reform Trust says more than 5000 prisoners are currently serving indeterminate sentences despite the abolition of IPP. By the end of last year, more than two thirds-3561 prisoners-had passed their tariff expiry date, and are waiting to have their cases heard by the Parole Board. Of these 958 were originally given a tariff of less than two years. Experts estimate it will take at lease nine years for the backlog to be cleared’.  

Nine more years of waiting without a clear end date fills me with dread. The hardest thing I have ever been through is waiting for my partner in prison. Yes I have a choice, I could walk away but you can’t choose who you love and he means the world to me. To be apart from him when I am already physically and mentally ill is just worsening existing problems. 

‘Lord Wigley, who has campaigned against IPP sentences said: “They have no idea of how many years they will remain incarcerated. It is hardly surprising that as many as 24 people on IPP sentences have committed suicide while in custody. It is easy to understand why many people deem IPPs to be “life sentences via the back door”. 

The statistics on suicide don’t surprise me. IPP makes me feel suicidal and I’m not even the one serving the actual sentence!

In Inside Time’s April 2014 issue Eric McGraw reports: http://www.insidetime.org/articleview.asp?a=1723&c=ipp_sentence_unjust_and_stupid 

‘Crispin Blunt, the former Conservative Prisons minister, who worked under Kenneth Clarke to abolish the IPP two years ago, told BBC newsnight on March 13th this year [the same Newsnight that interviewed David Blunkett, mentioned above] that the Act was “both unjust and stupid”. He added “There were 6,500 of these prisoners when I became the Prisons Minister, with 3000 beyond tariff, and the Parole Board were releasing one in twenty of those who applied for release. So the system was simply filling up”. 

With odds like this, no wonder some IPP prisoners feel suicidal. 

Juggling posting with ill health

Diagnosis:

I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder 7 years ago and with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) in addition, 3 years ago. On top of that, I also have a diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a form of arthritis. I have attempted blogging in the past as I love to write but struggled to combine writing on a regular basis with ill health. A few months ago I set up this blog as I decided I didn’t want to give up on my dream of writing for an audience as well as that I wanted to raise awareness of life with mental illness and to increase understanding and tolerance.

So far, so ok. I have blogged as often as I can but not as often as I’d like. As well as the mental illness and the pain and fatigue of the AS I also have a reduced immune system thanks to a couple of the drugs that I’m on for my arthritis. As a result of this I am more likely to pick up infections and, once I have them, struggle to fight them off. This weekend was no different.

I had an infection, I felt rotten all weekend, my sleep pattern was all over the place and so was my blogging. Blogging with physical or mental health issues is always a struggle, with both it’s even more of a challenge.

Physical disability and blogging:

As a result of my AS I spend a great deal of time struggling with pain, fatigue, mobility issues, restricted movement and, as I mentioned, a reduced immune system. My pain levels have a huge effect on my productivity. When it’s at its worst the best thing I can do is crawl into bed and lay flat on my back (AS effects my spine as well as knees and hands). When the pain is more manageable I can do a lot more but there is a tendency then to over-do it which can effect my levels of pain and fatigue. Pain can make even something as simple as sitting on the sofa to use my laptop a next to impossible task. A lot of the pain I get is at the base of my spine so as you can imagine, when pain flares up, sitting is a challenge.

The best thing I can do is balance activity but in that planning, include a great deal of flexibility. It’s important to make allowances for yourself when you’re living with chronic pain or any chronic illness for that matter (physical or mental). The other thing to do is to schedule in activities for times when you know that you will be feeling at your best (for example, an hour after taking pain meds) and rest periods for times when you will feel less good.

Fatigue:

Fatigue is another challenging part of having AS. AS causes fatigue for two main reasons, levels of pain tire out the body and disease activity can exhaust it too. Fatigue is so frustrating. I’ve experienced it as a result of physical and mental illness and personally I think that having fatigue due to a physical illness is more frustrating (although it’s a close run thing), this is because you have all the mental energy and focus to do things but your body can’t keep up with it.

Ways of managing fatigue are similar to those of managing pain but the most important piece of advice I can give is to never feel ashamed of needing to nap. In fact scheduling in naps in between periods of activity, is probably a good idea. When I’m struggling with fatigue I feel sheer exhaustion and my concentration can be affected as a result, including blogging. The important thing to remember is to not beat yourself up because of the symptoms of an illness (any illness) that you didn’t choose to have.

Mobility issues:

Mobility issues may not seem to be something that could have an effect on blogging, especially for someone who owns a laptop, but things aren’t always that straightforward. As a blogger, there are things that I would like to do that involve leaving the house, for example interviewing people, for my fashion blog getting out and about taking photos of stylish people in public, for my beauty blog attending events such as a new make-up launch as well as attending blogger meet-ups and conferences. I often feel like I’m missing out because my mobility is limited meaning that I’m on crutches, can’t travel far without assistance and get tired easily.

Some solutions to the problems I have as a result of my mobility problems are pretty obvious, others less so. I can interview people by phone or email and I can get involved with online blogger chats. The thing is though, sometimes you can’t beat meeting people face-to-face and I crave that often. I have access to a PA and taxis for meet-ups closer-to-home but as someone who doesn’t live in a big city these are few and far between. It would be so nice to meet people face-to-face and bounce ideas off each other. On the positive side though, I am very grateful to my online community for providing me with support, encouragement and a feeling of belonging when I would otherwise have felt very much alone. I haven’t been disabled all of my life so I can still remember what it was like to have an active social life (not that you can’t have an active social life with a disability-I just happen to find it much more of a challenge). The internet is a real gift for people who struggle to get out as a result of ill health.

Restricted movement:

Having restricted movement links back to the previous two issues fatigue and mobility problems. I can’t get around easily because of my disability and also have to be careful not to sit in the same position for too long either or the pain will kick in. If I use my hands for too long (writing or typing especially) they can start to hurt or feel swollen. The best thing I can do is to take regular breaks and try not to beat myself up when I have to stop because of pain.

Low immune system:

My low immune system is a real nuisance. The average person with a cold or virus can manage to soldier on, however much of a struggle it may be but when you have a low immune system it really takes everything out of you to fight something like that off. The best thing I can do when I’m like that is to do the little that I can cope with and get the much needed rest that I need.

Mental illness and blogging:

As a result of mental illness I struggle with fatigue, anxiety, paranoia, depression, mania as well as suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

It’s even harder to blog with mental fatigue as it feels like you have complete brain fog. Any mental effort results in such extreme tiredness that the smallest tasks can take all day. All you can do during times like that is have patience with yourself and try not to beat yourself up (however easy it can be to do). Again balancing activity with rest and picking your best times of day to do those things that are the most mentally draining. The other thing is to stop comparing your ill self to you when you are healthy or manic. I’ve done this so many times and it simply achieves nothing. It doesn’t help you to work any faster and the negative mental energy you spend on telling yourself how rubbish you are could be better spent focusing on the task at hand or having some much needed relaxation time.

Anxiety is a hard one to deal with too. Anxiety can place similar barriers around you to that of someone with physical mobility issues. You often isolate yourself, struggle to go to new places or meet new people. As well as that it can affect your energy levels (panic attacks are incredibly draining) and a fear of criticism could mean that your writing never gets to see the light of day. As far as anxiety is concerned, small steady steps are what work best. There is even a type of therapy that suggests this: gradual exposure therapy when you confront your fears gradually by starting with the challenge that scares you least and gradually upping the fear factor. The other thing I recommend is trying to be as honest as you possibly can with people (easier said than done I know). Not everyone will understand but it beats people simply thinking that you don’t want to spend time with them. Taking regular time out of your day to do things that relax or comfort you also helps.

Paranoia can work in some ways similar to anxiety in that it is all about fear. The problem is that while I suggested for anxiety being honest with people about your problem, the very people that you need to be honest with are often unreachable either because your paranoia is about them so you don’t trust them or you’ve confided in them but they either react badly or say the wrong thing or just don’t know how to help or what to say. The best things you can do in this situation is to firstly, find someone who you trust and who reacts well and confide in them, seek help from your mental health team if you can and educate family and friends about what helps and what doesn’t as well as tell-tale signs to look out for, when you’re well and feeling clear-headed.

Depression can lead to fatigue, anxiety, extreme negative thinking and in worst cases, suicidal thinking and behaviour (which I’ll talk about later). The best things I would recommend if you have depression is to seek help from a qualified medical professional as you may need counselling, medication, or in some cases support from the mental health team and/or hospitalisation. Try to find a loved one or friend that you can confide in and be as honest with them as you possibly can although that can be scary at times. Doing something nice for yourself each day is a big step forward, something as simple as a pampering bath can have a positive impact. Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. The Samaritans are just one of many organisations who provide advice and guidance to people who need someone to talk to who can keep their issues confidential. http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us .

Mania can be just as terrifying as depression in some cases. That feeling of being out of control, engaging in risky behaviours, impulsivity, not being completely yourself. The best thing that you can do is seek help. Confide in a friend or family member and/or a health professional. When you’re well plan for periods of mania by setting out what you can do to help yourself and who you can contact. You might have lots of creative energy but find it difficult to focus on one task at a time. Try to spend time on calming activities like listening to a relaxing CD and if you don’t feel safe-tell someone!

Suicidal thoughts or behaviour:

Suicidal thoughts or behaviour is probably the hardest thing of all on this list. If you feel like this then please don’t put any expectations on yourself as far as blogging, only do it if it helps you to feel better. If you feel like this then please seek help or confide in someone. I’m really sorry that that’s the best I can come up with despite having felt like this many times. The only other thing that can help short-term is any kind of positive distraction. A favourite CD, TV programme or book, spending time with someone you love. But you will still need to seek help as you only have so much energy to distract yourself with in the day. Telling someone, although difficult is a positive step towards keeping yourself safe.

There are many similarities and differences between physical and mental health problems and their impact on blogging. People are generally more understanding and supportive of physical illness as it is something that they can see obviously and find easier to relate to. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness but also ignorance that younger people can have physical disabilities.

Physical and mental illness can also interlink and impact upon each other. Have you ever felt depressed because you had the flu? Anxious because of the pressure of a disability? In the same way have you ever felt that your mobility was restricted because of a mental illness?

Things to remember:

When blogging with a physical or mental health condition, or both, the important things to remember are regular rest, flexibility and be kind to yourself whilst not forgetting to seek help as soon as possible. Do you blog with a physical or mental health condition? How do you find it and what are your tips for keeping going? Please feel free to comment on this post, add me on Twitter @spursbythebeach or email brokenglassshimmers@hotmail.co.uk . If you like what you’ve read today, for more mental health posts on a regular basis (usually shorter than this) follow me. Thanks 🙂

Apologies

I accidentally posted something met for my fashion blog also on this site. I apologise to those who are signed up for updates from this blog and will be posting something properly very soon. Thanks for bearing with me

How I cope on a daily basis…inspiration that keeps me focussed.

There are times I consider giving up on blogging. I don’t have a huge audience, I’m not sure if I’m any good. The same applies to art, I have been strongly considering declining to attend the group interview that I’ve been invited to for the foundation degree. And finally the same applies to my weight loss. This week my bad attitudes have been called into question after hearing from some incredibly inspiring people. 

Blogging

Firstly, the blogging. I love it, it’s a passion of mine as well as a creative outlet. It helps me to stay safe as I learn to express myself better. But my followers are few and far between (thank you to those who have stuck by me I would be interested to know more of your thoughts about the blog-what you like/dislike, would like to see more/less of. Anyway, I hardly ever get comments on what I’ve written so yesterday when a blogger who I admire hugely http://www.britishbeautyblogger.com/ left a comment, it really meant a lot to me, especially considering how positive it was:

britishbeautyblogger 8:06 pm on April 9, 2014Permalink | Reply | Edit

Can I just say I think your writing is so good – you have such a natural way of speaking through your writing that your posts feel like letters. You’ve got a beautiful attention to detail as well that makes what you are saying really come to life. xx

https://brokenglassshimmers.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/stability-checklist-treatments/ 

Not just numbers

It was the first time that I began to believe that maybe I can achieve my dream of having a successful blog/s, of reaching out to others and creating something meaningful. It also made me realise that blogging isn’t just about numbers it’s about whether what you write has an affect on the people who read it. So that left me feeling very inspired. 

Art college

Art college was another area where I just thought, ‘Can’t do it, I’ll just end up embarrassing myself. I spent ages working on the project set for me by a tutor at the college and was going to just back out when I found out that to attempt to get in, I’d have to face a group interview. Argh!! 

Then I heard the story of http://thedebseffect.weebly.com/ who started Art later in life as a way of expressing herself therapeutically and now produces amazing pieces of work. She also has Bipolar disorder but has been med free for 15 months. She is a very inspiring, kind, encouraging lady. 

After hearing how she managed to start with next to no skill and improved the more she practiced it made me more determined to at least try to get on the course. Those few days when I was working on the project I felt as though I expressed myself better than at any other time in my life. 

I decided to be brave and posted pictures of my sculptures and drawings of them on Twitter and 2 people favourited them! 

They may have just been being kind but they’re not the first to respond positively to the work I’ve done. I’m still terrified of what the interview will be like, expecting to stand out like a sore thumb as more talented artists take centre stage. But I’m going to try. At least if I do that I won’t look back and wonder ‘what if?’

Weight loss

Finally I come to my weight loss. I was so negative about the thought of me losing any weight that I could hardly look at the scales today. I got the shock of my life when I discovered that I’ve lost 11lbs in 3 weeks! For that I have to thank Slimming World. For introducing a slimming plan that is easy to stick to, group encouragement and a fantastic group leader. https://www.slimmingworld.com/login/default.aspx?returnurl=/ I’ve started to believe that I could reach my goal of 5 stone by the end of the year-very ambitious I know. If you want to follow my weight loss journey in more detail check out http://only5stone2go.wordpress.com 

This week

What this week has taught me is to stop being so hard on myself, to stop expecting negatives/failure, to accept encouragement/compliments and to never give up, even if my dreams don’t come true straightaway. Mental illness distorts your self-worth and leaves you believing that the world is a dark and dangerous place full of opportunities to be hurt/let down. When you begin to challenge that belief system you will notice a hugely positive impact on your life. 

Stability checklist…Treatments

Well, treatments are a very fitting topic for today as it was only yesterday that I had an appointment with my psychiatrist, care manager (social worker) and tenancy support worker.

Thankfully my blood tests had come back ok so I was allowed to start Lithium. Because I’m on anti-inflammatories for my AS I have been started on a lower than usual dose which will be gradually increased over time. For now, they’re keeping me on my Aripiprazole (Abilify) until they think that the Lithium is working enough to reduce it.

I’m relieved I’m not being weaned off my current medication and I’m nervous about starting lithium, especially after all of the warnings about lithium toxicity. I’m hoping that no trips to A&E will be necessary.

I’m also nervous about lithium because I’ve been on it years ago. At the time it left me feeling doped up and out of it and I wasn’t even at a therapeutic dose. I worry that it will do the same again because I really don’t want it to get in the way of my writing.

The reason I’m trying it again is complete and utter desperation. I’m sick of my moods swinging like a yo-yo and just want to reach some form of stability. Well, to at least be more stable than I am at the moment. I’m sick of the anxiety, the paranoia, the isolation, the suicidal thoughts, I just want it all to stop.

It won’t be as easy for them to treat me with lithium because as well as Bipolar disorder I also have BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). Because of this and because of the fact that things from my past are still affecting me I once again asked about counselling.

I have been on the waiting list for 2 years and my social worker has been trying to chase it up but so far no news which is really stressing me out. It annoys me when people think that medication will be a cure-all. It may help a great deal but it won’t change the past or how I deal with things. It won’t help me to learn to recognise triggers or early-warning signs, only therapy can do that.

My social worker said she will chase it up again so I’ll see what she has to say by next week when I see her. If I wasn’t so broke I would consider paying to go private. Some therapists even  offer fees on a sliding scale for people who are on benefits.

Recently I have been discussing another form of treatment with a researcher into mental health bloggers, how much blogging helps me. At the moment it is probably my only positive outlet and helps me to express myself and learn more about how my mind works and why I think/behave the way that I do. The research that I’m taking part in will eventually be published in a journal so I’ll keep you posted with what happens where that is concerned.

The other major event that happened this week is that my laptop gave up on me. I tried to get it fixed but the fault was too serious so instead I’ve bought a refurbished one and I’m hoping it lasts till I can get another new one.

It’s meant that financially things are tight but I couldn’t be without a laptop and I couldn’t be without blogging. It’s my distraction, it’s my purpose, it’s my encouragement and it’s my hope. Do you blog? What does it mean for you? Feel free to comment and thanks for listening 🙂

One is the loneliest number

Having a mental illness can be such a lonely and isolating experience. This can be due to self-inflicted loneliness such as isolating yourself from others/pushing people away or feeling that no-one understands what you’re going through, especially those who do not have a mental illness themselves (however hard they may try to understand). 

Since the start of the year I’ve been isolating myself more and more, avoiding people, hiding away, cancelling meet-ups. I’ve also felt very alone in my struggle with mental illness. Even though I’m not the only person with a mental illness, it often feels like it. 

I’m not sure what’s causing this behaviour, whether it’s depression, anxiety or both. It concerns me a great deal though. 

I’m not a complete recluse. Thankfully I have a lovely PA, a kind social worker and a new tenancy support worker who help to get me out of the house. I also have an online messaging service on my phone called Whatsapp which helps me to keep in touch with friends and family when face-to-face meet-ups are difficult due to distance, health problems or lack of time. This helps me to still feel connected. As well as this I have this blog, my other blogs and social media such as Twitter and Instagram, all of which help me to feel less alone. 

It doesn’t change the fact that I am isolated though. I am increasingly paranoid and increasingly frustrated and depressed. 

I am due to see my psychiatrist on Tuesday to discuss whether or not my bloods are ok enough for me to start lithium. I’m absolutely desperate to return to some form of stability so that I can make decisions that need to be made, do things that I keep putting off and begin to work out who I really am and what I want. 

I’m sick of struggling to get out of bed in the morning and I’m tired of being held back creatively when there are posts I want to create and books that I want to write as well as photos that I want to take. I mention photos because I was supposed to attend a photography session at a free arts centre not far from me. My PA was working that day and could have taken me but instead I freaked out about the fact that there would be people I didn’t know there and decided at the last minute not to go. Now the soonest I can go with someone will probably be the week after next. I just hope that I’m feeling strong enough to face it by then. 

On the plus side I have started going to Slimming World meetings. I’m determined to lose 5 stone as soon as is healthily possible and I have started to make changes to my diet and exercise. 

Exercise is one of the few things keeping me going at the moment. It seems to lift my mood a bit as well as giving me a sense of achievement. I just wish that I could do more. Again though, exercise is an isolated experience for me as I don’t go to classes or groups at the moment although I am thinking about starting Aquafit classes once I can get over my lack of confidence about other people seeing me in a swimming costume. 

I’m trying my best to make sure that I leave the house every chance that I get, as long as I feel secure enough to. This is usually when I’m with my PA, social worker or tenancy support worker and usually involves shopping. I desperately need other activities in my life. 

When I was reading on  a regular basis I joined two book groups but now I’m struggling to even get through my magazines. The photography group sounds interesting as does some form of group exercise/physiotherapy. At the moment though just surviving day by day is the best that I can hope for. 

Does anyone else struggle with loneliness or isolation? How do you cope with it? Please feel free to get in touch either on here, Twitter @spursbythebeach, Instagram @spursbythebeach or email brokenglassshimmers@hotmail.co.uk. I look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions.

Working with mental illness

This week is Responsible Business Week. At the start of this week a report developed by Business in The Community (BITC) in association with Mind, the Work Foundation and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD);  outlines how businesses which prioritise employee wellbeing reap rewards – including improved employee motivation, reduced sickness absence rates, greater staff retention rates and productivity. (Reported by Mind- Mind.org.uk website). 

Inside the ‘Mental health:We’re ready to talk’ report, Louise Aston, Workwell director, Business in the Community says:

‘This culture of silence – on an individual and
organisational level – results in suffering, inequality
and discrimination. By not taking simple steps to
discuss mental wellbeing, issues that could otherwise
be resolved simply can soon develop into ill health,
absence and disengagement. Organisations that ignore
the need for preventative action on mental health risk
long term problems, including reduced competitiveness,
lower productivity and fewer prospects for sustainable
growth. Conversely, the rewards for businesses that
engage with this issue are huge. We need to see an
urgency applied by business leaders to help bring
greater momentum to ending stigma and improving
the capacity for positive mental wellbeing.’

I myself experienced this stigma in a number of places of work. The first place that clearly discriminated was a call centre I had worked in for 2 years, when I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. After being advised that shorter hours and more set shifts would help to stabilise my condition instead of the constant switch between doing early shifts and late ones. I asked my team leader if it was possible to put this in place, with a letter from my psychiatrist to back up what I was saying. 

It was treated as almost a disciplinary procedure and made clear to me how inconvenient I was to them. This helped to destroy my self-esteem and with that and medication side effects to deal with, as well as the condition itself, I soon found myself absent from work, signed off sick. After months of this I eventually came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be well enough to come back. During this time I had had no support or encouragement from my workplace and I felt that my 2 years with them had been a complete waste after seeing the lack of respect that they had for me. Eventually I handed in my resignation and got used to a life of unemployment and ill health. 

Years later, with no confidence and nothing to aim for, I decided to try again with employment. I was placed in a Future Jobs Fund position, working for a charity, as their volunteer coordinator. I had no previous experience in this role and was given no training and limited support. I informed my employer early on that I had Bipolar disorder and she said that she did not regret employing me, but that was not to last. My increasing workload and pressure from a couple of other colleagues to deliver results when I had no idea what I was doing led to me becoming ill again and thanks to a severe bout of depression I had to leave early from a job that I actually loved. 

Years later I returned there and saw that they had actually employed one of the other women who did the Future Jobs Fund with me. (Future jobs fund was a temporary 6 month introduction into the workplace for the disabled or under 25’s and after that trial period it was up to the employer whether or not to keep you on). When I looked at how well she was doing, how settled, secure and happy she was, all I could think was: That could have been me!.

I know that jealousy is unbecoming and I know for a fact this girl had worked incredibly hard to be offered that position but it still broke my heart as I had found my dream job but was too ill to keep it. 

What could have helped? Well, some things did already, like flexible working hours and an hour off for lunch. Getting out of the office and taking a walk to a nearby cafe gave me the space that I needed and helped me to feel more energised. It also gave me a chance to bond with my colleagues as a couple of them usually came with me. 

What would have definitely helped would have been me speaking up sooner to say that my current workload was too demanding for me. That I needed help. That would have taken confidence that I didn’t have at the time but I will never make that mistake again. 

I should have learned when to say no instead of taking on more and more when I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t be able to complete it. I just wanted to be seen as a productive and capable individual.

I should have been more aware of triggers to look out for to make me more aware when I was becoming depressed or manic. 

I should have taken the time to explain properly to my employer what having Bipolar disorder meant for me and warning signs to look out for. All I could have hoped for would be that she would agree to support me with it.

Mental health awareness training for the workplace as a whole would have helped to answer people’s questions and probably led to them being more supportive instead of adding to the pressure. 

Finally, I think some kind of counselling or awareness training to prepare me for being in a workplace with a mental health condition, would have made a difference. 

Now all that I can hope for is that somewhere along the line, potential employers stop comparing me to Stacey from EastEnders and start to see me as the individual that I am. That they can look past the huge gaps in my employment and see the hard-working, passionate and determined individual that I am who just happens to live with a physical as well as mental health condition. All I can hope for is an end to stigma and for someone to give me a chance. 

My experience of IPP sentencing

As I’ve mentioned before, my partner is currently in prison, serving an IPP sentence. This is a brief explanation of IPP and how it feels to be both a prisoner serving an IPP sentence and their loved one on the outside. I’m not writing this to complain or for pity it’s just to raise awareness that sentences without an end-date do exist and why I think they are so damaging. 

‘In 2011 790 IPP sentences were issued for those aged 18 and over and the number of the prison population serving an IPP  was 6078 (January to March 2012 figures)’ . More information about IPP sentences can be found here but basically they are used for ‘public protection’ where they think that there is a high risk of the prisoner reoffending. So what they decide to do is send them to prison without any idea when they will actually be getting out. http://sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk/sentencing/indeterminate-prison-sentences.htm

The perfect punishment you might think, but isn’t prison supposed to be about rehabilitation? Haven’t you thought about how much it costs to keep these people in prison year after year? Also how can someone work towards rehabilitation effectively when they have no idea when they will be getting out of prison? In my view it is not punishment it is laziness from the justice system that ensures that repeat offenders receive no effective help inside prison to prevent them re-offending so instead the answer is to never let them out again.

I might sound over-dramatic but that’s what it feels like and looks like as the partner of an IPP prisoner. My partner is now over tariff (meaning he has gone past the recommended amount of time to serve) and is waiting for his second parole board case review which will take place later this year hopefully (if the prison do everything that they have been instructed to do). This includes waiting to have an assessment by a psychologist, something that we have been waiting for for months. 

Then there are often delays with the parole board due to the huge number of cases that they are trying to get through and a lack of funding. Simon Rollason a Solicitor Advocate speaks out about this in an Inside Time article: http://www.insidetime.org/articleview.asp?a=1720&c=the_future_of_the_parole_board_and_ippa_downward_slope 

There are huge queues for rehabilitative courses and not all courses are available at all prisons so there is a lot of moving around usually. My partner is one of the lucky few to have been able to remain in the same, ok prison, for the whole of his sentence. This should help with his parole reports as prison staff will be aware of him and know him better compared to if he was new to a prison. 

The worst part of IPP is not having a certain future. Most prisoners know that if they are well behaved then their sentence will end on a certain date so they get their heads down and wait for that day to come. IPP prisoners and their families are left in limbo with no idea whether they will spend many more years in prison or be out in a matter of months. It leaves you feeling unsettled and often causes you to lose hope.

I made the decision to wait for my partner and I will continue to do so, however long it takes for him to be released. It is my choice and I hope that I will not be judged for it. After all, you can’t help who you love. Yes life would be simpler if I wasn’t involved in this relationship but it would also mean losing the person who makes the biggest difference to my life, for the better, even if they are behind bars. 

Do you have a loved one serving an IPP sentence or have you served one yourself? Please get in touch, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this and may do a follow-up post if there is enough interest. I can be contacted on here, via Twitter @spursbythebeach and email brokenglassshimmers@hotmail.co.uk

New developments on prison book ban

Reported in today’s Guardian newspaper: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/27/labour-reverse-ban-prisoners-receiving-books Labour has said that it would reverse the ban on prisoners being able to have books sent in from relatives and friends. I recently posted about how disgusted I was by the ban:https://brokenglassshimmers.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/book-banning-in-a-decent-society/ and that I thought that it should be reversed so I am impressed that the Labour Party are standing up for this issue.

The Guardian reports how Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary said: “Putting obstacles in the way of prisoners being able to read books is ludicrous…Educational levels in prison are a national disgrace – 40% of those behind bars have the reading age of an 11 year old”. He also added that the Justice secretary should listen to the Chief Inspector of Prisons (who is also against the book ban) and “dump his ridiculous policy”. 

This backs up completely what I was saying in my post. The government need to stop sticking their heads in the sand when people like the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who know what they are talking about, disagree with them. Instead they should take on board the comments of top authors and other people who are against the ban, and reverse it. 

As far as I am concerned, reading is essential to a fulfilling life and promotes thinking and empathy, two things which should be encouraged for prisoners. 

STABILITY check-list…Sleep

Each Wednesday and Friday on this blog I will be discussing an element of the STABILITY checklist. I was introduced to the checklist by a BEPCymru course and have a copy of it stuck to my fridge to remind me to be aware of it. Today I will be looking at sleep. 

Last night was a great example of how bad my sleeping habits can be.I went to bed at a reasonable time, woke up at 3am and didn’t get back to sleep till about 7am. This is mainly because I broke the cardinal rules of sleep.

Firstly, I went to bed not long after a heavy meal. This probably meant that my digestive system was still active into the early hours (I ate late too) which probably woke me up in the first place. 

Secondly I went to bed with things on my mind, without doing anything to address my feelings and thoughts. 

Thirdly, I couldn’t get to a comfortable temperature, my body was either too hot or too cold. 

Finally, I’m not well. My white blood cell count was low at the last check and around that time my quality of sleep deteriorated so that I need loads without feeling rested. 

What helped me to eventually get back to sleep?

Two things helped. I wrote a letter to the person that I was upset with. I went into detail about how their actions had led to me feeling bad and told them why I thought that they were in the wrong. I don’t intend on sending this letter but the process of writing it helped a great deal. 

Secondly. and what may be difficult to do depending on the time that you are attempting to sleep, I spoke to someone rational. My best friend lives in Sweden and is an hour ahead so she was awake during my final hour of sleeplessness. A few swapped messages (Whatsapp is a lifesaver) , some calm advice from someone able to think clearly and I could feel my whole body start to relax. 

So, how to survive on minimal sleep?

Firstly, a long shower can work wonders, fresh air helps and resolving the issues that kept me awake last night, 

I’ve tried to nap without any success, I must be overtired. I’ve promised myself a takeaway and hopefully a reasonably early night. 

What is your sleep pattern like? What keeps you awake at night? How do you get back to sleep? And how do you survive after a lack of sleep?

Please feel free to comment, either on this blog, via Twitter @spursbythebeach, Instagram @spursbythebeach or my email address brokenglassshimmers@hotmail.co.uk. I look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions.

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