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I’m doing what I can but I still feel sad

This blog post is going to be a bit of a funny one because I’m not really sure what I’m going to write. I haven’t really planned anything out I just felt the urge to write.

I’m feeling pretty down at the moment. I have this overwhelming sadness that just won’t leave.

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to write a little bit about how I’m feeling.

Do you ever just feel… really empty? Like the whole world is going on around you and you’re just stuck, alone and isolated. Like everyone’s smiling and you’re just trying not to cry. But you don’t quite know why.

Nothing really major has happened recently. I’ve been struggling with my self esteem but that’s just a part of it. For the past week, I’ve just been feeling really sad.

I can’t quite explain it. It’s like I have this urge to cry but no energy to do so. I have this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that is filling me with anxiety and unease.

I am having severe guilt over past mistakes and questioning every motive.

I won’t lie to you, the past few days I have been having really nasty thoughts. Like I just want to give up on life. But then I hold onto the fact that feelings will and do pass, and I’m just trying to wait it out.

Today was a particularly bad day, mainly because I had a lot of abusive messages from people I don’t know calling me out for using a certain phrase in regards to men’s mental health. It really upset me because I genuinely do try to do my best to raise awareness of mental illness. I’d love to hold my head high and say it didn’t get to me but I’m only human, and of course things upset me – especially when I get told I am to blame for increased suicide rates when I’m struggling myself.

I’m not going to let it put me off raising awareness, but I won’t lie, the comments were really upsetting and I just wanted to throw my phone away.

Of course, that’s not the reason for my sadness. It’s been going on on and off for months, and I’ve learned to just deal with it.

I’m doing what I can to keep myself busy. I’m working, I went to the BAFTAs on Sunday and I’m going to a launch party at Twitter HQ tomorrow night which I’m excited for. But the problem is, these are all just distractions.

In the moment, I’m excited and enjoying myself. But I know that when each experience ends, I just fall back into the realm of feeling like I want to burst into tears.

I wish I had a narrative for this post or at least an ending for it but I really don’t… I’m just quite down at the moment.

And I just always want to be honest with the people who follow me for my mental health posts.

It’s so easy to be positive and I mean what I say when I offer advice and motivation, sometimes it’s just hard to take that advice yourself.

And at the end of the day, I’m only human, things aren’t always going to be sunshine and smiles.

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Invisible physical health

How I feel about my body after years of hating it

I have never been happy with my body. Ever. I don’t think there’s ever been a time I’ve looked in the mirror and not picked out something I don’t like about myself.

I have always struggled with my image and have had body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember, which slowly turned into bulimia.

I was bulimic for three years. It was a struggle, but not just because I felt I was suffering alone, but because when I eventually spoke out about what I’d been going through, nobody believed me because I wasn’t stick thin. That’s the thing with eating disorders, people only associate it with anorexia. They don’t seem to realise that people of all sizes can struggle with eating disorders; that bulimia and binge eating disorders are very, very real.

I only stopped making myself sick after vomit got caught in my chest cavity and my lung collapsed. It was very scary, enough to make me want to stop sticking my fingers down my throat.

Instead, I started limiting my calories. I’d reward myself when I got through the day on less than 600. It wasn’t healthy. I lost weight, to the point I was stick thin, a size 6 and the lowest weight I’d ever been.

Going from a size 12 to a size 6, I still looked at myself and thought I was fat. I would stand in the mirror and poke at my belly, sigh at my legs and feel like I was going to cry. I thought I was hideous. There was a little while where I would cover my mirror with a blanket so that I didn’t have to look at myself.

It turned out that I hadn’t lost all of the weight because of unhealthy eating – though I’m sure that didn’t help; but because I was actually suffering with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease. I’m not going to go into detail with this post, if you’d like to read more you can find it in various posts within the ‘invisible health’ category.

Due to the ulcerative colitis attacking my colon so severely, I had to have it removed, and I was given a stoma bag for 10 months.

While it was great to feel healthy again, I piled on the weight. It was as if my body had missed so many nutrients that it was indulging in sucking up as many as it could. I quickly gained two stone, going back up to a size 10.

A size 10, a very healthy weight, I still felt fat. In fact, I felt huge. It was somewhat shocking to watch as my once stick-thin legs levelled out to chunky thighs (I’ve always been bottom heavy, thanks genetics), and my hips got wider.

After 10 months with a stoma bag, I had it reversed. It didn’t go to plan, and I was sick for 11 days. I didn’t eat for 9 of them. Therefore, I lost a lot of weight again. I told myself I’d try to stick to this weight but my mental health got in the way (hello bipolar disorder, BPD, OCD and health anxiety) and I was put on a load of different weights that made me eat excessively and gain a ton of weight.

I am now back up to a size 12 and the biggest I’ve been in a long, long time.

Size 12 isn’t big. I know that. But there’s definitely a startling difference between how I used to be.

I still haven’t accepted my body. But you know what I’ve learned? I will always wish I was as fat as the first time I thought I was fat. I look back at my size 6 body that I thought at the time was chunky and think ‘Wow, I was way too thin’.

I look back at my size 10 figure and think ‘Wow, I wish I looked like that again’.

And now, though I’m not happy with my figure, I’ve decided enough is enough. I am going to stop hating on my body.

You know why?

Because my body has been through so much. It has fought for me. It has fought to live.

It has been through horrendous surgery. It has fought pneumonia, a collapsed lung, a chest drain, a removed appendix, inflammatory bowel disease, a nearly-perforated bowel, a bowel removal, a stoma bag and a reversal. It’s also consumed a whole load of medication.

So you know what? I’m going to give my body a break. Because it deserves it. I’m not going to get anywhere hating it, and so I’ve decided to start embracing it.

Sure, I still want to change. I’m still going to the gym and I’m trying to change my diet (she says, as she delves into a packet of Haribo), but right now I’m just going to feel myself.

For the first time in a long time, the past 5 weeks I have been posting full-length body photos. Something I hated doing even at a size six. And I love the photos. I feel good in myself. I don’t look at myself and hate what I see.

I know I’ll never be fully happy with my body. But I’m going to be comfortable with it. I’m going to start accepting it.

It’s the very least it deserves.

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A mental health update: I’m struggling right now

I haven’t posted on here in a little while, but I decided I probably should, because I’ve written a lot about mental illness on Twitter recently and I wanted to write an update on what is currently going on with my mental health.

The past couple of weeks have been some of the hardest of my life. And that’s saying a lot.

Just six weeks ago, I felt like I was getting my life back on track. Throughout December and January, as I’ve mentioned in some of my videos, I had a really horrendous bout of health anxiety. I was unable to function and genuinely felt like my life was never going to get better. That I was never going to come out of it. But I did. Everything was going well for a little while. I was enjoying work, I was being given opportunities, my relationship was great, and everything just felt like it was falling into place. So why am I back in such a horrible place once again?

When it comes to other people’s mental health, I find it easy to remain positive and offer advice. Because I really do believe, when it comes to other people, things do get better. But when it comes to myself, I just lack the motivation to think this way. And it’s difficult.

I’m currently under the Crisis team once again because my mental health is a total shambles. My OCD and health anxiety are out of control, the intrusive thoughts are non-stop and I don’t remember the last time I had a decent night’s sleep without nightmares without taking Zopiclone.

My mind is constantly racing a mile a minute and to be honest, I’ve felt like I really couldn’t cope. Just two weeks ago, the Crisis team were coming out to me everyday, I took some time off work, I was unmotivated, I was comfort eating non-stop, I stopped wearing makeup, stopped doing my hair… I just stopped everything that made me feel somewhat good about myself, because the fact is; I didn’t feel good about myself. I felt terrible. And I still do.

The past few nights I have spent every evening on the phone to Samaritans, because when Crisis aren’t here, I feel like my whole world is collapsing around me and I just need to talk and to get it all out of my system. Samaritans are great because they’re simply there to listen and not advise… which is exactly what you need sometimes – for someone to just listen.

For the second time in my life, I have thought very seriously about not wanting to be here anymore. For me, this was terrifying. But I am just so exhausted of feeling afraid of my own head, like I’m going crazy, like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown – which technically I did last week when I found myself completely detached from myself for a day – that I felt that I just didn’t want to live like this anymore. Luckily, I have Crisis, I have a psychiatrist and I have a CBT therapist. I am supported. But the problem with the mental health system is that help doesn’t come to you immediately. It all takes time. You have to wait to receive help. I understand that the system is overstretched and underfunded and there just aren’t the resources to offer everyone immediate help – but I have really felt for the past couple of weeks that that’s what I need. That I can’t wait any longer because I can just feel my mental health deteriorating.

Last week I had my Setraline upped, which I am taking for OCD. However, I have to be careful because as many of you will know I also have bipolar disorder, and anti-depressants can send you into mania. Despite taking mood stabilisers and anti-psychotics, I am currently hypomanic as well as being depressed – which means I am in a mixed state bipolar episode, meaning you have hypomania/mania and depression at the time. This can be very dangerous, as you act very impulsively.

Since my dose was upped, I feel absolutely awful. I have constant nausea and headaches and frequent nightmares. Last night I woke up every two hours from a different nightmare, one of which has left me feeling incredibly disturbed and has actually triggered harm OCD – where you worry about causing harm to yourself or others around you. Basically, I’m just having a bit of a rough time at the moment.

I’m not sure what I hope will come out of this post. I just haven’t blogged on here in a while and I thought I’d take some time out to do so and to update you all on what’s going on.

The positive thing here is that I am still here, I have a very supportive family, boyfriend, friends and I am very lucky to have a very understanding editor who has been a great support. And so I just want people to know that I’m not alone in this.

But I also just wanted to be honest, because I’ve had a few messages from people asking me if I’m okay and telling me they appreciate my honesty – so here’s me, being completely honest.

Right now, I am miserable, struggling and every day is a mission to get through. But as time goes on, I’m getting little bits of hope back that have been missing over the past couple of weeks. I also want to thank everyone who got involved with my #WhatYouShouldKnowAboutMentalIllness hashtag, and to let those who watch my videos know that I do intend to record more – but right now I’m under too much pressure to think about opening up about mental health on camera. I hope you can understand. Thanks to everyone who has been messaging me with support, it’s more appreciated than you’ll ever know.

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January 2018 has been the worst time for my mental health

I’ve had a really shitty start to 2018.

I started it in A&E. I spent New Year’s Day there in crisis after struggling with health anxiety for a couple of weeks.

Long story short, I was convincing myself I was going get really sick. I was panicking about blood clots and meningitis and other illness that could have really serious consequences.

It sounds daft, I know it does. But that’s health anxiety for you. You manage to convince yourself something really bad is going to happen to you. And then you spend hours of every day checking your body for symptoms and Googling anything you come across.

I know where my health anxiety comes from. Twice I’ve been left in critical condition due to medical negligence, and so now I don’t trust anyone when I feel I’m getting sick – and I worry about the consequences.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been to the doctors six times and had three sets of blood tests. I had an infection for a little while and I worried about sepsis. I was having nightmares every night about it, waking up shaking in cold sweats, having intrusive thoughts and visions I can’t even begin to describe because they’re too terrifying.

I was under the Crisis team for three weeks, had all of my medication upped and I spend every evening feeling like a zombie because of how much I’m taking at the moment.

Things got so bad the other night that I was in A&E because I accidentally overdosed – aka I took too much medication. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted my head to shut up.

I don’t know why or how, but my health anxiety has been pretty non-existent over the past couple days. This is because now my worries have shifted to guilt over things I’ve done in the past. I have this horrendous feeling in my stomach that won’t go. It’s making me feel sick and want to cry all of the time because I feel so horrendously guilty. I’ve been confessing things over and over to my partner, things that don’t even need to be said simply because I need to get them out of my system.

Regardless of my health anxiety or guilt, I know that they’re both part of another condition I live with: OCD. Health anxiety falls under the OCD spectrum due to its obsessive tendencies – and guilt and the obsession to confess does too. So really, over all, it’s my OCD I’m struggling with at the moment.

There’s no end to this story. It’s not even a story, really. It’s just an update as to where I’m at.

This is it.

Mental Health

Mental illness f*cking sucks

I just cried for five minutes because I’m exhausted.

I only cried for five minutes because I  am tired of crying. It makes me even more tired, and I’m tired of that, too. I haven’t admitted it properly to anyone just yet, only voicing my feelings here and there in short tweets, but the last three weeks have been hell. I have struggled to cope. I’m still struggling to cope.

In fact, I’m struggling so much that I have questioned whether there’s any point continuing if things don’t get better. The scary thing is that right now, it feels like things won’t get better. The even scarier thing, however, is that for once, telling myself that nothing would be better than this was the first time I really meant it.

There’s been many a time where I’ve said ‘I don’t want to be here’ when my emotions got too much. But there was always a small fraction of me that didn’t mean it. 10% of me was just crying out for help. But that 10% has now turned to 5% and even that can feel a struggle to hold onto.

For the past three weeks, I have been suffering with health anxiety. I usually hate that word, suffering. But this time I mean it. I have suffered. Deeply.

I have been panicking every day about becoming seriously sick. I have worried all throughout the day, my body filled with nerves and adrenaline, my heart beating fast, my stomach in knots. I’ve tried to drown out the feelings with medication, but the intrusive thoughts and the images are still there.

For a while I just couldn’t get them out of my head. Normally, when my head gets too loud, I escape in my dreams. But I can’t even do that now, because every dream is replaced with a nightmare. Each night a different dream, with similar themes. They’re terrifying. I have broken sleep, waking up and falling back into a nightmare over and over again. I just want it to stop.

The problem is that no matter how many times I tell myself I’m okay, a voice in my head tells me I’m not. And I feel these false physical symptoms that confuse the hell out of me. If Google tells me a certain illness will make me feel a certain way, I’ll start to feel these symptoms. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not.

I know deep down where my fears stem from. I’ve had bad health a couple of times, and both times have lead me to critical condition because symptoms had gone dismissed, unrealised and ignored. And now, when my mind is at its worst, I panic that I’m getting sick but nobody’s seeing it, and that nobody will realise until I’m at my worst. This is terrifying.

It’s fucking awful spending every day worrying about bad things happening.

I have bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD and health anxiety. The last two are somewhat the same thing. Obsessive, intrusive thoughts. I’ve felt all kinds of emotions due to my mental illnesses, but nothing like I feel with health anxiety.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. Perhaps I want to get across that health anxiety is a real thing. I do. But perhaps I also want to get things out of my system because I feel it’s what I need.

Regardless of the reason, all I know right now is that mental illness fucking sucks.

featured, Mental Health

What I wish people knew about mental illness

According to Mind, one in four people in the UK suffer with mental illness. I am one of those one in four.

I live with a number of mental illnesses. Bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD and health anxiety. And so, as you can probably guess, I’ve experienced mental illness from a number of angles. I know what it’s like to be high and what it’s like to be low. I know what it’s like to be psychotic, obsessional and anxious. But most prominently: I know what it feels to feel like there’s no way out.

I’ve recently been so mentally unwell that I’ve really struggled to cope. To be honest, I haven’t wanted to. I’m terrified of admitting this to the outside world but for the first time in my life, I said that I didn’t want to be here anymore and I meant it. The words themselves felt threatening. I was scared. I’d never felt this way before, and the fact I was actually feeling it, like, really feeling it, made me realise just how much help I needed.

Luckily for me, I’ve felt these feelings while being under the care of the Crisis team, who are currently coming out to my house every other day to check on me and carry out risk assessments. I am not a risk to myself. But other people aren’t so lucky.

Other people don’t have the support. Instead, they suffer in silence. I know, it’s an over-used phrase, but it’s one that rings true. So many people living with mental illness don’t have anyone to talk to. They feel nobody will understand; that nobody will care. They worry they won’t be believed if they speak out. Some people simply don’t have the energy to do so. And this is devastating. People in a time of crisis should not feel as though they have to deal with it alone.

But some feel like they must do so – and I feel a big part of this is because there is still such a stigma attached to mental illness. So many people who haven’t lived with it don’t understand, and this is still so obvious when people suggest things like going for a run, drinking more water or just ‘getting over’ the likes of depression and mood disorders. I just wish the people without mental illnesses would attempt to understand the people with. In fact, there’s so much I wish for in regards to mental illness.

I wish people saw mental illness like they would a broken leg. No doctor would turn around and dismiss a broken leg or expect it to get better on its own. They’d treat it immediately, they’d take it seriously. And mental illness deserves the same treatment.

I wish people would acknowledge mental illness for what it is – an illness. It’s not a personality trait or a lifestyle choice. It’s something that affects and consumes the lives of millions.

I wish people would stop offering unhelpful remedies for mental illness. That they’d realise that while they can be beneficial, healthy diet and exercise is not a cure.

In turn, I wish people would respect those who need medication for their mental illness. That those who don’t get it would stop dismissing people for taking it, as though it makes them weak or something. Taking medication isn’t weak. It shows strength in that you’re doing what you can to cope.

Most importantly, I wish everyone with a mental illness felt comfortable enough to speak out about it to a family member or friend. I wish these people didn’t worry they were going to be judged or not believed. I wish these people realised themselves that their illness is worthy of help. That they are worthy of help. That there are people out there who do care and will support them through a dark time.

But the people who are meant to be there as a support need to prove this themselves.

Whether you know someone with a mental illness or not, be kind, always. Be the person others can reach out to in a time of need, and never turn your back on someone who does so.

You never know you’ll be helping – or just how much.

If you are currently struggling in silence – don’t. Reach out to Samaritans, on 116 123 or by email,  jo@samaritans.org.

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What it’s really like to live with real OCD

I have lived with OCD for years.

It first started when I was a lot younger, and I became obsessed with the number four.

There was something about the number for that made me feel at ease. Comfortable. Like if I did everything four times, things would be okay.

My obsession with the number 4  occurred because of my fear of the number three.

I was so used to hearing people say ‘Third time lucky’ that something in my head said ‘But what if it’s actually unlucky?’ and alas, every time I did something in threes – be that wash my hands, turning off a light switch or something as minuscule as brushing past something, I felt unnerved. I had to escape this feeling by repeating whatever I’d done a fourth time – to know I’d escaped my imaginary curse of the number three.

As I grew older, my OCD worsened. I started having intrusive thoughts.

They were awful. They left me feeling like the worst person in the world. They made me feel evil.

My intrusive thoughts included awful things about my loved ones. Thoughts about them being hurt, attacked, abused. Disturbing images of mutilated people. Wishing it on others.

Even writing this now terrifies me, as though putting my thoughts to paper makes them even more real than they already feel in my head.

Of course, these thoughts aren’t real. I would never wish bad on anyone – let alone my family. But the thoughts can be so much that they leave you feeling like the most horrendous person in the world.

These intrusive thoughts are the ‘O’ in OCD. The obsession. They’re unwanted, debilitating thoughts or images that trigger intensely distressed feelings.

That’s how they make me feel, distressed. Angry. Frustrated. And often, they trigger further outbursts because they make me feel so awful. As though I’m a disgusting person; a bad person.

The only way I can combat these thoughts is with compulsions. And that’s where the ‘C’ of OCD comes in.

Compulsions are acts you play out in attempt to rid yourself of the obsession – aka the intrusive thoughts.

Often, these compulsions are acted out in fear.

‘If you don’t wash your hands four times, you are going to get sick from contamination. And then whoever you go near will be contaminated too. And then you’ll get sick. They’ll get sick. So sick that they’ll develop an infection, which will lead to septicaemia and they will lose all of their limbs’, is one of my most frequent, horrendous thoughts.

When I read it back I know my thoughts are irrational. I know that someone can’t develop septicaemia from me not washing my hands more than once. But the thoughts are so overwhelming that at the time, it’s a struggle to believe they won’t do harm to anyone else.

And so you act out the compulsions until you finally feel at ease.

And you can feel at ease, for a while. Say if you’re sitting in front of a film for an hour, distracted. But there’s no escaping them coming back when you’re put in a situation where you feel you need to wash your hands again.

Perhaps I flick a light switch that someone’s touched beforehand. How do I know their hands aren’t dirty? How do I know they’re not contaminated? How do I know it won’t make me sick? And so I wash, and wash again.

Sometimes I wash so much that my hands bleed from the rawness. They sting and they’re dry, but it’s often worth it to know I’m not hurting anyone in the process.

But my obsessions don’t just come in terms of washing my hands.

In fact, all in all, they take up a lot of my time.

When I go to leave my car, I will walk back and check, and check, and check over, and over again that my doors are locked. Because if they aren’t, someone could break in and steal my belongings.

I have to take a memorised photo in my head of my bedroom before leaving it, to know I haven’t left any plugs plugged in, that none of my medication has fallen on the floor or that my straighteners – which I haven’t touched in days – aren’t plugged in. It doesn’t matter that I know in my heart I don’t want to cause a fire. I haven’t even used my straighteners – there’s the risk that maybe I have used them, and I’ve just forgotten.

I can’t leave my house without running back to the door several times to check it’s locked. Going back in to check the oven’s off, that the taps aren’t running or that the windows aren’t wide open. Sometimes I end up not leaving the house at all, cancelling plans because the fear is simply too much.

OCD makes me feel on edge at all times. It’s like I’m constantly waiting for something bad to happen. And even if nothing bad does end up happening, my thoughts will tell me otherwise. I spend a good few hours a day just trying to do everything I can to escape my thoughts, because more often than not they’re intensely overwhelming.

I wish people knew how debilitating OCD can be. It has caused me to self-harm, hurting myself, feeling as though I deserve it because of how disgusting my thoughts can be. it has triggered awful episodes of anxiety and of the bipolar disorder I’m also diagnosed with. It has left me spending evenings crying because the thoughts and images in my head are terrifying. It prevents me from going about my normal day-to-day life without panicking and avoiding situations simply in hopes of not worsening the thoughts any more so.

I wish people understood how serious OCD is. That it’s not arranging your cupboards or liking things colour-coordinated. That choosing a colour-scheme for your entire house does not make you ‘OCD’.

If people knew this, and stopped using the term to describe their everyday personality traits, I feel it would be taken more seriously – as the serious mental health condition it is.

In fact, it’s so serious that the World Health Organisation once ranked it in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of loss earnings and diminished quality of life.

I love that it’s 2017 and people are becoming more aware of mental illness, reducing the inevitable stigma surrounding it.

But I feel we still have a long way to go in terms of understanding OCD. And this is because we have this silly misconception that OCD is an organised personality trait, and not a real mental health condition.

I hope this posts starts the conversation, and spells out to people who don’t understand just how severe an illness it really is.

Because hopefully by just educating a few, they can go onto educate others.

It’s important that we do so, not just in terms of exposing the condition, but to show other sufferers of it that what they’re living with is very real. That it’s very serious, and that they’re not bad people. They’re just ill people, who with the right support, can learn to control and stable it.

But to tell them this, first we need to understand. We need to listen. Starting now.