Gluten free adventures aside, mental health is also a topic close to my heart and will sneak into the blog every now and again. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the statistics are quite surprising. 1 in 4 people will experience mental health difficulties, 9 out of 10 people experience discrimination and stigma, and in 2013-14 over 1.7 million adults accessed NHS mental health services.
My own personal journey goes back to the age of 12, when I was diagnosed with anxiety/depression and an eating disorder, and I’ve been a part of both the child & adolescent, and adult mental health services pretty much constantly ever since! I have no issue in admitting that I’ve also had two 5 month periods in a mental health unit, and been on anti depressants for 11 years by now. My mental health was also the reason behind postponing university for two years. For me, a lot of my issues came from the prospect of change and not feeling in control; moving schools, finishing 6th form, starting uni. I felt I could control how these things happened by restricting my food. The truth? Life carries on regardless, and anxiety/depression and eating disorders simply put things on hold. Food restriction became a way of avoiding things. Avoiding change, avoiding growing up, avoiding life … but the thing that’s hard to accept at the time, is that everyone else will carry on with their lives as normal, and it’ll make you feel like you’re missing out but then not allow you to join in either.
Today? I’ve made it through uni, I’ve transitioned into working life and although I may not be the best I’ve ever been (my coeliac diagnosis has caused some anxiety again), I certainly am not at my worst. It’s fine to go through these phases, life challenges crop up, but they’re a time to learn and a time to become even stronger. I know where I currently am is not a long term destination. What I am now able to do though, is identify my food controlling behaviours and I recognise my anxiety/depression triggers in advance which lets me prepare for thing in an anxiety-friendly way.
Top Tips & Advice
When you’ve been a part of the mental health services for 11+ years, there’s not much advice you haven’t heard, but hopefully I can sum up the most useful and important tips for anyone who’s currently finding things difficult.
- Ask for help – it is not a weakness to ask for help. In fact, asking for help is the first step in acknowledging that you are finding things difficult, but that you’ve made the decision that you want to start feeling better. Arrange an appointment with your GP and don’t be afraid to tell them how you’re feeling. Mental health charities such as Mind, Anxiety UK & BEAT have a huge range of information and support documents. The Cardiff and the Vale NHS health board also have the Primary Mental Health Service which offer community based workshops and drop in sessions, so it’s worthwhile checking with your local health board if there are similar programmes in your area.
- Be patient – recovery takes time. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix and things wont happen over night. But, take each day at a time – breaking negative thoughts and habits is a long term process; take each difficulty at a time rather than trying to fix the whole problem in one go.
- Find a hobby – its very easy to become isolated and withdrawn when you’re going through the phases of mental health recovery, so its a good idea to find a hobby that will help you take your mind off things. Start an art project, go to a a gym class, do some volunteer work; anything that you know you’ll enjoy!
- Set a routine – when you have no structure, it’s hard to start progressing. Staying in bed is an easy way of staying away from reality. You have to be strict with yourself; get up at a certain time, have a shower and get dressed, schedule meal times. Plan in advance what you’re going to do each day and try and get out of the house, even if just for a half an hour walk. If you don’t feel able to go out, ask friends or family to visit you at home; its important to have face to face social interaction.
- Give yourself praise – nobody likes to big themselves up, but its so important to identify the good days and let yourself feel proud that you’ve managed to go out, or visited a friend, had your breakfast! Every time you do something that your anxiety/depression would have usually stopped you from doing, praise yourself and let yourself feel like you’ve accomplished something. Make a memory jar or keep a diary and write down notes of happy things you’ve done every day and look back at them after a month or so and see how far you’ve come!
If you’d like to talk about how you’re feeling /ask some advice, or if I can help even one person to not have to go through the struggles that I did, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Twitter: @_hannahlw or @thegfredhead