journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Dear Younger Me…

Dear younger me, where do I start? If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far
then you could be one step ahead of all the painful memories that are still running through my head. I wonder how much different things would be now if you knew. I wouldn’t want to give you a speech about how to get the most out of this life. I’d want to talk to you about the choices you’ll make; the choices that made me – well me. Most of the time, this life is awesome, but I wish it were easier. Would a different choice have helped this situation? Dear younger me, if I knew then what I know now; everything would be different. The unknown would have no power over you. You’d be able to sleep without worry. The pain would eventually cease. If I knew then what I know now, it would’ve not been hard to figure out what I would’ve changed if I had known.

Dear younger me; remember it’s not your fault. You were never meant to carry this. Please stop living in the past – your past actions and other peoples past actions are not your fault. Stop thinking about them. Please stop looking into the future. What will be will be. You’ll be alive, you’ll be breathing, you’ll be stronger. You always have been. Live in the present. Appreciate the feel of wind on your face, or the blanket keeping you cosy and warm at night. Appreciate your senses – the smell of a hot chocolate. The sights of the outdoors. Be patient. Be loving. Be kind. Love others. Care for others.

When life throws pain at you, you’ll be angry. You’ll be scared. You’ll be lonely. But eventually you’ll see that every moment brings you closer to who you were meant to be. Please don’t look too close into appearances and weight. Please don’t use the internet as a source of information and trust…or let society change your views on yourself and the world. Please don’t exercise so much – relax and sleep all you need. Please eat – your body loves you for it. When depression and anxiety strikes, don’t curl up in a ball in a dark room. Reach out. Surround yourself with people; you’ll thank me for it later.

But most of all, younger me; believe in yourself. You are strong. You are powerful. You are beautiful. You are living. You are you and you’ll do a great job making me me…

[inspired by Mercy Me.]

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

What University is REALLY like with Mental Illness

Starting University is a big step for anybody, but when you’ve got a mental health problem or illness to go with it, it can be even more worrying. Although there are not many studies that have been carried out on mental health statistics on young people at university, it is estimated that 2.2% of 16-25 year olds experience a depressive episode and that 3.6% of 16-25 year olds have experienced generalised anxiety disorder. 6.2% of 16-24 year olds have attempted suicide in their lifetime and 8.9% of 16-24 year olds have self-harmed in their lifetime. Although to some these statistics don’t mean much and don’t seem to be as high as other age groups, it has been noted by researchers that a lot of mental health problems in university students goes undetected or unreported; meaning that these numbers are likely to be higher.  Aside from the statistics listed above, 27.3% of people aged 16-25 year olds experienced other types of mental illness including personality disorders and neurotic episodes [Young Minds – 2011).

The one reason why I wanted to write this blog post is because I have been truly experiencing the effects of living with mental illness at university ever since I started my first year in 2015 and haven’t really been 100% honest about it. It’s been nearly 9 months now since I have had no medication and no treatment for my diagnosis’s (who would’ve thought, hey?) I also got asked recently to write a blog post on university and mental health problems for another blog/research due to the rise in the issues.  I wanted to list a few things that I have noticed about being at university with mental health issues not only so others with a similar illness can be prepared and feel less alone and reach for help but so those without mental health problems can understand what issues we face.

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  1. It feels like there are more ‘bad’ days than good. Most of the time university causes me a lot of emotions. Living in a very confined space with strangers (especially when you’ve got a severe anxiety disorder such a SAD and GAD) can become claustrophobic and make me feel trapped. I often get so overwhelmed with anxiety that I cannot leave my room. This was particularly worse in my first year due to the flat and my well being decreasing. Although I functioned outside of the flat it was incredibly difficult to leave my room to do simple things like cook dinner. This caused an increase in my depression, my tiredness increased so I slept all the time and my anxiety was through the roof. This year its so far been better. Although the bad days do feel like they’re occurring too frequently, I take hope in those few good days that arise. Going outside and sitting with nature has been my coping skill and escape route.
  2. Anxiety can be overwhelming. University brings lots and lots of anxiety, even for those who don’t experience any type of anxiety disorder or problem. There are people everywhere, and I mean everywhere. In your flat, in your lectures, on the campus, on the bus, in town. Everywhere. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because people can be awesome friends and good distractions…but when you struggle with anxiety issues, especially Social Anxiety Disorder, people can just get too much sometimes. Most of the time I need to carry a tool known as a ‘tangle’ around with me just to cope with my anxiety. A tangle is designed by a company called Tangle Creations. They are used as a way to fidget and keep a person occupied. They are mostly used for SEN but are on the rise for those with mental health problems, addictions and sensory disorders. Without this little thing, I never would’ve gotten through all the anxiety-filled situations I have.
  3. University can either cause mental health problems or increase existing ones. This is particularly true in my case anyway. Living by yourself can cause existing mental health problems to increase or reoccur due to people not being around to stop a relapse or intervene with coping methods. Stress and anxiety that can be related to university work and pressures can trigger a depressive episode and vice versa. There can be a rise in panic attacks and self harm. Again, keeping yourself distracted is the best thing for this. People are a good distraction tool and also great company but are not always available. A good book, movie, a walk outside or a nap are good alternatives.
  4. It can be devastatingly lonely. University is supposed to be a time for fun, lots of friends, societies and good class mates but when you’ve got a mental illness all the fun stuff can be daunting. I’ve wanted to join societies and go on nights out but due to anxiety and low self-esteem this has so far proved impossible. Going on nights out was successful until I started feeling like a burden to those I was with. Have you ever felt the loneliness that comes even when you’re in a room full of people? yeah? That’s the type of loneliness (the worst type of loneliness) that I’ve ever felt at university. To avoid feeling lonely I’ve learned that you need to become comfortable with being by yourself. You need to stop yourself from depending on other people. If your friends are busy, find something in your room to keep you occupied. Go outside and explore a new place or a take a bus to somewhere you’ve never been.
  5. Sometimes, you just want to quit. I can’t even count on my hands how many times I’ve sat and thought about leaving university. Sometimes the emotions obscure your thinking and lead to irrational thoughts. Sometimes I’ve wanted to quit or go home so bad. Sometimes I’ve wondered why the heck I’m still going on, but then I sit and think about where the end of this journey will take me- to my dream job with the amazing special children I have grown to love over the years. The thought of eventually being a special needs teacher keeps me going. I know that I can do this job because I have done it before, and it really feels like something when you believe you can do it. Don’t quit university, even if you feel you want to. Your mind is just wishing you’d give up. Don’t. Not ever.

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Although my REAL feelings and experiences of university seem quite negative on the points above, there really are ways to enjoy university and have an amazing experience even with mental health problems. I have a lot of down points, but each day I try to find at least one, and I am having a good time. After all the feelings pass, I feel okay. Because I have family who love me and friends who try to understand. Even if I feel I have no one to turn to, I will always have myself. There are plenty of ways to find support whilst at university whether its family, friends, lecturers, counsellors or health professionals. If people don’t listen, keep going until they do. You’re the only person who knows yourself and what you can accomplish. You’re an amazing person with a passion for life hidden deep down inside of you. You’re strong for surviving every bad (and good) day to date. Your imperfections make you absolutely perfect and I love you (yes, you reading this.) and I believe in you with everything I have.

If you are feeling troubled by mental illness, feel you suffering with a mental illness or just need to talk then you are welcome to email savannahaliciax@gmail.com at anytime for information and links for advice. Even just to chat.


NEWS

I am also starting a ‘share my story’ section on my blog in the upcoming months in order to get other people’s voices heard. If you’d like to feature on my blog and share your story in regards to mental health please send it to savannahaliciax@gmail.com. Your identity can remain anonymous on the blog if you wish.

I wish you the best in your recovery.

journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Recovery Is…

  • Recovery is about enjoying all types of food and not giving them ‘good’ or ‘bad’ labels.
  • Recovery is about not sticking to your meal plan and being able to enjoy extra treats and snacks with friends.
  • Recovery is about not tracking every calorie, every gram of fat, and every step you take each day.
  • Recovery is about not planning meals in advance and being able to eat whatever you want.
  • Recovery is about being able to enjoy a meal out with friends without having a panic attack over the calories or food.
  • Recovery is about being able to enjoy your birthday, Christmas and that late night McDonalds or pizza with friends.
  • Recovery is about drinking alcohol without skipping meals to allow the excess calories.
  • Recovery is finding exercising and walking relaxing and not just a means to count calories and lose weight.
  • Recovery is sleeping in sometimes or not moving from your bed because you don’t have to be on the go all day.
  • Recovery is being able to have more energy to hang out with friends and family because you are not always cold or ill.
  • Recovery is allowing things to be imperfect.
  • Recovery is learning to eat in front of others without feeling that you are being judged.
  • Recovery is feeling comfortable outside of treatment so that you can lead a fulfilling life.
  • Recovery is accepting a relapse as a challenge to recover stronger.
  • Recovery is understanding that an eating disorder does not make you feel safe, nor does the dependency on others.
  • Recovery is feeling all sorts of emotions but learning to cope with them.

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Recovery in an eating disorder is many things…but overall it is the journey to finding yourself. Recovery is a long process – sometimes there are 2 steps forward and 10 steps back (okay, most of the time), but even through the downpour and the days where you simply can’t get out of bed, you’re one step closer than you were when you were submerged to your illness. Recovery teaches you that nothing is perfect. Emotions are not straight-forward. People are confusing. Plans change. Relapses happen.

Recovery is painful, tiring and emotional. Refeeding causes horrible side effects that leave you ready to give up. Getting every illness under the sun is normal…BUT

Recovery is a process and takes heaps of time. Just because its dark today, doesn’t mean the light won’t rise tomorrow.

You’re beautiful. You’re strong. You’ve survived every bad day to date and that is rather extraordinary!

[inspired by Alice]

journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Suicide – Prevention Day 2016

Suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide. The attitude towards suicide however always amazes me. One person dies every 40 seconds by suicide worldwide – that is an estimate of 1440 deaths by suicide a day! By 2020, the rate of death will increase to every 20 seconds. 2880 people will be dying of suicide a day… How can there be such a negative stigma surrounding suicide when it claims so many lives in simply a day? Suicide has now become one of the three leading causes of death among those aged between 15-44. More than 4,000 children under the age of 14 tried to take their own lives in the UK in the year 2007.

Although these statistics are alarming, you’re not the only one experiencing suicidal thoughts whilst you’re reading this. If you’re not experiencing suicidal thoughts, someone you know is. Many people have suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. Feeling this way means that you have more pain than you can manage at the moment, and that’s totally okay. I promise. I know the pain feels like it will never go away, but with the right support and time, the pain will soon pass.

Whether you suffer with suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, its very important to know the warning signs and know how to help!

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A person may be at risk of attempting suicide if they:

  • complain of feelings of hopelessness
  • have episodes of sudden rage and anger
  • act recklessly and engage in risky activities with an apparent lack of concern about the consequences
  • talk about feeling trapped, such as saying they can’t see any way out of their current situation
  • Self harm – including misusing drugs or alcohol, or using more than they usually do
  • noticeably gain or lose weight due to a change in their appetite
  • become increasingly withdrawn from friends, family and society in general
  • appear anxious and agitated
  • are unable to sleep or they sleep all the time
  • have sudden mood swings – a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression could indicate they have made the decision to attempt suicide
  • talk and act in a way that suggests their life has no sense of purpose
  • lose interest in most things, including their appearance
  • put their affairs in order, such as sorting out possessions or making a will

If you notice any of these warning signs in a friend, relative or loved one, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.

Also share your concerns with your doctor or a member of their care team, if they are being treated for a mental health condition.


Offering support to someone who’s feeling suicidal

One of the best things you can do if you think someone may be feeling suicidal is to encourage them to talk about their feelings and to listen to what they say.

Talking about someone’s problems is not always easy and it may be tempting to try to provide a solution. But often the most important thing you can do to help is listen to what they have to say.

If there is an immediate danger, make sure they are not left on their own.

Do not judge

It’s also important not to make judgements about how a person is thinking and behaving. You may feel that certain aspects of their thinking and behaviour are making their problems worse. For example, they may be drinking too much alcohol.

However, pointing this out will not be particularly helpful to them. Reassurance, respect and support can help someone during these difficult periods.

Asking questions

Asking questions can be a useful way of letting a person remain in control while allowing them to talk about how they’re feeling. Try not to influence what the person says, but give them the opportunity to talk honestly and openly.

Open ended questions such as “Where did that happen?” and “How did that feel?” will encourage them to talk. It’s best to avoid statements that could possibly end the conversation, such as “I know how you feel” and “Try not to worry about it”.

Getting professional help

Although talking to someone about their feelings can help them feel safe and secure, these feelings may not last. It will probably require long-term support to help someone overcome their suicidal thoughts.

This will most likely be easier with professional help. Not only can a professional help deal with the underlying issues behind someone’s suicidal thoughts, they can also offer advice and support for yourself.

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If you are suffering with suicidal thoughts:

Remember that suicide may seem like the only option but it is not. There are many other options available, you just can’t see them at the moment. The extreme pain you are experiencing at the moment can distort thinking which makes it harder to see solutions to the problems that are upsetting you.  Reaching out to someone around could help as they may be able to see other options for you that you cannot see yourself and can help you solve your problems.

It’s important to realise that crises are usually temporary. Solutions are often found, feelings change, unexpected positive events occur.  Give yourself the time necessary for things to change and the pain to subside.

Talking to others about suicidal feelings can be extremely difficult. I get that – I’ve been there myself. You get so scared that people are going to judge you and treat you as though you are crazy. But they won’t – most will probably understand where you’re coming from.  Tell a person you trust exactly what you are saying to yourself. If you have planned a suicide, explain this to them so that they understand. Simply saying you can’t take it any more doesn’t highlight how serious things really are for you. If it’s too difficult to say out loud, try writing it down and giving it to them as a not or send an email or text whilst you are with them.

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Things that may help stop you feeling suicidal:

  • Talk with someone every day, preferably face to face. Though you feel like withdrawing, ask trusted friends and acquaintances to spend time with you. Or continue to call a crisis helpline and talk about your feelings.
  • Make a safety plan. Develop a set of steps that you can follow during a suicidal crisis. It should include contact numbers for your doctor or therapist, as well as friends and family members who will help in an emergency.
  • Make a written schedule for yourself every day and stick to it, no matter what. Keep a regular routine as much as possible, even when your feelings seem out of control.
  • Get out in the sun or into nature for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Exercise as vigorously as is safe for you . To get the most benefit, aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day. But you can start small. Three 10-minute bursts of activity can have a positive effect on mood.
  • Make time for things that bring you joy. Even if very few things bring you pleasure at the moment, force yourself to do the things you used to enjoy.
  • Remember your personal goals. You may have always wanted to travel to a particular place, read a specific book, own a pet, move to another place, learn a new hobby, volunteer, go back to school, or start a family. Write your personal goals down.

What to avoid when you are feeling suicidal:

  • Being alone. Solitude can make suicidal thoughts even worse. Visit a friend, or family member, or pick up the phone and call a crisis helpline.
  • Alcohol and drugs. Drugs and alcohol can increase depression, hamper your problem-solving ability, and can make you act impulsively.
  • Doing things that make you feel worse. Listening to sad music, looking at certain photographs, reading old letters, or visiting a loved one’s grave can all increase negative feelings.
  • Thinking about suicide and other negative thoughts. Try not to become preoccupied with suicidal thoughts as this can make them even stronger. Don’t think and rethink negative thoughts. Find a distraction. Giving yourself a break from suicidal thoughts can help, even if it’s for a short time.

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Still can’t cope? Try these below for help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Suicide prevention telephone hotline funded by the U.S. government. Provides free, 24-hour assistance. 1-800-273-TALK (8255). (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

National Hopeline Network – Toll-free telephone number offering 24-hour suicide crisis support. 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). (National Hopeline Network)

The Trevor Project – Crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Includes a 24/7 hotline: 1-866-488-7386.

State Prevention Programs – Browse through a database of suicide prevention programs, organized by state. (National Strategy for Suicide Prevention)

Crisis Centers in Canada – Locate suicide crisis centers in Canada by province. (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention)

Befrienders Worldwide – International suicide prevention organization connects people to crisis hotlines in their country.

IASP – Find crisis centers and helplines around the world. (International Association for Suicide Prevention).

International Suicide Hotlines – Find a helpline in different countries around the world. (Suicide.org)

Samaritans UK – 24-hour suicide support for people in the UK (call 08457 90 90 90) and Ireland (call 1850 60 90 90). (Samaritans)

Lifeline Australia– 24-hour suicide crisis support service at 13 11 14. (Lifeline Australia)

Life will get better. I promise. I’ve been where you are.

journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

2 Years of Recovery!

On the 1st of September 2014, I sat in the doctor’s office after fainting in college and listened as he finally diagnosed me – Anorexia Nervosa. For weeks before this diagnosis I had been pulled from college because I was too exhausted and too ill to attend. I had spent most of college lunch times sitting in the classroom with a tutor or the head of care’s office because I couldn’t be trusted to eat by myself. They watched me for over half an hour to ensure I had consumed every bite of that banana, sandwich or pear. I had panic attacks that lasted for hours and spent most of the days in the college bathroom because the anxiety was too much to bear. I had to have every single meal prepared for me but still managed to consume so little and exercise behind every body’s backs. My first visits to the doctors proved unsuccessful – my BMI was not low enough to reach a diagnosis of Anorexia…despite losing 31% of my body weight (a diagnosis usually occurs after the person loses 15% of body weight). But finally on the 1st of September 2014, after being told to ‘lose a few more pounds’ my BMI slipped into the underweight category and I went in for the fight of my life…

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Although September 2014 was 2 years ago, it feels like yesterday. I remember every single emotion, every illness, every fear, every tear, every screaming fit, every panic attack. I remember the heart-wrenching pain, the weakness in my body, the exhaustion as panic attacks swept through me. I remember crying in fits of tears because I had to force food down me. I remember getting so angry because I thought even water had calories. Not having every food measured and calorie counted caused me to spiral out of control. Not being allowed to exercise drove me to crying and screaming on the floor. Every morning I woke up I was ready to lay down and die. A life without Anorexia, without control, without everything I’d worked for for over a year seemed absolutely terrifying to me. I was disappearing to everyone around me but I still felt as though I was fat…

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Anorexia Nervosa is currently the most lethal psychiatric disorder, carrying a sixfold increased risk of death. Suicide is also a particular risk as 1 in 5 Anorexia deaths are due to suicide. People diagnosed with Anorexia between the ages of 20 to 29 had a higher death rate (18-fold) with the age group 15-19 following close behind with a ten fold.

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction. The associated malnutrition from Anorexia can cause complications in every single organ system of the body. Hypokalaemia (a drop in potassium levels in the blood) is common in Anorexia and causes abnormal heart rhythms, constipation, fatigue, muscle damage and paralysis. The symptoms of Anorexia include: refusal to maintain a healthy weight, Amenorrhea (period stops, hair becomes brittle, skin turns yellow), fear of weight gain and avoidance of weight gain, a rapid and obvious weight loss of at least 15% of body weight, obsession with calories and fat contents of food, preoccupation with food, food restriction, food rituals such as cutting food into small pieces, using laxatives, water pills and diet pills to lose or maintain a weight loss, excessive exercise and micro-exercising (moving the fingers or legs persistently), distorted body perception, intolerance to cold and a lower body temperature, hypo tension, tachycardia, depression, isolating behaviour; becoming withdrawn and secretive, abdominal distention, bad breath caused by starvation-induced ketosis, chronic fatigue and rapid mood swings.

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There has been many relapses in my recovery and every day is a constant battle with food…My eating disorder journey has shaped me into the person I am today. It has made me more empathetic, more compassionate, more open and aware. It has made me an advocate for others suffering with mental illness. It has made me strong. I have met so many amazing people through my journey…and lost many on the way…

Anorexia Nervosa, as well as any other eating disorder, is absolutely horrendous and is life-threatening. Anorexia nearly killed me, but each day I wake up I am thankful I experienced it…

Not because it made me thin. Not because it made me feel in control.

But because it opened my eyes to the world and made me an advocate for change. Because it allowed me to grow as a person and lead me to a road of self-discovery.

Because it shaped me into the person I am today.

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