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

Anxiety

I’ve suffered with anxiety for years, but every now and again I get severe bouts that really prevent me from doing anything. Over the last few days, my anxiety levels have soared. The minute I get out of bed – anxiety. The minute I get dressed – anxiety. The minute I do absolutely anything – anxiety.

I can’t breathe without feeling intense anxiety and a sense of hopelessness. Dropping a pencil is bringing me to tears. I’m not stressed…I’m anxious. I’m anxious about nothing, nothing at all but at the same time anxious about every single thing.

Breathing. Eating. Walking. Inside. Outside. People. Clothes. Cars. Planes. Internet. Myself.

Everything…

The sad reality is anxiety gives you such negative emotions. I’m irritable. I’m tired. I’m teary. My anxiety triggers my depressive episodes. I have panic attacks. I have meltdowns.

I. can’t. breathe.

When you tell someone you have anxiety they think you’re just momentarily worried because you have an exam or you’re going to be late for work…but an anxiety disorder is absolutely crippling. It’s a 24 hour constant disorder  – not emotion – that threatens to destroy you.

The strength a person needs to simply cope with such anxiety is tremendous and i’m tired…

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

Sensory Overload

Sometimes, things get a bit too much. Noises are everywhere. A pencil moving. A person breathing. A stereo. Then there’s lights; flashing lights, coloured lights, a quick flash, a constant light. There’s textures, tastes, smells, sights and sounds consistently – all of the time. All of these merge together and create a jumbled blurred mess of colours and sounds. This is sensory overload…

A sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. I am over sensitive to sounds, sights and tastes. I can’t hear you very well when you’re talking next to me, but if you’re on the other side of the room its not a problem. I can hear a door close on the other side of the house. I can hear someone sigh a mile away or turn a page in their book. Lights and objects jump around; and little details stand out more than the whole object or situation.  In terms of touch, I am under sensitive. I have a high tolerance to pain, and I need deep pressure from others when I feel completely overwhelmed.

Imagine a sensory overload. A complete rush of sounds, sights, smells, textures and tastes. A complete blur of people, noises, the environment, cars, the street, even your own mind.

A noise in your head that rumbles and screeches. People, lots of people. Heat. Too much touch. No time to think. Too many flashing lights and sign posts. Too much visible information. Too much sound. People talking. People typing on laptops. A page of a book. A pencil hitting the floor. People laughing. Music. Not enough touch. Trapped. Cold. Heavy breathing. Sweating. Tired….a sensory overload.

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How do you spot a sensory overload?

Signs of a sensory overload or meltdown include:

  • Irritability
  • “Shuts down”, or refuses to participate in activities and/or interact with others
  • Avoids being touched or reaches out for touch
  • Gets agitated or upset
  • Covers eyes around bright lights
  • Makes poor eye contact
  • Covers ears to close out sounds or voices
  • Complains about noises that do not affect others
  • Has difficulty focusing
  • Over-sensitivity to touch, movement, sights, and/or sounds
  • Has trouble with social interactions
  • Extremely high or extremely low activity levels
  • Muscle tension
  • Stimming – repetitive behaviours such as rocking, hand flapping and skin picking
  • Fidgeting and restlessness
  • Panic attacks
  • Angry outbursts
  • Sleeplessness/fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating

Helping somebody with sensory overload

The quickest way to calm somebody down during a sensory overload is to remove that person from the environment in which the overload occurred.

If other symptoms alongside a sensory overload occur, work on these also. Panic attacks include heavy breathing, disorientation, low body temperature and severe panic. Once a person recovers from this, their senses may calm down also. Anger should be dealt with alongside an overload if it occurs.

Deep pressure against the skin combined with individual input often calms the nervous system in places such as the legs or the hands. Constantly reassuring and pressure to the person’s body allows them to know you’re there whilst keeping them with reality.

Reducing sensory input such as eliminating distressing sounds and lowering the lights can help. Calming, focusing music works for some.

Talking or repeating the person’s name may help them establish their surroundings, the people they are with and what they are currently going through. This may encourage the person to calm themselves down, or reaching out to somebody to help.

Stimming or self-soothing behaviours should not be stopped unless they pose risk to the person suffering the sensory overload. These behaviours often allow the person to calm down and come out of an overload.

If a quick break or intervention does not relieve the problem, an extended rest is advised. It is important in situations of sensory overload to calm oneself and return to a normal level.

Sensory Overload Virtual Reality Video

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

A New Diagnosis

So today we may have reached a good point in terms of ‘recovery’. I had a meeting with my DA to discuss referral processes for a new diagnosis. I did a referral test which gave a result of 10 out of 10 and have now been processed onto a referral to wait for assessment.

I’m not going into this ‘diagnosis’ until I have 100% confirmation that it is the diagnosis we have been searching for.

Either way, new and positive things may be coming up in the future that will help explain my entire life, my behaviours, my problems, my anxiety, and so forth.

It’s been a rough 24 hours and I have took about 10 steps back in terms of being ‘stable’. My depression has thrived in my defeated mind this last week and my anxiety has not been in my control. Either way, 12 hours later after 10 panic attacks, I’m feeling ready to fight again.

I think people underestimate the struggle of trying to remain ‘okay’ when you battle with so many internal illnesses.

Every single hour of every single day is a big deal for somebody struggling.

This morning was a success – leaving the house, getting a bus and attending two appointments before getting the hour journey bus back.

Little steps are everything.

Please keep trying to make those little steps and push and push and push until you get the help you feel you need.

Love you all, hope you’re doing well! ❤

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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.


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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

Why I Became ‘Open’…

I haven’t blogged much this month and there’s a reason for that, but I am always so grateful to have the opportunity to encourage and inspire others who are struggling and to take up so many opportunities to change society. That is why I want to talk about the reason I first became ‘open’ about my mental health problems.

In 2015, I began working with the charity Fixers. Previous to this, I was completely closed up and private about my mental health problems. Around 2005 I started experiences more anxiety that affected my daily life. I became more withdrawn from friends, took comfort in being by myself and avoided anything that made me anxious. For years I kept my feelings and my thoughts hidden in fear that there was something wrong with me or that people would think I was ‘crazy’. It wasn’t until 2009 that my family found out there was something wrong when my self harm became apparent. However, that was only the icing on the cake and the majority of my thoughts and feelings continued to  be kept guarded. A few weeks of therapy and everything was done and dusted.

So why did I decide to open up about my mental health?

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I was forced. Now the word ‘forced’ doesn’t necessary need to be seen as bad. Yes, I was forced to open up about my problems because I had no other choice but opening up did bring some good things. As most people know, in 2013 I developed Anorexia Nervosa that was discovered in late August/early September of 2014 when I was unable to function or even exercise, and refused to eat or drink. As each year went on, my mental health problems got worse and more and more problems developed. It became increasingly difficult to keep everything hidden. Self harm intensified, my body image worsened, my Depression began to turn suicidal, and my Anxiety increased so much I was having panic attacks everyday that were hours in length. It was impossible to hide the fact that I wasn’t okay. In 2014, I began treatment for Anxiety and Depression and was referred to CAMHS after a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. Like a lot of young people in Wales, I was failed by the NHS’s mental health service.

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In 2015, I found fixers and met with my YPC Jenny who was amazing from day 1. I had a mission to prevent other young people going through what I had gone through. I wanted society to change. I wanted educational settings like colleges (who failed to help me or spot the signs) to become more aware of mental health and mental illness and I wanted the government to listen. I wanted the stigma to end. I began a journey of self-discovery and eventually made my film ‘Anxiety & Me’ which has been shown in schools and educational settings as well as being featured in the South Wales Argus and on ITV Wales. From there, I began talking about mental health disorders in order to help others struggling and to spread awareness and understanding to those who were oblivious.

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Opening up about your mental illness is said to be the first step in acceptable and recovery. Talking about mental health problems not only makes you feel a lot less stressed and relaxed but also encourages others to talk about mental health which in turn reduces the stigma.

Life is not easy, and God forbid it never will be, but being open in relation to my mental health problems did bring a lot of good, despite the bad.

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

I am socially anxious…

Anxiety has no discrimination. It can affect anyone from any background, any ethnic group, any age, any gender, any religion – anyone. Anxiety affects all aspects of a person’s life every single day of the year. It cannot be cured – it is a long term condition – but it can be managed.

Having anxiety means…

You worry that something you say or do will make someone else unhappy,

You can’t meet new people or talk to strangers,

It’s hard to make friends, or keep old ones,

Leaving the house makes you feel anxious,

Sometimes talking at home makes you feel uneasy,

It’s impossible to answer the phone or work up the courage to ring someone,

You count money over and over when waiting at a till because you’re scared you haven’t got enough money.

You hate using public transport,

You have panic attacks for no reason at all,

Any time a group of people laugh in a room, you think they’re laughing at you,

You hate walking into a room full of people because you feel they are judging you,

You replay conversations in your head for hours,

Your life is structured around what other people think,

You want everything to be perfect,

You feel like people are always watching you,

It’s hard to ask people for help,

You feel like everything you do looks silly,

You know what you have to do to be social but you just can’t do it,

You know the fear is irrational but nothing you do gets rid of it….

Anxiety is damaging. Anxiety is misunderstood. Anxiety is not rude, anti-social, shy, a lack of confidence…it is a mental health condition…

Let’s end the stigma.

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

The REAL reality of Anxiety

I think a lot of people underestimate the true effects of anxiety on a person’s life. Having an anxiety disorder is not worrying about going to the dentist or worrying about passing your upcoming exam. Having an anxiety disorder can become pathological and maladaptive. They can cause distress that interferes with your ability to lead a normal life. Anxiety can be a serious mental illness. Suffering with an anxiety disorder means having a constant and overwhelming worry and fear which can be crippling.

Anxiety has prevented me from doing so much. It has stolen my childhood. It is so difficult to do normal everyday things when the anxiety inside you is so loud you can’t ignore it. It’s so devastating, but people underestimate it. If you tell someone you suffer with an anxiety disorder they just say, “oh, so you’re feeling anxious? why don’t you just stop worrying?”. How can I just stop worrying? My fears are irrational, they are constant. They do not stop. Not ever. I am not just anxious. I am not just feeling anxious. I am mentally ill. I am suffering with a severe mental illness that prevents me from living every single day.

I can always tell when my anxiety is worse some weeks than others. Over the past couple of weeks my anxiety has been quite high, probably an nearing a 10 out of 10. My anxiety presents me with physical symptoms – inability to make eye contact, inability to remain still, sweating, movement and clapping of the hands, heart palpitations, dizziness, difficulty breathing, cyanosis to the nails and nose and panic attacks. Sometimes it prevents me from sleeping, leaving the house, or interacting.

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The above picture was taken in November 2014 – a month filled with severe mental illness, suicidal thoughts and behaviours, 4 hour long panic attacks and the inability to remain at college. I took the picture to show the true effects of what anxiety does to you – cyanosis in the finger nails due to lack of oxygen. Having an anxiety disorder is not attention-seeking nor is it over-exaggerated or simply an emotion. An Anxiety disorder causes very REAL physical symptoms.

I wanted to highlight the true effects of having an anxiety disorder in this post because I feel like suffering with anxiety can often be misunderstood and looked over. Anxiety can be a severe and life-threatening mental health illness that can prevent function in daily life and lead to self-harming behaviours and suicide.

Please be disorder aware and be mindful of those suffering with poor mental health

Watch my short film on Anxiety