Mental Health Awareness Week: MY TOP TIPS!

mental health, Uncategorized

To continue my posts for my Mental Health Awareness Week.

As I’ve spoken about in the past, I have had alot of therapies, counselling, support etcetc.. within my short life with regards to coping with stress and anxiety. I thought for mental health awareness week it was only right to share my favourite coping mechanisms.

Chewing Gum

Distraction from your thoughts is really importnt- whether you chew gum, click a pen or fiddle with something- detracting your thoughts elsewhere is a good idea.

Medicate if necessary

There seems to be a huge stigma around medicating for mental illness- I was put on medication for my mental health and have been on a variety of different ones ever since. It is a big decision to make and requires regular slow monitoring. Medication is not a cure for mental health issues, however, along side therapies it can be of great support.

Lavender

I just find lavender so calming! I have lavender oil in an air purifier/ diffuser. lavender pillow spray, a bag of lavender in the box I store my bedsheets in. For me I’m very sensory- smells really make me feel better. If you ever walk into my room you’ll be hit with a concoction of oils, melts, incense, candles, lush products, air fresheners- all sorts. I like everything to smell nice as it’s comforting.

Write your thoughts down-

Sometimes we react to situations before we think. Writing down frustrations can ease tension with others and help us rationalise our thoughts.

Brain Dump-

Feeling stressed:(???? Write every word that comes to mind on the paper- even if its the most totally random word ever, it helps to get everything out your brain! Categorise them into things that are in your control and things that are not. Rip up and throw away any worries which you cannot control- taking them out of you brain and into the bin. Organise a plan surrounding each small worry to eventually cross them off your worry list..

Have a plan so you don’t become overwhelmed-

Sadly in life there are things we have to do that we don’t want to. The quicker and more efficiently you can get these tasks done, the sooner you are able to do something you love. Planning what needs to be talked about in an important doctors appointment or what you need to buy in the shops on a Saturday when you’ve got three toddlers running riot with you can help maintain structure and allow tasks to be completed quicker. I’m awful at remembering things so I strongly recommend writing conversations or reminders/ to do’s down for later you. Feeling prepared for challenges helps ease anxiety.

Don’t worry about future you-

As Cringey as it sounds, no one knows what the future holds- we cannot fly ahead into the future or teleport to the past. Focus on the now. The present. Your happiness. Your life now. DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU RIGHT NOW AND FOCUS ON THE REST LATER.

Your Grades are not the most important thing in the world- exam anxiety-

Test or exam anxiety is one of the most common forms of anxiety- I used to faint, cry, hyperventilate, be sick in exams. WHY?! Has anyone ever asked me for my grades for XYZ? No! Whether it’s a small test at work or your A levels your grades do not define who you are as a person- it is likely you will be able to retake, ask for advice or ignore the results. Why we put so much pressure on kids from such a young age is beyond me!

Name 5 things you can see, hear, smell, touch- Grounding Technique

This is a great calming strategy- say them out loud.

Talk to people

Talking to friends and family about how you feel can be scary and you may feel you don’t want too burden them with your problems- therapists are a good second option if this is the case. They are qualified and paid to deal with other peoples issues. The act of hanging out with friends and talking often can raise moods as we become distracted and occupied with fun. Don’t feel you have to speak about issues as such- you can just generally have a chit chat! When my panic was at it’s worst, the act of someone asking ‘are you okay’ or me saying ‘ i feel really anxious/panicky’ would usually trigger a panic attack. My friends and family knowing how too behave to make me feel safe and conversations to distract me was beneficial. Communication is great.

Get out the house-

My Agoraphobia stemmed from not leaving the house in bouts of anxiety and depression. Very relevant to current times, it is important you leave the house when possible. Open the front door and sit on your drive if you don’t feel up to going miles from home or simply walk down your road. Your brain becomes conditioned to ‘liking’ being inside very quickly and it will only detriment your mental health. You do not need to go on 5 mile walks every day or sit in the garden 24 hours a day but simply getting out and about a little will maintain your social interaction with other humans even without speaking to anyone, the act of simply seeing another pair of arms and legs is useful to your brains coping strategy.

Don’t avoid your problems

LAUREN! This is one for myself. There is a cycle I tend to live my life by with relation to my physical health- boom and bust, all or nothing. Similarly I follow the same pattern with my mental health- I subconsciously ignore all my stresses until I hit breaking point- release all my feelings and then return back to neutral. This tends to repeat itself. Keeping your thoughts in only makes for emotional mood swings and subconscious changes in your behaviour.

Take a break and try again in a little while

Breathe in for 5 seconds and out for 8.

The idea with this is basically ‘breathe out more than you breathe in to maintain stable breathing’. As we become anxious we close up. We want to have bigger, deeper breaths. If you find yourself becoming tight chested or panicky focusing on maintaining your breathing is good. Weirdly for me if I didn’t have my sole focus on this it used to trigger panic (something to do with the OCD and counting breaths I’m sure!)

Know you aren’t alone

There is always someone who will speak to you, even if its a stranger online!

Understand others struggle too

Know the facts not your made up scenarios

Understand poor mental health can make fantasy feel like reality. We often make things worse than they are in our heads, assume people think certain things about us or read into behaviours strangely. Without knowing the facts we start to believe our own thoughts! Worried about something or someones opinion of you- ask them?

Drink lots of water

Water is amazing for everything. Skin, Brain. Bladder. I used to get very very light-headed, pins and needles or faint- I find water a great energy boost to ‘bring me back’ Again it’s another great distraction method- focusing on your gulps of water as opposed to things happening around you.

Have regular snacks or a mini squash bottle to maintain blood sugars-

Similarly carrying small snacks or a mini squash bottle is useful as we tend to feel low when we are hungry/ lacking in vitamins.

Communicate

Breathe out your nose- this will make you giggle!

Have a positive playlist

Have all your favourite music in one place. I have spotfiy playlists for every mood/ scenario!

Do something nice for someone

Doing something nice for someone else helps us feel better about ourselves.

Give yourself a gift-

We treat others to nice gifts or surprises- why not do the same to yourself.

Write a nice letter to yourself

Spa nights at home

This is one of my favourites- whenever my friends are feeling rubbish we have a spa night- I run the bath for them with epsom salts and candles, bubbles and bath bombs- spa sounds and fairy lights- colour changing lighting. Since doing beauty courses I’ll do facials or gel manicure/pedicures. These are my favourite types of evenings. So girly and my friends love it! My uni halls room was literally known as the detox room- everyone would go on their nights out be incredibly hungover and then come over to my ‘spa’ and eat pizza. AW I miss Uni! Corona go away.

Write your compliments

The most lovely lady on Facebook told me this! We are so quick to remember any negative comments about our appearance yet we don’t accept positive comments. I cannot think of one compliment in the last few weeks, yet I know I’ve received so many- since writing down my compliments, it enables me to see what other people think of me and maybe slowly I’ll start to believe it! (SIDE NOTE don’t comment on peoples appearance negatively- just let them be!) Give out compliments to others often!

Document your day went well today?

Write about one good thing from each day.

Find a fury friend-

Ahh… I wish I had a pet, they’re so good at comforting.

Get Creative/ paint or colour

Art is therapeutic!

Celebrate your small achievements

Haven’t brushed your hair for two weeks but you did today? WELL DONE!!

Cut out negativity from your life- it’s okay to prioritise your own mental health

I’ve always been a bit of a Negative Nancy, I’m trying my best to become more of a Positive Polly! Distance yourself from anyone that doesn’t fit to your new mindset until you feel strong enough.

Create a kindness kit (happy box)- see my blog post on these)

You are in control of your life- don’t let anyone else be.

I hope some or at least one of these tips will help you.

Love yourself, Look after yourself and be kind!

L xxx

M.E AWARENESS MONTH

Myalgic Encephalitis, Uncategorized

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

As part of a series of posts to raise awareness about chronic illnesses this month, today, I thought I’d talk about ME/CFS, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic fatigue syndrome. Thousands of people with this condition and others alike have been isolated for years and awareness week for ME could not have come at a better time. Every cloud has its silver lining: through the grief, pain, loneliness and suffering we are experiencing during these awful times, I can only hold onto the hope that things will be better. COVID-19 has formed strong communities, empathy and understanding. It has identified just how many people are considered ‘at risk’ and ‘extremely vulnerable’ people are helping their neighbours whilst forming new relationships with people who may ordinarily be housebound. I can only hope support continues.

Lockdown is really starting to enable everyone to understand just how isolating life can be when you are not able to take part in normal daily activities many of us take for granted. I have a great social network and would not say I am isolated from society, however I do spend long periods of time on my own, in bed, poorly or unable to do the things my peers can do. People seem to be gutted they can’t go on holiday, to the gym or clubbing. Standard?!? Now shops are shut, theme parks aren’t running and bars are closed, I can’t help but smirk a little. Working from home really wasn’t that hard. Home learning can be done- it is not ideal and took some getting used to, but it has been possible. As the world has found itself forced into a new way of living, I feel an intense buzz in my stomach. I can feel the empathy people will feel when things begin to return to normal and I cannot wait for some of the changes to occur which will benefit the disabled community so much. You now cannot tell me ‘NO’ As I will not take no for an answer. It has been proved in now, during these unprecedented times that anything is possible if we come to together. People will sadly continue to grieve post Covid-19. The ability to work from home could help the healing process. People with disabilities who have always been sick may be understood a little more. Maybe the inaccessible world will become a more accessible place- we can only dream. With social distancing measures taken and virtual tours anything is possible to boost quality of life. I refuse to stop rambling on about this topic until reasonable adjustments are made to support the lives of those considered the minority- the most vulnerable in society and not just the majority.

Okay… Back to telling you the details of ME!

Many people with ME have a comorbid condition (more than one diagnosis, such as a sleep disorder in addition to their CFS)M.E/CFS is a invisible illness which causes long bouts of intense fatigue. Ironically- it has taken me a while to write this post as I’ve been so fatigued and writing posts makes me soso tired! ME is characterised by a range of unexplained neurological symptoms as well as muscle pain with intense physical or mental exhaustion, frequent relapses and fluctuation of symptoms as well as cognitive difficulties. Many symptoms affect many of the bodies systems.

There are around 250,000 people in the UK alone who live with this long-term (chronic) illness to different severities.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is categorised into ‘mild, moderate & severe’ by professionals. Weirdly I’ve never been told what type of ME i have but I would guess I fit somewhere between moderate and severe.

People with mild CFS/M.E are mobile and can care for themselves. They can do light domestic tasks with fatigue and difficulty. Most people with mild CFS/ME are working or in full time education, but is likely that to maintain this, they probably have little social commitments. They often take days off due to fatigue or use their spare time coping with the after effects of the rest of the week.

People with moderate CFS/M.E have reduced mobility, they can walk short distances before becoming very fatigued. They are likely to be restricted in all activities of daily living, including cooking, cleaning, washing, although it is likely they have short periods of more energy. They will usually be able to do one out of 3 household activities in a day for example. They have usually stopped work, or their studies and need rest periods, often sleeping in the afternoon for one or two hours. People with moderate M.E are likely to have poor quality sleep at night.

People with severe CFS/M.E. are unable to do any activity for themselves, or can carry out minimal daily tasks only (such as face washing, cleaning teeth). They have severe cognitive difficulties and depend on a wheelchair for mobility. They are often housebound or have a severe and prolonged after-effect if they take part in activity. They may spend most of their time in bed, and are often extremely sensitive to light and noise.

All forms of M.E can have a significant impact on an individual’s day to day quality of life and not just on their health.

ME / CFS is not just being tired.

Ahhhh… the ‘I’m tired too’ ‘everyone gets tired’ ‘I had a really long nap today’ (usually an hour). ‘so you’re just tired all the time?’ ‘have you tried yoga?’ ‘Why don’t you try and push through- if you’re tired anyway?’ ‘Have you had a piece of lettuce’ ‘Have you tried going to bed earlier?’ ‘It’s because you use technology?!’ ‘My aunties grandmas cats uncles bat had ME and they got over it.’ ‘My Dogs friends uncle had ME, turns out it wasn’t ME, it was XYZ and they died.’ cheers pal. These comments. HAHA I am really really trying to learn that everything is relative and for someone who does not have a chronic health condition may not understand. They probably are tired too. But it’s more likely to be as a result of something and temporary as opposed to long term unexplained fatigue. Their really long nap could be unusual to them and may well be very long. No body is perfect and sometimes I have to remind myself not to be so bitter. I understand people are only trying to help therefore I don’t discourage comments, but somedays… ahh the frustration. On the plus side of having ME, I definitely am exceptionally emphathetic and if I see someone bleeding, crying, in pain etc… I have lots of ways to help fix it. I guess sadly, having a long term health condition, things that help fix an able- bodied persons’ ailment don’t really work for you.

How can I support my friend/ family member with ME?

Whilst I like to remain as independent as possible, sometimes I can accept I do need help. Little things such as hanging out my washing, answering the doorbell or going downstairs to get XYZ can help me preserve my energy. My friends are pretty amazing and most of them know my hospitality skills are no longer up to par- they let themselves in the front door so I don’t have to go down the stairs and they help themselves to food drink etc from the kitchen. Helping people with ME does not always have to be through practical things- many of us have care support for that.

Regularly staying in contact with your friend or family member who is struggling is important, a text or card can really brighten their day. People with chronic health conditions can often feel left out, unwanted due to not being ‘fun’ or sad they were unable to join in. Acknowledging their limitations whilst encouraging and supporting them is a great idea. Sometimes my friends come over and we nap together or sit in silence… on days I feel rubbish this is all I need! Being able to watch my energy limits and help me pace is also super useful. If I have a burst of energy I tend to go for the ‘lets go clubbing, shopping, swimming and to the pub’ all in one day. Accepting my moment of madness and understand I rarely have energy to do these things so doing one or two could be fun but also reminding me to pace myself. ‘CALM DOWN LORENZO YOUR BODY DOESN’T WORK, LET’S DO ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY INSTEAD OF ALL TODAY’ kinda thing.

ME is not caused by laziness. Apart from the obvious ‘chronic fatigue’ this is not the only symptom which accompanies the diagnosis of CFS...

Symptoms include or can be categorise into:

Feeling generally unwell and having flu-like symptoms, sweating, tender lymph nodes, sore throat.

  • This can often flare and last months.

Pain- aching, nerve pain, pins and needles, muscular, tendon pain, migraines, twitching muscles, abdominal pain or stomach cramps, bowel problems, back pain.

  • If pain is more significant as a symptom than fatigue- here is where fibromyalgia may be recognised. Patients with no pain symptoms are said to be in the minority. Although pain is definitely present in patients with ME, it is usually a secondary symptom to fatigue. Many patients do have have fibromyalgia and ME. The diagnostic process here can be hard.

Sleep- insomnia (struggling to sleep), hypersomnia (long periods of daytime sleepiness), Light or restless sleep, poor sleep hygiene or sleep reversal (your body clock works backwards.)

  • A lot of the support available for people with CFS involves assessing their sleep patterns.

Brain- problems with concentration, memory (“brain fog”), short- term memory issues, speech and language issues, inability to plan or organise, a poor attention span.

  • Commonly, those of us with ME struggle to manage our short- term memory- losing items, forgetting appointments, being particularly slow with tasks, I too also have conversations I have no recollection of due to fatigue. Many of us struggle with concentration and have poor attention span.

Nervous system- hot flushes, feeling cold, blood pressure issues, dizziness, intense sweating, poor circulation or bad balance.

  • I’m a sweaty beast!

Digestion- Nausea, IBS, loss of appetite, indigestion, wind, bloating, cramps, constipation and diahorrea.-

Increased sensitivities- food intolerances, odours, noises, lighting, alcohol or drugs.

  • The main allegens being Dairy and Wheat.

Autonomic: lightheaded, disorientation, feeling faint, palpitations, fainting, sitting to standing, laying flat to sitting blackouts.

  • Many people with ME also under go autonomic testing for abnormalities.

PEM or Post- exertional malaise: The exacerbation of symptoms after activity. The worsening of symptoms after partaking in any minor physical or mental activity. This can be anything from taking a shower to walking to the post box or having a phone call with a friend.

  • Feeling intense pain or fatigue after any form of activity or social interaction. A key diagnostic feature of ME/CFS is to do with how activities effect you- whether you’re symptoms worsen after activity etc. Post exertional malaise can be provoked by very minor exertions. (a great example of this would be, I had to post some flyers through doors on my street, no more than 15 houses- I walked… by the time I got home, I was absolutely wiped out- I had a six hour nap then went to bed at 8pm sleeping the night through till 10:30am. I continued to feel fatigued from this for the following two days & suffered pain in some joints. Including my fingers?!

MEACTION UK provide incredible fact sheets such as the one above.

MY M.E. STORY:

For about six months we assumed my fatigue was due to my depressive disorder, as we stabilised my mood with CBT and a variety of other therapies, as well as medication, it became apparent, as my mood increased my fatigue levels did not.

I took 60mg of Fluoxetine and 0.5mg of Flupentixol. ( I have put the specific amounts that worked for me, after a lot of trial and error, for any of you who may be struggling with the idea of medicating your mental health condition.)

I had hypersomnia due to my depressive disorder and suspect this could also have contributed to the hypersomnia i experience with my ME. I am still waiting on a sleep study to look into sleep disorders/ idiopathic hypersomnia. My new ‘record’ for hours spent asleep is 28 hours followed by 6 hours awake and 15 hours asleep prior.

Some Medical Professionals believe the condition to be brought on by a bout of illness, injury or viral infection, I had laryngitis about 5 times in the same year I broke my coccyx and developed the symptoms of intense fatigue. The only sensible link to how I may have found myself with ME would be here.

I got diagnosed in Luton just before I started university luckily this was for my Disabled Student’s Allowance…. Moving towns should be simple but unfortunately not- I have spent two years chasing a referral to the CFS clinic and a re-diagnosis from a specialist in Brighton in order to get the right support. I’m due to see a specialist any moment now…. oh coronavirus

No… alarms do not wake me up. I need to be physically shaken some days or woken multiple times. If woken by someone it is unlikely I will wake up. On days where my fatigue is particularly bad, my mum could wake me four or five times and I have no recollection of her even trying to wake me.

Help understanding CFS/ME:

MEassociation have amazing in depth articles into the life of those with ME- they do absolutely great work in the UK to support people with ME of all ages & all severities. They raise awareness, help run charity fundraising events and give emotional support to its members. Many GP’s do not feel confident in diagnosing ME or recognising symptoms and they therefore seek advice from organisations such as MEassociation. They work exceptionally closely with their own scientists and doctors. They have an incredibly informative website if you would like to find out anymore. Their support available is exceptional and so very detailed!

ActionforMe Have amazing guidance which is very clearly explained to help aid patients with ME explain their condition to others. They offer help in navigating the healthcare system as well as school and work with ME. Their website is particularly easy to use which as someone with the condition I find this very important. Questions can be answered simply and quickly. Many of you may be intrigued to learn more about this condition, I have linked the website to ActionforME above.

MEaction.net They aim to advocate, inspire, reach and connect. They have great information with regards to current investigations into the condition. Put a lot of work into advocating for those with the condition including discussions with parliament. They do work in internationally to support people with the same condition across the globe. For those of you who are interested in learning more information on the work they do, I have linked their website.

I cannot applaud these three charities enough in the help they have offered me in a crisis.