Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

My Mental Health Story – Martin O’Doherty

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Hello everyone, my name is Martin and I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 27. Having lived with what I knew were bizarre thoughts, silly fears and avoiding the things that set off my anxiety for 17 years already, I just thought I was a little weird, or different! I never quite understood why I’d get ‘bad thoughts’ or ‘weird thoughts’ and just considered myself some random anomaly. I’d never heard of the term ‘intrusive thoughts’ until I became unwell myself. If you too haven’t they are very unpleasant, unwanted and involuntary thoughts that are ego dystonic in nature. Ego dystonic means that the content of the thoughts is contrary to who you are! They are distressing, terrifying and awful to live with.

I grew up in the north west of England, where I struggled with school, work, friends, you name it! My ‘thoughts’, or OCD as I now realise, had a knack of getting in the way of everything. That was until I applied to train as an Occupational Therapist in 2006. University had been therapeutic for me. I was immersed in studies about something I was passionate about (helping others) and I was so engrossed that my ‘bad thoughts’ didn’t seem to plague me as much. I graduated with first class honours and was proud as punch in my achievement too, having been told I would never amount to anything when I was school! Now I was going to be a mental health professional! Boy was I in for a shock when I realised I was going to end up being referred to as a “service user” rather than a mental health professional.

 

In 2010, my career crumbled. I became ill! I never thought this would happen to me. I thought that it was the kind of thing that happened to the ‘service users’ I’d planned to be the therapist for, or other people. Or just people who failed in life…Jeez I can’t believe I used to think that way! But I did!

My intrusive thoughts all centred upon harm coming to others, and me being directly responsible. It manifested through doubts on whether I’d contaminated friends and my family’s food or drinks. I couldn’t cope with the thoughts, or the doubts. They were always there. I’d only have to look at a bottle of household bleach and I’d be convinced I’d poured it into people’s food. The fear was paralysing. The last thing I’d ever want to do is harm someone, so why was I getting these awful thoughts in my head? I never heard of the term intrusive thoughts, and I certainly didn’t know about their ego dystonic nature, so I would get so anxious that I would throw away any food or drinks I was concerned about. I would shake, cry and rock back and forth, trying to figure out whether the thought of poisoning someone was a real memory, or my mind playing tricks on me. It eventually became easier to avoid food and drinks altogether.

Fast forward to 2013 and I started to make progress in my recovery. I began to open up about the intrusive thoughts that were keeping me in a state of fear and exhaustion. Doing this helped immensely, and I had no idea just how much it would!

The power that you can gain from disclosing what’s going on your head is truly remarkable. I went from being petrified of telling anybody my intrusive thoughts to enjoying the shock on the faces of those who I would open up to! They weren’t shocked because of the content of my thoughts, they were shocked because they too had been living with similar, and different intrusive thoughts. They thought they were the only one who had them! How wrong were they!

How do I manage my mental health now?

I am a believer that through using the power of disclosure, we can end the stigma associated with having ‘mental health’. Through it we can help others who struggle alone too. How many times have you worried what people will think if they could read the content of your thoughts? If people knew you were ‘mentally ill’ or couldn’t work for reasons associated with mental health! My guess is that you’ve lost count, as I had previously to disclosure!

In 2013 I decided to dedicate my life to helping others who had experienced OCD and lived with the terror of intrusive thoughts. I began running a support group for others who lived with OCD, and I for one can attest to how much it has helped, not only me but the many people I have met over the last 5 years of running it. I think everyone should join a support group. They can be so powerful! Just being around others who understand what you are going through, and have been there themselves is so reassuring. I’ve made lifelong friends along this journey and we support each other through the good and bad.

One of the most important aspects of my recovery journey though has been getting involved with Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.

I was fortunate to meet my manager one day just by chance. She was setting up what she referred to as “the Recovery Academy”. She explained to me that it was a college of sorts where courses would be cofacilitated and coproduced by experts by experience and mental health professionals! It was all aimed at combatting stigma, breaking down misconceptions and educating anyone who wanted to know more. As soon as I heard this I committed to working for her and wrote a whole course about my experience of living with OCD. In it I openly discuss the content of my intrusive thoughts and how it affects me on a day to day basis alongside a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. This course has been a platform for sharing my message of hope to hundreds of people across the north west. It has enabled me to use my experience of despair for a greater good, and that’s what I think we all should do. Use your story to inspire others and shape a new understanding of mental health. Tell people that everyone experiences odd thoughts, and they don’t mean you are odd! Experiencing intrusive thoughts and ‘mental health’ doesn’t mean you’re weak, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure…it means you’re human! We all have mental health and we all get intrusive thoughts, so let’s stamp out this stigma associated with it!

 

We would like to say a massive thank you to Martin for sharing his story with us for #TimetoTalkDay 2018. Martin also runs a great blog called ‘Overcoming Anxiety‘, where he talks about his personal experiences and gives others advice on coping mechanisms. You can also find Martin’s Facebook page here, and his Twitter here.

Debt, loan sharks and the impact on mental health

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

In the 21st century, the costs of modern living are abundant and ever-growing. Juggling life’s outgoings can be a tricky task for anyone, and financial struggles are a common occurrence not only in Salford, but nationwide.

One particular problem in the UK is the growing threat of loan sharks i.e. people that offer illegitimate, illegal loans. Typically, loan sharks will agree to lend money without any official paperwork or terms, leaving borrowers susceptible to dramatic increases in interest rates, which they are unable to repay. Loan sharks often use the threat of violence and blackmail to coerce victims in to keeping quiet and agreeing to their terms of repayment. Often but unjustly, loan shark criminals go unreported.

It is widely understood that debt and mental health are symbiotic. Research has revealed that 1 in 2 British adults with debt problems has mental health issues, and 1 in 4 British people with mental health conditions also have a debt problem (HCE Group, 2017). For those entrapped in agreements with loan sharks, the repercussions for their mental health can be severe. The stress, anxiety and fear instilled by growing costs and persistent threats enough to bring on a period of mental ill-health, or intensify someone’s existing conditions.

 

Stress, anxiety and mental health repercussions caused by loan sharks and debt

 

To clamp down on the prevalence of loan sharks, a new campaign designed to encourage victims to come forward and report loan sharks was launched this month. The ‘Why I Borrowed’ campaign, started by The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), aims to expose loan sharking as a crime, tell real life stories of those who have been affected, and help people to free themselves from the illegal entrapment of loan sharks.

Nationally, Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured more than 380 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to nearly 328 years’ worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £72.5 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 27,500 people.

 

 

 

As the ‘Why I Borrowed’ campaign has highlighted, involvement with loan sharks can have a particularly hostile impact on mental wellbeing; a recent study by IMLT revealed that over 60% of borrowers said they were in a state of worry, stress, depression or severe anxiety because of their involvement with a loan shark. This said, poor mental health as a result of financial strain can manifest itself in many ways.

Here at Mind in Salford, we offer advice to those struggling with debt, as we recognise that tackling such problems alone can be overwhelming and potentially detrimental to mental health. We offer one-to-one, confidential support; helping clients gain perspective by looking in to their rights, and developing a plan for the future. Recently, our team have assisted a client with extensive debts to recoup thousands through recovering mis-sold PPI, and challenging a ruling on the client’s benefits allowance. As a result, our team secured thousands for the individual – a truly transformative amount – enabling the client repay their debts and regain control of their life once again.

If you’ve got money troubles, it’s important not to feel embarrassed about seeking help, because it really could happen to anyone. Our debt and welfare advice services revitalise many people’s ability to plan for the future – a freedom that should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their background, income or mental health.

GETTING HELP

  • If you live in Salford and have a mental health condition that as been either intensified or brought on by debt, click here to visit our advice page, where you can find out more about the debt, welfare and benefits advice we offer. Here you will also find a downloadable referral form.
  • If you or someone you know are being affected by loan sharks, visit stoploansharks.co.uk or call the hotline on 0300 555 2222 to report a shark.

Blog – Living with Schizophrenia

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

My name is “Katherine” and I have suffered from schizophrenia for over 25 years. Sometimes I can’t believe I have had this condition for as long as I have.

It started when I was 25 and has almost become a part of me. The first few years I was at University and suffered with it alone; the first time I had a Psychotic Breakdown was when I was living as a student in Mexico.

The “startling phase”, as author Marius Romme puts it, is a very scary time when you don’t know what is happening to you. I knew I was “going mad” but couldn’t articulate what was happening to me, I half knew the voices weren’t real – but they seemed very real to me.

They never told me to do anything, but commented on me – something they still do sometimes, saying negative and abusive things about me. It is like all the negative things anyone ever said about me were stored in my subconscious, ready to pounce on me unawares.

A New Chapter

Up until last year I was working part time as an admin officer for a supported housing unit, and before that I worked for a mental health trust in the NHS. I found working very stressful – not so much because of the actual work, which I found quite therapeutic; but because the symptoms I suffered from, the paranoia and voices and anxiety, made it difficult at times.

I was dismissed from work in January because I had been off sick most of last year. Although my Salford employer were good, I was unable to carry on working because of my symptoms.

Dealing with the symptoms was made more difficult because of the lack of continuity of care I had when I moved to a different area – I got no help from the mental health team there. They referred me to my GP for care, and it wasn’t until I moved house back to Salford that my treatment improved. I saw a psychiatrist who increased my medication to help decrease the symptoms, and I now have a CPN too; it helps to talk to her about my issues once a month.

I now volunteer once a week , which is good for me – I get social interaction, and also do some work, which is good for the soul. I would like to be able to work again on a part-time basis when I eventually get a bit more control over my symptoms, although with something like Schizophrenia these are difficult to eradicate totally even with medication.

I am going to go to Mind in Salford’s Mindfulness course soon, which I hope will help with my anxiety. Problems with my neighbours make my anxiety and stress levels much worse, and cause lack of sleep – and these make my other symptoms worse.

I will also be undergoing a short course of CAT (cognitive analytical therapy) in Trafford, which I hope will help me control some of my symptoms.

I do a lot of reading and recommend “Accepting Voices” by Marius Romme, which explains all about voices and helps you to come to terms with them. There are many publications written by the Hearing Voices Network (who I used to volunteer for) and they are very helpful as well. Another good book I found was by a group of psychologists called: “Think You’re Crazy, Think Again”.

Living with Schizophrenia – and Stigma

Living with psychosis can be a full time job, especially if you don’t take medication, which I didn’t for the first few years. I didn’t see a psychiatrist until 1993, and it started in 1989. I did see student counsellors, but they weren’t much help, and didn’t realise I was as ill as I was – in fact I think they needed better training.

When I was at uni I was all at sea, I became more and more isolated, and the friends I did have didn’t understand, and weren’t very caring or compassionate. It was quite a lonely place.

I had psychotherapy at the Red House (1994-1996), where I met my husband and learned to understand myself and my parents better. I met a few good friends there as well, people that really understood me, and were on my wave length. They didn’t have schizophrenia, they had other mental health issues, but they could understand. I still have one good friend from the Red House today.

It is very difficult making friends with this condition. You are afraid of revealing too much information. To say you have Schizophrenia is to reveal yourself and to be judged by something so stigmatising; it is one of the last taboos. People make assumptions about you, are scared by you, dismiss you because they think you are the illness.

It doesn’t help that all the media broadcasts negative things about Schizophrenia, axe murderers, machete be-headers – in the same way that Jihadists are written about. There are rarely positive things written about people with the condition. They don’t say that people with Schizophrenia can be kind, can have their own house and job, and have loving relationships just like anyone else.

Life with Schizophrenia can be challenging, difficult and sometimes a nightmare – but there can be good times, times when you can enjoy the simple things in life, like a day out at the beach or a laugh between friends or partners, stroking a purring cat or even something mundane like a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

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This blog has courageously been written by one of our service users; “Katherine” wishes to remain anonymous to avoid facing more stigma in the future.

If you connect with anything within this blog, and would like more information or help, the Hearing Voices Network can be contacted via their website www.hearing-voices.org.

If you wish to find out more about our Mindfulness courses, visit our Mindfulness section; a referral form can be found there too.

Blog – Floating Through Your Anxiety

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

When I was suffering from really bad anxiety a few years ago, I discovered a self-help book by Dr Claire Weekes that helped me immensely.

Dr Claire Weekes was an Australian Psychologist who was very forward thinking and successful in her treatment of people with anxiety and depression. She wrote several bestselling books on the subject too.

One of the central themes of her recovery approach was to ‘float’ through anxiety. When the anxious thoughts and bodily sensations hit you, then simply imagine that you are floating. This act of imagining you are floating relieves both the psychological and physical tension of anxiety and allows the feelings, thoughts and sensations to simply wash over you and eventually pass. Over time this allows us to stop adding our fear of the anxiety to the equation and can lead to a reduction in those anxious feelings and thoughts. It’s breaking that cycle, the fear of the fear.

This is a sharp contrast to how most of us usually react when we are anxious; fighting with the anxiety, battling to stay in control, analysing ourselves, and holding on for just one more moment because we feel if we let go we’ll lose control and fall apart.

Claire Weekes encourages us to practice letting go; there’s no imaginary precipice that we’re going to fall over if we do…

Why not try it now.

Just practice simply letting go.

If you’re sitting let the chair take your full weight

See if you can get a sense of what letting go might mean for you.

If your anxiety builds then just imagine that you’re floating.

Letting the anxious feelings and thoughts just be there as you float, float, float…

And let go.

The more you practice this the easier it gets but you have to give it a little time and be patient. It can help you to overcome your anxiety and panic. It’s the giving up our struggle and fight with anxiety that allows us to recover. It can also help if you’re experiencing sleep problems because of anxiety, simply practice floating until you drop off to sleep.

Like I said, I used all of her techniques when I was experiencing debilitating anxiety several years ago and I can say hand on heart that it helped to set me on the road to recovery.

Books by Claire Weekes:

  • Self Help for Your Nerves: Learn to relax and enjoy life again by overcoming stress and fear
  • Essential Help for Your Nerves: Recover from Nervous Fatigue and Overcome Stress and Fear
  • Markus has also previously written a blog on learning to Hug the Black Dog

    Blog – Talking about Depression…

    Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

    There has been a lot of public debate about mental health recently, specifically relating to depression and suicide.

    Two key phrases I’ve heard repeatedly are ‘ask for help’ and ‘talk more about mental health’. Whilst this is encouraging I feel these sentiments can be misconstrued to place all the responsibility on dealing with depression with the person suffering from depression.

    Asking for help is not always easy – depression often goes hand in hand with low self esteem, and without being prompted, without being asked, there can be a tendency to think that others do not care how you are, and that you are not important enough to be helped.

    Talking about mental health is not always easy – constantly having to find a way to explain what it is like, that depression is a fatiguing & debilitating condition, not just being a little sad; that the anxiety you have is a little different to feeling a little afraid of flying.

    Media stereotypes of other conditions make talking about them even harder – trying to explain the terror involved in OCD without someone thinking it’s a big joke, trying to explain the voices in schizophrenia without someone thinking you are a ‘crazed mental patient’.

    How do I help someone who is suffering?

    In the age of the internet, with Google, Wikipedia and mental health resources like Mind at your fingertips, why does the person who is ill have to justify themselves repeatedly? If you care about someone, look up the condition, understand it a bit more, and ask considerate questions of the person who is ill. Often it can feel like you are being asked to prove that there is really something wrong with you, rather than the asker showing compassion for the person suffering.

    One of the biggest things you can do for someone who is depressed is to ask them how they are and to spend some time with them. Show them you care. Don’t shun them because they are finding it difficult to talk to people or socialise – withdrawal is a symptom of the illness.

    It’s also important to talk about more than just mental health – because someone is ill doesn’t mean they become just the illness. Talk about your own life too, talk about football, films, music, celebrities or even (grimace) tennis if that’s what you would normally talk about with the person.

    It can be extremely soul destroying suffering from mental health problems, finding out that you don’t have complete control over your mind. Some people don’t want to talk about their mental health problems – but that doesn’t mean you don’t talk to them at all! Most people still need to feel wanted, to have some evidence to counter the misinformation about their self worth coming from their own minds.

    How do I find out more about mental health

    It’s important if you haven’t experienced mental health issues to be aware of its effects so you can help those close to you. It’s important if you have a mental health condition to understand that you are not alone, that others suffer the same and (sooner or later) recover their health.

    I’ve previously written about anxiety, depression and me, and our manager Markus has written about how he learnt to hug the black dog. There are many more really good mental health blogs out there – Time to Change is a good place to start, and I’m a fan of Black Dog Runner’s blog too.

    At Mind in Salford we run Mental Health Awareness Training for organisations, helping them to support and understand people better. The training helps you to be more aware of the actual symptoms of mental health issues, re-thinking the tabloid stigmas and thinking about how you can help everyone’s mental health, whether they have mental health problems or not.

    As stated above, Mind also have many well written guides to various mental health conditions and other related topics, and Time to Change have some basic myth-busters and tips on talking to people who are ill.

    Blog – Anxiety, Depression and Me

    Thursday, July 10th, 2014

    I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety for three years now, and it is really getting me down.

    I am writing a short personal account about my depression and anxiety because I strongly believe that being open and honest about mental illness helps reduce the stigma and discrimination that people face – and helps people struggling themselves with their own mental health problems.

    My experiences with depression

    This is not the first time I have suffered from depression, having had a prolonged and serious episode at university, but since then I had kept it largely under control, working full-time for the next 9 years, with many and varied responsibilities and consistent promotions, as well as a total of less days absence than years worked.

    I continued during the first 9 months of depression to work full-time, but mistreatment at work combined with the loss of managers, structure & friends due to their redundancy were taking their toll on my private life, where I was withdrawing more and more from the slightest activity or contact.

    This withdrawal I suppose was a subconscious fear of getting too close to people and then losing them – I have not been in communication with my parents for many years, my remaining grandparents died shortly before the depression set in and close friends had moved and/or drifted away in the same period. The redundancies of friends and my management team subsequently added to these losses, and consequently deepened my anxiety, depression and ongoing problems with sleeping.

    It all came to a head when I was shot down on attempting to stand up to the bullying and neglect at work, and I quickly imploded, not sleeping for a number of days and doubting myself to the point of being ready to attempt suicide.

    An intervention from my GP and the mental health crisis team meant that I ended up in hospital rather than dead, but by this time anxiety had set in like I had never previously known. I was having panic attacks going outside, and was anxious all the time.

    Over the next few months I began a recovery supported by the unrelenting positivity, compassion and communication from my sister, together with support from a couple of friends. After a major breakthrough in counselling allowed me to stop heaping blame on myself so much, I returned to work part-time.

    A few months at work, and, despite some effort, a continued lack of support and understanding, together with a failure to resolve the problems with mistreatment, led to my depression and anxiety deepening again. After many months of psychology, I returned to work a second time and despite one manager making a concerted effort, I was disenfranchised and had a similarly rough experience. People continued to make assumptions on what I was thinking, and what I could and could not do, and there was a continued failure to resolve the original problems. With my self-worth once again reduced to near zero, I ended up leaving about a year ago.

    Through all this time, the anxiety about going outside has remained – meaning I have often gone a day or two without food until hunger has trumped anxiety – and then I’ve gone to the corner shop and ended up stuffing myself with pies and/or chocolate.

    I’ve developed food intolerances whilst suffering from anxiety, which has made going out for food even more difficult. I’ve struggled to get out of bed for days at a time, been fatigued almost constantly, and fairly often fallen into a trance trying to make decisions.

    I’ve struggled to look after myself at all – to clean myself, my flat, clothes or dishes, to cook, to spend time enjoying myself or relaxing. My concentration has been awful with any passive tasks like reading or watching TV, and I’ve struggled with a lack of any motivation much of the time – with headaches, exaggerated anxious reactions and a clouded mind making this even worse.

    My mental health has put considerable strain on my relationship with my sister, and around the time I quit work it had really started taking its toll. My sister has had to greatly reduce her contact with me to protect her own mental health, and together with the much reduced social contact due to not working, and more friends departing from regular contact, the brief upturn in my mood following leaving work was not sustained.

    Over the last year I have gained purpose and friendship through volunteering with Mind in Salford, and have also resumed going to counselling – and combined these have managed to keep me together enough to keep going most of the time. I can not emphasize enough how important a purpose, social contact and discussing my problems are for me to maintain any semblance of mental health.

    Over the last couple of months I have made a few steps towards a recovery – the first being asking for help (and receiving it!). Thanks to the support of Diane (one of Mind’s advocates), I am finally getting support to address my anxiety, and am finally getting seen by a psychiatrist to reassess my treatment.

    The hope gained from this medical and support intervention is keeping me improving and I’m still positive that I can recover with the right help, despite ups and downs in my ongoing recovery.

    I urge anyone who feels they are not getting appropriate help or support, who feels they are not being heard, it is important that you reach out for help. Asking for help from an advocate can help this plea be heard – and provide hope.

    Reaching out

    If you identify with anything in this blog, please ask for help. Mind in Salford’s advocates can be contacted on 0161 839 3030, and there are further contacts in our more help section.

    Blog – Hugging the Black Dog

    Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

    I got into working in mental health because at the tender age of 20 I had a breakdown and suffered to varying degrees with anxiety and depression for the next 20 or so years. I found the practice of Mindfulness about 10 years ago, attending a class at the local Buddhist Centre, treating it more as a bit of fun and a giggle with a friend than anything that could seriously help my mental wellbeing.

    Then 3 years ago I started looking at it in more depth. My work was crazy busy with lots of changes and I was feeling the pressure. I started to get the old familiar feelings of anxiety rearing its ugly head, waking up in the middle of the night worrying, having the shakes during the day, and imagining in painful detail how my life would be when I couldn’t cope and I lost my job, my house, my relationship, my sanity.

    I bought some books on Mindfulness and started listening to the accompanying CDs. I went at it with great fervour, determined to rid myself of the evil beasts of worry and low mood. Every day I meditated, every day I checked if my anxiety had gone… it hadn’t. Surely the next day or the day after I would reach a blissful state and be able to live my life without fear. I would be bullet proof, bomb proof, able to carry on through extreme adversity, rescue small dogs from burning buildings.

    Of course not, Mindfulness has worked for me but not in the way that I expected it to. I was trying so hard to rid myself of my ailments, fighting with myself, pushing thoughts and feelings away. My expectation was ridiculously high and my results were depressing.

    Then shortly afterwards the concepts of mindfulness started to click with me. I realised I’d spent most of my life fighting with my condition, trying to be strong and power through depression, push away anxiety. Busying myself, distracting myself and beating myself up when that failed and my problems seeped through papered over cracks. Winston Churchill used to describe his depression as ‘the black dog’ and I realised what mindfulness was telling me, you have to hug the black dog.

    It’s about changing your relationship to stress, depression and anxiety, just letting them be there, giving up the fight. It’s learning to approach them with curiosity and even warmth. That doesn’t mean becoming resigned to always feeling like that, it just means those feelings are there in this moment so just let them be there, just for now, just as much as you can. It’s like a reed bending in the wind, rather than resisting and bracing against it and eventually breaking. Once you give up the struggle with your problems then they can be transformed. It might take a while, it might take a long while, but it can change.

    Three years down the line my anxiety and depression are very different. They still appear sometimes but I can cope much better with them, I’m much more resilient. I hardly ever wake up in the middle of the night worrying anymore and my low moods tend to drift in and drift out occasionally, not sticking around like they used to. I’m learning to hug my own black dog.