‘But I talked to him yesterday, and he seemed fine’

So the co-founders of blink have not just got huge not for profit, business acumen and campaign experience behind them; they also have experience of mental ill health and being stuck on huge waiting lists or refused treatment from the NHS. Blink was born out the frustration and determination to help other people. 17 people a day kill themselves in the UK and Mike, one of the co-founders, was nearly part of that statistic. He talks below about being labelled ’high-functioning’ and the impact that can have.

So I’ve been told by various medical professionals that I’m one of the ‘high-functioning’ ones. High functioning depressive to be precise. 

And at first it sounds like a compliment. And I thought it was.

Sure, of course I’m grateful that I can work, and I have got friends and I am achieving things. No doubt about that.

But we are the ones that could be on a knife edge between working full time, socialising, and suicide. Well I am anyway.

When I was at what I call my lowest (defined because I had 4 months off work, hospitalised for a month, voluntary sectioned, and a 9 year relationship breakdown); people at work would tell me ‘you’ll get through this’, ‘you can talk to me any time’, ‘stay strong’. I have some amazing work colleagues and friends who, have 100% helped me get through my darkest days, and I appreciate every single one of them.

But some people still have no idea.

No idea that 18 months on when I ‘seem a lot better’ in their words, that I’m still suicidal.

No idea when they tell me ‘I told you you’d get through it’ , that I haven’t. And I still get suicidal.

No idea....you get the picture.

The thing is I don’t qualify for talking therapy on the NHS and I cannot afford private. And there’s 100,000 in my position. What do we do ?

I hate when people say ‘Don’t let your mental illness define you...’ as they clearly have no experience of having one. Of course I don’t let it define me, and I’m trying to get rid of it. I’m ashamed writing that, but I’m ashamed by having it. And I want it gone.

But after thirty odd years on this planet of it not flaring up, not being suicidal, not being diagnosed with having mental ill health; to this. How can it not define me just a little bit. How can it not be a part of me. Even if I don’t want it to be.

Truth is I’m scared that one day it may be too much. I’m scared that I now have to live with this. Forever. To cope with it. Forever. To identify my triggers and solider on.

Why? Because I’m a highly functioning depressive. But please look out for us too, because tomorrow could be my last

We appreciate every like, every share and every comment we receive. Without you blink wouldn’t be able to exist. But we are also a small not for profit, and if you fancying donating to help provide rapid peer and professional support, when people need it most. It would mean everything to us. It is a cliche but any amount can help make a huge different to people’s lives. Our go fund me page is  https://www.gofundme.com/afdgxk-blink-the-mental-health-campaign

thank you from Mike & Nicole (blinks founders) 

 

A demon called Ana

It’s fantastic we have certain weeks or months to highlight mental health or various types of mental ill health; as we can really raise awareness to a wider audience.    

However, blink is a big believer in talking about mental health all year round. Eating Disorder Week has recently passed, but below is an amazing piece where Jodie describes the fight between ‘Ana’ and herself 

As a young girl I was unbelievably headstrong, making me (what I thought was) unstoppable. But I'd never have guessed that being so headstrong could be manipulated by a mental illness. Anorexia nervosa. Or as I refer to it - Ana.

My battle with anorexia lasted for 3 years; in and out of general hospitals, IP units and therapy, yet no therapist could ever understand Ana like I do. When I first started hearing the voice, I was terrified and vulnerable. My best friend had died so I was hugely depressed and I wanted perfection from my academics...but I truly believed my own brain was morphing into a nasty, destructive voice. Ana manipulated my headstrong self, to become a violent, secretive, compulsive liar..and a suicidal one at that.

I fought for my life in hospital, and suffered huge amounts of internal damage before I realised..she was killing me. Like a demon unleashed in my body, Ana was headstrong...she wanted me dead.

Though, after a long and rocky road to recovery, me and my family began to distinguish between me and Ana. Jodie was creeping free from her evil grasp, and she hated every minute of my new found love for life! She shrieked at me constantly, attempting to clutch back any form of power. But by this time, I realised that although Ana is in my head, she does not define me.

Jodie was free. Jodie IS free.

Not only from physical agony, but persistent mental drain. The minute I stopped giving Ana the power to take my life, is the moment I started living. Anorexia can be beaten, for she is NOT a representation of you, she is merely a bully who picks on the vulnerable. You can get your own voice back. You can win. You can be free.

Jodie’s journey can be followed over on her Instagram @Jodie_eats_to_live

Man Strong

The equivalent of 90 men die by suicide each week, in the UK alone. Yes, you read that right, 90 men a week. And in the UK men remain three times as likely to take their own lives than women, and in the Republic of Ireland four times more likely *

So when Will reached out to us to share his piece on male peer pressure and mental health, we jumped at the chance to hear his story. We don’t hear from men like Will enough, and we need too. This is why blink feels it’s important to give people like Will a voice; but also why our ultimate aim is to provide free rapid professional and peer support when people need it most. Thank you Will for the incredible piece below.

There is no way to sugar coat it. The single biggest killer of men under the age of fourty-five in the UK is suicide**

Its not driving too fast, its not smoking, its not even showing off and doing something ridiculously stupid. It is choosing to take one’s own life as a realistic, perhaps even practical choice over struggling on in the face of societal attrition. Attrition might seem a harsh word. A word normally saved for the portrait of the horrors of World War One. Yet it is difficult to find a word more suited to the situation we face. Adversity people like to call it. Character building stuff.

With just under 50% of men between the ages of 18 and 50 years old having admitted contemplating suicide we find ourselves in danger of isolating a huge section of society by simply following outdated social mores and insisting that nothing more than a stiff upper lip or a can-do attitude will see us over the finish line. The question is then, I suppose… What finish line? At what point do we as individuals; regardless of gender, race, or sexuality, decide that we’ve achieved what we (or society) expect from us?

‘’How is work? Oh, and the kids? Well I hope.’’ But when was the last time anybody actually opened up to that question? When was the last time you asked somebody how they were and (God forbid) they actually told you? As the Late Heath Ledger is quoted as saying ‘’Everyone asks you about your career, if you own a house or are married. But no one ever asks if you’re happy.’’ And here lies the crux of the matter. With Mental Health Awareness becoming more and more talked about in everyday life (and very rightly so!) we find ourselves in a hugely paradoxical, perhaps moreover hypocritical situation. We encourage one another to open up. There is no shame in reaching out. So why then do so many men find themselves discouraged to do so?

I have found that I have been pleasantly surprised by my own discussions of my personal mental health struggles. So much so in fact, that when I have opened up about how I’ve been feeling about ¾ of my male friends admitted to feeling the same. Strength is seen as providing, bringing home the bacon, being the authoritarian in the household when the kids get unruly. Being the shoulder to cry on when things get tough. Driving the five-door family car with the nice badge on the front thank you very much!

Yet when one does open up, you can and most doubt will, or have been overwhelmed by the support and understanding you are shown by those you hold nearest and dearest. So much so in fact, that it is usually the ones who you least expect to understand that can bamboozle you with an outlook on life that reassures you in a way you didn’t know possible. Every person you meet knows something that you don’t, after all.

While it’s true that many men don’t share their emotions because that is what they have been taught to do it is time to change that philosophy. We hide behind bravado and jokes and finger pointing. By sticking our chests out and by buying the manliest razor with the most blades the company can possibly fit on-to said razor.  It is, simply put. Rubbish. Toxic masculinity at its worst. The perpetuated idea that masculinity equals strength (and vice versa) signifies that men should solider on or simply man up in the face of the aforementioned social attrition. The idea of the alpha-male in modern society is a dangerously outdated and simplistic stereotype. It is anxiety inducing and it is as archaic as sexism, racism, pretty much any and all isms to be fair!

Toxic masculinity divides. It isolates and unfortunately, it kills. I finished school twenty years ago now and have sadly lost two classmates to suicide. Two too many. If male suicide was a disease it would be considered an epidemic that would be discussed in the national news daily.  So, then I encourage others regardless of age, race, or gender to reach out. Reach out to a friend. Reach out to a parent. Reach out to a teacher or a colleague or a stranger. Just reach out. You might surprise yourself with just how good it feels. Real strength comes not from bottling up emotions but from sharing. To use a tired old cliché ‘’sharing is caring’’ Overused? Absolutely, over practised? Sadly not.

Me? I’ve come to realise that there is no finishing line. No point in which you suddenly feel validated in your personal or professional life. With 2/3rds of adults admitting to possession envy- looking over the neighbours fence essentially- we put ourselves in a mindset that will always want a bigger television or a smarter phone. As if somehow possessions, status or in this instance expressions of masculinity (or playing the role thereof) are the precursor to happiness. Remember when you were a kid and you thought your parents had it all figured it out? They were making it up as they went along. We all are. For me there is no moment of clarity, no moment of validity. Unless of course my moment of clarity is exactly that! Who knows, not me that’s for certain! But one thing I can say with confidence is that by encouraging each other to be strong (in the real sense of the word) we must encourage one another to speak candidly about what makes us unique. Call it insecurity, call it want you want, a modern society requires a modern approach.

What we think divides us in character is often the one thing that unites us as human beings. It’s different to each of us, as are the triggers for our struggles, our vices and indeed our coping mechanisms (if you will excuse the ism!) You don’t have to pretend you’ve got it all figured out, because quite simply nobody does, but you do have to keep on moving forward. Take small steps. Ask yourself. Have I showered today? Have I changed my bedsheets recently? Sounds simple doesn’t it? But it can be huge. 

Find an outlet no matter what it may be. Jogging helps. Opening up, even more so. Some people read to escape the world. Me? I read and I write in order to feel connected to the world around me, safe in the knowledge that how I feel inside has been felt by many since the beginning of time. It’s my way of reaching out, and with a bit of luck hopefully reaching somebody else at the same time. Remember, you are not alone. Now, excuse me if you will. Time for that shower.

https://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/suicide_statistics_report_final_dec_0.pdf

**https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/suicide/

If you need immediate support please dial 999 or go to A&E, otherwise the below organisation may be of assistance (please not this is not an exhaustive list and there is much more support out there).

How social media hinders eating disorder recovery

This is our second blog post for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, written by our awesome ‘blinker’ Phoebe. We think it’s an extremely powerful piece on how social media can hinder eating disorder recovery. If you or someone you know needs help or advice on eating disorders, please contact BEAT via their website, or call them on 0808 801 0677

In the last few years, social media websites (most notably Instagram and Tumblr) have supposedly banned all pro eating disorder content. As much as they mean well, it is impossible to police such a rife problem over such huge internet platforms.

As well as whole websites being dedicated to pro anorexia and bulimia (pro-ana/pro-mia), social media houses enormous communities of eating disorder sufferers. Although not all individual accounts and groups are outright pro-ana, so called recovery accounts can have just as negative an effect on people. I speak from experience.

I have suffered with anorexia for roughly ten years; I began a true pursuit of recovery four years ago, and have had successes and lapses that I continue to learn from. In my decade of eating problems, social media has developed hugely and made great steps. In 2016 it was estimated that 63% of Brits use social media, along with 78% of the US population. Facebook is proven the most popular with over two billion active users.

It is not unusual to want to connect with people you can empathise with. In recent years, a vast number of eating disorder sufferers have taken to photo sharing app Instagram to log their experiences and meet others with similar problems. On the surface this sounds positive. Why wouldn’t it be helpful to find support that you may be lacking in real life? In this case, one of the major reasons it is not helpful is because eating disorders are fundamentally very competitive illnesses.

To someone without personal experience of these mental illnesses, that may sound bizarre. Why would anyone compete to be unwell? As a recovering anorexia sufferer myself, even I can’t give you a straight answer.

Eating disorders can be like a separate person living in your head, but the lines blur and it’s hard to determine what thoughts are yours, and which ones are the illness. Eating disorders can be all consuming and you lose yourself to them. The competitiveness can exhibit itself in a challenge you set yourself, but especially in comparing yourself to those similarly ill.

You'd be forgiven for assuming that by searching for positive-sounding hashtags on platforms like Instagram, you'd come across pro-recovery images and glances into the lives of people discovering themselves after suffering from an eating disorder. However, you are just as likely to be flooded with images of very underweight people and intricately arranged food. You may even see graphic photos of self-harm or IV tubes. It is an issue, that accounts of people who are not in recovery bleed into the more positive posts. It’s debateable whether the people making these posts should be held accountable for this triggering material, or if their mental ill health excuses them of responsibility

The main issue I want to bring to discussion is actually the matter of people using these internet mediums to document their return to health from eating disorders (primarily anorexia in these communities). One with less knowledge on such matters could look at these pages and see them to be positively encouraging. Were you to look more intently though, the problems are not well disguised.

You might see side-by-side “then and now” comparisons with photos of young women at their lowest weight and then their still-underweight-but-not-quite-as-drastically photos. I speak of this having been guilty of doing just that. Although these images are supposedly meant to exhibit progress (or at least weight gain), the true reason for posting them is often driven by the eating disorder. This is a form of body checking, a behaviour very common in ED sufferers. Posting photos for others to see is just one example of body checking; pinching at skin and fat on the body, measuring the circumference of body parts, and of course frequent weighing of one’s self are examples of body checking.

With the warped self-image that comes with eating disorders, responses from outsiders – especially shock and worry - can appease the illness. Even those finding happiness in a healthy body still have urges to post pictures from their disordered past, often to prove that they were underweight once upon a time. People who are seemingly healthy looking having been weight restored often feel like their illness won’t be taken seriously anymore, so it feels important to demonstrate how ill they are/were. This applies also to people suffering with an ED who don’t fit the classic anorexic cookie cutter image of small and emaciated and white. It is the case that most people with eating disorders are not underweight and so they are mostly an invisible illness. This does not invalidate their experiences or mean they are healthy, but given the widely accepted stereotypes no wonder people feel the need to prove their illness is real.

This is a contributor to why social media can have a negative effect on recovery. With the constant need to prove yourself, there is no true letting go of the illness. ED sufferers often feel like their illness is a defining feature, and to let go of it would be to lose substance as a person. So even in recovery, the illness must somehow be present. In saying this I mean not to dismiss people’s hard work put into recovery; it is a vicious cycle of expectation and validation.

To come back to the matter of competition, comparing one underweight body to another is the tip of the iceberg. In the brief profile descriptions on people’s Instagram accounts you will often see acronyms of LW x/CW x/HW x/GW x (lowest weight/current weight/highest weight/goal weight). Other common footnotes are number of admissions to psychiatric and eating disorder hospitals, how many times a person had an NG feeding tube or a IV drip, even frequency of suicide attempts. These are used as markers to show off the severity of the person’s illness. The more severe, the more valid, the more impressive, the more successful. Or at least that is what is considered successful by people with eating disorders.

Envy is another surprising symptom of these illnesses. I myself have felt jealous of people whose BMI is lower than mine ever was. I’ve been jealous of others’ long term physical damage and longer hospital admissions than my own, even of being sectioned. These “achievements” of others made me feel like my anorexia was never bad enough to deserve treatment and I should have waited until the brink of death to commence my recovery. In reality, there is no “not ill enough”. Never will you feel ill enough to begin recovery. You won’t reach your ultimate goal weight and then think “Okay cool I’ll stop losing weight now”. Three years into recovery I still get distressed over the fact I didn’t lose more weight and go into organ failure. These are the frightening standards eating disorders set for people.

What else in these online communities that can make the recovery process all the more difficult is the unrealistic picture that is painted by these accounts. There is not a great cross section of representation; the people welcomed into the community are very similar and it can feel like there’s no room for sufferers who aren’t under 25, white, well off, materially privileged. That is not to say that those people suffer any less in their illness, but it does make the community feel closed off to people outside of that description. Eating disorders do not discriminate, and people from all walks of life experience them; different ethnicities and cultures, genders, religions, classes and intelligence. Surely the communities to support them should be diverse and inclusive?

Recovery from an eating disorder is many things. The view you get of recovery online is often through rose tinted glasses. There is no doubt that it’s amazing and worth it, but there are dark parts of the process that need to be talked about more regardless of how unpleasant and embarrassing may be. Recovery can be coffee and cake for the first time and getting a whole new wardrobe after throwing away your “ill clothes” but there is seldom talk of the pain. Recovery is weeks of constipation. It is sweating profusely. It is eating beyond physical and emotional comfort. It’s regaining cognitive function and feeling overwhelmed with emotions that have been repressed. Recovery is unreliable and unpredictable. And beautiful. And terrifying.

Between the bragging rights thinly veiled as raising awareness, not feeling part of an elite group, and blurring of the reality of eating disorders and recovery, it is no wonder why people get stuck in a rut. There is uncomfortable comfort in remaining ill, or in a quasi-state of recovery. That way you never push your own boundaries and remain part of the club. But with that you won’t experience the real comfort and different kind of community that comes with recovery and meeting people whose lives don’t revolve around food and weight an exercise. For me, delving into a world beyond treatment and therapy and food photos akin to intricate art, was the turning point in my illness. Once you remove yourself from an obsessive clique, you start to experience real life. If you can find support and friends in these communities, I do not want to detract from that. However you can’t stay this way and truly recover if you are just obsessing in a slightly different way. It’s not compatible with life.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Choosing to recover

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week this week (25 February - 03 March 2019), so we have a couple of blogs lined up over the next few days specifically around eating disorders, all written by our awesome ‘blinkers’. The below was written by Maz which gives an insight into how dangerous eating disorders are, but also that recovery is possible. If you or someone you know needs help or advice on eating disorders, please contact BEAT via their website, or call them on 0808 801 0677

An eating disorder is a serious mental illness.  It attacks its sufferers from within and drains all their physical and psychological resources until there is nothing but a shell of their former selves left.  It’s debilitating, isolating and it’s a killer...anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, bulimia is associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity*. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and make every single day a living hell. 

So often when we see news articles, information leaflets or support material about eating disorders the words “An Eating Disorder Is a Disease, Not a Choice” will be written on it somewhere. This is true. Eating Disorders are serious mental health illnesses with both physical and psychological consequences, but while developing an eating disorder is not a choice, we do have a choice on whether to recover or not.

A battle with an eating disorder is draining. For every single person it is a unique experience that can and does impact on their entire lives. What started as a coping mechanism to help us feel better, to help us feel more in control of our lives or to help improve our self esteem quickly turns into an internal battle that is relentless. How do we escape something that is harming us when it becomes an intrinsic part of our identity?

Eating disorders are all consuming, they make us forget about everything else that had meaning in our lives – friends, family, school and work all stop being important. All our time is spent thinking about food, calories, weight, exercise and how we look in the mirror; how can we possibly have time to care about anything else when we have all that to contend with. And the scary thing is, the more time we spend lost in our thoughts about these things the worse things get. That thing that was meant to help us feel more in control of our lives suddenly controls EVERYTHING. Depression, anxiety, fear and desperation are just some of the things we start to experience...but that’s only until we become too numb to feel anything at all. Emotions? Who has time for those and why would we want to feel emotions anyway when everything is just too painful for us?

Like any disease, the longer we live with it the more harm it causes us and unfortunately there is no magical, medical cure. No-one else can “fix” us, no-one can “make” us get better – choosing to recover and to take back our lives is a choice each of us has to make.

Will it be scary? Hell yes! Before we can choose to recover we first have to admit that we have a problem and who wants to do that? We believe that the shame, embarrassment, self-loathing and disgust that we feel for ourselves is shared by everyone else; we can’t see that the eating disorder has tricked us into thinking this way because it has become a natural way of thinking for us. We believe that we don’t deserve help and support to get better because we brought this on ourselves – we can’t see that it is a disease that we had no choice over. We don’t want our family and friends to worry about us; because no! Until this point we probably haven’t recognised their concern. And the scariest thing of all; how will admitting we have a problem and need help impact on our weight?

Recovering from an eating disorder is one of the hardest things we may ever do. At the start every second, every minute, every hour of every day will be filled with excruciating fear and anxiety. We are terrified of food and yet we can’t avoid it and each night we go to bed exhausted from battling ourselves only to wake up the next morning to start the battle all over again. And the food isn’t the only thing we are battling. We have our inner demons that fuelled the eating disorder to fight as well, emotions that we have managed to numb come flooding back making us feel overwhelmed and totally out of control; but that’s because the “illusion of control” that the eating disorder provided us has gone. It is scary but it’s what we need in order to start living our lives again.

If you are reading this and currently struggling with an eating disorder, please remember no one can make you recover. You need to make a conscious decision that it is what you want, but remember by choosing recovery you are also choosing life.

If you are someone that is supporting someone with an eating disorder, the important message is that as much as you may want to, you cannot force them to recover. You can guide and support them in the hope that they will see that they need help – you may feel powerless, but ultimately this isn’t your decision to make.

Next time you see the heading “EATING DISORDERS ARE A DISEASE, NOT A CHOICE” perhaps you could add “NO, BUT RECOVERY IS” onto the end of it – just maybe those 4 extra words might be enough to help someone you care about make the most important decision of their life.

*https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorder-statistics 

Note from blink:

We recognise that the choice to recover isn't just a one off decision.

The below paragraph is from another one of our blinkers, Phoebe, who describes what ‘choosing to recover’ feels like for her: 

“The decision to recover is one to be made over and over again, with every piece of food I eat or every time I resist an ED behaviour. I still make this decision with each meal and snack I have, and I've been doing that for four years. Sometimes the decision comes easily, almost second nature, other times it is laboured and takes a lot of strength and overriding extreme anxiety to consciously do what's healthy.”

As always, please do let us know what you think via comments below, social media or by email

#blinkblink

 

Guest blog post from Clarke Carlisle

NB. This post is a lot longer than our regular blog posts, but we didn’t want to edit / delete any of the content that he kindly wrote for us.

“I suppose I’d better start with a few words about who I am. My name is Clarke Carlisle and I’m an ex-professional footballer, pundit and commentator. I am now a public speaker and, along with my wonderful wife (she edited that), go into businesses and organisations across the UK talking about Mental Health and my own personal journey.

That journey is one of multiple suicide attempts, 10 years of undiagnosed depression, 5 years of ignorance about my diagnosis and finally, a year of conscious and committed work on my health and wellness.

I played professional football for 17 years, across all four leagues in England, and represented my country at under 21 level. It was shortly after this accolade that my journey with adverse mental health began. I had won 3 international caps, moved from lowly Blackpool to QPR in London and, for a council estate boy from Preston, was earning a small fortune whilst pursuing my dream in front of 15,000 people each week. Then, during a match against Fulham one wintry January night, it all came tumbling down. An innocuous tackle led to reconstructive surgery on my right knee, an injury that the surgeon believed would end my career and result in my needing a stick to aid walking.

With my dreams in tatters I used alcohol to get away from the pain. 6 weeks of drinking whilst housebound post-op, and I was in a haze that had no objectivity and very little logic. I believed that I was of no use to the world and, at the age of 21, decided to overdose on my post-op painkillers.

Fortunately for me, I was found and taken to hospital, my stomach pumped and I survived. This was the beginning of my walk with depression. It didn’t stem from the trauma of the injury, or the suicide attempt, but because I FAILED to kill myself ( I had never failed at anything in my life), and the whole incident was swept under the carpet without a word of acknowledgement, just left to stew in Pandora’s box.

Over the next 10 years I repeatedly exploded with bouts of irrational, dangerous and/or risky behaviour that seemed to sabotage my own life, work and relationships, for reasons that I couldn’t explain. It was only when I was diagnosed in 2010 that there was a semblance of clarity of what had been happening. My ex-wife was suffering with post-natal depression and, after reading about the signs and symptoms, I identified a lot of myself in the list! My club doctor made the diagnosis and I started a course of fluoxetine the next day.

Even so, I didn’t engage in any talking therapy, any process to understand MY depression, how it manifests itself in my life, early signs of a bout or ways of dealing with/preventing further episodes. So, after repeated cycles of highs and intense lows, further suicide attempts inevitably followed. After the most physically damaging attempt, throwing myself in front of a lorry travelling at 60mph on the A64, I spent 9 weeks in psychiatric hospital. I believed that I was fortunate because I was able to get private care. The in-patient care was outstanding, and my consultant psychiatrist incredible, but once discharged the care dropped off to the extent that I didn’t maintain, let alone improve, my wellness.

After 2 further suicide attempts and another 4 week stint in private care, we knew something different had to be done. We had repeatedly been told that we didn’t want to be “in the system”, as the NHS was “terrible”, but we had no choice when I was once again in the pit of depression and looking for a ‘responsible’ way to end my life.

This is where my life changed, for the better, and continues to move in that direction. Lancashire NHS Trust have a multi-disciplinary team that incorporate a Bio-Pyscho-Social model; basically, they use meds for the biological symptoms, talking therapies for the psychological symptoms, and create care plans to address the social factors that are triggering/exacerbating any illness. We have been guided through this last year through residential care, out-patient care and self-care, through 3 different support teams, all overseen by one Care Co-ordinator, a constant, knowledgeable and reassuring presence throughout.

I know that this isn’t the case for everybody who enters the system. We experienced it first hand with our eldest daughter. When we took her into the “system” as a teenager who was self-harming on a regular basis, we were sent away with a flea in our ears. ‘We don’t give medication to teenagers, it’s just a phase and she’s not sick enough to warrant further care’.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Where is the logic behind this? Surely a modicum of support now would prevent further, more extensive and expensive care as an adult?

I went to the doctors to get a mole looked at. He didn’t say, “oh, it’s not cancerous yet, so come back when it is and we’ll put you through extensive radio/chemotherapy and medication that might work”! No, I was in an operating theatre within 7 DAYS! I had 3 moles removed and checked just in case! It so transpires that all 3 were fine, but a quick 15 minute intervention prevented the possibility of costly and extensive support needed in the future. Why isn’t this logic applied to an over-extended and under-funded Mental Health support system?

Fortunately for us, we had the tools to be able to support our daughter. With open communication and total honesty, we were able to make the progress that has not only seen her move beyond self-harm, but also become a veritable rock for me on my journey.

My niece entered “the system” in a different postcode. This has seen her sent to residential care, which is a better start than being dismissed. Unfortunately, the care was merely a holding pen where no psychological/psychiatric support was even attempted. She was ‘stabilised’ and then sent straight back home, headlong into the exact situation and circumstances that saw her require the help in the first place!

These 3 situations show how absurd the current support system is. There isn’t any uniform process, that defines what help people will get. It is a lottery to determine whether you will get help at all and, for those who are sent away without support, or without support commensurate to their need, this can have catastrophic consequences. My journey has seen me in hospital with people who are in their ‘nearest’ bed, yet are 250 miles away from home and family. Others are on waiting lists for beds and support that can extend beyond 18 months. This is unacceptable. A wait of 18 hours may as well be a death sentence when I am poorly and in need of care. 18 months is an absolute disgrace.

In all of this, I must pay homage to the people who work in the “system”. I have met many, needed the help and services of many, and they are incredible people, working as best they can within a system that sees a lot of their efforts wasted and unnoticed. They need the right funding, the right processes to follow and a co-ordinated structure to work within.

Until this happens, the need for Blink is blatantly apparent and is of the utmost importance. This is an initiative that can save lives, especially in areas where the MH support system is woefully underfunded and overworked. Where you live or the workload of your local NHS should never determine the quality of care that a person receives, let alone whether they receive care at all. Contemporaneous commensurate care saves lives.”

“Please don’t take my work away from me”

Some of us, when dealing with mental ill-health can be signed off work by our doctors, this may be to adjust to medication, or because our mental illness renders us too unwell to focus on work, or too exhausted. But for others staying in work may be part of a structure and sense of purpose that is vital in managing our mental health conditions. Emma lets us in on how work can be a lifesaver.

As I sit and write, it is a glorious sunny day. The house is clean, the washing is hanging out to dry, I have nothing to do today. I have taken a few days Annual Leave, some time to rest and recuperate, some time to myself without the pressures of work, some time that most people cherish and look forward to. 

So why am I feeling so utterly miserable? It is because I have nothing to do!

I work full time. It is often a hectic and high pressure environment, there is a constant stream of deadlines and as a manager the buck, more often than not, stops with me. To many this may sound stressful but to me, it makes me feel alive. My job gives me a sense of purpose, it makes me feel needed, it distracts me from the constant barrage of negative thoughts that would otherwise whizz endlessly around my head like fireworks inside a tin shed. Work distracts me from the negative, the intrusive and the obsessive thoughts. Work keeps me well and it keeps me alive.

There is, of course, a danger here and that is Overdrive. I am at risk of working too hard, working too many hours, the effects of which are that I may become mentally and physically exhausted, I may not share sufficient time with my family and I may, in fact, be avoiding facing that which troubles me. But for me, the benefits far outweigh the risks and I do enough worrying without adding “Am I working too hard?” to the list. Besides, being well is of significantly more benefit to my family.

In my role as an advocate of mental wellbeing, I am often asked by line managers, “How do I reduce the workload of my staff? How do I encourage them to work part time?” to which my response is, “You don’t, unless you have ascertained between you that that is what is needed”. It does highlight however that there seems to be an overarching impression amongst today’s society that one needs to “put their feet up” in order to maintain a healthy mind. I beg to differ. 

Many mental health services are focussed on getting people back in to work. I can understand why. It benefits the individual and benefits the community. In the past I have been refused access to services because I am already in work and at the time I thought this was desperately unfair however in hindsight, I can see that in a financially stretched health service, priorities have to be set somewhere and I am all for boosting confidence and self-esteem because in all honesty, is there anything better for one’s mental health than a sense of value and self-worth?

Suicide is not selfish

This post may be triggering for some individuals. Please do not read if this may be distressing for you. If you are in crisis, you can find your local suicide hotlines here: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html. Your life matters.

Whenever a high-profile death by suicide rocks the social media news cycle, I am both deeply saddened by it and apprehensive of the comments that I know will come along with it. Comments like, “how could he do that to his kids” or “but she had a husband, didn’t she think of him at all?” or “what a selfish thing to do”. I’ve had enough of it this week, I have to say something. Repeat after me: suicide is not selfish.

Listen, I can understand how suicide can seem selfish to people who have never been suicidal. I know that the concern we all feel for the loved ones left behind by suicide can morph into anger at the person who died by suicide. If you have never been suicidal, you just can’t understand. Too often it is assumed that those who contemplate, attempt or die by suicide are not thinking of the effect their death will have on those around them. Please hear me, that is so far from the truth.

Drawing from my own experience, my suicidal ideation is usually accompanied by the feeling that I am holding my loved ones back from true happiness. In my darkest moments I cannot register how important I am to the people who love me, even if they are right in front of me telling me just how much I matter to them. In my darkest moments all I can see is how much my mental illness impacts those around me, how hard those I love struggle to take care of me, how much I am burdening them, how much better their lives would be without me.

When I am suicidal I am thinking about others almost constantly. Wouldn’t my friends be happier if they didn’t have to worry about me all the time? Wouldn’t my husband’s life be improved if I was out of the picture and he could find someone less broken to love? Wouldn’t my mom be relieved if she didn’t have to drive me to appointments anymore? Eventually the doubt is erased and the “wouldn’t they” changes to “they would”. These are highly distorted thoughts, they completely shut out that my loved ones want me to live. They are unbalanced, irrational and drastic. But these are the kinds of thoughts that claw away at me when I am suicidal. I am usually able to understand how much suicide hurts the survivors, but not when I am most suicidal. When I am most suicidal I believe that my death would be a relief and bring joy to those around me. My mental illness distorts my reality. “Yes, they would grieve”, I think to myself, “but after they got over it their lives would be better”.

One person’s experience alone can not explain suicide. It is important to note that suicidal thinking does not look the same for everyone. I provide myself as an example, but my experience does not speak for everyone. I am fortunate to have learned this through meeting tens of individuals who have been suicidal. Having listened to their stories I have gained an understanding of just how diverse the causes of suicide are and just how different each person’s thinking around suicide can be. However, one theme that is almost universal amongst the people I know who have been suicidal is concern for their families and friends.

Let’s consider for a second that someone’s suicidal thinking is not as preoccupied with others as mine tends to be. I believe that most people who die by suicide feel desperate, exhausted, at the end of their rope and that there is no hope for recovery. That still does not make suicide selfish. No one should be judged as selfish for fighting hard against a serious and sometimes fatal illness and then losing the fight. Yes, suicide is preventable. Yes, there are treatments available that work for some people. But at its core suicide as a result of mental illness is no different from any other illness that can result in death. This can be hard to grasp if your thoughts and emotions have never been overtaken by mental illness. For too long phrases like “committed suicide” or “took their own life” have programmed our collective thinking and made us believe that the person who suffered and died from suicide is somehow to blame for their death. This is why it matters that we reframe the way we talk about death by suicide. We need to use our words to convey that suicide should not be about the act itself but about the underlying distress or illness. People with mental illness do not take their own lives, suicide takes their lives from them. Suicide is more disease than act. 

Saying that suicide is selfish completely ignores the experience of suicidal people. It contorts suicide into something that it is not and further confuses public understanding about suicide. I believe that the misconception that suicide is selfish stems from a real lack of understanding of what causes suicide. If you are someone who struggles to understand suicide, now is the time to do some research. You owe it to yourself and others to educate yourself about why suicide occurs. If you think suicide is selfish, you don’t understand it.

Take care,

Fiona

Original post by Fiona Jackson - https://likeasthewaves.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/suicide-is-not-selfish/

Health Anxiety - A Mother's Story

Many thanks to our guest blogger Lucie Llewellyn.

Life was going swimmingly. I was happily married, with no money worries, a nice house and two well brought-up, happy and intelligent kids! My eldest daughter was doing her first year of A-Levels and my youngest was doing her first year of Secondary School. Everyone was getting on with their lives, everyone was doing great, everyone was happy. Life was pretty darn good. Little did I know, that my perfect life and family was about to come apart at the seams, all from just one phone call.

The call came, one afternoon, from the College that my 17-year-old daughter attended. She is having a major panic attack. Panic attack? But my daughter doesn’t have panic attacks?? After some Mother-Daughter time and a long heart to heart, it turns out that she does, and has been having them for a while now. 

But how did this happen? What did I do wrong? Am I at fault here? When did I take my eye off the ball and how could I not notice that my girl was suffering? Truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong. My girl was just pretty good at hiding how she was feeling from me, from all of us, but why? Well, she felt stupid, was embarrassed, ashamed even, that she was feeling the way that she was and, like many others her age, she didn’t know what to do or how to reach out for help. 

So, I had to face it, my daughter suffers from anxiety. However, her anxiety is a little different to anxiety as I understood it. She suffers from Health Anxiety, or Hypochondria as others may know it.

From conversations with my daughter I learnt that this all started when she was in Year 10 at Secondary School, and has been slowly getting worse over the years. It was during a tough PE lesson when she felt she couldn’t breathe and couldn’t get enough air into her lungs - there came her first sensations of panic and fear over her health. What followed on from that was months of doctor visits, tests, scans,  and she was eventually given the all clear and discharged. That was the end of it. At least for me, and I assumed it was for her too. 

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong, what followed for her was a deep-seated fear that stuck with her. A constant worry that something was seriously wrong with her.  Some illness, some disease, some undetected health problem that was going to suddenly end her life. From then on in her days became marred with overanalyzing every ache, every pain, every sensation that her body feels.  ‘Googling’ her symptoms and carrying out numerous body checks such as checking her pulse and then constantly seeking reassurance that what she is experiencing and feeling is normal. Her nights became spent lying awake, trying to turn off her negative thoughts, trying to stop herself from noticing her heart beating in her chest, trying to ignore the sensations that are causing throughout her body as a result of the anxiety that has built up. Praying that no panic attack would follow and willing herself to please, just go to sleep. 

What once was a pretty, happy girl, surrounded by friends and loving her life has become a tired, shell of her former self weighed down with worry and struggling to sleep, to function, and to find any joy in her life. This is not the life I wanted for my daughter, this is not the life that I envisaged for her.

As a Mother my job, since the day she was born, was simple, keep her safe and keep her from harm and worry. If I could take away her struggles I would, if I could rip that worry from her head I would do so, but I can’t. I was powerless for probably the first time in her life. But I soon came to realise that I do have a role in all of this. My role is to be there for her, to provide her with someone to talk to, to listen to her fears, however small they may be, to be that person that she seeks out for reassurance and walk alongside her as she figures this all out. 

Everybody Worries

Everyone worries. We all get anxious, feel fearful. Maybe we get nervous before an exam, a job interview, or a presentation. Perhaps we get that wave of panic when we are walking home alone at night – thinking that everyone around us might be following us. We might feel anxious about starting a new hobby – running through scenarios in our minds of everyone being better than us, people judging, laughing, mocking. Sometimes that anxiety stops us doing things. Sometimes we can ignore the anxious thoughts and racing heartbeat – but it still takes a toll on our energy and concentration.

Remember those times you’ve felt anxious. You knew that being anxious or worried wasn’t going to solve anything. And it probably felt awful, maybe it made you feel sick with worry or just unable to get to the practical solution you needed. Yet there was no way to make that go away.

Anxiety disorders are similar, but the things that can trigger those worries may be less common than the more understandable job interview, and they normally come with extreme, unforgiving symptoms that take over lives and leave no room to feel other emotions or sensations. Imagine having those pre-exam nerves, at that level, for days at a time – you would be exhausted, and terrified. And it’s so important when trying to understand these disorders, that we don’t focus on the cause – ‘oh it’s so silly to be worried about that, it’s just a bit of dirt, get over it’ and focus on those feelings and symptoms – we can all relate to that.

A lesser known disorder, and not widely understood as a type of anxiety, is hypochondria, or health anxiety. This is a chronic and unwavering fear that there is something medically wrong. Lucie talks about her daughter’s experience:

“[She had] a constant worry that something was seriously wrong with her.  Some illness, some disease, some undetected health problem that was going to suddenly end her life. From then on in her days became marred with overanalysing every ache, every pain, every sensation that her body feels.  ‘Googling’ her symptoms and carrying out numerous body checks such as monitoring her pulse, then constantly seeking reassurance that what she was experiencing and feeling is normal. Her nights became spent lying awake, trying to turn off her negative thoughts, trying to stop herself from noticing her heart beating in her chest, trying to ignore the sensations that are coursing throughout her body as a result of the anxiety that has built up. Praying that no panic attack would follow and willing herself to please, just go to sleep. “

It’s evident from this that health anxiety is not about loving going to the doctor, or wanting attention. In fact, in Lucie’s case, her daughter hid the condition so well that it lead to Lucie questioning her own parenting:

“How did this happen? What did I do wrong? Am I at fault here? When did I take my eye off the ball and how could I not notice that my girl was suffering? Truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong. My girl was just pretty good at hiding how she was feeling from me, from all of us, but why? Well, she felt stupid, was embarrassed, ashamed even, that she was feeling the way that she was and, like many others her age, she didn’t know what to do or how to reach out for help.”

That shame can be common for many people with anxiety, and it can often lead to hiding, or being secretive about their condition. There is no easy fix for these conditions, but a more general understanding from those around them at least allows people to not use whatever energy they have spare to hide how they are doing. 

We have all been anxious at some point in our lives, no matter how fleeting. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. At Blink we are really keen on peer-to-peer support, on being able to talk to others if we need to. We know that not everyone is a mental health professional and we don’t encourage people to try to be. But we hope that by presenting anxiety disorders in this way, we can inspire more relatable, empathetic, and supportive conversations.

Thank you to Lucie Llewellyn for her contribution, the full story of her daughter’s experience of health anxiety will be published shortly on Blink.

Why you’re not getting fobbed off by being offered group therapy

This is my experience, my opinion, and may not be held by everyone here at blink. But that’s okay, we all respond differently and have a variation of experiences.

Oh, hello again. My last blog post was about the struggle, frustration and perseverance involved in getting some help for my mental illness. This is more about the way that help (specifically talking therapies) can be delivered. I’m not going to get into psychotherapy or CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or any specifics like that. I’m just going to talk briefly about group therapy.

Therapy in any form is not easy. It requires a lot of hard work, commitment, and perseverance on our part. Anyone who engages in talking therapy of any kind is making a huge step in the direction of recovery and management of their condition and that alone is a massive achievement.

Firstly, I can understand that when we’re in a bit of a messy situation mentally, being put in a group may feel like we aren't being valued enough to have 1-1 therapy. This is not true. I’ve found in general that being part of a group can be really effective, and here’s a quick list of reasons why:

Facilitated by a therapist 

This isn’t a group of people having a chat, this is a therapeutic group, and the therapist will make sure that the conversations and experiences that get brought up will have positive outcomes. We are still receiving treatment by a qualified professional.

Community

If we see the same people each week, we get to know them, their stories. We may even make social connections that last after the therapy has ended. Because of this, it may even be more useful to be challenged by peers, people we’re going on this journey with, instead of a therapist.

It is so easy to help other people

Have you noticed that when other people are in a mess mentally it's really easy to see what they need to do to help themselves? So if we are in a group we can actively help people, we can be the compassionate, understanding, helpful person that we can never normally be towards ourselves. Because of this, we feel good for helping others, we can see their experiences reflecting our own and we may even realise we need to take our own advice. We relate to others, we feel less alone.

It is so easy to help other people 

Let’s just flip my previous point. We’ll be sitting with a whole team of peers and a therapist, who may well just see the direction out of our struggle. Furthermore, these are lovely, considerate, understanding and supportive people who are relating to us and so will offer advice and challenge us in a way we may not be able to see ourselves through the fog of mental ill health.

On this point, Mike (from Blink) adds “in group therapy I met people from all walks of life that I never thought I would have things in common with. Group therapy was amazing, it connected me to other people as we could relate to each other’s struggles”.

I’m not saying that group therapy is better than 1-1, I don’t think anyone can say that. For me, a mixture of groups and 1-1 time have been the most useful for me – to gain perspective, understanding and acceptance of myself, while also being able to delve deeper into my specific problems and past traumas. We are all different and what works for one may not work for another. But please try to engage in all the interventions offered or available to you. You can’t say that something doesn’t help unless you commit to do the work.

Just keep asking for help

Just reach out and ask for help, that’s the hardest part. Talk to someone you trust. Go to your GP, let them know you’re struggling. That’s what we get told. Don’t suffer in silence. As if the second we ask for help we get what we need and everything is fine. I asked for help about four years ago.

I went to my GP and explained that I was seeing things. Hallucinating. Time was doing weird things, I thought my thoughts were racing and I couldn’t keep up. Things weren’t right, and I couldn’t function in my everyday life anymore. So I asked for help. And I got referred to the AMHT (adult mental health team).

I waited a few months for my assessment. I was assessed within about 5 minutes, and discharged from the service with a prescription. Cool. Except it wasn’t cool. Because nothing changed for me. I would go to A&E, back to my GP and nothing would change. Present with self-inflicted injuries at A&E, let them know I don’t remember doing it, or it felt like someone else was doing it to me. I’d get patched up, wait four hours to see the psychiatric consultant, tell them everything, and be sent home with a ‘low risk’ badge and another referral to the AMHT (who would then quickly discharge me).

Eventually I was put on a waiting list for CBT. I waited a year and a half to be put on that waiting list. I waited two more years to receive the CBT. And in between that I did not wait patiently, my condition at a nice plateau, hah. No. I got worse, I presented more often at A&E, I was scared of myself, of being alone, but I was on a waiting list now, so I was always told to wait.

So I waited. I’ll get that elusive ‘help’ soon. I just need to wait. And I did eventually get my 6 sessions of CBT. After about four I was not doing well at all and I was absolutely terrified for my life. I told the psychologist this, and that I think it’s safer for me to stop CBT and maybe try some other kind of talking therapy. I was then told that I was refusing treatment, discharged from the service and my GP told not to re-refer me for another year.

This is when I decided to try and get help privately. And I don’t know why I waited so long to do that. Asking for help is of course a very brave, hard thing to do. And if you ask the wrong person, the wrong service, it can be traumatising and make you less likely to keep asking until you find the right fix. I was lucky in the sense that I don’t suffer with depression, and my self worth seemed to remain at a level where I was able to keep fighting and keep asking for help. But I can’t imagine what would have happened to my condition if I were at all experiencing depressive symptoms - I may never have even gotten to the CBT, I may not have pushed to get on that waiting list, I may have stopped bothering to go to the AMHT assessments after being fobbed off the first time. I may have just given up.

But I didn’t give up, and the people around me didn’t give up either. Yes, I know that privately funded treatment isn’t an option for a lot of people - it was barely an option for me. The psychiatrist I saw though, and asked for help, and explained my problems to. Well, he listened, and he diagnosed, and he prognosed, and he changed my medication, suggested forms of therapy, suggested inpatient treatment to help. This man turned out to be the right person to ask for help and I am so glad I didn’t stop asking.

Everyone’s experience of asking for help is different. And please don’t let this put you off the GP or A&E or your local NHS mental health service, because for you they might well turn out to be the exact right person to ask for help. I just want to let you know that asking for help isn’t a one off thing, you have to keep asking, keep self-advocating, keep strong, and keep knowing that you do deserve treatment for your illness. You will find the right person to ask, and things will get sorted, it just may not always be as easy as you’d like it to be.

An Introduction to Blink, and our Founder Mike

Hey! I’m Mike, the founder of blink and I’d like to share my mental health story with you.

My journey so far is relatively short at around 18 months. It began when I started feeling a little bit sad. Mixed feelings really. I didn’t know why I felt that way but I was sure the feeling would pass. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The sadness felt almost constant, there by my side.

The feelings of sadness, worthlessness and disassociation got worse. I felt lost. The way I felt was starting to affect my daily routine. That’s when I thought I might be going through a bit more than just ‘feeling sad’.

I didn’t seek help for months. Why? Because I was embarrassed, ashamed and confused. I was married to a beautiful, loving wife. I had a good job. We had a dog and owned a house. I thought, what reason have I got to be depressed? And, if I didn’t know why I was feeling like that, how could a professional help me?

Asking for help or admitting I was depressed was a hard, but important, first step. My doctors were amazingly supportive. So, if you’re feeling like you need advice or guidance, please speak to someone.


Since then, my journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve spent time in NHS wards and at the renowned Priory Hospital.  Although both services did their best, it can be tricky to access rapid NHS support and, private treatment can be unaffordable for many.


This is where the idea of blink was born. We cannot offer them yet, but the plan is to provide rapid, professional connections to people with mental health issues in critical times of need.

Thank you for joining the blink community. Your support means a lot. Together, in time, we will make a difference to the world of mental health.

Oh, and If you feel comfortable sharing your mental health story, or would like to be a ‘guest blogger’ please get in touch.