“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.