Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate, So Why Do We?

I was at an appointment the other day. The staff were aware of my mental health problems, and they asked me what I do in my free time. I said at the moment I am working and at university. She looked shocked. She then said “unpaid work, though?” because obviously us crazy folk cannot hold down a paid job. I mean, what kind of fool would pay me to work?

It annoys me. Number one unpaid work is a brilliant thing to do for experience, and for giving something. Number two, why would you assume my job is unpaid?

I was then further annoyed when she said I needed to come back on Monday to see their consultant. I told her I had work, and couldn’t make it. She looked at me and said “well, you have to have see the consultant” and then booked me an appointment any way. I was stood there thinking ‘yup, please ignore me, my words mean nothing’.

I honestly do not think that if I was ten years older, and not in for something mental health related, she wouldn’t have ignored me. But hey, I am crazy so my job cannot be that important, right?!

We think that we have progressed with our attitudes towards mental illness, and my gut reaction is to say some progress has definitely been made. I mean, we do not lock everyone away in asylums anymore, people are not oblivious to mental illness, and people know what depression is. Mental health is talked about more. Being homosexual is no longer a sign of insanity, and we do not drill into peoples brains hoping it will ‘fix’ them like we did in 1935.

My research in my undergraduate degree proved that making a definitive conclusion is not that easy. Some things have improved, some things have not. Do you know what schizoaffective disorder is? What about obsessive compulsive personality disorder? Unless you have an interest in mental illness, or personal experience, probably not. Even spellcheck does not think ‘schizoaffective’ is a word.

While general attitudes have become better, I would argue it is something we are fine about as long as we do not have to come face-to-face with it, and for a lot of people mental illness is something that affects others, not themselves. Did you know that only 46.9% of disabled people are in employment? Which is a gap 33.1% higher compared to people without a disability. The disability employment gap is one of the most significant inequalities today.

In 2015 the Conservative Party stated that to half the gap they would need to change policies, practices and public attitudes.

Not all disabled people can work, fact. That is why there is no goal to get rid of the gap completely. But some can, and some want to. It is easy for people to respond to this huge gap by saying that disabled people do not want to work, that they want to live off benefits, and all of that other rubbish that realistically applies to a very small percentage of those with disabilities, and actually also to a larger number of people without

I do not personally have much of an issue with the term disability. I would agree that I do have a disability, and that it can be extremely disabling. But it can also be worked with if I am surrounded by people who are willing to be understanding, and to provide me the right environment to minimise the impact my disability has on my ability to work, and to succeed.

Starting my recent internship has made me aware of the difficulty I would definitely have to work full-time, while juggling my medical appointments. I can see why this could be unattractive for an employer, and even for me; even if I managed to find an employer who was happy for me to take time off work for appointments, it would mean that my disability would still be impacting my ability to work full-time, and receive full pay. But this is the thing. I would not think about that; that is something I have to live with, but being discriminated against, is not.

I would be overwhelmed by the amazing support of my workplace to enable me to work. I would arrange my appointments as best I could to avoid interruption. I would stay late at work if I could, or arrive early. I would give everything I could and more, and being able to have my necessary appointments would actually boost my productivity at work, compared to if I was having to delay them, hide them, or become stressed at managing them.

The thing is, people can discriminate against people with mental illness, but mental illness is never going to discriminate against you. You might have a negative attitude towards those with a mental health problem, but they are still going to come into your life. It is going to affect your colleagues, employees, friends or family, whether you like it or not. Whether you think it is something that happens in your life or not.

More scarily perhaps, is that one day it might be you. You could be the top dog in a major company who does not take particularly take an interest in disability in the workplace. You might be a bit irritated that your PA, Janice, has to take two hours off on a Wednesday afternoon because she has a one hour appointment with her community psychiatric nurse, plus has to travel to and from the clinic. You will forget Janice stayed at work for an extra hour on three days last week. You will forget Janice doesn’t take lunch breaks, and always emails back at weekends. You will forget that since Janice started her role, she has made your day-to-day life easier, and taken on many extra roles that you never expected her to take.

You will be reluctant to hire the best applicant for your new events manager because she disclosed that she has physical health problems that will mean she has to take some time off work once per month to travel to a hospital out of the local area. You will think that you need someone who does not have these needs, and that they are not suitable for your company, just like the principal that once said to my support worker that students with severe mental health problems are not going to achieve A-Levels, so why support them in trying to do so?

And then fast forward, it is 2027. You have been getting very stressed at work. Janice left, and her replacement is struggling. Your wife has been working away a lot, your kids have left home, and it is like you never see neither them or your wife any more; she admitted a few months back that she is not happy in your marriage. Your mother has Alzheimer’s (which is a mental illness too, but for some reason that doesn’t count) and she is deteriorating. Last time you saw her she did not know who you were. You have begun thinking a lot about your childhood growing up, and how she used to be. You keep remembering things you had forgotten; maybe your childhood was not as rosy as you had convinced yourself. You remember your father being very violent to your mother, and having to witness that. Bit by bit it is coming back to you, like a tap that no matter how hard you tighten it, it just will not stop dripping.

You feel low. You know you do. You say low, because you do not want to say depressed. Men do not get depressed, not strong men like you. Not top of the company men. Not men who earn £100, 00o per annum. Not men who are well educated, and whose parents were too. You tell yourself you will ‘snap out of it’ soon. Maybe you just need to work harder. Only weak people take a step back, take a break. But it is getting worse, and you end up going to see your GP. I mean, he will just say you are fine.

Well, apparently not. Apparently you have signs of depression, but mental illness is not something you will ever experience, right? He must be wrong.

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One of 2016’s inspirational winners

Here is one of last years amazing winners. Lesley suffers from Agoraphobia and hadn’t left her house alone for 4 years. Getting into learning helped her to change her life. She’s gone from learning jewellery making and doing pottery classes, to now doing her English GCSE – and she talks regularly to inspire others!

Sign up to the thunderclap – it’s an amazing festival of learning, with fabulous awards that need raising awareness of so that the right people get nominated and recognised for their work!

Sign up here:
https://www.thunderclap.it/…/51989-festival-of-learning-2017.

It will take 2 minutes of your time, but it could make all of the difference to someone who follows you!

FESTIVAL OF LEARNING – PLEASE TAKE 2 MINUTES OF YOUR TIME.

I know you’ll want to just skip by this post but please take a minute to sign up to our Thunderclap! All you do is login via Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr and then on Wed 1st Feb there will be one automatic post on your account at 1 pm to celebrate the opening of nominations for awards that recognise the amazing people, projects and employers that inspire learning!

Click here to sign up.

For more information about the awards visit the website.

No, I do not wake up at 6am.

I do not get up at 6am. I do not start my day off with a coffee followed by a yoga session. I do not eat overnight oats made with almond milk and topped with chia seeds.

I lay in for as long as I can, and stay up as late as I can. I plan to try yoga, and never do. I’ve got chia seeds in my cupboard and I have absolutely no idea what to do with them. I am not an early bird. I waste a lot of time doing not a lot. I work better at night.

And that is ok, and it has taken me a long time to feel ok about it.

There appears to be an installed belief that certain things make you a better person. For so long I have wished I was a morning person. That person who wakes up and exercises before breakfast, has managed a gym session before work. That fills their time efficiently.

I am not that person. I need food as soon as I get up. I prefer going to the gym late afternoon. I procrastinate. I do not drink coffee and if I want a packet of crisps, I am having a packet of crisps. The chia seeds are probably going to remain in the cupboard.

Spending so long wanting to be different, wanting to be what I feel I should be, has done nothing but make me worse. It has done nothing but make me feel bad, guilty and wrong.

I am awful for not doing work for ages, and then doing a heap of work at once. And I say ‘awful’ because people do not see it as the best way to be – but now I am asking why is it not? I get my work done. I produce good work. Just because I work differently to what you do, or differently to what is apparently ‘ideal’, does not make my way wrong.

No I do not eat chia seeds. I eat far too much peanut butter. I have crisps with my lunch everyday and I do not measure out everything I eat. I eat the way I always have. I eat what I want, when I want, making sure I get everything that I need. I am at a healthy weight, I exercise regularly. I do a lot of the things we are told not to do. I eat sugar. I eat ‘junk’ food. I skip the gym because sometimes skipping the gym is good for my soul. I always eat after 8pm. I am sat typing this at 00:19 in the morning.

Finally I am at peace with this. Right now, this works for me. I am sorry if you think this is bad. I am sorry that my way of working is not of the standard you expect. I am sorry that we live in a world that makes people think they are better than someone else because of the way they live their life.

But I am here telling you it is ok to be the way you are, if it is working for you. And it is also ok to be working on things. I want to start yoga. I want to meditate when I wake up, and when I go to bed. I want to start lifting heavier weights at the gym. I am a work in progress and that is ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of my undergraduate degree (and a little update!)

I handed in my dissertation last week, and my final assignment this week, and I don’t know if it hasn’t hit me yet or if I’m just not a very emotional person, but it hasn’t bothered me that much! Everyone keeps asking how it feels and I don’t really have a response!

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I also had a final presentation and the transformation with my confidence has been incredible over these three years. I know I talk about it a lot…but in first year I didn’t do my presentations and so I got ungraded for one, and capped at 40% for the other because my lecturer agreed I could hand a paper copy of what I would have said. Second year I did them, I’m not sure how well. This year I have been so much better. I mean my hands shake and I feel terrified but even turning up is a big deal with me! And a friend commented on how I seem like the calmest/most confident person in our group hahahaha if only she could see me inside!!! But it feels so good to see this progress. It means more to me than any qualification or grade, as insane as that sounds.

Today was a big one! I never go out with my friends, but it was one of theirs last day here before they move back home and I went. Not only did I go but I ate waffles!!

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To think that when I was 15 years old I had a crisis meeting with mental health services because I hadn’t eaten all week and then I ate a grape and had a total meltdown, I feel this is a pretty big deal. It is probably the most challenging thing I have done in recovery (oh and a pizza a few months back).  And it was so lovely to see my friends, and I am going to miss them so much.

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I also met my best friend at home yesterday after seeing my psychiatrist. I met her at the anorexia nervosa day programme I used to go to and we’ve only actually been really close for 9 months-ish but she is literally such an amazing person. It sounds cheesy but she brightens up my life so much, she really brings out the best in me. She makes me feel ambitious and determined, happy and just able to be myself. She is probably the most amazing person I have met in my life. I haven’t had someone I can call a best friend in so long, I thought I’d never get that close to someone again, but this girl is like a second sister to me. She is a ray of sunshine even when things are tough. She makes my mood go from pretty damn low to absolutely amazing just by being herself. I am so lucky to have this girl.

I have been struggling a lot this last few weeks. I had an incident 3 weeks ago, which I am absolutely determined will be my last, but it has led to such an insane number of hospital appointments and I might need surgery and I am sick to death of hospitals/clinics right now. I have been to the therapy preparation group twice now and it’s, overall, good. I lost it on Tuesday-Thursday and was adamant it is stupid and I am not interested in going, but I have come through that now ha! There has been an issue within my family that has basically changed my whole life. I don’t want to go into it, but I’ve lost a member of my immediate family. I think I am fine with it, that I am coping, but then there are moments where it hits me and those are pretty tough – especially with things like finishing university and graduating, knowing that person isn’t going to be there. My psychiatrist told me I can get upset, that it is ok. That I won’t disintegrate, and I keep reminding myself of that.

I have been referred by occupational therapy for camouflage make-up and I’ve seen some examples of how amazing it is (this guy with full body tattoos had them all covered and you couldn’t see them at all!) and it is going to be so so life changing for me. I’ve also booked a holiday to Marrakesh at the start of September with my best friend! And I’m going camping in the peak district in a couple of weeks with my sister which is going to be so lovely. I love a walking holiday. I haven’t been on holiday since I was 18 for various family/health related reasons so this is all very exciting.

I guess I am learning that I can be both happy and sad and that is ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for participants in an online focus group on mental illness and UK newspapers

I am looking for a few people (12-20) to take part in an online focus group that is in a forum style. There is one active group right now, another will be made once the first is completed for those who have not taken part in the first.

The topic is the portrayal of mental illness in UK newpapers, and more specifically, whether the portrayal has changed. The only requirement is that you read UK newspapers (print or online).

You do NOT need to have a history of mental illness. If anyone is interested use the link below or message me and I’ll talk you through how to do it if you struggle. There are 4 topics and a lot of questions but there is no requirement to answer or comment on everything. I will be commenting on replies to create a two-way conversation.

This is the link: https://focusgroupit.com/groups/d46db971

If the number of questions overwhelm you, it’s fine to do as much as you have time for and it’s going to be open for a few weeks too.

Thank you!

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016: Lets stop using this week to make the situation worse.

I dislike National Eating Disorder Awareness Week because I feel that it is not really about raising awareness at all. Every year this week is flooded with photographs of sufferers at severely low weights. While intentions may be good, on the whole this can be very triggering, and only contributes to the public’s misunderstanding that eating disorders are solely about weight. People are trying to change how eating disorders are perceived and shout “it is not about weight” yet post photographs of themselves emaciated in order to tell their story. These photographs resemble images you would find if you Googled ‘pro-ana’ (I do not advise you do) and it is not acceptable. Furthermore, journalists who are adamant about using such images and including intimate details about a person’s eating are simply irresponsible.

The less visible an eating disorder is, the less seriously it appears to be taken, which is something that can be particularly problematic for sufferers who never reach an incredibly low weight, for example, those diagnosed with Bulimia, BED (Binge Eating Disorder) or OSFED (Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder). I had (have?) a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa, and although I have now reached a healthy weight, I still struggle with disordered thoughts and behaviours. A healthy weight does not mean a person is not suffering, and having an eating disorder does not automatically mean being significantly underweight.

I was diagnosed in 2008, and hospitalised for a year on a psychiatric unit. I relapsed in 2011 and had a brief medical admission for re-feeding as it was not something I was able to do at home, and I have been fighting ever since. It has been a long journey, and gaining the weight has been difficult. It still is difficult. I did not just have to deal with gaining weight, I also had to come face-to-face with all of the thoughts and feelings I had been avoiding.  I know I am not overweight, but being heavier than I once was feels strange and it is hard to get used to. That being said, I would not go back for the world.

When I try to recall my worst times it is hard to remember much. But I do remember being violent towards my family, climbing upstairs to bed on my hands and feet because I could not physically walk (how glamorous?!) and crying my eyes out in the bath because clumps of hair began falling out. I do remember passing out down a flight of stairs and not brushing my teeth because I was terrified of the calories in toothpaste. I do remember having an emergency meeting with my mental health team because I had eaten one measly grape which lead to suicidal thoughts of a serious nature. I can laugh at it now, but at the time it was not funny at all.

Nothing in the world mattered to me other than my eating disorder. Not specifically losing weight, but wanting to show that I could cope without people, water, and food… anything that we all need to survive. It was never about wanting to lose weight to look different or to be ‘thin’. For some it is, at least to an extent, but for me it was not at all. I do not remember planning to lose weight. Over time little changes happened, and eventually I found myself eating very little, or some weeks, nothing. It was my coping mechanism, and I guess it worked for a while. I wanted to run away from all of the things that had happened in my life, and that were happening.

When things are tough, my reaction is to self-destruct, not to take care of myself, and when you don’t have any respect or love for yourself, it makes living very hard, and accepting love almost impossible. Starving myself was not about being thin. I did not want to look like a model or a celebrity. I did not even think I was fat until I was dangerously underweight. The more weight I lost, the bigger I felt. The only time I really had an issue with my weight, was when I was at my lowest weight. I feel happier with my body now than I did back then. I would almost say I feel ‘thinner’ now I am bigger. It makes no sense.

Prior to my eating disorder I suffered with depression, and like we talk about people self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, I guess starvation was my self-medication. When you are starving yourself you lose contact with the world. Everything feels distant and unreal. Your brain thinks about nothing other than food, and although that is hell because food is the one thing you will not allow yourself, it can feel a lot better than thinking about the things that are affecting you.

With eating disorders, people want to know what happened, they want the details of how much weight you lost. They want photographs. They want to know all about your illness, but not what happened to you before it. I want to try and tell you my story in the hope that it encourages others to share theirs in a similar way. I was depressed. I walked around school under a grey cloud. I struggled to socialise and would walk out of classes when things got too much, took frequent overdoses and began self-harming. I was existing, but I was not living.

I thought I had always been the annoying one, too loud, too much. I wanted to be less. I wanted to be the quiet one and if there is one thing my eating disorder did, it is silence me. I was no longer the Natalie that bounced around the place laughing and having fun. I no longer talked non-stop, which always drove my family up the wall. Suddenly I was quiet. I was still. I was less, and less was what I wanted. For me personally, this never was, and still is not about weight, and I will say this until I am blue in the face. It was about making myself numb. It was about having something else consume me, before my depression did. In many ways it was about survival, that is, until it nearly killed me itself.

Images of emaciated people are not helpful and do not represent the spectrum of those who suffer with eating disorders. What people need to know is that eating disorders are a mental illness, and a mental illness has causes, and these causes are never as simple as solely being down to the media, or just wanting to be thin. Stop reading about how low someone’s weight was, stop buying into the way the media tries to draw readers in with shocking stories of weight loss and photographs to match. Start asking why this happens without jumping to conclusions that this is just about appearance. My eating disorder was self-destruction, it was a way of hurting myself. It was a way of pushing away horrible memories and feelings. A way of coping with trauma. What I looked like when I was physically unwell does not show anything close to the pain I was suffering inside.

It is time to start understanding that people who develop symptoms of a mental illness have gone through a journey that started a long time before those first signs display themselves, often years before. The deep-rooted causes are much more important than stories about hospitalisations, and photographs of emaciated bodies. We need insight into why these disorders occur in order to begin to find ways to change societies understanding of them, to pick eating disorders up earlier, and to treat them as soon as possible. These stories can offer insight that could help a member of the public notice if someone close to them is showing signs of an eating disorder and this is why we need to raise awareness. We need to work together to stop eating disorders from stealing people’s happiness, and often lives. That is the reality.