Surviving a festival with a mental illness

I’ve come away, for the first time, to Spring Harvest (a Christian festival/conference) with my husband. I’m very fortunate, at the moment, to be mentally well but I’m always aware of how much my mental illness impacted my life, either stopping me enjoying things, or stopping me doing things altogether.

I’m not suggesting anyone will be able to strike out to the next festival mid crisis but when on the road to recovery, we need things to challenge us and this might be just the thing…I hope this blog will help someone think they could cope with coming away to Spring Harvest (or similar) even if they are still struggling. A Christian festival is fantastic place to find support, friendship and fellowship with people who could draw you closer to the ultimate healer.
I just have a few pointers on how to ensure you get the most out of it even when times are hard.

  1. Be prepared – If anxiety is a problem, predicting that every disaster that will happen will come as second nature but a few simple plans can reduce fears. Ensure you have confirmation emails ready and/or wrist bands etc. Ask people who’ve been before how to prepare/what to pack etc, phone or email the organisers, explain you’re concerns, they’ll be more than happy to help, they’ll want to put your mind at ease. 
  2. Pack something comforting – whether your favourite food, a teddy, a cosy jumper or your iPad, have something with you that reminds you of home and you can call on to if your having a wobble.
  3. Go with someone you know well – talk to them about any apprehension and ask them to watch out for signs you’re not coping. Let them know they do not necessarily need to look after you, as you can look after yourself but if they’re there for support, it’ll help.
  4. Don’t try and do everything – when you’re faced with a programme packed full of events it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and think you’ll miss out if you don’t go to everything and pack your time but the reality is, you cannot do everything and you’re there to enjoy yourself, you won’t if you’re dashing around! Take time to look at the planner, mark what you want to do so you don’t forget, then just do it.
  5. If you’ve come in a group you don’t have to do everything with them – being in a group can be reassuring so take advantage of that! But it can also be exhausting so make sure you do the things you want to do, on your own, or just with 1 friend. Be aware of what your character needs, when recovering from depression a good balance of time with people and time alone is important. 
  6. Make sure you have food plans – mental instability plus lack of physical energy is not a good combination, make sure you have plans for regular meals. This can be tricky and depends on the exact nature of the festival. At Spring Harvest, there is a great choice of self catering, buying meals on site or a half board dining package. If you have an eating disorder, self catering is often best but recovering I have found half board really helps as it’s helped me break unhelpful disordered habits (such as sticking to salads etc). 
  7. Plan relaxation time – if the weather’s nice, go for a walk or find a safe place and just spend some time sitting reading or having some “down time”. Don’t worry about missing out, what’s the point of sitting in a seminar if you’re not really listening or listening to a band if you’re mind’s elsewhere?! Take time to recharge.
  8. Make sure you take all you treatment – if you need medication, a week before you’re due to go, make sure you have enough so you have time to put a repeat prescription in. If you have therapeutic techniques you need to practice or worksheets you need to fill in, make sure you set aside time. You may be going on holiday but recovery is a full time occupation!
  9. Have a back up plan – make sure, if things get too much, you have a plan for what you will do, will you stay in the chalet? Want a friend to stay with you? Or will you need to have a way of getting home? Often, if we have a “get out plan” we don’t need it, just having it there is all the reassurance we need. 
  10. Remember why you’re there – if you’re struggling at a Christian festival, focus on God or ask for prayer; people willing to lend an ear or a hand in fellowship will not be in short supply! At a secular festival, focus on the music, remember loving music is part of what makes you you, mental illness does not have to define you.

So, if you’ve been to a festival before or you’re considering one for the first time, be bold. Put your mental illness, where it belongs, on one side. There are many to choose from. Spring Harvest have kicked off the 17:21 campaign, a scroll is visiting 22 festivals celebrating what unites us as Christians, including:

Give it a go!

What is happiness?

It’s International Day of Happiness but what does that mean? Do we all have to be happy all day? Can we force happiness? How do we know when we’re truly happy? Is superficial happiness good enough?

Having suffered from severe depression I’m well versed with measuring that, rating each symptom depending on how serious it feels or how often you feel like that over a given period of time. So, recovery is measured by a lack of symptoms but a lack of depression does not mean you are happy.

Happiness can be thought of as an emotion, most people can say at any given moment whether they are happy or not. But being happy overall is slightly different. Words such as content or satisfied may be more important to consider.

So, how do we measure happiness?

Positive Psychology researchers use 3 measures:

  • Positive affect (mood and emotions)
  • Negative affect
  • Satisfaction with life

As with measuring symptoms of a mental illness, so, we can subjectively measure positive and negative mood and emotions. The Positive and Negative Affect Scale is a good example of how we can measure our mood and emotions. It can be used in the moment or over there past week.


Measuring our satisfaction with life is very interesting and full of variables. Things may include:

  • Have you achieved goals?
  • Do you have friends? Do you measure strength and depth of friendship or number of friends?
  • Can you trust the people who influence your life to have your happiness as a priority?
  • Does money factor? For some people this would be quantity, for others, having enough would be an important factor.
  • Have you had children? Are they happy? Do they need to be achieving to feel you’ve achieved?
  • How healthy are you? Have you recovered from an illness? Do you manage chronic illnesses well? What impact does illness have on your overall life?
  • How are the people you care about? Are they happy?
  • What personality traits are important? Are you kind, generous and warm-hearted? Are assertiveness, ambition and gregariousness important characteristics? Is it important that other people notice these characteristics in you?
  • Is a lack of greed or selfishness more important than positive characteristics?
  • Is it ok to put yourself first? If so, how much? How often?
  • Do you have enough time with the people you like, doing the things you enjoy?
  • When things aren’t going so well, do you feel able to change it?
  • How in control of your life do you feel? Do you have self-belief?
  • DOes a belief in a higher power impact you positively or negatively?
  • How much importance do you place on what other people think of you?
  • Is your work life balance how you want it?
  • Is what you do worthwhile?
  • ARe little things more important than the big things? Or vice versa?


Different people will leave different levels of importance on each of these and may consider other things play a bigger part in general happiness and well-being.

It is perfectly possible to be satisfied and content, even if things are not objectively “going well” as our higher functioning is able to see coping with adversity as a positive.

The government considered happiness so important in 2010 they asked the office of national statistics to survey the country’s happiness. Discussing how the survey would work, they found happiness was intangible but well-being is more easily measured. They asked 4 questions:

  1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  2. Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  3. Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  4. Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

Recent findings (up to Sept 2016) include:

  • Life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness have been steadily increasing since 2012 to October 2014, since then, they’ve plateaued.
  • Anxiety was steadily decreasing to October 2014, since then it has been increasing.

Should we strive for happiness?


In my experience, I think this quote puts it perfectly. Striving for something intangible is fruitless, you will never know when you’ve achieved it. This does not mean, sit around doing nothing and happiness will arrive. Knowing what makes you happy is important, striving to achieve goals and thinking and behaving positively will all help.

I also believe we need to have times of unhappiness in order to recognise and appreciate the times of happiness. I do not strive to be unhappy, angry, anxious or frustrated but in experiencing these things, I enjoy the relief, joy and happiness all the more having been through tougher times.

Survey reveals referral rates need to improve

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorders charity, asked nearly 1700 people, (1420 of which had an eating disorder, the others knew someone close to them with an eating disorder) about their experience with GPs.

I took part in this survey to get my voice heard and it seems many people feel the same way I do…

The survey revealed that half of sufferers rated their experience as “poor” or “very poor”. Of people who would have benefitted from immediate psychological support 3 in 10 were not referred to specialised services.

More than half of the sufferers felt their GP didn’t understand them and only one third (34%) thought their doctor knew how to help them.

Only 20% of patients came away from their appointment with information about eating disorders and services that could help them.

It will have taken many of these people months if not years to have reached the point of asking for help, the courage to make the appointment, get through the door and start talking about their problem would have taken such courage, to be turned away with nothing is very worrying.



Why is early referral so important? Simple – recovery rates improve.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and currently, of those who live, many remain chronically ill. The sooner someone is referred for specialist support the higher their chances of full recovery.

It is important to work out why these vital referrals aren’t happening…

I do not want to come across as GP bashing, there is no way that some of the most caring people in our society are deliberately denying people the support and treatment they need. Andrew Radford, Beat’s Chief executive believes medical students, hoping to become GPs, need more training. I went to medical school, the shear volumes of information you need to absorb is vast. Maybe it’s not just about “recognising the signs and symptoms” as Mr Radford put it, maybe there’s more to it.

When I went to the GP as a 15 year old, I was not referred. I was not given any information. I did not receive the help I needed. It was hard enough just getting through the door but there is no way of turning back the clock to find out why. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough? Maybe there should be more eduction in schools so I was more equipped when I went to my GP?

My experience was 20 years ago but the Beat survey reveals this is still happening today. Is it the “old school” doctors who aren’t keeping up to date with training? Do newer GPs need more training? Are GPs/secondary services using out-dated/overly stringent criteria as referral criteria e.g. BMI? Is there an inaccurately held belief that if you refer someone there’ll develop an eating disorder where there wasn’t one? Are GPs so overworked, although they know the signs and symptoms to looks out for, they miss them? Do they think, “if it’s that serious they’ll come back”? Do patients go with too many problems and the GPs are distracted by other issues they consider more important? Do doctors not have enough times to refer people? Are doctors unaware of what secondary care is available? Do GPs think the secondary care is inappropriate/unhelpful? Is the mental health stigma still getting in the way?

We really need to get to the bottom of what is going wrong in the consultations where people are not getting what they need.

Perhaps some positive news is that once some of the sufferers swapped GPs (as nearly 1 in 6 did) they reported receiving the help they needed. When I approached a GP in my 20s I’m very glad to say I’ve had much better support. By this time I was a lot sicker, my GP had to persuade me to access the secondary and then tertiary services, she was excellent. Since then, I’ve moved a couple of times and each time, I’ve had a mixed experience with GPs. It’s been very difficult to find what I need but each time, with some perseverance I’ve found a GP with the right skills and experience to support me. Maybe I am a tricky/difficult patient but I’m definitely not alone with these feelings as the Beat research reveals.


Somehow we need to make sure that every single one of the 725,000 people in the U.K. affected by an eating disorder gets the support and treatment they need to recover.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more information:

Independent.co.uk

Full results of Beat survey

Confessions from a disordered mind

So, it’s eating disorder awareness week again and I fear, yet again, I will be “preaching to the converted”… not that I preach (I hope) but I fear my blog only reaches those people who already know about mental illness, those who are already interested, those who suffer themselves or who care for someone who is or has been mentally ill. People reading this do not really need their awareness raising, so…what’s the point?!

I’ve challenged myself to go a bit deeper this year. Maybe my audience are aware of mental illness, even aware of eating disorders and anorexia. But how many of you actually know what it’s like to be stuck on the treadmill of starvation where you beat yourself up because you wonder if you’ve chosen to be ill but when you try eating an apple, a voice tells you “if you don’t cut it into 36 pieces, you’ll put on 6 stone”?

Anorexia isn’t about choosing not to eat or just liking healthy eating. It isn’t sexy or glamorous. It isn’t about losing a bit of weight, being a moody teenager, being awkward or deliberately deceitful. It’s a serious mental disorder where your every waking moment is driven by a desire to lose weight and your nightmares are dominated by fear of fat. The interlinking of thoughts, emotions and behaviours and your interpretations of these is incredibly strong, it can feel impossible to break the automatic cycle.


The voice (I later called Ana) was with me 24/7, in bed, at the supermarket, while with friends, when I was alone, she never left me alone. I thought she was my friend as she gave me hints and tips to achieve my goal. She persuaded me to make trips to a supermarket that was further away because they sold products lower in fat and sugar. She kept me going when I slowed through exhaustion while out running, she made me run faster, harder, further. She helped me say no when I was tempted by cakes and biscuits. She made me walk instead of use the car, even when the weather was cold and wet. She gave me a buzz when I lost weight but didn’t let up, she made me strive for the next target.

With anorexia I was devious and deceptive. I’m ashamed of some of the things I did. This is common. My focus became losing weight, my aim was to consume as few calories as possible and use up as many as possible. Continuing with a vaguely normal life became difficult, impossible at times. I’d pour milk into a bowl to pretend I’d eaten cereal. I’d say I wasn’t hungry when my stomach was in knots. When offered food, I’d say I’d already eaten when the truth was I’d not eaten for days. On one hand I hated wasting food, on the other, I’d throw food away. I hated lying but if I was to achieve my goal I had to. Unfortunately, the more weight I lost, the more I had to hide. I also self harmed, I had to hide this as well.


Why was I so determined? I felt out of control of my body (during puberty) and of my emotions. I’m a highly sensitive introvert who felt like I didn’t fit in the world. I thought my food intake and losing weight was the only thing I could contol. As with any other coping mechanism we use to make ourselves feel better/happier (smoking, shopping, drinking alcohol) there comes a point where they stop helping and start becaming a problem in themselves.

The more weight I lost, the better I felt about my body, I got a pleasure, I felt a a sense of achievement. But each time I achieved my goal, I had to set a lower goal weight. The lower my goal weight, the harder it was to achieve. The harder I had to work at my eating disorder (yes, it’s hard work) the more unhappy I was. Anorexia is full of contradictions.

There came a point when I realised my goals for life weren’t compatible – I did not have enough physical or emotional energy to be the person I wanted to be and to continue losing weight. I had to decide which I wanted more. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just choosing to recover.


When trying to recover the juxtaposition of desperately wanting to get better with desperately wanting to continue losing weight (because you know you feel better lighter and feel worse heavier) is an impossible battle. It didn’t make sense to enter into a recovery programme, signing up to gaining weight, knowing this would make me unhappy. I was unhappy with my life dominated by thoughts of avoiding food, avoiding social situations involving food and constantly trying to use up excess calories, I knew I would be unhappy gaining weight and feeling excess fat on my body. This is a very difficult experience to explain.

As I wrestled with recovery, there were so many reasons to fight to get better but anorexia is powerful. I needed people around me with a lot of patience. Recovery is never a smooth journey and there were many hurdles and many set backs but it is possible.

When I tried talking about the voice I heard I was asked to give it a name (a well established therapeutic technique) but I insisted on calling it Frances because I knew rationally it was me… it felt like someone else but I knew this wasn’t actually possible. In an odd way, my insight was working against me.

Once I gave in and called her Ana, it became easier. Instead of blaming myself, feeling angry at myself, beating myself up etc…I started aiming all my anger and frustration at Ana and started fighting against my illnesses instead of against myself.


Is life plain sailing now I’m recovered? No, of course not! But, although I may never love my body, it is what it is and I make my own decisions now, I’m not dictated to by disorered thinking.

I’m taking on a challenge, 1 step at a time!

Some people, more than others, constantly set themselves challenges…there may be no reason for this, other than, “just to see if I can”! For me, it’s been running. I started running as a teenager and have done it ever since. At uni, I was not up late at night partying, but when suffering from insomnia I would go for late-night runs to clear my head or just for something to do! I’ve enjoyed many-a 10k race, tried a multi-terrain type thing that was a giggle and done a couple of half marathons.


For the last few years I’ve found running harder and harder. It’s never easy to go for a run when it’s cold or raining but even in the good weather my body has complained, my hips ached, I’d get sharp pains in my ankles, my head throbbed no matter how hydrated I was and at times it feels as though ever cell in my body was crying to stop. Instead of the exhilaration I used to experience, when returning from a run I’d just feel exhausted. My brain was willing but my body was not. I’ve had breaks, thinking I just needed to rest for a bit but every time I went back to it, I just couldn’t get going.


Since I was a teen I’ve dreamt of running a marathon, would I have to give up on running before I’d realised my dream?

Last year, many of you will know, I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This is a chronic pain and fatigue disorder that I will need to manage for the rest of my life. Good news, a key part of management is exercise! Bad news, “grading” and “pacing” are not words I’m used to when it comes to running! Connected, or unrelated I’ve also had a lot of other medical problems recently that have put spanners in the works BUT… I have had to learn…


Grading – This involves starting at a very low manageable level of exercise, i.e. 5 minutes of walking per day for a week or 2 (depending on residual fitness). The idea is then to build up very slowly, 1-2 minutes at a time and this is then maintained for a period of time. Gradually other exercises can be added in (of particular value in fibro are things like warm water swimming or yoga).

Pacing – Pacing involves doing the same amount of activity each day, no matter how you’re feeling. The hard bit for me is that when I’m feeling good I want to run and run, which (with fibro) means I’ll pay the price within hours. Even just running a bit further than planned, my joints and muscles ache and the fatigue feel unmanageable. On bad days it’s easy to feel that exercise just isn’t possible but studies have shown that even though symptoms may increase, if appropriate limits are set, it is possible to repeat the performance from the previous day.


I am not someone to give up without a massive fight!

I was referred to a specialist clinic and I went with my long list of questions… at the top? “Will I ever be able to run a marathon?” To be honest, the physiotherapist was not forthcoming with a promising answer but she could see I was enthusiastic, wasn’t going to give up without a fight and she didn’t want to put a dampener on things so she suggested 2 years may be a time scale I could work to.

So, with grading and pacing in mind, October 2018 in my goal.


In Novemeber 2016 my GP referred me to the gym. I started walking for 5 minutes on the treadmill and using the cross trainer and resistance machines to improve my fitness without putting strain on my joints. It was really hard making all the effort to go to the gym just for 10-15 minutes exercise but I had to keep my eyes on the goal. Gradually I added in 2 minutes jogging, increasing it bit by bit, listening to my body and working within my limits. Each increase, my instincts would say “push yourself”, I then have to be strict with myself and make the increase smaller than I wanted – literally 1 minute or 0.2km/h at a time. It’s been really hard.

Pacing has been a tricky one, I’ve hit and broken through “the wall” many times as a relatively fit and healthy individual. I have fallen into the trap of thinking that was all I needed to do with fibro. Unfortunately, after the wall, there’s a 20 inch thick concrete block, then a steep mountain crag, if you do manage to push yourself through all those, there is then a crevasse… So, even when I’ve wanted to do more, if my plan says to repeat the previous day, that is what I do.


So, working carefully, the treadmill and cross trainer have got me to the point of being able to jog for 30 mins. I registered with Parkrun, a free weekly 5k run organised across the world.

Joining the 500 other runners I felt that excitement/nervousness I’d experienced previously at much bigger races and it felt good! I promised my husband I would “plod” round. I was drawn along with the crowd but I was determined not to be driven by striving for a PB or specific time. I must admit when I received my time by email I was quite excited… That is not the point, the point is, I did it, I jogged/ran the whole thing and I really enjoyed it! Yes I ached afterwards but that’s not the end of the world, I did all my usual warming up and cooling down and I can safely say I have not felt any unmanageable adverse affects!

Fibro aside, I’m really hoping none of my other health problems get in the way! My next goals will involve running further but increasing it very slowly. I’ll keep you posted.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has set themselves any goal or challenge, fighting against the odds!

 

What NOT to do at the gym

  1. Leave sweat on machines – if you sweat, it’s going to drop off, be polite, wipe it off. 
  2. Drop free weights from a height – the loud clunk makes people’s heads turn, yes, but we do not think “wow, look at him lifting big weights”, we think “what an idiot using weights that are too heavy for him”. 
  3. Wear clothing that are too tight – it’s very unpleasant to see biceps bulging out of clothing just wear the next size up, it’s not difficult.
  4. Sit on machines not doing anything – it’s just rude. I know people often do a set of reps and pause then do another set of reps but there’s no excuse for just sitting on a machine looking at your phone or for longer than a short pause. 
  5. Compare yourself to other people (unless it positively motivates you)
  6. Use poor technique – injury alert! The instructors are there for a reason, follow their advice about how to exercise, they do know a thing or two! Don’t just swan about like you own the place using equipment badly, you look like an idiot!
  7. Pose in front of the mirrors – watching for correct technique, ok, posing, not ok…

    Enter a caption
  8. Watch other people  – it’s unnerving and again, just rude.
  9. Grunt and groan – this doesn’t help anyone and just annoys the people around you.
  10. Join in January – New Year resolutions don’t work, if you want to get fit, lose weight, tone up, whatever, why wait for January when it’s going to be overcrowded with people who aren’t going to stick around anyway?…join when you feel motivated, Feb 16th is as good-a-time as May 27th, just do it! 
  11. Sing out loud to your music – some quiet humming for a VERY short time is kinda funny but any longer is VERY annoying!
  12. Be put off by people who think they’re God’s gift to humanity – they’re not so don’t worry about it!

I know the guys who need to read this aren’t going to but the rest of us can have a giggle thinking about all those who make these mistakes over and over every day! It’s best to giggle, otherwise we’d get really annoyed!!

Back on medication – have I failed?

Some of you will know, this time last year I was gradually coming off my psychiatric medication. I’d been on medication most of my adult life, I was still in therapy but I felt it was the right time to give it a go. If you’ve been on medication a long time it can be hard to tell if you still need it. The only way to be sure is to try coming off them in a controlled way and see if symptoms return. I did this, I came off everything very gradually, keeping a careful track of how I was feeling and what thoughts I was having. Soon after, my therapy came to an end and all seemed to be going well.

Unfortunately, my physical health in 2016 has taken a bad turn. I’ve had to see specialist after specialist as one organ system after another started going wrong. I was having numerous tests, appointments and procedures. For a time I was managing to keep positive and take it in my stride but there was only so much I could take and I started noticing symptoms of mental illness creeping back in. In an appointment with my GP I was updating her on all the hospital appointments I’d had and talking about test results etc, I was trying to hold it together but eventually the tears started falling. I then explained the other symptoms I was struggling with.

zebra

We had both been keeping an eye on my mental health as it’s common for physical health problems to take their toll on ones mental health and so at this point we discussed going back on medication. I felt disappointed about the prospect but I made the tough decision to give it a go and see if it could help. Starting on a low dose, of course, and stepping it up gradually until I felt a benefit.

woman-with-head-in-hands-e1449085629223

Initially this felt like a failure, I’d worked so hard to remain stable but I’ve managed to re-frame how I see it and I now don’t see it as a failure. In fact, noticing my symptoms and flagging up the problems earlier rather than later is an achievement for me. If the chemicals in my brain are out of balance again, surely it’s sensible to try and put this right? My old habit was to ignore it for as long as possible and hope it would sort itself out but this landed me in hospital too many times! If someone breaks their leg, you don’t expect them to walk around on it, ignoring the pain, we’d all advise them to have it x-rayed and put in plaster. It’s the same with mental illness, it’s important to find the right treatment.

Fortunately, this time, it seems we’ve spotted the signs early enough and the medication is helping.

Like all medications it’s important you’re not on them if it’s not necessary. We’ve all heard about the antibiotic crisis, over treating can have a devastating effect. It is important that anti-depressants and the like are not taken lightly without thinking about therapy and lifestyle changes as well. Also, we need to give careful consideration to any unwanted side effects. It’s also been much trickier for me this time as we’ve had to consider the interactions with all the physical health medication I’m now taking.

tablets

I do not want to be on psychiatric medication longer than necessary so when things settled down I will consider coming off them again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. But, I’m not going to beat myself up or apologise for putting my hand up and saying “I need some additional support just now”.

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Fake it ’til you make it – does it work?

As a mental health recovery worker, my heart sank when I heard my colleague (who I respect a great deal) use the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” with one of her service users.

This was the worst thing someone once said to me during my recovery journey. I had spent my whole life faking it, and this was what was making me sick. Constantly trying to “fit in”, to be “normal”, meant I’d lost sight of who I really was and it made me more and more unhappy.


I’m an introvert and in a world built for extroverts I feel I constantly have to fake social confidence. When I say I’m an introvert, I mean I’m at the extreme end of the spectrum.

By no means do I want anyone to feel sorry for me. Now I know I’m an introvert and I’m ok with it, I love it! How lucky am I that I don’t NEED other people to recharge my batteries? How great is it that I can amuse myself with a ball of yarn on the sofa for hours without getting bored or needing attention from anyone?

Faking being an extrovert is exhausting. In a room full of people, where background noice makes my ear drums painfully contract and  the ridiculously high watt light bulbs just want to shut my eyes, I smile and nod along to the conversation. I try desperately to drop in some interesting or helpful remark now and again just so someone doesn’t ask me if I’m ok.

No, I’m not ok…faking having a great time when your heart is screaming “get me out of here” takes a lot of self discipline!

If introverts don’t fake it, they’re considered a “party pooper” or “billy-no-mates” or a “hermit”, these are not considered indearing qualities, they’re unfair derogatory insults. The truth is, I just like being on my own, I find peace and quiet restful and other people (except a select few) sap my limited energy. Why is this considered strange?


I felt angry that my colleague had no idea the pain my faking had caused me and I considered her comment insensitive. Add insult to injury she has to be the most extrovert person I know! In my anger I was wondering how she could possibly make such a rookie mistake. But, as I say, I respect her so I knew she meant well and I had to stop and think about what she was trying to say.

The context of her comment was with someone who had mild depression and anxiety. They had previously been an extrovert and were disappointed and frustrated that they’d lost that part of them. My colleague was suggesting that they do the things they knew they’d previously enjoyed. The idea being if you immerse yourself in things, you know, deep down, are part of your character and enjoyable, then, fake a smile now and again, eventually the old you will emerge. My colleague was helping her service user believe in himself again. This genuinely works provided you also address the issues that led to the mental illness occurring in the first place.


Saying this to me, or any introvert, however, would just compound the issues that led to the illness developing. When this comment was said to me, it confirmed that was the failure I felt and unfortunately led me to feel that if I had to fake it for the rest of my life (since I’d been faking it all up until now and I’d never “made it” I wasn’t going to suddenly be able to make it now) there really was no point in going on.

If you tell an introvert to “fake it” to “make it” in the world, instead of building them up, you will be smashing their self esteem to smithereens. We’re already great fakers, what we really need is to be told, “it’s ok to be you”.

For an introvert, finding recovery can be a lot more subtle than for an extrovert. When depressed, the usual reaction is to hide away from the world. Extroverts needs to get out there, find people, build their energy from them. An introvert needs to be truthful about what makes them happy, it might be about treating yourself to some luxuary bath salts or lighting a candle while doing some breathing exercises. I’m not advocating introverts continuing to hide away, we all need someone in our lives, I’m just saying an introvert needs to find balance.


When searching for freedom from a mental illness, it’s about finding out who you really are. If faking being an extrovert will remind you of how fun it is, go for it. If faking being an extrovert will just remind you that you hate faking being an extrovert, please stop!

How to stay motivated…

It’s that time of year again, are you someone who makes New Year resolutions? Halfway through January, have you already broken yours?

One year, I made a resolution that this year would be better than the last. This did not work out as many things happened beyond my control, the year went from bad to worse and I then felt even more of a failure as I couldn’t keep (what I considered) a simple resolution.

Of course, looking back, this was a foolish resolution as there are so many things in life we cannot control and it was not possible to measure whether I’d had a “better” year so how would I know if I’d “achieved” it?!

So, what makes a good resolution and how do we keep it?


  1. Make sure it’s SMART: (sorry if this sounds like school but it’s basic stuff that works)
    1. Specific – make sure you know exactly what you’re doing!
    2. Measurable – how will you know you’ve achieved it?
    3. Achievable – is this something you know you can achieve or is it going to stretch you a bit? Even stretching you a lot is ok, as long as it’s within reach.
    4. Realistic – is it really some thing you want to do? Does it sound reasonable?
    5. Time limited – when are you going to achieve it? Some things you can start straight away, others, you may do with a stepped approach and therefore you need to know when you’re going to do what.
  2. Know what motivates you – if you can pat yourself on the back internally, well done. Most people need something external, either someone else to congratulate them or some external reward. This could be money, a new meal out, a holiday – work out what it is and make sure it’s in place. When the going gets tough, focus on the reward.  If you need recognition from family and friends, tell them and be accountable.
  3. Get the support you need – studies show people are four times more likely to successfully quit smoking with support vs doing it on their own. There must be similar success rates with other goals, make sure you get the right support at the right time.
  4. If you slip up, call it that – you have not failed, you are not back at square one, you’ve got experience behind you now, use that experience to have another go. Beating yourself up is unlikely to help you achieve your goal!
  5. Count your achievements – if you kept your resolution for 1 day and slipped up over the next 2, you still know you can do it for a day, focus on what you achieved that day, forget the others.
  6. Don’t be afraid to change your goal – if it’s not working, don’t give up, just re-evaluate, think about what’s happened, is it a lack of time, a change of circumstances or lack of support? Set something more realistic.
  7. There’s no time like the present – if you’ve not started yet, don’t wait for next year to make another resolution, 1st February is just as good as 1st January.
  8. Just do it! Ultimately, be honest with yourself, are you making silly excuses? Your the only one who knows, do you need to “cut the c***” and just get on with it?!

If, for example, you want to “get fit” – that’s not measurable so make sure you know what you’re aiming for, do you want to run a 5k, 10k or marathon, set a date and enter a race. Or, set yourself a goal of exercising x number of times a week.

If you want to lose weight, but ultimately know that money is more of a motivator, put £x in a jar for every pound lost then make sure you know what you’re going to buy.

“Sorting out my finances” isn’t tangible, instead, set yourself a specific budget plan.

“Get a new job” may be measureable but ultimately a lot of things out of your control, instead, set the goal of applying for x number of jobs per week or make sure you get feedback from all job interviews attended.

Being honest and being positive are qualities that will help you makes goals and stick to them. So even if things haven’t gone too well so far this year, pick yourself up, try again! Good luck!

Goodbye my friend, choosing to forgive

TW – Trigger Warning – contains suicide theme

A dear friend of mine died as a result of her own actions. We do not know if she intended to end her life, she was deeply unwell and the only way she knew how to cope with the despair was to repeatedly take extreme risks with her life and it was one of these actions that finally took her from this world.

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She was beautiful, inside and out. A bright light in the world. She was an inspiration to me. I first got to know her when she was facilitating an eating disorder recovery course I was attending. She been through the pain that is anorexia and she showed me it was possible to come out the other side. We grew to be good friends, but her vulnerability to mental illness continued and it took its grip once again.

At her funeral, I was very fortunate to be reminded about the power of forgiveness and how essential it is at times of grief. I needed to be reminded that holding onto sadness, anger and guilt won’t help anyone, the only way to move forward in life is to manage these emotions in a healthy way.

  • Days before she died, Mary (not her real name) had applied for a job and she was rejected by email because she’d previously been suspended relating to her mental health problems. Of course, I do not blame this person for her death, the world is full of triggering events, but this was a contributing factor to how she felt. I need to forgive this person for not giving her the chance she needed.
  • Mary’s husband had some difficulties which Mary really struggled to deal with. A lot of her friends tried to persuade her to leave him but I listened to her while she wrestled with her thoughts and feelings saying I would support her with whatever she decided. She decided to forgive him, I need to follow her amazing example and forgive him for putting her through such pain.
  • Before going to hospital Mary had received inadequate support from the community mental health team. This could have been for number of reasons. It’s sad that people with Borderline Personality Disorder often receive poor or disjointed care due to lack of understanding, stigma and discrimination. I blog, aiming to improve understanding of all mental health conditions, it’s one small way I hope I can help. All mental health services are stretched due to lack of funding. We can all join campaigns to improve the state of mental health services. Instead of feeling angry and let down, I need to forgive and use my emotions to act and improve things.
  • According to newspaper reports of the inquest into Mary’s death she’d been assessed on her admission to hospital and the doctor did not pick up that she was a suicide risk or at risk of harming herself and did not therefore recommend she be on a high level of observations. In my mind, something went wrong in this assessment. questionsWas Mary given the opportunity to tell someone how distressed she was? Did Mary feel she couldn’t tell anyone? Was she so distressed, she didn’t want anyone to stop her acting? Did Mary tell someone but they didn’t act or even record it? Was Mary so impulsive, she had no idea she was going to do what she did? These questions could go around in my head forever but I will never find the answers, no one can ever ask Mary what happened from her perspective so I need to forgive and let them go.
  • I need to forgive the ward manager who smirked during the hearing and had to be removed from court to be told how to behave. He has no idea how hurtful his behaviour was.
  • It is really hard to admit I feel angry at Mary for doing something so dangerous and putting her life at risk so many times. But I know she was ill. Mental illness is powerful and the voices accompanying the darkness can persuade the sufferer to act in uncharacteristic ways. Admitting I’m angry with Mary is the first step towards forgiving her.
  • I believe in God, as did Mary. The existence of mental illness doesn’t make sense but the brain is an organ like any other that can go wrong and get sick. God bears the brunt of much anger from anyone and everyone, whether they believe in him or not. Some people seem to think, when  all else fails, at least there’s God to blame. But holding onto anger doesn’t do anyone any good. Accepting that we live in a fallen world may be the only way to get past this one.
  • I wish I could ask Mary for forgiveness, I’m sorry for:
    • Not being there for her
    • Not making people step up and give her the care she needed
    • Anything I did that added to her distress
    • Anything I should have done but didn’t that could have prevented this tragedy
  • Ultimately, I need to forgive myself…

forgive-yourself

None of these people will know the process I’m choosing to go through but if I don’t forgive them, I will be choosing to hold onto my anger, sadness, guilt and despair. Keeping myself trapped in these emotions will gnaw away at me, it will not bring Mary back and it would devastate her if she knew I was doing that to myself. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s a choice. I must follow Mary’s example of how healing forgiveness could be. I will never forget but the only way to ease the extreme pain is to forgive.

not-for-other-people