November 2015

Guest Blog: The importance of taking your own advice

One thing I have noticed with an increase of mental health issues among my close friends, and my own rise in anxiety and stress levels, is how it can seem so easy to give the same advice as you need to take yourself to others.

Perhaps it’s trying to convince someone that they need to not worry about something, or trying to show them that they can do something.

I’m not saying it’s easy to get these ideas successfully across by any means.

However a lot of the time if you really sit back and think about these things, the ideas shared between friends with mental health issues are really not too dissimilar.

The other day, I had a verbal assessment at work as part of my training.

These are the ones I dread the most as they require knowledge and procedure recall without notes and I much prefer the written stuff that I know I can work on and get right.

Very anxiety inducing when combined with the one on one/two social interaction.

Verbalising ideas and understanding has always been difficult.

Throughout I was incredibly nervous, fidgeting and struggling to really get the words across that I thought explained by understanding of the subject.

However I was told that I had passed and received a glowing result in the assessment review.

After this I told my friend that I didn’t feel  like I deserved it, that I hadn’t done well enough to get the result I did because I had been so nervous and not felt I’d answered the questions as well as I could have.

A few months earlier that same friend had passed an assessment with an ok, but not great, passing grade.

I told her to take it and run given how she had struggled for marks with some previous assessment, even though her work was of a good standard.

Roll on a few months and it was roles reversed.  I should take it and run, even though I didn’t at the time feel like I deserved it.

I had been so nervous in the run up to this assessment.

Friends were trying to tell me to keep calm but yet it was not really working.

However in the same week I have been trying to keep another friend calm ahead of a job interview further away than she would have liked to be from her current home.

It’s the same in loads of other situations for me, where I end up being incredibly nervous as a result of a lack of self-confidence and a great ability to be stressed and nervous as a result of upcoming social interaction.

My friends are amazingly supportive and will tell me over and over that it will be ok, but it’s so hard to believe because you convince yourself it’s just going to be awful.

Trying to instil positive thinking into others while not being able to take the advice in reverse yourself seems to be a key feature of stress and other mental health problems.

The lack of belief in yourself, but with a belief you can say something to help them, may seem hypocritical but I think that maybe there is a further twisted logic that if you can help your friends overcome something, then maybe you can be inspired to do the same through their actions.

It could also just be a desire that despite the fact you may not like yourself , you still have something in life to work with, because love your friends and want to help them because you believe that they have a greater ability to overcome their issues than you do.

I was inspired to write this piece following the recent post on this blog about positive thinking. 

The two things seem to tie in to become a common inability to overcome your own anxieties.

Perhaps we all need to be a bit more positive, and take the advice we would give to friends.

In a way it is a bit helpful to know that you aren’t the only one who does it either.


Talking positively to yourself

So today is a tough day. It took every inch of my mental strength to get out of bed. I tried to eat breakfast but I couldn’t face it so I just had a cup of tea and pulled some clothes on.

My only reason for getting up and out the house is to help a great friend of mine and I know that when I get there I’ll be fine and enjoy my day.

Why am I feeling so awful?  There is as usual no logical reason.

I found out I have a new Christmas temp job to help out with some much needed money and I have a few people interested in my freelance writing.  Life is on the up.

Yet I feel absolutely worthless and unable to achieve very much.

So today I’m going to try something new.

I’m going to try talking to myself in the same way I talk to my friends when they have a bad day.


Well low mood often leads us to talk to ourselves in a way we would never talk to another human being.

You’re worthless, fat, useless, stupid… would I ever say this to anyone else, friend or foe? Never! So why is it acceptable to talk to myself like this?

Truth is it’s not.

Something that I once got asked to do when feeling awful is the list below.

(credit has to go to my sister)

1) Write something nice you’ve done today

2) Write something nice about your personality

3) Write something nice about your appearance

4) Write something nice you’ve eaten

5) Who have you spoken to today that made your day happier?

It helps you realise that there is always something good going on in your life, however small (like in my case I like the shape of my eyebrows).

Today is tough but the good thing about today is that I have some strength that I don’t always have.

I have the strength to push myself to turn it around.

I’m going to speak nicely to myself and fill out the five positive things about myself and fight my lows as hard as I can.

Today started off badly but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

It’s time to talk to yourself the way you would to a friend.  Cut yourself some slack and let yourself be appreciated.

Guest Blog: Struggles with Depression

So I’m writing this anonymously, mainly because I’m not ready to be open about my mental health issues with depression and anxiety.

Of course my closest family and friends know, but as for the general population I’d prefer to be able to merge into the background.

I admire those who can be so open about these things.

On the outside I’m a jolly person with a lot of achievements and successes to be proud of.  Internally I’m a bag of imposter’s syndrome and self-flagellation.

Coming across as a happy well balanced professional takes most of my energy on my low days.

My current struggles are part of a longer story that I shall tell you about and hopefully highlight how the most unlikely people can struggle with this stuff.

I suppose I’ve always had the tendency towards low self-esteem.

Thinking I was the stupid one in my family and my class at school.  I would get down and sad and think that things weren’t worth doing as a child.

Luckily while I was a teenager, with the support of my teachers, I managed to snap myself out of this mindset and do well in my GCSEs.  One of the top 10 in my school!

“Maybe I can do this” I thought.

It’s around this time I realised my perfectionist tendencies could hold me back.

The mindset is that if I can’t do something to my high standards it’s not worth me doing anything at all.

Logically this doesn’t make much sense but I found that if I couldn’t do something to this mythical self-imposed standard I would beat myself up mentally for it.

This doesn’t do great things to your self-esteem as you can imagine!

So despite going to university and getting a good degree (in physics no less) and getting onto a PhD programme, somehow I still wasn’t good enough.

This nicely sets the scene for my first breakdown and proper diagnosis.

While trying to keep on top of all the pressures of a job miles and miles away from my family and friends plus PhD work and deadlines, my mother was diagnosed with an illness.

It has no cure and would slowly take her away from us probably over many years.

My plans for my family life for the future were cruelly taken away from me.  I’d known something was wrong for a while; she wasn’t behaving in the way I saw other mothers with their daughters behaving.  I was mourning for the future.

The adult relationship I’d never have with my mother.   The wisdom about motherhood she’d never get to share with me.  The grandchildren she’d never get to hold and love.   The peaceful old age and happiness she’d never experience.

Thinking about all this it’s no surprise my work suffered greatly.  This didn’t go unnoticed by my supervisor and university.  I’d failed.  Darkness entered.

I was so far away I couldn’t be the daughter I wanted to be.  I couldn’t academically achieve to the standard I wanted to.

My brain screamed at me that the world was better off without me.

So that’s how persistent thoughts of suicide became my norm.

I told no-one.  I suffered in silence and behind closed doors.

My physical health began to decline.  I wasn’t eating properly because my stomach just hurt and I felt sick.

Pleas to go to the doctor where I was went unheard by me.

The thought of revealing my thoughts to anyone was abhorrent to me let alone a non-native English speaking doctor or worse a non-English speaking doctor and an interpreting friend or colleague!

So I kept swallowing it and my stomach hurt more.

Finally I was visiting the UK.  I went to see the doctor to get another prescription for some regular meds.  To this day I don’t know how I managed to get the words out.

But I burst into tears.  The doc did a questionnaire; it was now official.  The words “severe depression” and “anti-depressant medication” were uttered.

I stammered that I was supposed to fly back out to my job soon.  The doc looked me in the eyes and said, “no you’re not.  I want to see you in a week.”

Weirdly, this was a relief.  Someone else taking control and making these decisions for me.  I slumped into my depression and everything stopped.

Getting diagnosed meant the university work and foreign job all stopped.  I was officially unwell so this was all good but in my mindset at the time I had failed even more.

“Why couldn’t I cope with all this, what was wrong with me…how dare you” etc etc.  I went home to my parents.

I took great joy in the fact I could now freely spend time with my mother while she could still do things.

I left the PhD behind.  I realised some things are more important.

My family.  My health.  My happiness.

Through a mixture of anti-depressants and counselling I managed to pull myself out.

It took a while to find the right anti-depressants for me but once I was settled I found they balanced my mood.

Sure at first they made me feel a bit numb but considering I was suicidal I think this was better!

My counselling helped me come to terms with my mum’s illness and accept things as they are rather than wishing for something else.  So it took me over a year but I got through it.

While I enjoyed caring for my mum I realised that I needed to have my own life.  With my dad’s blessing and with encouragement of my family and friends I did a masters degree.

I moved to a new town, made new friends, met the love of my life and started on a new career that I’m much happier in.

Looking back even though going through this first bout of severe depression was awful, the outcomes couldn’t be more positive.

I had hoped that as I gently came off my anti-depressants and looked forward to my new life that that would be the end of it.

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out like that.

I have to accept that depression is part of my life and that I have to deal with it in the same way that someone else with a chronic health problem (with less associated stigma) would have to.

My latest dance with the black dog is different but themes are similar.  I take it one day at a time and learn each lesson as it happens.

This is my brain and my mind.  This is part of who I am.  Learning to live with my depression is part of loving and accepting myself.

And who doesn’t deserve that?

Guest Blog: Lucy’s Story

Flash back to a just 18 year old me, at download festival, legally drinking, camping with friends and listening to amazing bands.

Waiting for me back in London my new older boyfriend and a new job in a pub which I loved. All in all I was feeling extremely grown up.

Little did I know I was about to have to grow up a lot more. I hadn’t been with then partner for very long, I found him exciting, he was troubled, a punk, had lots of friends and he was complicated and he made me feel less strange.

I have suffered with depression since I was a child, I remember having my first counselling session at the age of around 9, I can’t recall much of it, apart from drawing trees and the counsellor explaining to my parents that the size of the tree trunk was somehow relevant to how I was feeling.

Over the years I found ways of coping with my feelings and my anxiety, they weren’t the most productive ways of coping but it felt right.

I started to self-harm, I’d scream and shout and argue with my parents, trying so hard to get some sort of control of my feelings, desperate to just be normal and not constantly angry.

After returning from download festival, my Mum who knows me better than anyone else asked me if I might be pregnant, in the back of my mind I knew, but I was in denial.

My mum convinced me to do a pregnancy test; a couple of minutes and two tiny blue lines later my life changed completely.

My Mum and I spoke about my options, we cried and we cuddled.

Fast forward 12 months, the last year since turning 18 I had fell pregnant, gave up my job, gave birth to a beautiful tiny 6lb 7oz beautiful blue eyed, blonde haired baby girl.

Still living with my Mum and Dad and big brother except now with added boyfriend, who had over the last year turned from exciting to abusive, mentally not physically although the threat was there and sometimes I thought it would be easier.

It didn’t take much time to realise I was out of my depth.

If I went out with my girlfriends for dinner, I would get threats from him, the one time I dared to turn my phone off, I woke up to phone calls to let me know he had taken an overdose and cut his arms.

He refused to go to hospital or let anyone clean him up but me. The possessiveness and the name calling got worse (slut, bitch, whore, slag etc), I slowly started to change.

I was no longer a hot headed, stubborn, but funny and caring teenager, I was now constantly stressed, I dreaded waking up, but it wasn’t all down to my partner.

I couldn’t bond with my baby, I felt trapped, scared to be alone with her, felt I did everything wrong and was desperate to run away.

I never thought I would get post-natal depression, I denied it for years, I felt I was just a bad Mum.

When my daughter turned three months old, I built up the courage to end things with her Dad.

I felt relieved, sad, scared and happy all at the same time.

I was now on my own with this baby, a single teenage Mum, everything I didn’t want to be. There would be times when I would daydream about leaving a note and just walking away from my darling daughter, for her sake, I wasn’t what she needed.

She deserved better. I would have overwhelming feelings of being trapped, like somebody was literally sitting on my chest so I couldn’t move or breath, I carried this round for two and a half years.

I moved to Cheshire with my daughter and my new partner when she was 18 months old and spiralled deeper into my depression without the support of my family and friends.

I spoke to my mother in law about my feelings she is a counsellor and she referred me to get some help.

By this point my daughter was 2 and a half. I was pregnant with my second child and terrified at the thought of feeling that way about another one of my babies, terrified of not bonding with another baby.

I am so grateful that I was able to get the help needed. I’m now on anti-depressants and have been since my second daughter was born four years ago.

I did bond well with my youngest and have an extremely close relationship with both my girls.

It’s not always easy and my biggest regret is not getting help with my post-natal depression sooner, I feel constant guilt towards my eldest for not being a good enough Mum when she was a baby and the feeling I missed out on her precious first years will hurt forever.

I hope that one day Mothers won’t be fobbed off with having the ‘baby blues’, although I know that sometimes that is the case.

I believe post-natal depression should be spoken about and mothers should know that it’s not ‘normal’ to feel that way but it is also not their fault and it certainly doesn’t make them a bad Mother.

It just means that they may need support and guidance to help them on the way to being the best Mum they can be.

Lucy x

Guest Blog: Struggles with Anxiety

Those that know me would probably piece together the bits of my stories and work out it’s me, but I prefer to keep this anonymous. 

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a very anxious person.

I have long suffered from social anxieties, along with fears of many different activities, and more recently night time anxiety.

You could also say that these things combine well to give me a lack of self-esteem and some possibly depressive episodes.

When I was asked to write this, my first thought was that my problems were not worth writing about, that they wouldn’t be interesting, and that a lot of people have worse problems that a bit of anxiety, however it is that reaction that inspired me to write.

Standing Alone

For years I have struggled with many different kinds of social situation.

My lack of confidence in these situations mean that in new social areas I end up standing alone waiting for people to speak to me, or if I know someone I will tend to attach myself to them which can feel even more awkward.

Even in familiar places, I find things tough, at work a lot of interactions, even as simple as saying hello to a colleague at work I find myself thinking ‘run away’, or panicking in my head as I have a discussion.

Things can improve as I get to know people, however I feel a constant pressure during conversations to keep them going, and that often leads me to feel like I’m no good even at socialising with friends.

There are of course a few exceptions to this rule, people with whom I click instantly, but it’s not very often.

I saw one of those things you often see shared on Facebook a while back about suffering with depression and anxiety, which contained something along the lines of wanting to be alone, but not wanting to be lonely, I related to that more than I thought I would.

My lack of self-confidence stretches to many different areas.

When I have to explain things at work as part of my training, I panic and everything falls out of my head, as happened many times in job interviews.

I have been single for pretty much all of my adult life because I do not believe I am worth being in a relationship with as I wouldn’t want to inflict myself on anyone, and as such I decided to make it my decision not to try and seek it out.

I have often ducked out of a lot of physical activities, especially as I was in the Scouts for years due to fears of so many things.

I have some great friends who will try and help me when I am down, or anxious, or stressed, but I find it so hard to take in such advice.

It also affected me during my short previous career as a teacher, where I suffered from terrible stress and anxiety related to the job.

I felt unsupported and harassed at the time, and could not deal with it on the return from Easter break in my NQT year.

I was struggling to sleep, and would wake up in the middle of the night – I have learned that this is how I know I am stressed.  I didn’t go back to work on the first day of term.  I went to the doctor on that day and was diagnosed with stress related to work, and given some tablets to help me sleep and referred for a bit of counselling at the school I worked at.


In my job last year I went to see the counsellor after being told that my superior was moving to another job just 4 months after I joined and that would leave me as the only person to run the service.

One of the things that has come up throughout these sessions with different counsellors is my ability to be different from myself when I go and watch football, where I can be loud and confident, singing and shouting, and working as a volunteer which allows me to be in the public view and interact with people…but I cannot recreate this anywhere else.

Another time where I had to find some support followed an incident well beyond my own control that ruled my nights and continues to do so 3 years on.

A car was torched and blew up outside my window at 5.30am.

For the next 6 months plus I would struggle to sleep and would get up to check outside my window every time a car stopped for too long, or people lingered on the road, or even for no reason, and would lie in bed feeling tense and panicky.

I hate being at home alone, although I was always tense alone at night, it got worse after this and still continues to be that way.

I found some solace in the radio, as it provided a calming influence that also covered up a lot of generic background noise, and has helped me to return to more normal sleep.

However one thing that this taught me is how hard it is to get over something that you know will most likely never happen again.

Another thing was a theory that anxiety travels faster than logic – even normal sounds where I know what they are get me feeling tense quicker than I can identify what they are.

My life feels ruled by these anxieties.

The difficulty sleeping, the going to bed and having instant feelings of worthlessness and depressive thoughts, and fear even in my own home, the panic in social situations.

However, a friend recently told me that she was inspired to keep going by my actions throughout my problems.

This made me feel good, as my friend puts up with so much more than I do and she still keeps going, as do other friends I know.

I try to help my friends to work the same attitude to help them to get through things even though they feel they can’t, even though there are times where I don’t feel like I want to do things.

I have realised throughout all my anxiety and depressive thought that I have managed to achieve throughout.

I managed to get through my teacher training and become qualified (even if I moved on from it), I completed my masters, I moved out (even for a relatively short time) and eventually I have reached a position where I am doing a training job that should get me moving in the right direction.

I have also established myself in the last ten years in my volunteering roles that give my life so much fulfilment.

My anxieties may not produce much in the way of physical symptoms, it doesn’t stop me getting out of bed for example, but they do hold me back in many ways.

So even though I feel so much more anxiety now I am still able to push through and get on.

Guest Blog: Charley’s Story

My name is Charley, I’m 28 and for the past 4 years I have been suffering from Anxiety and Panic Attacks.

I am also a wife, sister, daughter, teacher, head of department, mentor, gym goer, choir member, tv addict, country music fan, baker, home cook, drinker of chardonnay and someone who loves to laugh.

Having anxiety does not define me, it does not control me.

I have always been a worrier, someone who plans for the future and loathes any situation that takes me out of the driving seat.

But four years ago my wonderful dad, who had worked hard every single day of his life, who had always provided everything myself and my three siblings could want, was made redundant.

My parents lived in the home that my mum grew up in, and although I had moved out 2 years previously to live with my fiancé, I still cherished the house that had been home to four generations of my family.

However, with dad out of work it was evident that we would not be able to keep the home and so myself and my fiancé moved back in to help pay the mortgage, this also served the sensible purpose of allowing us pay off some debt my fiancé had procured BC (Before Charley) and save up for a wedding and home of our own one day.

My story isn’t a unique one, and lots of people have gone through far, far worse, but for me, it was a brutal time.

My parents started a catering company as they refused to go on benefits and at the time the job market was a nightmare.

In the year running up to this I had lost 6 stone and moving back home to the house where I had originally learnt all my bad eating habits was tricky.

I had only been at my new school for a couple of months as a Science Teacher and was still finding that tough, even my mother in law to be had serious issues that we needed to help with, as the mortgage expired on her property and she needed to find a new house.

Although I love getting to be a daily part of my  family’s lives by being in the same house as them it also made me feel like a child again and I felt ashamed that my life was going backwards when the people I went to Uni with were moving forwards, getting married, buying houses.

My daily thoughts were some along the line of – am I doing a good enough job at school, am I doing enough financially and practically to help my family, are we going to manage to ever pay off the debt, am I ever going to be skinny enough, am I being more of a burden to this household then benefit, what are we going to do if we lose this house, what are we going to do if my mother-in-law to be can’t sell her house, are my friends going to stop wanting to be friends with me, am I good enough.

In some sort of twisted coping mechanism, I decided that the best thing to do would be to make myself insanely busy, creating social occasions 2 or 3 times a week, working for my parents company whenever I could, and I also decided to run a 4 week trip to Ecuador for the older girls at school.

I also took on anything anyone asked me to do, and actively sought out as many challenges as I could.

One Saturday morning I had to bake 3 cakes before going to my first ever performance with my new choir at 12pm where I was also doing my first solo (see… insanely busy).

When I got up at 6am some of the ingredients were missing, which put me behind schedule and 10 minutes before I was due to leave the house I had my first ever panic attack on my bedroom floor whilst my fiancé desperately tried to figure out how to support me.

For the next month I woke up every morning with a pounding heart and this certain feeling that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the day. I wouldn’t ever be able to pinpoint what it was about the day that made me so certain that I wouldn’t cope, I just knew that I wouldn’t.

I had panic attack after panic attack, keeping them as secret as I could. My fiancé knew what was going on but I begged him not to tell my parents, worried that it would only burden them during an already incredibly difficult time.

Obviously, my parents knew something was up but it wasn’t until I almost had a panic attack under my desk after school has finished one day that I finally realised I needed to talk to them.

I just felt that if I worked hard enough I would be able to fix everything for everyone else. It was my job and responsibility to. I was the oldest child, it was my job to help my parents, it was my job to get my fiancé out of his debt, you name it, I felt responsible for it.

I SHOULD be able to fix everything if I just try hard enough. But the future looked so desolate and nothing I did seemed to make it any better.

Just before Christmas I admitted that I wasn’t coping and my family encouraged me to talk to them about how I was feeling and not to bottle everything up, I have since learnt that trying to hide how I feel is a massive trigger for my attacks.

In January I was prescribed Beta Blockers and started CBT therapy. I resisted going to the doctors for a while, thinking that they would tell me that I wasn’t anxious enough to get help. But it turned out that I registered as having the highest level of anxiety possible!

That was four years ago and since then my mental health has been up and down but overall I am better than I was.

It took me 6 months but I am off the Beta Blockers. I have only had 2 attacks in the past 6 months. Only 1 in the 6 months before that.

I work in an all-girls, selective school. This has a massive impact on who I am and what I believe in.

I made the decision to be upfront about my mental health issues because I could see young women around me struggling like I was and I wanted them to know that you can get better.

My openness has sometimes been to my detriment but thankfully I am fortunate enough to work within a school that recognise mental health issues and are incredibly supportive of me.

In August I finally married the love of my life, we are currently in the process of buying our first home and my parents are still in our family home!

I am now the Head of my Department, leading a team of 10 teachers and 4 technicians. All of my team know about my mental health struggles and are incredibly supportive.

The message I want to get across today is that having anxiety does not need to define or limit you.

Since being diagnosed I have been promoted twice, one of which was for a brand new role where I had to carve out a job description for myself.

I have been a Maid of Honour for one of my best friends who got married two weeks after my own wedding.

I have taken 35 girls on a 4 week trip around rural Ecuador.

I have gained professional qualifications in Middle Leadership. I have lost another stone. I have completed a 5k run and the Pretty Muddy run. I have run training courses for primary school teachers.

I don’t list these achievements to show how amazing I am, I’m not, I’m just a normal person, but if I can do these things then so can anyone else, regardless of your mental health.

All of these things made me anxious, all of them have made me doubt my decision to keep putting myself in challenging situations rather than ‘take it easy’ as some people had suggested.

But I am not that person who is going to let life pass her by, I want to stand up and make myself count.

I want to make the most of everyday.

Sometimes that means having a panic attack, sometimes it means giving myself nightmares about snakes (a symptom of my anxiety), sometimes it means making my life uncomfortable for a while. Fine. I’ll get through it.

My biggest fear is being a burden to my husband and my family, and I know that sometimes I am.

There have been times where my family have asked me to scale things back, and I know why they are asking me to do this, because they are worried about me and want what’s best for me.

So I try to remember that my actions have an impact on them. If things are getting out of hand then I know what to do – take some time out for me, go to the gym, watch some crappy sitcoms that will make me laugh until I cry.

My name is Charley, I am 28, I have anxiety, but I am happy and my life is pretty bloody wonderful.

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