MOVING ON

Hey everyone. How are you all today? I hope you’re all in good mental health. So, today I’m going to ramble on about a few things: today in England we are in a third lockdown, and l’m wondering how you’re coping through this and, equally, if your country is in a lockdown or not? I’d love to hear from you.

This is the last blogpost you’ll see on here, so I want to to say thank you to the 107 of you that have followed me on my journey. I’ve now created my own website, and from now on my blog posts and podcasts will all be in one place: livingmentalhealth.com. Please come and join me there.

When I’ve been asked by professionals, friends and family, ‘How are you doing in this lockdown?’, I’ve said, ‘I’m lucky, I have a dog and a partner, so consequently I have someone to talk to and I’m not on my own.’ If I was on my own, I think I’d struggle a hell of lot more. I also think that my mental health would have got to a point where I might have had to go in to care, in something along the lines of supported living; I really do. I would have withdrawn from everyone and everything, so thankfully my caring partner has kept me on track.

I also haven’t had much help from my psychiatrist. In fact, my last call with him was just three minutes and ten seconds long. At our next appointment I’m getting discharged, which means I can look for some more help from other places; I’ll also no longer have a stressful week leading up to one phone call. I’m also currently waiting to see if I can get on a year-long therapy session, which I’ll blog about if I do.

In other news, for the people that like the Burgh Castle blogs, the Restoration Trust are now in the process of applying to a Community Fund to be able to continue the project – hopefully in person, once the Covid-19 restrictions have been relaxed. Keep your fingers crossed for us so that we get the money; if we do, I can write some more blogs about Burgh Castle and let you all know what we’re getting up to. The Burgh Castle Almanac has had such a positive impact on everyone involved.

I’m also still involved with Access Community Trust, where I’m a mentor in the Community Circles project. That has given me back some self-worth back and confidence, which I’m enjoying very much. I’m also involved in Waveney LEAF – the Lived Experience Advisory Forum – and I think with the people involved, and Beth Stephens leading us, we are starting to make an impact in the local area, I really do. You can find out more about LEAF here: https://www.accessct.org/waveneyleaf/

As you can see, I’ve been involved in a few things that have kept me going after the Christmas break. Happily, they’ve all made positive changes in me during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thanks for reading this, and see you all next time on the website. I wish you all good mental health.

WEIGHT WATCHER

Hi everyone, I hope this finds you all well and coping to the best of your ability. This blog is a bit different; I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while now, but wasn’t sure if I could put it into words.

I have struggled with my weight for a fair few years now, but I liked the fact I was big – it was my barrier to the outside world. I know a lot of people can relate to that, as we think we will be more invisible the bigger our barriers are, but this is not the case. Even though I felt safe with my extra weight, I also knew that it affected my mental health in a lot of ways.

We know health wise it’s not a good thing to be overweight, but if we suffer from mental health issues, it’s a real struggle. We know we need to be fitter, but food is our comfort – our safe haven, so to speak. It makes us feel good for a while, then the self-hatred of eating too much, or of eating the wrong things too much, gives us a very negative reaction mentally. I can finally put my hand up and say, ‘I am one of those people.’ We pretend it’s fine to be so big, to cover ourselves in oversized clothes, to feel comfort in our ‘bigness’ when we’re feeling low.

But now, I know I need to do something healthy – not just for me, but for my loved ones around me. Being this big is not good for my health or mental well being.

So… I’ve taken the plunge, and have started on a healthy eating plan. I have the help of my partner and close friends, who are also embarking on this journey with me. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy; I’ve already been tempted when I went into a baker’s, but I happily left without any pies or pastries, which I saw as a victory.

I think a lot of people with weight issues – either too skinny or too big – do have mental health issues, and instead of judging them on their size, we need to understand why they are over- or under-eating. I think it’s a huge problem, and is exacerbated by the extra weight (or lack of it). OK – eating that chocolate or takeaway is nice at the time, but the results of that can be devastating to some. I think that there should be more help for people who over- or under-eat, to try and understand why we do it. Slimming clubs are great, for people with mental health issues that are able to go to a group setting, but we never get down to the reasons why.

I would love to hear about any of the struggles you may have had with food, and, more importantly, if you’ve overcome them. I’m lucky to have a network of friends who can help and encourage me, but I know not everyone has that. I’m here if you need an ear: I’ve got the T-shirt and I ate the cake!!!!

I would like to sign off on a positive note and say – my first week has been a success! I’ve reached my mini goal, and look forward to many more.

Stay safe and talk to someone if you need to. And thanks for listening.

FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY

Hey everyone. I hope all is well and that you all had a good Christmas. The COVID-19 restrictions that have been put in place recently definitely messed with our Christmas plans, but we made the best of the situation and had the best festive period we could. I know one thing: I’ve eaten REALLY badly, but it is Christmas and so that’s my excuse for eating rubbish.

I also hope that you’ve managed to get some time to relax, chill and recharge. I can’t stress enough how important it is to do that and it can be for as long as you want – sometimes ten minutes is enough. I find that just listening to or watching something works for me, helping me recharge and get back on track so I’m prepared for my next challenges.

Today I want to talk about my lived experience, how I’ve felt delivering the lessons I’ve learned from it to appreciative audiences and hearing the feedback they’ve given me. When I was 18 I had to do Community Service and I asked to be sent on a drug and alcohol awareness course, because I didn’t know anything about the subject. I was accepted and I asked to talk to someone who had lived experience of these areas. I had two, two-hour sessions with an older gentleman and they were four hours well spent, because I learned a helluva lot from him. Afterwards, when my friends talked about drugs and alcohol, I felt a little bit more secure in the inside information I’d been given.

In the last two to three years I’ve started talking about my mental health journey at local events, and have also been lucky enough to deliver some training to the front-of-house team at my local council. I’ve also been able to talk in local schools about self-harm and all things mental health, which I have to say was bloody awesome. I’ve blogged about those experiences so you can look them up, and I have Access Community Trust and Tod James to thank for providing me with the opportunity. I’m now involved in some new projects that Beth and Richard from Access have offered me, so I’d like to thank them too – I love working with you.

Doing these events has made me want to do more. I feel so empowered once I leave an event, thinking that I might actually have helped someone on that day. It makes me feel good, but if you saw me leading up to my presentation, you’d see an anxious mess who doesn’t want to go out and speak. But, in the end, I get there. Once I start talking, I feel relaxed and at home (even though I’m still nervous underneath!)

Thank you all for reading. I wish you a Happy New Year and look forward to your continued support.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY

Hi everyone. I hope you’re all well and in good mental health. I’m wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and I hope those of you that have got time off over Christmas will be able to recharge your batteries for the coming New Year. For those of you that have to work over the Christmas period, I hope you all stay safe and well. Today, I’m going to talk to you about how I struggle over Christmas, as well as how I cope.

When it gets to about the 20th of December, most of the projects I’m involved in have all come to a stop. I find this really hard, because for those couple of weeks of the festive period, I don’t have my routine any more. I was even like that during the Christmas school holidays, and when I went on a normal holiday during the year. I don’t know why this is, but I need to be as busy as possible and have something to do.

Over the last 10 years, since being with my partner, I’ve started to enjoy Christmas. That’s because she’s a very positive person, and encourages me to do things with my time, so that I’m not just sitting around and dwelling on things. I also now know where to go to get support if I’m struggling. I talk about my problems now; it didn’t help when I didn’t and, again, I’ve got my partner to thank for that..

Over this Christmas period, I’m going to be doing a couple of courses that I need to do, as well as attend two meetings. We’ll also be going for walks, which I’m looking forward to. There’s also a new community project I’m really looking forward to being a part of. I think it’s going to be a challenge for me, and I’ll certainly be blogging about that soon.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m certainly going to be taking the time to recharge my batteries and have fun. Merry Christmas!

THE RETURN OF HAPPY TIMES 2

Hi everyone. I hope you’ve all had a good weekend and are all in good mental health. I’m goanna talk to you about an organisation that has given me the support to do my blogs and podcasts.They’re called the Restoration Trust.

I first got involved with them when I joined the Burgh Castle Almanac over two years ago. It was then that I met Laura Drysdale, the leader of the project, who’s a caring and very funny person. She was so welcoming to me when I first attended the BCA. From her commitment to the welfare of the other group members, I could see that she cared about every single one of us. Laura’s encouraging attitude led to her helping me with this blog.

When I met Laura, myself and my partner were living in the countryside and I was finding that really tough. I started to self-isolate, and when I was apart from the BCA, I’d hardly go out at all. Because of this, we decided we had to move back to the town centre of Lowestoft. I mentioned this to Laura, and she made some suggestions about how we could make this happen. She also said that if we needed any other help, I could Messenger or email her and she would do what she could.

Myself and my partner finally moved into a new place back in Lowestoft. Initially it was great, but we had issues with damp where we were living, and my partner couldn’t live in the flat due to her breathing difficulties. We had to get the council involved because it was their property but, as you can imagine, these things take time, and I ended up spending six months sleeping on a sofa because the bedroom was so full of damp. It took the council nearly nine months before they gave us another property that was fit to live in, which we’re very happy with now. All the way through this period, when I attended the BCA, Laura would always check in with me to see how I was doing.

I have done so many different things through the BCA which I thought I’d never do, from arts and crafts – which I absolutely detest – to walking along the Thames, to being given a tour behind the scenes at the British Museum, to visiting the Houses of Parliament to talk about how projects like the BCA help their members. It’s all down to Laura: without her, I wouldn’t have done any of these things.

I want to say a public ‘thank you’ to Laura, who has also lent me equipment so I can post my blogs and record my podcasts on a regular basis. Using a new computer program, I’m also able to speak my blogs into a laptop. I sit on the advisory panel for the Restoration Trust, so I can give an organisation that’s done so much for me the benefit of my lived experience of mental health. So, thank you, Laura – I hope our partnership can continue.

Thanks for reading the blog. I wish you all good mental health, and please remember to take some time to recharge and relax.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Hey everyone. I hope you’re all well and good today. I’m going to talk to you about one of the coping techniques I use to distract myself when I’m not feeling too good. The technique might not be up everybody’s street, but it works for me.

A few years ago, I found someone on YouTube who played a football game I like. His commentary was awesome, so I followed him, watching out for when he would upload or post anything. I just loved the passion I saw coming through my screen. The YouTuber I’m talking about does ChesnoidGaming.

I stopped watching for a while when my mental health took a turn for the worst, so I hadn’t seen anything he’d done for ages. One day I was searching YouTube and I found a ChesnoidGaming video for 2020 that he’d put up.

I was buzzing because I’d found his channel again. I would play one of his videos as I washed up, and I found this was helping distract my mind from the voices in my head, as well as the images I would see of me harming myself.

I had yet to learn new tools to cope with this, and I found my favourite ChesnoidGaming channel a great help. I’ve actually spoken to my therapist, who told me it was a good way to deal with what was going on in my head, so I’ve continued with it.

ChesnoidGaming – you don’t know how much you’ve helped me through my bad mental health days. Just knowing that there was a post coming at a certain time of the week or weekend has helped: I even started to schedule the washing up to coincide with your posts. I’ve started to watch your streams as well, and they’ve also helped my mental health so much. You’ve given me back the passion for the sport which I love, so thank you.

You can find a link to the YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/ChesnoidGaming

Thank you for reading. I wish you all good mental health.

LAST DAY OF THE HAPPY TIMES

Hey everyone. How are you all? I wish you all good mental health. Today, I’m going to talk about the last day of our two year project Burgh Castle Almanac, what we got up to and what our plans are for the future.

As we drove up to Burgh Castle in the minibus, I thought the session was going to be a washout. It was very wet and dull and some members couldn’t make it, which was sad as it was the final day.

When we got to Burgh Castle, I walked into the village hall and there were Ferrero Rocher chocolates on the table. Bearing in mind I started a diet the Saturday before, I shouldn’t have had one, but – whoops! – one just fell in my hand, out of the wrapper and into my mouth – oh dear! There was a quick introduction, apologies from people who couldn’t make it, and I offered round some homemade chocolate crunch. Before we set off on our last walk, we were given small wooden sticks by Ian Brownlie, our resident artist, to write messages on and plant around the site as a ‘thank you’.

My homemade chocolate crunch

We left the village hall and started walking to the Roman Fort. Some of us where chatting and having a catch up – all socially distanced, of course. We got to our first place where we always take a fixed-point photograph and I took a few, as I didn’t know when I would get the chance to come back again.

This is our first fixed point photograph

We then walked up to the fort, and it was really nice to see loads of families walking around the site having their lunch by the wall. It made me think of how the Romans would have eaten way back when, and I wondered if there would have been a hierarchy in the soldiers’ ranks – ‘You eat here and you eat over there.’ Hopefully one day there will be a way of finding out.

We are standing on a Saxon grave

One of our members went off to see if he could find any archaeology round the site, then Ian gave us some clay to make something to take home. I didn’t – I used the wall of the fort to make a clay bowl, or something similar looking, and I left it in a hole in the wall with a small stick reading ‘BCA on tour’.

my clay bowl and stick with another member message on the stick as well

Once that was done, we took a slow walk back to the village hall where Laura Drysdale forced me to cheat on my diet again with another Ferrero Rocher and a slice of chocolate cake! That was very nice and I didn’t regret it one bit. We also talked about what the plans are for the future, and we decided to stay in touch with each other, as well as look into making the BCA a community interest group. That would mean we can apply for funding to do things, and get more professionals in to help educate us. Thanks to several speakers being invited to the BCA over the last two years, we’ve all been lucky enough to have some enlightening new experiences.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing our new blog with you soon I wish you all good mental health.

Our film, ‘The Return of Happy Times’, can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+return+of+happy+times

CULTURE THERAPY

Hey everyone. How are you all? I hope you’re all in good mental health. Today I want to talk about something I heard discussed in a meeting a few months ago: the term day hospital. I think it could be a way forward for people who struggle with mild to severe mental health problems.

As you’re aware, I’ve been involved in a project called the Burgh Castle Almanac for the last two years. The ‘day hospital’ we ran wasn’t your normal style of therapy: the Restoration Trust, who funded the BCA, called it culture therapy. In this instance, that means using the Roman ruins at Burgh Castle and the neighbouring landscape to reconnect participants with nature, the local landscape and their heritage. This, together with having various professionals and experts in to talk about related subjects, offers a positive alternative to dwelling on your problems. Having said that, the BCA community is very inclusive and non-judgemental, and if one of the group members didn’t make a given session, someone would always check to see if they were OK.

I found talking to other people from the group about my mental health really encouraging, because they might have had something similar happen to them and dealt with it in a better way than I did. I could then go back home and try out their advice the next time I was struggling. If I was feeling unwell in a session, no one would fixate on what I was going through, they would just help me enjoy that week’s meeting. That was so refreshing.

So my question to you is: how would your day hospital look to you?

A project like the BCA could be used as the model for a day hospital for people with mild mental health issues, principally to build up their self esteem. Just getting out of the house is a positive start, then attending something like the BCA is a major victory. I wonder if this could also work for people with severe mental health issues? With the help of their support team, they could attend a group session in person, or perhaps a virtual session through Zoom. I think there are so many options and I would love to hear your thoughts about this.

I also think that the project running for two years was a tremendous help, because we all had something to look forward to for such a long time. I really think this is the way forward: you only get six sessions of therapy on the NHS, and are just beginning to open up when – bang – it stops. By contrast, over two years of the BCA I learned to trust everyone and because of that I could gradually reveal how I was feeling.

Thank you for reading. I wish you all good mental health. Remember, always take some time to recharge yourself for the coming week ahead

THE DRUGS DON’T WORK

Hey everyone. How are you all? I hope you’re all well and in good mental health. This time, I’m going to talk to you about my dosset box, and how it’s helped me since my relapse in 2017-18.

I was first put on medication on a daily basis when I started to struggle again with my mental health. I started mixing up my medication and taking the wrong doses – sometimes taking the same meds twice – which would lead me to overdosing. (I should point out that during these overdoses, I didn’t actually want to end my life.)

One night, I fell asleep early, woke up later and thought, “Oh poo, I haven’t taken my tablets”, so I took three – which I should have done – and went back to sleep. I woke up the next morning and looked at my packets of medication, noticing that I was down one tablet, and in the other packet had more than I should have had. But the weirdest thing about that morning was that my eyes felt so wide, and my head was literally buzzing.

I was worried that I might have caused myself some serious damage, so as I lived two minutes away from the chemist that was attached to my doctor’s surgery, I walked round there, also hoping that the fresh air would do me some good. I spoke to the chemist and told her what had happened and how I was feeling. She calmed me down by saying what I’d taken shouldn’t cause me any serious issues, but she wanted me to see a nurse or a doctor. She also said I would probably feel like this for up to three days. I couldn’t get in to see a doctor or a nurse, and was told that if I felt any worse, then I was to go back to them or go to hospital. 7pm came and I crashed – I slept all the way through the night and I was up by 7am the next day, still with a buzzing head and wide eyes.

Going back to my relapse, I was good at first with my meds, but then I started taking the wrong doses again. I felt stupid, feeling that I should be able to sort out my medication, so my partner suggested to me that we either get them in blister pack or get a dosset box – a weekly one. I thought that was a good idea but also felt that I was letting myself down, because I couldn’t do my medications without help, and that did affect me for a while. However, we went to my chemist and discussed the various options, and in the end we went for the dosset box. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s had a huge impact on my life. The only problem is when I’m feeling low, I feel don’t fill my box out correctly – and that’s bad – but I am changing the pattern.

THIS IS MY DOSSET BOX

Thank you for reading this blog. I wish you all good mental health and hope you all have a good week.

THE RETURN OF HAPPY TIMES

Hey everyone. I hope you’re well and in good mental health, and I hope you’re looking forward to the weekend. Today I’m going to talk to you about the film premiere of ‘The Return of Happy Times’, a documentary film about the Burgh Castle Almanac project which I’m involved with. If you want to find out more about the project, then just take a look through my blog, where I’ve posted reports on things we’ve been up to.

So, because of this stupid blooming virus, we had to scale down our premiere, which meant two screenings in one day, for which the BCA group was split in two. For me was this a good idea, as in the interview and question and answer session following each screening, there were different questions from Robert Fairclough, the interviewer, and different reactions from the director, Julian Claxton. It was also nice that some of the people who came to the premiere were the same kind souls who’ve been opening up Burgh Castle village hall for us for the last two years.

At the beginning of the premiere, Robert gave us an introduction about how the screening would unfold. The film started and… well, I didn’t expect me to be near the start of it. I was also in the rest of the film a lot more than I expected to be, so Julian has a lot to answer for! When he was filming, I felt safe with him, to the extent that Julian gave me the nickname ‘Big Man’, and not because I ate all the cakes, ha ha. I felt that he listened to all of us in the BCA, respected our opinions and listened to our ideas.

Getting a film made about our activities was always part of the aim of the project. We interviewed several filmmakers last year (we must have put some of them through hell, as there’s no Wi-fi in Burgh Castle village hall, so they had to make an impression on the interviewing panel without showing us their work). There were so many different approaches from the people we talked to, but we had one more interview to do a week later – with Julian, ironically. For me, he gave the best interview and came across as very confident and professional, so my decision was an easy one – I wanted him to make the film.

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who made ‘The Return of Happy Times’ happen: the funders, the professionals who came in and did workshops with us, and all of the BCA group for taking part and making me feel welcome.

Please find the film here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODVpf0bwVQI&t=41s . It’s 28 minutes long. I hope you enjoy watching it, and please leave a comment if you can.

Thanks you for reading this blog. I wish you all good mental health, and remember: take some time whenever you can to recharge yourself.