The Gift of Anxiety?

Anxiety is a good thing. It can save lives and propel us forward.

Seriously. Anxiety is a good thing.

But like all good things… it can get corrupted, and become a bad thing.

Anxiety is meant to help save our lives, to get us out of tricky situations.

Blood is pumped around our body faster, sweat so we can keep cool (and make us more slippery to catch), we breathe faster so we can get more oxygen into our lungs and we become hyper vigilant – hearing and seeing things in HD so we can be aware of our surroundings.

All of which are incredibly useful… if you’re anxious because you’re in a jungle about to be attacked by a lion.

Less useful, however, when you’re feeling anxious about a job interview or driving test.

Even less useful, when anxiety is provoked by a trip to the supermarket or the sight of a certain food.

Anxiety disorders are when anxiety is not needed “in order” to fly or fight. The purpose of anxiety is lost and what is left, can wreak havoc…

Imagine a life where the slightest thing causes you to go into meltdown. If when faced with a crowded supermarket, or picking up a trilling telephone causes your body to react as if you were faced with a tiger.

When anxiety becomes a disorder – it becomes a very unwelcome gift.

If there are people in your life who have the unwanted gift of an anxiety disorder, I thought I’d share three key things not to say, courtesy of this post.

1) Don’t tell people they’re being dramatic… panic attacks in particular can be dramatic- but it’s not an act – and they need comfort and calm; not condemnation.

2) What do you have to worry about? The truth is – we all have worries and anxieties, and belittling other people’s anxieties or reminding them of how good their life is helps no-one. Instead, try asking if they need to voice their worries.

3) Don’t panic… Telling someone with anxiety not to panic is akin to telling someone who is having an asthma attack to stop!

Anxiety can be a gift… but an anxiety disorder is never a gift… it’s an illness and it’s time it was treated like one!

Friend in Need? Depression Awareness Week Blog 2014

I used to feel quite sorry for my friends.

They’ve had a lot to put up with.

Depression ravages the best relationships. And it’s not just the obvious things.

Aside from the fact that I get very tired and sometimes disappear off the radar for a week or so every now and again – there are the unseen effects of depression.

Personally, one of the ways depression manifests itself in me is what the psychologists call “inappropriate or excessive guilt”.

Some of my friends actually banned me from apologising because it took up half of our conversations! At my darkest – I apologised for my very existence.

One of my favourite writers on mental illness (and you will know this because I quote her a lot in these blog posts!) Kay Redfield Jamison, writes

“Mental illness sabotages the best of relationships, and even in the most steadfast, generates an unrelating bone-weariness.”

It is not easy to be a friend to someone in the grips of depression.

They may flicker between wanting you there every minute of every day, to sending you away – claiming you’re too good for them.

What your friend really needs to know – is that you aren’t going to run a mile. Equally, you can’t be there 24 hours a day. It might be appropriate to ping them a text to see if there is anything they need… but less so to camp out in their house!

Listen to what your friend needs, don’t barge in with what you think they need.

Friends with depression might not be the easiest people to be around – but they’re still good friends – friends with the ‘flu might not be great company either, but they’re still good friends!

Friendship can’t cure depression… but it can make it a load easier to bear.

Guest Blog: A Mother’s Love – Mothering Sunday Special

She was a beautiful baby.  And so say all parents of their children!  But really, she was a beautiful baby.

To be honest it wasn’t a great start.  From the very first breath came problems with her health, and as one issue resolved or improved another seemed to take its place.  But these were physical problems, all thankfully treatable and eventually controlled to some degree, be it with time, or medication or both.

So as she grew it was perhaps understandable that she was a bit clingy, often reluctant to take part and always resistant to anything new.  She spent lots of time with other children, was taken along to places and put in situations where social skills could bloom; the constant prayer being that she would gain confidence and embrace life.  We tried ballet (dis-aaaa-ster!) and swimming (Mmmm…), theatre school (ok-ish) and trampoline (better!) and lots of activities based at the church we attended.

In some ways it appeared to work – she was lively and lovely and found her (singing) voice at an early age.  There she was on stage at school in the leading role of Mary and the ‘Littlest Angel’ singing her heart out, taking part in church productions, her small frame belying the huge and glorious voice that erupted from her often ineffective lungs when it came to simply breathing!

But then came the teenage years.  No, not drugs and alcohol and rock and roll.  Not staying out all hours.  Not shouting bitter words of recrimination at the restrictions of youth.  How I longed for those signs of teenage angst.  No, my beautiful baby was afflicted with an altogether darker, untameable malaise – depression.  A word does not even begin to encompass the width and depth and breadth of its meaning.

Watching your child fall into the abyss and not even want to climb out is soul destroying and unbearably painful.  Every time you think you avert one disaster, another potential tragedy lurks in the corner. You keep getting it wrong, you misread things, you make mistakes, you make errors of judgement. Oftentimes you feel an utter failure because she isn’t well and happy and ‘normal’.  Sometimes you cannot share it all with anyone else; the usual sources of comfort and support might not be possible for all manner of reasons – it can be very lonely.

But you never give up, you never relax, you never stop hoping, you never stop praying.  Because there is God.  God is there for you, even when you think he isn’t.  And God is there for her (or him), even when she (or he) doesn’t believe life is worth living.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  No easy answers and not always a happy ending.  But more often than not it does.  Maybe not always a fairytale ending – well, probably not ever a fairytale ending! -but slowly and surely the good days outnumber the bad and the bad days when they come, are a bit less bad.  She holds on to her faith.  She chooses life. You learn to breathe again – and more importantly, so does she.

She was a beautiful baby.  She is a beautiful young woman.

I thank God that I can write that last sentence in the present tense.  That she has come through the darkness of  those years and, together with her scars both inside and out, survived.  And not only survived, but blossomed and flourished and used her hard gained experience and wisdom to reach out to others so that they can access the kind of help that was not always available for her.  So that parents and friends and church leaders can access the kind of help that upholds and supports others like her.  Like me.

My beautiful baby is the founder of ThinkTwice.  She really was a beautiful baby.  She really is a beautiful young woman.  Thank you God.

It’s Here!

It’s here. After nearly four years of work and refinement, I’d like to introduce the ThinkTwice course to you. 

6 weeks to think about everything you thought you knew about mental health! We cover depression, psychosis, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, bi-polar disorder and take a look at what mental health is and what can help to maintain good mental health. 

Get in touch with the team to find out more about hosting a course!Image

Where Do Christmas Songs Begin?

Christmas lights, another fight, tears we cry, a flood… I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams… It’ll be lonely this christmas without you to hold…
It’s considered the most wonderful time of the year… and yet some of own best known Christmas time tunes are laced with lost love and family feuds.
For me, it seems these songs sum up the strange melancholy that Christmas evokes. It is a time of celebration for the Christian Church – of God made Man among us, to save us. The hope of heaven in a tiny mewling baby is an image which perfectly illustrates the pain and the power of the Incarnation. The fear of Mary and Joseph; unmarried teenage parents charged with raising the Son of God, the wanted baby King and the shocked shepherds. The nativity narrative is far from the glossy christmas card image we’re so accustomed to.
There is a darkness amidst the sparkles.
I can’t help but think, that it’s sometimes easier to find Jesus in the darkness. Blinded by the bright lights and glare of the glitter – it’s easier to miss the baby Saviour. But when the light seems more mocking than merry, it can be easier to see the wonder of an almighty God coming to stay in a stable.
The Christmas story tells us that God came to be among us. God came to feel all the pain we feel, and to be among us, right at the heart of where it hurts. John 1 tells us that “God became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. In the middle of the pain – the Christmas story tells us that we’re not alone.
The sad christmas songs we know and love are about contrast, they set stories of pain and loss against a jingling bell and attempt to make both the singer and the listener feel less alone.
The good news is, that we don’t need the sad songs for that.
Jesus came down into the darkness so that we might know that we’re not alone in our pain. He came to be a light brighter than any candle.
“Born our darkness to dispel, God with us – Immanuel”

The Week That Was…

The Week That Was

It’s been a strange week in the world of mental health stigma.

From The Sun’s sensational “1,200 people killed by mental patients” headline, to #WorldMentalHealthDay trending worldwide on Thursday.

What do these two extremes tell us about the state of mental health stigma in Britain?

Firstly, it’s important to set the record straight regarding the The Sun’s headline.

1200 people have been killed by those who had been diagnosed with mental illnesses, over the past 10 years. 1200 out of 6,605. Furthermore, that figure has fallen from 163 in 2004 to 86 in 2010. No murder is right, and everything possible should be done to keep everyone – the mentally ill included – safe from harm.

Sadly, The Sun’s headline, following on from the Tesco “Mental Patient” Costume Drama demonstrates that there is still so much more to be done. An NHS survey found that 1 in 10 people felt “it is frightening to think of people with mental problems living in residential neighbourhoods.” For me, that statistic is equally worrying. Going along this line of thinking, 1 in 4 people at some point in their lives shouldn’t be able to live in their homes for the duration of their illness.

Forgive me, but that’s ridiculous.

Reports show that those suffering with mental illnesses are three times more likely to be victims of crime than the rest of the population. The risk they may pose, is miniscule in comparison to the risk they are under. The pain of mental illness can be crippling – stigma makes that pain all the more agonising. It breaks my heart, that when stories like that are published, I wonder, however briefly, if the work I do is going to waste.

But then there is are days like Thursday, when I’m heartened. This week demonstrated that as much as stigma is still prevalent and painful – there is also an enormous amount of work being done to tackle it.

Mind asked #Whatsyourstory to their twitter followers and the replies brought me to tears. Tears full of hope and wonder at the bravery of people battling their own minds every day. The stories people were telling weren’t about acts of violence committed against them by someone suffering – they were stories of people who do amazing things everyday. We need to make more noise about these stories. More noise about the Time to Change awareness events, more noise in our Churches, more noise to the government – because stories like those published in The Sun help no-one.

Let us not lose heart, not lose the vision we have for a society which can be open about mental illness and can show compassion to those who need it the most.

This was the week that mental health stigma seemed to take a huge knock.

This was also the week that mental health stigma was fought by thousands all over the world – so let’s keep going!