Mental Health

Mental health is a complex and personal topic, one that is stigmatised. My personality type is an ENFP, which in summary means that I’m an extremely emotional extrovert. This has resulted in my mental health being an absolute state. In previous posts, I’ve spoken about my mental health. I suffer from quite a few anxiety disorders, OCD, a phobia and depression. As you can imagine, it has made my life difficult and I never expected things to be like this.
I have been dealing with all these things for 5 years now. The one that destroyed and took over my life most was my phobia, which may come as a shock. I don’t often feel comfortable talking about having a phobia as I feel like they’re rarely taken seriously. I learnt about phobias at school and one girl said she has a ‘phobia of planes but is calm on planes’ which is possibly the most inaccurate description of having a phobia. I have a phobia of throwing up, which is called emetophobia. The symptoms of emetophobia that I had was that I stopped eating altogether, I stopped sleeping, I stopped leaving the house, I had constant panic attacks all through the day, I was constantly dehydrated because I was too scared to drink water, I couldn’t cope with school and I needed my parents to be in the house at all times or I’d panic and cry hysterically. I have dealt with the extremities of emetophobia twice in my life: October 2013 and January 2016. The second time I felt extreme fear, I stopped being able to travel on trains, planes or any spaces that were confined. I also stopped being able to eat at restaurants or around other people, drink alcohol, go out in the evening and go to parties. It completely took over my life and has devastated me in an unbelievable way.
My relapse in January 2016 was especially frustrating. I had recently recovered from my anxiety and was starting to become much less anxious and phobic and before I knew it, it had slapped me straight in the face again. The scariest part is that it comes out of nowhere, one day this feeling arrives and it doesn’t leave. It feeds on your fear. The only thing I could think about for months on end was throwing up and it was terrifying.
Incredibly, things have progressed since that dark time and I have had so much support throughout it all. I can now eat, I’m sleeping the best I’ve slept for years, I’m hydrated and I fucking love going on nights out. I still have a bit of a way to go, I can’t travel on the tube/trains alone and I still find drinking really anxiety provoking. I can eat at restaurants, which is something I’m proud of. I don’t find it the most enjoyable experience but I can cope and still have a good time, which is what is most important. I’m the most independent I’ve been in over a year which has been my aim and I don’t feel like a huge burden in the way I did this time last year.
Unfortunately, once my anxiety started to deflate my depression immediately inflated. In December, I started to get insecure about my relationships with people and I spent days on end completely terrified of people abandoning me, not caring about me or not loving me. In January, it only got worse. I used to sit with my mum and cry about being the ‘worst person’ and ‘no one caring about me’. I was so convinced everyone hated me and that I was letting everyone down, and it felt endless. I have never been one to care about people’s opinions of me but suddenly it was all I cared about, and it was unbearable.
I was prescribed antidepressants alongside still being in therapy. Neither made a difference and I got myself to an extremely low point. I felt like I didn’t exist and I spent most of my time wishing I hadn’t woken up in the morning. That was scary, because I felt so detached and unreal that I couldn’t balance any of my relationships and my mood was putting a lot of pressure on the people around me. That didn’t help my insecurities, but eventually those feelings became less intense and passed which was a relief for me and everyone else around me. I haven’t learnt how to accept these feelings yet and I still work myself up as soon as I feel myself falling into a dark place because I can’t cope in the way I wish I could. I get scared as soon as I feel myself becoming less independent and lose control because all I have ever wanted is to be independent, happy and be there for other people.
Things have improved a little these past few weeks. Last week my antidepressants were raised, so I’m hoping they begin to make a difference. I have dropped out of therapy because I was given an awful therapist who invalidated me and made me feel worse. I feel okay about it, I’m a bit scared about being out in the world ‘alone’ but I feel like I’m stable enough to work through things on my own. I still have more bad days than good, but they are less than they were last month and I cope better with them (I still don’t cope amazingly, I admit, but I’m getting there).
In all honesty, disappointingly this week has been harder than I expected. I didn’t go to school because it seemed too daunting and stressful. I went in on Wednesday and had the worst panic attack I had experienced in months which scared me further and gave me another reason to avoid school. This weekend has been especially difficult. Yesterday I spent the evening crying to one of my best friends about how ‘worthless’ and ‘unloved’ I am (in quotations because I am aware I was being irrational) and this morning I woke up and the first thing I did was cry. It can be hard, because I have this overwhelming loneliness that follows me around but the people around me are so patient with me. Last night especially, my friends Anna and Lily gave me some of the best advice. Lily said to me ‘sometimes you feel like you’re connecting and sometimes you’re not, and that’s okay’ which is something important, for me at least, to remember because I get really scared when I feel distant from people. I am eternally grateful for the people in my life, who spend days lying in bed with me when I’m feeling too low to do anything more and make me happy constantly. It’s something that has encouraged me a lot over the past few months.
I know this post has been heavy, it has taken me ages to write and work out how to explain everything in the right way and talking about my mental health can upset me, but it’s getting easier. I just hope that if you are dealing with any of these feelings, that this makes you feel less alone because the worst feeling in the world is feeling like you’re the only one feeling this way – and as cliché as it is, you’re never alone. I cannot emphasise how important talking to people and getting help is, because no one is the exception to recovery and everyone deserves to be happy.
I am hopeful that things will improve for me and as frustrating as the wait is, the idea of one day being happy is something I look forward to greatly.
Things always pass.

– Scarlet

My experience with the Mental Health System

One topic that is extremely controversial, particularly within young people, is the mental health system. Everyone has completely different experiences, depending on where they’re at, what they’re struggling with and how much support they’re receiving.
My experience with the mental health system – particularly CAMHS and SAFE in this situation, is long and varying in successful results. I have overall had quite a dragging experience with my mental health and haven’t had the best ending.
The first time I was referred to CAMHS was in June 2013. I was sent by my school for some stuff that I had been dealing with for about 6 months at that point. I went to the local building near where I lived with my mum and it went horrendously. I got assigned a counselor who made me incredibly uncomfortable, I was in a cold room that was really dark and I was asked to ‘draw how I was feeling’. I told her I didn’t feel anything and that I didn’t feel the way my school had assumed I was feeling. It didn’t help with my mum being in the room as I felt so uneasy and I lied my way through it. By the end they stated that ‘I wasn’t serious enough’ and ‘didn’t have to see them again’. I felt somewhat relief but things still weren’t good, I was shocked at how easily I felt I could lie to them and they just sent me away.
They referred me to SAFE for my anxiety (which was very, very mild at this point) but I declined and said that I didn’t need it as I felt very little anxiety – something I regret immensely.
The second time I was referred to CAMHS was in October 2013. This was voluntary. I went to the doctors after dealing with severe anxiety for a couple weeks, to the point where I was restricting my food intake and couldn’t sleep or be left alone. I was referred immediately as I was in such a bad place and couldn’t look after myself and alongside my mental health, my physical health was also deteriorating. Within the few weeks I had to wait before actually getting a therapist, I saw a hypnotist and desperately tried meditation but neither worked.
I had my first appointment with my therapist in November 2013. I was doing CBT therapy which consisted of exposure and focused on the anxiety I was feeling. At this point, my anxiety was the worst thing I was dealing with but I realised that this therapy was neglecting all the other feelings I was feeling.
However, despite this, therapy went very well and I started to feel more comfortable around food and things generally within a couple weeks. My therapist was lovely and I got along with her well and things began to feel lighter quicker than expected. I stayed in therapy for almost 2 years and was discharged in May 2015 after having a really positive experience. I could control my anxiety and was starting to feel more comfortable around a lot of things my anxiety would’ve restricted me from doing. It was still very much there, but I felt I had control and could cope with things.
I had been doing okay until December 2015. Things began to feel heavy and I could feel myself being dragged into old habits but I tried to push against them until Christmas Day, when I had possibly the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. I called my best friend hysterical and my parents had to stay with me until I fell asleep. I continued on that week and tried to get into normal habits again but I spent days having consistent panic attacks and things were bad.
The first week of January was generally an awful week for situational reasons but my anxiety seemed to be okay. I went to school and despite being upset over something awful that had happened that weekend, I was quite calm – just sad. On the Saturday of that week, I suddenly felt this intense fear and from there my mental health took over my life.
I went to the GP immediately, in fact I went the day before I felt the severity of my anxiety again as I’d been feeling especially down and had pushed for a referral to my old therapist at SAFE. It took a couple weeks until I had my first appointment but unfortunately at that point, I was manifested with anxiety and was failing to function adequately. It was probably the worst I’ve ever been as I was also dealing with something that had recently happened in my life and could barely juggle the two situations.
I was so lucky to be referred so quickly. I’m with my old therapist who I was with before (and have endless love for) and am doing CBT again – just a more intense version. This time CBT doesn’t seem to be having the same impact as last time and I feel like I’m getting worse rather than better.
I was meant to write this blog post a month ago, when I felt much more positive about the mental health system but unfortunately, I have found a loop hole in my experience.
Yesterday, I went to my GP and told her that the therapy hasn’t been working particularly well. I was told to come back if I still wasn’t doing well in January, so I did. My GP was incredibly unhelpful and almost insensitive to my situation. She told me that she’d talk to my therapist about what she can do and there may be ‘internet and self-help things’. She told me that I might be referred from the SAFE team to a psychiatric at CAMHS and get a psychiatric assessment to see what could help, however the process within that is a few months long.
For a variety of reasons, I don’t think I can wait that long and my mum said she’ll reach out for me and push at CAMHS to assess me as I’m not sure how else I can be helped and I can’t do much more at this stage. I’m sad to say that my experience with my GP is a million times worse than my experience with the mental health system and they overlap so it’s been a sad end after a 2 year long positive experience.
I’m hoping that things begin to work out and I get the assessment sooner rather than later! I really do recommend trying out CBT as it did work out very well for me the first time, my environment and situation was horrendous the second time I got referred which has meant my whole mind set is completely different. My therapist is lovely and exposure has worked well for me.
I hope this gave anyone who might be being referred to CAMHS at some point some insight of what it’s like and if you don’t like you therapist, ask for a change! Having a shit therapist is not helpful to your situation. Having someone to talk to is really good too, it’s probably the best part of having a therapist.
I’m sorry for the negative end! Hopefully I’ll be able to do an update post in a few months about how I did finally get assessed and am doing much better
Remember: if you’re struggling, ask for help! You and your mental health are the biggest priority.

– Scarlet

Anxiety: Do’s and Don’ts

This post is more for friends and family of those who suffer with anxiety disorders, some of the points are relevant for most mental illness.
Doing and saying the right thing to someone struggling with a mental illness is important. I have had many instances with my friends and family where they’ve said the wrong thing and have upset me a lot. Of course, this is inevitable because we aren’t trained to know what to say in every situation but hopefully these next do’s and don’ts will help you avoid saying the wrong thing more frequently!

Do – have patience. By being impatient and snapping at them makes the person feel even more guilty than they already do (I can assure you that they probably feel very, very bad because that’s a general emotional symptom). Sufferers of mental illness can’t help it and the last thing they want to do is annoy anyone. The people who are patient with me are the people who I feel most comfortable with, for example I get anxious on the tube and my friend told me that if I needed to we could both get off and take a breather. I appreciated this a lot and it made me feel much better about my situation.
Don’t – tell them not to panic. This is probably one of the worst and most unhelpful responses to give someone with anxiety. On Christmas Day I had an awful panic attack and ran into my parents room crying. They were both very nice about it and said I could come to them if I needed to but then my dad added ‘don’t panic next time’. I was so shocked (I’ve been suffering with anxiety over the same thing for about 8 years now but have been openly diagnosed for about 3 years) because I thought he would just understand WHY I panicked. People don’t choose to panic, there is a fight or flight response within your brain which tells you how to react to certain situations after a fear response has been conditioned. It isn’t something you can just turn off.
Do – try to understand their disorder. It’s important that the person knows you care about them and by educating yourself on what they’re struggling with plays a big part in how you can help them cope AND how you can help yourself cope. There are so many different ways you can educate yourself e.g http://www.mind.org.uk , various threads you can find on the internet, there are mental health youtubers (two good ones are rawsammi and Laura Lejeune).
Don’t – call them a NEGATIVE person! Very recently, I’ve heard someone who I was very close with (and knows what I’ve been dealing with the past few years) has been calling me a negative person and it upset me quite a lot. It’s incredibly difficult to be positive when you are constantly having to deal with and overcome irrational and negative thoughts. A lot of people have a chemical in balance which causes their mental illness, meaning they CAN’T be positive by choice. Mental illness means the sufferer isn’t going to be the most positive person in the world, don’t have a go at them for that. They want to be positive just as much as you want them to be.
Do – ask how you can help. This is important in the long term as there might be a situation where the person is helpless and so are you. Some ways you can help people is through breathing techniques (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and breathe out for 6 seconds), relaxation techniques (tensing up your body and then letting it all go, loosening your shoulders) and other techniques or distractions that can help such as talking to them. For example, my friend helped me breathe when I was on a Ferris wheel once and began to panic and another time, my other friend and I did arts and crafts when I was having a panic attack to take my mind off it. Helpful techniques can vary from person to person, so it’s important that you ask!
Don’t – expect massive turnarounds. Recovery is a very slow process for anything, particularly mental illness. It’s easy for the person to get impatient with themselves for taking a while to recover (even though it’s very normal, it took me 2 years to get out of therapy and then I had a blip and I’m back in therapy again) and feeling pressured by their loved ones can make them feel like they’ve let a lot of people down. There are bound to be relapses and bad periods of time as that’s normal in the process of recovery so ensuring you stay patient whilst they’re in recovery is important.
Do – be proud of them! Pride can be SO motivating and you can see it on people’s faces. It also shows that you care about them and can also make it easier for the person to open up to you as they know you’re genuinely interested and there for them. Feeling proud when you see them making a step (little or big) in recovery is a million times better than getting frustrated when they have setbacks (reminder: setbacks are inevitable).
Don’t – guilt trip. This can be by making them do certain things or saying things that make them not feeling good enough or blame themselves for their mental illness. For example, my friend said to me a couple weeks ago that she finds it ‘too awkward’ to check up on me because of the stuff I’ve been dealing with recently. Often pushing people can be beneficial and have good intentions but DON’T make them feel worse than they already do for not being ready or up for doing something.
Do – be yourself! Don’t change how you act around this person because you’ve found out something new about them. You’re close with them for a reason. They can feel isolated and ‘different’ because you treat them differently and this also links back to feeling guilty over not being neurotypical.
Don’t – prioritise their needs over your own. Looking after yourself is the most important thing and there are going to be times when you’re not able to help the person! This isn’t your fault, you’re not a professional doctor and also have to focus on yourself. You are important.

I hope this post helps you somewhat relate to your loved one who’s struggling! I hope you all have a great rest of February.
– Scarlet