Category Archives: Mental Health

Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants

Why is it still difficult to remove the stigma of medication
for depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles,
while so many are experiencing these disorders?

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When we talk about eradicating stigma we’re trying to normalise or accept something that has been deemed a sign of social unacceptability: the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable. In general, society is becoming much more compassionate and educated about mental health, and the stigma is relaxing. However, we still have a long way to go and even those of us fighting to remove the labels can have trouble accepting.

I’ve lived with clinical depression, anxiety, and panic for most of my life, and dealt with it in many ways. I’ve had success overcoming it using natural ways, and I’ve had many times when I’ve needed medication. Accepting medications has always been difficult. Nobody likes to admit they’re not in control of their own bodies, let alone their own minds.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I know many people on antidepressants, and many who refuse meds, so how do you know if medication will help you?

I didn’t want to be on antidepressants for the long term and I believed meds would only offer the placebo effect after so long. I chose to take six month courses, weaning myself off by nine months, believing the serotonin, the meds, and my biological body would work together to rebalance.

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© Lisa Shambrook

So, what happens when your plans don’t work, when your body doesn’t do what you want it to?

Sometimes you have to allow your body to take its time.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The last few years have been tough, culminating in a psychotic episode almost exactly ten months ago last week. An episode I wasn’t sure I’d return home from. It scared me and my family. The following week got worse, and eventually my GP prescribed Setraline and got me on a waiting list to see a counsellor.

I was scared of where I was and with a history of self-harm and suicidal tendancies I sought out private counselling. This helped greatly with learning coping skills and discovering how to deal with my demons. However, medication does a funny thing. I saw an initial counsellor who saw me in a terrible state, tears, panic, and reflections of the psychosis, and she referred me to a therapist closer to home. By the time I saw my new counsellor, I was a couple of weeks into my antidepressants and despite the side effects they were working. I was calm, relaxed, intelligent, and totally understanding of my mental health state. We worked hard together for seven months – and I felt fine.

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© Lisa Shambrook

You know you often hear about people stopping their meds because they’re okay now? Yes, that. You truly believe you’re fine, and sometimes completely forget that medication is what’s at work.

Granted, I had many more tools in my mental health coping strategy tool belt, but I didn’t realise how well the antidepressants were working. I spent my seven months on them and (disliking the side effects) decided to lower my dose (with my GP’s say so). I halved my intake and within days I noticed the difference. My proposed weaning off from seven months didn’t go to plan. I became erratic, anxious, and paranoid. And when I experienced my second psychosis, my GP insisted I upped the dose once again.

I am now in what I call ‘no-man’s land’. I haven’t ever been here before and I don’t like it. I feel reliant on medication and I don’t want to be. I feel like I failed. Why didn’t my mind/body stick to my usual plan, the six month – nine month course that always worked before? I don’t want to be dependent on medication and I am stigmatising my own mental health.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Here I am, championing mental health awareness and trying to eradicate the stigma, yet I’m scorning my own need. There’s truth that mental health conditions mess you up – it’s what they do. And accepting that you’re not in control is incredibly hard. I’m a control freak, so there’s that too. I know that I need to be on medication to stabilise, and I don’t know how long it will take for my brain and my biology to do that. I can’t treat it like a broken arm. I can’t time it, or give myself expectations, and I can’t hurry it up.

So, instead, I work on myself, I work on acceptance. I work on loving myself and giving myself time. That’s all we can ask for. For ourselves and those around us also living with what seem like insurmountable health conditions. It doesn’t matter if you have mental health issues, cancer, a broken limb, or any other health condition, nothing should stigmatise what we’re each coping with. Compassion, education, understanding, and love should flow. More so, when governments are assessing and stigmatising conditions and people who need help.

I have no idea how long I will be on medication for, and that’s okay. While I’m on it, I’m fairly stable, and I’m mostly me, and that’s what matters.

Many health conditions are tough to deal with
when all we want are bodies that work the way they’re supposed to.
How do you deal with your health problems when they don’t go to plan?

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – Surviving or Thriving?

This week 8th – 14th May is Mental Health Awareness Week,
and this year the Mental Health Foundation have chosen the theme:
Surviving or Thriving?

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It’s a thin line.

Two thirds of people in the UK say they have experienced a mental health problem, with women, young people, and those who live alone affected most. The survey, completed by The Mental Health Foundation in 2017, also discovered that those over the age of 55 cope best with taking steps to make their lives better, 85% of the unemployed have experienced mental health issues, and that 3 out of 4 low income families suffer compared to 6 in 10 in the highest income positions.

4 in 10 people live with depression and over a quarter of the population experience panic attacks.

Out of 2,290 people surveyed, sadly, only 13% reported a high level of good mental health.

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© Lisa Shambrook

With poor mental health in such a vast amount of the population you could ask why?

The reasons are huge and we may not even understand or know some of them. Social, financial, political, familial, religious, and medical reasons abound, let alone the mental and emotional reasons that we are working with or haven’t even discovered yet.  Our modern diet, pollution, smoking, drinking, drugs, lack of exercise – all of these may add to or cause mental health issues.

The survey concludes that ‘the collective mental health of our nation is deteriorating,’ and warns thatthe barometer of success of any nation is the health and wellbeing of its people.’ We have a long way to go, and we need to support each other to become a healthier nation.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Perhaps the most important thing when asking the question Survive or Thrive? is to discover what we can do to help, to support those who live with mental and emotional health issues. We can help those around us thrive, despite the conditions they live with.

I’ve blogged about many Mental Health Issues, so feel free to browse to find information if you wish. Depression, Anxiety, Self-Harm, Highly Sensitive People, Misophonia, Running Away, and I’ve written a post on How to Keep Calm and Carry On – offering advice on coping with Stress.

Like I’ve mentioned in my This is What Anxiety Feels Like post, some people have circumstantial or situational mental health issues, and thankfully, most of these issues pass in time and as situations change, but others live with constant and life-long conditions.

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© Lisa Shambrook

How do you support those you know with challenging conditions?

Accept – a mental health condition is as legitimate as a broken bone, you wouldn’t ask someone with a broken arm to prove it, or to pull themselves together and get on with it. Be accepting and validate us with compassion and empathy.

Listen – Be there when we need you. Be attentive and intuitive, we may not always be able to tell you when we need you. Many mental health conditions, like anxiety and/or depression, often take away self-confidence and make us very insecure, and we often don’t ask for help when we need it. Offer your ear, sometimes we need to talk. Talking can be very cathartic. If you can help or encourage us to get counselling, you can help us make big steps forward.

Support – even when we shy away, or get prickly, or reject you, we still need you. Your support and love is often what helps us hold it together when things are tough. Your support is imperative because professional help can be very hard to get, and requires long periods on waiting lists for six or ten sessions of counselling. Trying to get help can be demoralising and very often we give up. We are waiting for the government to invest in mental health care and for the stigma to be erased. We need support.

Learn – educate yourself about the mental illness that your loved one is living with. It will benefit everyone. Understanding a condition helps you live with it and offer the right support.

Don’t Judge – never tell someone with a mental illness that it’s all in their head, or that they’re work-shy, or that it doesn’t exist. Don’t ever tell them that they should be glad they haven’t got *insert cancer or other physical disease*. Many mental illnesses have very physical symptoms. Educate yourself. Please, also, don’t tell them that it could be worse. It probably couldn’t to them and we all deal with our problems in different ways and on different levels. This one goes along with acceptance, but is even more important, as sometimes those with metal health issues can be living on a knife edge and your judgement or criticism could push them over the edge.

Be lenient – make allowances (but never be patronising). Like I said many conditions have very debilitating physical symptoms like exhaustion (mental exhaustion creates physical exhaustion), tremors, headaches, racing heart rate and palpitations, physical pain, nausea, inability to breathe, and more. Our medication can also cause many side effects. Emotional responses can be just as hard to cope with for those living with these conditions. When we can do something, we’ll do it, but sometimes we just can’t.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The stigma attached to mental health is slowly fading and we can all do our bit to fight and eradicate it. We even have Royals, William, Kate, and Harry spearheading the #HeadsTogether campaign to end the stigma around mental health.

Let’s work together to support each other, not only to survive, but to thrive!

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© Lisa Shambrook

This is What Anxiety Feels Like

Many people feel anxious, but what does an Anxiety Disorder feel like?

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I’ve suffered with an anxiety disorder since I was a child, and for many years I just thought I was a worrier, and I always felt there was a derogatory association with being a worrier.

Many people believe you need to have reasons to be anxious.

We all suffer anxiety: going into an exam, taking your driving test, being late for work, when you’re about to give a presentation, travelling, and more. You get that flutter of worry in your belly, nausea, light-headedness, fear of the unknown, fear of failure… but the difference between GAD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and situational anxiety is that those symptoms and emotions go away. You know that your exam will be over in a few hours, your driving test will be complete, you’ll get to work, that presentation will be finished, you will have reached your destination and the worry will be over, and you will move on. The reason for your anxiety will be resolved.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder does not give you that luxury.

Imagine those symptoms continuing for the rest of the day, the week, the month…

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© Lisa Shambrook

I’ve learned a lot about my anxiety. I’m on antidepressants and my anxiety has been much lower, but I recently mentioned to my husband that I was feeling anxious again. Now, he’s incredibly supportive and very understanding, but to someone who has never experienced depression or severe anxiety it’s a difficult condition to comprehend. I tried to explain that there were several things on the horizon worrying me, but there’s more to anxiety than that.

There doesn’t have to be a reason.

I tried to explain what anxiety felt like.

It’s like you are treading water with no land in sight. This is what anxiety feels like.

You believe you will drown. This is what anxiety feels like.

Now, common sense tells you that a log might float by and you could grab it, or a boat might sail past and rescue you, or a lifebelt might appear – but as your brain puts those ideas out there, it also brings in a rolling fog. Now you’re treading water in fog and you can’t see anything. This is what anxiety feels like.

That log will float right by, that boat will sail right past, and that lifebelt is out of reach. Pretty quickly, as anxiety heightens, the waves about you grow and you’re treading water in fog and ten foot waves. This is what anxiety feels like.

That log is about to tip off the wave above you and knock you out. The boat is off course and will never find you, and that lifebelt, well, it’s gone. This is what anxiety feels like.

To top it all, beneath you a whirlpool whips up, you can’t breathe, you can’t keep your head above water, you’re getting pulled under, and you will drown. This is what anxiety and a panic attack feels like.

Anxiety removes the common sense option. Anxiety tells you you’re going to drown and your mind cannot get past that.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Depression is often referred to as the Black Dog, and you can’t command the black dog to return to its kennel, instead it jumps at you and hangs about your neck, or it pulls you down and holds you in a half-nelson. Anxiety is a Boa Constrictor. It’s a snake that coils about your legs and works its way up your body, squeezing and coiling tighter – and it doesn’t let go.

If you’ve never experienced long term anxiety it’s very difficult to understand.

Sarah Fader started a hashtag a week or so ago on Twitter @AnxietyHashtag and people began sharing #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike Find out more in these articles: Huffpost and Psychcology Today.

Sarah has opened a floodgate of understanding and validation for those with anxiety, and I asked her how she came up with the hashtag:

‘I started the hashtag because I was feeling anxious about not hearing back when I texted a friend. That thought resonated with people on Twitter and I wanted to give them a chance to articulate what anxiety felt like to them.’

-Sarah Fader CEO and Founder Stigma Fighters www.stigmafighters.com

It is liberating. Firstly, we know we’re not alone, and secondly, it offers an insight into what life is like with an anxiety disorder.

understanding-self-harm-the-last-krystallosJust a few examples… Severe anxiety is exhausting to live with, both for the sufferer and their family.

I’m working with my therapist to find ways to deal with my anxiety, and I’m currently using ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I’m finding the more I accept and acknowledge my anxiety, the more power I have over it. Learning to recognise and use this will take time and effort, and anxiety is likely to always be part of my life.

Take time to understand the debilitating nature of this condition and use patience and compassion when we need it.  

Validation is the first step to helping someone recognise and cope with their anxiety.

How do you manage and what helps you when you feel overwhelmed and lost?

The Practicalities and Fragilities of Death…

Death is a strange thing and people react to it in many different ways.
This post isn’t about grief it’s about the more practical aspects of death.

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My mother passed away three days before Christmas and though I’ve dealt with bereavement before, I’ve never had to deal with it in such a hands-on way.

I knew my mother was dying – it was expected, yet unexpected. There had been no time frame. She’d survived breast and secondary breast cancer for over twelve years, until pneumonia and Alzheimer’s took her. My father’s devastation was hard to bear, and when it came to dealing with death – he couldn’t.

We were there during those bitter-sweet moments that she took her last breaths, and as I hugged Dad I knew I’d be dealing with the arrangements. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to, I would have done anything to make this loss easier for my father, but making arrangements for the death of a loved one is tough.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I didn’t know where to start. Who does? Life is about living, not dying, and death – and what comes with it – is very much avoided in general day-to-day life.

The practicalities put you into an auto-pilot mode, and can sometimes dilute your grief. There are things that have to be done and I was very grateful for the sensitive help and administration from my local hospital. The ambulance crew, nurses and doctors were considerate and caring and kept us informed and looked after. We knew this was a one-way trip, and my father would be leaving without his beloved wife.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Our local Health Authority produced a booklet Bereavement Information for Relatives and Friends (The government have a What To Do After Someone Dies site) and it helped us make sense of what was to come. The following day we contacted the hospital’s Bereavement Officer, no, I didn’t know that was a job, but I am very glad it is. He was wonderful, making sure we knew exactly what needed to be done. It was Christmas, and the holiday season was about to start the next day, but he made sure the medical certificate and coroner’s report were hurried through and he made us an appointment to register her death and get her death certificate before each of the offices closed for Christmas. It was good for us to have these technicalities out of the way so early.

The Registrar was lovely, making sure we were comfortable and informed, and he was gentle and calm despite the raging torrential rain storm outside rattling the windows. Carmarthen also had access to the valuable Tell Us Once service, which informs all the government agencies of the death at once, so you have less people to inform.

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© Lisa Shambrook

We had also called a trusted local Funeral Director and met him that afternoon. So many commercials on television claim you need to spend a small fortune on a funeral, upwards of £7k, but that’s not necessarily true. You can arrange a service to fit your needs and budget, though I won’t lie, it’s still an expense most us will agree is very costly. Council fees for a burial plot are about £1,000, but you can arrange the rest of the funeral to your budget.

You can have a direct burial or cremation without a service for about £1,000 – £1,500 and you can add to that any extra you wish.  There are several sites that can give you advice which you can find with this article from ITV’s Tonight Funerals: A Costly Undertaking?

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© Lisa Shambrook

I, and two lovely friends from church, dressed my mother’s body before my father offered his last respects, and it was a privilege to do so. It’s difficult to see your parent’s empty body, and not everybody will have the chance or choice to do this – we did in accordance to burial rites within our religion, but it’s a sure testimony to our loved ones having moved on and left this mortality.

My parents wanted simplicity from coffins to flowers, and we had a memorial service at the church we belong to without cost. We made it beautiful with words, simple white flowers and red roses, and love. Our Funeral Director, Peris Rice, was informative and accommodating, and Mum’s service, and then burial in the cold January rain, just before her 74th birthday, was beautiful and poignant.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The whole process has left me with grief, relief, and a deep desire to be sure that I have talked about and thought about what I want in the event of my own demise.

We weren’t sure what Mum actually wanted, and I was floundering with putting together a service, then Dad phoned. He’d been clearing pieces of paper and notes from a box on the coffee table beside where Mum sat, and had come across a piece of paper. On it was a list entitled Hymns for my Funeral, and she had listed about fourteen hymns, numbering four of them. Beneath that list was a poem Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland. I gave thanks, because we finally knew what hymns to choose and which poem my sister could read and they were perfect. The hymns we didn’t sing during the service became prelude and closing music, and they all spoke of Mum.

In the end I offered a eulogy inspired by photographs of my mother from her childhood right up to the present, which gave an insight into her life and what she loved, Jules read the poem which spoke exactly what I knew Mum would have said, and a dear friend spoke about Mum and our spiritual beliefs. I hope it was what she would have chosen.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I have moved away from this experience with the need to make any future plans my husband or children might have to put in place as easy as possible. We are all going to die. I don’t fear death, but I do have wishes and desires I would love to accompany my flight from this earth.

Neither of my parents had wills, and Dad now understands the importance of making one. We are now facing looking at Probate, and are discussing Lasting Power of Attorney, and Wills…and I want all these things sorted out, not only for him, but also for myself and my family in my own mind and on paper too. We need to talk about what we want – from services, coffins, wills, music, organ donation, religious rites, finances, do-not-resuscitate forms, living wills, and anything else that might be, for some, uncomfortable to discuss.

I want my views known to my family, not only about decisions made when I die but decisions that will affect my life. I want us to talk about care as I get older, what I want in the event of Alzheimer’s or cancer, or any other life changing/threatening disease. I want them to feel loved and not burdened, and I want to be sure I continue and leave this life with grace and dignity.   

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© Lisa Shambrook

My views on remembering the dead are a little different from the norm. I would very much like to keep it simple and quiet, perhaps even without a church service. I wish for flowers to be gathered from the season and tied simply with string and left wherever my ashes are strewn, and a poem, or reading, or memories are shared, by woods or a river among nature that I love so much, with my family and loved ones.  

How do you feel?

Is death a taboo subject or have you made your wishes known?

What are your thoughts on the fragility of death?

Honour those who’ve Gone Before – Send 2016 to its Grave – and Fight!

This is a difficult post to write… We are at the rear end of 2016
and many of us are very pleased to see it close.
I’m not blaming the year itself, but it’s as good a time as any to start anew…

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It’s been tough year politically, personally, and for many of us devastating in different ways. We have mourned political change, grieved lost and broken promises, and endured lies and political manoeuvres. We’ve lost celebrities, almost at a rate of several a month, and we have lost many close to us. Members of my own family and my husband’s family have lost loved ones, and we are holding those still in ill health close to us. As human beings we have also mourned the loss of families and individuals unable to escape war and destruction, and have seen refugees both rescued and shunned.

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© Lisa Shambrook

We’ve been hit by celebrity losses, usually those who’ve been part of our formative years, like Harper Lee who inspired me with To Kill a Mockingbird, Alan Rickman who’s acting has been a delight, and as a huge Star Trek and Star Wars fangirl: Anton Yelchin who played Star Trek’s latest incarnation of Chekov, Kenny Baker – R2D2, and yesterday, Carrie Fisher. You’ll be able to add many more to that list, as we’ve all been affected by those we loved.

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I’ve been hit more this year by the personal losses, not only mine, but many around me have lost loved ones. I was deeply affected by the murder of Jo Cox during the Brexit campaign. It added to my despair of humanity that someone who preached “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us.” could lose her life to an extremist. It was a terrible indictment on society.

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© Lisa Shambrook

My personal depression grew and was compounded throughout the year with the political and public reaction to refugees and those escaping regimes and war. I wondered where compassion had gone that society could publicly turn away from those in need?

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© Lisa Shambrook

At the beginning of September I stood in a place I never want to stand again. I won’t go into detail but I was on the cusp of becoming one of 2016’s statistics. After that night, I went for help and am currently taking antidepressants and counselling. My depression has grown over the years as I’ve spread myself thin to help care for my ailing parents and battle for help through Social Services.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Last Thursday, after about twelve years of constant illness including breast cancer, then secondary breast cancer of the bones, severe diabetes, a partially collapsed lung, glaucoma, and progressive Alzheimer’s, my mum peacefully passed away in hospital with pneumonia. Her Alzheimer’s had broken my heart, and almost taken my dad. I am currently coping with grief and relief, and everything this year has thrown at us.

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Yesterday, Carrie Fisher passed away after a massive heart attack. I loved her for more than just Star Wars…she fought for mental health awareness, she battled addictions, and kicked the media’s ass when they attacked her for her looks and weight when she returned to Star Wars. She knew who she was, she was excellent at what she did, and fought for what she wanted. Carrie Fisher made Princess Leia badass and turned her into a fighter, who survived and lead the resistance even when the men in her life let her down. Princess Leia grew into General Organa, and Carrie did the same in her personal life.

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© Lisa Shambrook

It’s hard for me to lose my mother, then another inspirational woman, but when we lose heroes we need to try and live what they taught us. My mother taught me much, and I have aspired to be an even better mother to my own children, and I want them to live in a world where those who’ve gone before have made the world better.

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© Lisa Shambrook

So, in the words of Anne Thériault on Twitter –  ‘May we all be able to get up every day and, in spite of our pain and loss and fear, put on our boots and vest and plan to destroy the empire.’ (Check out Anne’s thread on Princess Leia/General Organa…it rocks!) This is how we live, how we continue to go on, to move forward and to honour those who’ve gone. We honour those who’ve trail-blazed, who’ve worked hard, and who’ve left us more to do – so, let’s do it!

Be bold, be Leia. Be true, be Carrie Fisher…

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Let’s relegate 2016 to the dark and distant past, and kick 2017 into gear and fight!

We have empires to destroy!

 

How to Keep Calm and Carry On – During Times of Stress and Anxiety

Lately, especially lately, the world seems to be bursting at the seams with stress.
Life is fast-paced, aggressive, selfish, and anxious…and
we have to try and stay calm when everything about us appears to be falling apart.

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World events, local events, and even familial situations are rarely under our own control and we can feel like we’re drowning, so how can you take control and remain calm under pressure?

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© Lisa Shambrook

Mindfulness and Meditation: I am only just beginning to learn about each of these. Both offer techniques to centre yourself. I used to think I could never try meditation because I had no idea how to empty my mind, but I have learned that meditation is more about harnessing your thoughts, bringing them back to you, and accepting who you are. When my thoughts wander during meditation, as they will, I can recognise that they are and refocus, bringing myself back, focussing on my breathing and my presence.

I am learning that knowing myself and loving myself helps me immensely to remain a calmer person. It also helps that my daughter has been studying Buddhism which has some beautiful teachings. My favourite was something she told me from a Buddhist friend:
Imagine yourself as a mountain and your thoughts as clouds, let them drift by…

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© Lisa Shambrook

Anchoring: I have used anchoring for many years without really understanding it. Generally using an anchoring technique means to recall a time in your life when you were calm, in control, and happy, and focus on that moment, and combine it with a physical sensation like pinching your thumb and forefinger together. Then when you feel stressed, if you recreate that physical sensation by pinching your thumb and forefinger together you will recall the moment you felt in control and calm, thus restoring a sense of peace.

I have a stim/totem that I clasp and smooth between my fingers when I feel anxious and it helps to calm me. I’ve carried acorn cups and hazelnut halves about with me for years and years, they reside in all my pockets, and I have a compulsion to collect them when I’m out and about… Being able to channel a memory of a happy time and combine it with this action/stim is anchoring, and it really helps!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Go for a Walk: Take time out, remove yourself from the place of stress, get outside and into nature – all good advice to help you stay sane. I find nature a hugely calming influence, and it gives you space, both literally and figuratively. I’ve written before about harnessing Nature’s Antidepressants and it’s true that the natural environment can inspire and calm you. And remember it’s free, so, get out there and take your fill…

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© Lisa Shambrook

Gain a different perspective: When you’re stressed, anxious, or panicked, try and analyse how you’re looking at your situation. I tend to worry and dwell on the ‘what ifs’, my husband can embrace change and looks at the positives. If you are a negative thinker, then switch perspectives. Ask yourself if you can change anything about your position, if there is, do it, if not then you need to accept the circumstances.

We need to understand the idea behind the Prayer of Serenity: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Some things are out of our control and we cannot change them we just have to go through them, but some we can, and we need to embrace the times we can change and take control of our destinies.

It’s important to note that we do have to go through many things we cannot change, and we should do that with courage and, hopefully, positivity. The most damaging advice I ever had was to visualise my problems and if I couldn’t change them then put them in an imaginary box and close the lid. It doesn’t work, and eventually you’ll end up with an imaginary cupboard full of boxes of things you’ve never been able to face. If you have these boxes, and cannot face opening them, ask for help. There are many therapies and counselling that can help you confront your deep held demons.

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© Bekah Shambrook

Calm your Environment: These days decluttering is a definite word in our dictionaries. The things within our homes can help define our moods. Now, I quite like mess to a degree, I’m creative and like bits and pieces everywhere, but it can go too far. I don’t like to be surrounded by rubbish or negativity. Too much clutter can distract me and bring me down. I have to go through stages of clearing out and decluttering at regular points in my life. I usually use the adage if it doesn’t hold a memory, or make me happy, or I haven’t used or looked for it in two years, then it can go. Except books…I struggle to let books go! Spring cleaning, at any time of the year, can be cathartic and cleansing, and help you create a healthy environment.  

Add beauty to your home, pictures that you love, candles scented with the fragrances that inspire you, flowers, anything that you love. Make your home your sanctuary.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Affirmation: The more you repeat something the more the unconscious mind accepts it, and this goes for both positive and negative intonations, so embrace the positives. Tell yourself something that makes you anxious or stressed will be fun, that you’ll enjoy it, and the chances are that you can alter your perspective!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Let off Steam: Sometimes when we’re stressed we just need to let loose, to release the tension and the pressure. Adrenalin often accompanies stress and anxiety and sometimes you need to ‘run that off’ to coin a phrase. Stamp around the house, yell a bit, get outside and exercise. Listen to music and sing along. Shake it off and rid yourself of nervous tension!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Chocolate: *shrugs* Like I‘ve said many times before, chocolate is a winner. It contains serotonin and can help you relax. Go get a hot chocolate with whipped cream, or grab a bar of chocolate… *grins* Chocolate is good!

What helps you during stressful times? 

We Need to Talk about Depression and Antidepressants

Depression is ever growing in our society, for a number of reasons,
it’s time to lift the stigma and understand treatment.

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I watched This Morning (UK Daytime Magazine show) last week and they had a phone in on Depression. They have phone ins every day on a huge variety of subjects, but that day it was depression and as they came to the item they explained that they had been utterly overwhelmed with phone calls, more than any other subject they had recently dealt with.

This didn’t surprise me as I sat at home feeling sick, dizzy, weak, ultra anxious, and shaky. I was at my one week mark of having started a course of antidepressants.

Depression is rife and the numbers of those suffering is growing.

There are many, many reasons for depression. Some is caused by social and circumstantial events, some by chemical imbalance, and some by medication or illness.

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© Bekah Shambrook

I have many friends who cope with depression, anxiety, panic, self-harm, bi-polar and other mental and emotional health issues on a daily basis. I have suffered depression and self-harm since the age of fourteen, and anxiety and panic from much earlier. At eighteen I was prescribed the antidepressant, Fluvoxamine, for the first time, a short course which saw me through a particularly difficult breakdown. I limped through my twenties, married and raised children, had a bout of post-natal depression, and pushed through with little recognition. In my early thirties, around 2004, I had a breakdown and was prescribed Escitalopram, then, around 2008 and 2011, Cipralex and Citalopram, and in 2014, Amytriptyline, which was to combat anxiety and panic rather than depression. The early Escitalopram series including Cipralex and Citalopram caused difficult side-effects for me, making me sleep much of my depression away. Sounds good, but not effective with a family!

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© Bekah Shambrook

When this current period of depression reared its ugly head I baulked against antidepressants. I didn’t want to become a zombie again. And despite my history of nine to twelve month courses of meds each time, there is still a stigma and, still, we fight what might work for us.

My depression is chemical based. It’s something I will battle my entire life. I go through good periods and bad, often depending on the stress levels in my life, but it’s always lingering in the background, a companion to chronic anxiety. When it’s bad I need a higher dose of serotonin than my body can produce, and I slip into a depression, much like a diabetic’s body not producing enough insulin.

Sometimes I can cope with depression and if I treat myself well, my body can re-adjust on its own, but sometimes it can’t and I need help.  

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© Bekah Shambrook

Not only do we need to rid society of the stigma of mental illness, but we need to understand why medication works and is necessary.

If I have heart problems I will take heart medication. If I break my leg I will have it put in a cast and wait while my body heals. If I am diabetic I might need to take insulin for the rest of my life. No one would question any of these situations, so why do people still stigmatise antidepressants and other mental health medication?

As insulin injections replace the insulin a diabetic’s body cannot produce, so SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) work in a similar way. SSRIs work by blocking a receptor in our brain cells that reabsorb the chemical serotonin, which makes more serotonin available to enhance the messages sent between nerve cells. This availability of extra serotonin helps to remove or lift the depression and help the sufferer find themselves again.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Some people still believe antidepressants might block or change who you are, but it’s the depression that masks who you are, and lifting that can help the real you return.

Two and a half weeks ago, I began taking Sertraline. The first few weeks of taking any antidepressant is tough. The side effects are vast and you are likely to be hit hard by them. It’s often a case of getting worse before it can get better, but life is like that so much!

If you choose antidepressants be kind to yourself in the early weeks, if you work, it could be good for your GP to sign you off as you get used to them, if not, be aware and let your employer know what you are doing. Make sure your family are also educated and supportive. It’s very hard for those who’ve never had depression to understand it, but many will be compassionate and supportive. The sooner the stigma of both depression and antidepressants is gone, the better society will be. People with depression are all around us and are valuable members of society, we must not demonise depression.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I recognise that medication is not for everyone, and there are many other treatments for depression and similar conditions. I am also now on a waiting list for NHS counselling. And I’ve blogged about Nature’s Antidepressants too. But we do need to recognise that for many of us antidepressants or other medication may be exactly what we do need to be able to recover, or cope, or battle the black dog and win.

I am incredibly glad that warriors fighting depression are everywhere, social media helps to destigmatise and current TV shows are also helping to show it in normal lives. I applaud Cold Feet’s depiction of Pete going through deep depression and the effects it has not only on him but his family and his friends too. And just last week another new drama Paranoid, showed a major character also dealing with depression and anxiety. Mental health conditions are a part of real life, and we need to not only be aware, but to be compassionate and show empathy, love and understanding.

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Blue Harvest Creative

I’m still at the vulnerable, nauseous, wibbly, and exhausted stage of treating my depression, but I am glad I have made this step and that light at the end of the tunnel draws closer every day. I’ve been there before, and I know I can make it.   

How has depression affected you?
Has medication helped you?
How can we fight the stigma?

Never Changing Who I Am – Believe in Yourself

I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’m vocal about it.
I know who I am and I believe in myself…

Never Changing who I am - Believe in Yourself - the last krystallos - Lisa Shambrook

I spent years not speaking, not literally – I’ve always enjoyed talking, but I kept myself to myself and avoided confrontation and controversy – no more. I posted last year about How to be yourself and love who you are… and once you’ve achieved that, I want you to embrace the YOU that you love!

To be nobody but yourself - ee cummings, the last krystallos, lisa shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

I’ve learned that no matter what, even a people-pleaser won’t please everyone. So stop trying. Just like I know that not everyone will love or even like my books, not everyone will like me, and I’m okay with that. I am confident enough in myself to know that those who do love me matter more than those who don’t. In the same way that when my writing touches another person and they tell me how much my book helped them, that is the person the book was written for, other opinions don’t matter.

Importantly, I keep writing for those who do love my novels, those who melt within my words and discover beauty and new worlds. I won’t change my writing to fit with the latest fad or style, my words are mine and hopefully when you uncover them you’ll drift away to a place of hope and dreams. But if it’s not your thing, that’s cool, keep looking until you find what matters to you.

This is the way I live my life. Other people matter a great deal to me, but I’m not changing who I am to fit. Once you know who you are, embrace yourself, and love yourself. It’s very true that if you can’t love yourself you’ll struggle to love others.
Robert Holden said: Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.

A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms – Sensei Ogui - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

So, accept who you are
Never apologise for who you are
Love your flaws, they’re not flaws they’re YOU, uniquely you
Accept that society’s love for perfection is not only unattainable, but not truth
Stop comparing yourself to anyone
Live your own life
Be authentic, honest and true to yourself
Be good to yourself

Never changing who I am, It's Time - Imagine Dragons, the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Love who you are. Don’t change for anybody else. That’s not to be confused with not growing and we should always, always change for the better when we can. That’s when we accept who we are and love ourselves, when we reach for that distant star, dig deep, and spread our wings. Change is good – but never change because society tells you to, or someone doesn’t like you as you are. Only change because it is better than who you are now, and only change if you want to.

I know who I am – and I like, no, I love who I am.

Never Changing who I am - Lisa Shambrook - the last krystallos

Never Changing who I am – © Lisa Shambrook

I am a fighter and a rebel. I’m a peacemaker and a dreamer. I yell and I shout and I make a lot of noise. I whisper and ponder and learn. I battle for justice and integrity, and I yearn for equality and truth. I will stand and fight for what I believe and I won’t be quiet when voices need to be heard. I’m an observer and a star-gazer. I am a romantic and a crusader. I’m a cynic and I’m tired. I’m negative and positive. I’m an idealist and a perfectionist. I’m lost and I’m found. I’m both broken and whole. I am small, but I am, oh, so big and my ideas and my desires fill the world. I am strong and I love.

I will not apologise for being me. I don’t need to make anyone proud. I don’t need your validity, only my own, because I believe in myself.

Believe in YOU – BE YOU – Be yourself.

    Don’t let anyone change who you are.    

Anxiety Disorder – the Illness that Inhibits You and How to Beat It

Anxiety is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t suffer with it. The dictionary definition of anxious: feeling or showing worry, nervousness, or unease about uncertainty. While this definition is true, anxiety as a mental health disorder is much more than that.

Anxiety Disorder - the Illness that Inhibits You and How to Beat It - The Last Krystallos

Imagine being held up against a wall with a knife at your throat, your anxiety would be understood, in fact most people would say the emotions running through your head would far surpass anxiety. Anxiety disorder is the same, but without the intruder and the knife at your throat.

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© Lisa Shambrook

16th – 22nd May was Mental Health Awareness week in the UK and May is the awareness month in the US. Anxiety and Panic disorders are often glossed over when mental health is discussed, yet these enemies have been the bane of my life since a very early age. I spoke about it with Stigma Fighters and have included it in posts about depression and self-harm, but anxiety has been my constant companion.

Anxiety is common place amongst several different mental health disorders: OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Agoraphobia, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Panic Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, and other phobias. It often accompanies depression and other mental health conditions.

“Almost one in five people feel anxious a lot or all the time, while nearly half feel more anxious than they used to.” AnxietyUK

In 2013 there were 8.5million cases of anxiety in the UK. Women are twice as likely to suffer as men, and more than 1 in 10 of us are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage of our life. Many of those suffering from anxiety, up to 70%, will have further anxiety based disorders like the ones mentioned above. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder complemented by Clinical Depression, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety and these often result in self-harm, and this is not uncommon.

The most common physical symptoms of anxiety are:  a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest tightness, butterflies (or worse – I have spitting dragons) in the stomach, and nausea. Often these are joined by a dry mouth, the urge to pass urine/empty bowels, trembling or the shakes, and sweating.
These are accompanied by psychological symptoms like: feeling very tense and agitated, a fear of losing control (anxiety sufferers are often control freaks – I am), huge irritation, a feeling of detachment, and/or a feeling of dread – or as I call it ‘that impending sense of doom’.

People suffering big anxiety or panic attacks can often feel like they’re about to or are having a heart attack. The impending sense of doom can fool you into despair and can lead to self-harm and depression, and even psychotic episodes.

almost one in five feel anxious a lot or all of the time, while nearly half feel more anxious than they used to - Anxiety UK, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

I wish I’d known I was suffering from an anxiety disorder as a child, it would have made those moments preceded by panic attacks much easier to cope with. I had several occasions at school when I sat in a classroom unable to concentrate, unable to sit, my head filling with fog, my heart beating like it would explode, numbness coursing through me, and fear spreading through my veins for no particular reason. Several times I ran from PE, or after assembly, and locked myself in the bathroom, or ran from the school building and all the way home – my heart thumping like a road drill and feeling like I was being chased by the entire zombie cast from The Walking Dead.
Even as an adult I’ve sprung from my seat or dropped everything in a shop to run like a deer escaping a hunter. These panic attacks have been the companion to my anxiety.
My anxiety has been crippling. It’s prevented me from many social activities. It’s stopped me experiencing things that have made me apprehensive, and halted my progression where I might have soared.

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Source: ugly-bread

I have lots of online friends, but I’ve found it terribly difficult to form friendships amongst those I know in my locality. I’ve been a loner and alone. My family have been so supportive and they have encouraged me to do more and rise beyond my anxiety, very often accompanying me until I have scoped out new ground and lost the anxiety. Believe me, it can be conquered, but it’s very much one-step-at-a-time!

I have also attended an NHS course for Stress Management, which gave me facts and help for Generalised Anxiety and Depression. I have taken Cipralex (SSRI Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor class antidepressant) a commonly prescribed antidepressant which also helps anxiety. I wish I could have had more counselling covering anxiety; I have had private counselling on issues in my life which have helped, but not specifically for anxiety. I would advise anyone suffering Anxiety or Panic Disorders to seek help from your GP. Put yourself on waiting lists if you have to, and get help. It is out there.

Invisible and visible illnesses - lisa shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Check out my blog post on The Battle to Beat Depression, Nature’s Antidepressants, and Coping with Self-harm – How to Fight the Urges and Win you might find something to help you, as I’ve used many of these ideas to fight my anxiety as well at other disorders. Also take a look at Shelley Wilson’s Resolution Challenge blog, her post Using a Dropbox to Release Worry, Fear and Anxiety, offers a great idea about writing down your anxieties, fears and worries, screw them up and drop them in a jar – then when you’re ready, take a look at them, if you wish, and see how you’ve grown in the meantime, or just let them go and take great pleasure in ridding yourself of the notes in the trash, or maybe burn them, watch your anxieties go up in flames!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Sometimes your anxiety might be a short-term thing, caused by troubles within your life, like exams, divorce, and illness, things that you can overcome in time or on your own. Sometimes you may be suffering from a more malignant form of anxiety, it might be a mental health disorder or a physical disorder and you need medical help. Whatever kind of anxiety you suffer, know that there are many of us who understand and help is available.

It’s also important to know that anxiety is normal, it’s an emotion that we need and it helps protect us from harm.  

Don’t suffer alone.

What helps you most with your anxiety?

Alzheimer’s Awareness Week – Forget-me-not…

This post is peppered with forget-me-nots
because Alzheimer’s is the thief of time
stealing memories with no compunction at all…
Please, forget-me-not.

Alzheimer's Awareness - Forget-me-not - The Last Krystallos

Dementia Awareness Week is the 17th to 23rd May and this post is painful to write because Alzheimer’s has made me very aware of what it can do. It’s stolen my mother and there was so much left unsaid – things that now will never be said and that leaves regrets and resentment in its wake.

Quoting from The Alzheimer’s Society website: The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I don’t know my mother’s actual diagnosis, there are several types of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, but my dear father has always handled it with the ostrich approach, with his head pretty much in the sand. I understand this – it’s tough to see your loved one fade away in front of you and even tougher when they have no idea who you are. She has a professional diagnosis though and is on medication but it gets worse and there’s nothing to stop it.

For my parents’ privacy and respect I won’t go into their circumstances, my mother has many more illnesses and conditions, and everyone has different situations when this disease hits. But awareness is vital and help for the afflicted and the carers absolutely essential. The Alzheimer’s Society, whose symbol has also been the forget-me-not flower since 2012, is one of the first places to go for advice and they are wonderful, and Age UK have helped too, but Social Services and NHS help is also inevitable and crucial. Assessments need to be made and help given. I can’t report on the effectiveness of Social Services, as the planned assessment was cancelled and I haven’t yet heard back from them.  Be prepared for long waiting periods.

This is a disease that breaks hearts, and it’s on the rise. So is there anything we can do to prevent it?

forget-me-nots, the last krystallos, alzheimer's awareness,

© Lisa Shambrook

To try to thwart dementia the NHS recommends we should: eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, don’t drink too much alcohol, stop smoking (if you smoke), make sure to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

This is pretty much blanket advice and I shrug a little, this is the stock advice for a healthy life, not just dementia prevention.
What can you really do to help keep dementia at bay?

Analysis by Age UK suggested that lifestyle was responsible for 76% of changes in the brain and that people could go some way to avoiding the disease by adopting or quitting certain habits. Taking regular physical exercise, eating a Mediterranean diet, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation were all found to decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In addition, preventing and treating diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity was also found to reduce the risk.

I have also heard that learning another language, drinking raw fruit and veg, reducing stress and meditating, running 15 miles a week, laughing more, sleeping more and lowering your sugar intake can all help.
Learning a language, laughing, keeping your brain active and engaged all help create new neuro pathways in your brain and helps grow new brain cells, therefore keeping the brain busy and fully functioning. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells and once destroyed they cannot be recovered. Thus you see memory loss and lost skills that will never be salvaged.

These are ideas and helps, and current medication can halt the progress of Alzheimer’s to a degree too. However, more and more people are being diagnosed and current figures show that 850,000 people lived with dementia in the UK in 2015 and it’s set to rise at a rate that will result in over one million sufferers 1,142,677 in 2025.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I wish I had the answers to Alzheimers and Dementia – but I don’t which is why I’ve linked The Alzheimer’s Society, but I’d like to finish on two positives:

forget-me-nots, the last krystallos, alzheimer's awareness,

© Lisa Shambrook

Five Things You Should Know About Dementia from The Alzheimer’s Society:

It’s not a natural part of ageing

It’s caused by diseases of the brain. The most common is Alzheimer’s

It’s not just about losing  your memory – it can affect thinking, communicating and doing everyday tasks

It’s possible to live well with dementia

There’s more to a person than the dementia

They suggest we:

Spend more time with friends and relatives who are living with dementia (I can testify the carer will need support and friends, dementia in a partner is lonely, frustrating and terribly heartbreaking)

Learn more about dementia and maybe become a Dementia Friend

Volunteer and Fundraise…which brings me to my last thing…

forget-me-nots, the last krystallos, alzheimer's awareness,

© Lisa Shambrook

Bekah, my daughter, having seen the effects of Alzheimer’s first hand, has decided to do a Tandem Sky Dive and raise money for The Alzheimer’s Society. She is planning to leap from a plane and parachute on the 10th September and needs sponsors to help her achieve her goal!

Please think about supporting her and those suffering with this tragic disease if you can. Any funds raised online on her Just Giving Page go directly to The Alzheimer’s Society, but she will need physical donations which go to the jump and the charity, so if your know her personally please ask her for her sponsor form and do it direct!

Thank you so much in advance, anything we can do to help those suffering and fund research and help is imperative and very much appreciated!   

Bekah-skydive-alzheimer-justgiving

Bekah’s Just Giving Page for her Sky Dive Sponsors
in aid of The Alzheimer’s Society – Just click this link