Tag Archives: Anxiety

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?

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 - Surviving or Thriving - The Last Krystallos

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?

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?

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?

Stigma Fighters – Lisa Shambrook

My #InShadowSelfie for Invisible mental and physical illness Awareness © Lisa Shambrook

My #InShadowSelfie for Invisible mental and physical illness Awareness © Lisa Shambrook

It was a privilege to be invited to share my story about living with mental health issues with Stigma Fighters. It’s a fairly raw process with deep reflection, but also very cathartic…

It’s important to me to help fight the stigma of mental and emotional illness.

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Which is why I regularly blog and write on sensitive subjects that have affected my life, and I am committed to bringing awareness to people to avoid and curtail stereotypes and misinformation.

Please read up on some important Emotional and Mental Health issues when you have some time.

And please follow Stigma Fighters on Facebook and Twitter.

How To Find Nature’s Antidepressants

‘I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.’
John Burroughs

nature's-antidepressants-title-the-last-krystallos 1These last few weeks have been tough. There’s no reason, except for the rising mists of depression that have been circling my feet. Depression doesn’t need a reason.

It’s been a good few years since the black dog really bit a chunk out of me. I live with anxiety and panic, but I’ve kept depression at bay. When it began swirling about my feet a few weeks ago it was unexpected, though not surprising. Depression is an illness you know can and often returns without warning.

I’m currently still in the early stages of an episode and I’m fighting. I’ve used many methods to overcome depression over the years, including medication and therapy. This time I’m hoping to quash it naturally before it has the chance to develop.

I have a headstart as autumn is my favourite season – so here goes:

*How to fight depression purely through nature…

brighton pier sunset, clouds, the last krystallos,

Sunset, ocean and clouds © Lisa Shambrook

Anything that makes you feel good helps, so I’m storing the good things like sunsets and clouds. I can escape when I watch clouds and escaping into my imagination always gives me somewhere to go when darkness attacks.

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Ocean © Lisa Shambrook

The ocean is another of my go to places. The ocean heals me. It calms my troubled mind and lifts my soul. A calm sea is a balm and a rough sea ignites my passions. Talking of water, another way I fight depression is to swim, which I’ve blogged about before. Powering through the water uses energy, is relaxing and exercise has been proven to help fight depression.

green castle woods, woodland walks, dog walk, sunshine and smiles, lisa shambrook, the last krystallos,

Green Castle Woods, walks, sunshine and smiles © Lisa Shambrook

Walking is exercise. On days when I can’t get to the gym, I can walk through woodlands, meadows, and the countryside. My German Shepherd gives me reason (if I need it and sometimes depression can kill motivation) and we walk every day. I live in a gorgeous area and we can discover adventure together beneath the canopy and fresh air.

Sunshine and smiles. Smile and you feel better. Simple. Sunshine also gives the feel good factor right along with vitamins. Don’t forget we need sufficient hours of daylight to fuel and charge our bodies.

snowdonia mountain valleys and mist, eagles, the last krystallos,

Snowdonia and eagles © Lisa Shambrook

Mountains, valleys, woodlands, forests…nature’s kingdom leaves me in awe and that’s always good. Get out there and enjoy the boost Mother Earth offers for free. Watch the birds soar, and let yourself escape!

red squirrel, green castle woods oak, the last krystallos,

Red Squirrel (found by Dan on Prince Edward Island, Canada) and Green Castle Woods Oak © Lisa Shambrook

I mentioned my dog and I also have cats. They love me, yes, even my cats do! Animal therapy works, stroking an animal reduces blood pressure and calms the soul. Animals offer the sort of unconditional love many humans don’t. Get out and discover what lives in the wild. Vince and I once saw a deer, just a few feet away. It stared at us and we stared back for a few minutes before it bounded away, but in those days without camera phones, it’s just a snapshot memory…maybe they’re the best type…

discovery apples, red apples, autumn leaves, the last krystallos,

Discovery apples and autumn leaves © Lisa Shambrook

I adore trees, and they remind me how to grow, tall and strong. Climb one if you want, feel that sense of achievement, as long as you don’t get stuck! Enjoy nature’s fruits, eat natural and healthy. I love our apples! Like I said earlier, Autumn is my favourite season, so the turning leaves both inspire and humble me, and make the perfect atmosphere to fight the darkness.

roses and lavender, the last krystallos,

Roses and Lavender © Lisa Shambrook

Flowers. I’ve blogged lots about flowers, nature’s decoration, her jewels. The scent of jasmine, or orange blossom, or roses and lavender inspire and rouse and lift me.

rudbekia, rain on flower, simple daisy, the last krystallos,

Simplicity of nature’s flowers, rudbekia and daisies © Lisa Shambrook

So, I’m fighting. I’m getting out there and inhaling September, breathing in the beauty of nature and letting it infuse and heal me.

So tell me what helps you overcome life’s difficulties?
How do you allow nature to heal you? 

*It’s important to note that while nature can be a powerful prescription, if your depression intensifies, please seek help from your GP. Medication has its place and if used correctly can work wonders.

Understanding Self-Harm: the Truths and Myths and How to Help

Self-harm is a behaviour that is becoming much more common in our society.
When a specific behaviour becomes more common it’s essential
to
understand it and be able to offer non-judgemental compassion to those who suffer.

understanding self harm, truths about self harm, myths about self harm, the last krystallos,

I’ve written about depression and about running away because they are subjects I live and know. I have self-harmed since I was fourteen-years-old and I expect to be fighting the urge for the rest of my life. It’s not a mental illness, but a behaviour. Sometimes we can deal with our mental illness issues, but support for our learned behaviour is much harder to come by and more difficult to stop.

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

What is self-harm or self-injury?

Self-harm is when a person intentionally physically damages or hurts their body.

Why do people self-harm?

It’s easier to deal with physical pain than emotional pain – many of those who self-harm find a manifestation of physical pain can both ease and replace emotional pain that’s just too unbearable or too overwhelming. Sometimes depression or other mental illnesses can leave you emotionless or in a virtual black-hole, physical pain can bring you back from that void.

It’s a physical manifestation of your emotional pain – sometimes you need to show your pain, it needs to be visible.

Control issues – you have control over the pain you’re feeling, especially if that emotional pain or situation is overwhelming.

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

The reasons behind self-harming can be diverse from suffering abuse, to bullying, to PTSD, and is also related to many other conditions. A high percentage of sufferers already suffer from depression and/or anxiety.

There are many myths* surrounding self-harm which are damaging to sufferers and to the level of compassion or criticism they receive.

People who self-harm don’t do it to seek attention, or to be cool, or manipulative. In fact many people hide the fact that they hurt themselves. Many will wear long sleeves or clothes to cover their scars or injuries. They often blame ‘the cat’ or other circumstances for their injuries.

In general those who self-harm are not suicidal. It’s often a cry for help, but often a very private one, as seen by the ability to hide the behaviour.

Please don’t believe that the only self-harmers out there are teenage girls, Goths and Emos. It’s an offensive stereotype. People who self-harm come from every part of society and every age range and gender. I, myself, am forty-three and my background is one of being a shy child, a people-pleaser and anxious. It’s also not a phase that sufferers will grow out of. Help can be found and behaviours can be changed, but it’s not a phase.

It’s not true that cutting, many lines or tracks up and down arms, is the only or most common form of self-harm. It’s the most publicised form therefore a form that many new self-harmers take on. My own cutting is kept to one or two places, and consists of reopening old scars. Therefore my arms are not a mess of scars, just one or two that consistently reappear. Many cutters cut shoulders, thighs, stomachs and other locations, not only arms.

Some people believe self-harm only consists of cutting. It is a large variety of behaviours including: hair pulling, scratching, biting, burning, drug-taking, eating disorders, alcoholism, and risk taking behaviour, to name but a few!

understanding self harm, ask without judgement and with compassion, the last krystallos, lisa shambrook,

© Lisa Shambrook

So, how do you stop self-harming?

I have had periods when I’ve stopped for years, but the urge returned and though currently manageable, it’s always there. Some of the following have helped:

Some people wear rubber bands and snap them when the urge to hurt hits. Sometimes the sudden pain from a band can suppress the urge.

Take time out…breathe. There are plenty of breathing exercises for coping with anxiety out there and some can work for this too. Ride it out. The urge to cut usually lasts for a specific time, if you know your pattern, then try to ride it out. Resist for as long as you can. Breathe, let your emotions settle and see if you can resist the urge. Be with someone, you’re less likely to cut if you’re with someone who cares.

Distract yourself. I have a stim (something to distract me, usually associated as a behaviour which helps you cope with a given situation) I carry an acorn cup with me, I have several, and when the urge to panic, or cut, or run appears my first action is to hold and stroke the acorn cup. It’s a soothing action which offers my mind a distraction and the space to allow myself to calm down. Along with distraction you should remove yourself from the situation causing the urge.

Another thing is to identify your triggers. Know what causes your urge and see if you can find ways to deal with them.

Lastly, find another way to express your emotions/pain: write, shout, sing, run, or scribble violently on paper. Find something which can replace the urge to self-harm.

Finally, I want to say to those who self-harm, do not feel guilty. This is a behaviour and with help it can be overcome. There is no shame, no guilt and you are a worthwhile person. And to those who know someone who harms, talk to them – let them know that you’re someone they can talk to, someone they can share with. Often we are so scared people will judge, criticise or scorn that we hide things we need to talk about. The best way to stop harming is to be with someone who cares.

I carry no shame or guilt with my scars, they are part of me and I love them. Sometimes they are red and angry, other times they fade away to white, gossamer threads, but they will always be there and I will love them – as they are me.  

If you need help, please see your GP, or at least check out some of the
great sites online that can help: NHS ChoicesThe SiteNSPCCHelp Guide

* There are always going to be some exceptions to these rules. I know someone who got professional help for a condition and was asked why they weren’t self-harming along with their other symptoms. They went away and began cutting in the traditional form, because they felt they were expected to.

2. Beneath_the_Old_Oak_front_cover_finalSelf-harm is part of my book ‘Beneath the Old Oak’ and an unedited NaNoWriMo snippet can be read here. To read more of Meg and her mother’s struggles ‘Beneath the Old Oak’ is available on Amazon and Etsy.

“Turn those dreams of escape into hope…”
Meg thinks her mother is broken. Is she broken too? Meg’s life spirals out of control and she’s terrified she’ll inherit her mother’s sins. Seeking refuge and escape she finds solace beneath a huge, old oak, but a devastating storm will change her life forever.

Running Away and Coming Back Again…

People deal with stress, anxiety and panic in different ways.
I’ve always been a runner
and not in the sense of pounding the streets in Nikes with a stopwatch.
I run. That’s what I do. When it all gets too much I run.

running away and coming back again, Lisa Shambrook, the last krystallos, running away, escape, coming home,

The two main responses are Fight or Flight. I fly. I don’t do confrontation – I avoid it all costs. So much so, that I barely ever answer my own telephone. My initial reaction to anything that makes my heart pound is to run. Even love caused me to run a mile, which hubby discovered after only two weeks. As soon as real emotion got involved, my poor heart fluttered and panicked and I was gone. I hid, refusing to answer the door, or the phone, remaining cowered inside my heart until I pulled myself together and accepted that I felt the same. Thankfully he hadn’t given up. Now twenty-three years later, he is, and always has been, my rock.

drapetomania running away, drapetomania, the urge to run away, the last krystallos,

Drapetomania © Lisa Shambrook

My default setting is to escape, and it’s been that way since I was young. I avoided people, lost in books, writing and drawing as a child. The necessity of school meant I had to run the gauntlet of social activities. I was the quiet one, the shy one, the one in the corner. I didn’t stand out surrounded by myriad friends, but the friends I made at school loved me for who I was.

I ran from school several times. Right out of PE – I ran. After assembly – I ran. I ran with a pounding heart and the desperate urge to flee. I ran with blind panic, with anxiety bubbling inside my chest and with no thought of consequence except escape.

From fourteen I suffered depression, and it reared its ugly head with a breakdown at eighteen. My coping mechanisms crashed and after running for so long, I simply stopped. Getting diagnosed with Post-viral Fatigue/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – CFS) masked the depression, and allowed me to stop running.

Then I met Vince, my rock. I married young and moved to Wales. If that’s not running, I don’t know what is… Three small children kept me busy and finally gave my life reason. I escaped the CFS after a decade, but my depression and anxiety remained. It took ‘til my thirties, an assault and another breakdown before I faced my demons.

And I run til the breath tears my throat The Alarm Rain in the Summertime

Rain in the Summertime – The Alarm – Meme and Photo © Lisa Shambrook

The reasons behind my running emerged and got confronted. The first time I’d confronted my demon, the person I confided in wept, and I comforted them. Then I continued running.

I’ve run from home – just upped and left. I’ve driven away, miles and miles, with no intent to return.

I’ve dreamed, and planned, and run.

I always wanted to escape.

But there was never anywhere to go – so I always came back.

Coming back taught me things. I learned that running doesn’t get you anywhere. It takes you away, it provides emotional distance, but it doesn’t fix a thing. I learned that antidepressants have their place, but they don’t offer solutions. I learned that talking was the only way to move ahead, but the NHS denied me that option. I learned that trust was earned and that the only people who offered me that were already close. I learned that I had value, that I was someone worth loving. I learned to rely on and trust my husband and my children.

They saved me. 

I learned that support is much more than a network, it’s real friends, real people who offer tangible love. I learned that one friend noticing and recognising a self-harm scar can ultimately save your life. I learned that to value yourself, you must love yourself. I learned that when you can’t trust or lean on society, then lean on those who love you. I learned to value myself enough to accept help.

dandelion clock, wishes, lisa shambrook, the last krystallos,

Wishes in Bluebell Woods © Lisa Shambrook

When you feel that life is too much, don’t suffer in silence, talk. Talk to anyone who’ll listen. If you can get professional help, do. If antidepressants help, take them. Try not to run, but if you do, always remember those you can trust, those who love you, those who need you. 

Thank goodness for those you can come back to.

For help with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression see your GP or Health Provider.

Beneath_the_Old_Oak_front_cover_finalRead more of running away in ‘Beneath the Old Oak’ available in paperback and eBook on Amazon and Etsy.

‘Turn those dreams of escape into hope…’ Meg thinks her mother is broken. Is she broken too? Meg’s life spirals out of control, and when she mirrors her Mum’s erratic behaviour, she’s terrified she’ll inherit her mother’s sins. Seeking refuge and escape, she finds solace beneath a huge, old oak. A storm descends, and Meg needs to survive devastating losses.

The Tragedy of Demonising Depression

‘The truth is that people with depression are all around us – they are our teachers and solicitors; our plumbers and health professionals. Having depression does not necessarily make you unfit to work, but, based upon the headlines in many of today’s papers you could be forgiven for thinking that it does.’
(‘Don’t blame depression for the Germanwings tragedy’ – Masuma Rahim –
The Guardian 27th March 2015)

the tragedy of demonising depression, germanwings crash, air crash, depression,

I’ve been terribly disappointed with not only the headlines surrounding the tragedy that was the Germanwings air crash, but also the vitriol that poured across social media. It is indeed a huge and devastating loss, and my heart goes out to the families of those who died, but it is likely no one will ever know what was going on in Andreas Lubitz’s (the co-pilot) mind. It brings lots of questions into play and many areas that will need to be looked at within the airline industry, but the reports circulating blaming depression can only do more harm than good.

Please see Mind’s response to the media’s reaction.

I’ve heard people write on social media that anyone with depression should not be employed as a pilot, and that what he (the co-pilot) did was hateful.

rain on dark window, raindrops on black and white window, rain on window, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

These are points I’d like to confront:

Firstly, as the quote at the top of my post says, people with depression are all around us and employed in every kind of job there is. See this list of famous people who have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder, which includes such notables as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Buzz Aldrin and Isaac Newton, should these people who excelled in their work have been prevented the opportunity to work in these fields?

The world would be poorer if they had.

Mental illness is still not taken as seriously as it should, help is still far from being what it should, and I agree that people diagnosed with any mental illness should be monitored in sensitive employment, but no one* should be prevented from working in whatever field they choose.

* I will add a caveat, of course people with severe mental impairments may not be able to work, but it demonstrates that each person should be assessed on an individual basis. I don’t know the severity of whatever condition Andreas Lubitz had, or on any treatment, and therefore couldn’t comment on his suitability to his job, that would be the responsibility of the airline he worked for.

steps, escape, tunnel, shaft, escape shaft, steps in shaft, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

I would hate for my opportunities and abilities to be disregarded just because I suffer depression. I am a fully functioning member of society who suffers with depression, panic disorder and severe anxiety, but I am still fully able to be part of society without being side-lined.

Secondly, yes, what the co-pilot did was wrong, 100% wrong, but where do you begin applying blame and labelling ‘hateful’ especially if he was suffering from a mental illness?

I believe entirely that whatever he was suffering was more than depression, yet the headlines have begun to demonise depression yet again. Depression and all the conditions that go with it are different for each sufferer. People can relate to my symptoms but it may affect them differently. There is no textbook, overarching description that will apply to every case.

What happened that fateful day was dreadful, but for those who ache every day with depressive disorders it will be frighteningly relatable. Depression strips you of emotion; it plunges you into an abyss and leaves you there. At that point if help is not sought or given, you are at the mercy of the black dog. The condition moves from depression to something much more serious.

I have been stuck at the bottom of that pit, and my emotions blurred, my senses broken. I’ve been driving and found myself thinking about swerving into the lane of oncoming traffic. People seem to understand or accept that those in this condition may hurt themselves, but can’t imagine them taking anyone with them. Ever seen a news article on a parent who committed suicide and killed their children first? It happens. When your mind contemplates those extreme measures you are lost within the grip of psychosis, and all common sense is gone, all emotion is gone. I am incredibly lucky that I’ve won those battles, and that my arms and hands gripping the steering wheel did not give in and swerve.

owning our own story brene brown, brave, courageous, worth, self-worth, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

One day society will understand that those suffering mental illnesses such as depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia and more are effective members of our society. We may sometimes need medication and understanding, but we are valuable and able and regular people. You may even know some of us. After all, we are who we are, warts and all, and owning our own story. Sometimes we just need society’s help and not its discrimination.