Tag Archives: depression

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?

Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants - The Last Krystallos

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?

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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.

Mental Health Awareness - rain - the last krystallos

© 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.

Mental Health Awareness - dog - the last krystallos

© 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!

Mental Health Awareness - cat - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

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.

anxiety disorder quote by Lisa Shambrook, the last krystallos

© 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.

Autumn Bliss and my Favourite Hot Chocolate

It was actually September last year that I discovered
my most favourite ever hot chocolate…

I called it chocolate heaven!

autumn-bliss-and-my-favourite-hot-chocolate-the-last-krystallosBekah and I spent a couple of years wandering the streets of Carmarthen trying out all the hot chocolates in town and had fun compiling a ‘Best of’ list, which you can find in the aptly named ‘Hot Chocolate’ in the menu above. We thought we had a winner…then Calon Café and Interiors opened its doors and stole the show. There have possibly been new coffee shops in Carmarthen since, but we haven’t strayed!

Calon Hot Chocolate © Lisa Shambrook

Calon Hot Chocolate © Lisa Shambrook

As many know I suffer clinical depression and severe anxiety and, you know, chocolate helps.

Chocolate contains chemicals which lift moods. It contains phenylethylamine and tryptophan, which both work as antidepressants by combining with dopamine which is naturally present in your brain, and produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that creates feelings of happiness.

It also contains anandamide, a chemical found in marijuana, but in tiny amounts, nowhere near enough to get you high! Anandamide was discovered by a scientist in 1992. He named it after the Sanskrit word ananda, which means bliss.

Sometimes you need chocolate, and don’t worry you can’t get addicted, no matter how much you crave it!

So, sometimes you can and should indulge, and one of my chosen ways is with a thick Spanish hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream…otherwise, I stock up on Lindt Lindor, Galaxy, Green & Blacks Organic Blood Orange Milk Chocolate, or Riesen…and I love Dairy Box if you’re offering!

This is why I love Calon’s Spanish Hot Chocolate…

Just walking into this coffee shop is a delight. Beautifully rustic, yet modern and comfortable, with earthy colours, wooden and metal tables, an eclectic mix of seating, including wooden chairs and leather sofas. A fire roars beneath the menu boards, and you can even buy the decorative wares that decorate the shop! It also offers conservatory seating in the quiet backstreet where it resides.

The hot chocolate is thick and full of flavour. Generously topped with cream, chocolate dusting and marshmallows if you so choose. Great temperature and great value! The chocolate is like velvet, and creamy, and tastes heavenly. Advertised as Spanish and certainly made me a convert to European hot chocolate…

For the taste alone, it comes out top, and is one of the best hot chocolates I’ve had. Absolute heaven!

Calon Cafe and Interiors, Carmarthen © Lisa Shambrook

Calon Cafe and Interiors, Carmarthen © Lisa Shambrook

Go on, you know you want to…and isn’t autumn the perfect time to wrap up warm
and pop out for the perfect hot chocolate?

What are your favourite chocolates?

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.

#InShadowSelfie – Mental Health Awareness

Last week I discovered #InShadowSelfie thought up by Louise Gornall.
Go take a shadow selfie and help promote Mental Illness Awareness…

inshadowselfie-louise-gornall-mental-illness-awareness-the-last-krystallos-blog-post

It was about the same time the DWP updated their list of health issues that come without physical impairment intimating that sufferers of mental illness are quite able to work and should not be allowed benefits. Last week figures were also released from the government giving numbers of those who’d died within six weeks after being refused benefits. (These figures are subjective, but in my opinion still damning – you can see the reality here.) This is so serious though, that the UN (United Nations) are sending a team to investigate Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms.

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

This is important to me for many reasons as I know many people who suffer from mental health related illnesses. I have a history of severe anxiety, panic disorder, and clinical depression. In my early twenties I was signed off work due to these factors and the then little known ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – better known as Post Viral Fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I left work and received Invalidity Benefit for a couple of years before John Major’s Tory government saw me fit to work. I suffered huge panic attacks amid years of debilitating depression, combined with self-harm and a variety of other symptoms, plus, I was raising my first child, but I was obviously fit to work as there were no physical symptoms. I vividly remember the government doctor telling me that I had no physical symptoms whilst my heart thumped and cramped so much I thought I was having a heart attack, and my legs became pure jelly. I could barely make it out of the examining room without collapsing. I was shattered, exhausted and lost, and spent the next few days at home a mess of tears, shivering loss and quite unable to think straight due to my antidepressants. Hubby worked part time and helped with my daughter as much as he could but I was a mess for those years.

That was back in the early nineties. Have things changed much for mental health awareness since then. Yes, and no. Public perception is marginally better, but government compassion? No.

© Emmie Mears

© Emmie Mears

So, when I saw my friend, Emmie, post on Instagram her #InShadowSelfie last week, I knew it was something I wanted to do too, particularly as I am right now in the middle of a bout of clinical depression.

I found Louise’s blog and checked out her posts about the hashtag, which you can find here and here.

© Louise Gornall

© Louise Gornall

Anyway, I wanted to let Louise explain her hashtag…and I want you to go and support it! Find your shadow, take a selfie and post it on your social media! You don’t have to suffer from mental health issues to take part and every picture posted will help to build awareness!      

Louise, what prompted your idea to raise awareness to invisible mental illness with the hashtag and what made it personal to you?

Hi Lisa. Thank you so much for helping me highlight this project. So, I read this article in Welfare Weekly. Beyond the money part, I was really upset by the list of mental health conditions the DWP say come without physical impairment… On what planet is this? At first I assumed they’d made a mistake because I’m a chick with a laundry list of mental health issues, four of which appear on this list, and most days I can’t get beyond my driveway without passing out. Alas, there’s no mistake. It would seem that because you can’t see bruising or bleeding, I’m not considered physically impaired by my petrified brain. I shudder to think how I’d survive without my family taking care of me. Some days, even the smallest task sends me into a spin.

© Louise Gornall

© Louise Gornall

What’s your biggest frustration with insensitive attitudes to mental health conditions?

I have two. Well, I have about fifty, but these are two I keep seeing a lot of lately. It irks me that people measure suffering. Or weigh suffering against suffering. Phrases like, “Get some perspective…” or “It could be worse…” I’m not a violent person, but this stuff sends me into a table-flipping rage. For starters, if it were that easy to get some perspective, I would have bought it by the bucket-load already. And secondly, I’m not about to tell anyone they don’t know real suffering while they’re shedding tears over a deceased family pet. I don’t assume to know that relationship, or how it worked, or what it meant. If the loss of a pet tears you in two, my only job, as a human being, is to be sympathetic. There are awful things going on in the world, but the strength of suffering will always be measured most by the person affected.

And one more, the idea that people use mental health as some sort of “get out of work free” card drives me up the effin wall. Sure, I can’t go out to work… but then, what about the rest of my life that’s also on hold? People are very ready and willing to shout about me using my disability to get out of a day’s graft, but they don’t mention that it’s also the thing stopping me from being a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding in Cyprus. Or that it’s the reason I had to give up my horse. They don’t mention that I haven’t seen a film at the cinema in almost two years, that I have no love life, can’t pop to the shop for a bar of chocolate, go out with my friends at the weekend, go and visit my granddad in the hospital before he died. I just wish people would look beyond the little they know about mental illness. I wish they’d worry as much about mental health as they do about money.

© Louise Gornall

© Louise Gornall

What do you hope the #InShadowSelfie will achieve as it grows?

I want people to talk. I want people to feel like they’re not alone. I don’t want suicide to be a person’s only option. I want this thing to grow so big people see it, ask why, and what it’s all about. I don’t want people to feel afraid or isolated. I want mental health to be seen as suffering. I want accusing a self-harmer of attention seeking to become a thing of the past. I want people to stop saying anorexia is all about vanity. I want people to stop telling folks that are being crippled by depression to buck up. I want to join the fight to stamp out stigma.

Thank you for explaining your hashtag to us, Louise, I truly hope it grows and people take it to their hearts.

mental illness visibility quote, lisa shambrook,

© Lisa Shambrook

In my opinion, the government need to think twice before condemning so many people and before telling them they have no physical symptoms and are therefore fit to work.

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Does an illness always need to be physical before it’s debilitating? No.  Mental illnesses can be both visible and invisible, and both are debilitating.

Common physical symptoms of mental illness:  heart palpitations, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, flushing, hyperventilation, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, sweating, tingling and numbness, choking, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle aches, restlessness, tremors/shaking. These can be both minor and major, but should never be dismissed. As always some people can work with these conditions, some cannot and should not, remember the extreme case of the pilot who brought down the Germanwings flight? Each case should be looked at individually, but with understanding, knowledge and most of all compassion.

So, please share your #InShadowSelfie and show your support and help awareness of mental illness. Let’s spread our shadows across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and show that we are not invisible!

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.