Tag Archives: mental health

Wild Harbour – Mid-Week Flash Challenge

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Wild HarbourHe waxes and wanes like the moon – bursting with passion and brim-full with deep satisfaction, and then lost in absence and lonely apathy.

I ride the waves of his storm.

The minute his lips touch mine I sink into his depths, drowning in tides of desire and climbing to heights I’ve never known. He and his touch spark fireworks and constellations shimmer through my universe. My night sky lights up with the fullness of an October Hunter’s moon and I relish every moment he stays. He is my sun and my moon and every star in my cosmos.

My heart aches when he leaves, when he shifts from my orbit. He remains, connected with my physical world, but lost to me as the moon is absent to your touch within a puddle. I know it’s not his love that wanes, but his island inhabits a remoteness that even I cannot reach. I cannot sail its waters and I cannot rescue him from his solitary soul.

When he is only a reflection of himself I keep him safe wrapped within the cocoon of my heart. When his light fades I keep a burning coal in my belly. When he weeps and collapses, like a neutron star, I remain at his side to fuel his escape from the black hole, and keep him tethered to life.

Then, as I wait, his dark moon catches a spark, a shooting star, and its tail threads back through our course. And, in time, he returns, hungry and starved and eager. And I greet him with love and shelter, and allow him time to regain his glow.

Our eternal round will never fail, my harbour will encircle, and my heart will embrace, through the good and the bad, the high and the low, the waxing and waning. It will always go on, because that’s what you do when you love someone encased within bipolar extremes.

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Just loved this picture for Miranda’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge, though she couldn’t find anyone to attribute it to, but I had to write for it.

Write up to 750 words inspired by the prompt photograph.

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Understanding Depression – The Truths and Myths

Depression does not discriminate. Depression is not a choice.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are becoming
much better understood, but we still need to be clearer.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos

Depression can hit anyone – it does not discriminate. Depression ignores your gender, race, age, and any other excuse people can throw at it. It doesn’t matter your financial situation, or your degree of education, or your place in this world. It doesn’t care if you’re fulfilled, or happy, or desperate and suicidal. It does not discriminate.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Weeping Geranium

© Lisa Shambrook

Types of depression

There are several types of depression including – Clinical DepressionPost-natal DepressionBi-polar Disorder (Manic Depression)SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)GriefSituational Depression – and they range from mild, moderate, to severe.

The NHS website explains that ‘There’s no single cause of depression. It can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many different triggers.’ Depression can be caused by circumstance, events, or medical conditions, or family history, or through chemical imbalances.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Pensive Raven Cat

© Lisa Shambrook

Situational depression is perhaps the easiest (a misnomer if there ever was one, no depression is easy) to deal with as its root cause trauma, trigger, or event, can often be located and treated or understood, the same could be said for depression triggered by grief. A trauma or loss often brings on acute sadness and depression, which may need treating medically or psychologically, but is a condition that can be worked through and hopefully overcome with time.

Other types of depression are harder and maybe impossible to ‘cure’.

Yet, there are still people who claim you can change your life, become more positive, appreciate your blessings, and then you can beat your depression. Maybe, who knows, for some people with situational depression, maybe they can overcome and ride out the bad times, maybe they can ‘pull themselves together’ (I hate that term), maybe they can recognise and make changes in their life and beat depression. Maybe, but also, maybe not.

I’ll add a caveat here: depression (and mental illness as a whole) is not ‘one size fits all’. My experience will be different from yours, and where some people may find depression a blip in their lives, something to overcome, many don’t and will fight it their entire lives.

We must be non-judgmental, compassionate, and understanding in our dealings with those who live with depression.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Within the Ocean Cave

© Bekah Shambrook

How Depression is treated

Depression is treated in many ways. Mild depression can be treated with a ‘wait and see’ approach, exercise helps ease depression – and I can bear witness to that – as can diet, psychotherapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and counselling. More serious depression needs a stronger approach. All of the above can help, talking and counselling can be a godsend, but medication can also be necessary. Antidepressants work by increasing neurotransmitter chemicals in your brain, if these chemicals are out of balance they can affect many aspects of your body and mind, including mood. There are several types of antidepressants, and the most popular of these SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) increase the levels of the chemical messenger in the brain – serotonin. Serotonin is an amino acid that is found in food, and it helps run much of your body, and deficiency can cause depression.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Sertraline-antidepressant

© Lisa Shambrook

I have written about Antidepressants and my history, and about Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants, but I still get people telling me that I ought to be more positive, or count my blessings, or that I’m lucky to have everything I do, or that others would be happy with a tiny bit of what I have in my life…

There are a multitude of posts and lists out there online that list the things no one should ever say – and what they should say – to someone living with depression – but people still say them! Get over it, they say, choose to be happy, count your blessings, there’s always someone worse off than you, don’t be selfish, it’s all in your mind (actually, yes, it is – but it’s physiological and psychological, not made-up), try to be happy… If it was as easy as that we wouldn’t be suffering with depression.

Depression is not a choice. Being sad can be a choice, making changes that help you get over problems in your life is a choice, being positive is a choice, but being depressed is not a choice.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Clifftop

© Lisa Shambrook

I am a happy person, I’m a positive person, but I also have clinical depression and have had it since I was fourteen-years-old. I was diagnosed at eighteen, and have lived with it ever since. I have taken courses of antidepressants, had counselling, had psychiatric help, seen a psychologist, seen a therapist, used exercise, and I still live with depression.

Thirteen months ago I stood on a bridge at 2am. Life seemed too much. I was overwhelmed. Depression drowned me. I got help and have had counselling and antidepressants since. None of that, or of my history of depression, panic, and anxiety, changes the fact that my life is fulfilling, I adore my husband and children, I love who I am. I have self-harmed since I was twelve-years-old (when I didn’t even know what self-harm was), but that doesn’t change that I know I’m blessed, that I’m happy with my talents, and I love my life.

I know that depression will haunt me throughout my life, but I will manage it. Antidepressants will ‘fix me’ short term, until the chemicals in my brain misalign once more. I will make use of the services available to me, which are getting better.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Steel Rainbow Sky

© Lisa Shambrook

But the point of this post is to help understanding and appreciation of what depression truly means.

Depression is not a choice, and it does not discriminate.
It is a condition that those who live with will manage to the best of their ability.
We deserve support and compassion, be the person who seeks to understand.  

Tomorrow, October 5th, is the National Depression Screening Day in the US,
and October 10th is World Mental Health Day… please show your support…

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?

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.

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!

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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?

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?

Coping with Self-Harm: How to Fight the Urges and Win

I want to talk about self-harm today,
because I’ve been self-harm clean for six month now,
almost to the day, but I still recall the last time I cut.

Coping with self harm, how to fight the self-harm urges and win, the last krystallos,

My brain was mush, my stomach swirled and churned, and I could barely breathe with the weight on my chest. My body shook, shivered, and sweat. A mixture of sadness and anger and nausea overcame me and, as rage developed, I took to the knife. It wasn’t an actual knife – my weapon of choice was a pin, a sharp, but innocuous pin, meant to hold material together, but used for destruction instead of creation. It scratched and scratched at my skin until beads of crimson sprang through and it continued as scarlet dripped from my arm. Tears slipped down my face and choked in my throat and I couldn’t even see or feel what I was doing.

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© Lisa Shambrook excerpt from The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

That scar sits on my arm, an unwanted, but necessary, reminder, just like the others that adorn my skin. I’m not trying to romanticise cutting, but those who do it need to know that they’re not alone, that there are people out there who understand the swathe of emotions and compulsions that attack them – and that they are conquerable.

Yes, I mean that, self-harm is conquerable and you can win. I’ve written before about ways to comprehend, fight and overcome self-harm. If you need to understand or find help please read: Understanding Self-Harm: the Truths and Myths and How to Help.

Self Harm is conquerable, beating self harm, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

Self-harm, though, is like any other addiction, or learned behaviour, meaning that to defeat it you will need to continuously fight it. Again, I outlined many ways to help in my previous post, but I want to touch on what helps me most.

Talisman, totem and stim – A talisman is generally a jewel, or a stone, a charm or an item that means something to you. A totem is regarded as the same, a charm or a ritual object (think DiCaprio’s totem in Inception). A stim is a little different; it’s a behaviour – flapping hands, head-banging, repeating noises, words, movements, or smoothing, rubbing or spinning an item. The BBC have a great article on this: Stimming – What autistic people do to feel calmer. (Neurotypicals, or NT’s like me, also use them)

talisman, totem and stim - the last krystallos, self harm,

© Lisa Shambrook

I’ve seen many self-harmers use the talisman/stim approach and it can work. Touching a pendant, stroking a ring, clutching a pebble – all stim behaviours with a totem of choice.

I attended a Stress Management course on the NHS, several years ago, when counselling and the such were not available to me, and still aren’t. It gave me many ways to deal with stress and anxiety, but it also tried to encourage those with totems and stims to give them up. They talked about keeping a pebble in your pocket and holding onto it when you felt anxious, something physical and ‘there’. It can help you find strength and courage, I can testify to that, but they tried to inspire those of us that did to train ourselves out of it. Maybe in the long run, it would be better not to have to rely on anything but the strength of your mind, but in the meantime if something works, stick to it!

talisman, totem and stim - acorn cups and hazelnuts - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I have a couple of totems and stims. I keep acorn cups or hazelnut shells in my pocketseverywhere – you won’t find a coat or a bag without one in it. These I use for anxiety and prevention of panic and self-harm. My family find it affectionately weird, but love me for it. I’m a squirrel, claiming acorn caps and random nut shells and if I stop on a walk, it’s because I found a new one.

I have other stims, almost unnoticeably nodding my head (since age 12), picking at my lips, and pulling off scabs and habitually making un-self-harm injuries bleed again, and I used to bite my nails – many will relate to that one! These all precede or accompany anxiety and if I recognise them early, I can use my totem to calm me and prevent self-injury or panic.

The best way I ward off those urges to harm is to polish an acorn cup or hazelnut shell between my fingers. I do it subtly, quietly and imperceptibly hopefully not to bring attention to myself. People have sometimes seen the acorn cup sitting atop my finger but are often too polite to say anything!

In Beneath the Old Oak, my second book, Meg deals with her anxiety using an acorn cup:

‘Meg shifted and reached into her jacket pocket. She retrieved an acorn cup, dipping her thumb into it. Unconsciously, she rubbed it, her thumb smoothing the inside of the cup. A habit she’d had for so long the little wooden talisman was as smooth as silk inside, and even its knobbly exterior was somewhat polished. She ran the cup across her lips, to and fro, and allowed her thoughts to wander.’

Meg’s use is one of habit, an unconscious routine to deal with the anxiety she feels. Sometimes routine, habit and coping strategies bring success, peace and calm. When I am overwhelmed in either the urges I described at the top of this post or with anxiety that feels like it’s crushing me, or panic that’s threatening to push me over the edge, sometimes my acorn cup or my broken-in-half hazelnut shell can calm me enough to prevent more serious behaviour. Some people with these stims feel foolish – don’t. If it saves you it’s worth it.

talisman, totem and stim - acorn cups and hazelnuts - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I’m an empath – I’ll post about that another day – but suffice to say I feel everything. I feel pain sensitively and exquisitely, and sometimes that’s enough to tip me over the edge. This world is full of personal pain, and sometimes I wish I could dull my sense of discernment. Many of us will need to fine tune our senses and learn to cope with the pain the world throws at us. Coping methods are vital to our survival. In my previous article I point out coping strategies including: rubber bands, taking time out, breathing through, ride it out, distraction, know your triggers, remove yourself, be with people, and finding creative ways to release your emotion and stress. Talismans, totems, and stims can be part of this process and help you to overcome the urges when they hit.

But most importantly, know that you’re not alone, that there are people out there who understand and people who have taken time to learn and have compassion. These people will support and help you.  Find what you can to help you deal with self-injury, but maybe the most valuable thing will be talking to someone who understands, or who’s been there, someone who can help you understand and love yourself.

If you can, be that person.

How do you prevent self-destructive urges, or how do you cope with being overwhelmed?

Everyone’s experience is valuable and you may help someone
who needs to hear what you’ve been through.

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

Beneath the Old Oak AD with SynopsisSelf-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.

Misophonia – When Sounds Torment and Drive You Crazy

At twelve-years-old I thought I was going mad.
I couldn’t deal with small and quiet aural and visual stimuli.
It took many years to discover Misophonia is real and I wasn’t crazy.  

Misophonia-the-torment-of-sound-the-last-krystallos-title
Misophonia, often known as 4S or SSSS (Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome), is a very real and restrictive disorder for those who suffer and those close to them. 
I’ve written before about being a Highly Sensitive Person HSP and promised to post about Misophonia.

As a child your quirks are just that, quirks, then you recognise differences between you and those about you. I struggled with noises and visual disturbances.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I liked quiet. My bedroom was at the far end of our house with a corridor, bathroom and spare bedroom between myself and the rest of my family. My room was my place of solitude. Though my inability to deal with small noises was apparent earlier the first major problem aired when the neighbours, an elderly couple with a penchant for opera, played music loud and I could hear it through my bedroom wall. The emotions that overwhelmed me were irrational, overwrought and internally violent. I was a placid child, so any violence got absorbed and/or released upon myself. My place of safety was violated with that tinny, muffled sound that emanated through my walls and I had no idea how to deal with it.

At twelve, my grandfather came to live with us. He was already in his late eighties and difficult, but he needed care. I had a chair on the edge of the living room by the window and I could shield myself from others in the room. I had a problem with my mother’s twiddling thumbs, or things I could see out of the corner of my eye. I was already moving books on the bookshelf, so that light and dark spines did not alternate or stand out. My grandfather’s chair was put beside mine, and his legs when crossed left his foot dangling in front of the television. When he bobbed his foot I felt like I would go crazy. My adrenalin surged, my anxiety hit the roof and I wanted to scream and cry. Another safe place was gone.

I had no idea what was wrong with me.

misophonia, severe hypersensitivity to sound, noise, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

It wasn’t until many, many years later that a name was put to my condition. Misophonia.  It covered everything that drove me crazy. The sound of people eating (I cannot listen to or be with people eating unless I’m eating myself), snoring, breathing heavily, music from other peoples’ headphones, tapping fingers, cracking knuckles, whistling and chewing gum (both make me want to strangle people), humming, fingers tapping on a keyboard or screen, and the clatter of cutlery all trigger my fight or flight anxiety response. Add to that visual stimuli like the avoidance of lights reflecting on picture frames, fluff and lint on the floor, anything bright that catches and distracts me and you have a real problem.         

My flight response is my default, as confrontation is something that triggers other major anxiety responses such as self-harm. I respond to misophonia with trigger levels of 6 to 10, which you can read about in this Misophonia activation scale *, but my main coping strategy is to eradicate the trigger or remove myself from the area.

 

Misophonia, also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, is a newly-diagnosed neuro-otological disorder that affects children and adults. Sufferers can feel immediate and intense rage at others’ eating and breathing sounds, about which they become hyper-aware and obsessed, sometimes with an ability to recall trigger incidents years after the event. The condition often sets off a “fight or flight” panic reaction in the sufferer and has been responsible for ruining relationships, breaking up families and leaving those most acutely affected suicidal. *

When a person with misophonia is exposed to a sound in their trigger set, it results in an immediate negative emotional response. This response can range from moderate discomfort to acute annoyance or go all the way up to full-fledged rage and panic. **

To help a non-affected person understand the impact misophonia has on someone with the disorder, they might be asked to imagine how they feel and react when they hear the sound of fingernails being scraped down a chalk board. Most people dislike this sound and will probably ask the person to stop! However, this example falls short of reaching the intensity a misophonia sufferer experiences. **

Caitlin eye

© Lisa Shambrook

I was particularly relieved to know I wasn’t the only one, and have since found many friends with the same disorder. You know who you are! I was also relieved to find my visual disturbances were also part of this: Some are also affected by visual stimuli, such as repetitive foot or body movements, fidgeting, or movement they observe out of the corners of their eyes. ***

It’s good for my family to know I’m not mad, and that the actions/noises that trigger me so much are not their fault. It doesn’t make it any easier to live with, and I know it frustrates my poor husband hugely, but it does validate my condition.

There are treatments, which I’ve never asked for, as I can’t imagine having to explain it to my Dr – it seems so trivial compared to many other illnesses and diseases. The main treatment is CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and I’ve never been able to get that for my anxiety or depression, so I can’t imagine it being available for misophonia!

girl with boots, leather and frills, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

So for now, I cope and avoid triggers. Many people suffer mildly from misophonia-like symptoms, but for those of you who know the true reality of this disorder – how do you deal with it? And how serious is its presence in your life?

This post has been particularly difficult to write, but this page for Sufferers at MisophoniaUK has been particularly helpful to me, even as far as bringing me to tears as I realise some of my unwanted symptoms are quite normal. I hope it helps you too.

Please check out these amazing pictures of Mental illnesses as Monsters by Toby Allen and scroll down to Misophonia…

* MisophoniaUK
** misophonia.com
*** Wiki Misophonia

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.