Tag Archives: mental health

Beneath the Old Oak – A tale of Courage and Growth

Beneath the Old Oak is a story that brings forth a young girl’s courage
and helps her grow through tragedy like a tiny acorn turns into a majestic oak.

Beneath the Old Oak by Lisa Shambrook

Beneath the Old Oak © Lisa Shambrook

Meg’s mother is having a breakdown, and Meg can’t cope.
Seeking to escape bullies and overwhelming anxiety,
she discovers an old oak tree whose revelations begin to change her life.

Beneath the Old Oak is released through BHC Press on 16th October and is a novel that will completely captivate you.

Beneath the Old Oak by Lisa Shambrook

Beneath the Old Oak © Lisa Shambrook

“A brave book that tackles serious issues for a younger audience in a mature and sensitive way.” —LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Beneath the Old Oak by Lisa Shambrook

Beneath the Old Oak © Lisa Shambrook

“I was awake until about 1am reading this one. I could have put it down anytime, just didn’t want to.
This story leans heavily to the subject of depression. There are many of those on the kindle, few quite as believable, even less as credible. The family with a single child are wonderfully developed as they are deeply troubled.  A father who goes to work and his involvement limited in their troubled life, a mother slowly slipping away from all of them, and a young girl with too much weight on her shoulders left to clean up the mess.
…the oak tree becomes symbolic of the escape from harsh reality for both mother and child when there are so many issues that should be confronted, so many secrets that should be out in the open.
This is the kind of book I recommend people read regardless of what kind of genre you prefer. It’s one for everybody. Just read it.” —
Mr D. on Amazon

Beneath the Old Oak is now available in eBook and paperback (choose your format) at:
Amazon UK, Amazon US, and your local Amazon. Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, Google Play, Kobo, iTunes, and other online outlets.

Beneath the Old Oak by Lisa Shambrook

Beneath the Old Oak is the second book in the Surviving Hope novels, following Beneath the Rainbow already available, and once you’ve been charmed by Beneath the Old Oak you’ll be excited to read Beneath the Distant Star which releases on 11th December – and my publisher has offered a number of ARC copies of Beneath the Distant Star through LibraryThing. In exchange for an honest review you can read a prepublication copy of Beneath the Distant Star. Pop over, scroll down and request your copy now.

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Self-Harm Uncovered and Sharp Objects

Living with Self-harm is tough,
but knowing that you’re not alone is vital to helping you cope.

Self-Harm Uncovered and Sharp Objects - The Last Krystallos

Watching the brilliant Sharp Objects with Amy Adams showed that self-harm is something people are now more willing to talk about, to show, and people are becoming more aware and hopefully understanding.

Sharp Objects is an HBO show (Sky Atlantic in the UK), an eight-parter, with Amy Adams starring as emotionally traumatised Camille Preaker and was originally a book written by Gillian Flynn who wrote Gone Girl. The series concentrates a little more on her trouble with drinking (maybe more socially acceptable?) than Camille’s self-harm as the book does, but with women at the helm as producers and Amy Adams on board as executive producer too, this show is highlighting womens’ trauma in a way I haven’t seen before.

It was validating to see a character that I instantly related to.   

I don’t cut like Camille does, if you watch the show you’ll see just how much her addiction with self-harm has affected her, but I cut and I understand. Camille’s cutting is vast, serious, and deep, but it’s important. When was the last time self-harm was portrayed honestly in general film or television?

I’ve watched the first four episodes and though a self-harmer is likely to be triggeredI was – I felt relieved that something so central to my life is not being dumbed down and is being shown as it is for many.

understanding-self-harm-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Self-harm exists. The toxic society we live in today has seen a rise in those suffering. In October 2017 the NHS reported a study based on teenage girls and there had been a 68% rise in girls self-harming between ages 13 and 16 since 2011. This rise is likely to continue and move into older age groups.

It is a myth that only teenage girls self-harm. I know many men and older people who suffer. I began cutting when I was fourteen and I’m now forty-seven and still doing it.

It’s an important condition to understand and compassion is vital to those who both live with it themselves and for those who live with a loved one who cuts. If you want to understand Self-harm and learn how to cope with it I have two other posts on the subject:  Understanding Self Harm the Myths and Truths and Coping with Self-harm – How to Fight the Urges and Win. Please take a look to learn more, discover the myths and truth, and how to cope.

The most frequent question those who don’t understand ask is: Why do you do it?

Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall excerpt - self-harm photo Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

I recently read Louise Gornall’s Under Rose Tainted Skies about an agoraphobic and Norah also cuts herself. I read one paragraph in tears because it described my relationship with self-harm so well: It works like a shake, a slap, an injection of anaesthetic. I picture it like a never-ending tug-of-war between panic and calm. Self-harm is an impartial observer that steps up with something sharp to sever the rope. The minute the cut is made, both teams fly back, collapse to the ground on top of one another, exhausted.

For me, this is why.

My brain is often stuck in that pre-panic attack moment… bewilderment, anxiety, and bubbles of emotion in the back of my throat – those bubbles that stop you from falling apart but are keeping you at the edge…

My self-harm often erupts alongside a panic attack, or when I feel deeply hurt, or just when I am disassociated, angry, or lost and need grounding. In Sharp Objects when Camille bought a small sewing kit I knew exactly why. Sharp objects, I love this title – it covers so much ground – can be the emotions that accompany you, the words people speak, and the objects you cut with.

If I say it was the cat, it probably wasn't - Self-Harm - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Try to understand, coping mechanisms are different for all of us. When you ask me about my cuts, I’m likely to say it was the cat, but when I do, know that it probably wasn’t. We need to be open, to explore, and understand with compassion, so that those who self-harm feel comfortable to talk, to share, and perhaps to stop.

If you are dealing with your own self-harming issues please see your GP, if you can. I am currently taking propranolol to help control panic attacks. It’s a 50/50 thing, but if you can find help, whether it be medication, therapy, counselling, or something else, please do.

I also recommend Calm Harm an app designed to help you through a self-harm urge. It helps me with panic attacks too and has been invaluable.

Lastly, please know that you are not alone. Awareness is growing and more people are appreciating the need to have coping mechanisms and tools to deal with the lives we are living. There is no shame or guilt with self-harm, but with support and help you may be able to overcome it.

My scars are me.
They are my battlefield, my personal road map to where I’ve been.
They are who I am.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – Stressed Out

Mental Health Awareness Week is this week 14th – 20th May
This year’s chosen theme via the Mental Health Foundation is
Stress and how we’re coping.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – Stressed Out - The Last Krystallos

Stress is generally our reaction to being placed under pressure, and how we cope when control is either out of our hands or maybe we are losing control of a situation.

Mental Health Foundation - Stress - The Last Krystallos

© Caitlin Shambrook

I recently blogged about control issues, so if losing control is what puts you under stress, take a look.

Stress is like fog. You might be watching it looming in the distance, or you might wake up to it, or it might descend without any notice.

If you can see it looming it may be easier to cope with, you may have time to prepare or make plans that could help allay the stressful situation.

If you wake to it, like fog on an autumn morning, you may find yourself having to deal with stress without any warning.

If it suddenly descends it can often feel like you’re drowning and out of control.

Misty Meadow - Mental Health Awareness - Stress - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Everyone suffers stress to some level. Some people deal with stress easily, some relish it and work better under pressure, some struggle hugely and then it can affect their mental health adversely. We’re all different and no reaction is the right or wrong one.

I don’t deal well with stress as it exacerbates and intensifies my anxiety and panic disorder. It will affect my IBS and cause nausea, stomach aches, upsets, and pain. People can suffer other physical symptoms too such as headaches, tiredness, insomnia, chest pain, sweat, clenched jaw, and a higher risk of colds and infections. Symptoms that affect your mental health can include irritability, panic, depression, exhaustion, self-harm, and anxiety.

If stress is affecting your life then take whatever steps you can to reduce it by removing the cause if you can. This isn’t always possible, in which case you need as much support and understanding as you can get, but if it is at all possible then take action.

Misty... Move away from the box... the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Stress often induces the Fight, Flight or Freeze reaction, and these are physical responses. When you know your response you can learn to deal with your reaction. My instinct is always flight. Stress causes anxiety which leads to panic and finally a panic attack. A panic attack will either lead to flight or self-harm with me.

Just the other day I was at the Dr’s surgery and had to wait, after my GP visit, to see the nurse. I was there early and the waiting room was almost empty, but as I waited for an hour the number of patients grew and the room filled up. The noise level rose, babies, children, coughing, crackling chests, and lots of people. I don’t deal well with crowds, and finally people sat either side of me and I tried to ignore everything. I was prepared with a book, and I kept my head down reading, but it got to the point when my anxiety swelled, panic began to bubble beneath the surface, tingling in my veins. The receptionist assured me I’d be seen within five minutes, and she was lovely, but it was too late. I had no control over the panic attack that had brewed. I sat back down, trying to convince myself that five minutes was nothing, I could make that, but as tears welled there was no stopping the onslaught of full blown panic attack and I ran. With the help of CalmHarm, an app I’ve been using on my phone, I calmed down within a few minutes, enough to return and get called into the nurse. Once with her I dissolved and she talked me through the panic attack.

Pen y bont Elan Valley - Mental Health Awareness - Stress - the last krystallo

© Lisa Shambrook

There are many ways to deal with stress and you have to learn what works for you:

Stay positive, do all you can to keep positivity in your life.

Try meditation, breathing exercises (CalmHarm has helped me greatly with using breathing to stop a self-harm urge or panic attack), relaxation techniques, mindfulness and many other CBT cognitive behavioural therapies.

Ecotherapy (that’s a new name for nature!) go on walks and spend time in nature.

Keep a Mood Diary see what triggers or causes your stress.

Develop a strong support network, family and friends can be there for you when you need them.

Be honest, especially with your employer, teachers, friends, and family. In general people will want to help and support you.

Good sleep and exercise can be very beneficial. If stress is causing insomnia see your GP for help.

Accept there are some things you won’t be able to change, but help might still be available. (At the Dr’s surgery I had to wait my turn to see the nurse, but she explained that I could in future ask to wait in a quiet room if I’m feeling too anxious.)

Eat well and stay healthy.

Know your limits. Sometimes you need to say ‘No’.

Try not to rely on drugs if you can, but also know what drugs do work for you. (I am currently taking Propranolol and it’s working wonders for me. I am waiting for counselling, but while I’m not coping drugs are the right thing for me.) Anxiety medication or antidepressants, or sleeping aids can work and help reduce stress.

Rain - Mental Health Awareness - Stress - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Life is full of stress – that’s not something we can change, but how we deal with it will define us and help us to cope. Learning coping skills and ways to deal with stress will enhance our lives. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help alleviate stress is to help those around us to feel support and love, and if we are in a position of authority – as an employer for instance – then compassion and understanding will help improve relationships. Respect, compassion, and support will work wonders.

How do you cope with stress?

Focus on ‘small wins’ don’t chase big achievements.
Do the little things and use it as a springboard
whatever you can do be proud of it! – Mind

How to Conquer Overwhelming Control Issues in Your Life

Taking control, being in charge, lacking trust…
How do you find freedom and relinquish control?

Picture of a locked castle door for the How to Conquer Overwhelming Control Issues in Your Life - The Last Krystallos blog post
Over the years I’ve struggled greatly with control issues. I was anorexic during my teens. Not excessively, but enough to control my weight and keep it low, bordering on an unhealthy level. I felt food was the only thing I had control over in my childhood, and being a perceived fussy eater or anorexic meant I had control. Once I had children the anorexia faded, there were many other things that my mind forced me to control instead.

Severe anxiety, panic, and depression as a teen fed into feelings of helplessness, which expanded into adulthood. It took a long time to understand my own mind, and I’m not there yet! But I do appreciate where my mind has taken me and I understand much more about overcoming the compulsions my mind feeds me.

Dr Martens boots and the image of a woman with elbows on her knees showing anxiety

© Lisa Shambrook

What are and what causes control issues?
Trauma and/or abuse can trigger them. Anything that causes a lack of trust, any betrayal or fear. These emotions can trigger fear, damaged self-esteem, perfectionism, acute sensitivity, feelings of abandonment, panic, anxiety, and feelings of low self-worth. An addictive personality could result in coping with control issues through alcoholism, drug use, and other self-damaging actions.

Are you a control freak?
Do you seek to control others? Do you try to limit others freedom to ‘keep them safe’? Do you have rituals and rules you need to follow? Do you often offer unsolicited advice? Is it hard to admit that you’re wrong, or relinquish control of a situation? Do you need to ‘take over’ or be ‘in charge’ in a given situation? Do you feel you can’t trust anyone else to arrange events without your help? Does giving up control cause you anxiety or panic? Do you micromanage everything in your life? Do you over analyse?

If you answered yes to several of these, you may have control issues.

Control issues which result in curtailing others’ freedom can lead to bullying, gaslighting and very unhealthy relationships and you should seek help before anyone else is affected. Domestic abuse is often a result of unhealthy levels of control, and if violence – physical or emotional – is present from either partner help must be sought.

If you find you are micromanaging your family, becoming too overprotective, or becoming increasingly critical, it is time to search for answers and help.

a fairy trapped within a cage

© Lisa Shambrook

Many of us have personal level issues and the only people we hurt are ourselves. This can lead to self-harm, addictions, and OCD. I have never been OCD, those that truly suffer Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have a very serious condition that does not lend itself to the societal mocking it’s often given. I used to think I had OCD tendencies, but if people really understand the condition no one would ever joke about it or take it lightly. I have control issues, which can be part of OCD, but is its own problem.

My own control issues have surfaced as harsh levels of personal control. I have self-harmed, felt immense guilt, and judged myself. Like with my anorexia, I put limits on myself, hurt myself, and throttled my own self-esteem. It’s difficult to turn around from self-destructive behaviour, but that’s one thing I’ve been working on for many years. I have seen changes.

closed rusty doors in a brick wall

© Lisa Shambrook

When I was a young mum, I would limit my own happiness, being sure I didn’t feel happy unless the rest of my family were happy and well-looked after first. I refused to replace my own broken shoes until everyone else had new shoes first. I would let my own food get cold while everyone else ate straight away. I wouldn’t allow myself to do fun things while my husband was at work, because I wasn’t out working myself. I permitted myself to feel guilt but not contentment.

At thirty-three years old after a sexual assault I sought help. I’d spent my childhood being the ‘good child’, being ultra-aware of my family’s emotions, feeling responsible for my parents’, especially mum’s, happiness, and putting myself last. I went into my first relationships with the same issues, and didn’t learn how to put myself first until I went into therapy with a sexual health therapist in my thirties. I switched, but it took a good decade before I was able to put my control issues into a box and close the lid.

moss trapped within a glass sphere as a necklace

© Lisa Shambrook

How do you overcome control issues?
I have spent the last few years relinquishing control. It’s been good. As my children reached their teens I learned to step back, to allow them space. It was horrendous in my head, but both revealing and essential to them. My children have a strong sense of self and their worth, and are adults with healthy confidence and lives.

Sometimes my issues seem foolish. For instance my mind often told me that I could choose one thing and once chosen I had to stick to it. Change was something I struggled with. I laughed this week as I spoke to my daughter about the hot chocolate I drank at home. I recently switched from dairy to plant based and embraced almond milk on my cereal and in everything that needed milk. The only thing I wasn’t happy with was my hot chocolate. I make homemade hot chocolate, and almond milk wasn’t working. Bekah told me to switch to soya milk for it. My mind told me I’d chosen almond milk, why on earth did I need a change? Yep, this is my mind… I bit the bullet and bought soya milk. I had a carton of both almond and soya milk in the fridge. It felt decadent – and wrong. Lol. Anyway, I am sticking with both. My hot chocolate tastes so good with soya, but my cereal better with almond! I let go.

the scree and sides of Cader Idris mountain

© Lisa Shambrook

Letting go is the answer.
Buddhists
have learned the art of Surrender. I am learning it. Control is rooted in fear. Surrendering, or letting go, is allowing yourself to release or confront your fear. Don’t worry about what will be – Que sera, sera… Accept what is and what will be, deal with outcomes as they happen, and let yourself relinquish control.

I am letting my husband completely organise a trip away for the two of us. Ten years ago I would have needed to be involved in every decision, every booking, every tiny thing. I would have micromanaged the whole thing. Right now, I am for the first time, enjoying going with the flow, throwing in my ideas, my desires, but allowing someone else to make the decisions, plan the trip, and take me away. It’s liberating!

The other week I wrote about letting go It’s the best thing to do!

You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway  –
Steve Maraboli

How do you deal with control issues? Can you let go?  

Surviving Suicide…

November 18th is International Survivors of Suicide Day, a day when we should celebrate life and talk about mental health. September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day, but why isn’t this something we talk about every day?
(* Trigger Warning – Suicide is discussed frankly.)

Surviving Suicide - International Survival of Suicide Day 18th Nov - The Last Krystallos

In 2016, 5,668 suicides were recorded in the UK – just under six thousand deaths each year. Male rates of suicide are still the highest at 75% but the rate of women dying by this method is growing significantly. 10 in 100,000 in the UK and roughly 13 in every 100,000 lives in the US are taken by suicide.

The Mental Health Foundation reports that 1 person in 15 have made a suicide attempt at some point in their life. This is sobering and worrying. It’s hard to find official statistics for survivors of suicide, but I believe many people would be shocked to discover they probably know someone who has attempted to take their own life. I know several people.

Light and Dark - Surviving Suicide - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Survivors of suicide are not just those who attempted to take their lives – they are those who have lost someone to this disease, those who can still hug someone who attempted suicide but lived, and those who tried to kill themselves and survived.

Please watch the film below about Kevin Hines who survived a leap from The Golden Gate Bridge:
‘I ran forward and using my two hands I catapulted myself into freefall. What I’m about to say is the exact same thing that nineteen Golden Gate Bridge jump survivors have also said – the millisecond my hands left the rail it was an instant regret and I remember thinking “No one’s going to know that I didn’t want to die.”

Please check out – Suicide: The Ripple Effect and its accompanying video for more information about Kevin and his work increasing the awareness of suicide attempts.

Mental Health - Surviving Suicide - The Last Krystallos

Original Photo © Caitlin Shambrook

If, in the UK, 1 in 15 have thought about, planned, and attempted suicide, but survived (including those who did die), the first question people often ask themselves is why and what did I miss?

‘Suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide.’International Association for Suicide Prevention.
You may never know what drove someone to suicide or an attempt, due to its complexity.

I wrote a post on Understanding Depression a month ago, and explained that even though life can be good, mental health problems can overcome every good intention and persuade the sufferer that they are not worth saving. Mental Health services are getting better and more accessible, but it’s slow, and though the stigma is fading, it still needs more awareness and compassion.

Guilt often accompanies a suicide attempt, both from the person who tries to take their own life and their family who wonders why. Answers are hard, and sometimes impossible, for both parties, and support is vital to recover and move forward.

Tunnel Vision - Surviving Suicide - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Kevin Hines says: ‘Suicide, mental illness, and addiction are the only diseases that we blame the person for, perpetually, but people die from suicide just like they die from any other organ disease.’

He also talks about surviving, recovery, and creating a network of support.

We have to change the narrative, mental health has to be something we talk about, something we try to understand, something we care about. How we do that has to be across the board, from government, to schools, to parents, teachers, leaders, and all of us need to take responsibility for caring and understanding. Kevin Hines sits on the boards of the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), the Bridge Rail Foundation (BRF) the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF), and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Consumer Survivors Committee, and tells his story wherever he can. He has touched lives and continues to do so.

I wish I could talk about my experiences with suicide (I touch on my own in the article I mentioned above), and with those I love who have experienced or attempted it, but that’s not my place.

Conflict - Surviving Suicide - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Just two days ago it was World Kindness DayKindness, compassion, love, understanding, and caring go a long way to help those who live precariously amid mental health conditions. You may know someone with suicidal tendencies, someone who self-harms, someone who can’t see through the fog of depression, someone who doesn’t know that anyone cares.

Be the one that does. Live with kindness and love.

If you are suffering, please find help. I did, and it saved my life. See your GP, find a counsellor, phone The Samaritans on UK 116 123, anytime, anywhere. If you can’t do any of these, please talk to a friend, partner, parent, or someone close to you.

Kindness-has-a-beautiful-way-of-reaching-down-unknown-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Blades – Mid-Week Flash Challenge

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Blades - Photograph Sarolta Ban

Photograph: Sarolta Ban

They were my weapon of choice.

Words cut deep, words wound, but mix words with blades and you have the perfect weapon.

They say Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me – they’re wrong.

It wasn’t even what others said, lost amid my world, inside my own head, is what brought me down.

There were words, plenty of them, but they were mine. No one else uttered them; no one else spoke them, but me. Words simmered below the surface, whispering and murmuring, digging and muttering, piercing and cutting. They moved through my bloodstream, through my veins, seizing and taking hold inside my brain – until they cut like knives, like blades determined to bury themselves deep within.

Nothing could dislodge them and their commitment to destroy was flawless, and they worked into my wounds like burrowing wasps brandishing scalpels. No parry was enough to deflect and I was soon forced to choose my own weapon.

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Blades - Photograph Andy Bate

Photograph: Andy Bate

I would dig them out, thrust and plunge, and drive my own blades deep. And I did.

I gouged and lanced and met those words until they flowed like red silk, until they ran and poured like rivers of crimson, until they gushed in cascades of scarlet ribbons, and I could hold them no more.

They say words don’t hurt.

They do.

0000. Divider

Another great picture for Miranda’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge, from Sarolta Ban. This hits home.

The second picture, by Andy Bate, was last week’s prompt and certainly sat alongside this week’s for me.

Write up to 750 words inspired by the prompt photograph.

 

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.

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?

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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

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

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – Surviving or Thriving?

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

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It’s a thin line.

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

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

How do you support those you know with challenging conditions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook

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

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

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© Lisa Shambrook