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Welcome

Remember when you strip it back to its simplest form, life is beautiful

I’ve tried to make this site as easy to navigate as possible. At the top of the page is an alphabetical list of topics, clicking on any one of these will bring up that post. Down the right hand side is a list of my most recent posts. Please feel free to leave comments and I welcome any relevant questions you may have, I will endeavour to respond as quickly as I can.

ABOUT ME

My name is Shaun Ellis and I have a background in care work. I have worked in learning disabilities and mental health sectors as a support worker, including thirteen years working for the NHS. In the last two years I have needed the use of various mental health services to help me come to terms with and work through my own illness. I am no longer well enough to work as a carer but still feel I have a lot to offer. I have become passionate about mental health awareness, hence me creating this blog. I don’t profess to be an expert in the field, there’s many people with much higher qualifications than me. But I do have experience on both sides, as a carer and as a service user, which has allowed me a unique insight into the subject and I believe qualifies me to have my say.

As well as this blog I am close to completing my first book I am calling ‘Beneath The Mask’ which tells my story of living with an anxiety disorder and depression. This will hopefully be available to purchase in 2018 but I will keep you up to date on my progress.

So I guess the only thing left to do is welcome you to my blog and briefly explain what I’m hoping to achieve from it. First and foremost I’m wanting to offer support and hope, to people just like me. People who might be finding themselves in a dark lonely place at the moment and feel like their surviving at best, as they battle with their mental health. I also plan to challenge some of the stigmas still surrounding mental health and help people who don’t know, understand what it’s like to live with. I intend to include taboo subjects such as dealing with suicidal thoughts.      I’ll talk about the daily challenges I face and the limitations iv had to accept due to my illness.

I will share some of the coping tools which have worked for me and some straight forward methods of helping yourself. This may be especially helpful for people who need immediate help but find themselves on a never ending waiting list to see a specialist!

I’m using lots of photographs in this site, most of which have been taken by John Hayes. So a big thank you to him for allowing me to use them.

 

 

Living For The Moment

Time is a precious commodity. I’m currently sat in my garden, in my favourite spot. Why’s it my favourite spot? Because it’s secluded and I feel safe, not a single sole in sight.Keeping Things simple I’m not entirely alone though, Birds are tweeting their evening songs and an occasional bumblebee is buzzing past, all far to preoccupied to even acknowledge  my existence. I look up to see a never-ending blanket of blue and the sun setting in the distance creating a pinkish purplish haze across the horizon. Just how I like it, a nice break from reality, I’m truly alone with just my own thoughts for company. Not always great for a depressant I know, but right now it feels perfect.

 

And what does an intelligent budding writer think about in these moments of bliss? Well, you’ll be surprised to hear, nothing too deep and meaningful! Believe it or not I’m actually thinking about time spent sat on the toilet! Weird I know, but please bare with me.  lets just say, for arguments sake, that the average person spends 10 minutes a day sat on the throne, and lets just say that that person lives  until there 80 years old. That equates to 291200 minutes in a life time, or 4853 hours, or approximately 202 days! What a huge waste of time and effort! Granted it can’t really be helped, it’s the way our body works. However it’s got me thinking about how much time we do waste, time that we could do something about. How many of us are simply going through the motions, rushing from one event to the next and completely missing the whole point? The point being that life’s about the experience, it’s not just what you can reach out and touch, it’s how these things make you feel that truly counts. How many people continue to let life pass them by.

Perhaps because I’m a suicide survivor, my eyes have been opened wider than most, and perhaps I’ve learnt to take less for granted. You’d hope that being  Categorised as a suicide survivor would put me into a select group, but sadly that’s not the case. There’s a lot of us around and we all have completely different experiences. Some might never have intended to go through with the deed, for these people it might have been a desperate cry for help. Some might have simply bodged the attempt or been found before they wanted to be found!  For me I always intended on going through with it, so much so I put plans in place for my family, for after I’d gone. Nobody, apart from me can appreciate how close I came that day, but thankfully I had a last second change of heart. I’ve discovered over time that suicide is nothing to be ashamed of, and in fact being able to talk openly about it really helps me. I also understand that not everyone Is like me and for some, revisiting that moment of their lives is far too painful.

In the few weeks that proceeded my attempt, I saw more and felt more than I had in an entire life time. I know that must sound a bit farfetched, but it’s true. For all intents and purposes I shouldn’t have been here anymore. It therefore felt like I’d been given a second chance and even now it sometimes feels like I’m living on bonus time! If I could have found a way to bottle up these emotions, I would have done so, but obviously over time they faded, it’s unrealistic to think you can stay on cloud nine indefinitely! Battling depression isn’t easy, even with all the optimism in the world, I still have more bad days than good, and on these days I still find it difficult to function. In my worst moments I even question my decision to choose life over suicide. Thankfully this is a question I ask less and less, but that being said, this is the reason why it’s so important to make the most of my good days.

I now find happiness in the strangest of places, like sat right here on this garden swing. This refreshingly cool breeze has probably always been there, but I’ve never allowed myself the time to truly feel it. Practicing mindfulness allows me to notice and appreciate all the finer details. It helps me to put things in perspective and worry less about the future. With my anxiety issues, these meditation techniques have become a vital coping tool, but even if I didn’t have a mental health illness, I would still recommend them. Everyone has stressful moments, times when you’re guilty of overcomplicating things. Mindfulness can help bring you back to the present and remind you that the only thing you can control, is the here and now.

Earlier I said I wasn’t thinking too deep and meaningful, but somehow I’ve gone from the subject of sitting on the toilet, to the meaning of life! And so on that note I will wrap this post up and go back to enjoying this beautiful sunset.

 

The Waiting Game

For those of you who Don’t regularly visit my blog, I play table tennis in a local league. Now, I’m far from being a world beater, but I believe I play to a half decent standard. Crucially I’m good enough not to stand out as not knowing what I’m doing, which is my permanent state of mind in the real world. It might seem strange to describe my table tennis world as not real, but it feels like that sometimes. It’s almost like an alternative reality, one where I miraculously become more confident and comfortable in my own skin, one where I can forget about having clinical depression for a while. The funny thing is, there are similarities to table tennis and everyday life, or indeed any past time you happen to be passionate about. When you have success or a couple of unexpected victories, you feel on top of the world- even untouchable!  It was like this for me 10 years a go when I did a best mans speech at my best friends wedding. For starters when he asked me I became very anxious and I never imagined I’d be able to do it, but lets face it, we all have that feeling from time to time. Look at the child who bravely climbs all those steps to the top of the giant slide, only to have second thoughts. He stands there saying “daddy I can’t do it” “daddy I can’t do it” “please don’t make me do it daddy!” But in the end he takes the plunge and in fact he loves it, so much so that daddy can’t get him off the slide for the rest of the day!  Standing in front of a room full of people and being the centre of attention, was and still is my worst nightmare. But I did the speech, and I made a good job of it. Truth be told, by the end I didn’t want it to end, I momentarily had that feeling of invincibility, I had faced and overcome my biggest challenge. Now anything seemed possible. Sadly these moments of ecstasy rarely last and soon something as innocuous as a council tax bill, brings you right back down to earth!

When I lose a few matches at table tennis I’m guilty of judging myself far to harshly. I find myself saying things like “This is the one thing I’m supposed to be good at, in fact it’s the only thing I’m good at, and I can’t even get this right!” I quickly begin to doubt my ability, and worse still, I begin to feel uncomfortable in the one environment that’s previously felt safe to me.  This uncertainty and extreme vulnerability is what I’m experiencing right now, and the reason for this is undoubtedly  my next medical, which is scheduled for the end of the week.

PENDING DOOM!

A small part of me, after being left alone for almost three years, thought that they might have forgotten about me or that I’d some how been lost in the system. This was always more hope than expectation, the reality is I’ve been on tenterhooks for months now, waiting for the dreaded brown envelope to arrive. Of course the waiting is by far the hardest part, but now that the date is finally here, all sorts of emotions (mainly negative!) have come rushing to the surface. The medical is at the same place it was last time and it’s the waiting room that’s the main issue for me. Small and cramped with no windows, and only the receptionist can open the door in and out. It feels like there’s  no way out, like you’re trapped like a caged animal! This same environment led to me having a full blown panic attack last time. Just getting there will be a huge challenge, and that’s before we even get to the medical part! Being scrutinised and having to prove my illness all over again.

How do you prove something people can’t see?  

What if I’m too nervous to even speak? 

What if I can speak but say something stupid? 

What if the person doing the medical is having an off day? 

What if they’ve got out of the wrong side of bed? 

What if they take an instant dislike to me? 

How can I make them believe I’m one of the genuine ones?

I’m trying my best to stay positive, but it’s hard, I have this sense of inevitability that I’m going to fail, and that it’s going to be the start of a downward slope, one that I can’t see a happy ending too. To say that I’m terrified, would be a massive understatement. I’m angry at the system, but ultimately I’m more angry at myself. In fact  I’m really not liking myself very much at the moment. Frustrated with my lack of progress in the last three years. Frustrated that I’m still that same useless bastard  who’s afraid of his own shadow and struggles to leave the house on his own.

I will try my best to keep my benefit, the truth is I need it, I’m not fit for work, but whether I deserve to continue getting support, is debateable. I’m fed up of being such a burden.

 

 

Qualities

In todays post I’m going to look at some of the qualities which can help in battling depression, both for the immediate sufferers, and for those who are carers. For people like myself who have depression, it can be hard to see any positive qualities in ourselves. That being said, I’ve never met anyone without any! The problem is getting past that relentless self-deprecating voice in your head, the one that loves nothing more than to constantly put you down and convinces you that you’re useless in everyway. Such a powerful and emphatic voice can be difficult to ignore, but believe me when I tell you, you’re much stronger than you realise. It’s extremely difficult, believe me I know, but if you delve deep enough, you will find at least some- if not all of the attributes I’m going to list in this post.

ACCEPTANCE AND APPRECIATION – First you need to accept that you have a serious life changing illness and that it’s not your fault. That might sound strange, buts it’s actually the most important stage of your journey. It took me a long time to come to terms with my illness and stop blaming myself for it, feeling ashamed, and thinking that I was strange and  weak for feeling the way I was. You can’t begin to plan ways to live with depression until you have reached this stage of acceptance. Your family and friends also need to accept it, and realise that you’re going to have your limitations, and often plans may need to change at the last minute. If your friends don’t even try to be understanding or empathetic towards you, then I would question whether they’re true friends at all.

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. ( Walter Winchell)

When you have depression, your good days tend to be fewer and farther  between. That’s why it’s so important to embrace these moments and make the most of what ever you love to do. I can honestly say that I appreciate the smaller things in life and take less for granted, much less than prior to me having depression.

BRAVERY- You can’t tackle depression on your own. It doesn’t matter how strong  you think you are, you will need help. And asking for help is not anything to be ashamed of. Depression is life changing and debilitating. If you had any serious physical condition, you wouldn’t hesitate. So why do so many people insist on struggling on their own, when they’re actually suffering something that millions of people can relate too.suicide prevention The problem is when you’re battling you’re mental health, it doesn’t feel this way. Instead, it seems like you’re the only person in the world like this, you’re painfully abnormal and nobody could possibly understand. It’s a frightening, confusing time. It seems cruel to inflict your misery on others and you don’t feel deserving of any support. Try to remember though, this is the depression talking. You are worthy of support and  people will appreciate your honesty. It takes a lot of courage to confide in others, but it will be a huge relief when you do so. For me once I started opening up, I was surprised by just how many people could relate to my illness. I took a lot of strength from this, and it’s now much easier to open up about my mental health. I no longer hide behind it. For more on this see my strength in numbers post.

COMPASSION AND SENSITIVITY- In my family and friends, I have amazing support and I appreciate this support, more than I can ever put down in words. For people living with someone who has depression, it can be extremely hard. Sometimes you may feel helpless, and wish you could do more to ease your loved ones pain. Often just being there and letting them know they’re not on their own, is helping more than you realise. You’re not going to understand the illness entirely and I wouldn’t expect you to, unless you’ve experienced it’s symptoms yourself. What I do expect is for you to remain open minded and none judgemental.strength in numbers You can still be sympathetic even though you don’t fully get it. You need to be someone your loved one can lean upon, you need to offer plenty of reassurance and at times a shoulder to cry on. But you also need to appreciate there’ll be times when they need leaving on their own. Every day can be totally different and the person suffering will experience fluctuating emotions (massive ups and downs). This can be frustrating and again hard to understand. This is when family need to stay patient and remain consistent with their support. Of course as important as compassion is, encouragement is also needed and a gentle push forward is sometimes beneficial, as long as the goals set are realistic ones. Small steps, as apposed to giant leaps!

For people with depression, you need to be compassionate to yourself and recognise that this is a horrible illness to live with. In other words cut yourself some slack, stop beating yourself up all the time and viewing every unsuccessful act as a fail.  This can be a massive challenge at times, believe me I know! But at least try to give it a go.

HAVING PERSPECTIVE- Depression is not a quick fix. When people talk about helping you towards your recovery, I believe this can put unnecessary pressure on, which can be hugely detrimental to you. You end up feeling worse about yourself. This is why I don’t like using the word recovery. You’d think that It would offer you some hope, but in my experience it can have the opposite effect.  When it was used in my care, it made me feel hopeless, because I didn’t believe it was possible to get to the stage they wanted me to get too. Truthfully, I still don’t. I found myself asking myself the question what if I never recover? what if I have depression for the rest of my life? Is that even an option? The more the so called experts banged on about recovery, the more I believed living with depression was not an option, and if I couldn’t fix myself, I’d have no further options left to me-other than suicide. I now know this to be far from the truth and continue to discover ways to live with my depression and enjoy aspects of life, despite of my illness. One of the main reasons I set up this blog was to share some of these methods with fellow sufferers. Too many people see things in black and white, you have depression- you get the help you need- then you recover! This is when having a bit of perspective and realising it’s not as simple as that, really helps. Sure, It’s important to keep optimistic about the future but you also need to be realistic and allow for what is a serious illness. You also need to realise that no one can predict the future, and the only thing you can be remotely in control of is the here and now.

 

PERSERVERANCE/REPITITION-

It’s not important how many set backs we have or how many times we get knocked down. What’s important is that we continue to get up. Finding the inner strength to battle your depression and persevere with things, despite how crap you’re feeling! That is a quality which can’t be underestimated. It’s also a quality which can be very hard to find (I appreciate this), but it’s in there somewhere, if you delve deep enough. I try to think of my depression as a separate entity or a monster, if you like! The monster feeds itself on my negativity and low self-esteem, but the more I pick myself up and continue with my life, the weaker it gets, and this is hugely satisfying. I know it’s not always possible, and some days it still wins the battle, but I find myself more and more determined to bounce back and refuse to let it win the war. I realise that some people reading this will be at different stages of their journey and I appreciate that some days you’ll struggle to find any fight what so ever. The advice I give, is that where ever possible, try not to fuel your monster.

 

When you’re unsure and not very confident in what you’re doing, you’re kind of learning as you go. For someone with anxiety, the self-doubt in us massively increases, often making the task seem insurmountable as we put far to much emphasis on what could go wrong. Even simple tasks that we’ve previously accomplished stress free, suddenly become very daunting. For those of you who don’t suffer with excess anxiety, I would best describe it as learning to walk again. I’m talking about things like going to the shops, having a meal out, visiting a friend or even talking to the neighbours! Of course all these things become less challenging the more we do them. By repeating an activity regularly enough, difficult soon turns into manageable, manageable turns into easy and before you know it you’re wondering why you were worrying so much in the first place!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Routine

What does having a routine mean to you?

Do you find routine boring?

Do you find it comforting?

Do you feel it’s holding you back? 

Do you find it a necessity? 

Do you desperately need it for your survival? 

For someone like me who suffers badly with anxiety, having a steady routine and therefore knowing exactly what I’m doing, is vital. A solid routine helps me to feel safe. That being said, even I like to mix it up from time to time and recognise the importance of doing this. Staying in your comfort zone is all well and good, but if I stayed in mine all the time, I’d never leave the house! Pushing yourself a little further, allows you to experience so much more and ultimately lead to living a more fulfilled life. I know all this to be true, but it’s still easier said than done.

Having an element of routine and the structure that comes with this, seems to me to be the sensible way to approach life. But I’ve always been an excessive planner, even before my mental health issues. I’m the sort of person who likes to know what’s around the next corner, both literally and figuratively speaking. Where as some people might enjoy the element of surprise, I deeply fear it!  Some might see this as a tad obsessive but then again most of you don’t have an anxiety disorder to contend with. Obviously much depends on what hardships you’ve faced in life and how many mental scars you’ve been left with.

Sports men and woman can be extremely obsessive with their routines. Some of their superstitions can seem ludicrous to most of us. Anything from having a lucky pair of socks, to lining their water bottles up in a precise order. These acts might seem odd, but we all share in having  little idiosyncrasies- perhaps to a lesser extent. Lets take an every day thing like having a shower. Without even realising it, you will automatically do things in a certain order, and it would feel strange to do things any differently.

When I get out of the shower I always start by drying my feet first and then working my way up my body, eventually drying my chest and arms, and finishing with my head. Many people may think this to be extremely odd, they may in fact do it in the completely opposite order to me. It might make more sense to dry your hair first to stop it dripping everywhere, but I’m bald on top, so don’t have that problem! Anyway what ever your preferred method is, I bet you’ve done it exactly the same way for as long as you can remember. If you try altering this routine, even slightly, it will completely throw you out of sink. It might even ruin the whole experience! The fact is we all take comfort in routine to a certain degree.

You’ve all heard of the saying,practice makes perfect’ . Having a repetitive routine can be used as a legitimate learning method, as the more you do something the more automatic it becomes. Bruce Lee puts it perfectly when he says ‘Don’t fear the man that knows how to do 10,000 kicks, but fear the man who knows only one kick but has practiced it 10,000 times’  

I’m striving to be the Bruce Lee of table tennis! I already have a half decent backhand but my forehand is slightly weaker (some might say much weaker, but I’m going to stick to slightly!) When the ball comes to this side I’m constantly having doubts about the shot. Is my technique right? Am I letting the ball drop to much? Is my bat angle right? Are my feet in the correct position? Through repetitive practice routines, my shots are improving and becoming more consistent. Hopefully one day they will be automatic and effortless, just like my backhand.

Driving a car is a good example. Most drivers would tell you that in their first couple of driving lessons, nothing felt natural, everything was like an alien concept to them, and they couldn’t imagine ever being able to drive on their own. But then, with much  perseverance and repetition, what seemed like an impossible feat, not only became possible, but soon became second nature to them. This exact same mind-set can be applied when facing any challenges. Like I’ve already said, I use it in table tennis to try and improve my game.

It’s also about taking one manageable step at a time, as apposed to giant unrealistic leaps! This is especially relevant if you have a mental health illness and you’re in a vulnerable, unpredictable state of mind. A friend of mine, who’s battled her mental health all her life, told me that when the illness is at it’s worst, her daily challenges can involve simply getting out of bed, and getting washed and dressed. I can appreciate this, as depression tightens it’s grip over you, even the simplest of tasks can take great effort. You can’t see the point of doing anything anymore- including washing and dressing. But it’s important to keep challenging yourself, however small and pointless these challenges seem. This same lady is now able to travel the country on her own, giving inspirational talks in rooms full of  people, she continues to spread much needed awareness and fills me with hope for my future. She has proven to me that anything is possible, but who knows if she’d have ever reached this stage, if she hadn’t continued challenging herself, even in her darkest hours. Somehow I doubt she would.

A Better Answer

I regularly get asked the question ‘What do you do for a living?’ Anyone who has a mental health illness and is out of work, will tell you this is one of the questions they dread the most. You can either choose to answer honestly and say you’re not working due to your mental health, or you can choose to make something up.

You could even have a bit of fun and say that you’re a brain surgeon or an air pilot! Joking apart, If you’re not ready to share about your illness, and telling a little white lie helps avoid having an uncomfortable conversation, then I don’t see an issue with this. when I was struggling to accept my own illness  I always did this, and even had a rehearsed script for such occassions.

I’m now much better at giving an honest answer. Normally when I give the reason as my mental health, people say they’re sorry to hear that and then promptly change the subject! You see, even though mental health is now widely recognised, for many it’s still an uncomfortable subject and I appreciate this. Often I’m gratefull, cause it means I don’t have to go into detail. So you can imagine my surprise last week, when I had this very same dialogue with someone, but instead of awkwardly changing the subject, he seemed genuinely interested and asked me to describe ‘Whats it like having depression?’ I attempted to answer the question, but due to being put on the spot, I don’t think I did justice to the severity of it, or how dibilitating It’s symptoms can be. One of the main reasons I created this blog was to bring some much needed awareness of mental health issues, and for that reason I feel It’s important to have another try at answering the question. So here goes!

Living With Depression

Imagine feeling empty and totally lifeless. You’re unmotivated and just can’t see the point anymore. You’re desperate not to feel this way but you can’t help it. It’s like you’re fighting a losing battle and you’re left both confused and terrified by this. Feeling lost and completely alone in every sense of the word, even whilst in a crowded room. Swallowed up by a sickening sadness and sense of hopelessness. As the self-loathing voice inside your head becomes relentless, you’re left battered and exhausted. In these moments you’ll begin to hate everything about yourself. Even the most simple tasks become a huge effort, useless or inadequate are words that spring to mind! It’s like a ten ton weight is crushing down on you and you can’t breath. It would be cruel to inflict your misery on others and so you choose isolation. This gives you more time to dwell, which is a dangerous thing! Led on your bed you find it hard to lift your head from the pillow, and soon the pain and inward torment becomes overwhelming. You find yourself staring at the same spot on the ceiling, sometimes for hours on end. You find yourself wishing you were dead!

Words alone don’t seem enough to describe these emotions, and how can I possibly expect people to understand when I don’t fully understand myself. The world is advancing at an alarming rate and I sometimes feel like I have no place in it. I certainly feel out of my depth and like every day I’m being left further behind. Is it possible, I’m simply not equipped to cope and I never will be. As my thoughts become more jumbled I also feel immense shame and total despair!

What I’ve described to you in this post is me having a bad day. Thankfully such days are becoming less frequent.

 

Rollercoaster Of Life

Life is one big game of should I or shouldn’t I. Sometimes these choices can be inconsequencial but sometimes zigging when you should have zagged can seriously change your entire destiny. I’m sorry to get a bit on the deep side today, but I’m in a philisophical kind of mood so please bare with me!

There are risk takers and then there’s those who are much more careful. I definitely fall into the later category, constantly living in my little protective bubble, never dipping my toe into the water. Risk can lead to the biggest pleasures but also result in heartache. But then playing it safe can bring you much regret.

It’s all a matter of perspective. remember though one persons joy could be another persons sorrow. What you view as exciting I might see as boring.

 

 

Is ambition necessary in life? Could it simply lead to disappointment or cause unnecessary harm In a world that’s already far too ruthless as it is! So who’s got it right? Is it he who’s travelled the world and experienced just about everything, jumping from one activity to another in a chaotic existance, but does he partly regret never settling down? Or is it he who’s lived a more sheltered life, who’s mostly happy with this but will almost certainly have regrets that he hasn’t tried more? Is cramming as many experiences into life likely to leave you fullfilled? Or are you letting the special moments pass you by?

inner childI find it intriguing that right now, somewhere in the world, somebody is experiencing delight, feeling trully blessed and basking in the sunshine of life- where as somewhere else  there’s somebody experiencing total despair, a heavy affliction, a nightmare they feel with never end. It hardly seems fair does it? But the interesting thing is that at some stage, the majority of us will experiece the extremities of both these powerful emotions. I have experienced extreme mental pain and suffering (having clinical depression isn’t much fun!). When I reached my limit of despair I attempted to take my life. At this point, If somebody had told me I’d ever feel happiness again, I wouldn’t have believed them. I couldn’t imagine ever smiling again, let alone laughing and having fun with family and friends.  But life goes on, I have laughed and I have cried. I will continue to have good days and continue to have bad ones.

There will be times when you’re having a bad time of it, bad luck can sometimes seem infectious, especially when we’re in a highly sensitive state, but that’s why it’s so important for us to relish the good moments. I guess what I’m trying to say is we need to play the game-take the rough with the smooth and most importantly try to enjoy the ride!

Alternative christmas message

Alternative Christmas Message

I’ve always loved christmas. It helps that I’ve got such a close knit family. As much as it’s an alien concept to some, we actually all get on with each other! It also helps that they understand my mental state and how socialising can be excruciatingly difficult for me, even around people I like.  This being said, I appreciate christmas can be a hard time for a lot of people and I wanted to do this christmas message as a reminder of this. christmas message

For some people, as all the festivities are taking place around you and everyone seems to be having so much fun, it’s almost like they’re rubbing your nose in it and you can be left feeling trapped and more lonely than ever.

The christmas period is a time for reflection on the year just gone, and contemplation about the one to come. For someone with a long term mental health illness, this can be an exceptionally daunting prospect. I can soon get overwhelmed when I think to far ahead. And when I think about what little I’ve acheived, compared to what I view as the average person, I can get on a major downer. For those people like me, I strongly advise that you try to keep in the present. It’s pointless living in the past or in the future. You can’t change what’s been, and you can never guarantee what’s still to come. The only thing you can remotely control, is the here and now. You need to be kind to yourself, stop beating yourself up and having unrealistic expectations. This of course is easier said than done and even harder when you have severe depression. My christmas message is  one of hope and optimism, but also one of realism.

I’m still a work in progress. I still have long periods of time when it’s hard just to get out of bed and face the world. My anxiety disorder is still debilitating to say the least, but being able to talk openly about my illness and avoid bottling up my emotions, has made a huge positive difference to my life. With more and more people coming forward to seek help for their mental health, It’s important to remember what it was like for you and If you’re not a sufferer, try to imagine, and treat others as you’d wish to be treated yourself. In short we need to give them the compassion and support they need.

How many people make pointless new years resolutions that prove to be unacheivable and are usually broken with in a matter of weeks. It’s important to keep challenging yourself, but I do this by setting small managable goals, irrespective of the time of year.

I understand why people view the new year as an opportunity of a fresh start, but I would suggest not putting so much emphasis on it. If you take nothing else from this christmas message, remember every morning the sun will rise on a brand new day. You can choose any time of year as a chance of a new start.

I’d like to finish my christmas message by sharing some of the good news  that has happened throughout 2017. With all the doom and gloom on the news everyday It’s easy to forget all the remarkable uplifting stories that take place. Thanks again to all those who continue to support me by reading this blog and sharing it with friends.

JANUARY

christmas messageRussian firefighters saved 150 piglets from burning barn. Pigs given a new temporary home in a neighbouring farm.

 

 

A sixth grader named Jackson, shaved his head to show support for his cancer-stricken grandfather. His classmates made fun of his new look. The principle taught all the students a valuable lesson of acceptance by shaving his own head in an assembly in front of the entire school.

FEBUARY

A homeless man in Manchester has been reunited with his family. A woman known as Bev noticed the man sleeping outside in the cold.

christmas message

 

She gave the owner of a near by sandwich shop 15 pounds to provide the man with breakfast and warm drinks for the week.

The cafe shared the act of kindness on their facebook page and the story went viral. within days he was reunited with his family.

 

MARCH

Fearless diver Joshua Eccles helps injured shark. Joshua was diving in the ocean when the shark approached him and kept nudging into him. This was unusual behaviour and the shark was in obvious discomfort. He managed to remove a large hook from it’s belly and the shark stayed swimming around him for some time afterwards, almost as if showing gratitude to his new friend.

Formerly abused rescue dog Peanut, saves 3 year old girl she found naked and shivering in a ditch. Peanut began crazy barking and yelping to alert her owners.

April

London marathon runner gives up on his own race less than a mile from the finish, in order to help exhausted athlete to cross the line.

In America, stranger drives past and notices a women struggling to support her amputee husband up the steps to their home. Not only did he stop and help the couple, but he also returned the following day with some friends and built a disabled ramp right up to the front door.

MAY

7 year old Elly Neville raised £100,000 for the cancer ward at Withnybush hospital, after they had saved her dads life. She origionally intended on £500 which is still a large sum to a 7 year old. Her remarkable fundraising still continues.

33 circus lions return home to Africa after 18 month rescue effort after spending their entire lives being misstreated and abused by their owners. They get to spend the rest of their days living in peace at Emoya Big cat sanctuary.

 

 

 

 

JUNE

5 year old saves his 3 year old brother from choking on a meatball. He uses techniques he learnt from a first aid lesson at school.

JULY

80 beach-goers form human chain to rescue family caught in rip current off Panama city beach. The family were fighting to stay afloat and this self-less act which showed human nature at it’s best, almost certainly saved their lives.

AUGUST

Former royal marine Matthew Goodman, who served in the Iraq war, sells war medals to help pay for a little girls cancer treatment.

Paralised woman Riona Kelly from west yorkshire, found love with the personal trainer who helped her to walk again.

SEPTEMBER

8 year old boy rescues people from the sea in New Quay Wales. Stefan Williams noticed the 3 tourists stuck on a rock. Fetched his rubber dingy and then towed them back to shore! He’s hoping one day to follow in his dads footsteps and join the sea rescue team.

Merkez restaurant in a small turkish town, invite those in need to eat free of charge.

OCTOBER

Having seen a homeless man trying to sleep on a bench, 3 teenagers bring him aid in the form of a blanket and tuck him in.

Anti poaching brigade are saving elephants in Mali. Since setting up at the start of the year not a single elephant has been lost to poachers.

NOVEMBER

Iranian weightlifting champion Kianoush Rostami, sells olympic gold medal to raise money for earthquake victoms in western Iran.

 

DECEMBER

In Las Vegas, a homeless man called Anival Angula, rescued 2 young children (a ten month old boy and 3 year old girl) from a burning building.

 

 

All over the place!

Mixed Emotions

It’s funny how excitement and intrigue can quickly turn into terror and shear panic. How you can go from really looking forward to something, to literally wishing you were anywhere else. I was looking forward to the Tipton tournament and had prepared well for it, going the night before so I had a chance to check out the venue, find all my possible escape routes and nearest toilets! I know that following this precise routine helps aleviate the anxiety I’m bound to be feeling on the day. On the day I turned up early to the venue, with my friend in tow. I was hoping to beat the crowd of people. This is something we had done at previous events. If the room is more or less empty on arrival and then gradually fills, It seems much more manageable. Unfortunately on this occasion it did’nt work out that way. It seemed everyone had the same idea! This resulted in a big queue waiting to sign themselves in. For whatever reason queues are a nightmare to me. I think It’s the feeling of coming to an abrupt halt, being able to see your destination, but not being able to get there immediately. The thought that you’re a sitting duck, people crowding behind and in front of you, and you trapped and suffocating somewhere in the middle.

Anyway needless to say, I was in a fragile state. The queue was half in and half out of the main entrance to the sports hall, which wasn’t helping. It meant that even people not attached to it appeared to be coming at me from all directions. I was left feeling extremely small and out of my depth.

Soon, as my chest began tightening and the walls of the room started coming in on me, I had to hastily leave the building. And so whilst the other competitors were on the table warming up- I was in the corner of the car park gasping for air! Although I’m very familiar with this sensation, it does’nt make it any less frightening, I was having a panic attack.

Afterwards whilst feeling sick and embarassed, I now had the difficult decision of whether or not to pull out of the event. I already felt completely exhausted but My friend had given up his day to take me, so in the end I felt obliged to give it a go. The day became more about survival than enjoyment. I ended up winning some and losing some of my matches, but this was inconsequential, as I never felt remotely comfortable in that environment.

Playing table tennis is one of the only activities where I usually feel completely safe, somewhere I can be in a group of people and not be awkward in anyway. It helps that I’m not bad at the sport, so if I stand out, It’s for possitive rather than negative reasons. In this respect It’s normally a perfect escape for me.

I’ve spoken before about how my anxiety and depression tend to go hand in hand. If I’m struggling with one, chances are I’ll be effected by both. This was evident on the day of the tournament. The more anxious I became, the more I got down on myself. Any self-belief I previously may have had, soon went out of the window.

I got to the point where I forgot that I was any good at the sport and just felt completely inadequate. A complete loser at this, a complete loser in life! Time again for my self-loathing side to take over! And It’s not just a case of feeling sorry for myself, It goes much deeper than that. The truth is in these moments (which are thankfully fewer and farther between now) all I want to do is hurt myself, I want to cause myself pain. I can’t inflict physical pain on myself cause I’m far to much of a wuss for that! So my method of self-harm is mental. So for the next few weeks I inwardly beat myself up and isolated myself from the rest of the world, All because I’d had one panic attack, doing an activity that’s supposed to be fun!

Table tennis tournaments can be a bit like buses. You wait ages for one to come up and then two arrive at once. I’d played in this one mid-november and had entered a second one in York two weeks later. Now obviously if I’d have realised the problems I was to have in Tipton, I’d have never entered this one, but I had entered and figured it might do me good to challenge myself and face my demons. That being said a big part of me was dreading the prospect. I went with the attitude of having a good day out with my mum and best friend. The table tennis side of things was almost an after- thought. Whether I won or lost wasn’t important, all that mattered was having a bit of fun.

Remarkably this seemed to work, I felt happy and relaxed and was even able to laugh and joke with fellow competitors. I ended up having a really good day. The Shaun of a fortnight a go became a distant memory.  And because I was more relaxed I was able to perform better and managed to reach two finals.

This week at a league match I was reminded by someone that table tennis players are a bit like an extended family. Like all families not everyone always gets on! But the majority do and you get used to each other. You’re seeing the same faces year in year out and for me, there’s something strangely comforting about that. I know that not everyone gets my illness but I thank my table tennis family for the support they’ve given me.

 

 

 

 

Am I Enough?

I apologize for not blogging for a while. To be honest I’ve not felt great in myself of late. If you’ve had any experience of the symptoms of depression, you’ll understand. For those who haven’t I’ll attempt to explain. In the last few weeks- for whatever reason, as it’s tightened it’s grip on me, I’ve felt an unbearable sadness and hopelessness, so much so that I’ve found it hard to concentrate on anything else. I’ve not wanted to face anyone or anything, and that even goes for my immediate family. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not been seeing very much of the day- going to bed ridiculously early and getting up as late as possible. Spending as much time in my bedroom as I can get away with. If I lived on my own I doubt I’d get up at all when feeling this way, but this would only result in worrying my mother and so it’s not an option.

AM I ENOUGH?

Am I Enough? It pains me that I’m still asking myself that question. Imagine how exhausting life can be, as you continue to self-doubt every given situation. It’s like I can never truly relax. Even around my closest friends, I find myself wondering if my company is good enough. I plan topics of conversation to keep them interested! I mean for Gods sake, these are supposed to be my friends, how sad and pathetic can I get! Feeling like an inconvenience and a huge burden is horrible and I sympathize with anyone like me. You can soon start to believe you have nothing to offer, no purpose in life and no reason to exist. Of course this is not true, it is in fact just the illness talking.

Regular visitors to my blog will know I’ve come up with many solutions/ coping strategies for living with depression. What the last fortnight has reminded me is that depression is a debilitating illness and even with the best will in the world it’s extremely difficult to prepare yourself for the emotional roller-coaster that comes. My anxiety issues and depression seem to always go hand in hand. The more anxious I get, the less I’m able to achieve on my own and the more isolated I become, which leads to me having more depressive thoughts. In a previous post I talk about how difficult I find it going out in the six week summer holidays. Normally when the kids are back at school, I gradually start to find my feet again. It’s a tedious and frustrating process, but one that I’m used to, as I endure it every year. Unfortunately this year there’s been a couple of reported assaults in my local area, including a stabbing. Worst still, this happened right in the middle of my usual short walk route. As you can imagine I am completely unnerved by this and I now find myself terrified to leave the house again! It took me ages to convince myself that this was a safe area to walk and now I’m questioning if there are indeed any safe areas at all.

It’s not all been doom and gloom. I’ve enjoyed doing some gardening work for a disabled gentleman. Through no fault of his own, the area has been neglected for several years and to get it looking remotely like a garden again has proved a mammoth challenge for my friend and I. But it’s been great to have something else to focus on for a while. Plenty of physical labor and fresh air has been hugely beneficial. It’s amazing how one selfless deed for a complete stranger, can make you feel useful and necessary for once. I’ve always had this excessive urge to help others and feel needed (It’s arguably one of the reasons I’ve created this blog). Undoubtedly this is to do with my lack of self-esteem and brings me right back to the original question of Am I Enough?   It might simply be down to me being a nice guy! either way it’s got me out of the house and given me a purpose when I needed it the most, so perhaps it’s best just to leave it at that.

When I’m feeling down it’s so important to have something to look forward to, a light at the end of the tunnel- you might say! I honestly don’t know how I’d cope without my table tennis. It’s great to have something I know I’m reasonably good at, in an environment where you don’t feel totally out of place. The truth is, it’s the only place I feel like I truly belong. I’ve started to play more regular in the league and I’ve even played in a few local tournaments. Being successful at something is always going to be good for your self-esteem but as well as this, in table tennis I have a great form of escape. It’s almost like stepping into an alternative reality, a world where I’m completely comfortable and have confidence in my own abilities. It’s a great drug for me- much more effective than any anti depressants!

The majority of people who know me through table tennis would be shocked if they learnt about my anxiety issues and that leaving the house on my own can turn into such a big ordeal. How can there be such a transformation in me? I wish I knew. All I know is that some people with depression don’t have such an escape.

I know that today’s post hasn’t been the most constructive. On honest reflection it’s impossible to be positive all the time. For fellow sufferers, one piece of advice I can give is to make the most of your good days, and do whatever it is that you love to do. I will try to write more regular again but I can’t promise anything. I hope people appreciate that this will be completely dependent on my own mental health.

 

 

10 tips on overcoming anxiety

OVERCOMING ANXIETY

Here are my 10 simple steps to help manage your anxiety and still live a happy fulfilled life.

 1/ REPETITION  

overcoming anxietyWe’ve all come across those annoying people who seem to be good at everything they turn their hand to! However the majority of us aren’t like this and the first time we try something new can be difficult. When you’re unsure and not very confident in what you’re doing, you’re kind of learning as you go. For someone with anxiety, the self-doubt in us massively increases, often making the task seem insurmountable as we put far to much emphasis on what could go wrong. Even simple tasks that we’ve previously accomplished stress free, suddenly become very daunting. For those of you who don’t suffer with excess anxiety, I would best describe it as learning to walk again. I’m talking about things like going to the shops, having a meal out, visiting a friend or even talking to the neighbours! Of course all these things become less challenging the more we do them. By repeating an activity regularly enough, difficult soon turns into manageable, manageable turns into easy and before you know it you’re wondering why you were worrying so much in the first place!

2/ PLANNING

At present due to my anxiety, I have to plan a great deal. Some might call it excessive, but I call it necessary and the best way for me to function in life. It helps me, to detail every stage of a journey or task.

  • When will be the quietest time to visit somewhere
  • Can I Familiarise myself with an environment to limit the amount of surprises I may encounter. Where possible I can I do a recce of the area before hand.
  • Knowing where all the nearest exits are in a building. Psychologically this helps me feel less enclosed and limits the chances of me having a panic attack. If the situation arises and my stress levels become too much, knowing I have a quick way to get home is also a big reassurance.
  • Knowing what I can achieve on the day. It’s important to continue to push yourself but at the same time you need to accept that you have an illness, and you’ll have good days and bad. It’s equally important therefore, not to beat yourself up if you don’t achieve what you’ve initially set out to do.

I imagine you’re probably sick of being told to take small manageable steps, but it’s actually great advise!

3/ TRICKING YOUR MIND 

Sometimes it’s the enormity of a task that can lead to excessive anxiety. What you can do to counteract this, is to split what you have to do into manageable segments. Once you have completed stage 1 you can move onto stage 2, all the time only concentrating on the part you’re doing and never looking too far a head and risking causing yourself unnecessary stress. This is something that I would recommend to anyone, irrespective of if you have a mental health illness or not.

Due to my mental health I became trapped inside my house and found it impossible to venture out on my own. Up until recently, I had a carer who came to try and encourage me to do this, and help me regain my independence. The technique they used was called Graded Exposure, which involved splitting a journey into checkpoints and gradually over time, being able to get to the further points on my own before meeting with my carer. It took time, but worked really well and continues to work for me. The only difference being that I no longer have a carer, I have substituted them with friends and family. It doesn’t really matter as long as you have someone you can trust.

4/ BREATHING YOUR WAY TO CALM

  Taking some deep breaths in through your nose before exhaling slowly through your mouth and watching the steady rise and fall of your chest, is one of the best proven methods for calming your anxiety. There’s probably a very good technical reason for this, something  along the lines of sending messages to part of your brain which trigger a relaxation response in your body. What I do know is it helps slow your heart rate down. It helps release physical tension in your body, and importantly it gives you something else to focus your mind on, which can only be beneficial for your mental well-being.

5/ CIRCULAR JOURNEYS 

Imagine doing a 4 mile walk. you walk 2 miles to a certain point and then turn around and walk the same route back.

Now imagine you do a walk the exact same distance, but instead of reaching a certain point and then turning around, you do a full circle. You still end up back where you started, but some how it feels much shorter and for me, much less stressful. I know this is clearly just a trick of the mind as you’re going the exact same distance, but what you can do is convince yourself that you’re always on your way back home. I for one find this much more reassuring. An equally effective method is to have someone drop you off at your destination and then walk home. Again there’s something comforting about always being on your way back home.

6/ DISTRACTIONS

Music is a great distraction when your feeling anxious. listening to certain favourite tunes can be very relaxing, help you to unwind and forget about the pressures of life. Some people choose to download meditations or mindfulness breathing exercises. When I’m out and about on my own I’m often very anxious. I feel vulnerable and like everybody’s a potential threat. It’s at these moments that I desperately need something else to focus my mind. I find simple methods work best, such as tapping the tips of my fingers together, counting my steps or repeating a positive mantra in my head. If this fails to distract me I phone a friend. Sometimes It’s a good idea to warn them before hand to make sure they’re going to be available!

7/ REASSURANCES 

My family and friends provide me with amazing support. They’re there for me when I’m having a bad day and I’m self-doubting myself. They remind me of all that I’m doing well and encourage me to keep going. When I’m having a good day and managing to achieve my goals, they’re there to celebrate with me. If I’m attempting to go somewhere on my own It’s always reassuring to know I have a family member on hand to come and rescue me if the situation arises. I appreciate that not everyone has this support and that I’m very fortunate, but there are other methods you can use to help alleviate your anxiety.

Having a positive mantra you repeat when your feeling stressed works well for some people. Here are a few examples of these, but I would suggest coming up with your own, something that’s personal to you.

  • Action conquers fear
  • This too shall pass
  • I breath in calmness and breath out nervousness
  • Keep calm and carry on

Some people need something more substantial than this. I have written reminders for different situations. I simply read through these before leaving the house and they act as a great positive reinforcement. Pictures of achievements can have the same effect. Anything that embraces you being a strong person, who’s in control of your emotions.

8/ PERSPECTIVE 

For anxious people it’s so easy to blow things out of all proportion, believe me I’m a world leader at this! You can see obstacles that simply don’t exist. In these moments it’s important to take some deep breaths and try to focus on the here and now. Remember, most of what you’re experiencing is completely irrational and in reality, you’re in total control of your own destiny. By taking your time and dealing with one thing at once, you’ll soon see that the task in hand is far less intimidating than you first imagined it to be. In life danger is real and will always exist, but fear is just a state of mind. Try to face up to your fears.

9/ EXERCISE/PHYSICAL LABOUR

 The mind will always function better if you look after your physical body. If you’re feeling low or anxious, you may do less and be less active. You can soon get caught up in a harmful cycle. Exercise can stimulate the parts of the brain that improve mood. You’re more likely to feel good about yourself, as it can give you a sense of achievement. I also find exercise to be a great therapy and a way to escape from the pressures of life. It can help with concentration and focus, and importantly allow you to take back some control in your life.

10/ DON’T VIEW IT AS YOUR ENEMY

You mustn’t always view anxiety as your enemy. It could also be described as the cautious part of your persona, and It can be extremely helpful in keeping you safe. If the cave man wasn’t anxious about the approaching dinosaur, he wouldn’t last very long! Nervous energy can lead to an adrenaline rush. Top athletes and pop stars are able to use this as a way to enhance their performance. The secret it learning to control it and not let it take over and control you.

The tips I have given in this post are simply things that have worked best for me. Neither should they be viewed as a magic cure, I’m afraid there is no quick fix when it comes to mental health. I am not an expert in the field, but do have first hand experience of living with anxiety and depression and these are some of the things that have helped me to manage my illness.