10 Tips To Get You Through Bad Mental Health Days

I wrote post especially for ProHealth and it first appeared there on the 29th September 2018.

I have personally suffered from depression and anxiety most my life. In fact I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel their presence. I spent a lot of time denying their existence. I think I hoped by ignoring the symptoms they would just disappear, but instead they consumed me.

So, after a particularly bad depressive episode I experienced a few years ago I decided enough was enough. I realised I needed to dedicate more time to developing strategies for coping with my mental ill-health, in particular my depression.

So I reached out for help. I also spent a lot of time reading, learning about forgiveness, self compassion and other coping techniques. I dedicated time each day to practice mindfulness meditation, in an attempt to learn more about myself and my relationship with depression.

I would like to share with you some of the things I discovered about myself and the ways I learned to cope with the days when I’m consumed with self loathing and self doubt. Through these simple strategies I learned to accept the person I am when I’m depressed, and I even found a way to love myself again.

10 things that have helped me cope with my depression.

The following are some of the things that have helped me through the days when my depression takes hold and the world seems too much to bear. Maybe some of these will help you too.

1. Communicate with your loved ones about how you are feeling.

This was one of the first things I learned but probably the hardest to execute. I resisted reaching out to loved ones and admitting I wasn’t coping, for a long time. Communicating the dark thoughts that were circling in my mind was a scary prospect. But being honest with those around me was the best thing I did for my mental well-being.

I believe it’s important to speak to someone you trust when you are feeling low, sometimes just talking about how you feel can help ease your pain. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can make you feel less alone. Also, depression is an effective liar, talking to a trusted friend or loved one can give us much needed perspective.

2. Back away from stressful situations and cancel non-urgent commitments.

Stressful situations often tip me over the edge, as I find stress harder to deal with when I’m depressed. I also don’t think straight when I’m depressed and this leads to further frustration and anxiety. So I learned it was ok, and beneficial for my mental health, to back away from stressful situations and even cancel commitments where needed.

It’s ok to cancel plans when your mental health is bad. Please don’t ever feel guilty about it. Cancelling plans is better than doing something that is only going to stress you out and make you feel worse. Try focusing on what’s going to help YOU instead of trying to please other people. Your health and wellbeing are more important.

3. Allow yourself to rest and sleep.

I was fighting so hard everyday, I was exhausted. So, instead of tirelessly fighting my personal battle with depression, I allowed myself to take a step back and rest. I wrongly thought that if I stopped fighting and took a break, I would allow the depression to consume me, but the opposite was actually true. Resting allowed me to press my reset button and gave me the energy to cope with my depression in a more constructive way.

Resting gives our body and mind time to repair. We often underestimate the importance of rest and the difference a few minutes of calm can make in restoring balance. Depression is exhausting and it’s much harder to cope with when we are tired. Also, please don’t beat yourself up if you need to sleep more.

4. Allow yourself to cry.

When I’m depressed I have any overwhelming need to cry. I used to fight this feeling as I saw tears as a sign of weakness, but I’ve learned it’s important to let my feelings out. Bottling them up only leads to further pain or an explosion of another emotion, like anger.

When we are depressed our feelings are amplified tenfold. Rather than trying to suppressed these emotions, allow yourself to feel them. Your feelings are valid and need to be acknowledged.

5. Write a Journal.

At a time when I felt emotionally stronger, I compiled a list of reasons to live and positive thoughts about myself. I wrote them in a pretty journal along with photos of loved ones and images to stimulate happier thoughts. I look at this journal whenever I’m depressed and have suicidal thoughts. Having a visual tool to help me through my bad mental health days has been hugely beneficial.

This one takes a bit of time and preparation but is worth the effort. When we are depressed we often don’t think clearly. By focusing on the reasons we have to live and positive affirmations about ourselves, we can break the cycle of negative thoughts. You could ask your loved ones to write you messages of encouragement and include them in your journal.

I also find that writing about my feelings and emotions while experiencing them, gives me some much needed perspective, and by writing them down I find it takes away some of their power.

6. Find positive distractions.

When I’m feeling very low, I become consumed by the destructive thoughts in my head. Practising distraction techniques can be a useful tool in breaking this circle. So when I’m depressed I try doing an activity I enjoy, even if it takes a bit more effort than normal. I think of things I used to enjoy doing at times I didn’t feel so depressed. For me this is reading, writing and listening to music.

Giving yourself a break from depressive and negative thoughts can help, even if it’s for a short time. So try doing what makes you smile. Whether that’s sitting in your PJs all day and listening music, or taking a long hot bath, or binge watching your favourite TV show.

7. Practice mindfulness meditation

I find mindfulness meditation a useful tool when I’m depressed. I use it as a way to escape my negative and destructive thoughts, or as a means to confront and challenge them in a controlled, safe environment. Mindfulness has been more beneficial for my mental wellbeing than anything else I have tried.

You can use meditation as a way to create your “safe place”; a place in your imagination that you can return to again and again when the real world becomes too much to bear. On days when my mind is a jumbled mess of self loathing and negativity I practice simple mindful breathing techniques, or when I need a bit more structure I use guided meditation apps.

8. Practice self care, self compassion and forgiveness.

When depression hits I’m filled with self doubt and self loathing. Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising myself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, I try to show myself kindness and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said I was supposed to be perfect?

Try cutting yourself some slack – you are worthy of love and compassion. We all make mistakes – try to forgive yourself and move on. If you struggle to fight past the destructive voice inside your head, try writing down a list of your positive attributes on one of your “good days”, or ask a friend to do this for you.

You carry a heavy burden, you are not a burden, and you haven’t done anything wrong. Try to remove blame and judgemental thinking. Please try to stop blaming yourself for what is out of your control.

9. Take a break from social media.

We only see carefully edited highlights of people’s lives on social media but it can often appear to us that other people’s lives are perfect. This can add to our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy, which often amplify our feelings of failure. No matter how much we try to avoid it, social media is also an open market for drama, stress, trolls and judgemental thinkers.

Although social media can give us a valuable connection to the outside world, it can also add to our stress levels, and we don’t need that when we are already struggling with self worth. Try taking a break from social media and see if it helps.

10. Just breathe.

I often feel overwhelmed because I experience a whole multitude of feelings, emotions and fears all at once. But I came to the realisation that I didn’t have to tackle all of these problems at that exact moment.

All the problems you are facing, that seem insurmountable, don’t have to be solved right now. You don’t have to have everything worked out right now. Rather than worrying about all the problems running circles in your mind – try to just breathe. There will be plenty of time to confront these problems another day.

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How can you help a friend who may be contemplating suicide?

I wrote post especially for ProHealth and it first appeared there on the 10th September 2018.

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about suicide after some high profile, seemingly happy and successful (whatever that word means) people took their own lives. Although it’s good to talk about mental health, it can also be triggering for many people who are already struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. How can people who seem to have it all fall victim to this debilitating mental illness? If someone who is successful, popular, rich and well-loved can lose the battle with depression, what chance do I have?

The reality is, depression does not discriminate and we have no idea what’s going on inside other people’s minds. And it’s often the people who seem the strongest that find it hardest to ask for help. Vulnerable people do not always look vulnerable. It’s easy to believe that fame, professional success, wealth, or adoration can protect people from pain, but that is not true. Depression doesn’t care if you’re great at what you do. Mental illness doesn’t just affect those without opportunities and resources.

Depression is an effective liar – we don’t always feel able to ask for help.

Depression is a very effective liar. It can convince us that the world does not need us here, that we are a burden, that there is no way we will overcome the pain we feel in that moment. Depression often makes us feel like a failure. We are often ashamed to discuss the thoughts that go on in our heads. Depression tells us we are worthless and unloved. It convinces us no one cares, it convinces us that no one would miss us if we died.

Depression, anxiety and other disorders can completely warp one’s view of reality. What you might consider a minor mistake or a fleeting moment of human weakness are crimes that those battling these demons often can never forgive themselves for, let alone forget. The honest truth is: Living with depression is a constant battle, it’s exhausting, and there are times when we don’t have the strength to keep fighting. We often feel ashamed and don’t want to reach out and ask for help, or we don’t feel we are worthy of being “saved”.

How can we reach out to someone who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts?

If a friend isn’t able to open up about their struggles, how can we help them? If someone is too afraid or in too much pain to ask for help, what can we do? The truth is that you cannot possibly know what is going on in someone else’s head and so it makes it incredibly hard to know how to help. But we can start by being kind to each other. Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Tell them how much you value their presence, how much you would miss them if they were gone. One kind word could make someone’s day or even save someone’s life.

If you notice something positive about someone, tell them. If you admire something about someone, tell them. But most importantly – don’t judge someone or disregard their pain or their struggle just because they don’t appear to be struggling with the same battles you are.

If you have a friend who has dropped out of your social circle or has been absent from social media for a prolonged period, call them and say “hi”. A few words from a friend could be enough to convince them they are not alone, they are loved and they have a reason to live. You don’t have to discuss mental health; talk about the weather, talk about happy times together. Tell them they are missed. Tell them they are loved.

8 Signs that someone may be suicidal:

Even if a loved one is unable to reach out for help, there are signs we can be aware of that could signal they are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Knowing these signs may just save a life.

1. Big changes to their sleep patterns.
2. No energy.
3. No interest in their appearance or personal hygiene.
4. Rapid weight change.
5. Alcohol or drug misuse.
6. Withdrawal from society.
7. Increased feelings of sadness, angee, hopelessness, desperation.
8. Sudden emotional outbursts.

Keep your eyes open. Look for the signs in the people you love. You don’t necessarily have to understand their pain, you just have to acknowledge it, and be their for them when it’s at its worst. Let them know that no matter what they may think of themselves, they’ve got someone who won’t turn away.

You are not alone.

I read the following comment from a member of the public, on an news article about one of the most recent high profile suicides: “Every time I hear of another suicide, I wonder why I keep fighting it.”

If you’re struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, it does not mean their path will be your inevitable outcome. Just because they took their lives does not have to mean you will. Just because you are having suicidal thoughts does not mean you have to, or will act on them.

If you are reading this and you are feeling suicidal please try to find the strength to reach out and ask for help. Try to talk to someone, whether that’s a friend, family member, partner or stranger. You are worthy, you do deserve to be happy, and you are loved. Things can and will get better. You will not feel this bad forever. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – quite the opposite, it shows great strength.

And, if you have a friend who you think is contemplating suicide,the best thing that you can do is just be there for them. Listen to them. Show them you care. Ultimately you want to give the person a reason to live, a reason to fight. By showing that you care, that they are not alone, that is exactly what they need. Take care.

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Celebrating body positivity does not equate to promoting obesity

Tess Holliday, a popular plus size model who celebrates body positivity, is on the cover of October’s UK edition of Cosmopolitan. Tess posted on Twitter; “Phew, I’m literally a COSMO Girl!” accompanied by a beautiful photo and the message;

“If I saw a body like mine on this magazine when I was a young girl, it would have changed my life”

The dark side of Twitter:

I stumbled upon Tess’s tweet while scrolling through my Twitter feed yesterday. My initial response was positive. Seeing her confident, beautiful self, tattoos and all, on the cover of UK Cosmopolitan was a welcome break from the usual sterile images that normally adorn such publications.

But then I made the mistake of scrolling through some of the thousands of comments, and I was reminded of the dark side of Twitter and of our judgemental society as a whole. Piers Morgan even waded in on the debate but I’m not going to that cretin any air time. Let me read a few of the comments to you:

“Great confidence but your BMI is unhealthy sis.”

“Please don’t promote obesity. Obesity is a serious condition.”

“Fat isn’t beautiful by any objective standard. It’s unhealthy and nothing looks worse than an obese person.”

“Her clothing looks like reinforced material to hold her oozing body in, looks like a curtain covers her.”

“cosmo girl cause you have cosmic size?”

“There’s nothing attractive about morbid obesity.”

“Morbid obesity should not be praised.   Wtf has happened to our society that we applaud this?  This is not ok, this is a poor life choice just like any abuse.  To we praise drug addicts? Alcoholics? No. But we praise a person that is eating themselves to death????”

“Literally encouraging and promoting an unhealthy, dangerous body image, great work!”

“Being rewarded for laziness. This world is a mess.”

“I’m sorry but that’s nasty 🤢”

“This is abhorrent and a clear promotion of obesity not beauty, unless this whole fat acceptance movement is to promote dying early as a secret way to weed out the gene pool, this is just ridiculous, obesity is not acceptance its laziess and lack of respect for yourself”

“I think I’m going to be sick”

“Girl you is fat”

“Being rewarded for laziness. This world is a mess”

“Fat is toxic and it’s deadly”

Firstly: Why do people think it’s ok to make such vile comments based purely on someone’s weight? If these comments were directed at someone’s colour or race there would be outrage. The fact that people have taken time out of their day to make these comments, saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me.

I was obese for many years and I lost count of the number of times total strangers felt it was appropriate to hurl abuse at me in the street, just because I was fat. Passing motorists even slowed down their cars and wound down their windows, just to verbally attack me. “Fat c*nt” seemed to be the most popular expletive, but there were many variations, although none were very creative.

I hadn’t done anything to aggravate these individuals. I hadn’t even made eye contact with them. But the impact of their words lasted years, and definitely contributed to me developing an eating disorder later in life. I became scared to leave the house, and on one occasion this abuse turned physical. The negative impact on my mental health was immense.

I also experienced a lot of bullying at school and in the workplace purely because of my size. Why are fat people seen as “fair game” when it comes to bullying and verbal abuse? Characters in films and on TV, who are overweight, are often ridiculed and the butt of all the jokes. Why is this accepted as ok in society?

Secondly: Celebrating body positivity does not equate to promoting obesity.

It’s about celebrating diversity. It’s about accepting that as humans we come in all different shapes, sizes, colours, genders and whatever else makes us unique. It’s about ending body shaming and fat blaming. It’s about not discriminating against someone because of their size, or anything else about them for that matter.

The stick thin models, “photoshopped” within an inch of their lives’ who appear on the cover of most women’s magazines, do not represent society as a whole. These unrealistic and unattainable images are damaging to the mental health of many women. It’s only natural for us to compare ourselves to the images we are bombarded with on a daily basis. So why don’t these images represent all women in our society?

Acknowledging that beauty comes in different sizes in no way encourages people to become or remain obese. But I’m sure images, like this one of Tess, will have an positive impact on the mental health of the millions of women who struggle with their weight and self worth. Showing that you can be beautiful and confident, no matter what size you are is a message that should be embraced.

Yes, being obese can increase the risk of developing many serious health conditions. But let me tell you a “not-so-secret” secret; fat people already know this. You don’t need to constantly bombard them with this message, and why are you all of a sudden so concerned about the health of a total stranger?

Thankfully there many supportive comments amongst the trolls. These comments restored my faith in my fellow humans:

“Why don’t people start realizing the only thing she’s trying to promote is feeling comfortable in your own skin. Whether that’s while your on your journey to a healthier lifestyle or you think you’re living your best life already”

“Some of these are the grossest @ replies I’ve ever seen. This is an amazing cover, I’m happy for you. Live your life the way you see fit, you’ve only got one of em.”

“I don’t think people understand the message. It is more of the body positively than saying obesity is okay. They are telling people that loving yourself is key, and changing yourself for the better.”

“Please don’t promote childishly simplistic, judgmental ignorance.  Childishly simplistic, judgmental ignorance is a serious condition.”

“amazing tattoos Tess you look lovely”

“❤️❤️❤️Rockin that red hair and green suit combo & your tattoos are amazing. I love it! ❤️❤️❤️”

“Great! You go, girl! 👍”

“You are making history girl! Thank you to show the real beauty!!!”

“You are such an inspiration! Beauty inside and out ❤️#lovetheskinyourein #beauty”

How did Tess respond?

Yesterday afternoon Tess responded to all the haters and negative, abusive comments. This was her tweet:

“To everyone saying I’m a burden to the British health care system, I’m american so you don’t have to worry about my fat ass. Worry about what horrible people you are by whining about how me being on the cover of a glossy magazine impacts your small minded life.”

Body shaming and fat blaming are not OK.

As a society, we need to stop body shaming and fat blaming. We need to teach people that it is not ok to abuse someone because they are overweight. Fat people are not “fair game” and should not be made to feel like less of a human just because of their size. Attacking someone’s self worth and damaging their mental health based on your own prejudices, is not ok.

That’s why I believe it’s important that the media portrays an array of body types and sizes. Diversity is important, and rather than promoting obesity it actually encourages a conversation about women’s health and positivity.

What are you thoughts on this subject? Should Tess Holliday be on the cover of a women’s beauty magazine? Have you experienced abuse directed at you because of your size?

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To be or not to be a mother?: a tough decision for someone living with mental ill-health.

This is a post I wrote especially for ProHealth’s Inspirational Corner and it first appeared there on the 7th August 2018.

I grew up in a very traditional family. As a young person, one of my “goals” in life was to become a mother. I was so sure about it – I even had names picked out ready. As a young girl especially, it went unquestioned that my path was leading to motherhood. My sister and I were given dolls to push around in tiny prams, and kitchen sets to cook plastic food for our babies. In society, every film you watch, every book you read, paints the picture of the fairy tale life. It’s every girls dream, isn’t It? – to meet your handsome Prince, marry, have a big family and live happily ever after?; To have a little bundle of joy who will love you unconditionally.  

I’ve always been a carer, I’ve always been the friend with a constant soggy shoulder because everyone came to me with their problems. I often joke that my empathy dial is turned up to max because I feel everyone else’s pain like it’s my own, and I want to help everyone. I’ve always been ‘Aunty Jo’ to friends’ kids and I love being around children – so it seemed a natural progression that one day I would become a mother myself.

Society paints a picture of the perfect parent. We are programmed from an early age to want to become mothers, and it’s in our DNA. There is so much pressure placed on women by the media, family, friends, and society as a whole to have kids – But what if your anxiety and perceived personal failings convince you otherwise?

I noticed quite early on that I was different to my friends. Anxiety started to surface at a young age. I remember at the age of 7 feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I was contemplating thoughts and ideas that a seven-year-old should not have even been aware of. Everything scared me, I was fearful of every new situation.

Things only worsened when I hit puberty. Hormones triggered a whole new level of anxiety along with panic attacks, and depression soon took hold as well. Depression dominated my teenage years and my early twenties. Constant thoughts and fears left me with no self worth or confidence – I believed I was worthless, a failure, weak, a burden and unlovable. Suicidal thoughts were rampant, I was exhausted and lacked any motivation.

I knew my mother had her own mental health problems, along with both my grandmothers – who suffered quite severely and spent a number of years in mental institutions. Whether this was something that had been inherited or triggered by life’s traumas, I could never know for sure: so how could I possibly risk passing it on to my child? How could I risk burdening another generation with this kind of torment? Also, what kind of mother would I be? I was consumed by the anxiety and depression I was battling, how could I possibly have the energy and love needed to raise a happy child?

The thought of being responsible for a defenceless, vulnerable child terrified me. What if my actions harmed them? Would I be an unfit mother? What if something bad happened to them? How could I protect them and keep them safe from harm? These thoughts were understandable, in fact they came from personal experience; my older brother died in a road traffic accident when I was 8 years old. I believe this tragic event shaped a lot of my thoughts and fears.

I pushed my feelings aside as best I could for a few years, but in my late twenties I fell in love. With marriage on the near horizon I had a very tough decision to make, followed by an even more difficult conversation with my now husband; Did I want to bring children into the world? Could I be a good mother? Could I overcome my fears and anxieties? And could I live with the possibility of passing on my ‘bad’ genes? Could I live with myself if my child suffered, like me, with crippling anxiety and devastating depression? Could I live with the guilt of passing on my ill health? Could I live with the guilt of not being able to care for my child properly – to be the mother they deserved? The guilt is something I have always found difficult to come to terms with.

My ultimate decision was; “No, I couldn’t.” There are so many wonderful parents in this world and so many children that are loved beyond anything I could offer. I decided that my desire to have children wasn’t strong enough to risk a lifetime of misery for my child. But also the decision was a selfish one; having a child would have triggered my anxiety to a point of being uncontrollable and unbearable. I had found some peace with my mental ill health at this point, with the help of my partner, and I didn’t want to lose the stability I had gained.

It turned out my husband-to-be didn’t want kids either, although seeing him with his young niece and nephew I know he would have been a great father. I don’t know if he said this to make me feel better about my choice; if he did, then I am forever grateful for his compassion, but ultimately it was a decision we both agreed on.

So did I make the right choice? – I believe I did. Not long after I made this decision my physical health deteriorated too – I developed ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia. There is some evidence to suggest these conditions can be hereditary – in fact my mum was later diagnosed with both too. I struggle to care for myself so I know I wouldn’t have been able to care for a child too.

Do I regret my decision?: There are times, when I see my friends with their children, that I envy the intimate bond they have, but I am now 43 and I have never once regretted my decision. I have close relationships with my friends’ kids and I will continue to relish my role as ‘Aunty Jo’ – I know I can offer more in this capacity than I ever could as a mother. I became a carer at a young age due to my mother’s own mental and physical health problems, I wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt of passing this role onto my child. I often feel like a burden to my husband, this would be multiplied tenfold if it was my child bearing the weight of my care.

Anxiety and depression will always play a role in my life and these have been amplified to a degree by my physical ill-health, but as I get older I am discovering healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with my fears. Not having children has allowed me the freedom to explore treatments and to take the time I desperately needed to concentrate on self healing. Writing brings me great comfort and helps me explore my feelings in a constructive way and this is something I will continue to do.

I know there are many women who desperately want to have children but are physically unable to, who may read this article and see my choice as a selfish one. I feel deeply for these women, and men, who are denied, by no fault if their own, the chance of becoming parents. Yes, my decision was probably a selfish one but I know it was the correct choice for me.

I am not saying that anyone who suffers from mental health issues should avoid having kids, far from it – I know many people who struggle with anxiety and depression themselves who are wonderful parents. I’m just saying that this was the right decision for me, and for us as a couple. Centuries of propaganda tell us we’re created in order to procreate, but the great thing about being human is that you get to make your own choices.

In a society which places so much pressure on women to become mothers, and where childless women are often seen as inferior due to their decision; ultimately the choice to have children is yours and yours alone. We need to start chipping away at the assumption that all girls should want to grow up to be mothers, and instead allow them the space to make their own decisions. You have to decide what’s right for you and not be bullied into conforming to societal stereotypes. Please don’t be afraid to walk your own path.

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How the government’s welfare reforms almost cost me my life.

Foreword: I recently read an article about the full extent of the increased attempted suicide rates which coincided with the introduction of the government’s benefit reforms and ESA. The article stated that:

“Staggering” new figures show that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014.”

It’s no coincidence that in 2008 incapacity benefit (IB) began to be replaced by employment and support allowance (ESA) with eligibility tested by the WCA.

One leading psychologist described the figures this week as showing “the greatest increase in suicide rates for any population that I can recall in the literature”.

If you would like to read about these latest figures please click here. 

Reading these disturbing figures compelled me to tell my story.

Here’s my story:

I almost became a statistic – just one more suicide triggered by the incompetence surrounding the implementation and assessment process of the health benefit Employment support allowance (ESA). I was assessed as 100% fit to work, even though I had moderate ME/CFS and the full support of my GP. I didn’t even receive 1 point on the assessment, which was carried out by a nurse who hadn’t even heard of ME/CFS. I had to appeal the decision. They messed me about so much, it took 2 years and multiple forms, evidence, phone calls, letters and appointments to get the decision overturned. I went from being able to walk to the local shops and “care” for myself, to being virtually bed bound and requiring care assistance daily, and I still haven’t recovered 5 years later. People don’t realise how physically and mentally exhausting the whole process is- it broke me. I lost my independence, my health and my will to live. We nearly lost our home and the dramatic deterioration in my health, along with the constant pain and the desperation of our situation caused me to become suicidal. I was in a suicidal state for 6 months solid- every day. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the love and support from my husband, family and friends. But I was one of the lucky ones.

What went wrong?

To be honest, it was a massive cock up from the beginning. The building where the assessment was carried out wasn’t accessible. The office was on the 2nd floor and although there was a lift I wouldn’t have been able to exit the building in an emergency. As I’ve stated, the person carrying out the assessment was only a nurse, not a doctor, and she hadn’t even heard of the main medical condition I suffer from, ME/CFS. The so-called “medical assessment” was just a bunch of questions followed by a simple physical assessment including; “Can you lift your arms” which in no way represented a physical examination or took into account the many disabling symptoms associated with ME/CFS. I provided evidence from my GP which wasn’t even taken into account during the whole assessment process.

So, the outcome was; I was assessed as 100% fit to work. For those of you who are unaware of the “marking” system; you get 1 point for every area where you fall within the category they set as adding to your inability to work. You have to score a certain amount of points to be eligible for ESA and even then you may still be required to attend “back to work” interviews. There were many mistakes on the assessment report, I had been misquoted and the assessor claimed to have said things which were never discussed in the medical assessment, even my medical conditions were wrongly noted.

The appeals process.

You can appeal your decision, which is what I decided to do, but there is no “help” available to guide applicants through the complicated and tedious process. I attempted to get help from the Citizens advice bureaux (CAB) but they stated they had no funding for this so they refused to help. Funding had also just been cut on legal aid provisions so I had nowhere to turn for advice. I had to complete the complicated form on my own, at a time when my health was already deteriorating, and also provide evidence to support my appeal. It was very common for appeals to go to tribunal, which is very similar to an official court hearing – and a scary prospect. As you can imagine my anxiety levels were extremely high not just because I was afraid I would lose my home but also at the thought of having to attend a tribunal and present my case.

12 months after submitting my appeal I still hadn’t received an answer or a tribunal date. I had rung the Department of work and pensions (DWP) multiple times over this period but no one could give me an update. Each time I had to wait in a queue for 40+ minutes and each time I was spoken to like an “inconvenience”. So I decided to submit a formal complaint, maybe then I would be taken seriously.

It’s not just the financial burden placed on your life that causes stress, or the waiting, you are also made to feel like you are “faking” it. You are accused of attempting to defraud the government, trying to claim benefits you are not entitled to. The media portrays claimants as “lazy, workshy scroungers. But I wanted so badly to work, just my body wouldn’t let me. Up until becoming sick I had always been independent and financially secure. I’ve always worked hard and saved my money.

The outcome of my appeal.

My letter of complaint worked and I finally got an answer 16 months after my appeal started. The good news was my appeal had been successful and I wouldn’t have to go to a tribunal. Why had it taken so long? Incompetence! 8 months prior to finding out my appeal had been successful, a staff member at the DWP had reviewed my case and overturned the decision. BUT had forgotten to action the decision. 8 months of stress, 8 months of panicking that I would have to go through the stress of a tribunal, 8 months of financial difficulty, 8 months of phone calls where no one had picked up on this mistake, 8 months of my health deteriorating. And the mistake had only been picked up because the complaints department reviewed my case.

There are two levels of ESA; work related activity group (WRAG) and support group. When my decision was finally overturned I was placed in the WRAG which meant I had to attend “back to work” reviews. I asked at the time why I hadn’t been placed in the support group and the reply was; “You basically have to be on your deathbed to be placed there”

Yet another obstacle.

But here’s the kicker; the government had just decided that if you fall within the ESA contribution based WRAG (which I did) you could only receive ESA for 12 months, then it stopped. Because it had taken them so long to process my appeal, I had already exceeded the 12 months, so my money was stopped and there was nothing to replace it. All that fighting for nothing! No matter how many people I spoke to I could not get any straight answers; how am I supposed to pay my bills? What benefit replaces the ESA after the 12 month period is up- surely I can’t be expected to suddenly “live” without any money?, my situation hadn’t changed. Why does it stop after 12 months, my expenditure hasn’t suddenly stopped? It was suggested I had to “sign on” for Job seekers allowance but you have to sign to say you are “fit for work” to receive this benefit and my records stated I was unfit to work, so I would be committing fraud by signing on. It was a joke, no one actually knew what they were doing and no one at the DWP was willing to help me.

So, here comes the next stage in this debacle. I was very lucky to be referred to a law charity by a friend. This charity specialised in helping benefit claimants with the complicated process and the incompetence surrounding the benefits system. The problem was, by now I was too ill to attend the meetings booked with the charity. Months went by before I finally found the strength to attend. I was advised I could appeal the decision to be placed in the WRAG but it had already passed the time allocated to appeal. I was told that the 12 month limit on payments doesn’t apply to the “support group” so if we could successfully appeal this decision I would start to receive ESA benefits again – something the DWP had conveniently omitted to tell me. I was also told that I should never have been discouraged from appealing to be placed in the support group because “You basically have to be on your deathbed to be placed there”. I didn’t have any fight left in me and I was just too ill, but what choice did I have? I needed to pay the bills and mortgage.

It was a long and exhausting battle, but with the help of the law charity I appealed the decision and won. My health had deteriorated so badly at this stage that the support group was definitely the appropriate group for me. DWP accepted that they had failed me and made mistakes. I was also encouraged to apply for disability living allowance (DLA – which has now been replaced by PIP), and my claim was successful. I will be forever grateful for the help I received from this charity, but sadly they had to close due to their funding being removed – yet another victim of the current conservative government’s austerity measures. The advisor at the law charity even got a formal apology for me from the DWP, but sadly the damage was done. I went from being ill but independent (to a degree), to being virtually bed bound and reliant on others for even my basic needs.

Desperation set in.

The sudden and severe deterioration in my health was devastating for me. Losing my independence and my ability to care for myself at 38 years old was soul destroying. Added to that, I was in constant pain and I couldn’t see a way out of the hell I was in. I wasn’t living, I was battling to survive each day. Understandable I became angry, depressed and suicidal. I spent 6 months of my life in this state, suicidal every day. I desperately needed the pain to stop and I couldn’t see any other option. I called out for help but due to cuts in the NHS I was abandoned both by the mental health team and the NHS as a whole. Apparently I was too physically unwell to undergo treatment for my mental health issues, but at the same time I had my GP and the hospital tell me all my symptoms were caused by my mental ill-health. I wish politicians who made decision that destroy people’s lives could actually experience what they have to go through, or even just witness the devastation caused by their actions.

The irony behind the whole situation is that I’m now costing the UK taxpayer at least triple what I did before my health benefits were reassessed. Prior to the government’s “cost cutting” health benefit reforms I was just receiving incapacity benefit and, although it was a struggle, along with my husband’s wage we managed to pay the bills and mortgage. I now receive ESA and PIP, and due to the level of our income the government also pays for all my care costs.

The people responsible must be held accountable.

I firmly believe that the incompetence surrounding the benefits system reform and the way I was treated by the DWP was the main contributing factor to the severe deterioration in my health, and the reason I became virtually bed bound 5 years ago – a state in which I still find myself today. Stress is a big trigger for all my symptoms including pain, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, migraines and it’s damn exhausting. The stress caused by this horrific two year ordeal was immense. I was lucky, I had the support, both emotionally and financially, from loved ones. But thousands of people aren’t so lucky. Potentially thousands of people have taken their lives due to similar experiences to my own. I’m not sure we will ever know the true extent of the loss of life caused by the government’s benefit reforms but the sheer incompetence surrounding ESA assessments must be addressed and the people responsible must be held accountable.

Unfortunately people are still suffering. With the more recent implementation of “universal credit” and the severe cuts to services and charities which assist the most vulnerable in society, it doesn’t look like the situation is going to improve any time soon. How many more lives have to be lost before people take notice and a fair benefits process is implemented?

Do you have a similar horror story to share? What are you experiences with the benefits system in the UK, good or bad?

For more personal stories, reviews, news, inspirational quotes and in-depth discussion, please head over to my Facebook page.

Here is another article that highlights the sheer number of deaths registered while claimants were receiving ESA.

Just Breathe

This is a message to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed right now. To anyone that feels like they can’t face another moment in pain. To anyone who feels they are not worthy of love, or do not deserve happiness:

Just breathe.

All the problems you are facing, that seem insurmountable, don’t have to be solved right now. Just breathe.

You don’t have to have everything worked out right now. Just breathe.

All the negative thoughts and doubts can wait for another day. Just breathe.

I know everything seems too much to handle, but for now, all you have to do is… Just breathe.

Rather than spend your precious energy agonising over all your past mistakes, accept you are only human and… Just breathe

You fight so hard everyday, it’s time to give yourself a break and rest. Just breathe.

All the self loathing you are experiencing are lies told to you by your depression. You are a good person, you are worthy, you are loved, you deserve happiness. Just breathe.

However desperate your life feels right now, things can and will get better. Just breathe.

Please know you are loved, reach out for help if you can. Do whatever it takes to survive to your next breath. Just breathe.

For more personal stories, reviews, news, inspirational quotes and in-depth discussion, please head over to my Facebook page.

40 things I wish I could tell my younger self.

One of the main reasons I started writing my blog was to reach out and help others.  When I write my posts I pretend I am speaking to my younger self; whether that’s the anxious child fearful of the world around her, or the depressed teenager desperate to fit in and be liked, or the broken adult suicidal from pain. This post is a collection of thoughts and realities that I wish I had known when I was younger, and some I am still trying hard to grasp as an adult.

1. Don’t be ashamed of your story and who you are. Don’t waste your time hiding the real you and trying your best to fit in. Embrace you quirks and flaws – they are what make you unique.

2. It’s ok to admit you are not coping it is not a sign of weakness. It’s ok to cry, it’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to admit you are not coping, it’s ok to have bad days – you are only human.

3. Failure is not a negative thingit teaches us so much. I was a high achiever at school – I don’t remember failing any exams, but the longer I didn’t fail, the more fearful I became of failing, so much so that it prevented me from trying new things as I was scared that I wouldn’t be any good.

4. It’s ok not to be good at everythingIt’s ok to do something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it.

5. Perfection is not real. No one is perfect. Pushing to achieve perfection just leads to frustration and feelings of inadequacy.

6. Anxiety and depression are ‘Real’ medical conditions and you are not alone in how you feel. My teenage years were a scary time, I had no idea what my feelings meant – I thought I was a weirdo and alone in how I felt. I wish I could hug her and tell her it isn’t her fault too.

7. Self compassion is so importantYou are worthy of love and compassion. “Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend”. We all makes mistakes – forgive yourself and move on. I still really struggling with this one but I’m starting to learn how to show myself the same compassion I show others.

8. It’s ok to say no sometimes, and it’s vital to set boundaries.

9. Stop comparing yourself to other peopleYou are unique, celebrate your uniqueness. No one has it all figured out.

10. It’s not self indulgent to spend time congratulating yourself on your achievements. Pause and enjoy the moment before racing on to your next task or goal.

11. Celebrate your abilities, not your disabilities. Rather than criticising yourself for what you can’t do or who you are not, concentrate on what you can do and who you are.

12. Accepting your current situation does not mean you are giving up. Acceptance is liberating and vital for your well being.

13. You are not superwomanCut yourself some slack.

14. Don’t take yourself so seriously – it’s ok (and healthy) to laugh at yourself sometimes. I have always been quite serious and taken myself too seriously. This inability to laugh at myself has made me more susceptible to being hurt by others.

15. There are practical ways to manage your anxiety. I wish I could take my younger self aside and walk her through some strategies for coping with anxiety, like mindfulness. It’s taken me years to acquire these skills but for so long I struggled alone.

16. Grieving is an important part of the healing process. I wish I could tell my younger self how important it is to talk about and remember loved ones, no matter how painful it is. It’s part of the grieving process and memories are precious – celebrating their lives helps us heal. We often forget the importance of acknowledging grief and when we don’t give ourselves this time to mourn, anger and guilt can take over.

17. Your feelings are, and will always be, valid.

18. You don’t have to wear your pain like a badge of honour. I fought against taking painkillers and antidepressants for a long time because I saw it as a sign of weakness – I felt I needed to prove how tough I was.

19. Physical appearance has no bearing on happiness. Weight has no bearing on happiness – your self worth is not determined by a number on the scales. Everyone has a part of their physical appearance they don’t like – even the beautiful people.

20. Success is not measured by monetary wealth and possessions. Success is measured by health, happiness, love, balance, family and friends.

21. Things can change in a heartbeatfor good or bad. If you are going through a tough time, know it won’t last forever, and if things are good, make the most of every minute. But change isn’t something to be feared – embrace it.

22. Being popular isn’t the be-all-and-end-allHaving a few close and loyal friends is more important.

23. There are ways to cope with negative emotions without beating yourself up further. Anger, resentment, frustration, grief, self pity, guilt and desperation, are all emotions I have faced throughout my life. Self compassion, forgiveness, removing self blame and finding time to pause, reflect, rest and restore – I wish I had known about these when I was younger.

24. Take care of your body and mind – you are not invincible.  I have abused my body and mind far too much over the years. When I was younger I felt invincible and this was often reflected in my actions.

25. Nothing is as bad as it first seems. Take a step back; pause, reflect, rest and relax.

26. Rest, relaxation and reflection are vital for your mental and physical health. I have always (before becoming ill) lived life at 100mph not allowing myself to rest, mainly through fear of allowing my dark thoughts time to surface, but also because I wrongly thought by resting I was being lazy.

27. It’s important to be yourselfit’s the only way to be truly happy. Pretending to be someone else is admitting you are somehow ashamed of the real you. You don’t have to constantly try and prove yourself to others.

28. It’s ok to be a geek. Learning is cool, books are cool (although by saying cool I’m probably acting uncool and showing my age) You don’t have to hide your love of these things to try to fit in.

29. Everyone you meet has something to teach youEveryone has their own unique story. Take a moment to pause and listen.

30. Choose your battles. You don’t always need to be right – sometimes it’s best to let it drop and move on. Preserve your energy for more important things.

31. When someone compliments you; believe it, smile and say thank you – you are worthy.

32. You can’t control everything. Trying to control what is out of your control just leads to frustration and anger.

33. Find time to do what makes you happyThere’s a bit if a theme going on here. Have I made my point?; happiness is vital. You deserve happiness – right now.

34. It’s ok to spend time doing fun things There doesn’t always have to be a reason, purpose or goal for everything you do in life. You don’t always have to be ‘getting things done’.

35. It’s ok to show your weaknessesIt’s ok to let your guard down and ask for help- you don’t have to be strong all the time.

36. You can’t help everyone and not everyone wants your help. If I see someone is hurting, then I want to help heal them. But the truth is; I can’t help everyone, not everyone wants to be ‘saved’, and some people are not deserving of my love and energy.

37. Mental health is just as important as physical healthdon’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

38. Suffering from a mental illness does not make you a bad person. Neither is it a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of.

39. Try to leave the past in the pastNo matter how much you worry about past mistakes, you cannot change them.

40. You can’t please everyone, all the time. There is always going to be someone who disapproves or disagrees with what you are doing. But that’s ok – you don’t need their approval or validation, just be true to yourself. And it’s ok if someone doesn’t like you – It’s not a reflection of your character or self worth, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Do what makes you happy.

Writing this list has been a real eye opener for me and has made me question a lot about how I perceive myself, and the enormous amount of pressure I have put on myself over the years.

Where did I get this notion that I had to be tough and strong all the time? When did I first start believing that I had to take on the world to prove I was brave? When did I stop asking for help because I saw it as a sign of weakness? When did I decide everything I did in life needed a purpose and a goal – doing something just because it’s fun seemed frivolous and wasteful? When did my self worth become intertwined with my weight and physical appearance? – Did society teach me this? We are all the product of our genes and our environment – but how much of this negative perception of myself has been taught, and how much is due to the mental and physical illnesses I inherited? I hope by writing these thoughts of encouragement down I can cut myself some slack and give myself time to heal.

What words of encouragement would you give to your younger self?

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You can’t help everyone and not everyone wants to be ‘saved’

Foreword: I wrote this piece a few months ago and I have been waiting for the ‘right time’ to post it. But I’m not sure there will ever be a ‘right time’; so I’m going to be brave and post it now. I’m the sort of person who sees the good in everyone. My empathy dial is always set to max, so I feel everyone’s pain like it’s my own, and I feel compelled to ‘help’ everyone I meet. But the truth is I can’t help everyone and not everyone wants to be saved. There have been times in my life where, unknowingly, I have sacrificed my mental health in my attempt to help others. This post describes one of these times.

In my mid twenties I met someone and fell in love – sounds idyllic, right? But this someone turned out to be anything but my knight in shining armour. He was abusive, controlling, vicious and full of jealousy.

I was going through a transition period in my life. I was losing a lot of weight – 5 stone up until I met M, and I was trying to rediscover myself after depression had dominated my teenage years. I had returned to college and my life seemed full of potential and possibilities.

M was everything I thought I wanted in a partner; he was a rebel, he had long hair, he was good looking and a heavy metal fan like me. He was kind and vulnerable at first, and I instantly warmed to him. He doted on me and confessed his undying love almost immediately. I should have seen the signs but I was distracted by all his attention, I had never been adored this way before.

Quite early on in our relationship he started showing signs of jealousy and wanting to control my actions, what I wore and who I spoke to. At first I wasn’t alarmed by this, in fact I saw it as a sign that he loved me so much he couldn’t bear me being around other men – I admit, I was naive. M was my first serious boyfriend, I was flattered by his attention and adoration.

His controlling behaviour soon escalated. I continued to lose weight and this attracted attention from other men. If I even smiled at another man he would call me a whore and accuse me of having an affair. He would put me down saying; “You have the figure of a boy!” or “You don’t even look like a woman anymore”

M was a ex-heroin addict and an alcoholic. He was abused as a child and spent time in care. I know he suffered with depression and had attempted suicide on a few occasions, and I wanted to help him. I wanted to find a way to comfort him, to make it all better. I wanted to protect him from his demons. I thought my love and kindness would be enough, but by staying with him I only caused myself pain.

He would come home drunk and start shouting obscenities at me. Some of the vile things he used to come out with scared me so much. The venom in his voice, the hatred in his eyes and the threat of violence were, in a way, more painful than the physical violence that followed. The saying goes; “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” but that’s not true. For me, the words were just as damaging, and the effects lasted much longer.

He experienced blackouts when he was drunk, so he would wake up in the morning like nothing had happened. I would beg for an apology or some kind of explanation for his behaviour but, because he couldn’t remember any of it, he just shrugged and walked away.

If I ever talked about leaving, M would say “Who would want you? Skinny, full of scars and excess skin, you are not even a woman anymore. I’m the only person who would put up with you” and I believed him. I had no self confidence – I believed I was ugly and worthless, and I was actually more scared of being alone, than being with him.

Why did I stay? It’s a question I’ve asked myself thousands of times. I have always been a strong and independent woman; how could I let myself be controlled and abused by a man? I felt pathetic, weak and a failure. Why didn’t I stand up for myself and say; “NO! this is not acceptable”. Why did I make excuses for him? Why did I continue to forgive him when he caused me so much pain? I don’t have an answer to these questions and I beat myself up about it for a long time – I blamed myself for being weak. I believe a big part of me staying was my need to ‘heal’ him – I could see he was hurting and I wanted to help. I actually saw my inability to ‘make everything better’ as a personal failing, but the truth is; you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

Please don’t ever judge anyone for staying in an abusive relationship, you have no idea what it’s like until it’s your life. You don’t know the reasons why they stay or why they do not feel strong enough to leave. It wasn’t all bad, if it had been I would have left sooner. I loved him and when he wasn’t drunk he could be charming, kind and loving – we did have happy times together.

After 2 years of emotional and physical abuse, I finally found the courage to leave him. The truth is, he admitted to cheating on me and that flipped a switch inside me. Somehow I could justify the abuse but I couldn’t tolerate infidelity. He didn’t take it well: He barricaded us into my flat and refused to let me leave. He threw me around the flat like a rag doll, but I managed to escape. It was the most traumatic night of my life and it was the first time I had truly feared for my life, but I never looked back.

It took me years to recover. The physical bruises and scars soon healed but the psychological damage lasted much longer. Two years of abuse had a huge impact on my mental health; I was depressed, full of anxiety and negative thoughts, and my self esteem was at the lowest it had been at any point in my life. I still believed all the vile things he said to me. I still believed I was ugly, unlovable and worthless. Depression hit, I was an emotional wreck, but thanks to amazing friends and family I slowly began to find myself again.

With the help of antidepressants and counselling, I managed to learn to forgive myself for not being strong enough to leave him sooner, but my anger towards M has never gone away. The anger that someone could destroy my life, could make it a living hell – I cannot forgive him for that.

What started out as small signs of controlling behaviour and jealousy, soon escalated. At the time I didn’t realise it was abuse. I didn’t feel like it was severe enough to warrant me asking for help. He made me think I was overreacting, that a shove here and a grab there wasn’t abuse. Or that a harsh word here or criticism there was typical behaviour, that a bit of aggression was normal in a relationship. But the truth is; If someone loves you they will do anything to make you feel secure and happy, they would be mortified if they caused you the slightest pain.

A few months after I left M, I started a relationship with my now husband. He helped me heal and showed me what true love means. With his support I began the long journey of recovery.

Any form of abuse is wrong! Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise. If you are not comfortable with it, if it makes you feel scared, distressed or vulnerable, then it’s wrong. Please know there is help out there if you need it. The damage caused to my mental health lasted many years. I wrongly thought I could change him, that my kindness could heal him if I just stayed long enough, but the longer I stayed the more ‘broken’ I became. Please don’t sacrifice your mental health for the sake of someone else’s, like I did. Take care.

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Product Review – Molytor Hemp Protein Powder

I have been taking CBD oil for nearly 2 years now and I find it very beneficial for my health. Recently I also added a new product to my daily routine – Full Spectrum Hemp protein powder with CBD and CBDa from #Molytor. I was drawn to the protein powder because it combines the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids like CBD and CBDa, and the restoring properties of protein and essential nutrients found in hemp seeds.

When I crash (I have ME/CFS) I struggle to digest solid foods, even the act of chewing is exhausting. I also have a very restricted diet due to many food intolerances. My GP prescribed energy drinks (Ensure) but these are packed full of sugar which, apart from being very unhealthy, are also a trigger for my fibromyalgia pain and IBS. In the past I have struggled to find a healthy drink so I’m really pleased to have this hemp protein powder as an option.

I’m really impressed with this new product from Molytor. It’s easy to incorporate into my diet and I know I am getting a multitude of nutrients along with protein and the benefits of CBD and CBDa. It’s gluten free and contains no added sugar so it doesn’t upset my IBS or trigger my pain.

To get the extra calories I need for my daily intake I just add the hemp protein to smoothies or sprinkle it over food. I also add it to my porridge in the morning – one of the only foods I can digest when I crash. But the powder is so fine it can be added to any food or drink.

Those of you that struggle with the taste of CBD oils may find this product a good option. It has a pleasant nutty taste (slightly grassy) It’s perfect for those who don’t like CBD drops or vapes and it’s much healthier than other CBD edibles like gummies. It contains 3.3mg CBD and 1.3mg CBDA in each teaspoon.

I have already noticed I’m not so ‘stiff’ and my joints are less painful – I think that’s the Omega 3 & 6 working. Another bonus is my skin is less dry and irritated (I have eczema and very sensitive skin) It’s still early days but I’m already impressed with the results so far. It also means I need less CBD oil each day as I’m getting a good chunk of my daily CBD dose through this hemp protein powder.

If you want to find out more about this product please click here: http://www.molytor.co.uk/product-category/hemp-protein-powder/

Why choose hemp protein powder?

Hemp protein powder is made from hemp seeds. Hemp seed is considered by many to be the safest, most digestible, balanced, natural and complete source of protein, amino acids, and essential fats found anywhere in nature, containing all of the 20 amino acids, but also each of the nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce.


Hemp seeds also have anti-inflammatory properties  – Hemp seed contains chlorophyll which gives protein powder its green colour.  Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants that provides your body with alkaline protection against inflammation. Hemp protein is also rich in potassium, which can help balance your electrolytes and aid in water balance. CBD and CBDA also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Further reading: https://draxe.com/7-hemp-seed-benefits-nutrition-profile/

Why take CBD and CBDa?

Cannabinoids like CBD and CBDa have many potential therapeutic properties. They work with the body’s native endocannabinoid system which regulates a wide array of the body’s functions like mood, appetite, sleep, hormone production, and even pain and immune system responses. The endocannabinoid system is regularly adjusting these functions in an effort to keep them in balance, Cannabinoids like CBD help to maintain this balance – homeostasis.

I have discussed CBD and CBDa many times on my blog so I won’t repeat myself by going into a lot of detail. If you want to find out more please head over to the CBD section on my website, there are lots of interesting articles. https://www.ajourneythroughthefog.co.uk/category/cbd/

Please note: I am not affiliated with this company, I just really like the product and I wanted to share it with you.

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Thoughts from within a Depressive Episode

I wrote this piece while I was experiencing a particular bad (for me) depressive episode. Thankfully it didn’t last long but I needed to write my thoughts down (somehow I found the motivation to do this) in an attempt to make sense of them. So I apologise in advance for how, well depressing, this post is, but I think it’s important to share these thoughts and experiences; it’s the only way we can break the stigma.

Up until now I have discussed anxiety a lot more than depression. It’s because anxiety is a constant companion; it’s always there. Not one minute goes by that I’m not anxious, just some days my anxiety levels are more manageable. I guess I’m so used to it being there, it has become my “normal.”

But depression is very different for me. Depression appears when I’m exhausted. It appears when I let my guard down. It appears when I least expect it and it comes on so suddenly and with such force that it scares me. I can be excited and happy one moment, and utterly miserable and desperate the next.

Depression takes the fun out of everything, even the activities you love and the people you love to spend time with. Everything feels very muted and dull. Depression is exhausting and all-consuming; it’s impossible to focus on anything else. Depression is isolating, you feel alone even when you are surrounded by friends. Well meaning friends and loved ones may do things to try to make you laugh or to cheer you up but the truth is, your depression is yours alone, it’s your burden to bear. I’m not saying other people can’t help you, I appreciate the attention and care others focus on me when I’m depressed: I need to know I am loved.

Depression is frustrating because often you have no idea why you are depressed. Depression makes me feel weak, pathetic, a failure, a burden. Depression makes me feel unloved and unlovable. It amplifies even the smallest problems to make them feel like they are impossible obstacles to overcome. Depression makes me angry, bitter and resentful. I have no patience with myself or others. I overreact – small things that wouldn’t normally bother me, feel catastrophic when I’m depressed – like it’s the end of the word. I’m short tempered and irritable. I lack any motivation which isn’t like me at all, in fact I’m quite the opposite normally. But when I’m depressed I just can’t be bothered.

It’s a cliche to say a dark cloud consumes you but that’s exactly what it feels like for me. A dark, heavy, black cloud of smoke that clings to every atom in my body – the cloud is so dense I feel like I can smell it on my skin. The dark cloud seeps into my mind and makes it impossible to think clearly, it warps my thoughts. I have an overwhelming need to cry, yet I don’t have the energy to cry. Even sobbing is too much of an effort – I just can’t be bothered.

I love to read but even that is to much of an effort when my depression hits, I don’t care about anything – I just can’t be bothered. I can lay for hours in the same position, lacking the motivation to move. Time passes unnoticed, events mean nothing. Everything moves in slow motion, I feel like the life has been drained from me. I become very self destructive when I’m depressed – I personally don’t care if I come to any harm. I don’t care if something bad happens, in fact, I welcome it. I seek out dangerous situations, I participate in destructive behaviours, I don’t care if I live or die.

Depression is like a parasite feeding off your insecurities. It eats you from within, it drains you. It steals your self worth and your confidence. It zaps every ounce of energy and motivation from you. It takes your life. My mind goes to some very dark places. I experience dark thoughts. Images flash into my mind – images of horrible things happening to myself and loved ones. It seeps into my dreams so I don’t even get a break when I’m sleeping.

I personally find depression worse than anxiety but I think it’s because I’m not as well equipped to deal with it. I’m not used to dealing with it 24/7, like I am anxiety. It’s also so far removed from the person I normally am. Depression turns me into a stranger, I don’t recognise myself. I don’t like myself when I’m depressed, I don’t like the person I become. I would like to get to a place where I can accept the person I am when I’m depressed, rather than be judgemental or critical, but I’m not in that place yet.

But depression does allow my body and mind to have the well needed rest that anxiety makes impossible. So I try not to fight it and and just accept the depression is going to be around for a while. It’s not a nice feeling but if it’s here to stay I might as well get the rest I desperately need.

I experience such extremes of emotions. My highs are very high but my lows are depressingly low. I can get excited like a child on Christmas day but in a second I can fall into deep despair. I’m always going to be an over emotional person but that’s not always a bad thing as I’m able to empathise with others. I am able to truly enjoy the happy times and I’m able to love deeply and unconditionally.

For me, anxiety and depression are opposites. With depression I feel very low. Everything feels very slowed down, including my thoughts and reactions to things. Everything feels very muted and dull.With anxiety, everything feels very heightened. My thoughts speed up and I experience everything at 100mph. My reactions to most things can be very extreme and I’m on edge and jittery – my whole body vibrates due to the adrenaline coursing through me.

But they are both just as debilitating. I am lucky in the fact that my depressive episodes are a lot less frequent now than they used to be. My depression is a lot milder and therefore easier to cope with than a lot of people I know. I admire anyone who has the strength and determination to continue to ‘live’ despite struggling with depression everyday. If you are one of those people, please don’t underestimate the achievements you have made just to survive. And never feel ashamed to tell your story. Take care x

Do you suffer from depression? What coping mechanisms do you have that help you to deal with your depression?

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