Tag Archives: mental illness

What is lockdown brain? And what to do about it!

A survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society showed that since being forced to stay isolated and inside their homes, 82% of people with dementia saw a deterioration in symptoms.

Knot on finger "Just a reminder"

But it’s not just those already showing memory problems who’re struggling. Many of us are forgetting to buy milk, to write that email (again…) or that word that’s on the tip of your tongue!

There are different types of memory, research is helping us to understand how the constraint have impacted us.

  • Loneliness has had the biggest impact on people’s mood—feeling depressed is known to have an impact on memory
  • Lack of social interactions—repetition of stories helps consolidate memories of events (episodic memories). Watercooler moments can mean we talk to dozens of people in day, these aren’t happening with people furloughed or working from home. As big events have been cancelled, even when we have chatted with friends and family we’ve had fewer stories to tell meaning we’re not exercising out episodic memory.
  • People have been feeling generally more anxious and there’s more uncertainty. This has been worst for young people, people living on low incomes, people in urban areas and those with children.
  • When there’s less variety in our lives and lack of memory cues—it’s hard to differentiate one day from the next and we simply can’t remember what we’ve done! When all your meetings are in front of the same screen, they’re all the same, there’s no way to tag your memory. In the office you might walk passed the lift where you had a conversation and it reminds you to email someone or you’ll drive by the petrol station on your commute home and it’ll remind you of the milk you need to buy.mum using computer looking tired with children in the background running riot
  • Disturbed sleep due to lack of stimulation and worrying about the pandemic is causing fatigue. The brain, like any organ needs us to be fit and healthy, poor sleep, lack or exercise and poor sleep, and it’s functioning less well.
  • Not going out and about and finding our way around means the size of our hippocampus is decreasing (the seahorse shaped structure in the brain involved in learning and memory)—it’s a use it or lose it scenario! Research has found London cab drivers have an incredibly large hippocampus!

But there is good news—there are things we can do to stimulate our brains again!

  • Go for a walk each day, especially along unfamiliar streets.
  • Turn the videocall into a phone call and go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the computer.
  • Make sure the weekend is different from the weekdays or make sure you have specified rest days that are noticeably different.
  • Do something creative and new and tell someone about it afterwards.
  • Deliberately reflect on your day, even in a diary can help. Remembering what you did and recounting it exercises your brain.
  • Don’t be ashamed of using alarms and alerts on your phone, these are helpful cues for your brain.walking in the countryside
  • If trying to remember a list of items, for example a shopping list, imagine yourself in the aisle in the shop actually picking up the items.
  • To fight fatigue, good sleep hygiene is best for a good night’s sleep—no caffeine or sugar before bed, sleep in a dark cool room and make sure you’ve had fresh air and/or exercise everyday.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to get the right support. Contact your GP or speak to a counsellor or therapist. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talking about it will be the best thing you can do.

World Mental Health Day–Mental Health for All

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, October 10th 2020 is “Mental Health for All”. This is a great subject for this year as so many people are struggling with the current pandemic for all sorts of reasons.

The subject means something special for me as I’ve spent my life feeling like I’m different, I don’t fit in, I don’t know how to do the stuff other people do so easily and I don’t know why.

A little while ago, we realised why – I’m autistic.

This may come as a surprise to some who know me, or it may make perfect sense to others! To me, it’s really helped things fall into place.

Previous to this, lots of things didn’t make sense, I’d had long periods of mental illness and while I’d managed to carve a recovered life (with lots of support, medication and various therapies) I still really struggled with general life and it was difficult to understand why. Below are just a few examples of things I struggle with that are now explained by autistic traits. It’s important to remember that this is my experience and that this will not be typical for everyone on the spectrum.

  • I’m incredibly sensitive to sounds but had been putting this down to being “highly sensitive” and an extreme introvert. These labels helped to some extent but didn’t quite explain why I would find a noisy environment completely exhausting. My sense of smell and touch are also extraordinarily sensitive.
  • I have a very small number of close friends because I struggle to make and keep friends. A lot of people see a more “socially acceptable version” of me because I feel they would judge the real me.
  • I’m easy overwhelmed by misunderstandings and confused by unexpected situations. I know I have intelligence but sometimes feel I lack common sense–this isn’t true, it’s just how it feels. It’s been awful not knowing why I can’t see things the way other do.
  • Things sometimes get stuck on a loop in my head. Hyper-focus and an eye for detail can be seen as a positive thing but it’s felt negative when other people can move on. It’s not that I’m deliberately holding a grudge, it’s that things affect me more deeply than they do other people.Stone brain breaking apart with cogs inside
  • I’ve always understood that there are unwritten social rules but I’ve struggled to know what they are. As I’ve grown up I’ve managed to hide the fact that I don’t understand and I “laugh along” but I’m hiding (masking) a huge amount of confusion and anxiety.

As I came to terms with the diagnosis, I realised I’m actually not odd, weird or wrong, I’m just neurodivergent.

All this time, I’ve been desperately trying to be “normal” and I’ve suddenly discovered that I am!

However, learning that I’m on the spectrum has been a mixed blessing!

The downside of the diagnosis is that it comes with discrimination and stigma.

[People with] autism spectrum disorder…are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population.

This can be because there are fewer resources…more negative life events, and [they] face stigma and discrimination from people and services… Biology and genetics may also increase the likelihood of developing a mental health problem.

Mind

If you read my most recent blog you will have seen that I experienced horrendous discrimination at the hands of an ex-employer. This was because I disclosed to my employer the difficulties I was having in relation to being autistic, particularly in relation to the social side of things. I liked to keep my work and social life separate. You won’t find me gossiping around the water cooler or taking an extended lunch break while I chat about my weekend with colleagues.

I can understand the theory behind those “water cooler moments”. I know bonding with work colleagues is important. Unfortunately, I’ve never liked doing it and now I’ve found out I’m autistic, I know why. I find these moments excruciatingly awkward and fatiguing and I simple don’t benefit from trying to socialise with my colleagues!

There were numerous ways they discriminated against me and the fact that I’m covered under the Equality Act made no difference to my ex-employer. When just getting up and going to work every day takes every ounce every energy you have, finding energy to fight for my rights was impossible.

Autistic adults who do not have a learning disability are 9 times more likely to die from suicide.

Autistica

As well as reasons in line with the general population such as difficult life events, feelings of hopelessness and physical or mental health conditions, people with autism also have additional difficulties that could lead to suicidal feelings:

  • Delays in receiving a diagnosis–from personal experience, struggling with feeling there’s something “wrong” but not knowing what it is feels incredibly difficult.
  • Difficulties accessing support–as with mental health services, poor resourcing means that adults with autism aren’t receiving the support they need.
  • High levels of unemployment–it’s very common for people with autism to be over-educated and under-employed, as I am.

People with autism are vulnerable because the way they communicate and interact with other people is different. They have difficulty communicating their thoughts and feelings and may not be able to communicate their suicidal thoughts in a way that someone else can understand. They may not even know that what’s going on inside them is “suicidal thoughts”. I spent years in mental health services being judged for “acting out” because I didn’t have the words to explain my feelings–it now makes sense, why it took me years to find the words.

I need to remember that no matter what label or diagnosis I may have, I’m still me and that will never change. Self-acceptance is an incredibly powerful gift. If you know me, don’t worry about treating me differently. With all our similarities and differences, something we all have in common is that we’re human and we’re all stumbling through life as best we can—this is something genuinely beautiful we can connect over no matter what else is going on in our lives.

A few things you might find interesting:

  • You say “autism” to most people and they think of “Rainman”, however the experience of autism is unique to every individual–Anthony Hopkins was diagnosed with autism in his 70s.”Anthony Hopkins
  • It is no longer thought to be “an extension of the male brain”–this is out-dated thinking.
  • We are not “all on the spectrum” or “all a little bit autistic”–some people may be able to relate to some of the traits but the spectrum is not linear with non-autistic (neuro-typical) at one end and seriously autistic at the other. Check out this video or this comic strip to learn a new way of thinking about the spectrum.
  • Functioning labels are unhelpful–you may observe people as high functioning because they can communicate verbally and may have “low” support needs but it is unhelpful to make a judgment about what their life is like behind closed doors.
  • Autism isn’t being over diagnosed–some people with autism (especially females) are particularly good at masking therefore are more likely to go undiagnosed. These people are now being recognised.

Thank you so much for reading this! It feels huge to be sharing. It’s hard to open up about something like this; having shared with a few people, I’ve had a very mixed reaction, from blatant discrimination to acceptance and loyalty.

I hope this will be the first of many blogs that walk the cross-over between mental health and autism.

Reaching my audience, owning my responsibilities and asking a favour

This blog has been on my mind for a while as I struggle to reach my intended audience; I have to consider what to write for the audience I want to reach as well as the needs of audience I actually reach.

You may, or may not know, my main aim is to raise awareness of mental health issues. Ideally, I would reach an audience totally unaware of mental illness. But of course, this is very difficult! Writing blogs and sending them off into the ether, the people who read them are, of course, people who are already interested in mental health related issues.

Sometimes I write about other things on my mind, with the hope these blogs will reach people not specifically interested in mental health and they may, then, have a little look around my site! Other than this, the only thing I can do is share my mental health blogs as far and wide as possible!

While I’d like to write hard hitting mental health blogs with the intent to shock and wake people out of their ignorant stupor, I have to consider my sensitive audience, that is, the people who are already very aware of the disturbing truths and don’t need rousing into action.

For example, I may want to get through to the MPs who aren't giving mental health services enough funding and give them graphic detail about my hospital stays that haven't gone well because there haven't been enough staff to support me to keep safe, but the people who'll actually read that will be my fellow in-patients who had equally rough stays and, may benefit to hear that they weren't alone, or relatives of fellow inpatients who may be interested in what it was like but equally may be upset by such gory details.

Of course I have a basic responsibility to keep things factually accurate. A blog about mental health often shares opinions and experiences where it’s a fine balancing act between saying “this is how it is” and “this is how I experience it”. I’m always clear to state when writing about an experience; the feedback I’ve had is that a factual blog (drawn from my professional background) peppered with experiences, is most readable.

"It felt as though the psychiatrist was deliberately provoking me to self harm" is a valid experience - it's how I felt at the time, when I was feeling paranoid; how, it's important to state that it's an experience because if people think there are psychiatrists out there who do actually deliberately provoke patients, this will prevent them from seeking support when they need it. It's important to be aware, while my experience was fact, I may not be stating the situation factually.

If I’m writing about another individual who could be identified, I always check that they’re prepared for this information to be public. A popular blog was an interview with my husband, on my to-do list is another interview, watch this space!

I also have a responsibility to myself. As someone recovering from severe mental illness, currently in therapy, I never publish something unless I’m feeling in a robust enough position to deal with any fallout. No matter how small the topic, this rule remains the same. I’ve published articles on all sorts of revealing topics in national newspapers and spoken on national TV about topics that left me feeling quite exposed. No one’s guided me through this. No one else will know when I’m ready. It’s been tough but incredibly rewarding.

Your responsibility

While I’m taking my responsibilities seriously, could I ask you to do the same? If you’re reading my blogs, am I right to assume you’re interested in mental health and therefore have an interest in reducing stigma and discrimination etc? So, what do you do with what you read? I’m incredibly grateful when I get feedback from people saying that I’ve helped them feel less alone or enabled them to understand what it’s like for their friend or relative. If you find it interesting, someone else might too.

80% people during lockdown, said their mental health deteriorated. That means 80% of the UK population could personally benefit from reading something of what I’ve written and the other 20% will know someone from the 80% therefore they could read what I’ve written and support someone who’s struggling.

Great things are happening – I cannot express my gratitude enough to the people who share my blogs. There are too many people in this world completely lacking in knowledge about mental health and I’m just trying to do my little bit towards educating them. Building this platform has led to all sorts of interviews and other work, I just hope this continues.

But if no one new shares my blogs, I'll continue writing into an echo chamber where everyone agrees, I've had some difficult experiences and I'm making some good points about things that need to change. Each year Mental Health Awareness Week comes around and the same people are aware of the same issues and nothing changes.

Analytics enable me to see a fair amount about my audience, this helps me see who is reading what and for how long but I don’t necessarily know why…?! I don’t know if people are liking it or not liking it! I get some comments – I approve all comments (except the obvious) so I’m happy if you disagree with what I’ve written or want to query something, I welcome respectful differences of opinion.

I’ll admit I make mistakes, not every blog is spot on and I struggle to produce regular content, I live with chronic illness, it’s not an excuse, it’s a reason. But I’d really love it if I kept up my side of the bargain, I’ll produce responsible content:

If you don’t like it, please comment – tell me why

If you do like it, (you can comment if you like but) please share it – I’d love it if you shared the link on social media but even if you just sent the link to one person in a text or an email, you never know what a difference this could make to them and this would seriously make my day!