Tag Archives: stress

What is safety?

TW – Trigger warning for detailed content about suicide and suicidal feelings. Please considering moving onto a different blog if you may feel particularly distressed reading about these subjects. It’s important to practice self care and only read content on the internet that will benefit you.

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While Covid-19 is spreading through our society, we’re being asked to stay at home to keep safe. But this is only keeping us physically safe from a virus. I do understand that this virus is especially contagious and virulent therefore physical safety at this time is a priority but I want to spend a few moments reflecting on the meaning of safety and it’s different forms.

A feeling of safety can be captured through routines and familiarity, this is why people so often struggle with change. Nearly all of us are coping with huge upheaval as Covid-19 is sweeping across our nations. Working from home, not working at all, stopping social activities, home schooling our children, doing more or fewer activities than previously – some of these may have positives, negatives or a mixture of both but change is always hard.

Cortisol is our stress hormone. Usually it is released to help us cope with a peak in stress and it aids managing the stressful situation. However at times of long term stress, cortisol being released over a prolonged period leads to all sorts of side effects such as fatigue, irritability, headaches, intestinal problems, anxiety, depression, weight gain, increased blood pressure, low libido and erectile dysfunction.

Lots of people are being brought to our attention as people who need care/support: the elderly, those living with an abuser, the unemployed, the homeless, people with chronic illnesses and many others – each group has its spokes people. But I fear for those we don’t hear about – who’s helping the people we don’t know about?

There have been many occasions in my life when I’ve felt unsafe and it’s been my own thoughts that have been working against me. Mental health crisis is hard to explain, trying to explain what it’s like being suicidal is like trying to describe colour to someone who’s been blind from birth.

Being suicidal feels like all your senses have been taken away included your senses of dignity, perspective and reality, it feels like one by one everyone is giving up on you and this makes sense because the situation is completely hopeless; you’re a worthless human being with nothing to live for, gradually the grey numbness you’ve been feeling for a while turns to an active hot feeling of desperation – “whatever this is, it is unbearable and it just has to end.” Eventually calmness and serenity is felt once a plan to end the suffering is in place. (At least, this is what it was like for me.)

So, this lockdown (in whatever form it’s taking in the country you’re in) is designed to prevent the spread of a virus but at what cost? I‘m definitely not saying we shouldn’t be following government advice – I’m the first to do as I’m told! What I am saying is we need to ensure we look after our physical and our mental safety.

Specific links about how to look after our mental health during the lock down can be found at the bottom of the page.

A “place of safety” is somewhere designed to help an individual through a mental health crisis, to support them while they’re feeling suicidal, to prevent them carrying out any plans they may have made to end their life. Usually this is a specialist mental health unit but it can be A&E or a police station. Unfortunately I have been detained in a police cell; I was scared, yes, but realising I was too unwell to make decisions about my care myself, it was a relief that they took over responsibility for my safety when I couldn’t do it myself.

I recently returned to therapy because my mental health has been challenged. For me, the therapists room is a place of safety because it’s somewhere I can be myself. Most people are different versions of themselves in different environments but when suffering with mental illness most people are familiar with the feeling of putting on a mask. Most of the time this mask ensure the world has no idea what’s going on underneath. At work I’m professional, competent Frances; socially I’m friendly, pleasant Frances etc. In the therapy room, my therapist doesn’t judge me for being anxious, confused, angry, annoyed – it’s safe to take my mask off.

As the weeks of this pandemic drag on, people start to talk about cabin fever or “going stir crazy”. These phrases refer to feelings of being cooped up too long. This place that was meant to be keeping us safe has become a prison! This is exactly why most lockdowns include being permitted to go out for exercise and it’s vital to take advantage of this if possible. If it’s not possible, sitting in the garden or by an open window as often as possible is really important.

So, if you’re doing as the government has asked and you’re staying at home, thank you for keeping your community safe from the virus. But it’s really important to spend some time thinking about what makes you feel mentally and emotionally safe:

  • Keeping busy? – try learning something new
  • Seeing friends and family regularly? – connect with them however you can.
  • Having time and space to yourself? – timetable 15-20 “me time” in a separate room and let other people in your household know that’s what you’re doing.
  • Keeping familiarity and routine? – build some habits into your day to build a new routine.
  • Having freedom to move around? – use the permission to exercise daily if possible.
  • A hug? – whether it’s someone you live with, a pet or a cuddly toy it’s ok to to give it a really good squish everyday!
  • Having autonomy and control? – focus on what you can control not what you can’t. I find the serenity prayer helpful!

If you’re feeling unsafe or uneasy, can you work out what’s missing? Whether it’s about feeling empowered and in control or being allowed to be vulnerable and looked after for a short time. Perhaps at the moment it’s not easy to get exactly what we need but can you simulate it? Maybe we don’t have freedom to move around but how about planning a holiday for when it’s over because, this is going to end. We don’t know when, but it will.

It may also be important to take things out of your daily routine that is harmful to your mental and emotional safety. These links provide really good hints and tips for looking after your wellbeing during this time of uncertainty.

Specific links:

  • Mind – a wide variety of information including managing wellbeing, work, anxiety and social care rights
  • Beat Eating Disorders – really good specific questions related to managing eating disorders and recovery
  • Mental Health Foundation – information including mental health tips, relationships, finances and talking to children

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Please don’t judge how I eat my bread

How often are we reminded “not all disabilities are visible”? Yet I’ve heard too many stories of people who need to use the accessible toilet being tutted at as they exit. You can’t see a stoma, you can’t see urinary urgency, you can’t see menorrhagia – it’s none of your business why someone needs to use the accessible toilet.

Have you ever given the person stepping out of their car in the “blue badge” car parking space a sideways glance? You can’t see COPD, you can’t see autism, you can’t see chronic fatigue. There are plenty of people who need to use the disabled spaces who don’t use a wheelchair, it’s not your place to police of the blue badge scheme.

I felt mortified as I nibbled the inner soft section of my bread roll when in a posh restaurant. I repositioned the crusty portions back together because I felt embarrassed I couldn’t finish the beautiful handmade roll. I don’t know what the chef thought when the waitress took my plate back to the kitchen. They probably thought I was just another fussy customer, I doubt they guessed I had a fractured jaw! Sucking the soft inner portion of the bread caused excruciating pain, there was no way I could chew the crust! (I didn’t know I had a fractured jaw at the time – I wouldn’t have gone to a posh restaurant if I’d known!)

Do you feel frustrated with your grumpy colleague?

Did you think the lady in front of you at the checkout overreacted when the cashier made a mistake?

Do you wonder why that person never joins in at your hobby group?

Perhaps you think your neighbour is a bit odd? You maybe fed up of them not cutting their hedge/parking their car in an awkward position/being loud late at night etc…

Maybe you think there’s no excuse for rudeness but my point is that we can never truly know what’s going on for someone else. All sorts of things can make someone act in a particular way but who are we to judge someone else?

You know what I really hate?! People who tailgate! But you know what? I’ve stopped judging them. I don’t know what’s happened to make them try to push me along the road faster than the speed limit. Maybe they’re trying to get a labouring woman to hospital? Maybe their dog threw-up before they left for work and made them late and their boss will unreasonably fire them for being late once? I could curse and get angry but why waste my energy?

I’m often asked why I’m so quiet. It’s because I’m listening. Everyone has a unique story to tell. I’m fed up of being judged. Listening to each other leads to understand, understanding leads to compassion. How much nicer is to have compassion for one another rather than judgment? All we need to do is listen!

Perhaps you could ask your colleague if there’s anything you could do to lighten their load? They might open up about why they’re feeling grumpy, they might just tell you to ***off but the fact that you tried but be the best thing that happened to them that day!

Instead of tightening you clique at your hobby group, invite the shy attendee in, they might not say much so what’s the harm? Inclusion rather than exclusion is so much kinder.

That awkward neighbour?! I think it’s safe to say, most people have at least one tricky neighbour! Sometimes you need to think outside the box! Perhaps take round a bottle of wine or invite them for a BBQ? At some point, try to talk about the tricky issue but remember, until you hear their story, try not to make assumptions, you don’t know why they’re behaving the way they do!

Woman looking out the window calmly

Should we be normalising mental illness?

Awareness around mental illness is certainly getting better, reducing stigma and discrimination is important but are we doing the general population a disservice?

1 in 4 mental health awareness. 4 silhouettes, 3 are blue and 1 is has words such as “there’s too much to do” and “why does it always happen to me?”

The figure is 1 in 4 people will suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives. There are also statistics out there about how many anti-depressants are prescribed each year or the number of sick days mental illness costs companies. Some say “mental illness is on the rise”, perhaps due to the state of our economy, social media or life stresses from other sources.

But, perhaps we need to stop and think. Not coping is different from mental illness.

Talking recently to someone working in Child and Adolscent Mental Health, she said she is seeing a rise in children being referred to her service but this is not due to a rise in mental illness, she is seeing a rise in children not coping and a decrease in resilience.

This seems to be the same across all sector of the population.

The phrase “panic attack” has become synonymous with feeling anxious. Now, I do not want to diminish anyone’s anxiety but if you’re stood in a queue in the supermarket “having a panic attack” but you “kept it in” – you did not have a panic attack. You may have experienced extreme anxiety, and I’m not saying that is ok, you may need to learn some techniques to manage feeling anxious but please do not use a medical phrase for a normal emotion.

An outline head and shoulders with thought bubbles saying, “worry”, “anxiety”, “fear”, “tension” and “panic”.

The language around mental illness is diffciult because they’re standard English words. You can feel depressed without being diagnosed with depression, you can feel paranoid without suffering panaroia (a symptom of mental illness), you can feel anxious without having a diagnosis of anxiety. By raising awareness, we’re making all these words more accessible and they’re falling into common use. But bandying medical words around in common parlance diminishes their meaning in the context of illness.

If you suffer severe fluctuations in emotions that feel uncomfortable, please do talk to someone, you are allowed support, I do not want to take that away from you. After all, apparently Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. You do not have to be ill to access support, explore yourself and your life and to develop better coping strategies. Nor do you need to justify your struggles by using medical terminology.

I started training to be a counsellor because I want to help people diagnosed with mental illness but the more I learn, the more I see how incredibly helpful it can be for people who’re struggling with life’s ups and downs. It’s ok to seek counselling or other support when things just don’t feel right.

Words on a rainy back ground, “it is perfectly okay to admit you’re not okay”

It’s great that people are getting more comfortable in talking about their emotions but we need to be able to differentiate between people who’re struggling and people who’re ill. It’s ok to say “I’m having a bit of a tough time” or “I’m not feeling so great today” – the #hashtag #itsoknottobeok is falling into common use and this is helpful for everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

If you’d sprained your ankle, you wouldn’t say you’d fractured it, put it in a cast and use crutches would you? A sprained ankle needs appropriate support. If I had a sprained ankle but I acted as though it was broken and treated it as such, i.e. immobilised it etc, it would get worse, not better.

By normalising mental illness and by normalising the language, we risk normal struggles being treated as illness. Since recovering from mental illness, I’m not immune from normal life struggles but I’m acutely aware they are just that.

By raising awareness of mental illness, we need to be careful we don’t label all emotional struggles as “illness”. We need to make sure we’re also raising awareness of the differences between illness and not coping.

Quote “The unexamined life is not worth living” accredited to Socrates. On a black and White Sea scape background