Writing the blues . . .

Belfast Book Festival

Headcase has just come back from the Belfast Book Festival, as part of a talk by creator Liz Fraser and poet and academic Carolyn Jess-Cooke about writing…and depression.

The link between writing and mental illness is well documented, and the list of famous, depressed writers - many of whom have documented it in their work - is (depressingly…sorry!) long.

There are few firm statistics about the exact numbers or proportion of writers who experience mental health problems, but certainly there’s a bank of evidence to suggest that writers have depression or manic-depression more often than non-writers.

The first question this apparent link raises, in my mind, is one of chickens and eggs.

Because in the big melting pot of life, one must be sure to know which is which.

Nobody wants to be served a boiled chicken or a roast egg.

And so the question is this:

Are people already with depression, or depressive tendencies, just more likely to be creative types like artists, musicians, and writers?

Or does the writing itself, or the lifestyle of a writer, CAUSE depression.

belfast bookfest

Here is a TV interview about it, which starts at 1 min 26 seconds.

https://vimeo.com/130357326

And this is a list of little tips that might just help any of you out there who writer, or just work alone or are self-employed, so help stave off the blues:

  • Get outside every day. Every day!! Even a 5-minute walk can make ALL the difference to the way you feel.
  • Get some exercise. Endorphins are your friends.
  • Have a regular sleep pattern.
  • Eat well.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Go out and SEE PEOPLE.
  • Write in cafés! One conversation with someone in a queue or sitting next to you can brighten up your whole day.
  • Hire a desk in a communal writing place.
  • Use social media to chat with people, and stop feeling isolated. A good laugh on Twitter can rid many a dark writing gloom.

If you have your own tips and ways of avoiding the writing blues, we’d love to hear from you.

Drop us a line and let us know!

The Headcase Team. 

 

 

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Keep talking…

 

blank face

After the very sad news of Robin Williams’ death, there has been a predictable - and understandable – slew of articles about depression and suicide, and the issues around them.

The strange contradiction between the outward smiles and inner sadness. The internal battles. The ‘demons’.

The frustratingly inexplicable nature of it all.

Concepts and feelings so alien and confusing for those who have never experienced them…and so horribly familiar and frightening for those who have, or still do.

And amidst all the outpouring of sadness, and the expression of what genuinely feels like the love and loss of a man who entertained and influenced millions of people, there have, as ever in these situations, been the blamers.

Those who still see suicide as a selfish act. 

I probably shouldn’t, but I do feel shocked that there are still people who think that.

Who can only see it as a weakness, a failure, and a cruel, selfish act.

And to them, I can only say this:

Just as it is not selfish to die of cancer, so it is not selfish to die of depression.

The sufferer doesn’t kill him or herself; the depression, and its associated exhaustion and pain, does.

We must carry on talking, learning and teaching, until depression is seen for what it is: an illness, that needs careful treatment and support.

And that sometimes, tragically, even with all the available help in the world, and when it seems so beatable…..just isn’t.

And just as with other illnesses, nobody who has fought so long and hard to beat it, should ever be blamed if they can’t.

 

If you need some help or support, please see the links page on this website, and use them.

And please spread this far and wide, and let’s keep the conversation going, to keep changing the face of mental health forever.

Thank you.

Liz.

 

liz-fraser.com

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Happy splashing

swimmer divingI just stumbled across this piece about the positive effects of swimming, where depression and mental health is concerned, and thought it might be of interest to many of you.

Though to be honest, I think the positive effects of looking at a photo of a very fit young man’s almost-naked bottom may be what first drew me to it.

Aaanyway. Where were we?

Oh yes. Swimming.

Much has been written about the benefits to mental heath of exercise, and it’s something I will be posting more about on Headcase in the coming months; but there really does seem to be something special about being in water, and its healing and well-being properties.

Many-a-time when I’ve felt low or withdrawn or just not quite well, I’ve forced myself to go for a swim, especially outdoors in cold water, and despite not wanting to go in AT ALL…..every time I’ve come out feeling a thousand times better than before I bravely took the plunge and screamed like a baby doing a bungee jump, just before hitting the water and being numbed by the shock.

Ahh, it’s all fun.

So here’s the piece. It’s a link to an article which links to an article which links to things…but the message is still a useful on, and it might JUST have convinced me to make a trip to the local pool this evening…
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/08/04/how-swimming-reduces-depression/

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Let’s get naked…

Naked Scientists

Headcase has been on the airwaves recently, taking part in a discussion on the FABULOUS Naked Scientists podcast. Presented by our very own Hannah Critchlow, this edition answers listeners’ questions, including:

  • Can chocolate make you happy?
  • Why are mental health problems so common now?
  • When is the right time to take anti-depressant medication?
  • What should you do if you feel anxious every day?

And many more! Click here, to listen to the podcast.

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I have the Niagara Falls on my face…

sad facescreen time It’s been a little quiet here at Headcase for the last couple of weeks. This Screen Silence, for which I apologise with the greatest of Humble, is because the person who runs it (that would be me…) and helps others talk about their mental health and feel better, has been feeling Very Not Good Indeed.

(This is possibly not the correct psychological term, but roll with it. It also means I win the ‘Oh The Irony!’ Award for best, umm…irony. Hurrah.)

Yes, for the last month or so I’ve looked a bit like the helpful illustration above, but a little less yellow. And with more hair.

I get this from time to time. I just cannot stop feeling enormously, overwhelmingly, debilitatingly SAD. This sadness is combined with feeling really ill, aching all over, being fevered and having no energy, and needing so much sleep I make hibernating dormice look hyperactive.

Oh, and I cry. A LOT.

The crying comes without warning, and in the kind of floods that merit their own TV documentary.
It can start within minutes of waking up. And again in the middle of the morning. At lunchtime. And at night. And most times in-between.

I can still go out, talk to people, laugh and smile and drink coffee and do my job and be generally extremely jolly…but the second I walk away the face-tidal-wave starts again. I have to wear mascara that’s so waterproof penguins order it in bulk.

I can even cry when I’m out running, which is pretty bloody difficult because my throat closes up and I can’t breathe. I’m pretty sure Mo Farah doesn’t use this as a Top Training Technique.
And it also looks really flippin’ weird.

Niagara Falls

When I’m sad, my face looks like this. Really, I should charge tourists to come and have a look at it, and offer little boat trips to the ends of my nostrils.

It feels as if my body is desperately trying to empty itself of that little-known UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bottomless Lake of Sadness…but never gets any emptier. (If only there were a clue in the title…)

It’s just fabulous.

And at these times it feels impossible to imagine a time when I won’t cry any more. There just IS no state of not crying, or wanting to cry, available to me.

Eventually, thank goodness, it stops. And then I feel un-sad again, and I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to cry.
I mean….was THAT all about?? The sun is out. Coffee exists. You have the entire new series of The Big Bang Theory on your TiVo box, and your children don’t hate you enough to have run away from home yet – WHY were you crying??

Well….because I JUST WAS.  My body and head are very sad, and they are allowed to be.

You see, one useful thing I’ve learned about this occasional outpouring of Epic Sadness – in no way related to ‘feeling a bit sad sometimes’ – which I share with you here in case it helps you, is that sadness is a THING, and it’s sometimes much better to accept that state, than fight it. To realise what it is, let it exist, and BE SAD for a while. Just allow it to be, give it its time, and let it happen.

let it be

This is the first few bars of ‘Let It Be’. It’s sort of unsubtly symbolic, here. And also quite fun to play on a xylophone, if you have a spare hour or five.

We’re not very good at dealing with sadness, in our culture. It is always seen as a ‘bad’ emotion. Something to try to stop immediately, and get rid of.
But actually sadness is a natural state of being, just like happiness, anger, fear, excitement, desire and so on.

It’s a sign of something happening inside – perhaps worries or stresses or even things of which we’re not aware – and this is the way it shows itself.  And it’s important not to fear it, or deny it, but to know what it is, learn to spot and understand the triggers, and give it its moment.

(Though after a few weeks, like any visitor, I tend to try and show it the door. Nice to see you, thank you for coming, but please move along now….)

Mid pit-of-gloom, I asked our resident psychologist, Wendy Dignan, what she thought about sadness from a professional perspective, and if she had any tips for understanding it better.

Here are her thoughts:

Wendy Dignan

Unfashionable Sadness

It’s incredible to witness the change in the public’s perception of mental health over the last few years. In the UK we are slowly absorbing the mental health mind-set that we see portrayed by the multitude of American media we all encounter on a daily basis. Gone is the good old British ‘stiff upper lip’ and although I’m not sure we will ever be as welcoming to therapy as the American public seem to be, we are as a culture becoming much more open about seeking help with our mental wellbeing.

I’m beginning to see a bit of a trend emerging that I feel is based on our new heightened awareness of mental wellbeing, that is being reinforced by media and celebrity; its unfashionable to be sad. Whilst we British are much better at expressing our emotions, the emotion that I see people sweeping aside as if it’s not allowed is that of sadness. I’m wondering if all this focus and spotlight on emotions means that people feel that embracing mental wellbeing means that they have to be happy all the time?

At the risk of using the word ‘normal’ ……its ‘normal’ for all of us to cycle through a huge range of emotions on a daily basis including negative ones. If you imagine an axis plotting your mood level with positive numbers being positive emotion and negative numbers being ‘less happy’ emotions, when you join the points up the line will loop up and down. It may be ‘unfashionable’ to feel sad but it is a very ‘normal’ mood state that all of us should feel from time to time.

If you have a think about what your ‘mood chart’ might look like and feel that your line goes below the horizontal axis too often, more often than when you are feeling positive and happy, then treat this as important information.

Try to think about WHAT makes you sad, what are the triggers and what can you do about the triggers to change them?

Emotions are there for a reason, use them wisely.

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Headshots 9.

I don’t usually comment on Headshots, but there was something special about this one.

They they were, sitting on the steps in the sun, talking and laughing, relaxed and happy together. Both so beautifully young and brimming with possibilities and of a full, exciting life to come.

When I asked Alex, a warm, open-faced young man, energetic and friendly, articulate and charming, the same question I ask of all Headshots,
‘Have you every had a time in your life when you don’t feel OK in your head?’, his answer stunned me.

This has happened so many times while doing Headshots. The contrast between the public face, and the private struggle.

People have opened up and told me their secrets, their hidden problems and struggles. Each one different. Each destroying a life. 

But one thing is said over and over again; WE MUST TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH MORE. 

Because if we know more about it, and understand it . . . we can beat it.

******

DSCF3935

Alex.

I had to leave Oxford University last year on the grounds of depression.

It built up after my exams last year; I was heavily depressed, couldn’t function, do anything, or exist normally without really struggling with it all, every day.

I tried my GP, the counselling place here, but it all spiraled, and everything was getting way over my head. It developed very quickly, and I had to leave.

I wish I’d known what it was.

Looking back it was so obvious, symptomatically, that I was very ill. But I had no idea.

Had I been better educated about it, I could have got help much earlier. That could have prevented things getting so bad.

As soon as I realised it was a metal health issue I could deal with it, and get better.

The more that can be done to put it in the limelight and talk about it, the better.

I’ve been great for a year, and I’m back now; both back here, and back to myself again.

It feels fantastic.

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Climbing out of an eating disorder. . .

I’m often stuck by how much those who recover from a mental health problem want to help others to do the same. 

It’s a recurring theme in many of the guest posts and Headshots on this website; ‘I want to help others to get over this thing too…’

Discovering the LIFE out there once your head-wobbles have gone is so bloody fantastic, it’s hard not to want to shout and scream it from the rooftops, overwhelmed by a desire to enable everyone else to also feel this life-bringing liberation and freedom from the Demons.

And hearing other people’s stories of recovery really CAN help to you get over your own problems, and finally start to beat them. 

One lady who is shouting her words of encouragement not just from the rooftops but the mountaintops of the world, is today’s Guest Blogger:

Alex Nemeth

Alexandra Nemeth,30, London

My eating disorder started in Secondary school.

I was very active and sporty, tall and thin, but the pressure and expectations were very high at both school and at a dance company I had joined.

One day after dance practice, I overheard one of the teachers saying I should lose more weight. Some of my friends heard this too, and they all came to talk to me and advised against it.

But I was the new one and the youngest. I also knew we were all competing for places, and eventually for jobs.

I started eating less and less, and even the little food I had in my tummy was still making me nervous so I made myself sick.

I noticed in PE classes that I was getting weaker and couldn’t perform at school either.

After about 6 months my parents noticed my weight loss, they thought it was due to my busy school and after-school schedule.

It got to the point that my dad had to carry me to the GP, where I had to face the brutal truth: if I didn’t start eating and kept it in, I was going to die.

There wasn’t a group or a skilled person to talk about my eating disorder so we did what the doctor said – focus on eating my favourite food, small but more portions each day.
I got a Kcal scale and had to measure it in everything I ate to make sure I ate between 1500-1800 then 2000kcal later.

Slowly, I got better.
I don’t think my body has fully recovered yet, but I am much stronger in mind.

Photography and mountaineering are my greatest passions now, and I’ve been a professional photographer since 2011. The morning I spent on the top of Gokyo Ri in the Himalayas, capturing the sun emerging behind the tallest mountain in the world, was the best moment of my life.

I’m so glad I recovered from my eating disorders enough to be able to see it, and many other beautiful things too.

Now it’s my turn to help others.

****

Alexandra will be attempting to climb the Seven Summits – the highest mountains of the seven continents – within the next two years, to promote health and wellbeing, and to reach out to young people with eating disorders.

A UK and a Hungarian-based eating disorders charity will receive 10% from each photograph sold by Alexandra at exhibitions after her climbs.

Only 350 people have ever managed it, and of those only there were British women.

To see some of Alexandra’s work, and to contact her about the climb, please see

http://www.alexfineartphotography.com

For more information and support about eating disorder, go to http://www.b-eat.co.uk

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Guest Blog. Bipolar disorder, and diagnosis.

mask

One of the most difficult things about mental heath problems is diagnosis.

Without a correct diagnosis it’s almost impossible to get the correct treatment, so vital for recovery or just being able to live a normal daily life; but, of course, mis-diagnosis helps nobody, and can actually lead to even greater problems.

This post, by a reader in Australia, beautifully and encouragingly illustrates the difference a correct diagnosis can make, and also how well those of us who live with periods of Black can hide it behind our masks; from ourselves, and from those around us.

And how hard – but important – it is to take that mask off, get to know the face behind it, and start to make it feel better.

 

sunlightJohn.

“It seems, from my GP’s perspective, that Bipolar II disorder is the ‘New Black’ in mental health diagnoses.

From my perspective, suffering this malady has been one long blackness; though for over a decade we thought it was ‘just’ depression.  I was despairing more and more at treatments not working – now we know perhaps why…

Finally having a diagnosis and management strategy is somewhat liberating.
If, nonetheless, still disturbing.

In Type I bipolar, the swings from highs to lows are, apparently, quite dramatic and thus obvious to any trained observer.
In my case, Type II bipolar has, across the past decade or so, seen me experience some satisfying and gratifying moments in the grip of my muse – writing and performing songs, poetry and prose, and photography; not to mention creativity in the kitchen and home more generally.

Good times in hedonistic pursuit.

But seeming normality have been my highs. I’ve also spent long periods in a deep funk, with suicidal moments, much confusion and despair – every day seems to have me wondering what I’m doing here…  I lived in dread of one day answering, ‘well, no reason…’

The lonely darkness of depression is no-one’s friend, but it is a place where you need friends.
And a place in which friendship, that two-way process, is compromised by your own despair, by doubt and by misery. 

I found, for a while, recreational pursuits allowed me some escape from the realities of the world.  But I could never run far or hard enough – they awaited my return with their wicked grin and hand rubbing.

I became a master of disguise – a mask for any moment; for work, for friends, for lovers, for family; even psychologists.

But mostly a mask for myself; the most insidious deception.
Mask is hard; it seems a hopeless struggle to remove it when it becomes your own visage. 

Only now, with a diagnosis and a sense of hope borne of a management strategy, will I perhaps have again access to that distant, strange world other people call ‘reality’.

I want to face me, without a mask.
This is my new challenge; and with a fresh understanding of reality, with support from mental health services, my GP, my family and friends, perhaps my suicidal thoughts will disperse into the ether and plague me no more.

I hope through honest advocacy, to help those who struggle day to day, to somehow unlock their own understanding of what their mental health struggles mean to them and to their friends, families and social circles.  To help our society lose the stigmatising response to all mental health struggles.”

Join the Conversation on Headcase, and make a difference.

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Headshots 8

 

headcase 8Kanka

I would say the one time that I wasn’t totally OK in my head, was before what I thought was a really major exam.

I kind of broke down the night before the exam. My mind was all over the place. I guess people would call it a panic attack.

Breathing was quite difficult. I felt my heart racing and I couldn’t make it stop, I couldn’t put a string of thoughts together, I was stammering a lot.

I called a friend but couldn’t speak properly.

We really do need to talk about mental health more, so that people know what is going on when they have something like this, and understand what it is, and can ask for the right help, and deal with it better.

It’s not a failure. It’s just a part of life.

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The anxiety sufferer’s mantra.

When my anxiety was at its peak, I lived in fear of the fear. 

I would do anything to avoid putting myself in a situation where I could, just possibly, have an anxiety attack. 

No underground, no lifts, no escalators, no George Clooney.
Nah, just kidding. Lots of George Clooney. In my alone-time. . .

But of course all this did was make everything worse, and my anxiety greater.

I will blog about this more in my next stupendous (and very overdue…sorry!) edition of the Panic Diaries, coming later this week. 

But this post from our resident Psychologist Wendy Dignan will strike SUCH a chord with many of you who have experienced anxiety. . . and offers lots of hope. 

We LIKE hope.

I especially identify with the part about avoiding supermarket queues.
Thank goodness for self-checkouts…!

what if

 

“Strange title, I know, but people who suffer from anxiety spend their lives contemplating this question. Anxiety sufferers blight their lives wondering ‘what if?’

Anxiety always seems to be the lesser known sibling to depression, in that more people tend to understand and accept depression as being a fact of life, while fewer people understand what anxiety is all about.

Most drivers will know what I mean what I tell them to imagine that horrible feeling you get when you realise you’ve narrowly missed hitting another car; you feel as if you’re going to be sick, life passes in slow motion and you are gripped by a paralysing fear as if you are about to die……anxiety sufferers feel this horrific feeling many times a day and spend their lives trying to avoid feeling like this which becomes part of the problem.

queue

Let me give you an example; if you feel anxious in the supermarket queue one day, chances are you will do your best to avoid standing in that queue again.

You may decide that you can’t risk standing in any queue in case you have a panic attack in front of strangers.
In fact you may decide that being out in public is just risky generally, it makes you feel terrible and you constantly think about all the ‘what ifs’.
So you come up with what you decide is the best solution…….you’ll avoid going out where there are people in order to keep yourself ‘safe’.

The problem with this strategy is that your ‘safe bubble’ starts to get smaller and smaller and you never actually get to disconfirm that these ideas are not true because you are so busy avoiding things that could be anxiety-inducing.

I absolutely hate seeing people who have been stuck at this point for years with no idea how to stop this cycle happening, especially when there is something really effective that can help.

going in circles

You may not want to hear this, but your mind has created the anxiety, so you already have what you need to sort it out.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy  is one of the best thing for overcoming anxiety, and I have seen many of my clients rid themselves of their anxiety using CBT.

You CAN get over the ‘what if…’ and start living life fully again.

http://www.wendydignan.co.uk

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