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cPTSD Mental Health Problems Mental Illness

Unearthing silver-linings

Who’d have thought we’d be in this position? We’ve been locked-down since the middle of March and life as we knew it has been turned upside-down.

The covid-19 pandemic has been a real roller-coaster of emotions for many. There have been unimaginable losses, a myriad of changes and acknowledgement that life may never be quite the same ever again.

Like many, I have been working from home for the past two months, and staying at home where possible. Although it has obviously been a real change to my daily life, there have been some unexpected positives that have come from all of this. I’m fortunate enough to be able to access therapy over video-calls, and being locked-down is reducing any outside stresses, allowing me to really focus on getting the most out of my sessions. It’s been one of the little silver linings I’ve seen peeking through, and I am going to grab this opportunity to reflect, heal, and learn with both hands.

My mental health story is something I have shared on no superhero before, but last year was a really pivotal time for me. I was diagnosed with complex PTSD (cPTSD, CPTSD, C-PTSD). Obtaining this diagnosis was key for me, as it helped me to start the long process of unravelling the mechanisms behind my mental health, my beliefs and my behaviours. 12 months on, I am acutely aware that this process will not be an easy one, nor a quick fix. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort. One day I’ll share a little bit more about cPTSD and my experiences, symptoms and story. But for now, as I sit in my flat surrounded by the things that spark happiness, warmth and love, I am feeling like I’m at a Good Point in my journey. It is possible to find some light amongst the dark. It is possible to unearth those silver linings. And I am going to make the most of them showing through.

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Anxiety awareness Books and Literature Depression disabilities General health and well-being Mental Health Problems Mental Illness OCD Product Review Things I'm loving

‘The Girl Who Took a Rocket to the Moon & Other Stories’*

Mental health.

It’s something we all have. Yet none of us seem to want to talk about it.

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‘The Girl Who Took a Rocket to the Moon & Other Stories’ is a book, aimed at adults and children alike, that attempts to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, creating a conversation within which individuals can discuss their own issues with others.

Jenny Eckloff, who wrote the book after seeing a loved one struggle with their own mental health, has written seven short stories that encompass all aspects of mental health. From tackling anxiety, to depression, to panic attacks, Jenny’s book – illustrated by the talented Sammie Ripley – showcases stories that are relatable, yet often poignant.

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Though it capture the multi-faceted nature of the human emotional experience, the book is very accessible. The stories are short enough to be read easily, and would make a great bedtime story for little ones. They address panic attacks, depression and anxiety in an open, non-judgemental way, allowing the characters to overcome their difficulties and with the understanding that it is okay to talk.

A particular favourite of mine – ‘The Fallen Star’ – addresses the difficulties individuals have in seeking help, and encourages others to be there when individuals do reach out:

‘…maybe sometimes, stars need to fall and even though he couldn’t fix it, he just needed to be for it when it did…it takes great strength to ask for help…and it takes equal amounts to fix yourself.’

As someone who made that very first step in addressing my own mental health, these words were particularly resonating. It is hard to seek help, and even harder to actually help yourself. The glossary at the back of the book is a wonderful, concise resource that can be used explaining anxiety, panic attacks, depression and more whilst reading the stories.

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Reading Jenny’s book – alongside Sammie’s whimsical illustrations – is a really lovely, affirming experience, and would make a wonderful gift to those struggling with their own mental health, or the mental health of their loved ones.

Thanks so much to Jenny for letting me review your book: it truly is wonderful, and I hope you continue to break the stigma and taboo of mental health one story at a time.

You can follow Jenny on twitter @Reckless_Winter, see her website at http://www.jennyeckloff.com .

You can also look at more of Sammie’s wonderful illustrations over at: https://www.instagram.com/samsillustration/

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Anxiety Depression disabilities General health and well-being Mental Health Problems Mental Illness OCD

Happiness is…

…snuggling up in front of the fire, guinea pigs splashing around in a bubble bath, hot steamy showers, the wave of pain relief washing over me, making plans and chasing dreams, wrapping up in a toasty blanket, rain running down the window pane, sleepy smiles, cloudy winter mornings 

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Anxiety awareness Depression Mental Health Problems Mental Illness My Life OCD

Therapy: Letting Go

It’s been a while since I started CBT, and I recently had my final session. CBT, though essentially great, brings up some conflicted feelings. I suppose that’s inevitably the case with  any talking therapy, but as my CBT went on for almost three months, I feel like I really invested a lot into each session.

Therapy for mental health conditions can be really helpful, but – and as with any treatment – you can’t expect a quick fix. Admittedly, though I’ve had counselling before, when I first started CBT I didn’t account for just how hard I’d have to work and how emotionally draining I’d find it. Walking out of the first session I felt simultaneously overwhelmed and absolutely empty, and I remember walking around the nearest supermarket aimlessly and directionless, with what felt like a flick-book of every emotion I’ve ever felt whirring through my head. It did, of course, get easier over time, but I always found it difficult to snap back after each session. 

Each of my sessions were tailored to me each week, depending on the situations I found difficult, and the topics I really needed to address. I loved this part of the session, as we’d draw up an agenda and tackle the issues most important to me. Essentially, though, what each of my sessions boiled down to was working through my low self esteem and trying to recognise and acknowledge the good things I have done. Thing is, I get so blinded by feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and inadequacy that I completely ignore the good and positive things I have achieved throughout my life.

I also spent a considerable proportion of my sessions working through hypothetical situations that I often worried about, with the aim of learning to accept  that I cannot control everything in my life, and I cannot solve everyone else’s issues. This was a particularly challenging topic to address, but I feel like I made some really positive progress in learning to accept and work through these issues.

CBT also addressed what felt like a dirty little secret for far too long. Thing is, I always suspected i had OCD-esque traits, but I’d never actually been diagnosed. Along with the assessor prior to my CBT, we agree that I do have OCD that fluctuates from day to day. I have always been a stickler for routine, but I knew things were a bit unusual when I found myself checking clothes, and jewellery, and other things that really didn’t require constant checking, like whether my alarm was set or that my door was locked, even though I could see that the latch was on. It’s frustrating, because no matter how much I know that these things don’t need checking, I cannot resist. And if I try to resist, I feel an unstoppable anxiety bubbling up which can only be ‘quelled’ by checking. Of course this only reinforces the behaviour, which makes it a really hard cycle to break. I have worked on techniques to help, and I am noticing that I’m getting better, even if this progress is only slow. 

CBT provided some great coping mechanisms to work towards in order to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. These include keeping logs of activities that I’m particularly apprehensive about, or recalling situations that I found difficult and then examining mine – and other people’s – responses. Crucially this made me acknowledge that situations aren’t as bad as I expect them to be, and that working on evidence – and not speculation – is key to working towards a happier, less anxious life. 

Now that my CBT has come to an end, I’m facing the everyday struggles with a mixture of apprehension and pride. I’m proud because I’ve really improved, but apprehensive because I suddenly feel all alone. The relationship with your therapist becomes a really important one; they’re there on a professional level, to help you through what can sometimes be the most challenging times of your life, but they somehow become more than just a confidant as you build up a relationship with them. You open yourself up completely to them, and they are privy to some of your greatest fears, deepest emotions and darkest secrets. They become integral to working through your mental health issues, and  invest a great deal of time and effort in helping you. I feel a little bit lost facing the big, bad world on my own, but I am so grateful that my therapist has equipped me with the skills to tackle this on my own. 

I suppose I’m finding it difficult to let go. I know that I’ve only just embarked on my ‘journey’ (and no, I’m not keen on that explanation, but it’ll have to do) but I know it’s going to be a long, hard slog. My mental health does fluctuate, and dealing with my physical disabilities brings another layer of complexity to proceedings, but I’m positive that I’ll get there; whenever ‘there’ may be. 

I am letting go, and I am learning that I can do this on my own. I just need to prove it to myself. 

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Anxiety Depression General health and well-being Mental Health Problems Mental Illness OCD

CBT, OCD and Coming Clean

It’s been a good few weeks since I started CBT, and thought now would be the right time to share my experiences with you so far.
Since my mental health conditions are ongoing, I’ve had multiple assessments and this isn’t the first time I’ve had ‘talking therapy’ in order to help alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety and depression. When I initially presented with mental health problems, we decided counselling would be the best thing. Counselling is more about talking through the issues that are bothering you; CBT is working out how to change your behaviours and learning how to better rationalise your thoughts by searching for ‘evidence’, rather than clinging onto assumptions. Though I actually really benefited from counselling, it was the right thing for the time. I hadn’t explained my deepest, darkest fears before; I hadn’t confided in someone and told them all about my secrets and how I felt about myself and so on. And for that time, counselling was great. It gave me a voice, and provided that undivided attention I needed to address these issues and tackle my mental health head-on. Now I’m at a different stage in my life, and I didn’t feel talking about everything again would be beneficial right now.
This is where CBT comes in. The NHS defines CBT – or cognitive behavioural therapy – as ‘a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave’, and is particularly useful for ‘anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems,’ (NHS, 2014). Rather than just discussing your thoughts, emotions and resulting behaviours, you are actively developing coping strategies and methods to manage your behaviours, which are often unhelpful and perhaps increase feelings of anxiety/depression.
It’s quite a long-winded explanation, so I’ll try and illustrate with an example from my sessions:
Situation : Seeing deadline date in diary
creates
Thoughts and Images: of a bad mark, disappointing others, feeling unworthy and useless
These thoughts and images then produce
Emotions and Physical Sensations: ‘nervous tummy’, palpitations, impending sense of doom and anxiety.
as a result of these emotional and physical sensations, my behaviour changes:
Behaviours/What I did: withdraw, ruminate, ask for reassurance, plan rather than do, hide away from impending situation.
These behaviours then reinforce my Thoughts and images, and so the cycle perpetuates and continues. The idea here is to address the behaviour; it is very difficult to stop the thoughts, but I can stop behaving in an unnecessary and unhelpful way. So, rather than withdraw, perhaps I should focus on what I have done. Changing this focus involves taking into account my good marks, keeping an activity diary to show myself what I have achieved despite how I’m feeling. I know this sounds so simple, but I often get too blinded by my anxiety and depression that I forget what I have done. It helps me immensely to keep track of this.
If you’ve had dealings with anxiety, depression or similar conditions, you’ll know how troublesome assumptions can be. And when I’m at my worst, when the irrational thoughts pop into my mind, it’s so hard to get rid of them. My therapist is keen on getting me to realise that my assumptions – eg ‘people think I’m stupid – are just that; assumed, with no real evidence. Assumptions are largely negative, and don’t help anything, so I’m working on undoing that negative thought process and replacing it with something useful, instead.
Another thing we’ve identified during my sessions is the fact I have OCD -obsessive, compulsive disorder – and have been engaging in classic ‘OCD’ behaviours, including repeatedly checking. This was a bit of a revelation for me. Admittedly, I did wonder whether the checking I’ve been doing was normal, but I didn’t realise it was OCD. I tend to become fixated with checking various things, including checking locks on doors, both in my own place and when using bathrooms on campus, and sometimes this checking can go on for minutes. On a particularly bad day, I’ll go to check multiple times an hour, or wake up and check because I’m so anxious about whatever it is I’m checking. I also like to have certain items arranged in a certain way; the hangers on my clothes rails are often rearranged every night for fear of ‘ruined’ clothes. I am always worried about things breaking because I didn’t put them away properly, so jewellery is often checked and put back, and my alarms set, reset, checked, set, reset, checked…you get the idea. It’s strange. Thing is, I know these things aren’t actually useful, but at the time, checking things is the only way to rid myself of the anxiety. It’s complex, because the more you check, the more you find it difficult to not check. My therapist described these behaviours as coping strategies, as they help me to feel like I’ve regained control, even if it’s just momentarily. And even though I know my door locks as soon as you close it, it just isn’t enough. It’s like my irrational thoughts, and my unhelpful assumptions; I know it isn’t really helpful, but in that moment, and at that time, that’s all I can do to alleviate my worry.
Undoing these things will take time, and will have to be done step-by-step, but for now I’m feeling positive, and I’m hoping to get the most out of my sessions. I have another on Tuesday, and hopefully my progress will continue.
It feels good to be sharing my progress with you. This is a good way for me to see how far I’ve come, and hopefully I’ll be able to look back at these posts and feel proud. I haven’t always been upfront about things, particularly the OCD, and it’s time to just accept it and learn how to deal with it. Mostly I’m sorry that I hadn’t told Drew, or at least not enough. Hopefully I’ve rectified that.
It’s fairly stressful over this way, but as always, I’ll find a way.
Hope you’re doing well and look after yourself.
Heather x
ps: here is the link to the NHS page regarding CBT if it’s of any use:nhs.uk/Conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Categories
Anxiety Depression General health and well-being Mental Illness recovery Studying at University with Disabilities

Happiness is…

Snuggling up under the duvet, the smell of coffee in the morning, waking up early and having sun shine through the window, making new friends, getting things done, leisurely walks, helpful nurses at my hospital appointments, squeaking guinea pigs first thing in the morning, cooking, feeling positive

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Anxiety Depression General health and well-being Mental Illness

I am confused

I’m unsure whether I’ve had a mental health blip. I don’t know.

I wish I did know.

Yesterday was strange. I had a meeting with a disability officer and I ended up crying in front of her. I suppose the tears were a result of relief and sadness. I explained everything that was bothering me – preparing for the future, dealing with constant pain, worries about not completing my dissertation to a high standard – and I then felt really stupid for letting everything get to me. Hopefully I’m getting help with the pain management as she’s referring me to a course that’ll help me to deal with all the stress that chronic pain brings. I’ll just have to wait for that.

I spent the rest of the day with that familiar anxiety swirling round right in the pit of my stomach, but I persevered. I got on with stuff. I did everything I was supposed to.  In the evening went out for a drink and a catch up, and left feeling happy – completely at ease  – and everything was lovely. But today I’ve woken up feeling dreadful.

I have already cried. I have a seminar to attend this evening.

Whenever I go for my medication review I always forget these things. I tell my doctor that I’m doing fine – which is mostly true – but often forget to mention these crippling episodes of anxiety. My dreams are so vivid at the minute that I wake up genuinely convinced they were part of my waking life. I’ve never had dreams so lifelike before.

I’m just really confused. I’m dreading today; it’s awful outside and I’ll be coming home in the dark. I’m already wanting to get back into bed but I have reading to do and work to finish.

Even if I did get back into bed I’d feel too anxious to sleep or relax. I’m feeling a strange mixture of confused and ridiculous.

I hope it passes.

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Mental Illness My Life

Inadequate

I am struggling recently.

At the minute, I literally see no redeeming features in myself. I feel ugly. My acne is coming back. I hate the way my crooked spine looks in the mirror. I hate the way I get frustrated with the pain and cry. I hate the way I’m taking tablets to ease the pain and hate the way they don’t always work.

I hate the fact I cannot control my body, no matter how hard I try. I wake up in pain, and o fall asleep with pain.

I hate that my automatic response is to push everything I love away. I hate that I can’t concentrate on anything for more than five minutes at a time.
I hate that I’m at multiple hospitals and doctors appointments every week.
I have no faith in my academic abilities, or my social relationships, or any other extra curricular thing I attempt to do.

I hate that when I’m happy – or when there is a glimmer of happiness – that these thoughts come rushing back.

The ones that tell me I do not deserve happiness. I do not deserve success. I do not deserve love.

The ones that tell me, over and over, that I deserve this pain I’m in. I deserve this pain because I’m such an awful person.

I am just so fed up. I keep going round in circles and I can’t keep doing it. I can’t. This is all too much.

I just want to be far away from all this madness. Somewhere free of responsibility, free of doctors prescribing new medication or performing new treatments or trying their best to fix me.

I am just overwhelmed by how inadequate I feel.

I just want it to stop.

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General health and well-being Hull Bloggers Informative posts Mental Illness

My 2015 round-up

Hello there. Now it’s safe to admit that Christmas is well and truly over. The decorations and trees in people’s houses have come down, and there’s talk of spring cleaning and resolutions everywhere you go.

In light of the New Year I feel a need to look back on it and reflect a little.

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2015 was an odd year. There were fantastic highs, and terrible lows, and not really much in between.

Let me explain.

2015 saw me finally accept I needed help for my depression and anxiety. Initially, this was a terrible situation. My anxiety was without a doubt at its worst. I found it almost impossible to leave my house without Drew. And when things got too much, I couldn’t bear to even bump into my housemates so I deliberately altered my sleeping pattern to avoid people. Of course, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but things got so bad that every sound made my heart beat so fast. I’d wake up dripping in sweat, having been jolted awake by terrifying flashbacks to a traumatic time, and dealing with all this alongside chronic pain and third year was really very difficult. Though it was a definite low point, I’m pleased to say that things got better.

Because, what’s most important, is that I realised I needed help and made the decision to get it.

That’s a definite high point, because it was the best decision I ever made. Through a mixture of counseling and medication, I’ve managed to keep my mental illnesses under control.

2015 was also increasingly difficult with regards to chronic pain from my spinal condition and cerebral palsy. There were very bad days. So bad in fact that for a week or so my diet consisted of instant cuppa soup as getting up to cook things was just far too painful, especially when having to prepare things with my affected arm.

But, I am pleased to say that I made it through. And, in what feels like forever, I’m finally being listened to by doctors. For once I feel like people are listening. That people really do want to help. And as a result I’m seeing an orthopaedic consultant, neurologist, occupational therapist, physiotherapists, orthotists and having regular pain management. Though I know there will never be a cure for my cerebral palsy and spinal problem, I know I can look at managing their symptoms and getting the best out of my body. Slowly , and with the help of my occupational therapist, I’m learning to undo all that negative ableism that’s permeated my thoughts. I’m learning to accept that it’s okay when I can’t do certain things. I’m learning to accept that my best is more than good enough. I’m learning that I have achieved so much in spite of all these things and that I need to stop being so hard on myself. I’m finally learning to accept who I am.

It’s OK that I can’t always do things for myself. I’m doing my best, my absolute best , and that’s all I can ask for.

I certainly did my best in 2015 when I graduated from university with a BA hons degree in the summer. Those painful, long-winded nights in the library dosed up on codeine paid off. I did it, and for once I can admit that I did well. Here is a picture of Drew and I in our silly hats to prove it.

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I also got onto my MRes course at university, which is everything I hoped for and more. Fingers crossed I’ll be getting to wear that silly hat again once more!

2015 saw me getting more and more into my blogging. Blogging initially started as a way of achieving catharsis and discussing things I felt were important to me. 2015 saw my blogging continue to grow and I want to take the chance to say thank you for putting up with me! You’ve all been fabulous. You have no idea how much it means to me that people actually read what I write on here!

I also collaborated with some fabulous brands this year, which is absolutely amazing! I’d like to thank Personal Planner, Primula, Wren Kitchens, Al Porto, Ultradex, Nine to Five Heels and Stick to Stigu (just to name a few!) for the wonderful opportunities you have given me. It has been fabulous to work with you all and many thanks for your support!

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2015 also allowed me to continue making lots of friends through blogging. The summer event was absolutely fantastic and I’ve made some really lovely friends. I’m hoping that the #HullBloggers will go from strength to strength in 2016, and thank you all for being so lovely!

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It sounds a little silly but 2015 saw me get these two wonderful little things: my guinea pigs Smudge and Patch. They have provided so much joy through difficult times and I hope will continue to for as long as possible. They even made it into my doctors notes because they’ve helped with my well-being so much!

So though 2015 wasn’t the best in parts – there are some things perhaps a little too sensitive to mention on here that contributed to that – i am so thankful for the good times. I’m hoping to make 2016 much more positive now that my medication has been sorted out for everything and seems to be helping.

As always, thanks so much for reading if you have, and Happy New Year to you!

Look after yourself whatever you’re doing,
Heather X

Categories
Anxiety Depression Mental Illness My Life

Med Chat

Hi there. Hope your Sunday is going well wherever you are. Today Drew and I are having our own little Christmas, complete with Christmas sweaters , ginger bread houses, crackers and all the trimmings. You’ll just have to wait for all the details I’m afraid, but I have high hopes!

If you’ve been reading you might be aware that I’ve been using medication to keep the symptoms of my depression/anxiety under control. I started on fluoxetine which worked well to suppress symptoms, but unfortunately I had disturbing intrusive thoughts so my doctor and I decided to try something different called Sertraline. I’ve been taking it for about eight days now, and so far I feel okay; still having wobbles, but able to do the things I need to without panicking/crying all the time.

Medication for mental illness can be a controversial issue.

There are people who don’t believe in using medication, people who think of it as the ‘easy option’, people who couldn’t praise it highly enough, and there are people who don’t even think mental illness is necessarily a valid illness that CAN be treated with medication.

Like most young people, I’ve always been wary of medication.

From a young age I’ve been prescribed various medications to control pain in my spine, and some of these meds are strong and come with warnings and side effects. It has taken me a long time to accept having to use them. They are not the easy option: they aren’t necessarily good for you, they carry warnings of addiction, sleepiness, euphoria…the list goes on.

I didn’t want to ever become dependent on painkillers – and I still do my best to cope without them – but I don’t want to be made to feel bad for choosing to use them on bad days.

Pain, depression and anxiety can have a seriously negative impact on quality of life. Each of them usually accompany the other; the parts of the brain that deal with each are similar if not the same.

When I’m in pain, I’m depressed. When I’m depressed, I’m in pain.

Pain makes me sluggish, tired and lethargic. Pain makes me feel guilty because I can’t do ‘normal’ things. Pain makes me feel bad because I can’t pluck up the physical strength to tidy the house or cook or wash my clothes on bad days.

Depression, anxiety and chronic pain are a toxic mix.

Before I started medication for my mental illness I was an absolute mess. I could barely leave my room; the thought of having to see my housemates filled me with horror. It was nothing they had done; it’s just the anxiety/depression would convince me they hated me and that they didn’t want to see me, or hear me, or generally be around me.

You see, depression and anxiety can whisper nasty little lies in your ear. They make you feel worthless. Empty. Alone.

I’d do anything to avoid bumping into my housemates. I’d listen carefully to make sure I didn’t bump into them in the corridor. I showered when everyone had gone to bed. I couldn’t go shopping without Drew. I couldn’t cook, and didn’t always eat. When I made it into uni (with Drew walking me in) I panicked and wound up hysterically crying and having to leave, because the thought of being surrounded by people filled me with terror.

I was not the person I am now.

I didn’t want to stop to talk to people. I wanted to hide away from everything: so I did. The majority of my days were spent in floods of tears under the duvet.

It was a terrible time.

These episodes very rarely happen since I’ve been on medication. I have off days – of course – but I can definitely function. I CAN do the majority of things I need to do.

Shaming people who take medication to control their mental illnesses is not helping anyone.

I don’t believe any one has the authority to tell me when/why I shouldn’t take my medication. You might not agree with it, but it’s not your choice. It’s mine.

Medication has allowed me to feel (at the very least) a little bit like myself again.
I’m happy most days. I laugh. I smile. I tell rubbish jokes and I love doing my makeup and cooking and eating. I love watching documentaries and playing on my ds and reading books and discovering new things. 

Depression made me forget my love for these things.

I am no longer empty. I feel like a person; I have emotions – positive, happy ones – and at the height of my depression/anxiety I was a horrible mixture of sadness, emptiness, guilt and panic. Happiness was a distant memory, and I was unable to feel it.

You might not understand why I take medication to control my illnesses. You might not agree with it. You might even claim they’re just a placebo.

But if they help me, why question them?

You don’t necessarily know what goes on in my head, or what has happened in my life. It can be a dark, miserable place. And as long as medication keeps me feeling okay and allows me to live life, I’m going to take it.

All I’m asking is that people be a little bit more considerate. Don’t judge what you don’t understand.

I know this has been a little heavy, but it’s been weighing on my mind.

Have a great day wherever you are; chirpier posts will be up soon, I’m sure!
Heather x