Tag Archives: mental health

Thoughts on Chronic Illness

Daughter fall asleep waiting her mother in hospital

Recently a friend told me that she might have cancer.

Two lumps had appeared, one small, one big. The doctor immediately sent her for a biopsy. The cells were abnormal and treatment is needed.

The doctor was worried because she used to be a heavy smoker and overweight, two known risk factors.

She said the worse part was the torment of not knowing.

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Once she has a diagnosis, she can plan, but for now she has to wait, thoughts churning around about the future.

We discussed how she could manage it and even speculated as to what the result might be. I tried to reassure her, but there isn’t much I can say or do, other than telling her that I will be there for her, no matter what. She was experiencing an emotional storm of frustration, anger, sorrow and fear. She is a strong woman both mentally and physically, but nothing can prepare you for the shock of being told you have a long-term illness.

My friend is courageously dealing with an uncertain future. She said that her illness had helped her gain more focus and she will now attack her bucket list with a renewed vigour.

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In times of difficulty we need the courage to draw on our inner resources and access support networks. We may need to evaluate our perspective. In Buddhist philosophy, adversity is seen as the best teacher, a chance to learn from experience and emerge a stronger, wiser person.

So what have I learnt from the experience of my friends?

Firstly, the importance of living in the moment.

No one has a crystal ball. If we speculate about the future we only create fear and worry. This destabilises us and prevents us from being fully present to support friends in need. Everything is easier if we take a moment, slow down and just float on the river of life, wherever it takes us. Not accepting our reality is like trying to swim against the current; it wastes our energy and is futile.

Secondly, I need to be grateful.

We spend so much time focussing on what we do not have. We are constantly unhappy with the present and want more. We forget just how lucky we are. There is so much suffering in the world and, whilst we all experience peaks and troughs, somehow we escape the worst of it.

I would like you to take a moment to be grateful.

Be thankful for all the people in your life who guide and support you, your cheerleaders. Be thankful that you have mental and/or physical good health. But most of all, be thankful for the love and kindness of family and friends. Against all odds, love conquers all.

love

 

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The Naked Rambler Revealed

Yesterday I watched a BBC documentary on Peter Gough’s latest activism. Released from HMP Edinburgh, he was walking over 425 miles to Eastleigh, Southampton, once again trying to persuade us that nudity equals freedom.

A decade of intolerance and imprisonment has not deterred Peter. He even had to be put in solitary confinement for his own safety. People seemed to find him hilarious, as I did or offensive, with one Scotsman saying it was inappropriate given the Jimmy Savile enquiry. I don’t really see the link myself. If people find it offensive why don’t they look away, rather than wasting taxpayers’ money reporting him to the police. Time and time again he was arrested and then released.

What is so awful about being in our natural state anyway? If anyone has the balls to do it in public and in British temperatures I say why not. He even walked in the snow without getting hypothermia.

The real reason the public find Peter so offensive is because he is being “deviant” – that is, subverting societal norms.

You could see he was on a collision course for disaster when he walked towards a primary school at closing time. The cameraman was getting more and more agitated, warning him of impending police action but Peter kept insisting “my compass says this is South so I’m going South”. Sure enough he was arrested, with charges mysteriously dropped after months of custody. I suspect Peter’s fan club paid them off. One of them, Augustus,  joined him part of the way with an improvised loin cloth. It was like a bizarre version of the Emperor’s Clothes.

He hadn’t seen his children for seven years. Personally I’d be mortified if that was my father. It’s embarrassing enough when he wears his multicoloured “clown” pants. He says he’s showing his love of Fauvism but it offends my sense of taste. Peter’s mum couldn’t understand his “cause” and even Peter himself was rather muddled about it, merely repeating the words “democracy” and “freedom”. When he finally got down to Eastleigh he was given an Anti Social Behaviour Order again for going to the dentists naked. I had wondered why his teeth were so bad. He breached the ASBO twice and is currently serving a 16 month sentence.

MoS2 Template MasterIt was sad seeing the man he was before – an ex-marine and family man who took care of himself, to a nudist living on a family commune to now, almost the definition of a tramp with his scraggly wild beard and hair, his crooked teeth, a manic look and not an ounce of fat.

Apparently he was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation at a trial and no issues were found. His mental state was quite intriguing. Almost a thousand readers of an English newspaper agreed with a comment about him being mentally ill. The Scots seem more accepting however – Peter had no trouble on his latest stint there and comments on The Scotsman newspaper appeared largely supportive, with one reader daring him to do battle with the midges.

We can be naked at home, in changing rooms, in communal showers and even as a model in an art class but not anywhere else. It seems ridiculous that porn is accepted while naturism is seen as a cult. We’ve all seen it before, so what’s the big deal?

I do think it’s selfish to pursue the cause at the expense of seeing his children grow up. What do you think? Personally my only qualm is hygiene…

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Rituals – what are yours?

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Every evening if I have the time, I like to treat myself. It follows the same $(KGrHqF,!okFCfH0YIJ8BQonLu8fv!~~60_35pattern each time. I’ll heat up a wheat bag to soothe my cyclist muscles, make myself a herbal tea, or hot chocolate if I’m not feeling full (to ensure I’m not hungry at night) and take off my makeup, sometimes put a face mask on and apply night cream while watching a drama or absorbing documentary on catch-up TV online. Then when that’s over I read a magazine/newspaper as I brush my teeth. keep-calm-and-get-off-facebook-and-do-housework

These small things give me a great amount of satisfaction. It’s nice to have time out for yourself at the end of a day’s work and slowly wind down.

On Saturday mornings I also have a ritual. If it’s not raining I’ll go for a run. If it isn’t I meditate, for self-improvement and greater awareness. Then I’ll set about cleaning the house as much as I can before lunch. In this way I start the weekend feeling alive and happy.

What are your rituals?

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How to Feel Whole Again

Isn’t it strange how when someone you love is gone you feel like you’re missing half your heart?

So it was when I lost someone dear to me, when relationships ended, when I was single and longed for someone to hold and now, with my boyfriend away on holiday these past few weeks – that feeling of being incomplete.

It’s something we all experience. I was watching my guilty pleasure, Don’t Tell The Bride, last night and the couple were hearttearsdevastated to be leaving each other for three weeks, even though they were doing it to get married. The groom-to-be is given £12,000 to plan his future wife’s wedding, with hilarious consequences. In every episode there are tears, sometimes from both of them as they part. Because when someone we cherish leaves us we think of the space that opens up instead of rejoicing at the time we had together/looking forward to our next meeting. But it does make us appreciate them more as we realise how much they do/did for us or what an effect they have/had on our lives.

The only thing that makes my heart feel whole is when I am helping the lady I work with at the weekend. In focussing on her needs I can take the focus off myself. I can forget about the “I” and it makes me realise how selfish I am in daily life, always considering my needs before other peoples. This weekly meeting reminds me to think of others more, to be more considerate and to listen. Sometimes you can tell if someone is a carer. It can rub off on their personality.

So if you’re struggling to cope with loss, help others and keep busy.  Spend time with friends. With them you may miss that special someone less as you focus more on your current situation and surroundings. Missing someone is relating the space they leave behind with yourself and in doing so you don’t stay in the present and you don’t think of others.

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Pros and Cons of Unemployment

You’re probably wondering how there could possibly be any upsides to unemployment. But some of the negatives have a silver lining…

Negatives

1. Financial hardship

Most of us do not get much in benefits and every time you go shopping you have to be aware of your dwindling bank balance. You have to budget according to your reduced income.

2. Cold callers article-2167683-0C6EFE84000005DC-962_468x286

Thinking it’s that important interview call you rush to the phone, only to hear it’s some rude dimwit advertising something you have no interest in!

3. Daytime TV

4. Negative attitudes towards your job status snooty

Don’t listen to them though, it’s just ignorance.

5. Lack of company

Most people you know are working and you’re home alone noting down details of every job you’ve ever done and every qualification you’ve ever achieved.

Positives

1. You have more time

You may be busy filling in application forms and doing interviews, but in between you have time to enjoy yourself (albeit with free or cheap activities).

2. You can go to events during the week

I went to a lambing event yesterday, something I couldn’t have done if I was working. I saw piglets, I had a meerkat on my shoulder and saw a skink, armadillo and racoon for the first time! Unfortunately the 80 lambs were 4 days overdue and didn’t appear. We just saw a lot of grumpy sheep standing about, scoffing so much hay you weren’t sure which lump was baby and which was belly.

3. You learn/have to be more sensible with money images

As it runs out, you think of ingenious ways to save, such as living on tins and frozen food! You should minimise expenses or debt will be your enemy. You may start going to your grandparents for Second World War/post-war saving advice. In those days it was “waste not, want not”! We need to remember the wisdom of  previous generations facing harder times than we are in today.

4. You can enjoy the sunshine

I went for a run this week in the glorious sunshine under a bright blue sky and took in the scenery. Usually I’d be in an office during the week. You may miss the sun as you work, and when you get home you may be too tired to enjoy the fading light. Now you can enjoy daylight hours outdoors. You may have more energy to enjoy the day. You can get a good sleep with fewer early starts.

5. There is good support for Job seekers

Unlike other countries, we are lucky enough to have a welfare system. I have heard of free training courses which may help me find work. I have already made use of free interview training. People are generally understanding because they’re aware of the tough job market situation.

5948249-piggy-bank-squeezed-by-a-measuring-tape--concept-for-money-is-tight-budgeting-squeezing-money-out-ofTurn the negatives into positives

Money is tight, but when we do have it,  we may be thrifty enough to start saving or spend more wisely. Maybe you do a training course and edge out the competition to get the job. Your dream job is still out there, there are just more people applying for it, so you have to stand out from the crowd (this does not mean wearing a pink suit to an interview). You may have had more interview practice than employed people going for the same job so you may perform better.

Of course we all want a job, but when we fall on hard times it’s best to make lemons into lemonade, rather than eating them and getting bitter.

Another blog writer suggests throwing the lemons you’ve received back at life!
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is an expression meaning when life gives you negatives, turn them into positives.

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February 22, 2013 · 1:48 pm

Work Training Day

82203-343x343-Bad_morningToday I woke up at 7.30. This hurt as I normally do not have anything to get up at the crack of dawn for. After a coffee to ressurect me from the undead I went out into the snow. The roads were clear, so I left half an hour for a 25 minute journey. Once again I had the misfortune of a driver who waited behind buses instead of overtaking them, meaning that a 25 minute trip took 40 minutes.

When I got to the company, to my surprise, the main receptionist was unaware of where the course was in the building. She asked for the teacher’s name and I did not have it. I showed her the text I had received reminding me of it. She told me and another course candidate to go to the first floor and turn left. He was a young man with a round face and black hair. I was in an ironed shirt and work trousers, while he sported baggy black jeans and an Ed Hardy t-shirt proclaiming “LOVE KILLS SLOWLY”.

“A woman joked “why don’t you just have them, nobody else wants them””

We stood in a queue for a while, and I wondered where the teaching room was, as I couldn’t see one. Finally we got to the desk and there was a lot of confusion over what we were here for and where we were supposed to be. I showed them the text but it still did not help.

While they were deliberating amongst themselves a lady joked “why don’t you just have them, no-body else wants them”. Exactly the sort of ignorance from someone who is fortunate enough never to have been unemployed.

Eventually we were directed to the right floor. We were greeted by a tall angry blonde. She was a curvy lady wearing glasses and a skin-tight black dress. “You’re late” she informed us, “I’m not sure if I can take you. I’ll just check.”

She came back and said that she had been given permission to let us in. It emerged later that we were a full three minutes later than the 15 minutes allowed. We explained that we had spent this time being sent to the wrong floor and she apologised.

I hadn’t been looking forward to the training session. I pictured dropouts lounging back on the chairs smelling of weed, tobacco or poor hygiene in line with the standard Jobcentre experience. To my surprise this wasn’t completely the case.

We went round the room introducing ourselves and giving some history. First off was a suited, 50-something man with glasses. Bob was a sales manager with plenty of experience in different areas. He told us he had faced a lot of age discrimination and he believed this was stopping him getting a job because interviewers just looked at him as being ripe for retirement.

Next was Bogale, a Politics and International Development graduate who had been a maths teacher in Kenya and was originally from Ethiopia. He had been in the UK for four months but his English was pretty good. He was interested in being a Teaching Assistant.

Abdul had dropped out of an accounting and finance degree because he was going to live in Turkey, but it didn’t work out. He was keen to work in a call centre. He had worked for five years in a variety of jobs. His family ran a cake business in Iraq. He had a short black beard and was shy but laid-back, wearing a woolly hat and casual clothes.

Shabeeb had been a forklift driver for two years until he had been fired. He wore a cap, a big grin and casual clothes. He spent most of the class asking when we could have a break/go home/whether he had to be there the next day as well. He had a great sense of humour and made us all laugh.

Jamie was the guy I came up with. He was on a part-time I.T course at university and was looking for administration work.

Miss Bradley had done work in I.T, admin and sales and was a DJ by night. She was slim with long dark curly hair and a ready smile. She had been forced to drop out of university due to a custody dispute with her “psychotic” ex-partner. It reminded me of my experience of working in family law.

Ms Begum was a full-time mum and had worked at a call centre for British Gas. She was looking to get back into work and had the right qualifications. She was keen to work in customer service. Everyone in the room except her and Bob were in their late 20s or early 30s. They were a pleasant, friendly bunch.

The teacher said that she would not “tret” us any different due to what we had done in the past, we were all the same in her eyes. She had a talk about “elf” and safety in the building. I felt bad for smiling at this when she told us how an employer had told her she had failed a Family Learning teacher interview due to her strong accent. She said she felt like suing them.

She also disclosed that she was a trained counsellor, and that she’d naturally done this all her life, without realising it.

She told us to beware of stress once we got work, as due to the recession their had been a sharp increase in hospital admissions. I remembered how stressed I was when I worked three jobs, seven days a week. Stress can creep up on you and accumulate if you don’t release it regularly. Mrs Begum said that when she was stressed at work she had no outlet for it, as when she went home she had the kids to deal with.

Make time to relax for 20 minutes before you go to bed each day. Think about your day and what stressed you out and whether there is anything you can do about it, in which case do an action plan. If there isn’t, let it go.

Stress happens when we’re caught in between fight and flight mode. If we are prepared and have action plans and lists to tick off, we know what we are doing when, and can relax more. This is how I could be responsible for all the medical files in a department. My day followed a certain structure and I had time deadlines for tasks. I’d always keep in mind the next item on the to-do list and work my way through it. That way I wasn’t running all over the place wondering what to do next.

As soon as I’d said I was an English language teacher I noticed Tibuk’s eyes light up. We had a chat and it turned out that in my last job I was teaching the very syllabus he needs to learn! I may be able to give him lessons to prepare him, although of course I will need to see if I can fit it around work when (note I said when, not if – Positive Mental Attitude) I get it.

The day was actually really useful, even though I got a First in Careers Development whilst doing my degree. I learnt that I am weak on the personal profile in the CV, and what to put in there.

She asked if anyone knew what CV stood for. Everyone looked like she’d spoken another language, which she had. I informed everyone it was curriculum vittae, was Latin, oh and by the way vittae meant life, so literally it was curriculum life, which didn’t seem to make sense. There was a stunned silence for a moment.

This week is full of training and interviews! After applying for 5-10 jobs every day for a month I have two to look forward to. One is for a graduate position. I just sent off an application pack for another one. I am also thinking about applying for the Royal Mail graduate programme. I will keep you posted!

Work Training Day 2

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Today I discovered that criminal records were holding two of the members back. One for GBH, the other for breaking and entering. Both were misdemeanours of their youth which still count against them. One of them had a great sense of humour and we said that he should be a comedian because he made everyone laugh. It is a shame that their past could prevent them from moving forward with their lives.

Everyone in the group was easy to get on with. There was a supportive sense that we were in this together, although when I got an interview at lunchtime someone was a bit too keen on knowing what it was for! I once told someone about a job that I was applying for. She applied first and got it, so I’m more careful now.

Keep throwing yourself at the job market. The Jobcentre-referred course was great and I would recommend it to anyone. You think you know how to apply for a job, but it is not as simple as it seems. Every phrase can be read into, and it is all a carefully formulated plan. I am now going to re-do my CV, and I’m prepared for my interviews more thanks to plenty of practice.

Again I would recommend agencies – I have found getting an interview with them much easier and they are a foot in the door to permanent work.

I am encouraged by the course and am actually looking forward to interviews for the first time. It’s simply a matter of preparing yourself – getting the ID documents, dressing for success, preparing for competency-based questions (Explain how you dealt with a difficult situation) using the CAR/STAR method (if you don’t know what it is ask to go on the course!) and brushing up on the skills you’ll be tested on.

I’ve spammed the job market for a month and I’m only just starting to get results. It may take time but if you ensure that your CV and interview preparation and skills are in line with what is needed you will be fine.

Good luck fellow jobhunters! Keep on it!

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Ecstasy? I’m high on life!

Shy FX doing his magic

Shy FX doing his magic

On Friday I went to a drum and bass night.

The most popular reaction I have when I tell people I appreciate this genre is that I “don’t look like someone who likes d ‘n’b”. By this people mean that I’m not a hoodie-wearing law-breaking drug taker.

Unfortunately these events are dominated by illicit substance fans. It seems people are either addicted, feel peer-pressured, or claim that ecstasy helps them to appreciate the music, that sound turns into colour.

I have always appreciated the genre and have never needed anything extra to enjoy it. I sometimes went out with people who dosed-up beforehand. Most of them respected my choice not to mess with my internal wiring. One asked me why. I told him that I want to avoid the damage it causes, and he still did it. Takers will boast about its effects, but they rarely talk about how they were up  for two days or how they bit their tongue so badly it needed stitches. Like smokers, they seem to ignore its ill effects.

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Then there’s alcohol, another misused substance, and a massive problem with my generation. When I was younger it was cool to drink in excess and then tell proud stories about what you or others did under the influence. You had a badge of respect if you’d manage to blag a beverage underage. At university there would be drinking competitions. In my halls the annual challenge involved running to the four corners of the main square and drinking as much as you could as fast as you could of different beers. Losers would start gagging and run off. The winner got their name on a silver plaque. People did “Centurions” where a group would drink all day aiming for 100 units. A member of my family tried it and “lost”  – luckily he threw up.

Alcohol

I’ve heard of a heavy drinkers who got cirrhosis – liver damage in their 20s. The government thinks they can help by raising taxes on it and imposing limits, but it’s the culture that needs to be addressed. With 10.5 million of us drinking to excess, alcohol misuse costs the NHS billions every year. It has been suggested that teenagers should be introduced to alcohol early on in small amounts, so that it’s not seen as something forbidden and therefore exciting. This was an attitude I encountered among drug users. I think if it was legal like it is in the Netherlands perhaps it would not be so popular or exciting, and could be better regulated. It was good that drug testing kits were available, just as needle exchanges are.

I wonder why Brits feel that we need alcohol and drugs to release ourselves and have a good night out. I was enjoying the beats on nothing but Red Bull. Everything in moderation though – I had 7 in a row once and ended up twitching as if I’d been electrocuted, and was wide awake until the sun came up. I never did it again, just as someone who knocked himself unconscious on a weed never did. Hopefully if we do overdose on a substance we know not to go back there. But sadly in a BBC series, Junior Doctors an A and E doctor told how regular users sometimes returned.

I took this watching DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I took this – DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I like the drama and atmosphere of drum and bass, its melodies interlaced with a beat I enjoy dancing to – it’s all about jumping to the snare! Its liveliness, energy and frivolity appeals to me. I like most aspects of a beats night. Most ravers are friendly and non-judgemental. You can dance however you like and plenty of people do.

It’s like no other music night and that is what keeps me coming back, other than the talent of the DJs. If you have ever tried beat-matching at that speed you may understand (beat-matching is where you get two records running at different speeds playing at the same time, one record in each ear). You have to be careful of flying elbows and people standing on your feet, and if someone’s had too much it’s best to stay away as they have very little control of their body. I’m also different from most ravers in that I always wear ear plugs, and wax ones. That way I hear the bass clearer and don’t get tinnitus, which a friend got after one too many club nights.

I took this - Andy C,, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

I took this listening to Andy C, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

From a non-substance perspective, the dance floor was heaving with enthusiastic, bug eyed, love-sharing, sweaty swaying ravers. They probably didn’t know who was playing and perhaps they wouldn’t care.

I have been to raves since 2005 and this was the first time I had seen it. There I was bouncing away to Shy FX when there was a commotion next to me. A guy was on the floor. At first I thought he’d fallen over, until I saw the convulsions. He was white and his eyes were shut. I was looking for a bouncer when one came charging over. They put him in the recovery position. He was then carried off unconscious. A pill-head asked me what had happened. When I told him he yelled “there’s always some that take it too far”. I shouted “I don’t understand it, I don’t need drugs to have a good time”, and he looked at me like I was from another planet. To think that I could just go to enjoy the music seemed like an alien concept to him.

Again it’s the culture. Drugs seem on a level footing with alcohol now. They’re taken socially to enjoy the night.

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Where is the line between social drug-taking and addiction? It’s similar to “social smoking” perhaps. But a smoker can laugh about the tar collecting in his/her lungs and say that life is short and that everything kills you in the end. An ecstasy user has made changes to their brain. Why do both feel so good? Because they’re altering chemical levels in the brain. Smokers become dependent on nicotine, the relaxant and ecstasy users to serotonin, a “happy” chemical. I’ve seen both smokers and ecstasy users being jumpy and twitchy in anticipation of their next fix. Ecstasy depletes serotonin meaning that users can suffer depression. Regular users are more likely to get it for longer.

The question is, what can we do to treat substance misuse problems in the UK?  We were all taught about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, but education is clearly not enough to impact on a culture which seems here to stay, and more prevalent than ever. A Leeds taxi driver told me he had seen a sharp increase in cocaine users in the past 5 years and that they were from all walks of life, from CEOs to students. He was shocked that people were taking this substance which electrocutes the brain as if it was normal. Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs out causes permanent damage. It also alters personality. I once dated a guy who earned more money than he knew what to do with. His brother took coke so he thought he’d try it.

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Before long he was going out to parties doing it every weekend, and became depressed and tired. When I asked him why he did it, and told him how damaging it was he said “yes but have you tried it”. I told him that as you can get addicted from two goes I wasn’t going to chance it. I prefer to live in reality.

I once saw a video on YouTube by a Buddhist monk where he said that the Westerners’ love of drink and drugs was because we were scratching an itch. They were temporary pleasures, in doing it people scratched the itch but it didn’t cure it, it just made it worse. He suggested that people need to look at why they need to take drugs/drink in the first place, what were they trying to escape from?

Trying to escape from a feeling or a thought means that it’s still there in our mind. The saying goes “turn the dogs of fear on fear itself”. When I worked in law a client took heroin partly to escape memories of her traumatic childhood. This caused her to lose her children and sucked her into an addiction spiral. Have the courage to solve your problems or move on, don’t try and deal with them by distraction.

But my point is this. Is a night of pleasure really worth the risk and damage, permanent or impermanent, to the body and mind?

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