Tag Archives: #mentalhealth

World Mental Health Day 2018 – it’s ok not to be ok….

 

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Research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience some form of mental health issue in our lives.
That’s quite a scary statistic.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health is defined as follows–
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
WHO define mental health as –
“A state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution or his or her community.”
Sometimes the stresses and strains of 21st Century life take its toll on our general mental well-being.
So, how is mental well-being viewed?
I checked the NHS website and found the following explanation-

“Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the University of Warwick and a wellbeing expert, says: “Feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it’s far from the whole.
“Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental wellbeing. Self-esteem and self-confidence are, too.
“So is a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. And so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you.
“Of course, good mental wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult,” says Professor Stewart-Brown. “But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual.”
It can help to think about “being well” as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.
“No-one can give wellbeing to you. It’s you who has to take action,” says Professor Stewart-Brown.”

Perhaps, if you’ve experienced a time when it’s been difficult to cope, you’ve described yourself as being “stressed.” I’m sure most of us have said it and experienced it at some level.
So, where does stress fit into the jigsaw of mental health and well-being?
According to http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk stress is described as follows-
“At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup. Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.
When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system 2. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.
Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived 3, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.
Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.”
Allow me to be open and honest for a few moments here.

I’ve written before about being stressed and the effects it had on me so I am not about to repeat myself. However, I’m human (no, I am, honestly!) and, despite my best endeavours at looking after both my physical health and mental well-being, there have been times lately that have left me in a state of “fight or flight”.
I’ve no intention of revealing the details of the various factors that contributed to these feelings. This isn’t that kind of blog….at least that’s not my intention. Suffice to say, I could see the cracks beginning to open up. I began to recognise the signs and the emotions surrounding them. These were threatening not just to overwhelm me but to swallow me whole.
Like everything that’s put under enormous pressure or strain, I had a bit of a meltdown.

I imploded.

It didn’t last long, a few hours probably, although at the time it felt like forever. Those few hours were at a point in the day when I had to paint on the “Disney smile” and keep going, while inside I was in bits. (To the friends who helped pick up the pieces that afternoon, thank you. To the one friend that I broke down in front of…. sorry, but thank you for being there at the right time and place.)
As I drove home that day feeling miserable and defeated, I reflected on the events of the day and the previous few weeks and months. I dug deep and retrieved my “pot” of resilience and, to echo my friend’s philosophy, thought, “Fuck it, life’s too short. Life’s too short to take all this shit so seriously. It’s not worth letting it have such an effect on me.”Fortunately, the “pot” of resilience wasn’t empty.
I  banished “flight” and reconnected with “fight” (not literally, you’ll be relieved to hear. I’m not a violent person.)
But how to subtly show the world that life was too short to take things so seriously? How to carry a reminder with me not to let things impact me to my physical and mental detriment? The answer was simple…….

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So, if you happened to see me that day or meet me on some future day when I need a reminder, I’ve not lost the plot. In fact, I’ll have actually found it again.

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What’s in a date?……. Quite a lot actually.

Today, the 8th May marks five years to the day (well, evening to be more precise) since I took a deep breath, sat down in the early evening sunshine on my front doorstep and began to write the story of Jake and Lori, that became the first book in the Silver Lake series, Stronger Within.

That first evening I wrote about 1750 words. Here they are:

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 And the finished handwritten manuscript looks like this….

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I’ve spoken about the reasons for putting pen to paper on here before and I guess it’s quite poignant that I should start out on my Silver Lake journey in the days running up to Mental Health Awareness week. (Here’s the link to the previous blog post about the reasons for those who missed it https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/surviving-or-thriving-a-personal-tale/ )

 Something I’ve reflected on and noted is that I’m a bit “funny” about dates. I hadn’t really given it much thought until a friend casually commented over coffee recently “What’s with all those dates?” or words to that effect as I talked about the deadline dates I had in mind for Book Baby 4.

It struck me that more often than not I pick dates for deadlines or publication that mean something personal to me.

I’ve published two of my three Book Babies on what would have been my Wee Gran’s birthday (15 April). I adored that little old lady and still miss her every day even though she’s been gone for over thirteen years.

In the spirit of openness and honesty, 8th May was actually my paternal grandmother’s birthday but that relationship was the polar opposite to the one I enjoyed with my maternal grandmother – enough said. Maybe the choice of date this time was purely co-incidence or perhaps I was sub-consciously proving a point. Who knows! 

The dates I’ve picked for two of my author’s note pages mark the birthdays of people who are special to me.

Deadline dates tend to be linked to different types of event. For example, I had hoped to finish the first draft of Book Baby 4 on 31 December 2017 – missed that one. I revised the date to 16th March 2018- the day before I was due to travel to Birmingham to see Myles Kennedy in concert- I missed that deadline too.  For a third time, I set a deadline date to complete this troublesome first draft – 8th May 2018 – and guess what? Yes, I’m missing this one too- just!

No, I’m not being lazy, I’ve not got writer’s block, although I did struggle a bit with keeping my momentum going about six months ago, I’ve just re-evaluated and amended the timeframe a bit. In reality, Book Baby 4 is now ahead of its revised schedule and the new date for finally completing the first draft is set as 27th June – my birthday. I promise to meet this one!!

My proposed publication dates are in September and, although I’m not ready to reveal them just yet, they are again birthdays and anniversaries.

But, back to today, the 8th May…….

The last five years have taken me on an incredible writing journey. It still feels surreal to see my “stories” out there in the big bad world as books and e-books on Amazon. When I look at them sitting there online with their twinkling stars, a huge part of me still can’t quite grasp that the childhood dream has come true and I am a “real” indie author.

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There seems to be only one appropriate way to mark this anniversary. Again numbers play a part in the equation. Five years down the line, the next story to be written will be Book Baby 5 and it will be a Silver Lake tale.

I guess there’s only one thing to do…….

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(calendar image sourced via Google- credits to the owner)

 

If you want to check out the Silver Lake series, here’s the links:

Amazon.com links –

Stronger Within – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VXDSC1M

Impossible Depths – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01C0GS30K

Bonded Souls – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XSQHG71

Amazon.co.uk links  –

Stronger Within – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00VXDSC1M

Impossible Depths – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01C0GS30K

Bonded Souls – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XSQHG71

 

 

An Hour At The Beach A Day Keeps The Blues Away…

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It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog, follows me on social media or who has read my book babies that I love the beach. I’m not fussy about it being an endless stretch of powdery sand…..although…I am partial to that, I must confess.

 My local stretch of beach, tiny and shingly as it is, is perfect. It’s my “go to” place to recharge my batteries.

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“Hello, my name is Coral and I’m a beach addict.” Ha ha

Recently, I escaped for an hour or so. I’d been stressing and over-thinking a few things and needed to just chill for a bit. As I sat in a quiet sheltered spot, watching the world go by, an analogy struck me.

A previous high tide had dumped a line of seaweed along the shore, all the “junk” that no longer served it. All the crap of the week gone by.

The tide was low as I walked along and the sand was all rippled by the waves. All the thought patterns laid bare for all to see.

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It was so low that rocks normally covered in water were exposed. The raw nerves perhaps that are best kept hidden from the public eye.

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Scattered along the shoreline were some small shells. Precious memories to be kept safe and treasured for another day.

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Something else that struck me as part of this analogy was that several people were running rough shod over this freshly exposed area. Just like in real life, people trample all over your memories and emotions, oblivious to how it makes you feel.

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In due course, long after I’d packed up and meandered home, the tide would come back in, it’s waves soothing the bruised and frayed beach underneath. The rocks would be covered by the river and the ripples smoothed out and washed into a fresh pattern on the next tide.

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Sometimes everyday life gets to us all. Whether its work stresses, family stresses or reminders of the past, there are times when we each feel exposed. Times when we feel that we have bared our souls to the world only to have it trampled on. But, like the low tide at the beach, these moments often don’t last long and are soothed away by a change of tide.

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Surviving or Thriving.. a personal tale

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As I sat at my desk in the salt mine mid-week an email with the communications to be cascaded to staff the following week dropped into my mail box. In the body of the text I spotted one topic to be highlighted and discussed- Mental Health Awareness. (This week 8-14 May is Mental Health Awareness Week)

Immediately it crossed my mind to wonder how many of my peers may overlook or pay lip service to this highly emotive topic.

It got me thinking. How could I play my part in raising awareness? Part of the salt mine’s key focus for this year is on Wellbeing so this topic slots in nicely alongside that. The article suggested hosting sessions akin to coffee mornings to allow people to talk and share their stories.

I wondered. I pondered. As usual, I over thought every angle of this before reaching a decision.  I lay awake for more than an hour at 3am thrashing out in my head what I may or may not do. Could I do something to raise awareness? It was a risky strategy for me as I don’t open up easily to people about myself.  

I felt strongly though that I had to at least attempt to do something. Staying silently locked in my own security bubble felt all wrong. If I spoke out about my own personal brush with stress and anxiety then perhaps my peers would see things differently. Could I go through with it?

Last Friday, I bit the bullet and spoke to a small group of my peers at our weekly team session. I kept it short and succinct, largely to prevent me from becoming over emotional in front of them and feeling like a complete idiot.

I pitched it as a “show and tell” thing and took my three book babies as props.

The short story caught my peers unawares. I hope it opened their eyes a little. I hope in some small way it heightened their perception of what someone who on the face of things is “fine” is really going through deep inside.

And the story I told?

Well, I guess here I can hide in the anonymity of words. Those of you who are still reading this blog won’t see the tears that fill my eyes. My peers heard the abridged version. Here’s the full story or as much of it as I’m prepared to tell.

Four years ago today, I sat down in the early evening sun on my front doorstep (exactly where I am writing the first draft of this blog) and began to write a story. I’ve always loved to write. That story grew longer and longer as the words flowed before it finally became Book Baby 1 aka Stronger Within.

But what made me decide to sit down and write? Why did I do it?

Almost a year before that, changes at work pulled the rug out from under my feet in spectacular style. It damn near destroyed me. Now, I want to make one thing crystal clear here – I am not blaming my manager at the time nor my employer in any shape or form here. They have a business to run and had a business decision to make. I totally get that. No one, especially not me, could have foreseen the fallout from that.

The secondment I had been on for almost two years came to a fairly abrupt end; the team I had been a part of for eight years no longer needed me to be a part of it. Put simply, I stepped back down to my previous grade and changed role. I was moved to another team within the same building. To many folk that would have been water off a duck’s back. I wish it had with me.

Initially, the news was like a knife wound to my very soul. Leaving the team that I had worked so closely with for so long felt like someone stealing my children from me.

I got the news on a Friday afternoon that I would be moving to a new team in a few short weeks. At that time I wasn’t told which team. I was just told I couldn’t remain with the team I was in.  Devastated doesn’t begin to cover it. I cried all weekend, torturing myself by questioning what had I done so wrong.

On the Monday I drew on my remaining inner strength (there really wasn’t a lot that morning) and what was left of my pride and self-esteem, painted on my best Disney smile and went to work. This was to be a routine I repeated day in day out for months, years perhaps.

To the world about me I was coping beautifully with the changes that had happened. I was praised for the professionalism I had shown. To the new team that I joined I was initially the quiet stranger in the camp until they got to know me a little. To most people from my old team I became a stranger, at least that’s how I felt as most of them went out of their way to avoid me, unsure of what to say to me or how to react around me. (There were a few surprising exceptions and to those people I will forever by eternally grateful) I felt exiled. I felt worthless.

Life went on.

Out with work there were a few challenges over the summer and autumn months in my personal life that I’m not prepared to divulge here (sorry). In at least one of these challenges, I was seen as the strong calming presence. If only my relatives had known the emotional turmoil going on inside me.

Winter was approaching and my physical health began to suffer as well as my mental wellbeing. My stress and anxiety levels were through the roof. I’d lost my sense of self-worth, my pride was battered and bruised, my self-belief was in tatters. I felt totally useless to everyone, including myself.

I was drifting through life one miserable day after another with the Disney smile painted on for the world to see. Not even my closest family knew how I was truly feeling. I kept all the hurt, the pain, the stress and anxiety locked inside.

Eventually I dragged myself to the doctor. By now six months or more had passed. During that time I noticed more and more strands of hair on my hairbrush each morning. I could feel the difference in the thickness of my long hair as I plaited it for bed each night. I’ve never been blessed with thick hair so this hair loss was sending my emotions spiralling out of control. I felt permanently exhausted and drained. After a series of blood tests the doctor diagnosed severe anaemia, most likely triggered by stress. My iron levels were through the floor, lower even than they had been after the birth of my son and they had been dangerously low then. The doctor said that the anaemia was the cause of the hair loss. I was prescribed a lengthy course iron tablets to restore my blood to normal. But what about the rest of me?

Pride got in my way yet again and I never mentioned ongoing stress/anxiety concerns or even increasing feelings of depression to my GP. As ever, I kept it all bottled up.

A few short months later I was back at the doctor. This time I was formally diagnosed as suffering from IBS, again episodes primarily being triggered by stress.

I was falling apart. By now more than half the total volume of my hair was gone. Fortunately, there were no obvious bald patches and for that I am eternally thankful.

Something had to change.

That something was me.

I had to take control of “me” and get myself back on track.

As is my usual want, I turned initially to books and articles online for guidance. Voraciously I read up about what vitamins and minerals I could take to try to address the hair loss fears and to prevent the recurrence of anaemia. (I loathe taking iron supplements and they really don’t mix well with IBS symptoms so I wanted to avoid these at all costs.) I spoke to the staff in my local health food store for guidance on which strengths and combinations to try. I was warned it would not be a quick fix. Soon I had a shelf full of bottles of supplements. I looked at my diet, eliminating the worst trigger foods entirely from it. Bye bye ice cream forever.

I began to take more exercise and introduced a daily walk into my lunch hours.

Looking at my sense of self-worth and self-belief was harder, much harder. I wanted to do something just for me, to do something that up until then I’d only dreamed about achieving. Eventually, after a lot of soul searching, I realised I wanted to write.  I wanted to write a book.

And here we reach 8 May 2013, the day I finally sat down to write.

By the end of 2013 I had a growing pile of A4 notebooks brimming over with the Silver Lake story. All of Stronger Within was written. Most of Impossible Depths, Book Baby 2, was also written.

There was one final crippling fear to be overcome. I am terrified of letting people read what I write. (Right now, my stomach is churning at the thought of anyone reading this and passing judgement) This stems again from long established feelings of never being good enough and fears of looking stupid and opening myself up to ridicule. These fears reach way back deep into childhood and their story is one for another day.

I gave myself a stern talking to and on 29 Dec 2013 I wrote my first ever blog post as the first step towards addressing this fear.

I set myself a personal challenge for 2014 to write one blog post per week for the entire year. I did it! In fact, I’ve added one blog post every week since Jan 2014 to this blog page. Has the fear been conquered? Not entirely.

Could my Silver Lake story become a real book? Would anyone want to read it? Those questions hung in the air.

Again, I turned to books and the internet for assistance and discovered that anyone who is prepared to put in the effort can publish a book, an ebook, via Kindle Direct Publishing.

I began to type….

And really this is where the tale kind of stops. Finally, I was doing something just for me. I’d reached a place in my head and my heart where I was more comfortable. For the first time in too many years I was also comfortable with who I was.

The Disney smile by and large was replaced by a real smile.

I felt like “me” again.

Now, here in May 2017, I finally feel secure enough to share this journey. There have been a few pitfalls along the way. Life naturally brings periods of stress and anxiety but I’ve coped with them. I’ve never gone all the way back to that dark hole that opened up mid-2012. I’ll not lie, it’s been close a couple of times.

Writing is what keeps me going. Writing keeps me sane. Writing helps me maintain my wellbeing and mental health balance. To me it’s akin to the stress relief that other folk find by going for a run or going to the gym or practising yoga or going fishing. It’s an essential part of my daily routine. It’s oxygen. It’s part of what makes me “me”.

I still take the vitamin and mineral supplements regularly. The hair has never grown back but I’ve got my head round that more or less. I get excited when I spot a new grey hair as it means another hair has grown in. Sad but true. On the whole, the IBS is under control but requires medicating regularly. I’m exercising more than I think I ever have. I’ve even been known to go for a run, a major miracle in itself. I may not be as slim as I’d like to be (who is?) but I’m comfortable in my own skin.

Work in the salt mine over the intervening years has taken many twists and turns but finally at the end of 2015, I bit the bullet and applied for a promoted post. That in itself took a lot of soul searching and inner resolve but it was worth it. I was successful and got the job.

And the biggest achievement of this five year journey? My three book babies. Who’d have ever thought it possible? My name sits proudly on the cover of not one but three books so far.

Apologies if this has been rambling. It’s been written straight from the heart. It’s been written and typed through a veil of tears if I’m being honest with you. It’s been written with pride at having made it back to being “me”.

Surviving or Thriving? That’s the anchor line to this year’s Mental Health Awareness campaign. I’ve survived and yes, right now, I’m thriving.

As we journey through this week spare a thought for that friend or relative or colleague who suddenly seems a bit “off” or a bit too happy or a bit too withdrawn. Spare an extra few minutes to catch up with them. Check if they are “surviving or thriving”. You never know, their smile may be a Disney smile masking the truth behind it.

Thanks for listening.

 

For more information on #MHAW17 see the link below :-

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week