J is for Jobs and the journey to a career.

 There’s so much pressure and importance placed on what someone does for a living. It’s one of the first things we ask someone we don’t know very well, “What do you do?”. It’s also something we constantly use to compare ourselves to other people with and try and find out where we fit socially. People are constantly trying to better themselves, move higher and do as much work as possible to make themselves seem busy and important. It’s this attitude and social expectation that seems to be causing mental health issues in the workplace.

  The Health and Safety Executive found that in 2014/2015, 9.9 million work days were lost due to work related stress, depression or anxiety. This equates to roughly 23 days per case1. This doesn’t surprise me when I think of how many people I know who are trying to work harder, do more and take less time for themselves, sacrificing that crucial self-help and relaxation time.

  Then you’ve got the other side of the situation, unemployment. Back before I got diagnosed, I had just finished my Masters and I had been offered a fully funded PhD. To say that this was a great opportunity is an understatement. Unfortunately for me, at the same time my mental health started to decline rapidly. I had to make the decision to not follow through with the great opportunity given to me and stay at home and focus on trying to get better.

  A couple of months of unemployment and I realised, whilst it was good I was taking time to de-stress and go to my psychiatrist and doctor appointments, I was running out of money fast. I had no money to treat myself when I was feeling down. No money to socialise and go out with friends or family. No money to travel to these necessary appointments or buy food. If I spent anything, I felt guilty because I was spending money that I simply couldn’t afford. It started to cause me stress and anxiety and put me in a vicious cycle that I felt that I had to get out of.

  That’s when I started looking for easy part-time jobs that meant I would have an income whilst getting plenty of rest days in between the work days. I was lucky that my mental health was at a state that allowed me to do this as I am aware of so many people around me that it wasn’t an option for at the time. It worked for a couple of years, I could take the time to go to appointments without booking days off work, call in sick at the last minute without it being detrimental to my career and so on.

  Now I find myself in a state of mind where I feel I can handle a full time job, maybe even start a career. I feel that I have enough self-help and coping strategies to take on the world of full-time work. I’ve dabbled with part time jobs that are within the field I want to go in to, and have a good academic background (if I do say so myself), but there is now a new problem. The huge time gap in my CV between now and when I graduated. It’s been three years and I haven’t managed to hold down a full-time job in that time.

  I hate the idea of lying about my mental health. I am a very strong advocate to tell people, let the world know and not shy away from it. But that only works when I’m the one with the power behind the statement. Me telling my friend that I have problems, personally empowers me and makes me feel I’ve achieved something and got it out there. In an interview or job situation, the power belongs to the interviewer or boss. If they decide that mental health is bad for business, they can fire me, or just downgrade the work that I am doing. The power is lost and so is my confidence to tell the truth.

  The only thing that gives me back confidence about finding a job, potentially telling an employer the truth, or having a gap in my CV is the Two Ticks scheme. This scheme is used throughout Great Britain to encourage positivity about disabled people. When a job is advertised and mentions it follows the Two Ticks scheme, it means that they are committed to the following:

  • To interview all disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria for a job vacancy and to consider them on their abilities

  • To discuss with disabled employees, at any time but at least once a year, what you can both do to make sure they can develop and use their abilities

  • To make every effort when employees become disabled to make sure they stay in employment

  • To take action to ensure that all employees develop the appropriate level of disability awareness needed to make these commitments work

  • To review these commitments every year and assess what has been achieved, plan ways to improve on them and let employees and Jobcentre Plus know about progress and future plans2

Under the Equality Act 2010, mental health is considered a disability.

The Equality Act says you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse, and long term effect on your normal day-to-day activities.”

  You are still covered by the Act even if you are taking medication or going to talking therapies and now consider yourself stable enough to work, or have had a mental health episode in the past. The Act looks at how your mental health would be without the treatment or medication and ensures you don’t get penalised for any previous mental health episodes3.

  Therefore, the Two Ticks scheme applies to you if you have, or have had, mental health problems. If you have the qualifications and meet the criteria of the job specification, you should get a guaranteed interview.

  I’ve only just started applying for jobs that have not yet reached their cut off dates, so have no idea how effective this Two Ticks scheme is, but it has given me a lot more confidence about applying for jobs that would help me start a career. I have made sure to look for jobs that follow the scheme and always make sure to state that I have a disability. I felt a little uneasy at first, because when I feel fine and can function normally, stating I’m disabled feels like I’m cheating the system. But then I think back to all those days lost to depression, to the torment inside my head, to all the time lost to fighting something no-one else can see of feel. I realise that this scheme is a positive thing, here to to help people who have lost that time to something so horrible. For that, I am grateful.

References

  1. PDF: Work related Stress, Anxiety and Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2015, by the Health and Safety Executive.

  2. https://www.gov.uk/recruitment-disabled-people/encouraging-applications

  3. http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/legal-rights/disability-discrimination/disability/#.Vo5uwfmdDIU

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I is for I’m fine

This post is originally from The Pandora Box Gift Company blog.  

  I was recently talking to a friend, and she told me that she had given up lying for lent. When asked how difficult it was, she mentioned that most of the time it was fine, the only time that caused an issue was when someone asked her how she was. When she deviated from the usual answer of “I’m fine”, people seemed to get quite uncomfortable. The longer and more descriptive her answers were, the more uncomfortable they seemed to get until eventually she was told that maybe, she should just keep it at home. 

  It got me thinking about the answer we give when someone asks us how we are. People are very content with “I’m fine” but seem to get annoyed when anyone starts to deviate. The thing is, when is anyone really feeling just fine? We all know that most of the time we can feel a mixed bag of emotions, yet we all too easily accept it.

   The problem with this blasé approach to “I’m fine” is that we end up in a situation where nobody shares how they really feel. It leads to everyone thinking that what they’re going through is unique to them and doesn’t seem to be happening to anyone else. It can increase the feeling of loneliness and isolation that poor mental health can bring. We forget how powerful sharing feelings and experiences can be. One of the biggest reasons we think is responsible for the high rates of suicide among men is that they don’t talk openly about how they’re feeling.

   “I’m fine” is the easy option. It’s the answer we give when we try and avoid what’s really going on. It can lead to suppression of thoughts and feelings which uses up an enormous amount of energy that could be used to keep yourself mentally healthy. Going with the old cliché, a problem shared really is a problem halved. Sure, every now and again you’re allowed an “I’m fine” response, but let’s just be more aware of the amount of times someone uses it as an answer. You yourself probably use it all the time without realising. It’s so engrained in us that most of the time we don’t stop and think about how this simple answer can cause issues for us all. Here’s to honest answers and the reduction of the “I’m fine” response.

H is for Hypomania

This post is originally from The Pandora Box Gift Company, the gift giving service with a focus on mental wellbeing.

  Cyclothymia, like bipolar, has both the “ups” and the “downs”. The only difference being that the “ups” are less severe than those of someone with bipolar. So, instead of mania you suffer from hypomania. When a hypomanic state takes hold they can leave the person in a reckless and sometimes dangerous state of mind. Every action is without consequence and a strong belief that everything you’re doing is right for you, and everyone else, takes hold. Since being on quetiapine, I have reduced the rate of hypomanic episodes to pretty much zero.

  Even though I know that it’s good to reduce the number of hypomanic episodes, I’m sat here missing them. Every now and again I wish that I could just reach the edge of hypomania. The stage where I’m just starting to enter it but not too far gone for it to be self destructive. The stage where I feel like I’m 100% there. Everything I do and say is great. Work is done in a split second. The energy only ever runs out when I take nightly medication. I miss the feeling of being the best that I can be.

  It’s particularly tempting when I find my mood moving towards the low side of things. At the times when I’m anxious or socialising is difficult I think back to the times that I felt like I really shined. I miss the creativity when writing blogposts or deciding where to go with my business. If I focus on it for too long, I feel like I’m only a shadow of the person I could be.

  It hurts and it can be confusing as it makes me wonder which of these is my true personality? Am I meant to be the social butterfly that gets everything done or am I meant to be this timid anxious person that just gets on with things quietly. That’s the crux of the illness really. You’ve been given something that knocks you down but can lift you up higher than you thought possible. You get a taste of feeling so good and yet to succumb to it is only detrimental in the end.

See our range of gift boxes here: The Pandora Box Gift Company. 

G is for Gratitude

This is an original post from The Pandora Box Gift Company

Last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to listen to a talk by Stephen Doran, founder of Live Daily. One of the biggest things I took away with me was the habit of waking up and instantly asking myself what I’m grateful for. I decided to try it every so often and see how I felt. I wouldn’t necessarily do it in the morning when I’d just woken up as I take quetiapine at night and waking up in the morning is a whole new struggle without having to remember things as well.

I found that if my mood wasn’t great, or I had intrusive thoughts, I could slightly alter my state of mind, almost drown out the thoughts, by thinking of things that I was grateful for. They didn’t have to be anything big or impressive and ranged from being grateful for a comfy bed, nice weather that day or the fact that I’d just made myself a cup of tea. Sometimes one of the only things I was grateful for was the very fact that I’d remembered to think of something.

The more I did it, the more I found myself getting into the habit of automatically thinking of something to be grateful for when an intrusive thought randomly popped up in my head, regardless of the time of day. I’m still amazed that this is happening as this is something I’ve only been practising and working on for just over a week now. Like all self-help techniques and therapy’s, some will have a more profound effect on you than others. For me, being grateful has definitely had a big impact.

Why do I think it’s so effective? Dr Martin Luther King, Jr said it best: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

To be grateful is to love and to find the light even when things feel dark. It’s definitely something I recommend trying. I find it helps to drive away the horrible venomous feelings our mental state can leave us in, one day at a time.

F is for Forgiveness

This post is originally from the A-Z mental health series by The Pandora Box Gift Company 

Everyone makes mistakes, does something they regret or simply gets in a mood from time to time. If we have a healthy approach to life and ourselves, we can accept that these things happen, forgive ourselves and move on. When our mental health is poor, we stop forgiving. We turn into our own worst critics and thoughts and feelings can make us turn against ourselves. We don’t give ourselves the level of care or compassion that we need, lose patience and don’t give the time we need to allow ourselves to heal. When this happens, all of our energy is used up trying to process unwanted and unhelpful thoughts, leaving us tired and unmotivated. We turn into our own worst enemy all because we can’t forgive!

Learning to forgive yourself is a slow and hard process and only really works when it becomes habit. A good way to get into the habit is by writing down something that you will forgive yourself for everyday. This way you will get used to addressing what you need to forgive and why you need to forgive yourself for it.

  1. Start by writing down one thing every day that you need to forgive yourself for.

    This can be anything from “I didn’t do the washing up today” to “I cancelled plans to see my friend today”.

  2. Write down the reason behind the action. Work out the route cause of the action you want to forgive yourself for. Sometimes this can help you find patterns to certain actions or find the base reasons to why you can’t forgive yourself. Be truthful with this step.

  • I didn’t do the washing up because I was exhausted due to my medication.

  • I cancelled plans to see my friend today because my anxiety made me feel like I couldn’t go outside.

  1. Write down why this action happened. This shouldn’t be anything negative or emotive. This should look at the rationale behind the action and help you realise that some things are going to happen because of your mental health and that they are unavoidable. What’s the point of punishing yourself for something that’s going to happen every now and again.

  • I didn’t do the washing up because I was exhausted due to my medication. Exhaustion is a common side effect of my medication that sometimes effects me.

  • I cancelled plans to see my friend today because my anxiety made me feel like I couldn’t go outside. This is a common result of having anxiety.

  1. Write I forgive myself.

    Each day you write this it will further instil itself and eventually you’ll believe it!

  • I didn’t do the washing up because I was exhausted due to my medication. Exhaustion is a common side effect of my medication that sometimes effects me. I forgive myself.

  • I cancelled plans to see my friend today because my anxiety made me feel like I couldn’t go outside. This is a common result of having anxiety. I forgive myself.

The list helps you realise the different ways poor mental health effects your life and how it isn’t your fault. After a while you will see that the small things you’ve been punishing yourself for a a direct result of an illness that clouds your judgement. In the end you will get into a habit of forgiving yourself and will find yourself stronger and more able to take on whatever your mental health throws at you. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

Further steps:

If you feel strong enough, a great thing to do is to add a step that addresses what you will do next time this situation comes up to help you achieve your intentions. I find that if I have a an idea written down, I am more likely to do it than if I just think about it.

  • I didn’t do the washing up because I was exhausted due to my medication. Exhaustion is a common side effect of my medication that sometimes effects me. I forgive myself. Next time I will look out for indications that I am getting tired and try and do as much of the washing up as possible.

  • I cancelled plans to see my friend today because my anxiety made me feel like I couldn’t go outside. This is a common result of having anxiety. I forgive myself.

    Next time I will realise that I am meeting a friend and everything will be fine. The only reason I won’t go out is due to physical health problems or a really bad day mentally.

E is for Exercise

This blog is originally from The Pandora Box Gift Company, A-Z on mental health series

There are a few things we can try to do to keep our mind and body in shape and exercise is definitely one of them. Not only does it give you something to do, it gives your mind a rest, gives you targets that you set and achieve and after a workout you get a release of some lovely endorphins that can help boost your mood, even if it’s just for a little while. Do it regularly and exercise is a great way to keep you healthy and give your life a simple routine.

There’s so many different aspects and ways to exercise, it’s hard to not find something that you might enjoy. I’ve gone through different types of sports and activities that I’ve tried in the past or am currently attempting. There’s also links to websites that have great information about the different types of exercise and challenges that give you something to train and aim for. Having that challenge as an end goal gives you something to focus on and an excuse to keep going, even when you don’t feel like it.

Walking

Going for a walk is great if you need some space or time out to think things through. It doesn’t require much preparation to do it, just some comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather. You’d be surprised what you can find when you walk around your neighbourhood.

Thinking of going for longer walks? Walking for 6-7 hours is a great way to pass the day, especially when the weather is great. To do this you will need some walking boots and walking sticks to help you get further. I did some long walks in preparation for a 100km walking challenge and found that it was a great thing to do on a day off. It got me out of the house and made me feel like I was achieving something.

Challenges to train for:

100km London2Brighton challenge: http://www.london2brightonchallenge.com/

Thames Path Challenge (Anywhere from 25 to 100km): http://www.thamespathchallenge.com/

Running

I’m not much of a runner myself, but I have to admit after doing it for a couple of months it does get quite therapeutic. There’s always the point you reach a couple of minutes after starting where your mind and body just want to quit. Once you learn to get past that point you start to relate the same things to your mood. You learn that with the right thoughts and determination eventually you can get over something or push through it. Running takes a bit more preparation. You need trainers and clothes that you don’t mind sweating in and a good idea of the route you want to take (or a gym with a treadmill!). I find it’s a lot easier to run when you know where you want to go. It’s very easy to constantly stop and take unnecessary breaks when you don’t know where you’re going.

Websites to help:

Couch to 5k is a great way to get into running if you’ve not tried it before or have tried but failed (like me!): http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/couch-to-5k.aspx

Challenges to train for:

5 or 10km run: http://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/index.html

Fancy running 26 miles? The London Marathon: https://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com/en-gb/

Weight training

I am loving doing a bit of weight training! I’ll be honest, the idea of doing it used to scare me and I was put off by going into “that” section of the gym because I found it quite intimidating. Lucky for me I have a gym buddy that makes me feel confident enough to go in there. Over the past three months I have been slowly increasing the amount I can lift, and with that I’m getting stronger and can do things that I couldn’t previously, (Press ups! Woop). Not only do you increase your strength but it’s also a great cardio workout as well. To get into it, I started doing bicep curls with quite a small weight that I found easy to handle and then branched out onto the different weight training machines at the gym and other exercises that use dumbbells.

Websites to help:

Bodybuilding.com has great tutorials on which exercises you need for what you want to achieve as well as introductions to weight training and how to do it. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/training.html

This website provides great pictures on how to do different exercises: http://www.weight-training-exercises.com/

Challenges to train for:

5k Pretty Muddy: http://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/types-of-event/pretty-muddy/index.html

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest: http://www.mhsurvival.co.uk/

Tough Mudder: https://toughmudder.co.uk/

Kickboxing

Something that I definitely need to get back into and would recommend to everyone. Kickboxing is great if you need to release some stress or anger. It’s great fun and a great workout that helps with your co-ordination, strength and confidence. You may be surprised just how good you feel after hitting those pads!

Cycling

Good for those whose knees are a bit weak or want strong leg muscles! I’ve had to do a lot of cycling to make my legs stronger to help my knees out. You can choose to go on a nice long cycle on a low gear with minimal effort, or you can go on a quick cycle on a much higher gear for an intense workout. If you cycle outside, it’s a great way to find some excellent places that you may not have known about before. Inside the gym, I find it’s a great as a warm up for the session ahead or a nice place to read a book whilst you go on a slow long cycle.

Challenges to train for:

Coast to Coast: http://www.globaladventurechallenges.com/uk/uk-coast-to-coast-cycle/

London to Paris: http://london2paris.co.uk/

Obviously the list of exercises don’t end there and there are plenty of other challenges available. If you’re thinking of starting something new, look up information about the local area. You’d be surprised how many sports groups and activities take places. One great website that connects people with other like minded people is http://www.meetup.com/. Once you sign up you have access to a wide variety of activities and sporting agendas!

If you’re looking for a gym to go to, I recommend The Gym , http://www.thegymgroup.com/. You can either buy a day pass for around £6 or join for a monthly fee. For me they were the cheapest I could find, open 24 hour and you can freeze your monthly payments if you’re running low on cash.

If you’re feeling anxious about going to a new place, try taking someone you know along with you. If you can’t find someone, don’t worry. Lots of people go by themselves and feel anxious about it but after a while you will wonder why you ever had a problem as you start to fit into the routine of going. So, what are you waiting for 🙂

D is for Depression

This blogpost was originally posted on The Pandora Box Gift Company website.

Something a little bit different today. I tried writing a post about depression, whilst not feeling great. Instead of my usual full blogpost, all I could manage was this. I feel that it shows how depression can effect you.

Depression drowns and drains you.

Rids you of yourself.

Self confidence becomes a thing of the past.

Colours and light darken and grey.

This world is not meant for me.

It’s a place where everyone else is happy.

Usually I’d say I don’t deserve this,

But lately I don’t feel like I deserve anything.

No-one can get to me

I’m lost in this dark silent void

But don’t worry my friend,

there is still hope.

A little light that shines dimly in the distance

it shows me the way out of this.

Eventually I will make it.